Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wrapping up the year

And so this will be my last post for 2016. I wouldn't say there have been any conscious changes to the blog, but the blog probably did change in subtle ways. I posted a bit less this year than in the past few years, mostly because I've been working the early shift since June of 2015. Before that, I had been helping Dad take care of Mom, up until she died, and that actually gave me more time to be on the computer.

I think a bigger change was that I felt like I did a lot fewer full-length posts on movies, which is part of a consequence of having to figure out what to write about when I get home in the middle of the afternoon. I guess one of my resolutions for the new year ought to be to be more conscientious about doing full-length reviews, although there is the problem that I don't think I've been able to watch quite so many movies as I was able to on TCM before Mom died. I've got a big backlog ov DVDs, as well as about 40 movies on the DVR. Unfortunately, the last movie I watched on the DVR, Pierre Étaix's Le Grand Amour, looked like it was out of print on DVD when I checked on Amazon. TCM claims you can get it courtesy of the Criterion Collection, and not at too bad a price since it's part of a box set. So maybe I will get around to doing a full-length post on it. (Several other B movies I recorded and watched don't seem to be on DVD, like Joe Smith, American.) But that would explain why I haven't done a full-length post on it yet. Probably tomorrow.

I'm also going to try to take part in at least some of the Thursday Movie Picks weeks. Probably not all of them, in no small part because I don't know quite enough about the TV challenges. Of course, those are liable to be slightly longer versions of list posts.

Happy New Year 2017 to everybody!

She Done Him Right (1933)

A few weeks ago I blogged about the Mae West movie Night After Night, having bought a DVD box set that contains the movie. That particular DVD also had as an extra the short She Done Him Right. This is a 1933 short about "Pooch" the pup, directed by Walter Lantz, later of Woody Woodpecker fame. Pooch wants to see a canine nightclub act that looks suspiciously like Mae West. There are some fun sight gags, involving a "free" lunch, and the song "Minnie the Moocher".

The short is currently available on Youtube:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Briefs for December 30-31, 2016

I see that TCM has already announced its schedule change to program a bunch of movies in honor of the recently deceased Debbie Reynolds. They'll be giving the entire 24-hour schedule on Friday, January 27, over to Reynolds, although of course this means 6:00 AM Friday to 6:00 AM Saturday.

TCM already ran one of the one-minute TCM Remembers retrospectives on Reynolds; I saw that last night just before the prime time lineup. One thing that was slightly disconcerting is that in the same space between Inside Daisy Clover and Cool Hand Luke, there was also a promo for the January theatre showings of Singin' in the Rain that TCM is doing in conjunction with Fathom Events.

TCM is running Midnight Lace at 8:00 PM this evening as part of the salute to Star of the Month Myrna Loy. She's not the star, though; that would be Doris Day. Regular watchers of TCM would likely know this since Midnight Lace was on a Doris Day box set TCM was hawking in conjunction with Universal, which probably helped enable TCM to get a whole bunch of other stuff from the Universal library, mostly those old Paramounts to which Universal/MCA got the rights in the late 1950s. I wouldn't be surprised if this were a TCM premiere; I've seen the ad often enough that I've long been looking forward to a TCM showing of the movie, which I haven't seen before.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The post I was going to write this morning

It's common for news outlets at the end of the year to remember the people who have died in the past 12 monts. TCM is no different, with its classy "TCM Remembers" piece each year. Also, for the past few years, they've spent one night of programming toward the end of December putting a spotlight on some of the people who have died in the past year.

Before the prime time lineup, however, TCM just happened to schedule Bullitt at 3:45 PM. Robert Vaughn is in that one, and he died not to long ago. But the original programming tribute was to start at 8:00 PM and run through early next morning as TCM looks at six of those who left us this year.

First, at 8:00 PM, there's George Kennedy dealing with a friend who eats lots of hard boiled eggs, in Cool Hand Luke.
Then, at 10:15, you can see Gloria De Haven in Two Girls and a Sailor.
At 12:30 AM, Alan Rickman has a supporting role in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.
Patty Duke won an Oscar for flailing and screaming as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker which will be on at 3:00 AM.
You won't see Marni Nixon, but you'll hear her provide the singing voice for Natalie Wood, in West Side Story at 5:00 AM.
Finally, Nancy Davis, before she married Ronald Reagan, shows up with her concern for alcoholic Ray Milland in Night Into Morning at 7:45 AM.

Debbie Reynolds, 1932-2016

Debbie Reynolds (r.) with Bette Davis in The Catered Affair

I mentioned somewhere else on Tuesday after Carrie Fisher died that her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, was still alive, and that it's a terrible thing to have to bury one's own child. Well, Debbie Reynolds suffered a stroke yesterday, and died in hospital aged 84.

Reynolds (r.) with Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Fisher

Reynolds is probably best known for her role in Singin' in the Rain, although I didn't have any good pictures of her from that one that I'd used on the blog, which is why I led with a photo of her and Bette Davis. I was hoping for a better photo of Reynolds jumping out of that cake, but the one at left was the best I could find on such short notice; I wasn't expecting Reynolds to die so suddenly.

Reynolds and Harve Presnell in The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Reynolds' Oscar nomination came quite a few years later, for The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In between, she made any number of entertaining movies, a whole bunch of which I've blogged about in the past. As far as I know, TCM hasn't announced any programming salute for Reynolds yet.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

They were all three years ago?

I was thinking about doing a post about what's coming up soon on FXM Retro. But first, a point. I was looking through future FXM schedules, and it looks as though the FXM Retro block is going to be continuing into 2017, which means I'm wrong again in my prediction of how long it would last. I gave it six months, and it's been five years now.

Anyhow, I was looking at the schedule for the next few days, and I saw a couple of movies that have been back for a little while. First up is The Day the Fish Came Out, which I already mentioned again back in June for being back on the channel. I first recommended it in August 2013 when it was in frequent rotation then. You can see that today at 1:10 PM and tomorrow morning at 11:30 AM.

And then there's Untamed, which will be on at 6:00 AM tomorrow. I first blogged about that one back in May 2013, but then mentioned it again back in March.

Finally, I'll point out that Fathom is on tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM and 1:20 PM. That one first got a mention back in March 2013, and his been on the schedule a couple of times the past few months.

It's slightly odd that all three were in heavy rotation back in 2013, and are once again back in heavy rotation. I can think of a whole bunch of Fox movies that haven't been on in ages, I don't think. And I'm not even really thinking of obscure movies, but some of the prestige titles. I can't recall the last time FXM/FMC ran Alexander's Ragtime Band, for example, and that was a Best Picture nominee. Thankfully, it's been on TCM a couple of times during 31 Days of Oscar, so I suppose it's possible that FXM don't currently have the rights to it. But All About Eve? Wilson? The Sand Pebbles? The Razor's Edge? Not that I necessarily like all of these, but they're all part of Fox's rich heritage.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carrie Fisher, 1956-2016

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from one of the movies in the Star Wars trilogy

Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies and was the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, has died at 60 days after suffering a masive heart attack.

Carrie did a piece on her mother when Debbie Reynolds was Star of the Month on TCM, but I had a dickens of a time finding it since TCM's Media Room is screwed up -- every time I try to click on the second page of hits, instead of going to the next page it goes to the top of the first page. However, somebody seems to have posted it to Youtube:

While looking for that piece, I also found an interview Fisher did in the mid-1980s that may be of interest:

I don't know if TCM has updated its TCM Remembers piece for 2016 the way they did with Zsa Zsa Gabor. Of all the people they might have been expecting to die, I'm sure she was rather far down the list.

A brief I should have mentioned yesterday

I mentioned a week ago the death of actress Michèle Morgan at the age of 96. I even mentioned her appearance in Passage to Marseille. What I didn't mention is that for those of you in the US, it's on TCM this afternoon at 1:00 PM.

Then again, I was out a good portion of the day yesterday celebrating Christmas with half my family. I got DVDs for everybody, trying to come up with stuff that was appropriate to their interests. Not that it's easy; my niece is an actuary and actuaries don't make for good Hollywood stories. So the closest I could think of was insurance fraud, and there goes a copy of Double Indemnity. Well, it's a good movie anyway. Her fiancé is studying toxicology. Time to think of a good movie that fits that for next Christmas....

