Sunday, May 31, 2015

Farewell, Bill Hader

So the following press release is up at TCM's press room:

TCM Announces New Summer-Long Series Movie Camp Targeted To Young Adults and Future Filmmakers

Series Hosted by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg Premieres June 7 at 8 p.m.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) today announced the premiere of TCM Movie Camp, a new summer-long series targeted to young adults and future filmmakers beginning on June 7 at 8 p.m. Hosts William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, Oscar®-winning filmmakers and co-founders of Moonbot Studios, will guide audiences through great films and landmark movie moments during the series, airing every Sunday this summer.

TCM Movie Camp, previously titled Essentials Jr., invites audiences to join in the adventures of classic films and film making as hosts Joyce and Oldenburg provide greater insight into the filmmaking process. In addition to hosting the series, Joyce and Oldenburg created a new animated open for the series, plus special content for TCM social to promote the franchise and engage a broader audience of younger viewers.

It goes on like this in corporate-speak, as well as giving a link to the Movie Camp subsection of the TCM website, which I haven't checked yet to see if it's another flash abomination. Anyhow, the upshot of this is that Bill Hader, who hosted Essentials Jr. and did so reasonably well for the past several years, is not returning. The crop of films showing up in TCM Movie Camp also seems a bit more geared towards older view considering what the rest of the press release says. Granted, there are only so many classic movies that you can show for kids, but at the same time, there's constant turnover in the kids that you would be aiming at.

I'll certainly be watching the intro the first week, and if I watch anything more, it will probably be because the movie in question is something that interests me, and not particularly because of the host. Some of the Friday Night Spotlights have been good, but it's been the rare occasion (the special effects artists in April) that would make me want to tune in for the hosting.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tidbits from international podcasts: May 30, 2015

Kraków, Poland has a Film Music Festival; who knew? It's finishing up tomorrow, so unless you're in the area you won't have time to go. And if you were in the area, you'd probably already know about it. At any rate, Polish Radio's English-language program did a report on it. The direct link to the audio is here; it's a 5MB MP3 and runs a little over five minutes.

In Göteborg, Sweden, the local opera company will be putting on an opera of... Notorious. Yes, the Alfred Hitchcock/Ingrid Bergman/Cary Grant Notorious. The link above has a streaming audio link, it looks like, but Radio Sweden's audio only stays up for a month and their streaming audio doesn't play well with my computer and the fact that I have bandwidth limitations during the day. The report aired during Radio Sweden's English-language broadcast of May 29; the previous is a link to the entire half-hour broadcast from the 29th, which is about 27MB.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 1897-1957

Today marks the birth anniversary of composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Korngold was born in Vienna in 1897 and, like a lot of people in Central Europe, left because of the Nazis in the 1930s. Korngold wound up in Hollywood, and in the 1930s and 1940s composed about 20 film scores. Of course, the one for which he is best remembered today is the rousing score to The Adventures of Robin Hood. That's the one that won him the Oscar. However, he was also nominated the next two years for his scores to The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Sea Hawk.

However, Korngold was a "serious" composer as well, meaning that he composed music that was intended for orchestras on stages and not first and foremost for the cinema. Here's the first movement from one of Korngold's symphonies; the rest of the symphony should be in the sidebar if you go to the Youtube page rather than watching the embedded video.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

An RKO Screenliner I hadn't heard about before

TCM is running a pair of those RKO Screenliner shorts overnight. One of them I've seen before; the other is new to me.

First up is the familiar one, We Never Sleep, at 4:05 AM, or following The Time Machine (2:15 AM, 103 min). This one looks at the Pinkerton detective agency as it did its work back in the 1950s. There's some vintage stuff here, I suppose, but there are more interesting entries in the series.

As for the one I haven't seen, it's Golden Glamour, at 5:37 AM, or after World Without End (4:15 AM, 81 min). Apparently it's a look at the history and use of gold, but as I said I haven't seen it so I can't really comment on it. That having been said, it's a subject that to me doesn't seem like it would be all that interesting in the sense of looking back 60 years and seeing how the people of the day approached the topic. With the Pinkertons, you can imagine how detective work has changed since the 1950s. Ditto all those Traveltalks shorts where it's fun to see how the place has changed since back in the day.

As always, though, watch for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Street Girl redux

A year and change ago, I mentioned the movie Street Girl. It's coming up tomorrow morning at 7:15 AM on TCM, following the subject of the previous blog post, Dance Hall.

I briefly mentioned the plot of the movie in the April 2014 post, and that barebones plot holds. Betty Compson, who had been in silents for a dozen years before the advent of the talkie, plays the down on her luck immigrant girl who meets a struggling band called the Four Seasons because each of them has a season as a last name. The bandleader, Mike Fall (John Harron, who worked steadily if in nothing that you'll remember) falls in love with her. And then it turns out that she had played for a prince back in her home country, and that prince shows up.

There's not all that much going on here, but for an early (ie. pre-42nd. Street) musical, it's not that bad, and worth a watch.

Dance Hall Days

People who grew up in the 80s as I did will probably remember a silly little song called "Dance Hall Days". That song really has nothing to do with the movie Dance Hall, airing tomorrow at 6:00 AM on TCM, other than sharing a title.

The movie was made back in 1929, when young people in smaller towns didn't have all that much to do at night to entertain themselves and meet each other besides going out to a place like a dance hall. Tommy Flynn (future Dagwood Bumstead Arthur Lake) is one of those people. He's an adult who still lives with his mother, since this was common back in the 1920s, and goes out to the dance hall because he's a good dancer. Indeed, he's won trophies at the competitions the hadd runs from time to time, and has them up on the mantel to prove it. Tommy enters those competitions with Gracie (Olive Borden). They like each other, and it would probably be more than that, except that Tommy is too shy to tell Gracie how he really feels about her, and women of the day weren't supposed to be so forward.

Into this small town flies Ted Smith (Ralph Emerson). Literally, he flies into town, because he's a pilot. This being the 1920s, being a pilot is a job that has a high status among a certain section of the population, because it's new, uncommon, and either risky or adventurous, depending upon your point of view. It's only natural that the ladies would find the flyboys attractive, and the flyboys can have whomever they want. Ted sees Gracie, and decides that he wants her, at least as long as he's in town. So he puts the movies on Gracie, and since Gracie has concluded that Tommy is never going to express his feelings for her, she decides that she's going to go with the dashing pilot for a while. What she doesn't know is that Ted really doesn't care that much for her; she's just the equivalent of a navy man's girl in every port.

So Ted flies off to his next destination, but the plane encounters technical difficulties or something, because news reaches town that the plane may have gone down. This is News because it's a small town and the 1920s, when small towns apparently followed the exploits of those adventurous pilots because... well, I don't know why they did, but it seems to be a trope in early talkies. But Gracie takes the news very badly. Ted is of course safe, but at the same time he never had real feelings for Gracie anyhow. So he doesn't particularly care about how hard Gracie took his putative disappearance and abandons her. Tommy is the only one who can help her, leading to the inevitable conclusion that Tommy and Gracie are going to be together at the end of the movie with a loving mother-in-law in the picture, which is how they should have been in the first reel already.

Dance Hall is one of those trifles that dot the early talkie landscape, telling a frivolous little story that's incredibly dated for those of us looking at it 85 years or more on, but also offering a window into a world that's long gone. The titular dance hall here probably turned into the sort of place Marty goes where he meets his teacher girlfriend, and then morphed into the disco of Thank God It's Friday, but the innocence in a movie like Dance Hall. Pilots still had if not a surprisingly high status in films through the 1960s, then at least the reputation for being a bit glamorous and sophisticated for being able to go all over the world. I have a feeling it was the Carter-era deregulation that changed all this. But even in 60s films like Sunday in the Park or Boeing, Boeing people don't care about pilots the way they do in these early talkies.

