Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hearts of the West

This final night of the "Projected Image" series of the Jewish experience on film includes a movie that I have to admit to not being certain why it's been included: Hearts of the West, coming up overnight at 1:15 AM on TCM.

Jeff Bridges plays the decidedly non-Jewish Lewis Tater, an adult son living on a farm in Iowa in the 1930s. Lewis, for his part, has dreams of doing more than just farming; specifically, he wants to be a writer. To that end, Lewis has been taking courses from a correspondence school someplace out in Nevada. Lewis wants to talk with some of the professors about the book since he's almost finished it, so he sets off for Nevada and the writers' college. Of course, that corespondence school is a scam, being nothing more than a post office box in some god-forsaken whistle-stop town in the middle of nowhere in Nevada back in the days when Nevada outside of Las Vegas was even more the middle of nowhere than it is now. But Lewis is in a bit of luck as the two con artists happen to be in town to pick up the money from the post office box that is the front for the scam. Lewis gets in a fight with them, and winds up with their suitcase full of money. Understandably the con artists take off after him.

Lewis, in his escape, winds up in the middle of the Nevada desert, presumably never to be seen again, or at least that would be the case if we weren't only 15 minutes into the movie. So there's obviously going to be a plot twist, which is that he unknowingly walks straight into the middle of a movie set! The director/producer, Bert Kessler (Alan Arkin), is at first displeased because having to do more takes costs money, and this is an ultra-low budget studio trying to churn out B westerns as quickly as possible. Eventually, though, Lewis thanks to his good looks gets taken on as an extra with the rest of the stock cast, including the veteran writer-turned-actor Howard Pike (Andy Griffith).

They get back to Hollywood and Lewis keeps working as an extra, mostly because he needs the money, but in fact he really wants to sell the story he's brought along with him. Pike, having been a writer himself, knows a bit about writing and selling your writing in Hollywood, so he offers to help Lewis with the story. Along the way, Lewis becomes a more successful actor, at least getting to the top of this B studio's heap, being given the stage name Ned Wales. It enables him to get a girlfriend in the form of the secretary Trout (Blythe Danner) too. Meanwhile, those two con artists from Nevada have made their way to Los Angeles, and are still looking for Lewis....

I saw Hearts of the West a year or so ago on TCM when it aired one Saturday afternoon, and I'm trying to remember which character is supposed to be the obvious Jewish character to fit into the "Projected Image" spotlight. I'd guess it's Donald Pleasance as the studio boss Neitz, although I have to admit I don't remember thoses scenes well enough. But at any rate, it doesn't matter whether or not the movie fits the spotlight. It stands on its own as solid entertainment. Jeff Bridges is likeable enough, and the movie has the right mix of comedy and drama to be good light entertainment and nothing too seriously heavy. At the same time, it's a nice homage to a bygone era of movie-making.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Another Max Steiner post

I wrote a brief post about movie composer Max Steiner on his birthday back in 2011, when he would have turned a youthful 123 years young. One could write several full-length posts about Steiner, because of how long and prodigious his career was. But I'm writing this one because TCM is running a night of Max Steiner scores tonight.

When Steiner got to Hollywood in 1929, he started at RKO, scoring some of the early musicals and films like King Kong. TCM has one of Steiner's RKO scores, The Informer, overnight at 2:00 AM (or late in the evening if you're out in the Pacific time zone).

Steiner left RKO for Warner Bros. in about 1937, although he had been working for David O. Selznick for some time and his Warner Bros. contract allowed him to keep writing scores for Selznick, which Max very memorably did with 1939's Gone With the Wind, airing at 10:00 PM. Another Steiner score from 1939, this one from Warner Bros., kicks off the night at 8:00 PM: Dodge City. The night concludes with with Steiner's score for Now, Voyager at 4:00 AM.

Steiner is one of those people who could easily qualify for a month-long salute on TCM because of the number of movies he made. TCM has certainly put the spotlight on film composers before, having done a month of Bernard Herrmann scores a few years back. I'm certain if TCM has spent a month honoring Steiner, though.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Et Dieu... créa la femme

Today being Brigitte Bardot's actual 80th birthday even though TCM honored it at the beginning of the week with a night of her movies, I figure it would be a good time to mention one of the Bardot movies that I watched on Monday night: ...And God Created Woman.

Brigitte Bardot, unsurprisingly, plays the woman, a young thing named Juliette who lives in a small town on what is now the fashionable French Riviera, although at the time the movie was made parts of it weren't as fashionable as they are now. We see Juliette at the beginning of the film sunbathing out in the yard, topless, although we only see her back so we never get anything really naughty. The wealthy middle-aged businessman Eric (Curd Jürgens) drives up and gives her a model car, pretty much implying that he's willing to take her away in the real thing. Juliette, however, doesn't really care for Eric, instead having her eye on Antoine (Christian Marquand). Antonie is the eldest son in a family that runs a small, struggling shipyard in one of the grimier industrial parts of the region that never get shown when we see the beautiful French Riviera. Antoine, for his part, isn't seriously interested in Juliette, in part because has a reputation. In fact, that reputation might get Juliette sent out of town because she's an orphan, living with a nasty foster mother and a wheelchair-bound foster father.

Antoine and Eric have something else in common besides Juliette. Eric is looking ot build a casino to turn this part of the coast into one of the fashionable parts of the Riviera as we were mentioning previously. However, in order to have enough land to build where he wants and in the way he wants, Eric needs to buy the shipyard that Antoine and his family owns. It could make them well-off, but Antoine says no way becuase he doesn't know any other life. Of course, that life is about to get more complicated.

That's because Juliette's foster mother has finally had enough with Juliette and is going to send her back to the orphanage. Antoine's younger (but adult) brother Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant, later of Z) hears about this and decides that, because he's in love with Juliette (who isn't?), he's going to marry her to keep her around. Of course, he should know that she can never be a one-man woman....

...And God Created Woman is a movie that's beautiful to watch, although a bit lacking in the plot department at times. The cinematography is wonderful, both the scenery and the sets, which look suitably lower-class in the sense that with the exception of Eric, all of these people are decidedly not well-to-do. The characters, at least the younger ones, are all pretty to look at, while Jürgens looks relatively creepy the way a slightly dirty older man should. I just wish the climax of the movie were better.

...And God Created Woman is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, which means that it's a bit pricey.

Briefs for September 28, 2014

I probably should have mentioned Laurence Olivier's Henry V, airing at 10:00 this morning ib TCN, yesterday. It's one of those movies where it's amazing that the movie got made at all, considering that it was made in the UK in 1944, when World War II was raging and there was all sorts of rationing and problems with filming movies. That, and the movie was made in color. I can only imagine the difficulty of getting that much color film stock into Britain during the war, although to be fair, Michael Powell had made The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in color the year before.

I don't know much about director Whit Stillman, who is sitting down with Robert Osborne tonight to discuss two of his movies. Then again, it's not as though Stillman has made very many movies and wasn't working for any of the major studios. Unfortunately, the synopsis for the first movie, Metropolitan (8:00 PM) sounds like it's not so likely to be my cup of tea, being about wealthy Manhattanites coming of age in the 1970s.

Tomorrow morning at 6:00 TCM is showing a short that's new to me, Doctor's Orders, which is the first film in Hal Roach's "Boy Friends" series. This one has David Sharpe and Grady Sutton (ah, there's a name I recognize) faking a car accident so that they can "recover" at their girlfriends' place, being taken care of by the same girlfriends. One of the writers is a young George Stevens, who also did the photography on this and the short The Real McCoy, which is coming up a bit after 7:45 AM tomorrow. Yes, it's the same George Stevens who would go on to become a prominent Oscar-winning director for films such as A Place in the Sun.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Loose Ankles

So yesterday, as part of TCM's Friday Night Spotlight of pre-Code marathons, I finally got around to seeing Loose Ankles. It's a thoroughly warped movie, but it's the sort of warped pre-Code style that turns out to be so much fun to watch.