In and around those movies about the elderly I mentioned yesterday, TCM is running the short Redd Foxx Becomes a Movie Star at 12:05 AM, between Grey Gardens (10:15 PM) and The Whales of August (12:15 AM). I've mentioned this short a few times before, but Foxx looks like he would have been the life of the party anywhere he went.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A pair of Christmastime obituaries

Outside the movie world, the big news of course is the sudden death of singer George Michael, who was found dead in his house in Oxfordshire, England, yesterday, at the young age of 53. He's got an extensive list of IMDb credits, however, mostly because he was a fairly prolific songwriter as well as a singer, and the use of his songs in movies gets him credits in those interminable 20-minute closing credit rolls movies seem to have nowadays. That having been said, he was the subject of a 1986 documentary. When he was still a part of Wham! with his friend Andrew Ridgeley, the two were the first western pop artists invited to tour China, and that was made into a documentary, Wham! in China: Foreign Skies. The documentary is out of print. And as an interesting aside, the man who directed the documentary, Lindsay Anderson, would go on the next year to direct The Whales of August, which just happens to be on the Tuesday prime time lineup on TCM since it fits perfectly the TCM Spotlight on the elderly.

A more traditional movies obituary would be that of Gil Parrondo, who died over the weekend aged 95. He's the sort of person who doesn't get the mention the stars get, seeing that he worked as a production designer and art director. Those are the sort of people really needed to make the movies work, like say the cinematographers, but who never get as much credit as they deserve since they don't show up on camera and they're not quite in charge. Parrondo actually won two Oscars, for Patton and Nicholas and Alexandra, and was nominated for a third for Travels With My Aunt, which is also showing up in Tuesday night's lineup as it too deals with the elderly.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Adam Had Four Sons

Yesterday I watched Adam Had Four Sons off the eight-movie Mill Creek box set that I mentioned earlier this year when I blogged about Angels Over Broadway. (I really got the set for the Judy Holliday movies in it, The Marrying Kind and Solid Gold Cadillac.) Since the DVD set is currently selling on both the TCM Shop and Amazon for under six bucks, I have no qualms about mentioning even any crappy movies on the set. After all, you're getting at least a couple you'll like for that tiny price.

Adam Stoddard (Warner Baxter) is a stockbroker in 1907 living with his wife Molly (Fay Wray) and his four sons. Into this they bring a governess for the sons, lovely Emilie Gallatin (Ingrid Bergman). Emilie arrives and feels as though she's belonged there her whole life, and the sons take right too her. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes the family. First, Molly dies, and then a stock market panic hits, wiping Adam out. Adam's cousin Philippa (Helen Westley) is able to send the three oldest sons off to boarding school, but the fourth one has to move into a tiny apartment with Dad, and there's no room or money for a governess. Dad promises to bring Emilie back, however.

Fast forward several years. Dad is back on his feet, and does indeed bring Emilie back. Now, this makes no logical sense, since the kids are all grown up and no longer need a governess. But it's also obvious that Adam has had an emotional bond bordering on love for years based on the way Emilie helped the family through Molly's death. And Emilie feels something for Adam, despite how inappropriate all of this would be. If Emilie had been the head of all the servants, bringing her back would be one thing, but as a governess to four guys who still adore her platonically after all these years, you wonder how this got past the Production Code.

Thins are about to get a whole lot more interesting. It's World War I, and some of the sons have gone off to fight in the war effort, such as David (Johnny Downs). He was training in Canada since at the time he went of the US wasn't in the war yet, and while there he met Hester (Susan Hayward) and married her practically at first sight. Emilie sees through all this and just knows that Hester is a bad influence, and the one redeeming quality about Hester is that she's the only one who recognizes the inappropriate thoughts Adam and Emilie have but don't want to admit to. As for Hester's bad qualities, well, she hates the saintly Emilie, but worse, she's basically decided she's going to sleep her way through the family, taking up with brother Jack (Richard Denning). When Dad sees the silhouettes of Jack and Hester making out, he's loaded for bear. But wackily, Emilie intervenes so that Dad will believe Jack was with Emilie, not Hester. It's idiotic, but there you are.

And that's where I have huge problems. The actors all try their hardest, but the script is just so warped that nobody really rises above the material. Hayward probably comes off best, just because she's given the bad girl character, and that's something easier to sink one's teeth into. Helen Westley also does well in a supporting role as her character has plausible motivations. She also gets to have fun playing a quirky old woman who drinks gin straight and smokes cigars. The only thing they didn't do is dress her in tweed, but that may have been a step too far for the Production Code.

All in all, Adam Had Four Sons is a movie that's more worth watching to see where it goes wrong than for what it does well. But since it's on an ultra-cheap box set, dropping six bucks on it is no big deal.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Briefs for Christmas Eve 2016

FXM Retro has, in previous years, run a very bad print of Alastair Sim's A Christmas Carol for 24 hours with commercial interruptions during the evening and then no commercials during the daytime. This year, it only looks like FXM -- the evening part, not the Retro part -- is running it four times between 7PM tonight and 3AM tomorrow. I think TCM ran it earlier this week, though.

I saw the TCM Remembers 2016 piece again last night after The Thin Man, and noticed that since Sunday, they've put in a clip of Zsa Zsa Gabor, which is a nice touch. With any luck, nobody important will die necessitating another hasty edit. Which brings me to...

Get well soon, Princess Leia. Yikes. Only 60, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, is still alive. What a terrible thing to happen any time, but it must be even harder at Christmas.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Trapped in Paradise

With tomorrow being Christmas Eve, it's a good time to mention the movie Trapped in Paradise The movie is available on DVD, and pretty inexpensively too, so I'm more then OK doing a full-length post on the movie even though it doesn't seem to be coming up on TV before Christmas.

Brothers Dave (Jon Lovitz) and Alvin (Dana Carvey) Firpo are up for parole. But you have to think they're the least likely to deserve it, since Dave is endlessly manipulative while Alvin is a kleptomaniac. But we'd have a much different movie if the two guys didn't get released from prison, so they do get paroled, to the care of their brother Bill (Nicholas Cage), who manages a restaurant in New York City.

Of course, the two criminal brothers can't help but go back to their old ways, immediately robbing a convenience store cash register. And to make matters worse, Dave points out that the police found Bill's ID at the store, implicating him. So the three of them have to beat a hasty escape.

Thankfully, Dave and Alvin have a plan. While they were in prison, they heard about the town of Paradise, PA, which goes in for Christmas in a big way every year. It's a town that's so nice, it would be easy to take them for a ride, if you were a criminal. And we have two criminals here. Not only that, but they heard about how to rob the bank in Paradise in very great detail while they were in prison. So Dave and Alvin rope Bill into a cockamamie scheme to rob that bank.

Of course, as in any good heist movie, things don't go according to plan. Bill meets Sarah (Mädchen Amick) and feels an emotional bond toward her that's going to make robbing the place more difficult. But the bigger problems come after the three brothers do, in fact, rob the bank. A snowstorm hits, preventing their escape. The criminal from whome Dave and Alvin learned about Paradise finds out what happened and is none too happy about it. And Bill finds the townsfolk are just so nice that it's really a shame to rob them on Christmas Eve.

There is stuff to like about Trapped in Paradise. The whole premise of the townsfolk being nice to the point that they're pushovers makes for a light-hearted movie, which is exactly the tone material like this needs. But I think the movie also has serious problems, down to the leads. Nicholas Cage does his best, but is still slightly miscast. Dana Carvey just comes across as too dumb, as though you want to shake some sense into him. And John Lovitz, playing a manipulator, turns up the shtick to 11, making you want to smack him over and over again. Boy is his character irritating. I just watched the ending of Mildred Pierce again the other night, and Jack Carson plays an excellent smarmy. Jon Lovitz just makes it tedious.

Ultimately, I'd say that Trapped in Paradise is the sort of movie that's entertaining enough for the Christmas season, but that there a lot of more memorable movies.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Martin Scorsese yells at cloud

I used the Internet meme of a Simpsons newspaper cutting of Grampa Simpson yelling at a cloud to illustrate this week's post regarding the TCM Spotlight on the elderly. If I had known what was going to come in the news, I would have saved it for this post.

Director Martin Scorsese has made another film, this one called Silence about some Jesuit priests in Edo Japan, an era when the country was pretty much closed to foreigners except for a small section of Nagasaki. The Japanese government was extremely skeptical of foreigners. The end of this era is the subject of the studio-era movie The Barbarian and the Geisha, one of those movies where John Wayne shows he really could act.

Anyhow, with a new movie out, Martin Scorsese has to plug it in the media. And he's doing so by complaining about the state of Hollywood today. Apparently they don't want to make his kind of movie, woe is he.