The plot of Dance Hall is creaky and predictable; the sound is a mess; and the acting is, well, passable at best. But Dance Hall is still an interesting movie that's well worth a watch. I don't think it's available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Baby Peggy and the other surviving silent stars

I came across an interesting article posted over the weeked at the UK newspaper The Guardian, looking at those few surviving people who worked in silent films. My first thought was Baby Peggy, and she of course is the bulk of the article. But there are a handful of other people who appeared in silents as a child and never reached the fame that Baby Peggy did, so their lives weren't warped when they were no longer wanted as child stars.

Baby Peggy, whose real name is Diana Serra Carey, is now 96 and not in the best of health, which shouldn't be surprising for a 96 year old, even if it is a bit of a shame. Heck, it was a shame when Luise Rainer died at the end of last year even though she was 104. The stuff on Carey isn't new if you saw the Baby Peggy documentary that's aired on TCM a couple of times, but the stuff on the other child stars was new to me. There are also a bunch of nice photos of these stars as they were back in the day.

Together Brothers

Several weeks back FXM Retro ran an obscure movie I'd never heard of called Together Brothers. It's going to be on FXM Retro again twice tomorrow, at 3:00 AM and again at 11:30 AM. This would be your chance to catch a very interesting movie.

The movie starts off with a policeman patrolling his beat somewhere in the business district of a city that looks like it's going to seed in the early 1970s. (I don't think the movie ever actually mentions the city until the end credits, where it's revealed that everything was shot on location in Galveston, TX.) The cop deals with loiterers, people we can assume to be prostitutes, and other such minor things, until an adolescent goes into one of those 1970s vintage convenience stores and pilfers a soda. The cop chases the young man, until finding him as his regular hangout.

The cop and the young man are well known to each other. Indeed, the young man is part of a gang that's probably not quite a gang even in the West Side Story sense of the word, and certainly not in the latter-day New Jack City sense. These are really just a bunch of teens who need a good father figure in their lives, and the cop knows it. He treats them as well as he can within the confines of the law, and they reciprocate by calling the cop Mr. Kool (Ed Bernard; I didn't mention the name of the boy in the gang or the actor who played him because this was a low-budget movie with a bunch of nonprofessionals doing much of the acting).

Unfortunately, Mr. Kool has made some enemies with his arrests back in the adult world, and one of those enemies corners him in an alley, shoots him, and pulls down his pants. To make matters more complicated, a little boy witnesses the whole thing. He's shocked, and so our murderer has the chance to get rid of his witness by committing a double murder. However, the gun jams and our little boy can run off. The boy is known to the members of the gang, but he's not telling what he's seen. However, they know Mr. Kool was murdered, and that something really traumatic happened to the boy, so it shouldn't be that difficult to put two and two together.

And, of course, since the gang respected Mr. Kool, they want to find out who murdered him. The only problem is, they have no leads. The only way for them to get leads would be to get at Mr. Kool's private personnel file, which is of course locked in a file cabinet at police headquarters. The only people who can help the gang get into the building are the Chicano gang who aren't on the best of terms with a black gang. But they earn each other's respect, get the personnel file, and allow our black gang to start investigating.

Together Brothers starts out slowly, and meanders such that up until they invade police headquarters you wonder where the heck the movie is going. Once that happens though, the movie becomes both more conventional and more unconventional. I say this because I find the movie conventional in terms of turning into a relatively standard detective movie that could fit in well with Bonita Granville's Nancy Drew movies of the late 1930s. But it's also unconventional because the investigation takes the kids into a very dark and disturbing world, with a scene involving a prostitute (remember, Mr. Kool was trying to move the hookers along at the beginning!) who serves a very niche market. It leads up to a climax in an abandoned cotton warehouse, and an ending where some loose ends aren't wrapped up but is designed to be satisfying for your average viewer.

Together Brothers isn't quite a mainstream (for the 1970s) movie, but it doesn't quite fit in with the more over-the-top blaxploitation movies like Coffy either. In fact, you could say that the movie has definite flaws, in that it's often not quite sure what it wants to be and if it does make that decision, it takes a long time getting there. But it does get there, and the journey and destination are both rewarding. It's also nice to see all the location shooting. I've never been to Galveston, but according to some of the IMDb reviewers, the place has changed quite a bit in the four decades since the movie was made.

IMDb suggests that Together Brothers isn't even available at Amazon, so you're going to have to catch this all-too-rare airing on FXM Retro if you want to see it. I highly encourage you to do so if you've got access to FXM Retro.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day if I ran FXM

Or, more accurately, if FXM had access to all of the movies made at the studio. My understanding is that they don't necessarily have the rights to all of them, and besides, it's probably financially prohibitive to run anything they want at any time

First up would be the Revolutionary War. The best Fox film for that would have to be Drums Along the Mohawk, which looks at the Revolutionary War as it affected the settlers in central and western New York, an area that was relatively sparsely populated at the time. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert play the lead couple, while Edna May Oliver earned her one Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Moving ahead to the War of 1812, I'm not certain if Fox made any movies about the war. Charlton Heston played Andrew Jackson in The President's Lady, but I can't recall offhand whether there's any mention of the War of 1812 in that one. Heston would go on to play Andrew Jackson again in The Buccaneer, and that one definitely deals with the Battle of New Orleans, but that movie was made over at Paramount. A little more on the War of 1812 at the end of this post.

If we go to the Civil War, there are several movies to choose from. FXM Retro is running 13 Fighting Men, as I mentioned yesterday. But that one is just a B movie. There are a couple of other movies from that era. FXM has been running The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come as well, but unfortunately they've been running a panned-and-scanned print. The Civil War as it was in Missouri is part of the focus of Young Jesse James, since Jesse served in Quantrill's Raiders as an adolescent. The war in Missouri and how it radicalized the locals is also mentioned a bit in Belle Starr.

I can't think of anything for the Spanish-American War, so let's jump to World War I. Alexander Knox as Wilson has a memorable, if retch-inducing, scene addressing a group of white soldiers going off to fight the war, telling them about all the different white races coming together. Perhaps more interesting would be Seventh Heaven, or either version of What Price Glory?, a movie I've always had difficulty getting into.

World War II is of course the war with a lot of movies made about it, since Hollywood threw itself headlong into the war effort, just as the rest of America did. TCM got the rights to the excellent Twelve O'Clock High, so I don't know that FXM could have aired it even if they wanted to. In Memorial Days past, when there was still a Fox Movie Channel, they'd run Four Jills in a Jeep, a movie that does deserve more attention. Even if it's not great, it looks at the USO folks who actually went over to Europe. FXM could also run A Bell for Adano or The Longest Day, or if you want to look at the war in the Pacific, something like Guadalcanal Diary.

Going back to the War of 1812, I couldn't find anything from Fox, but the Library of Congress does have this public domain short from 1905:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

New app to promote film tourism in Czech Republic

For those of you who are going to be going to Prague in the near future, this report from Radio Prague's English service may be of interest:

In roughly a fortnight the state agency CzechTourism is launching a new app in for both Czechs and visitors from abroad planning vacations. Entitled, Czech Film Trips, the app will highlight hundreds of locations and feature photos and clips where numerous famous productions were filmed. I spoke to the project manager Jiří Dužár about the product which should be a big success.

For whatever reason, this particular link doesn't have a transcript of the program, unlike most of Radio Prague's output. There's a plug-in for streaming audio, as well as a direct link to download the program. The direct link is 4.1 MB, which should be a little under nine minutes. (I downloaded the entire Saturday program rather than the individual features.)

If I understood the report correctly, the app hasn't actually been released yet; that's going to be in a couple of weeks.

Memorial Day at FXM

I mentioned briefly yesterday that FXM was getting involved with the Memorial Day spirit. The part of the channel that runs from 3:00 PM to 3:00 AM has been airing more recent films, such as Zero Dark Thirty, only with commercial interruptions, and probably edited for content. But FXM Retro is going to be getting into the swing of things with a series of military themed movies tomorrow.