Loretta Young, who would have been about 17 years old at the time this movie was made, stars as Ann Harper, the granddaughter of a very wealthy woman who is recently deceased and whose will is about to be read out. The relatives for the most part have a lot of money already, considering the house Ann lives in, but everybody bot Ann, and to a lesser extent her cousin Betty (Inez Courtney) want their inheritance as quickly as possible. Grandma must have seen that coming, because she put a clause in her will that's probably not quite legal, but which drives the action for the rest of the movie, more or less. Ann has to marry somebody who is suitable to her uncle Major Rupert (Otis Harlan) and her spinster aunts Sarah (Louise Fazenda) and Katharine (Ethel Wales) in order for everybody to get their inheritances. And if Ann does anything scandalous that gets the family name in the newspapers in a bad way, the estate goes to an animal hospital.

Since Ann doesn't really care about the money, she decides she's going to sabotage things for everybody else. (To be fair, why should her happiness in love be dependent on what everybody else wants so that they can get their hands on Grandma's money?) So she calls up one of the newspapers and takes out a classified ad looking for a young man who's suitably unscrupulous! If it sounds nuts, it is, but the movie is about to get more nuts. Cut to a shot of two guys doing their morning routine in the bathroom, with one taking a bath and the other shaving. Terry (Norman Selby) and Andy (Eddie Nugent) are professional escorts, who make a meager living by going out with older women looking for companionship in the evenings and being gentlemen to the ladies. They both see this ad and would like to take part in what seems like an interesting job, but they've got an even better idea: their roommate Gil (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is terrible at the escort thing, so they set him up with Ann. Gil needs the experience, apparently.

So Gil and Ann meet at her place, and to be honest neither of them really has a good idea of how to be scandalous. Amazingly, Ann's maid Agnes (Daphne Pollard) claims she's had an indiscretion in her earlier days, and knows just how to cause a scandal. Get Gil out of his clothes! Really, that's her idea! Ann gets Gil out of his jacket, bow tie, and pants, at which point the Major and his two sisters come in, forcing Gil to hide in a closet. When they eventually discover him, he jumps out a window with Ann not even knowing his name.

Enter thr ourth roommate, the suave-looking but obvious bad guy Linton (Raymond Keane). He sees the ad and wants in on the job, so he goes to see Ann, not knowing that his other roommates have already done so. Ann and Betty fished tickets to a speakeasy out of Gil's jacket, so they're going to go there if they can get a man to escort them, unaccompanied women not being allowed in. They need a man and Linton's there, so he'll take them. Meanwhile, the Major is a Prohibitionist, this being 1930, so he plans to have the place raided, not knowing that his niece Ann is going to be there. Since that would cause a scandal, the two spinster aunts go with the intention of getting Ann out of the place, but they don't have a man to accompany them into the joint. Terry and Andy are there, but with no ticket in, so when they spot the spinsters they offer to be the male accompaniment. Gil has gotten in, too....

The basic plot makes a bit of sense, but the way it unfolds on the screen is just nuts and completely detached from reality. That having been said, the movie is immensely entertaining, even if you can see many of the punchlines coming from a mile away. You also know the movie is going to have a happy ending, although how it gets there is part of the fun. Loose Ankles is one of those things that has no right being considered anything more than quickly churned out entertainment. But damn if it isn't terribly fun.

Loose Ankles is available on DVD from the TCM Shop.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Briefly on Other Men's Women

Sometimes, there are movies that you know you've seen before; you just can't remember when it was you saw them. A good example would be Other Men's Women, which is airing this afternoon at 5:15 PM as part of the last of the 24-hour marathons in the Friday Night Spotlight of pre-Codes.

The plot involves Grant Withers and Regis Toomey playing a pair of railroad engineers who are also best friends. That friendship gets tested, however, due to the presence of Toomey's wife, played by Mary Astor. Withers falls for her and falls hard, which obviosuly puts a strain on the friendship. James Cagney gets fourth billing, and even further down the cast list is Joan Blondell, playing a hash-slinger at a diner. Cagney and Blondell had already appeared together and turned heads in Sinners' Holiday several months earlier; interestingly that one also has Grant Withers as the male lead. (It's not on the schedule.) But it was still a couple of months before The Public Enemy (following Other Men's Women on TCM this evening at 6:30 PM) would make Cagney a huge star. William Wellman, who directed Cagney in Other Men's Women, must have realized he had something good; the studio bosses only realized it when they saw the first day's rushes of The Public Enemy since Cagney was originally slated to play the sidekick.

At any rate, I'm not certain when the last time is that I actually saw Other Men's Women. Female lead Mary Astor was TCM's Star of the Month back in March, but I'm pretty certain I didn't watch it then. James Cagney was Star of the Month a couple of Decembers ago, I think, and I wouldn't be surprised if I watched the movie again back then. If you look at the link to Sinners' Holiday, that aired on a day in Summer Under the Stars honoring Blondell, and I wouldn't be surprised if TCM ran Other Men's Women back then. But I think the first time I actually saw it would have been when TCM spent a month honoring William Wellman back in 2006 ot 2007, with Wellman's son sitting down with Robert Osborne to discuss Dad's movies.

Other Men's Women did get a DVD release several years back, as part of one of the Forbidden Hollywood box sets that also featured Frisco Jenny. I think that box set is no longer in print, however, since it's not available from the TCM Shop.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

FXM Repeats

I'm sorry to say that I'm in a bit of a rut right now not being too awful interested in doing full-length blog posts on anything. To be fair, it's in part because there hasn't been all that much coming up that I've seen recently enough to do a full-length post on. And for those few movies I might be interested in blogging about, I've already blogged about them. So I'll mention a couple of movies that appeared on what was the Fox Movie Channel several years ago, before they did the rebranding to be FXM in the evening, let alone 24 hours a day. Perhaps it's symptomatic of my lull in writing that the most recent of the links is from February 2011. It's no wonder that I'm going to get tired if I've been writing as long as I've been doing.

The Raid comes up tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM. Van Heflin plays a confederate soldier leading a raid across the Canadian border into St. Albans, VT, only for things to get complicated when the son of a Union war widow starts to look up to him.

In Prince of Players, following The Raid at 9:15 AM, Richard Burton plays Edwin Booth, one of the great American Shakespearean actors of the second half of the 19th century, who had to deal with the fact that his brother John (John Derek) was an assassin.

Wild River, at 1:00 PM tomorrow, sees Montgomery Clift playing a man from the federal government trying to get the Tennesee Valley Authority dams built in the 1930s, who faces families who are less than happy about being flooded off of their land; one matriarch in particular (Jo Van Fleet) is determined not to leave.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Available on Youtube

I've mentioned the short All Eyes on Sharon Tate several times in the past, but it looks like I never linked to its presence on Youtube before. I had reason yesterday on another forum to mention the short, and was glad to see it's on Youtube:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Notes on tonight's Jewish Experience in Film selections

Tonight is the fourth of five nights of this year's "Projected Image" series on TCM, looking at the Jewish experience on film. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The House of Rothschild, starring George Arliss as the patriarch of the early 19th century Jewish banking family who helped finance the fight against Napoleon. George Arliss makes any movie worth watching, and this one is no exception. When the movie was made, the finale was in two-strip Technicolor, although I think the last time I saw the movie on TCM, the finale was in black-and-white.

Speaking of Arliss, it's too bad the series couldn't have found room for Disraeli., Also on the missing in action front, TCM apparently didn't think to use the short Sons of Liberty, about Haym Solomon, tonight. It would have fit perfectly with The House of Rothschild.

Second up, at 10:00 PM, is Gentleman's Agreement, which I've mentioned quite a few times in passing, notably when some of the cast members have died. I apparently haven't done a full length post Gregory Peck plays a writer who passes himself and his family off as Jewish for a magazine story he's writing, and finds that the conseqences are at times pretty steep. I wonder if Blogger's search function is acting up, or if it just doesn't like apostrophes, because the first time I did a search on the title this morning, it only yielded one post.