Now, I've commented in the past that I tend not to care for movies that seem overly reliant on effects; I think it was explicitly in regards to the 1960 Village of the Damned that I mentioned yes the effects are lousy, but dammit if the story isn't really good. There's always going to be a place for good storytelling. But when similar comments come from a famous director, they really sound more like whining about time having passed him by.

For, as I've also mentioned, Hollywood has rarely had an original idea. The auteur theory types would argue that somebody like Orson Welles was original, and that the studio bosses hate-hate-hated him. But as for Hollywood, look at how many film series were churned out in the 30s. TCM will be running all six of the Thin Man movies tomorrow in prime time as part of the salute to Star of the Month Myrna Loy, and before the Charleses there were also the Philo Vance movies. And the Perry Mason movies.

And Hollywood has always been remaking its movies. Quite a few silents got remade once sound came along, but beyond that, there are classics which aren't the original version of the movie. I've mentioned before that the Humphrey Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon is the third version of the movie. And they remade their classics too; there are two remakes of It Happened One Night. So for Scorsese to bitch about what Hollywood is doing now -- especially when he's doing an adaptation of a novel, so it's not as if he really has an original idea of his own -- makes him sound to me like he's got a tin ear for Hollywood's history.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Michèle Morgan, 1920-2016

French actress Michèle Morgan has died at the age of 96. She started her career in France, unsurprisingly, but like a lot of people did when the Nazis invaded, she made a hasty getaway and wound up in Hollywood. Her Hollywood career didn't go terribly well, with the best-known movies probably being Joan of Paris and Passage to Marseille. After the war she returned to Europe, where she appeared in The Fallen Idol and a whole bunch of French films.

One other thing I noticed is that there's an even older French actress who came to the US way back when, and who is still with us. As of the last time I checked yesterday, Danielle Darrieux is about four and a half months away from her 100th birthday at the beginning of next May. One of the local public TV channels has been running The Rage of Paris in which she starred opposite Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Another installment of Treasures from the Disney Vault

I see that tonight brings up another night of the irregular TCM series Treasures from the Disney Vault. This night's theme has to do with animals other than your regular Disney characters, who were of course mostly animals. I don't think I've heard of most of them, wih the exception of Old Yeller at 9:30. For some reason, even as a kid I liked the ending.

There are also two shorts, both based on children's stories, The Ugly Duckling and The Tortoise and the Hare, in the half-hour from 12:45 AM-1:15 AM. I'm surprised they couldn't get a third short, since most of the other installments have had a half-hour block of three one-reelers.

There also doesn't seem to be a Disneyland episode (or pick your favorite of the later names of the series) this go round. I've always wondered how much Disney controls the lineups for these evenings.

Humorously is that the night ends with something decidedly non-Disney, The Relaxed Wife at 5:45 AM.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ah, those old people again

So tonight we get the third night of the TCM Spotlight looking at the elderly. Some of the "elderly" aren't quite so old, as in Ride the High Country at 8:00 PM, in which protagonist Joel McCrea was only in his late 50s; to be fair, antagonist Randolph Scott was seven years older.

One of the more famous older actors would have to be George Burns, who got a second career when he did the supporting role in The Sunshine Boys, airing at 2:00 AM. It was his first film in three dozen years, although he had done a lot of radio and television up until his wife Gracie Allen's death in 1964. One thing I didn't know about the movie before is that Burns wasn't supposed to get the role. Originally, it was supposed to go to Jack Benny, who even did a screen test. But Benny was diagnosed with terminal cancer before shooting could begin, which necessitated finding somebody else to take the part. Enter 79-year-old Burns.

The Sunshine Boys will be followed at 4:15 AM by another Burns movie, Going in Style. Burns was about five years older than co-star Lee Strasberg, who played one of Burns' elderly roommates; Burns' other elderly roommate was played by a man 20 years younger than him, Art Carney. Both movies are well worth watching if you haven't seen them before.

Monday, December 19, 2016

TCM Guest Programmer December 2016: Amy Heckerling

We're at that time of the month when we get another Guest Programmer selecting the night's lineup on TCM. This month, it's Amy Heckerling, the writer-director who I guess would be best known for Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to talk about four of her favorite movies, and those selections will be on tonight:

The James Cagney gangster movie The Roaring Twenties at 8:00 PM;
James Cagney trying to put on a show in Footlight Parade at 10:00 PM;
Marcelo Mastroianni trying to make a movie in Fellini's 8-1/2 at midnight Tuesday; and
the classic German expressionist silent movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at 2:30 AM.

TCM has been running the trailer for The Roaring Twenties, which is presented by producer Mark Hellinger:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1917-2016

The death has been announced of actress and all-around celebrity Zsa Zsa Gabor, about a month and a half shy of her 100th birthday. Gabor, born in Hungary, wasn't exactly known for her quality films, as I think most of us below a certain age would remember her more as being known for being known. She was, however, one of the stars of Queen of Outer Space.

Gabor was married nine times, and at the time of her death was still married to husband #9. They had been married for 30 years, which is more than the first eight marriages combined. One of Zsa Zsa's earlier marriages, #3, was to George Sanders; that marriage would last a whopping five years. Sanders would later marry Zsa Zsa's siter Magda.

TCM Remembers 2016

Apparently the posters on the TCM boards have mentioned seeing the TCM Remembers piece for 2016. It's been posted to Facebook (which I don't do) but not Youtube; it's also shown up on TCM itself. I tuned in yesterday evening after The Song of Bernadette*, but even though there was probably enough time to put it then, they didn't show it. It didn't show up this morning either, when I made the mistake of watching the end of Backfire, a 91-minute movie TCM shoehorned into a 90-minute timeslot.

If I had to guess, there's a substantial block of time after the end of In the Good Old Summertime between 1:45 PM and 2:00 PM where TCM doesn't have a short scheduled, so that looks like a good time for it to show up next. Or, perhaps, after any of this afternoon's movies. They're all scheduled in two-hour slots with no shorts on the schedule, and the longest of the movies is The Philadelphia Story at 112 minutes, plus an intro and outro.

*Speaking of The Song of Bernadette, TCM guest host Dana Delaney was given the information to tell us that director Henry King was nominated for a Best Director Oscar both for that movie, and the next year for the biopic Wilson. But whoever writes the intros and outros didn't think to mention that the next movie up was the one that beat King for the next year's directorial Oscar, Going My Way. It's always interesting to see what they do -- and don't -- say in the intros and outros.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Night after Night

A few months back, I bought a 3-disc collection of Mae West movies. Among the movies in the collection that I hadn't seen before is Night After Night.

Mae West is neither the star here, nor the female lead, this being her first film. The star is George Raft, playing Joe Anton. Joe owns a speakeasy in New York, assisted by high right-hand man Leo (Roscoe Karns). Joe's doing well enough for himself, but he's got some problems. One is Frankie (Bradley Page), a gangster who wants to buy the place what with this still being the Prohibition era and gansters not wanting competition.

Joe, however, seems more concerned with his romantic life. There's a woman named Healy (Constance Cummings) who comes into the place every night and sits alone. She seems much too high-class for Joe, so Joe has been taking lessons in being classier from Miss Jellyman (Alison Skipworth). Joes past, of course, threatens to make a mess of the whole situation. There's Iris (Wynne Gibson), a flapper type who seems to be a bit too much of ill repute. And then Joe gets a phone call from Maudie (Mae West). She's apparently returned from abroad, and would like to start seeing Joe again. Joe doesn't want this, presumably because it wouldn't look good to Healy or Jellyman, although it's never quite revealed what West's past is. (She does give an explanation, although you have to believe she's making it up.)

The main thrust of the movie has Joe pursuing Healy, who is also being pursued by Dick Bolton (Louis Calhern), and variously winning and losing her heart against backdrops of those other women and the gangsters wanting the place. To be honest, the movie is really a bit of a mixed bag. The main plot never quite goes anywhere -- or, at least, it veers wildly from one place to the next -- and it's more up to the comic relief to try to save the movie. Roscoe Karns does well as Leo, having to fix the messes created by Joe's inattention to detail. Skipworth also does well as Jellyman, both in her early prim-and-proper scenes and then later after she's had too much to drink. But, of course, it's Mae West who steals the show. She has a memorable first scene in which she responds to a coat-check girl who says, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" with "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." She then proceeds to worm her way into a dinner with Healy and Jellyman, teaching Jellyman a few things about how not to be the stuffy part of high-class all the time. West only gets three or four scenes, but she shines in them.