Actually, it starts early this afternoon at 1:20 PM with Circle of Deception, which has Bradford Dillman playing a man who gets sent on a dangerous intelligence mission in Nazi-occupied France with the expectation of his superiors that he will fail. In fact, they want him to fail, since they've given him false information that he doesn't know is false, and they want him to break under Nazi torture and spill that false information to the Nazis. It'll be getting a second airing at 7:45 AM Monday.

Starting off the FXM Retro lineup on Monday at 3:00 AM is King of the Khyber Rifles. It's military, but not really Memorial Day themed, as star Tyrone Power plays a mixed-race man who serves in the British army in colonial India and has to deal with gun smuggling along the border.

That's followed at 4:45 AM by 13 Fighting Men. This one is set in the day or two immediately after the South surrendered in the Civil War, and has a group of Union soldiers trying to get home, although they have to defend a shipment of gold. Confederates hear about the gold want it, in part so they can shaft the Union, and in part because it would allow them to start new lives.

At 6:00 AM is All Hands on Deck, a service comedy starring Pat Boone and Buddy Hackett as navy men who get into all sorts of trouble. It's probably a bit more appropriate for Veterans' Day than Memorial Day, but not noticeably out of playce here.

After the repeat of Circle of Deception, at 9:30 AM you can watch In Love and War, starring Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter as Marines who serve in the Pacific in World War II, and how this affects their lives.

Finally, at 11:30 AM, we get the return of Tyrone Power in a more appropriate movie for Memorial Day: A Yank in the RAF. Power plays a transport pilot who decides to volunteer for the RAF (since the US wasn't in the war yet) because an old flame of his (Betty Grable) is also in the UK, entertaining the troops. It's a bit unrealistic, but entertaining enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day shorts

We're well into the Memorial Day weekend, which as always means a bunch of military movies on TCM. (FXM will be getting into the spirit of things too, especially in the evening block, but with some war movies on Monday, too.) Some years, there have been quite a few war-themed shorts, although this year seems to be different.

I could swear that I'd mentioned the short on The United States Navy Band, which you're likely to miss since this is airing Saturday at 5:19 PM. Instead, I've briefly mentioned a similar short on the Marine Corps Band . Warner Bros. made those two, as well as one with the Army band, and one with the "Army Air Force Band", seeing as the Air Force proper wasn't created until after World War II ended.

If you want another war-themed short, TCM is offering America, Preferred at 12:06 AM Monday (ie. between Sunday night and Monday morning, just before the Silent Sunday Nights feature), which exhorts people to buy defense bonds. There's also a featurette on the making of The Dirty Dozen which will be airing at about 5:15 PM Monday following The Dirty Dozen.

The other shorts airing on TCM, this weekend, have little or nothing to do with the military. There's an RKO-Pathé Sportscope look at the sport of Ski-Flying at 7:50 PM this evening, as well as a Little Rascals short Don't Lie a little after 7:45 AM Sunday.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Marty Pasetta dies at 82

Marty Pasetta is another of those names that I wouldn't have recognized, but apparently he was the director for the Oscar telecast for 17 years in the 1970s and 1980s. His death deserves a bit of mention not just for that, but for the freakish way in which it happened. Apparently, he was a passenger in a car with a group of people. He got off at his destination, but everybody else got out of the car too, with the car still in gear. So the car went off and struck its passengers, killing Marty. Or at least, that's what the description seems to imply.

I hate to be morbid, but there's got to be some old movie that has scenes of a car going off on its own only without the killing people. Actually, no, I don't hate to be morbid at all. Coming up with movies of ridiculous death scenes or funny disasters is fun, which is why people like seeing these things. I think it was Mel Brooks who said, "Tragedy is when I get a paper cut on my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Little Romance

TCM is today marking the anniversary of Laurence Olivier's birth in 1907 with a bunch of his films. They're concluding at 6:00 PM with the charming A Little Romance.

Laurence Olivier doesn't show up for a while, and even though he gets top billing, he's not really the star of the film. That goes to the two juvenile leads. First is Diane Lane, playing a 13-year-old girl named Lauren King. She's living in Paris with her mother Kay (Sally Kellerman) and stepfather Richard (Arthur Hill), who is working for some multinational doing big business stuff. While Stepdad is away, the mice, or in this case Mom, will play. There's an American film production doing filming on location at some Paris area palace, and Mom is carrying on an affair with the director, George (David Dukes). Not that Lauren cares; she'd rather read abstruse philosophy since she's so much more sophisticated than all of her classmates.

Somebody who does care, at least a bit, is French schoolboy Daniel (Thelonious Bernard). He's a movie buff, especially of the old Hollywood films, and he would love nothing more than to get behind the scenes of a production and see how everything is done. In this case, that's especially so because the film has a small role for veteran Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford (playing himself in a cameo). Daniel isn't supposed to be there of course, and as he's trying to get away from everybody, he runs into Lauren, who has been shunted into a corner that's out of the way since she doesn't want to be there.

You can probably guess that the two adolescents are eventually going to fall in love, and sure enough, that's what happens. This, even though they kind of have to keep their relationship a bit of a secret from the adults. The only people who do know about it are each of the two teens' best friends, who are consistently asked for assistance in getting the two to meet without getting caught out by the adults. The only adult they can trust is a stranger they meet at the park one day. Julius (Laurence Olivier) is an old man who has a fascinating life story, having lived in Robert Browning's old house in Venice, having done all sorts of interesting things with the diplomatic corps, and telling the kids about a legend that if they can kiss under Venice's Bridge of Sighs at sunset, they'll have eternal love.

Eventually, the parents find out about Lauren and Daniel's relationship, and they're none too happy about it. Stepdad decides that the best thing to do is to go back to the States, putting an ocean between the two young lovers and presuming that time will dull their love. Lauren and Daniel decide that the only thing they can do is to run off and head toward Venice, so they can have that kiss. So together with Julius, they head off for Italy. There's just one catch: the backstory that Julius told the two kids is an utter lie. In fact, he's a petty pickpocket, so when the kids go missing he's going to be suspected of kidnapping and all sorts of other horrible things.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that A Little Romance is charming, and it is in oh so many ways. The two young leads are both excellent, coming off as much more natural than the wanna-be worldliness of, say, Julie Harris' character in Member of the Wedding. Olivier is excellent as Julius, showing what a good actor and broad range he had. Even though he's a criminal, you want him to get away with what he's doing. There's a lot of location shooting, and that is to the movie's benefit, because really, you can't go wrong with Paris and the Italian Alps. The little things in the movie are also good. Crawford only gets a couple of scenes, but they work. The first one has him showing he's really in it for the money and fringe benefits, while the second has Daniel peppering him about movies he has no memory of. (Probably because they're movies he never made; Daniel asks him about a couple of costars I think Crawford never had.) And then there are the two best friends, who provide some comic relief. Her French is lousy, his English equally bad; but you know they too could fall in love if the main story had been about them. There's also a lot for fans of old movies to like.

All in all, A Little Romance is a little film that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, which is a shame, since it's so enjoyable. It's another of those movies that received a DVD release years ago, but has fallen out of print, since there are only a limited number of copies available at Amazon and it's not available from the TCM Shop. So catch it now while you have the chance.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Raymond Burr, 1917-1993

Raymond Burr and Natalie Wood in A Cry in the Night

Today marks the birth anniversary of Raymond Burr, whom I find to be one of the more intriguing heavies of the 1940s and 1950s. I guess that intrigue stems from the fact that my first experience with Burr was as a good guy from TV. I don't remember whether I first saw Burr on reruns of Perry Mason or of Ironside, but in both of those he was the good guy. And of course, in those days it was only a couple of TV channels and little in the way of old movies.