Crossfire follows at 12:15 AM. TCM claims that this one isn't available from the TCM Shop, although it was certainly available on Amazon when I blogged about it back in March 2009.

I don't know much about the more recent (2001) movie Focus, which comes on at 2:00 AM, although the one-sentence synopsis sounds interesting.

Eric Goldman is only presenting four movies each week, although one some of the nights there's enough time left for a fifth movie before the next morning's programming block begins. This is one of those nights, so TCM threw in The Life of Émile Zola at 4:00 AM.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Brigitte Bardot night

I'm sorry to say that I haven't posted any stills of Brigitte Bardot to the blog before, and didn't think to get any from the web in anticipation of tonight's Brigitte Bardot films on TCM. Bardot is turning 80 at the end of the week, but since TCM doesn't really do a birtdhay marathon on the weekend, they had to put it in prime time some weeknight. Perhaps next Monday might have been better, considering it would have been closest to the birthday, but at any rate, we get several of Bardot's films this evening:

And God Created Woman kicks off the night at 8:00 PM;
Une Parisienne follows at 9:45 PM;
Plucking the Daisy is third up at 11:30 PM;
The Night Heaven Fell is on at 1:30 AM; and
Contempt concludes the night at 3:15 AM.

TCM's schedule claims that the first, fourth, and fifth films are availalbe from the TCM Shop, but not the second and third. FXM is coincidentally getting in on the Bardot love with a showing of Dear Brigitte tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 AM. Bardot only has a cameo at the end of the movie, and appears in tht title only because she didn't want to be used to promote the movie any other way.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Briefs for September 21, 2014

It's been four years since I blogged about The Black Swan. It's coming up again on TCM this afternoon at 4:30 PM.

Apparently not currently in print on DVD is Pather Panchali, which is on early tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight depending on what time zone you're in) at 4:15 AM on TCM. This is the first movie in Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, and is in many ways just a slice of life film about about young Apu living in a poor rural family in Bengal in the early 20th century. There's not too much to the plot, but it's a very well done movie. I have to admit to not having seen the other two movies in the trilogy, and only saw Pather Panchali last year when it aired as part of the Story of Film series. The documentary series itself was rather dire, but we got a lot of good movies on TCM out of it.

I haven't seen the short Envy before, which is airing tomorrow at 7:35 AM on TCM, following The Phantom of the Opera. This short from 1930 is apparently a comic short on the subject of wife-swapping, which sounds interesting. The IMDb comments, however, make it sound like it might not be quite so good.

I've briefly mentoined One Sunday Afternoon before, since it was remade as The Strawberry Blonde. One Sunday Afternoon is back on the TCM schedule, tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Polly Bergen, 1930-2014

Fred MacMurray and Polly Bergen in a promotional still from Kisses For My President (1964)

Actress Polly Bergen died earlier today at the age of 84. Bergen started her career in the early 1950s, making a couple of movies with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, and went on to have a long career in movies, TV, and Broadway. Kisses For My President, in which she plays the first female president of the US, which causes quite a bit of upheaval for her husband, played by Fred MacMurray, might be her best-known starring role in a movie.

However, Bergen might be equally famous for what is almost a supporting role, as the wife to lawyer Gregory Peck in the 1962 version of Cape Fear, with Robert Mitchum as a man Peck helped put in jail coming back to make their family's life a living nightmare. The above photo is a bit dark, but comes from the climax, which has Mitchum cracking open an egg on Bergen, who is wearing just a nightgown. It's very erotically frightening.

Two Seconds

So the movie Two Seconds showed up on TCM yesterday as part of the Friday pre-Code marathons that are running all this month. I have to admit to not having heard of the title before, which is a bit of a shame because then I would have been able to recommend it to you without having to direct you to the Warner Archive DVD that's available.

The movie starts off in the execution chamber at a state penitentiary, with the assembled witnesses from the press there to see the execution of murderer John Allen. Also there is a sociology student (William Janney), who was sent there by his college class to get info on an execution for his college class. It's all a framing device though, as he's just there to ask questions for the benefit of the movie audience and have the executioner and warden tell us that the prisoner will actually live for two seconds after the switch is pulled, and that in those two seconds his whole life will flash before his eyes....

So John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) shows up to be strapped to the electric chair for his execution, and sure enough, we get a flashback as to how he wound up being convicted of a capital offense. Some time back, he was working as a riveter on those skyscrapers that were going up in the big city at the time, along with his best friend and roommate Bud (Preston Foster). Bud is somewhat reminiscent of Albert Finney's character in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, that being the sort of man who likes to spend his money playing the horses and going out with the ladies; he's engaged, but always with an eye on other women and trying to find a good blind date for John. One night, Bud picks up a particularly ugly blind date, but also flirts with a pair of women who aren't his fiancée and John's date, telling John to come up with some excuse to ditch the original dates. John is understandably ticked off and runs off, winding up in one of those dance halls filled with taxi dancers, where he meets Shirley (Vivienne Osborne) and buys a ticket to dance with her. The other guys treat Shirley like property while John intends to be a perfect gentleman, so when Shirley gets in trouble John takes her out of the joint to a nearby drugstore to get milkshakes for the two of them.

You know it's going to be trouble for John, especially because he's been so over-the-top about how he's not going to let women take him for anything the way Bud does. (Never mind the fact that you know something has to come up to cause John to commit murder.) Still, what happens is shocking. After a couple of dates, Shirley gets John good and liquored up, and takes him to a justice of the peace to have the two of them get married. This even though he's drunk beyond the ability to consent. Bud is understandably furious, and the ultimate result is an argument between the two friends at work, with Bud falling off a girder 20-plus stories to his death.

Still, that's not what gets John sent to the electric chair. John is unable to work after the accident, falling deep in debt to the point that Shirley decides to go back to work at the dance hall and et the money she and John need. That turns out to be what really sets off John, and when Bud's old bookie (Guy Kibbee) shows up with a bunch of money John won playing the ponies, John figures it's enough to pay off all his debts and settle a score or two....

Two Seconds is rather shocking, with some plot points you're going to see coming since the film is told in flashback, and some that you might not. It's Edward G. Robinson's movie all the way, and like Scarlet Street a dozen years later, it's interesting to see his transofmation from the good guy to an utter failure, which he pulls off well. Robinson is always interesting to watch, and he's riveting -- no pun intended -- here. The only real problem is some overacting in the scene when John is sentenced to be executed. William Janney, even though he only shows up in the opening and closing scenes, is also worth mentioning.

I'm sorry that I wasn't able to mention the TCM airing, not having seen the movie, but at least it's available on DVD.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Blonde Venus

TCM's Friday pre-Code marathon for this week includes several movies from Paramount, including a couple from the beginning of Cary Grant's career. One that seems to be coming up tonight and not again soon is Blonde Venus, at 8:00 PM.

Cary Grant only gets third billing, as the star is the woman who's pictured above, Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich plays Helen, who at one time in her life was a showgirl in glamorous nightclubs. But then she met research chemist Ned Faraday (Herbert Marshall) and they fell in love and got married. It wouldn't do for the wife of a respectable chemist to be doing her showgirl thing, so Helen settles down and becomes a respetable housewife and mother.

And then Ned gets sick with radiation poisoning, and needs to go off to Europe for the only treatment possible that will save his life. However, that's going to take money that the Faradays just don't have. Well, Helen could fairly quickly get the money if she went back to being a showgirl, but Ned obviously isn't happy about that. Still, Helen isn't about to let her husband die, so she goes to work at a club, which is where she meets Cary Grant, who this time is another wealthy playboy, named Nick Townsend. Nick gives Helen the money Ned needs for his treatment, and Ned goes off to Europe. Helen, meanwhile, stays home to work, as well as to spend some quality time with Nick.