Several of the reviewers at IMDb say that Night After Night would probably be forgotten if it weren't for the presence of Mae West. I have to agree with this assessment. The movie is a run-of-the-mill pre-Code in many ways, up until Mae shows up, and then wow! The box set I got that included this movie is under $20, so it's not much to drop for nine movies. (And you get She Done Him Wrong, too.)

I missed a day

So I see that I failed to post anything yesterday. For some reason I thought I had posted something, but I realized this morning that, wait a minute, I hadn't posted anything first thing in the morning and then didn't post in the afternoon. So there you are.

I started this blog back in 2008 when I had a lot of time on my hands. Thanks to the economic downturn and having a mother diagnosed with dementia I wound up as a caregiver along with Dad, me more or less being home-bound with a lot of time on my hands. So it was easy to blog on a daily basis, only missing days when the internet service was out either due to equipment problems or the odd hurricane. (Oh, having a dementia patient not understand why the air conditioner doesn't work when the power is out thanks to a hurricane is just so much fun.)

But Mom died back in March 2015 and so I had to go out and get a real job, one that pays the bills. Which means that I have to be more vigilant if I want to make certain I blog every day, something I still want to do since I think it's a good habit to write every day. Thursday night I was up half the night sick in bed, and then after I got out of work I had errands to run and only got through half of them since the Christmas rush is so busy as you can see in pretty much any movie set in a store at Christmastime. I just didn't get around to posting anything after I got home late yesterday.

I watched something off one of my DVDs last night instead of off the DVR since I wanted to watch something I new was short, so I've got a full-length post coming up this afternoon on something that I fully know is available on DVD -- I just bought the DVD a few months back!

Then again, you know what they say about Robert Mitchum....

Thursday, December 15, 2016

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

I notice that at least one of the titles named to the National Film Registry yesterday is in the public domain, since it's from before 1923. That would be the 1916 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. No Kirk Douglas here, and no singing to Esmerelda the seal, since it's a silent movie. But since it's in the public domain, it's available on Youtube:

Of course, the Youtube printes aren't as well preserved as what we'll get after the Library of Congress is done. Or, at least, that what one would hope.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

National Film Registry announces 2016 selections

It's that time of year again, when we start getting year-end lists. Apparently there's still no TCM Remembers video, since I haven't seen anything about it on the TCM boards or the regular web-site. And nobody's posted it to Youtube either.

Another list that comes out toward the end of the year is the list of 25 titles selected by the National Film Registry for its preservation program. This year's list can be found here; I didn't realize Steamboat Bill, Jr. and The Birds were not already on the list. Of course, this isn't about preserving Hollywood's heritage per se; it's about selecting things that are historically, culturally, or artistcally significant. This is why past years have seen selections of the Zapruder film or flood documentary footage.

That having been said, unsurprisingly somebody on the TCM boards complained about the selection of some relatively recent films, such as The Lion King which, to be fair, is already 20 years old. Can you feel the hate tonight?

I think I've mentioned before that regular people can suggest movies. I did that a couple of years ago, but none of my selections have been picked.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Phynx

So I watched The Phynx off my DVR, having shown up in Summer Under the Stars for one of the many stars who shows up for the movie's finale to get a one-liner, I can't remember which star was being honored. The movie has a reference for being incredibly bad, but in fact it's not quite that bad.

Somebody is kidnapping the stars of Hollywood's golden age: Maureen O'Sullivan, Rudy Vallee, George Jessel, Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, and on and on and on. Actually, it's fairly well known who's doing it: the Communist government of Albania. All attempts to enter the country have failed. So how is America supposed to get its faded celebrities back?

Thankfully we have the folks at the Super Secret Agency working for us. They have a supercomputer named "Mechanical Oracle That Helps Americans", for the snazzy acronym MOTHA for advice. MOTHA is, like the supercomputer in Sex Kittens Go to College, shaped like a woman, but this one has the more interesting conceit that MOTHA delivers her answers on punch cards that come out of her snatch, as though she were delivering a baby. Really. Her brilliant idea is to created a pop band, called The Phynx, that the leader of Albania will want to invite over, and the band members can rescue all the celebrities.

We get a good half hour that really drags in which the musicians are kidnapped and trained at a secret base somewhere in the desert; I don't think any of the four musicians were trained actors. Then it's off to England, where they'll get their information on how to find the map of the secret passage into the Albanian castle where the head of state has all the celebrities holed up.

Actually, it turns out that the president of Albania, Markevitch (George Tobias) is being held there along with his wife (Joan Blondell) by the real power, Col. Rostinov (Michael Ansara). The Phnyx perform a song, and then rescue the celebrities, end of story.

There's a lot wrong with this movie, and you can understand why it was barely released and lay dormant for decades. The band isn't very good, and the music is ultra-derivative. Lieber and Stoller wrote the songs, and one gets the idea that they felt they had the task to come up with music that would fit as exemplars of a genre, rather than right real quality music. If that was their intent, they at least partly succeeded, for there's one song about traveling that really sounds reminiscent of The Fifth Dimension's hit "Up, Up and Away" -- maddening elevator music with lyrics. Almost all of the name actors are underused, and don't really get a chance to deliver good lines. Especially bad in this vein is what happened to young Richard Pryor, who appears in a scene towards the beginning. When they get to Albania, all the kidnapped celebrities are introduced on the equivalent of a red carpet.

There are, however, a lot of celebrities. I haven't mentioned the Lone Ranger and Tonto, or Johnny Weismuller, or even Col. Sanders. And as I said, as they're being spirited back to freedom, the camera gives each of them one shot to deliver a final line.

So what's to like about The Phynx? Well, some of the celebrities do make the most of their limited appearance. Notable among these are Martha Raye and James Brown. There's also an extended sequence in Rome, where the Phynx are looking for the final piece of the map. They're given x-ray glasses to do it (the map is tattooed on a pretty woman's abdomen), and this give the opportunity for several clever sight gags. One has a man chatting up a woman in a club, but when the glasses go on, we see that these are in fact two men, with the one dressed in men's clothes presumably having no idea the other one is in drag. And then there a gag of two young women stopping to talk to a couple of nuns. The other thing to enjoy about The Phynx is that there are so many scenes where you have to ask yourself, "What on earth were they thinking?"

The Phynx has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, for the benefit of those who like to watch movies that are so bad they're interesting.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Terrorist bombing movies

The news this weekend had a couple more stories about bombings in the Middle East, one from Istanbul and one from Egypt. With the snow here, I don't have the time more much more than another lazy list post, so I started thinking about what movies have terrorist bombings in them. (Obviously, a lot of war movies have bombs; that's different.)

Alfred Hitchcock immediately springs to mind, first with Sabotage back in the UK. I really like the use of the bomb in that one, even if Hitchcock himself later said he had severe problems with what he did in that plot. Several years later, fifth columnists (who are probably a subgenre of their own in the movies) bombed a navy launching in Saboteur, which is another of Hitchcock's really underrated movies.

Terrorists put a series of bombs in a transatlantic cruise ship in Juggernaut, and it's up to Richard Harris to defuse them. This is a surprisingly good movie that also doesn't get as much attention as it probably should. There's some really good black humor, and the terrorist plot's unraveling comes in a really unexpected way.

And then there's Terror on a Train, a movie MGM made over in the UK, I'd guess with blocked funds, sending over Glenn Ford so the movie would play well on this side of the Atlantic as well. He has to deal with a bomb on a train full of munitions.

For a bomb on a plane, you've got Van Heflin in Airport, one of the earlier of the big-budget all-star movies that made it to screens through the 1970s. (I don't know if you'd put Hotel from a few years earlier in that genre, or even The VIPs from the early 1960s. But The VIPs didn't have any real disaster; even Hotel had that faulty elevator.)

And of course you've got the bus that couldn't go slow in Keanu Reeves' movie Speed. For another bus-bombing movie, you have Busses Roar, another of those fifth-column movies from the early days of World War II, that's a fairly entertaining B movie.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Search

Over the weekend, I watched The Search off of my DVR, having recorded it during Summer Under the Stars when there was a day of Montgomery Clift's movies. It was released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, and can be purchased at Amazon, although surprisingly, the TCM Shop has it listed as being on backorder. (Other Warner Archive movies aren't listed as being on backorder.)

The scene is Germany, 1946. The Allies have won World War II and are occupying Germany, and also dealing with all the problems that the war caused. Specifically, there are a lot of refugees from those people who survived the concentration camps, and most tragic of all are the children, most of whom probably lost their parents. Mrs. Murray (Aline MacMahon) works for the UNRRA, the United Nations agency dealing with the refugee problem, and finds that a lot of the children are terrified, simply because any time they see somebody in uniform, they immediately think concentraton camp guard. One young refugee (Ivan Jandl) seems to have no name and doesn't say much of anything, so they can't even figure out what his native language is. And then, when the UNRRA is shuttling children from the reception center to their next refugee camp, this kid and one of his friends make a break for it. The other kid drowns but this kid escapes, although the authorities see his hat floating on the water so they presume he drowned too.