Probably the first time I would have seen Burr as a bad guy was in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, where he's the man wheelchair-bound photographer James Stewart sees across the courtyard going in and out at odd hours, giving Stewart the belief that the man has murdered his wife. And while Rear Window is an excellent movie, there are other movies in which Burr gets to be much more entertaining as the bad guy. After all, in Rear Window most of the conversation is among the three main players (Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter) in Stewart's apartment; we only hear the other stuff as we would hear it across a courtyard in real life.

The picture at the top is from a fun if overheated movie called A Cry in the Night, in which mama's boy Burr kidnaps Natalie Wood, not realizing she's the daughter of a police officer who is going to go nuts trying to find his daughter. Burr is super-creepy here.

In Pitfall, Burr plays a man who was trying to put the moves on a woman whom Dick Powell gets involved with as part of an insurance fraud case. Burr, needless to say, is quite unhappy about this and proceeds to make everybody's life hell.

And then there's Red Light, in which future TV good guy Burr gets fellow future TV good guy Harry Morgan to kill the brother of Burr's former boss, a boss (George Raft) who sent Burr to prison on an embezzlement charge. Burr, of course, has the perfect alibi for the murder: he's still in prison. There are some serious plot holes, but the movie as a whole is entertaining.

Which movie has your favorite Raymond Burr heavy?

Out of print but on TCM: May 21, 2015

Tonight is the final night of TCM's disaster movie festival, looking at disasters at sea. The night kicks off with The Poseidon Adventure at 8:00 PM, but that's on DVD and a fairly well-known movie. (Just make certain you get the 1972 movie, not the remake.) A couple of tonight's films that I've blogged about before seem to have fallen out of print on DVD, as they're not available at the TCM Shop. I don't do the Watch TCM streaming audio thing since I've got limited bandwidth, so the films may be available there for a week, but in either case it's a heads-up that you don't have too long to catch these films.

I really enjoy the little-seen Juggernaut, airing at 12:15 AM, which stars Michael Caine as a munitions expert who gets called in to defuse a bomb put aboard an ocean liner and scheduled to go off while the ship is in the middle of the north Atlantic. One of the things I like about this film is that while you expect the bomb plot to be foiled, the unexpected way in which it ultimately does unravel.

The night concludes at 4:30 AM with The Last Voyage, starring Robert Stack as a passenger on a doomed luxury liner trying to get his wife (Dorothy Malone) off the ship which has caught fire. It's visually fun and entertaining, even if it's a mess at times.

And one movie which has nothing to do with the night's disaster movie lineup, Fire Over England, shows up tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM as part of a salute to its star, Laurence Olivier. I suppose that since it deals with the Spanish Armada, there is a bit of a disaster at sea, but that's not the point of why TCM is airing it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The name sounds familiar

Tonight's lineup on TCM is dedicated to Star of the Month Sterling Hayden, or more specifically, his westerns. Not surprisingly, this means Johnny Guitar, kicking the night off at 8:00 PM. It's been six years since I've recommended it, but it's always worth a watch because it's so much campy fun.

Johnny Guitar will be followed at 10:00 PM by Top Gun. Yes, it's a western, and has nothing to do with the much better known film of the same title from the 1980s, other than the title. If you want the jet planes or the volleyball, you're out of luck. Those things didn't exist in the old west.

As I think of it, there are a lot of pairs of movies that have the same title, but are completely different movies. I've mentioned some of them before, if only because the listings services that provide the listings you see on your box guide or on Internet sites sometimes get things wrong.

So the question for today is, which pair of movies with the same title but different plots is either your favorite, or the most interesting? I would suppose that to answer that question, it depends on how you define interesting. Possessed would certainly fit one definition of interesting, because of the fact that the early 1930s and mid-1940s movies both star Joan Crawford. Another one that deserves consideration would have to be Heaven Can Wait. Not because of any interesting trivia, but because this might be the best pair of movies to carry the same title. The 1943 Ernst Lubitsch film is excellent, while the late 1970s movie is a pretty good remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

So perhaps the best question might be which pair is the most different? Top Gun might be up there, while another good choice would be The Happening: M. Night Shyamalan vs. Anthony Quinn in a comic crime movie. At least one of them is good.

Feel free to provide your own examples in the comments.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Menacing Minors

I have a tendency to wake up quite early, and when I do, I turn on my shortwave radio and listen to Radio Australia. Most of what they air is a relay of domestic stuff, from the national network or at times the local affiliates. So, Sunday morning at 5AM my time they were running a Sunday evening chat show, which had this topic for discussion:

The guest actually had a reasonable love of movies, since he (and the host) didn't just talk about recent movies: Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed (which may or may not be pictured at left; I seem to be the only one having difficulty with getting Photobucket images to display properly) was mentioned. Also brought up was Damien in The Omen (I'm sorry I don't have any good pictures of that at hand), and they specifically discussed the original 1976 version, not the remake.

Another original mentioned was Village of the Damned. As I stated back in my review seven years ago, one of the really good things about this movie is that the story stands on its own, without much in the way of special effects. In fact, I'd suggest that it's probably better precisely because it relies on its story line and not the effects. Sure enough, in the May 2008 post, I mentioned 1940s producer Val Lewton, who relied on the same things when he was making those low-budget movies at RKO.

Obviously, they didn't mention somebody like Margaret O'Brien, whose cloying performances creep me out to no end. Then again, I seem to be one of the few people who find O'Brien creepy. And of course they didn't mention Julie Harris in Member of the Wedding. I should add that neither of them were particularly menacing.

What menacing child character would you recommend?

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ingrid Bergman Archive

So I was listening to my Radio Sweden podcast over the weekend, and Friday's English-language program (~28 min and 26 MB) has this blurb:

and you must remember this ! We speak to the American curator housing the world's largest Ingrid Bergman collection.

The interview (available for one month) turns out to be more interesting than the archive, or at least what mere mortals like you and I can access. Located at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the archive has a website here, although as you can see it's just a cursory introduction of the archive. The kicker is this blurb on access:

Restrictions on access: Access to this collection requires permission of the donors. Please consult the guidelines for use of Cinema Archives materials.

Sorry, I don't know any of the donors. That having been said, Wesleyan have some other collections, and there are fewer restrictions on access to the Kay Francis collection.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Standard disclaimer about a block of shorts

This week's Silent Sunday Nights doesn't have a feature, but a block of four Laurel and Hardy silent two reelers. The block begins at 12:15 AM, following The Blue Angel. The 12:15 AM start instead of midnight is definitely correct, since the two prime time features have to run in a 135-minute and a two-hour block. But as always when TCM runs a block of shorts like this, there are problems in the scheduling.

Each of the shorts runs about 20 minutes, so TCM's online schedule has them in an 90-minute block, with the TCM Import, Here's Your Life, starting at 1:45 AM. More on that in a bit. As for the shorts, the on-line schedule lists them in chronological order:

Do Detectives Think? from 1927;
You're Darn Tootin' from 1928;
Double Whoopee from 1929; and
Big Business, also from 1929.

The printable monthly schedule, however, has them in a different order, with the two 1929 shorts first (starting with Double Whoopee, and then going backward, ending with Do Detectives Think?. More distressingly, the monthly schedule lists Here's Your Life beginning at 2:15 AM, not 1:45. This is where things get a bit distressing.

IMDb lists two running times for Here's Your Life: 169 minutes, and 110 minutes. Presumably, when TCM planned out the monthly schedule ages ago, they must have been expecting to get a 110-minute print of Here's Your Life, which would make sense since the monthly schedule has the following feature, All These Women, starting at 4:15 AM. The online schedule, however, lists the 169-minute running time. This is a bit of a problem as the online schedule has All These Women beginning at 4:30 AM. This would put Here's Your Life into a 165-minute slot, or four minutes shorter than the movie. If you add an intro -- I think Ben or Robert still do intros for the imports -- and the stuff for the next movies up, that would run Here's Your Life a good five minutes over the time slot and delay the start of All These Women. At least All These Women is only 80 minutes, and all the schedules have the first movie of Monday morning, Frank Capra's Forbidden, beginning at 6:00 AM, so the schedules will definitely converge by then.