All's well, more or less, until Ned gets cured early and comes home before everybody expects him, which is how he finds out what Helen's been doing with Nick. As the wronged husband, Ned is unsurprisingly unhappy, and wants to divorce Helen and take custody of the kid. It also shouldn't be a surprise that he wins the custody case, considering that he did nothing wrong here. But Helen doesn't want to give up her son, so she runs off with the kids, performing in less glamorous joints across the country until the law finally catches up with her, and she's forced to go off to Paris to work, which is where she becomes a true sensation. It's in Paris that she meets Nick again....

As I wrote the plot down, I noticed that it's all a bit nuts. And yet, the movie works well beyond the point that you'd notice that there's something not quite right with the plot. That, of course, is down to Marlene Dietrich, who is in her charismatic form here, helped out in part by a couple of riveting outfits. One, pictured above, is a dazzling sequined suit with leotard and tights that she wears in Paris and must have been even more dazzling on the big screen. The other is a more absurd gorilla number. But hey, it's Marlene Dietrich. She alone would be worth watching. But you've got a young and dashing Cary Grant showing up, as well as Herbert Marshall to provide the serious groiunding for the movie. The ultimate effect is a movie that's quite a bit better than it probably ought to be.

TCM lists Blonde Venus as being available from the TCM Shop.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Frankie Avalon turns 75

Frankie Avalon holding Annette Funicello

Singer-turned-actor Frankie Avalon turns 75 years old today. Although Avalon is nowadays best remembered for those beach movies he mae with Annette Funicello, that's not how he started off in Hollywood, and the beach movie phase really only lasted a couple of years for him. Avalon was brought into the cast of John Wayne's The Alamo back in 1960, presumably to bring in teen viewers the way Fabian had, or Elvis Presley before them. Other movies that were intended to be serious followed, such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Panic in Year Zero!, before the first of the beach movies in 1963.

Like the other teen idols of the late 50s, Avalon didn't have a terribly successful Hollywood career, if you consider success to be good roles and staying power. Avalon's career more or less petered out after Skidoo in 1968, until the nostalgia craze came around in the mid-1970s, allowing him to more or less play himself in a scene in Grease, and then reunite with Annette for a couple of TV movies until Annette's multiple sclerosis cut her career short.

If you like authentic 60s movies instead of the recent-day stuff that looks back at the 60s, then one or another of the beach movies is worth a watch, although I wouldn't watch them all together, the way TCM sometimes programs them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Postmark for Danger

I briefly mentioned Postmark for Danger just about two years ago, when it aired on TCM instead of the previously-schedule The Secret Fury. Postmark for Danger is back on the TCM schedule this afternoon at 2:30, so you have another chance to catch it.

The plot is a mess, although that isn't apparent at first. Tim Forrester (Robert Beatty) is an artist living in London, who gets the news that his brother Lewis died in a car crash in Italy, with an actress friend in the car with him. That's a shame, but matters get worse when Scotland Yard informs him the case was likely murder. Lewis was an investigative journalist, and was working on a case of international jewel smugglers, so it would make sense to think that they killed him. And then Tim hears that just before he died, Lewis sent him a postcard that's bound to be a vital clue in the case.

It's about here that the movie starts to get convoluted. Lots of movies have Macguffins, and if that's all the postcard were, a plot about Tim trying to get the postcard and people trying to keep the postcard from him could be a moderately enjoyable movie. But in all of this, Tim gets a call from a strange guy who wants him to do a portrait of the guy's daughter. And then a model whom Tim had been wortking with at the beginning of the movie winds up dead in his apartment! And to make things even more complicated, another woman shows up, claiming to be Alison Ford (Terry Moore), who was the woman named as the charred-beyond-recognition body in the car with Lewis back in Italy! Together, the two try to solve the mystery.

It's an interesting premise, but I have to admit that I found the movie less than exciitng. The moviemakers put too much into the movie in too short a time, with the result that the plot it a bit too much of a mess. I also didn't find the characters particularly interesting. Still, being an American, it's nice to see something authentically British and not so well-knwon show up on TCM. I think Postmark for Danger still isn't on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing to judge for yourself.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Purple Hills

Earlier this year, when I blogged about Big Jim McLain, I suggested that it played out more like a TV episode than a movie. Some of the later B movies from after TV got up and going in a big way also play out that way, such as the western The Purple Hills, which is getting another airing on FXM tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM.

The movie starts off intriguingly. Out somewhere in the old west, a guy with dirty blond hair arrives at a bridge, which he uses to stalk another, dark-haird man, who is down in the dry riverbed below. The two get in a gun fight, with the blondish man killing the dark-haired guy, putting the dead man on his horse to take him back to town. But the horse winds up lame, so the man has to shoot the horse and bury the man. Cut to two other men, Barnes (Kent Taylor) and Chito (Danny Zapien). They're watching a figure coming toward them, thinking it's a man they're supposed to meet, named Beaumont. But they spot vultures, come up on a grave, and find that it's Beaumont who's been killed, at which point the Apaches, who were friends of Beaumont, arrive. Barnes tells them that the other guy killed Beaumont, and they'll go fetch him so that the Apaches can mete out justice.

Cut to town, where the blondish man arrives and goes to the marshal's (Russ Bender) office. There, we find out that the man is named Gil Shepard (played by Gene Nelson), and he's looking for the reward on Beaumont's head, which amounts to somthing a bit over $8,000, which was a substantial sum back in the 1870s. The only thing is, Shepard doesn't have the body, which you really need to claim the reward. However, he has the next best thing, which is Beaumont's holster and bandolier. Or, it would be the next best thing if Barnes hadn't beaten Shepard back to town to try to claim the reward for himself, providing Beaumont's belt buckle as evidence of having killed him. And since he saw the dead body and dead horse, he knows just as much about Beaumont as Shepard does. The marshal has a bright idea: since Shepard only uses a rifle and Barnes only uses a six-shooter, they'll go out to Beaumont's grave together, exhume the body, and find out what kind of bullets killed Beaumont, and therefore who gets the reward.

Into all of this walks Beaumont's long-lost brother Martin (Jerry Summers). He's an orphan, and since they couldn't find big brother when the parents died, Martin was sent to live with the closest thing to relatives, that being one Amy Carter (Joanna Barnes). The two of them have come out to this God-forsaken little town to identify the dead body. Marin, meanwhile, has come with another motive: he plans to kill whoever killed his brother! So all five of these souls make their way out the grave, which provides the drama for the second half of the movie. However, it's in Apache country, so they're also going to have to deal with the Apaches eventually, after a twist or two. It all leads to an ending that at least resolves everything, if it doesn't quite feel like everybody is in character.

It's fairly unoriginal material, although there's nothing particularly wrong with it. It's just that the acting, writing, and direction make the movie look more like it would have been suited to one of those TV westers: either cut it down from the hour to the 45 minutes or so that a one-hour TV western would be minus the commercials, or pad it a bit to fit into a 90-minute TV slot. The cinematography looks like it wouldn't be bad if FXM could be bothered to find a print in the original Cinemascope aspect ratio instead of 4:3. If you like westerns, The Purple Hills fits in reasonably well with all those other B westerns made over the years, entertaining for the 60 minutes that it's on but providing no particular staying power. If you're not necessarily a fan of westerns, I'd start with some of the more well-known stuff.

Tonight's Israeli cinema

The "Jewish Experience in Film" series of The Projected Image continues with a couple of movies that are completely new to me, in the sense that I hadn't heard of them before seeing the month's schedule. The night deals more or less with the founding of Israel in 1947/8, although of course it was more of a process than one day there not being a state of Israel, and the next day the partitioning of the British mandate in Palestine being complete. Before that there were the migrations of Jews from Europe back to Israel, which we saw earlier in the Dolores Hart movie Lisa, which is unfortunately not on this month's schedule. Instead, the European migration to Palestine is dealt with in Exodus, which is coming up overnight at 2:15 AM (and is not among the new-to-me movies, of course).

It's the movies made in Israel that look interesting, and that I didn't know about before. First up, at 8:00, is Hill 24 Doesn't Answer, which according to the blurb is about several people who fought in the Israeli war of independence that followed the partitioning of the mandate, and how the members of unit that's focussed on came to be fighting the war.