Enter Ralph Stevenson (Montgomery Clift). He's a GI working with his superior Fisher (Wendell Corey), waiting to be demobbed because he's got a good engineering job waiting for him back in the States. He spots this lone little kid, and takes him in. It's difficult at first, since the kid won't speak at all, and wants to make an escape attempt every time he gets the chance. Eventually, though, Ralph begins to form a bond with the kid, whom he names "Jim", and even hopes he could take the kid to the States with him, although there's all sorts of red tape inherent in that.

Meanwhile, there's Mrs. Maliková (Jarmila Novotná). She survived the Holocaust and lost her husband and daughter, but is certain that her son survived. So she's been going from one refugee camp to another, looking for that son. Now, of course, we know that the kid survived. The name Karel Malik is briefly mentioned in the opening sequence, while the movie wouldn't be focusing so heavily on "Jim" having survived if he weren't in fact Mrs. Maliková's son. And we can also presume that the two are going to get together in the end, mostly because if the movie had any other ending, the audiences would have rioted.

So, as many movies in other genres (romantic comedies), we know where the journey is going to wind up. Watching this one is about how the movie gets to that ending, not what the ending is. And in that regard, the movie succeeds in spades. Montgomery Clift does well as the nominal star, even though we don't see him until almost a third of the movie has gone by. He was Oscar-nominated, even though I don't think the role has him do enough for that. Aline MacMahon really deserved a Supporting Actress nomination, although she didn't get it. I think she's even better than Clift, playing a woman who has a fairly thankless job of dealing with hordes of traumatized children and trying to find a future for them. It's a job that could harden anybody, and MacMahon shows the right mix of weariness and tenderness. Best of all is young Ivan Jandl. He wasn't a professional actor, and he's never cloying. It's a naturalistic and believable performance, and one that got Jandl a special juvenile Oscar.

One other thing worth noting is that a good portion of the movie was filmed on location in the bombed-out parts of Germany, just a few years after the end of the war. It was one of the first movies to do so, although this would happen several more times over the next few years before a lot of the ruins disappeared.

All in all, The Search is a movie that's highly worth watching.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Treasures from American Film Archives online

Yesterday, somebody over at the TCM boards posted a link to the National Film Preservation Foundation, of a bunch of mostly short films that have been preserved by various archives. They released a DVD box set years ago; I seem to recall TCM running a salute to the box set back around 2004, although according to the NFPF website it would have been 2005 in conjunction with the reissue of the box set. Then again, I wouldn't be surprisied if it were actually a different set; I distinctly recall the salute including a silent version of Lady Windermere's Fan. IMDb lists the 1925 silent version as having a 2004 NFPF print, although for some reason I had a feeling it was an earlier version:

Neither version of the movie is listed on the NFPF site above, although they might be someplace else on the NFPF site. And the 1925 version probably has a different copyright holder anyway. And to be honest, I was really posting about the NFPF site because unfortunately, I can't get the Flash videos to show up on it. I'm on Linux with Firefox; I don't even get anything telling me there's an embedded video the way I would on the old Youtube. Anybody else having problems?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Kirk Douglas turns 100

Today marks the centenary of actor Kirk Douglas, who is thankfully still with us. TCM, surprisingly, isn't doing anything for the day, while IMDb buried their photo gallery a good ways down the page after some of the celebrity gossip. I looked through my archives and found quite a few images; I didn't check the IMDb gallery to see if we've repeated any. (I didn't have any from Spartacus; I haven't watched it in ages.)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

The Bad and the Beautiful


The Vikings

Out of the Past

Ace in the Hole

Lust for Life

Seven Days in May

Paths of Glory

Detective Story

Granted, a couple of those aren't particularly good photos of Kirk, but to be honest, I had selected those photos back in the day for the other people in them: The Vikings for Tony Curtis' obituary; Out of the Past Jane Greer; and Detective Story for George Macready. And some of them probably shouldn't have been blown up like that either.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Briefs for Debember 8-9, 2016

FXM Retro is running Air Patrol today at 6:00 AM and tomorrow at 4:45 AM, since you've probably missed this morning's airing. I can't recall if I've seen it, but I notice that it's directed by Maury Dexter, who churned out quite a few ultra-low budget quickies that Fox distributed in the 60s. Some of them are surprisingly good, such as, The Day Mars Invaded Earth. Others are interestingly awful, like Raiders From Beneath the Sea. Dexter's name on Air Patrol probably makes it worth watching then.

Tonight on TCM there are a couple of Tennessee Williams movies. Ugh. There are two showings of a version of The Glass Menagerie that, as I understand it, is actually a TV movie. Of course, they've been running the dreadful Carol for Another Christmas this December as well.

I'm more looking forward to tomorrow morning's look at Alice White, who was apparently quite popular in the early 30s, but who didn't make the best career choices. She was the other girl in James Cagney's Picture Snatcher, although tomorrow mornings are from even earlier in White's career. Lots of early talkies I haven't seen before on the schedlue. Well, three or four, and they segue into the Myrna Loy movies.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Suits of James Bond

Somebody on a non-movie forum I frequent once said that everybody should be an expert on something, I think in regards to somebody who had a website about obscure TV shows with prominent cowgirl characters which, outside of the Hollywood movie western, does seem a relatively esoteric subject.

I mention that because yesterday, somebody else somewhere else linked to a blog called The Suits of James Bond. Who knew there was enough to talk about, but with almost two dozen movies now, and a whole bunch of characters besides 007 himself, apparently there is.

Of course, Bond didn't get such a prominent clothing designer the way he got a stylish weapons designer like Q. And sadly, I don't have the money for nice suits like that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fire Sale

Another of the movies I watched over the weekend was Fire Sale. For those of you with FXM, it's going to be on twice tomorrow, at 3:30 AM and 7:55 AM; I'm not certain if it's available on DVD.

Russel Fikus (Rob Reiner) is packing his parents' car in the opening scenes of the movie; his parents Benny (Vincent Gardenia) and Ruth (Medford) are getting ready to go on a cross-country trip to Florida. This means that Dad is leaving the family department store in the capable hands of Russel. Or maybe not-so-capable, since Dad doesn't want Russel to do anything, even though Russel thinks he has good ideas on how to run the place. At least, he's got better ideas, since the place is going under financially. Russell would like to make a success of himself, since he's got a girlfriend at the store who won't marry him until he can make a success of himself.

Meanwhile, the other brother Ezra (Alan Arkin) used to be part of the store -- in one shot, you can see where the "and Sons" part of the store sign has had the S removed. But Ezra decided he'd rather be a basketball coach. Unfortunately, he's a failure of a coach, having only a 2-and-100something record as coach, and he fears he's going to lose his job if he can't win the Big Game. His wife Marion (Anjanette Comer) is needling him, since she wants a child and Ezra either cannot or will not provide her with one. He doesn't even want to adopt what with his job situation.

Back at the store, we learn what Dad's plan was for the place. He's got a brother-in-law Sherman (Sid Caesar) who lost a leg in World War II and, 30 years on, thinks the war is still going on. So Benny comes up with a plan: have Sherman escape from the VA hospital and burn down the store, thinking it's the local Nazi headquarters. Of course, if your crazy brother-in-law burns down the place, suspicion is bound to fall on you, but that's another story.

As I was watching this movie, I couldn't help but think of Little Murders. It's a movie that has some interesting ideas, but one where I find the execution unbelievably irritating. Having said that, I was reading some of the reviews at IMDb, and there were people who really liked it, comparing it to a later TV show like Arrested Development. I never cared for that show either, which might have something to do with my low opinion of Fire Sale. It seems that is more for people with the right sense of humor, and I just don't share that sense of humor. If you do, you may well enjoy this one.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Stray Dog

So I watched Stray Dog over the weekend, having DVRed it when TCM ran it on Akira Kurosawa's birthday back in March. TCM lists it as being available from the TCM Shop, although being part of the Criterion Collection it's a bit pricey. In any case, since it is available, I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie. And it's well worth watching to boot.