As for the box guide, it actually lists to-the-minute starting times for each of the shorts. It follows the first half of the online schedule, but switches Big Business and Double Whoopee. Like the online schedule, it has Here's Your Life going from 1:45 AM to 4:30 AM.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


No, this isn't going to discuss The Three Faces of Eve, which I've blogged about anyway, I think. Instead, Personalities is the title of an old MGM short that's going to be running tomorrow morning at 9:39 AM, or just after Seven Sweethearts (8:00 AM, 98 min).

Sometimes when you watch the opening credits to a movie, you might see at the end of the billed at the bottom of the credits, but getting a screen all to himself, some actor who is listed as "and introducing". It's always interesting to think about whether the introduced people went on to become stars or whether their careers fizzled. This short is a sort of "and introducing" reel, introducing several new stars from MGM that they were promoting in 1942.

Unsurprisingly, it's interesting to see who made it and who didn't. Van Johnson would have been working on A Guy Named Joe at this time; I think this would have been just before his car accident, although a quick search didn't indicate the dates for either the release of this short or the date of Johnson's accident, which delayed the release of A Guy Named Joe by several months and necessitated Johnson's casting in a small role in Madame Curie as a sort of screen test. But, of course, Johnson became a successful actor with a long career.

Not quite as successful was Richard Ney. He was being introduced to America in Mrs. Miniver at the time of this short, but World War II intervened. He returned from the war and was active for another 20 years, never really being a big name.

Donna Reed would become a big success although she retired fairly young. More interesting is Jean Peters, who might well have gone on to be successful, if it weren't for a hunting accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The accident also left her depressed, ultimately committing suicide at 31.

Perhaps most interesting are the screen tests for an Andy Hardy movie. Three actresses try out for a part opposite Mickey Rooney as Andy; the one who got the part was Esther Williams. The rest, as they say, is history.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer of Ingrid Bergman

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman. She's already being honored at the current Cannes Film Festival, which I am sorry to report that I will not be attending. Unsurprisingly, since Bergman's 100th will be coming up later this year, there are going to be other commemorations.

On Wednesday, Radio Sweden's English Service had an interview with somebody from the Swedish Film Institute discussing some of the tribues that are goign to be paid to Bergman later in the year. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a link to the individual interview. If you want to download a copy of Wednesday's entire show, you can do so here; that's a 28-minute program and about 26MB. Radio Sweden's programs are available for 30 days, I think, from the time they're posted, so you've got four more weeks to get the interview if you want.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Last Days of Pompeii

Tonight's disaster movies on TCM include one that I've mentioned several times in the past, but think I haven't done a full-length post on: The Last Days of Pompeii, overnight, or early tomorrow morning depending upon your perspective, at 4:15 AM.

Marcus (Preston Foster) is a blacksmith in Pompeii with a wife and son. However, the two of them get in a chariot accident, and since a blacksmith in those days couldn't afford state of the art medical care, or what passed for Roman era state of the art medical care at least, the two die. So Marcus decides that he's going to take on the world. The only way he knows how, however, is to go into the gladiatorial arena, which normally means mortal combat and, we can presume, a short lifespan. Marcus, however, is extremely successful in gladiatorial combat, and becomes reasonably wealthy in the process. However, one of his opponents dies, leaving behind a seven-year-old son named Flavius (David Holt plays Flavius as a boy; the adult Flavius is played by John Wood).

Eventually, people get too old to keep fighting as a gladiator, and Marcus is going to have to leave the arena too. How to keep up that wealthy lifestyle? Marcus becomes a slave trader, which is morally corrupting, but hey, somebody's got to do it, and it's good money. Marcus also buys and sells horses. Marcus' work takes him all over the empire, since the slaves are people taken in conquest and have to get to what is now Italy somehow. They sure aren't going to get themselves to Italy.

And so, on one of these journeys east, Marcus and Flavius have a life-changing experience. Marcus hears from a fortune teller that he's going to meet a powerful man. Since he's on his way to Judæa, Marcus naturally assumes that means he's going to meet Pontius Pilate (Basil Rathbone), who is the Roman governor of the province. So marcus gooes to meet Pilate, who is busy dealing with those damn messianic Jews, some of whom are listening to the charismatic message of a man named Jesus. Flavius gets saved by Jesus when he's thrown off a horse, and Flavius reponds to this by deciding to become a Christian.

Needless to say, the presents big problems for Marcus. Christians are, or at least Hollywood presented the early Christians as being non-violent, virtuous, and a threat to those nasty Romans. Flavius works to free slaves, which brings him into conflict with the authorities, and with his own father. Can father and son reconcile their differences? Of course, we know there's a volcano waiting in the background to blow its top, since that's the one thing in this movie that actually did happen in history.

The Last Days of Pompeii is thoroughly ahisotical. It's not just fiction in the way that something like From Here to Eternity takes the looming attack on Pearl Harbor and sets fictional characters against that backdrop. Instead, The Last Days of Pompeii takes people and events from different eras and puts the together for its story line. Jesus, or at least whatever messianic figure in Jerusalem became the basis for the biblical Jesus, was crucified around 30 AD, and Pontius Pilate left Judæa for Rome around 37 AD. The Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii was in 79 AD. So Flavius would have been in his 50s by the time of his eruption, while Marcus would likely have been past 80. As for the story, it's not quite as entertaining a tale of Christian virtue as The Sign of the Cross, but then, The Last Days of Pompeii couldn't do the pre-Code things that The Sign of the Cross did. Still, it's moderately entertaining, and there's that looming eruption in the finale.

Various movies have been made with the title The Last Days of Pompeii. This 1935 version did get a DVD release, but I think it's out of print, since there are only a few copies available at Amazon while TCM says it's not available at the TCM Shop. If you've got high-enough speed internet and don't have any bandwidth issues, you could always try an instant download or perhaps the Watch TCM app.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pool Sharks

I couldn't think of anything to post about today that I hadn't already posted about, so I decided to look up WC Fields' early silent movie Pool Sharks and embed it:

Since it's from 1915, it's in the public domain and posting it poses no problems. However, I ntocied when I looked for it that Youtube seemed to have changed its design slightly. Maybe it was just a font change as my slow internet connection wasn't rendering the page at a normal speed (I wasn't trying to watch the video). But then Google changed its maps recently, so I wouldn't be surprised if they're going to try to change Youtube too. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. Did anybody else notice any differences?

As for the movie itself, I have to admit that WC Fields isn't one of my favorites, as his movies can be a bit too zany for my tastes. This even though I like broad slapstick comedy when someone like Buster Keaton does it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest Programmer*s* for May 2015

TCM hs reached that point in the month where it has its monthly Guest Programmer come on and present four of their favorite films. Pedants might suggest that "their" is the wrong pronoun since it's plural, and either "he" or "she" should be used for a singular guest programmer. This month though, the pedants are wrong on the facts. TCM is having a duo of guest programmers tonight: singer Tony Bennett and his guitarist/accompanist Gray Sargent.

The sidebar suggests they're actually picking five movies, although the article itself only discusses three of the movies airing tonight. I suppose it's possible that the two guys sat down with Robert or Ben and did intros for only the first three movies due to time constraints, but that they also wanted the other two to air, or perhaps they had a different fourth selection and did an intro for that but the rights fell through at the last minute. The understanding that I gleaned from reading about the month of Guest Programmers in November 2007 implied that the Guest Programmers were given a long list of films TCM had easy access to, and that the guests were to pick a list of about 10 from that master list from which four films would be chosen. But the procedure is probably going to be different for a full month of guest programmers, since you don't want the same movie being repeated if you can avoid it. (In fact, I think I read there was one movie that three different people selected.) You also don't want to have to worry about getting the rights to a whole bunch of obscure movies. For a month with one Guest Progammer night, you can allow them to make a broader choice and then see if you can get the rights to the more obscure, or the foreign movies. Even then, there have been some Guest Programmers that had a movie pulled at the last minute. I distinctly recall one of Bob Newhart's films going by the wayside.