The other of the Israeli movies is Sallah, at 10:00, which is listed as a comic movie about an immigrant to Israeli in 1948 and the difficulties he faces supporting his family. The title character is played by Haym Topol, who is the same Topol who would go on to play Tevye in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof several years later. Topol turned 79 last week.

For the record, the other movie, at 12:15 AM, is the Hollywood film Sword in the Desert, a Universal-International feature starring Dana Andrews as a ship's captain smuggling Jews into Palestine who winds up getting more involved in the independence struggle.

Monday, September 15, 2014

TCM's Lauren Bacall tribute

Tuesday, September 16 would have been Lauren Bacall's 90th birthday if she hadn't died last month. When TCM originally made up the September schedule, they had a morning and afternoon of films planned for the day, leading into the third night of this year's "Projected Image" series. So when TCM decided to do a 24-hour tribute to Bacall, they had to ditch the Sept. 15 prime time schedule instead, so the tribute begins at 8:00 PM tonight. TCM is showing 11 of Bacall's movies, along with two airings of the Private Screenings interview she did with Robert Osborne back in 2005:

The first airing of the Private Screenings interview kicks off the tribute at 8:00 PM;
Bacall sings and teaches Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in To Have and Have Not at 9:00 PM;
Bacall gets involved in a convoluted mystery that Bogart tries to solve in The Big Sleep at 11:00 PM;
We learn from Bacall How to Marry a Millionaire overnight at 1:00 AM;
You'll have that second chance to catch the Private Screenings interview at 2:45 AM;
Bacall hires private detective Paul Newman in Harper at 3:45 AM;
Bacall helps Gary Cooper complete a business deal in Bright Leaf, tomorrow at 6:00 AM;
Bacall is one of the love interests for Kirk Douglas' Young Man With a Horn at 8:00 AM;
Bacall protects escaped convict Bogart as he tries to solve the crime for which he was falsely accused in Dark Passage at 10:00 AM;
Bacall meets old friend Bogart at Key Largo, at noon;
Bacall is on a slow boat from China with John Wayne in Blood Alley at 2:00 PM;
Bacall is in a supporting role to Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl at 4;00 PM; and
Bacall and Gregory Peck go at it in Designing Woman at 6:00 PM.

There's also one Lauren Bacall movie that shows up over on FXM: The Gift of Love, today at 1:00 PM. This one has Bacall as the wife of Robert Stack, who discovers that she's got a heart condition that's going to cause her death at an early age, so she goes and adopts a daughter in order that her husband won't be left alone after she dies. It's a remake of the movie Sentimental Journey which some of you may have seen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Shorts report for September 14, 2014

Somebody at TCM has decided to be nice to us by having all the shorts listed on the schedule for a good week in advnace. Not only that, but it looks as though there are going to be quite a few shorts coming up this week. As always when I mention upcoming shorts, though, I'll only be mentioning stuff coming up in the next 36 hours or so.

We start off with One For the Book at 7:40 PM tonight, just after With Six You Get Eggroll (6:00 PM, 95 min plus an intro/outro from Ben Mankiewicz). This short from 1940 has characters stepping out of books and performing musical and comedy numbers. It sounds somewhat familiar, although I also seem to remember a similar short that has characters in a toy room doing their thing. This one has a young Betty Hutton as Cinderella doing a couple of songs.

John Nesbitt's Passing Parade teaches us about the dangers of gossip in Whispers, at 9:48 PM tonight, or some time after The Old Maid (8:00, 95 minutes plus an intro/outro). I don't think I've seen this particular entry, and to be honest, I prefer some of the other series from back then to the Passing Parade shorts.

One of the more interesting series involved golfer Bobby Jones, who made eight or nine back in the early 1930s trying to teach people how to be better golfers, in a series called How to Break 90. Technology has made that task quite a bit easier, of course, and that's part of what makes old shorts -- especially these, although a lot of others share the trait -- interesting: they can be a bit of a time capsule. Anyhow, Bobby Jones is going to be teaching us the downswing, tomorrow morning at 8:49 AM, or just after The Unholy Garden (7:30 AM, 75 min).

Finally, we get a 1930s era RKO short, which doesn't seem to happen too often. This one is Neptune Mysteries, part of something called the Struggle to Live series, and is on at 11:34 AM tomorrow morning, after When a Feller Needs a Friend (10:15 AM, 74 min). This short looks at life under the sea, specifically a female octopus and some sea snails. Underwater photography has come a long way in the intervening 80 years.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Frisco Jenny

One of the movies that aired last week in TCM's Friday pre-Code marathon was Frisco Jenny. It's on again overnight tonight at 12:15 AM, or late this evening for those of you in more westerly time zones.

Ruth Chatterton plays Jenny, and we first see her in a sequence captioned, "San Francisco, 1906". So already we know there's going to be an earthquake coming up in the movie and that it's going to be an important plot point. In the case of Jenny, that involves her boyfriend. She's working as a madam at one of the night spots on the Barbary Coast, providing escorts for functions that want to consider themselves high-class, and she's in love with the pianist. In fact, she's planning to get married to the guy, until that earthquake comes, which kills him. That's sad, but more tragic is that the two had already been having sex, as we find that Jenny is with child.

So she does what any self respecting woman would do, which is to have the child, a son named Daniel, and take care of it, with the help of a Chinese nurse named Amah (played in yellowface by Helen Jerome Eddy). Jenny continues her vice work, but serious problems arise when there's a shooting at one of the parties: her business partner Steve (Louis Calhern) shoots the other guy in a struggle, leading Jenny to have to dispose of the gun herself. There are legal questions to be answered, and a woman with a legal cloud over her head is considered by the nanny-staters to be an unfit mother. Why Amah couldn't be the guardian is never really discussed, although I suspect it's just the view of the times that nobody would have thought of sticking a white child with an Asian parent -- it's not as if Amah would provide a father for the child. So the kid gets put with a wealthy family in Oakland. When the time comes for Jenny to reclaim the child after the legal case has been resolved, the kid only knows his foster parents as parents, and doesn't recognize Jenny at all. So she makes the difficult decision to leave the child with them.

Jenny follows Daniel's progress vicariously through newspaper clips, as he grows up, becomes a college football star, goes to law school, and then becomes an assistant DA all by the improbably young age of 26 (the movie ends with an event in early 1933; you do the math). Jenny, meanwhile, never lets on to anybody, not even Daniel, that she's his mother, remaining in the vice business with Steve instead. However, she's planning to retire once she gets her son elected DA, since Daniel (James Murray) is planning to be tough on crime. In fact, Daniel finally catches Steve trying to give him a bribe, complete with witnesses. Steve is done for, except that he has one more ace up his sleeve: he knows that the notorious Frisco Jenny is actually the biological mother of the DA, and is willing to reveal that shameful secret as if it would cause a problem for the DA. So Jenny shoots Steve in the doorway of the DA's office before Steve can tell Dan about it.

There's something about Frisco Jenny that doesn't ring quite true. Perhaps it's the plot that really strains credulity at times, or perhaps it's just that we're looking back 80 years with the values of today and finding things that make little sense. There's nothing bad about the movie; it's just nothing that ever rises to greatness. If you haven't seen Frisco Jenny before, give it a watch. But if I were looking to recommend pre-Codes to people who haven't seen any of them before, there are quite a few I'd recommend before this one.

Frisco Jenny was released to DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 3. I think it's out of print now, though, since it's not available at the TCM Shop.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Sometime a couple of years ago, possibly during Jean Harlow's turn as TCM's Star of the Month in her centenary month of March 2011, I sat down to watch her film Bombshell. I found the characters so irritating that I said the heck with it after a half hour or so. Bombshell came on again last month when Lee Tracy was being honored in Summer Under the Stars, so I figured I'd suck it up and finally watch the movie in full and see if my first impression might have been wrong. No; the characters were still intensely irritating for the most part. Bombshell is on the TCM schedule again this afternoon at 4:45 PM as part of the Friday pre-Code marathon, so you can give it a look and judge for yourself.