Toshiro Mifune playd Detective Murakami, a young police detective who joined the Tokyo force after serving in the Japanese army in World War II. The story begins with Murakami being distraught over the fact that he's lost his service weapon, a Colt pistol. This being Japan, firearms are pretty unknown outside the government and the yakuza, and another gun falling into their hands is a problem for Murakami. He's going to have to investigate, and he's desperate to find his gun before it's used for evil purposes.

He first goes to the larceny unit, where they've got huge files of all the known pickpockets, cross-indexed by age, sex, modus operandi, and so on. This leads Murakami to a woman who is probably just a fence. But he wouldn't know where to find the woman, so partnering Murakami on the case is the veteran Det. Sato (Takashi Shimura). Sato knows how things work, and can tell what Murakami is doing wrong in the investigation. Anyhow, the investigation quickly leads to the underworld, and Murakami is forced to wait and wait until a tout will take him to one of the gun lenders.

The case gets more urgent for Murakami when there are a couple of shootings, and Murakami, having found one of the bullets he fired at the practice range, is able to confirm that the shootings were committed with the gun that was stolen from him. Murakami feels incredibly guilty about it, and feels a personal responsibility in solving the case.

Eventually, the key witness is Harumi (Keiko Awaji), a chorus girl whose boyfriend is the gangster Yusa. Yusa can get Harumi nice things, in a time not long after Japan's total defeat in the war, when nice things are very hard to come by. But at what price will those things come?

Stray Dog is a very well-told story, and a very well-made movie. Watching the movie, I almost got the impression of Kurosawa wanting to show that he could do any genre, except for the fact that this came at the beginning of his career, when he wouldn't have had as much choice in projects. The opening scenes of Murakami losing his gun somewhere along the bus ride home reminded me very much of the early scenes of Pickup on South Street with Richard Widmark picking a woman's purse, although since the focus is on the victim here, we don't actually see who did it. But this and the first scenes of the investigation make me wonder whether the folks behind Pickup on South Street saw this one.

The story is also set at the height of summer, and the sweltering heat is almost a palpable character, inevitably giving way to thunderstorms just as the movie is about to reach its climax. You might think this is a cheap cliché, but Kurosawa has the genius to use this as a vital plot point later in the story. In addition to the heat, the other well-photographed thing is the Tokyo as it was in the late 1940s, just a few years after that war. A lot of the people live in pretty dire conditions which look even worse than what Hollywood was able to put on screen. Japan as it was, as well as a scene set at a baseball game, are interesting historical artifacts.

Ultimately, Stray Dog is a movie that would fit in well with the Hollywood noir cycle that was happening at the same time this movie was made. It's very accessible for people who might think having to sit through two hours of subtitles might be a slog. It's a shame that it's not better known.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Vitaphone at 90

TCM is honoring the 90th anniversary of Vitaphone tomorrow, even though the film that started it all, Don Juan (airing on TCM at 6:00 AM Tuesday), actually premiered in August 1926. I suppose TCM couldn't do the anniversary then thanks to Summer Under the Stars. I think I've mentioned before that Don Juan didn't have any dialogue, but did have a synchronized score and sound effects. In conjunction with the New York premiere, there was a series of shorts that were done, some with just instrumental music, some with singing, and one of MPPDA head Will Hays talking about the new technology:

That short is going to be on in the first prime time slot tomorrow, which is a block of shorts going from 8:00 PM to 9:45 PM. And herein lies the problem. TCM is running a whole bunch of Vitaphone shorts. While it's nice to see those Vitaphone shorts, and TCM does run a fair number of them between movies when they've got an extra 20 minutes or so to fill, running a block of them together always screws up the TCM schedule. The monthly schedule which I downloaded just before the start of the month has a different running order from the TCM online weekly schedule. And oftentimes the satellite box guide has a third running order. So figuring out the exact time one specific short is going to air is nigh on impossible.

Also apparently scheduled in that early prime time slot is Baby Rose Marie, a 1929 one-reeler. Rose Marie would, of course, go on to do the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, but she was a juvenile star first:

A couple more obituaries

Don Calfa died on Thursday at the age of 76. I didn't recognize the name at first, but you might remember him as Paulie, the hitman who's trying to kill the good guys in 1989's Weekend at Bernie's. He was also in Return of the Living Dead, although I haven't seen that one; Calfa's career also saw him do a lot of small roles on both the big and small screens.

And then there's child star Billy Chapin, who died on Friday aged 72. His best known role would probably be as the older brother who protects both his kid sister and her doll stuffed with $20,000 in Night of the Hunter. All along the way, he's trying to stay one step ahead of evil Robert Mitchum:

I haven't watched enough TCM to see if they've run the annual "Parade of the Dead", AKA the year-end TCM Remembers piece, yet. Has anybody seen it?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

TCM Guest Host December 2016: Dana Delany

So there was a message on the TCM boards about a guest host for TCM for December, actress Dana Delany. She apparently did a segment of the Trailblazing Women spotlight in October, although I didn't watch the segments. Anyhow, a search for something on TCM's official site didn't reveal anything, but did find this tweet:

If the tweet doesn't show up properly, go here; it also has the replies including some nice vintage photos of Myrna Loy.

I didn't get to see any of the intros last night; I showed up toward the end of the first film and then switched to watching something off my DVR; more on that next week since the movie is coming up on TV soon. But the upshot of not having actually watched any of Delany's intros is that I can't comment on how good she is.

As you can tell from the tweet, Delany will be on TCM Fridays and Saturdays this month.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Whom did the Bob Hope family piss off?

Bob Hope died in 2003. His wife of 69 years, Dolores, died eight years later. The estate left behind a house in Palm Springs, and one in Los Angeles. It's expensive to maintain, so the Hopes' daughter Linda has decided to sell it in order to raise funds for the Hopes' charitable foundation.

Not so fast. Apparently work on the property involves demolishing some outbuildings, and the Hopes must have ticked off somebody, because a Los Angeles City Councillor has taken unto himself the attempt to make the house a historic landmark. Really. Note that because he's a politician, he doesn't have to pay anybody one red cent to try to do this; it's all the taxpayers' money going to any efforts he'd make. And if the city actually bought the property, not that they're going to, it would be the taxpayers paying for this politician's vanity.

In the article where I first read it, not at the Hollywood Reporter, somebody made this trenchantly cynical (and factually incorrect) comment:

Most likely, Hope's single level ranch home would have part of it renovated. That renovation is going to include a second story addition. That addition is going to block a view on the neighbors property. I'll put money on it that the neighbor contacted Ryu [the councillor trying to make the historic landmark designation] about designating the home as a landmark, thus preventing this type of renovation.

In fact, the pictures at the Hollywood Reporter show the house already has two stories. But you can't help but think that somewhere along the way, Linda ticked off somebody, and they've decided to try to extract their pound of flesh.

So far the councillor has been rebuffed. But I doubt we've heard the last of this story.

TCM Star of the Month December 2016: Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy (l.) with William Powell; don't ask me which of their dozen or so movies it's from

For the people who paid ridiculous sums to join the TCM Backlot, TCM ran a contest to pick the Star of the Month for December: they had a choice between Bette Davis and Myrna Loy, and Loy won. (It probably should have gone to centenarian Kirk Douglas, but that's another story.) Loy's movies will be airing on Fridays, mostly in prime time, although actually starting earlier. Loy is probably best remembered for all those movies with William Powell, through which she became known as the "perfect wife". It wasn't just with Powell that she had that on-screen reputation; she would be the wife opposite Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives and then opposite Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House:

But her career actually started with small roles in silents; I for example am looking forward to Noah's Ark coming on at 3:00 PM which I've never seen before. And then up until about 1934, Loy played a lot of exotic vamp types. It's these earlier roles that are getting the spotlight this first Friday in December. I'm also curious about The Squall, overnight at 2:15 AM. And at 7:00 PM, there will be a 1990 documentary, Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Youtube changes

So I was on an internet forum I frequent last night, and unsurprisingly, people made comments that involve Youtube links, as is part of the commenting culture there. Normally I can click on the links, just see the title of the video, and get the joke.

But this time, the videos autoplayed! For the longest time, I had Flash turned off so that Youtube videos wouldn't start loading by default, until I clicked and told the site too. I don't have unlimited bandwidth, so it's a way to save bandwidth. But it turned out these weren't Flash videos. These were HTML5, which is the new standard (as I understand it an official web standard since 2014, although it's been in development for years before that).