Anyhow, tonight's lineup is:

Humphrey Bogart looking for gold with Tim Holt and Walter Huston, and getting far more than he bargained for, in Treasure of the Sierra Madre at 8:00 PM;
Charlie Chaplin roller skating on a balcony without a railing in Modern Times at 10:30 PM;
Teresa Wright trying to break up Dana Andrews' marriage, possibly with an axe, in The Best Years of Our Lives at 12:15 AM;
Serviceman on leave Joseph Cotten meets prisoner on furlough Ginger Rogers in I'll Be Seeing You at 3:15 AM; and
Condemned prisoner William Powell meets terminaly ill socialite Kay Francis on a ship back to America in One Way Passage at 4:45 AM.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Films on the Box

So I posted to my blog this morning and noticed that Colin over at Riding the High Country had a new post up, on the movie Forty Guns. Only, it was a repost of a review from another site called Films on the Box. The review was interesting and well worth a read.

And then I noticed that I don't have Films on the Box in my blogroll. I'll add a blog to my blogroll if it's a) interesting, and b) being updated regularly. Since both seem to be the case for Films on the Box, it's on the blogroll now.

The site seems to be British, looking at movies that are coming up on the various British movie channels. Not that I can get any of those channels, of course, but then it's still possible to get a good review even of a movie you won't be able to watch on TV. Besides, I always post about movies that are coming up on American channels, and I'd assume that anybody outside of of the States (or maybe Canada for most of TCM's selections) isn't going to care about what time the movie is scheduled for. It's no big deal for most of the features, but I suppose I post about shorts from time to time that those of you outside North America have a difficult time obtaining.

Elizabeth Wilson, 1921-2015

The New York Times is reporting the death over the weekend of actress Elizabeth Wilson, at her home in Connecticut. Wilson was 94.

Wilson's is one of those names that I didn't recognize when I saw it on Wikipedia's notable deaths page, but deaths of performing artists usually include one or two of their prominent works. Wilson's includes The Birds and The Graduate, which made me think that perhaps I should have recognized her. It turns out that Wilson was a character actress who had a long career in film, going back to Picnic in the 1950s. She also did a fair amount of stage work, which of course I wouldn't recognize. Wilson, however, was recognized for that work with a Tony Award.

But then ereh was one role that I did recognize: Elizabeth Wilson. Wilson played the mother of the dysfunctional family who more or less take in Elliot Gould, while at the same time dealing in her own way with the loss of her eldest son. I think I've still seen Little Murders show up infrequently in the box guide listings for FXM Retro, so it may not have been removed from the rotation yet.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Miss Mend (1926) is on tonight

TCM's Mothers' Day lineup only extends to midnight, with the last of the films being Mildred Pierce: what would Mothers' Day on TCM be without Joan Crawford smakcing Ann Blyth or seeing her second husband's dead body in that lovely beach house? Silent Sunday Nights has nothing to do with Mothers' Day, instead showing the long Soviet movie Miss Mend at 12:15 AM.

The reason it's so long (a little over four hours) is that when it was originally filmed, it was conceived as a three-part serial, which would make each part in the 80-minute range, which is certainly manageable. For whatever reason, it's wound up all in one part. I have to admit to only having seen bits and pieces from the various TCM airings, but what I've seen is interesting. This Soviet movie deals with... Americans. As with No Orchids for Miss Blandish from the UK 20 years later, or Purple Noon another dozen years after that, it's interesting to see how foreign films portray Americans when they're using non-American actors. For somebody like me who studied Russian in college and spent a term in St. Petersburg, it's interesting to see the city as it was in 1926.

As for the plot, it involves a bunch of American newspaper workers led by the virtuous Miss Mend, who learn that their boss is working on some kind of weapon of mass destruction -- not that they used that term back in the day, of course. Specifically, is a bacteriological weapon, and the boss is planning to use that weapon against the Soviet Union! We can't just have that happen, now, can we? So our hero Miss Mend and her colleagues go over to the USSR to stop their boss.

In Soviet history, 1926 was in that period just after the death of Lenin (who died in early 1924 after being ill from a series of strokes for some time) and just before Stalin would consolidate his power. The situation in the country was, if not free, then certainly a lot freer than it would become in a few short years. The New Economic Policy, which brought some freer-market ideas to the USSR because that was the only way they could feed the people at the end of the Russian Civil War, was still in force, and there were still vestiges of avant-garde art. Propaganda and socialist realism would only become the more heavy-handed stuff we expect from Soviet art in later years.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mothers' Day with FXM Retro

Tomorrow is the second Sunday in May, which means Mothers' Day for those of us in the US. (I know you freaks over in the UK celebrate it in March.) TCM always runs movies related to the day, but with FXM Retro, you really never know what you're going to get, except that it's probably been run 20 times in the past month. Whether it was intentional or just a serendipitous coincidence, FXM Retor is actually going to have some movies that are appropriate for the occasion tomorrow.

First up, at 8:50 AM, is Blue Denim, which deals with unexpected motherhood, so I suppose it's kind of appropriate for the day, if not as appropriate as the following movies.

Whenever FXM shows Blue Denim, they seem to pair it with Teenage Rebel, so it should be unsurprising that this one shows up at 10:15 AM. Ginger Rogers plays a woman who tries to reconnect with the daughter she lost custody of when she divorced and remarried several years earlier. The daughter (Betty Lou Keim) bears a lot of resentment toward her mother.

A more traditional movie for the day might be Mother Is a Freshman, at 11:50 AM. This one has widow Loretta Young joining her daughter (Betty Lynn) in college thanks to a condition in a will. This, needless to say, makes life interesting for all involved.

Finally, at 1:15 PM, is The Gift of Love, a movie I don't think I've blogged about before. Lauren Bacall plays a woman who marries Robert Stack, and then finds out she's going to die young, so she tries to adopt a child in order that her husband will have somebody with him after she dies. Sounds selfish on Mom's part, if you ask me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Birthday posts made difficult

Whenever I couldn't think of anything to blog about, I'd go to IMDb and look at the list of people born on this day. To wit, I would go to a link like, where it would give a nice more-or-less text list (well, each name is a link to the person's IMDb page) of people born on the given day; I think everybody can figure out what part to edit to get whatever given day one is looking up.

Unfortunately, I had to keep that bookmarked because the original IMDb link that had given a nice text list was screwed up already back in February 2010. But now even the sort of page I described above is gone. I hadn't looked up birthdays since doing a post on Gregory Ratoff two and a half weeks ago, and in the meantime things have changed. Even the link I mentioned above leads to Most popular people born on May 8, with only 50 people on a page. Also, on the default page, sorted by "Starmeter" (whatever the hell that is), there's no mention of the year of birth. To get that, you have to click on the "Birth Date" link at the top. Even then, you can still onlyi get 50 names on a page.

You can, however, sort by height, because that's just so important. Yes, I know there is one movie out there with the cast listed in order of height, The Bed-Sitting Room, but really. There doesn't seem to be any convenient way to get to, say, people born on this day in the 1930s, who are going to be somewhere in the middle of the list of all people born on this day.

Are the simple, non-bloated text list pages available anywhere on the IMDb site? If not, damn you IMDb.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thursday Night Spotlight

TCM has been running a Friday Night Spotlight for about two years now, mostly as a way to cut down on Robert Osborne's workload. This month, of course, that spotlight is on Orson Welles since this month (specifically yesterday, May 6) sees his 100th birth anniversary. However, TCM is running another series that would have made a good Friday Night Spotlight: disaster movies.