Jean Harlow plays the least annoying by far of the main characters. She's the title bombshell, a platinum blonde actress named Lola Burns. She's made it big in Hollywood, enough so that all the gossip magazines want a piece of her and her family has been able to come out to California to live with her. Her family members, combined with her own personal life, have combined to keep her constantly in the 1930s equivalent of TMZ, although of course it was print only back then since there was no TV. Dad (Frank Morgan) and her brother Junior (Ted Healy, here without the Stooges) are layabouts who seem to be living off Lola's money, and getting into some trouble at times. Meanwhile, Lola's love life involves an ex in the form of director Jim Brogan (Pat O'Brien) and current love the Marquis (Ivan Lebedeff).

So, you can see why Lola would be in the tabloids all the time. She hates it, but the studio publicist/firefighter, Space Hanlon (Lee Tracy) tries to tell Lola it's a good thing. After all, if you're not in the public eye, your fans are going to stop thinking about you, and pretty soon you're not going to have any fans. But it's not just the idea that any publicity is good publicity: Space is deliberately creating many of these situations to make certain Lola's name will be in the news. The first time Lola realizes this, she decides that she'd like to change her image by adopting a baby. Space, for his part, thinks this change of image would be bad for the studio, so he does what he can to sabotage it, and when Lola discovers the sabotage, she runs away from Hollywood entirely.

Lola goes to a desert resort, and while horesback riding, she meets nice Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone). He's wealthy and from a good family (parents played by Mary Forbes and C. Aubrey Smith). Gifford would like to marry Lola, but first he's got to meet her family, which of course poses a bit of a dilemma for Lola. And to make matters more complicated, Space figured out where Lola ran off to, and has showed up himself. Surely he's got to be there for the possibility of publicity. Or is this finally the time Lola can trust him?

The big problem I have with Bombshell, as I stated at the beginning of the post, is that most of the characters are unappealing. Harlow's Lola Burns is the most sympathetic, but she plays the role frenetically. To be fair, I think the script and director (Victor Fleming) must have called for it, because everybody's frenetic. It still makes Lola mildly unappealing. Space is a complete jerk, although I suppose some people will just say he's doing his job. The question is what sort of moral reprobate would take this dishonest publicity job in the first place. Lola's dad and brother are also selfish jerks, and you wonder why Lola doesn't kik at least the brother out of the house. O'Brien isn't too bad as the director ex, although his character isn't given much to work with. He and Lebedeff's marquis both disappear halfway through the movie. C. Aubrey Smith is a bit of a bright spot, although he shows up too late. And then the ending made me want to scream at the TV.

A lot of people like Bombshell, however. So you can watch today and judge for yourself, or get a copy of the movie on DVD from the Warner Archvie.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Richard Kiel, 1939-2014

Richard Kiel, the actor best known for playing Jaws in two of Roger Moore's James Bond films: The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, has died, three days before his 75th birthday. Kiel being 7'1", his towering figure made for a perfect buffoonish baddie for Bond to have to fight in set pieces. As I understand it, he was cast in The Spy Who Loved Me and that was that, but the audiences liked the character enough that the producers decided to bring Jaws back for a second go-round in Moonraker.

Kiel is survived by his wife of 40 years and four children.

Wikipedia claims that a young Kiel is one of the bodybuilders in The Nutty Professor, which is on tonight at 8:00 PM.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Returnees apparently not on DVD

I blogged about Strange Bargain at the end of 2010. It still doesn't seem to be on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the infrequent TCM showing this afternoon at 5:15 PM. Jeffrey Lynn plays a family man in debt who gets mixed up in his equally indebted boss' suicide plan. It's a plan that looks like murder, and that of course gets our protagonist in trouble. It's worth a viewing if you haven't seen it before.

Over on FXM, Inferno is back on the schedule after a long absence, tomorrow morning at 10:10 AM. (I assume it'll show up several times in the weeks thereafter, but right now that seems to be the only airing in the next two weeks.) Ryan plays a businessman married to Rhonda Fleming, who goes out to the desert with her and a prospective partner in a business deal, played by William Lundigan. What Ryan doesn't know is that his wife is in love with the business partner, and those two are plotting to have him die out in the desert! Ryan surely isn't going to allow that to happen!

One movie that I don't think I've blogged about before that's coming up and isn't on DVD is She Married Her Boss, overnight tonight at 1:45 AM on TCM (or this evening if you're out on the west coast). Since this is part of the salute to Melvyn Douglas as TCM's Star of the Month, it's no surprise that Douglas plays the boss. The "she" is played by Claudette Colbert, who at the start of the movie is secretary to Douglas, who has a child and no wife. Colbert is so good at organizing Douglas' business life that the two end up falling in love and getting married, only for Colbert to discover that organizing a home life -- especially with a stepdaughter (Edith Fellows) around -- is much more difficult than organizing a boss' business life. It's an solid enough premise, but the movie only turns out OK, nothing great.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Pawnborker

This week's Projected Image in Film movies look at the Holocaust in various ways. Among those movies is The Pawnbroker, at 11:45 PM.

Rod Steiger plays the title character, a pawnborker named Sol Nazerman who owns a pawn shop in Spanish Harlem, but lives out in the suburbs with his American sister-in-law and her family. In theory, it should be a reasonably comfortable life, except for the fact that Sol survived the Holocaust, and has terrible flashbacks about it. That shouldn't be a surprise, considering that we learn in the flashbacks that Sol had a wife and children who didn't survive the Holocaust.

Life at the pawn shop isn't that much better. He's got a young man working for him, a Puerto Rican named Jesus Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez) who really seems to be sincerely trying to find an honest way to live, but has apparently had a load of bad influences in his life. The pawn shop doesn't make much money on its own, as we see from some of the patrons who come in trying to pawn essentially worthless stuff. So to supplement his income, and partly because he doesn't hvae much choice, Sol is also a front for the area vice lord Rodriguez (Brock Peters) to launder money.

Sol has responded to all of this by shutting himself off emotionally from the rest of the world. His in-laws want to take him to Europe, but he doesn't seem to care either way; Jesus at the pawn shop seems to be well meaning in asking him what it's like to be a Jew, to which Sol gives him an answer that Jesus obviously wasn't expecting; and the social worker Marilyn (Geraldine Fitzgerald) tries to pry into his personal life in ways he clearly doesn't want. Sol also has a lady friend Tessie (Marketa Kimbrell) with a dying father, but even this can't make Sol open up emotionally.

Matters are about to hit a head in two ways. First, Sol learns the full truth about how Rodriguez is making is money, and that truth horrifies Sol to the point that he doesn't want to launder the money any longer. Good luck with that; Rodriguez isn't going to let him stop. And Sol is too cold to Jesus one too many times, so Jesus finally says to hell with Sol's pawn shop and gets some of his Puerto Rican friends together to try ot stick up the joint.

But the plot events going around Sol Nazerman are really just in service of what is ultimately a character study of one Holocaust survivor. The plot, what with the flashbacks and the various compartmentalized parts of Sol's life, is difficult to follow at times. It's up to Rod Steiger to deliver an effective portrayal of Sol in order for the film to succeed, and Steiger does this, taking very difficult material and turning Sol into somebody we at least have some interest in, if not liking; after all, Sol isn't a man who would be easy to like. The rest of the cast is good in support of Steiger, with Brock Peters being particularly unsettling as the domineering crime boss and the in-laws being sufficiently irritating. The cinematography makes Spanish Harlem look like a place nobody would want to live or do business if they didn't have to, and that's to the film's benefit. Quincy Jones' score adds to the unsettling nature of the film, especially because one of the pieces was reused in a completely different context. There's also one jarring continuity error at the end of the film, but by that time the film has already delivered its emotional impact.