My guess, therefore, is that Youtube has completely gotten rid of the possibility of having Youtube play Flash and is pushing everybody to HTML5. Uploading videos would remain unchanged, since Flash is basically just an application for playing the videos, and this is all on Youtube's side. If you look at any of the posts where I've embedded a Youtube video, those all seem to remain the same. The point isn't to break old videos, which would be a massive inconvenience to everybody, but to change on Youtube's end the application that plays them. If you do it right, and everybody knows how website changes don't go well, it should be a seamless thing for the end-user. (Youtube, of course, has had years to work out the kinks; it's just us late adopters who see the changes now. I still use IMDb's old format for displaying pages.) But it was irritating having to find the Firefox setting to turn off autoplay.

Has anybody else noticed a change?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Another month is about to begin

Today being the last day of November, it means that we're going to get into a new month, which will mean new features on TCM, such as a new Star of the Month. But more on that in the days ahead. Over on FXM Retro, it's long seemed to me as though the first of the month is the time when they start bringing a few more movies out of the vault, and put some back in.

Four Jills in a Jeep is, I think, back on FXM Retro in December after a long absence; perhaps it was on this month or earlier but I wasn't paying close enough attention. Carole Landis wrote the book about her USO experiences, and the book was fictionalized into a fairly good movie. It'll be on FXM Retro tomorrow at 11:40 AM and Friday at 9:30 AM. Amazon's listing implies that the DVD is out of print, but there's a box collection which you can get on the TCM Shop of five Alice Fay movies.

In both cases, Four Jills in a Jeep will be followed by I Was a Male War Bride. Cary Grant plays a French officer who, in the days after World War II falls in love with a WAC (Ann Sheridan). But due to a quirk in the laws, American military members' foreign wives are allowed to go to America with their American husbands; female officers' husbands are technically excluded from the law. So the obvious solution, since changing the rules will take too much time, is to disguise Cary as a wife. Didn't he dress as a wife in My Favorite Wife? The TCM Shop lists a six-movie collection including I Was a Male War Bride.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas movies are here

Even though the Christmas season generally began traditionally with Thanksgiving, it's still a bit disconcerting to think that the Christmas season is upon us again. Probably because I haven't done much the past two Christmases. Anyhow, tomorrow is still November, but TCM is already giving us a bunch of Christmas movies. And then they're going to give us another round of Christmas movies on Thursday night into Friday, although I'd have to look at the monthly schedule to see if that's the December spotlight -- it wouldn't surprise me.

Fox has had a crappy print of the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol on FXM Retro the past couple of Christmas Eves in a continuous loop for 24 hours. But MGM did a version of the story (yay, public domain!) back in the late 1930s, so TCM can show that on, and will be doing so tomorrow at 1:45 PM.

Of course, it was just as easy for MGM to remake its own stuff, so you can also catch In the Good Old Summertime at 9:30 AM; that one is a musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner.

Thankfully, I have almost all of my Christmas shopping done. Dad is getting a bottle or two of wine, so I'm going to the liquor store a couple of days to buy that. Everybody else got cheap DVDs from Amazon.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gloria Grahame, 1923-1981

Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin in The Big Heat (1953)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Gloria Grahame, who appeared in a bunch of interesting movies in the 1950s. Actually, her career started in the 1940s playing Violet in It's a Wonderful Life, although to be honest I don't particularly remember that character. More memorable is Gloria Grahame, the nightclub girl who picks up the naive young man who gets involved in a murder he didn't commit in Crossfire.

Grahame won the Oscar for 1952's The Bad and the Beautiful, but I personally prefer her role in The Big Heat, as the moll who runs afoul of Lee Marvin. Well, a lot of people ran afoul of Lee Marvin's characters. There are also films like Man on a Tightrope, in which Fredric March tries to lead his circus troupe (of which Grahame is a member) out of Communist Czechoslovakia, or The Man Who Never Was, where she winds up having to play the girlfriend of the fictitious man who never was.

One thing I didn't know is that she was married to director Nicholas Ray and that this was complicated; after they divorced and Ray's son by a previous marriage grew up, Grahame married that son! And she had children by both marriages, which would make those children not just half-siblings, but also an uncle and two nephews, I think.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Crap, everything's out of print!

I mentioned yesterday that I watched The King's Vacation recently, and that it doesn't seem to be available on DVD. (Warner Home Video probably ought to put out a MOD Arliss box set.) It seems that too much of what I've watched recently is out of print.

Last night I decided to watch Mothers of Men that I had recorded during the Trailblazing Women salute back in October. It only runs about an hour, and it was late enough that I didn't want to stay up to watch a two-hour movie. Mothers of Men was made in 1917, and then re-released in 1921 as Every Woman's Problem. There's an interesting story of the women's suffrage days of a woman who gets elected judge, but whose husband gets caught up with people willing to commit crimes to get the woman out of office. The print TCM ran was a restoration print, so certainly the music would be under copyright, but since the re-release was from 1921, even the intertitles should be in the public domain. Surprisingly, not only doesn't the movie seem to be on DVD, there's next to nothing on Youtube. Perhaps the restoration print is the only one available?

A few weeks ago, I watched Before the Rain, a beautiful, moving movie about the various wars the broke up the former Yugoslavia, specifically the portion that affected Macedonia, a country that has a significant ethnic Albanian minority. Unfortunately, Amazon only lists a few copies available, while the TCM Shop lists the DVD as being on backorder. The DVD was released by Criterion, which probably has to do with why TCM was able to get a print, what with that new arrangement the two have. I just wish the DVD were still in print, since the movie is very much worth watching.

The only one that is available on DVD is The Madwoman of Chaillot, but frankly, the movie is terrible. Really, truly awful, which is a surprise considering the cast, but everybody was so unsympathetic and the writing was so bad that the movie isn't worth watching, or wasting money on the Warner Archive DVD. Worse than The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, in fact. Much worse.

On the bright side, I was able to delete enough off the DVR that I was able to record a bunch of movies from the free preview weekend of all the premium movie channels that DirecTV had this weekend.

Ah, another block of shorts

This week's Silent Sunday Nights block on TCM, starting at midnight tonight and running until 2:00 AM, is five two-reelers, each with a dog as a main character. There are two of Hal Roach's Rascals shorts, Love My Dog and Dog Daze. There are also two Fatty Arbuckle shorts, Fatty's Faithful Fido and Fatty's Plucky Pup. The fifth short is a Harold Lloyd two-reeler, Number, Please?

However, figuring out which order they'll show up in is the interesting part. Logicall the two Hal Roach shorts would be paired, as would the two Fatty Arbuckle shorts. Whether Number, Please? comes in first, in the middle, or last is irrelevant. (I'd probably run the shorts in chronological order, but that's just me.) But as often happens when TCM schedules a block of multiple shorts, the scheduling goes out the window. The monthly schedule which I downloaded at the end of October has all five movies beginning at midnight. The Hal Roach shorts are first and fifth; Number, Please? is second, leaving the Arbuckle shorts third and fourth. On the online weekly schedule, however, the Arbuckle shorts are the last two, with the first two shorts being the same as the monthly schedule and the second of the Hal Roach shorts showing up between Number, Please? and the Arbuckle shorts.

And then there's my box guide. It has Fatty's Faithful Fido coming on at midnight, and... running for two hours. No mention of the other four shorts. The one advantage to this is that it's easy to record all five of them in one block. And one of the online non-TCM guides has the Arbuckle shorts first, with Number, Please? fourth. Oy. On the bright side, the two Arbuckle shorts and Number, Please? were all released before 1923 which means they're in the public domain and, therefore, easily found on Youtube.

The canine theme continues with TCM Imports, although instead of Mondo Cane, we get Umberto D at 2:00 AM.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

TCM prints and opening titles

So I watched The King's Vacation off of my DVR last night. It's a George Arliss movie not on DVD about a man who never really wanted to be king who abdicates when revolution comes and tries to go back to his old life.

But that's not the reason why I write about it. I noticed that this was another of a bunch of early 30s movies I've seen on TCM where there's something odd with the opening titles. Since all these movies are in close to 4:3, they're pillarboxed on TCM, as opposed to, say, FXM Retro, which just stretches the old movies to fit a 16:9 screen. (Yes, I know the Academy ratio isn't exactly 4:3.)

The opening titles, however, are different. They're pillarboxed and slightly letterboxed. The King's Vacation is by far not the first movie I've seen this done to. Anybody know why this might have happened? I can't think of any particularly good reasons for it. If something had been done to the entire movie, that would be one thing, but just for the opening titles?

Friday, November 25, 2016


TCM has been running the movies of Star of the Month Natalie Wood every Friday in prime time. This being the last Friday of the month, it's unsurprising that TCM is showing Natalie's last (and uncompleted from her point of view, much like Jean Harlow and Saratoga) movie, Brainstorm, at 12:15 AM.