On the first three Thursdays of the month, TCM is running a fairly broad range of disaster movies. You may think of disaster movies as being a staple of the 1970s, with a bunch of films that brought together a vast number of old-time Hollywood stars with some of the bigger names of the day, using that as the hook to try to draw people into the theaters. Indeed, this first Thursday of the month brings us a couple of those 1970s films, starting at 8:00 PM with Airport, kicking off a night of movies about airborne disasters.

But, there are going to be more than just those overblown but enormously fun all-star disaster films. The second night brings a bunch of natural disasters, with fires, floods, earthquakes, and a volcanic eruption. Only Earthquake (10:00 PM on May 14) is one of those 70s films. In fact, the rest of them date from the 1930s.

The final night of the lineup brings disasters at sea, including what I think is the TCM premiere of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, at 10:15 PM on May 21. Where the original Poseidon Adventure movie saw everybody trying to get off the ship, the sequel sees people trying to get back into the ship, now on the bottom of the sea, because of what it was supposedly carrying in its cargo.

It's all a topic that would have been good enough for a Friday Night Spotlight, although with the thematic scheduling of the movies, there's probably only enough for three nights. I suppose they could have come up with a few more natural disasters -- the flood in The Temptress comes to mind, as does the one in Green Dolphin Street. So on the final Thursday night we're going to get something different: time travel movies.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

TCM Star of the Month May 2015: Sterling Hayden

Sterling Hayden (r.) and Jean Hagen in The Asphalt Jungle (1950; 9:45 PM)

We're getting close to finishing the first week of a new month, and so we finally get to the new Star of the Month: Sterling Hayden. (In an interesting coincidence, it's the third straight month in which the Star of the Month is showing up on Wednesday nights.) Hayden is an interesting choice, as he wasn't quite your typical star, at least, not in the way the studio system produced stars in the era just before Hayden got to Hollywood. He certainly didn't become as big as some of the other people who came around in the early 1950s, like Ernest Borgnine or Jack Lemmon. Still, Hayden's films are worth a watch and I'm glad that TCM has selected him.

Probably Hayden's most famous movie is The Asphalt Jungle, and that one is airing at 9:45 PM this evening. In fact, most of the movies this evening have a substantial crime element to them:

The night starts at 8:00 PM with The Killing, in which Hayden masterminds a daring robbery of a racetrack's takings, only for the robbery to go wrong because of the foibles of some of the conspirators. In this case, that means Elisha Cook Jr. and Marie Windsor who play an unhappily married couple; both of them are quite good.

Third up is Crime Wave at 11:45, with Hayden as a more or less good guy, a cop trying to investigate a gang of criminals. The only thing is, he has to deal with an ex-convict (Gene Nelson) who would really prefer to stay straight.

Suddenly comes on at 1:15 AM. This one also has Hayden as the good guy, a sheriff who gets held hostage by a man (Frank Sinatra) who wants to take out the President in a sniper attack. It's suspenseful, but whenever TCM have shown this one, they've had a lousy print since I think this is one of those movies that wound up in the public domain.

Concluding the night, at 4:15 AM, is Five Steps to Danger, which has Hayden getting mixed up with Ruth Roman, East bloc spies, and a scientist at a US army base. It's entertaining enough, but one of those decidedly low-budget movies.

The only one of the night's films I haven't seen before (at least, I think I haven't seen it) is Crime of Passion at 2:45 AM. Hayden stars along with Barbara Stanwyck and Raymond Burr. Sounds interesting.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Bob's" Picks

Most months -- 31 Days of Oscar and Summer Under the Stars are excluded -- TCM host Robert Osborne has a night of movies that he's selected as if he were a Guest Programmer. According to the TCM schedule, tonight is that night.

What's going to be more ineteresting is to see whether Osborne actually shows up to present the picks. He missed the TCM Film Festival at the end of March, putting out a statement that he was having a medical procedure that his doctor said he really shouldn't put off, and as far as I can tell, he hasn't shown up since. The Guest Programmer segments are recorded some time in advance; how far I don't know. And of course all the Essentials segments are done well in advance too. I'd assume they could knock off the 28 (according to something Sally Field says in one of the promos) intros in two taping days.

As I understand it, Robert Osborne basically does a month of prime time intros at a time. Back when he was doing every night, this would have taken five or six taping days; one should be able to get three nights' worth of intros in in one taping session and do two taping sessions each day. The reason for the two taping sessions with a meal break in between is down to union rules: go over some amount of time (I think six hours) consecutive, and you have to start paying overtime. For the same reason and partly to bring in a fresh audience, those game shows that tape a week's worth of shows in one taping day will take a break after the third show. As for TCM, what ll this means is that Robert Osborne would have done all his intros for April at one time, so if he was going to miss anything it's unsurprising that he would miss an entire month.

May 1 was a Friday, which is the Friday night spotlight, something which was instituted in part to cut down by at least one day the number of taping days Robert Osborne has to do. Saturday was the Essential, and Sunday being a weekend, I'm not overly surprised thta he didn't show up to do those. I figured that if Osborne were back, he'd definitely be back by last night. And yet there was Ben Mankiewicz doingthe intros. It also makes me wonder just how serious Robert's health concerns are.

At any rate, "Bob's Picks" for this month are:

Miss Sadie Thompson at 8:00 PM, starring Rita Hayworth as the title role in a remake of the early 1930s film Rain with Joan Crawford.
At 9:45 PM, you can catch Torrid Zone, with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien battling for the love of Ann Sheridan;
Agatha comes on at 11:30 PM. It's a speculative story about a true incident in the life of Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave) when, in 1926, she up and left her husband (who was cheating on her) and went missing for a week and a half; and
a movie version of Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None, at 1:15 AM.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

TCM is running a night of death row-themed movies tonight, including Beyond a Reasonbale Doubt at 12:15 AM.

Dana Andrews stars as Tom Garrett, a writer who's moving up in the world. He's gotten himself engaged to Susan Spencer (Joan Fontaine), who is the daughter of the influential newspaper publisher Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer). Mr. Spencer campaigns tirelessly against the death penalty, and has a particular interest in doing so right now since the local prosecutor recently obtained a murder conviction on circumstantial evidence.

To that end, Spencer has an audacious idea. There's been another murder that the cops have been completely unable to solve, so he wants Tom to help him solve the murder for everybody's benefit. Well, they're not really going to solve the murder; they're going to plant evidence that will lead to a murderer, with that murderer being Tom himself. Once they do that, they'll have Tom be arrested, put on trial, and convicted, and hopefully even sent to the gas chamber. Only once all that happens will Spencer produce their documentary proof that the evidence pointing to Tom's involvment in the murder has all been fabricated.

Now, as I wtore the paragraph above, I found myself thinking of one of the TCM "Word of Mouth" pieces that runs every time they're going to be showing the 1960s version of King of Kings. Screenwriter Philip Yordan says he was called by the producer to be a script doctor, and when he flew over to Spain where the movie was being filmed, he saw what passed for a script and said, "This is insane!" Indeed, Spencer's plan for his future son-in-law is nonsensical, and who in his right mind would want to engage in a plan like that? At least Susan is in her right mind. Either that, or she'd spill the beans, so Dad and Tom decide to keep the knowledge of what they're doing from her.

So far, so good. And then the time comes for Spencer to produce the evidence which will exonerate Tom. He gets it from his safe, and then... gets into a car accident, which kills him and in the resulting fire destroys all the evidence! You'd think that if the two men had planned their actions as carefully as they did, they would have made certain to have a second copy of the evidence available somewhere. How will Tom be saved? Do we really want him to be saved, for after all, faking all this evidence is rather criminal in and of itself?