The Pawnbroker is a difficult movie to watch at times, but it's one that's well worth seeing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw

One of the movies that's back on FXM this month after a significant absence is The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw. It's getting its third airing in about a week tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM.

Kenneth More stars as Briton Jonathan Tibbs, although we don't see him at first. Instead, we see his wealthy uncle Lucius (Robert Morley), who is rather exasperated with the nephew, who has gone off heaven only knows where. It turns out that Tibbs is in the carriage house of the estate, tinkering on a new invention called a horseless carriage, the movie being set at some point in the late 19th century. Lucius insists that Jonathan take up the family business of gunsmithing, which they've been doing since 1605, or else be disinherited. Jonathan doesn't really want to, but then comes up with a brilliant idea. The business is in a parlous state, needing to see more guns to survive, and where better to sell guns than in the wild west? That of course is the western part of the United States, while Jonathan and Lucius live in Britain. You have to wonder whether it's just an excuse to get away, but whatever, after this brief opening the movie shifts to America.

Going out west means such staples of western movies like the stagecoach ride to the town of Fractured Jaw. Along the way, we learn that the town is in the middle of a range war, with the Lazy S and Box T ranches going at each other over grazing and water rights. For a Briton to go to the town to sell guns to both sides and anybody not on either side seems mildly suicidal, to say the least. But before we can get to Fractured Jaw, we get anothe rstaple of western movies, which is the ambush by Indians. This one turns out differently, though, as Tibbs gets out of the coach, calmly walks up behind the indian chief, and gets him to break of the attack through sheer chutzpah.

Once in Fractured Jaw, Tibbs meets the proprietress of the local hotel and saloon, the lovely Kate (Jayne Mansfield). He also runs into various of the hired guns from both the Lazy S and Box T, all of whom get the impression through a comedy of errors that Tibbs is working for the other side. The misunderstandings continue, and when an in-the-sleeve gun disarms one of the hired gunman, the mayor of Fractured Jaw (Henry Hull) makes Tibbs the sheriff and tells him to deal with the problem of disarming all of the hired gunmen. Our fish out of water goes through the rest of the movie being oh-so-British, but somehow winning over Kate's heart, the Indians, and then the two groups of gunmen, as the movie reaches its inevitable happy ending.

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw is an amiable little movie, somewhat reminiscent of the later Support Your Local Sheriff! in that you've got a goy who has no intentions of becoming a sheriff getting the job by accident, and then proceeding to clean up the town almost in spite of himself. The comedy, however, is somewhat softer in tone then the more outrageous Support Your Local Sheriff!. Not that it's not funny, of course. More does a surprisingly good job, as he doesn't seem like the sort of person you'd expect to appear in either a western or a comedy. Jayne Mansfield is lovely to look at as always what with that huge bustline; her acting and the musical numbers she performs do nothing to take away from the plot. The plot is somewhat predictable, but at the same time there's nothing particularly wrong with it. All in all, it's a fairly entertaining little movie. And thankfully, the last time FXM aired it, it was in the correct Cinemascope aspect ratio.

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw has been released to DVD, but I think the DVDs are out of print.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Notes from all over

Lithuanian actor Donatas Banionis, whom some of you might remember if you've seen Andrei Tarkovsky's original 1972 version of Solaris, died on Thursday aged 90. I have to admit to not having seen the movie in its entirety. It was one I could never get into when it was running on IFC back in the days when it was a commercial-free channel that actually aired independent movies.

Another death to report is that of art director/production designer Karel Černý, who died on Friday at the age of 92. Černý worked with Miloš Forman several films, both in Communist Czechoslovakia (The Firemen's Ball and Loves of a Blonde among others) and later in Hollywood, on the Oscar-winning Amadeus.

The Shining sisters haunt Krakow. Or at least, that's the headline from the external service of Polish Radio, about a Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the National Museum in Krakow that's running for another week if any of you are in Poland and want to see it. One of the English Section's reporters interviewed the twins, and that interview can be downloaded directly from Polish Radio here. The file is about 8MB and runs a little over eight minutes.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Coal Miner's Daughter

Tonight's Essential on TCM is the biopic Coal Miner's Daughter, at 8:00 PM.

Nowadays, most people would recognize Coal Miner's Daughter as the life story of country singer Loretta Lynn, although when the book on which the movie was based was published back in the late 1970s, the story behind Lynn's success wasn't so well known, and that's what the book and movie tells, the movie doing so beautifully. (I haven't read the book.)

Sissy Spacek plays Loretta, who at the start of the movie is about 14 years old, living with her large family including her, her parents (Levon Helm of The Band and Phyllis Boyens), and a whole bunch of siblings. Dad is a coal miner, and when she takes the horsecart into town to meet Dad, we first meet Doolittle Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones). He's a brash young veteran just back from World War II with a jeep and a pile of money to burn. He meets Loretta and begins to fall for her, although the feeling isn't quite mutual as she's never been in love before. (The movie as far as I remember doesn't state their age difference but implies it's fairly large; in real life they were about six years apart. The tag line says she got married at 13 but the real story has her being married at 15.) Eventually Doolittle asks for Loretta's hand in marriage, and Dad reluctantly consents.

Married life isn't easy. Much like Dana Andrews' Fred Derry in The Best Years of Our Lives, the money Doolittle came home from the war with hadn't lasted very long and now he's not much better off financially than the coal miners. So Doolittle takes Loretta out west with him to work the logging camps in Washington, which is where she has the first four of their children (in real life, the fourth child was born a week before Loretta's 20th birthday; do the math). Life is difficult, in part becase Loretta is unhappy alone and in a strange place, what with Doolittle having reneged on his promise to her Dad not to take her too far away.

Things begin to change when Doolittle hears Loretta singing to the children and realizes that she's got a pretty voice. He encourages her to sing in public, and then eventually cut a record, which the two take to various country music stations all over America on their way to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry, which is The Big Thing in country music. Obviously, we know from the fact that this is based on an autobiography that Loretta is eventually going to make it big, but this is one of those movies where the value is in seeing how the characters get to the eventual ending.

And what a good movie it is. The story is probably embellished in parts, but reading the Wikipedia article, which is presumably reasonably accurate, reveals that the true story is just as interesting. Sissy Spacek is outstanding as Loretta, playing her through 30 years of her life. The supporting cast is more than up to the task, from Jones, to the famous names playing themselves (Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, and Minnie Pearl), to the one playing another famous name, Beverly D'Angelo as Patsy Cline who, for fairly obvious reasons couldn't play herself. I'm not much of a fan of country music, but if you're the same way, that shouldn't have any bearing on whether or not you'll like the movie, which is uniformly excellent.

Coal Miner's Daughter is available on DVD.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Briefs for September 5, 2014

Today is apparently the birth anniversary of Jesse James, who was born on this day in 1847. There have been a bunch of movies made about the life and death of Jesse James, some of which I've blogged about. He's been a popular subject for movies, going back to the silent era. (Do any of those silent films survive?) Which Jesse James film is your favorite?

I was wondering why I hadn/t seen any promos for this month/'s Friday Night Spotlight, which is a festival of pre-Code movies and is, in fact all day and night on Fridays, with 60-something movies showing overall. It turns out that it's being presented by Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin, although it doesn't say whether they're presenting the movies together, or who's presenting what movies. On the bright side, since it's all pre-Codes, we won't be getting the Marlon Brando version of Mutiny on the Bounty.

We've got a new series of movies in the 10:30 AM Saturday slot, the Dr. Kildare movies. I haven't checked all the way through to the November schedule to see if all nine movies are running, or whether the Dr. Gillespie movies will follow after the last of the Dr. Kildare movies.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Jeux interdits

TCM's monthly Guest Programmer, director Richard Linklater, shows up tonight, although accoridng to the promo running on the channel and the blurb at the website, he's only presenting three movies. Tonight's fourth movie, Forbidden Games at 4:00 AM, is apparently not being presented by Linklater. It's also the only one of the four not available for purchase from the TCM Shop.