Natalie plays Karen Brace, who works at one of those early-80s California tech companies along with her estranged husband Michael (Christopher Walken). The marriage has deteriorated to the point that it's going to lead to divorce, in no small part because Michael can't learn to see the world through his wife's eyes, and to a lesser extent vice versa. That's all about to change, although the Brace's marriage is in many ways a subplot.

Michael has been working closely on a device that nowadays we'd think of as a virtual reality device, although this one seems rather more real than anything that might be around now, or certainly 35 years ago. Apparently, Michael and fellow researchers like Lillian (Louise Fletcher) have figured out a way to distill the essence of human thought, and put it on those old magnetic tapes, to be played back into a machine for somebody else to use it. So you can see how Karen could use this device to record her thoughts, and Michael to learn to see the world from his wife's perspective, saving the marriage.

But that's not quite what the movie is about. As with The Sorcerers, the original researchers think this is a great idea with therapeutic purposes, but there are other people who want to use it for other things. Rather humorously, the financial types understand that this would be great as a sex toy. More ominously, the Defense Department wants to turn this into a weapon, a standard trope in Hollywood movies, I suppose. Trying to take the project away from Michael is more important to the movie's plot than his estranged marriage.

It's fate that takes the project away from Lillian. She's doing research at the lab when she suffers a fatal heart attack. However, she has a brilliant idea: she's going to record her death on one of those tapes so that people can learn what death is really like. But will watching such a tape kill the watcher? Michael has to find out what's on that tape, but since he's opposed selling the project to the government, everybody's trying to block his access. Perhaps Karen can help him.

There are some interesting ideas in Brainstorm, but unfortunately the movie was doomed by the untimely death of Natalie Wood. This supposedly necessitated changing parts of the movie to fit the fact that Natalie was no longer around to portray Karen, and using a body double to stand in for Natalie from the rear when Karen's presence was absolutely necessary. The result is that things are a bit muddled at times, while we also get a bit of a formulaic movie: brilliant but troubled scientist goes up against government establishment.

One thing that probably worked better on the big screen than TV is the portrayal of the device in action. To portray that the device is supposed to be an immersive technology, the scenes showing what's on the tapes use an extra-wide-screen format, while regular scenes use something more normal. I'd guess this works on a movie theatre screen, but on TV we get a fair amount of both letterboxing and pillarboxing, which don't work quite well together.

Still, Brainstorm is an interesting idea, even when it doesn't quite work. It's well worth a watch, and not just because of the trivia of it being Natalie Wood's final film. It does seem to be availalbe for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Avenging Conscience

Over on the TCM boards, somebody mentioned having watched The Avenging Conscience or: "Thou Shalt Not Kill". It's a 1914 film from D.W. Griffith that's based in part on Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Telltale Heart", and on some of Poe's other stuff.

I hadn't even heard of the movie before, but since it's from 1914, I realized it's in the public domain, which means that it's likely available on Youtube. Sure enough, a Youtube search revealed multiple copies. The movie has received a DVD release, although Amazon implies it's out of print. The TCM SHop does seem to have it available, although they list it as 68 minutes, while IMDb claims it was originally 78 minutes. And some of the Youtube copies are around 83 minutes. (Some of that, I'd presume, is down to the playback speed.)

I haven't watched it yet, but here it is on Youtube:

A few more obituaries

It's being reported that child actor Jerry Tucker (né Schatz) has died at the age of 91. Tucker played in the Our Gang shorts in the 1930s, and also appeared in the Shirley Temple version of Captain January.

Also having died yesterday -- or, at least, his death was announced yesterday -- is Australian actor Peter Sumner. Sumner apparently handled the controls of the garbage compactor monster in the first Star Wars movie. Not that I'm a fan of the Star Wars franchise. Sumner also appeared in a movie I never knew existed: 1983's Bush Christmas. This is a reamke of the 1947 movie. I still have the 1947 version on me DVR, having recorded it last year when it ran on TCM, but still not having gotten around to watching it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Salesman again

I've briefly mentioned the documentary Salesman before, in regards to director Albert Maysles. It's on again at 10:45 PM this evening as part of the TCM Spotlight on documentaries. Unfortunately, the movie is out of print on DVD. The TCM Shop has a listing for it, but you'll note that it's on backorder. (Note also that the DVD release date is back in 2001.) Amazon also lists it as currently out of stock, although they have the streaming thing going if you do that.

I'll stand by the one-paragraph synopsis I gave of Salesman a year and a half ago:

I have to admit to not having heard of the Maysles brothers until last summer when TCM ran the documentary Salesman, about of group of door-to-door Bible salesmen. It's a movie that's at times fascinating, but at times disturbing when you think about these salesmne almost preying upon the lower-class families who really can't afford the overpriced bibles that these people are selling. (To be fair, the salesmen got their leads from the churches as one or two scenes refer to congregations filling out cards. The parishioners brought it upon themselves.)

Salesman is well worth watching if you haven't seen it before.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The rest of the Traveltalks

Back in June, I noticed another blogger pointing out that there was a 3-DVD box set of Traveltalks shorts, which was Volume 1. I figured this meant there would be a Volume 2 and a Volume 3, but back in June these hadn't been released. Since then they have.

Volume 2 was released in August, and put together with Volume 1, this contains all of the color Traveltalks shorts from before World War II, with one exception, a short on New Orleans. That has been released with a bunch of the post-War shorts, when James Fitzpatrick was able to get back to Europe, on Volume 3. Those three combined supposedly have all of the color Traveltalks shorts; there were a few black-and-white shorts from the early 1930s as well.

I was reminded of this by the fact that TCM's schedule tonight is dedicated to the centenary of the US National Park system. There are four or five features filmed in part in various parks, as well as, at 12:15 AM, four Traveltalks shorts back-to-back. That's not the entirety of the Traveltalks look at US national parks, however. I think the one on Glacier Lakes, for example, isn't airing. And then there are the Canadian parks; Fitzpatrick went to Banff and Jasper at various points.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mmmm, cookies

Over the weekend when I was posting I got a warning mesage from Blogger that they're supposedly putting up a message for viewers about Blogger's/Google's use of cookies. Apparently, the European Union has had a regulation for a while that websites have to let people know when they're using cookies to track users.

I've seen the obnoxious messages pretty much any time I visit sites based in the EU, and I'd presume Blogger is doing it so their sites that actually are hosted on servers within the EU won't run afoul of the legislation. Of course, governments track you far more than any web-site or business does, and it's usually a hell of a lot easier to opt out of being watched by business. But that's another story.

Anyhow, I comment on this because I only saw the Blogger notice when I made a post, on the page that goes from the posting page to the list of recent posts. I haven't seen it on the blog itself, or on the low number of Blogger blogs I visit. Has anybody else seen it, or is Blogger using geolocation to serve the message only to people in the EU?

I should add that any cookies this blog serves are courtesy of Blogger/Google; I haven't requested any be put up. And the bureaucrats in Brussels all ought to watch The Mating Game.

Ralph Meeker, 1920-1988

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Ralph Meeker, who was born on this day in 1920. Meeker was a character actor who did a lot more TV work than I realized, with his movie career being not as successful as I would have thought. Probably his biggest role would be as Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly.

I've also recommended Meeker as the hitchhiker who turns out not to be good in Jeopardy, one of the fun MGM B movies from the early 50s when the studio was putting out interesting stuff like this presumably to help fund those bigger-budget Freed Unit musicals.

There's also Paths of Glory, in which Meeker plays one of three French soldiers who are tried for dereliction of duty in World War I when they fail to carry out a doomed order. The movie is mostly about the trial; Kirk Douglas defends them and Adolphe Menjou is one of the generals wanting them prosecuted. This one is generally considered a masterpiece, although I probably don't have quite as high a regard for it as a lot of other people.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Somebody over on the TCM boards mentioned that they just saw the 1966 Paul Newman movie Harper, and that they blogged about it over at their blog, Noirsville.

My browser happens to be screwing up some of the formatting, in that the pictures are sized in a way that the lists run into the pictures, but the blog itself is interesting. I've said quite a few times before that I've got two criteria for putting a blog in my blogroll. One is that that the blog is interesting, and the other is that it's being updated regularly. (Well, three, considering that the blog also is generally about the movies.) Noirsville fits these criteria, so I've decided to add it to my blogroll.

(Thankfully, my new Linux box that I got a few months back isn't screwing up trying to add stuff to the blogroll the way my old computer was.)