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is one of those movies that has a really interesting premise, but in which the ultimate payoff isn't quite as good as you'd hope for. If the cops were good enough to solve murders, you'd think they'd be good enough to realize that all this evidence was faked. The plot is full of unbelievable twists, right up until the very end. And it often feels as though everybody is going through the motions. It's the sort of thing where, it it had been a B movie with a bunch of unknowns, we'd probably praise it for being a little-known gem. But it's got fairly big stars and a big director in Fritz Lang, who already did similar stuff before with Fury. The result is a movie that does remain interesting, but winds up slightly disappointing.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Day Mars Invaded Earth

FXM Retro has had the film The Day Mars Invaded Earth in their rotation for some time now. For some reason I thought I had done a full-length post on the film, but apparently not. At any rate, it's coming up again several times in the next week, starting at 12:30 PM tomorrow (May 4), and is well worth a watch.

Kent Taylor plays Dr. David Fielding, a scientist working with NASA, or the NASA-equivalent, on their latest big mission: a probe to Mars. And as the movie opens up, it's the day when the probe is supposed to land on the red planet and start sending information back to Earth. But something odd happens, as we see some sort of explosion which suggests the mision has in fact failed. Back on earth, Dr. Fielding is talking on the phone and to one of his colleagues in his office when suddenly, the image the movie viewer gets becomes hazy. It's a sign that something is going on, and that nobody is noticing whatever that something is.

Dr. David, for his part, attributes it to stres, as he just feels as though he's zoned out for a bit. He's got a lot on his mind. Not only this technically demanding space mission, but also his family back home. The Fieldings had been living in California, and of course NASA is based in Florida. That's put some strain on the marriage betwewen the good doctor and his wife Claire (Marie Windsor). She's been living with the two kids making a little extra money by being the caretakers at a lovely estate in the Los Angeles area. It's when Dr. David gets back to that estate that the creepy fun really begins.

Being an estate, there are a lot of grounds, outbuildings, and places where it would be easy for people who aren't very familiar with the estate to get lost. So David has a scene where he sees his wife and calls out to her, only for her not to respond. And then he gets back to the caretakers' house and finds Claire there, having arrived much too quickly. It's as though David has seen a ghost. Claire has a similar experience with David, but perhaps the most disconcerting is one that daughter Judi has. She actually sees her doppelgänger, right in the bedroom with her! Oh, and it doesn't help that her boyfriend has just been killed in a suspicious car accident too. Apparently he knows too much about what's going on at the estate, and he has to be eliminated for it.

But what, exactly, is going on? I don't want to give that away, although unfortunately the one-sentence synopsis in the box guide does give it away, which I think is to the detriment of a first-time viewer. That having been said, the title of the movie does give a hint. The Day Mars Invaded Earth is one of those movies that fits well into the tradition of a Cat People, although it came 20 years later. It looks like it's done on a terribly low budget, except that this is something that works to the film's benefit, as not being able to spring for any sort of effects makes the viewers try to fill in the blanks themselves. That results in something super-creepy, as the slow action builds a sense of beign disconcerted. And the ending is one I found as good as anything you'd see in a film of this genre.

The Day Mars Invaded Earth will never be mistaken for any of the prestige movies of the 1960s. But it's quite effective and entertaining in its own right. I'm not certain if it's available on DVD, but if you've got FXM, you've got several opportunities to catch it this week.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tonight on TCM Underground

I'm not quite certain what TCM really means by "Underground", although it seems a bit of a catchall for movies that have a bit of a cult status but which aren't very well-known. They've come in all sorts of genres, from horror to blaxploitation, to... musicals?

Well, one of tonight's movies is a musical. TCM is running ABBA: The Movie at 3:45 AM. I blogged about it back in July 2008, and I think this is the first airing since New Year's Eve 2004/5. The movie looks at the Swedish supergroup's tour of Australia in early 1977, and is a lot of fun, especially if you like ABBA's music. To think that the first of the members will be turning 70 at the end of the year.

The night's other movie is Roller Boogie, which I haven't seen before, so can't really comment about. Ah, the days of the roller disco, something for which I was too young, as I would have been a wee lad when this came out. Stars Linda Blair, several years after The Exorcist, and naturally deals with the roller skating craze of the late 1970s. Now if only TCM could get the rights to run Xanadu.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Thunderbirds are GO

Tomorrow mornign at 8:00 AM, TCM is running the interesting and unique movie Thunderbirds are GO. What makes it unique is what makes it worth a watch: it's one of the few feature movies told with puppets.

British husband and wife Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in the early 1960s came up with a process that they coined "Supermarionation"; "marion" as in "marionette" and of course having nothing to do with the "Super Mario" video game character. The Andersons used this process to create a family of plastic-looking human puppets that weren't hand-operated, or at least not in the way a normal hand/sock puppet would; nor is the stringing as obvious as it is with marionettes. Once they had these puppets, they started producing a ceries for British television called Thunderbirds which eventually gave rise to this movie.

The TV series Thunderbirds centered around the Tracy family, a father and his five sons. Together the family worked as a sort of superhero or Mission: Impossible team, operating International Rescue from their own private island to solve problems that the government can't solve by themselves. The Tracys have access to some fancy high-tech gadgetry to help them on their missions. As for this particular movie, the action involves a manned mission to Mars that goes wrong. Upon investigating what heppened, it's determined that somebody sabotaged the mission! It's up to the Tracys to figure out who's committing the sabotage, and prevent it from happening on the next mission. They'll be helped along the way by lovely agent Lady Penelope.

International Rescue do save the day, as the second mission does get to Mars even though it faces unexpected non-sabotage problems when it gets there, all of which require the use of the various International Rescue vehicles. There's also a running comic relief subplot about the youngest of the sons feeling as though he's not getting enough opportunity to help his older brothers, even though he's got important work to do down on Earth.

In some ways, there's not as much going on as it seems on the surface, and that's one of the problems with the movies. The TV episodes were 50 minutes each, while the movie is almost twice as long. You'd think that would give the Andersons more opportunity to open things up; that, and the use of color and a wider screen. Instead, there are stretches where it seems the action movies at a glacial pace. There's a dream sequence to cover this up, and the presence of popular British singer Cliff Richard performing a musical number, all of which seems incongruous.

That's not to say the movie is bad, however. It winds up being more than entertaining enough, but a little rough around the edges. It's something that should entertain children fairly easily, but also something that grown-ups can enjoy on a number of levels. In addition to the relatively thin story, the adults can look to see how the Andersons tried to get around the various technical difficulties involved in supermarionation, chief among them being that the figures couldn't walk very well. The movie is also surprisingly lovely to look at, just from the aspect of the visuals.

Thunderbirds Are GO and a follow-up, Thunderbird 6 (airing next Saturday morning on TCM) did get a DVD release at some point, but seem to be out of print as they're not available from the TCM Shop while Amazon lists a limited number of copies at a high price.

Fridy Night Spotlight: Orson Welles

Now that we're in a new month, we get a new Friday night spotlight on TCM. Film critic David Edelstein will be presenting the work of Orson Welles, both as a director and as an actor, as there's going to be one night of movies that have him in the cast but which he did not direct. After all, you can't really put the spotlight on Orson Welles without showing The Third Man.

Anyhow, tonight's first night of the spotlight looks at the early part of Welles' career, starting at 8:00 PM with Citizen Kane. The one that sounds interesting is Too Much Johnson at 1:45 AM, which was conceived as incidental pieces to accompany a stage play which was never produced, and which was considered lost for decades. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on it. Orson Welles is one of those filmmakers I prefer in smaller doses, however.

I also don't watch CBS Sunday Morning or listen to NPR's Fresh Air much, so I don't know much about Edelstein as a critic or how well he's going to do on TV. But if he's been working on a show like CBS Sunday Morning, that shouldn't be a problem.