The scene is the French countryside in June of 1940. Those of you who know your history will realize that this isn't only World War II; this is the time when the Nazis were invading France before it capitulated and Germany set up the Vichy regime. So people were fleeing Paris, trying to make it to safety somewhere, even if they didn't know where that safety wsa going to be found. In other words, it's a mad dash as the Nazis are coming after the Parisians, strafing them along the way. Among those in the exodus is the little girl Paulette (Brigitte Fossey), her parents, and her dog. Unfortunately for Paulette, the Nazis get both of hre parents, as well as her dog, leaving her an orphan. But she refuses to believe her dog is dead, so she picks up the dog and starts walking to, well, wherever.

Eventually, she's discovered by a boy not much older than she is. That boy, Michel (Georges Poujouly), is the youngest son of one of the farming families in the area. He'll take her home with him, because really, what else is there he can do, just leave the orphaned girl to die? But first, there's the matter of that dead dog. They have to bury it, if only for the sake of hygiene; leaving dead bodies around is dangerous. But it's also important that there be a proper burial at the abandoned mill, which includes a grave marker and, since the boy comes from a devout Catholic family, a makeshift cross.

Life at the farm is tough, as there's a lot of hard work, and not much to go around. Having another mouth to feed isn't something they wanted, but again, it's not as if the family can just let her die either. But Paulette is just a little girl, much younger than everybody in the family save for Michel, so she's sort of left to her own devices until it can be figured out what to do with her. For her part, Paulette begins to wonder: if her dog can have a proper grave, why can't the other dead animals? So Michel and Paulette start burying other dead animals. It wouldn't be so bad if they were making makeshift crosses out of tree branches or what not, but Michel starts stealing crosses for the animal cemetery. And this, understandably, causes big problems when all the adults start wondering who's taken all the crosses.

Forbidden Games is a moving film, dependent entirely on the performances of the two child stars. Thankfully, they're much more natural than some of the child stars the Hollywood studios gave us back in those days. The parents are also much less tolerant -- and frankly, understandably so -- than parents in Hollywood movies. As much as movies like I Remember Mama or Our Vines Have Tender Grapes may be well-made, there's something about them that feels to be looking back nostalgically. Forbidden Games feels much more realistic, down to the poverty faced by the farm family compared to that not faced by the family in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. The story also feels different from what Hollywood would ever have done, and develops at its own pace, done well all the way around.

I don't know if Forbidden Games is still in print on DVD. You can apparently get it at Amazon, but not, as I mentioned at the beginning, from the TCM Shop. So you may want to record tonight's TCM airing if you haven't seen it before.

Andrew V. McLaglen, 1920-2014

The death was announced on Tuesday of director Andrew V. McLaglen, who died last weekend at the age of 94. McLaglen was the son of Oscar-winning actor Victor McLaglen. McLaglen started his career in the mid 1950s with movies like Man in the Vault, which has William Campbell as a locksmith who decides to take the contents of a mob safety deposit box for himself, which of course turns out to be a rather foolish decision.

McLaglen worked in TV and movies throughout the next 25 years, making films such as NcClintock! and Chisum with John Wayne, and Shenandoan and Bandolero! with James Stewart. There's also the World War II action film The Devil's Brigade.

I don't know if TCM is ever going to have a tribute to him, but it would be nice to see a night's worth of his movies.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Star of the Month September 2014: Melvyn Douglas

Now that we're done with Summer Under the Stars, we get another Star of the Month again. This month it's Melvyn Douglas, who had a career as a romantic lead in the 1930s and would eventually go on to become a successful supporting actor, winning two Best Supporting Actor Oscars after 1960. In fact, the second of those Oscar wins, for Being There, is the movie that kicks off the salute to Douglas tonight at 8:00 PM.

Douglas played the second man in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, which follows at 10:15 PM. In the photo above, Douglas, who plays the Blandings' lawyer (the Blandings, of course, being played by Cary Grant and Myrna Loy), is seen driving out to Connecticut with the Blandings to see the house that they've bought, only to find that it's going to take a lot of work to get from there to the dream house.

The closest thing to a romantic comedy that shows up on this first night of the salute to Douglas is probably Three Hearts for Julia tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM, involving Douglas as a man helping his ex-wife (Ann Sothern) pick between suitors, although everybody knows that Sothern and Douglas are really more right for each other and should wind up together again in the last reel.

For classic Melvyn Douglas romanitc comedy like Ninotchka, you'll have to wait until next week (September 10), when it shows up at 8:00 along with a couple of others.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Projected Image 2014

Tonight brings the first of five nights of this year's Projected Image series to TCM. Over the past several years, TCM has had Robert Osborne sit down with a bunch of experts (or at least academics) to show a series of films looking at how Hollywood has portrayed various minority groups over the years. This year, that look is on the Jewish experience. I've never heard of Eric Goldman, the guy presenting this month's lineup, but that doesn't say anything about whether the guy is going to be worth watching.

This year the movies are grouped thematically rather than chronologically, starting with two versions of The Jazz Singer. First up is the classic that we all remember, in which Al Jolson tells us that we ain't heard nothing yet, at 8:00. That'll be followed at 9:45 PM by the 1953 version with Danny Thomas in the starring role. For better or worse, they aren't running the 1980 remake with Neil Diamond, although I suppose that it might be interesting just once to see all three versions together in order to compare and contrast.

The other two are movies I don't know well at all: Hester Street, at 11:45, looks at Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City, while Avalon at 1:30 AM is about Polish Jewish immigrants in Baltimore. The Projected Image site above only mentions 19 movies over the course of the month, with four movies for four nights and one night only having three. But in some of the cases the movies don't fill out the complete night, so TCM has put in an extra relatively related movie that as far as I know won't be introduced by Dr. Goldman. This week, that extra movie is Street Scene at 4:00 AM, because Sylvia Sidney's putative love interest, a law student named Sam Kaplan (played by William Collier) is Jewish and the Jewish-Gentile thing is, I believe, mentioned in passing.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Feature Interview: Lee Grant

Well, not interviewed by me, of course. One of the Radio New Zealand podcasts had the following link:

Featre Interview: Actress Lee Grant

Actress Lee Grant was just making a name for herself in Hollywood - steady work, an academy award nomination and a promising future - when her name appeared on a list that changed everything. She was blacklisted, accused of being a communist during the McCarthy era. For 12 years, she had almost no work. When her name was finally removed, she had to make up for lost time and worked hard to hide her age. Everything from getting plastic surgery before it was in vogue, to even altering her birth date on her driver's license. Lee Grant's new memoir is called "I said Yes to Everything".

There is also a direct link to the MP3 file, which is about 7.8 MB, and 22 minutes and change. I haven't had a chance to listen to the interview yet, and certainly haven't read the book either.

New month, new movies on FXM

Today is the first day of a new month, so it's looking as though FXM is going to be pulling some movies out of the vault that they haven't run in a good while. I don't know how long they're going to be in the FXM rotatoin, or whether any of the things that were in the rotation through yesterday are being removed.

One of them comes up today, as part of a mini-marathon of Shirley Temple movies: Wee Willie Winkie, at 10:15 AM, which has Little Miss Shirley over in British India. That's followed at noon by Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and at 1:25 PM by The Little Princess, both of which have already been on FXM fairly regularly in the past few months. The last time I looked at Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, FXM was running a colorized version, I'm sorry to say. The Little Princess was actually filmed in color, while Wee Willie Winkie is apparently availalbe both in the original black and white as well as in a colorized version. So I won't be surprised if FXM runs a colorized version of that, too.

There are three "back on FXM" movies that show up on Tuesday:

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, at 6:00 AM, has Kenneth More as a British man who becomes sheriff of an old west town.
Bobbikins, at 7:45 AM, sends Shirley Jones over to the UK, where she's the mother of a toddler who gives Daddy (Max Bygreaves) stock tips.
And then there's the war drama Circle of Deception at 9:20 AM.

Richard Attenborough died last week, and FXM is showing his Guns of Batasi once more, tomorrow at 11:00 AM.