Sunday, January 31, 2016

31 Days of Oscar and the shorts

It looks as though once again, TCM is making a good-faith effort to have the shorts it airs between the movies this coming months be Oscar-related. For the most part, that means shorts that were Oscar-nominated, although it looks as though there's at least one short that's Oscar-related in a different way; a 1960s-produced montage of drawings of Oscar-winners. If you're wondering what the heck, you're not alone.

I never really paid much attention to the historical Oscar nominations for short subjects, so seeing certain shorts show up in February always makes me wonder whether or not they were Oscar-nominated. An example would be the Joe McDoakes short So You Think You're Not Guilty, which airs at 4:43 AM Tuesday. Sure enough, it's listed in the Academy's database as having been nominated in the one-reel category back in 1949.

Speaking of the one-reel category, that's one of the interesting things about the shorts and the Oscars. It looks as though the first awards for shorts were given out for 1931/32, or the fifth Oscars ceremony. (Recall that in the beginning, the nominating period was for a "season", which went from July to June; it wasn't until the awards for 1934 that it was changed to a caledar year nominating period.) Back then, there were two awards given out for live-action shorts: one for "comedy" and one for "novelty"; I don't know where dramatic shorts would have fit. There was also one Oscar for animation; Disney won the first eight animation short Oscars.

In 1936, the categories for live-action shorts changed; there was one for color shorts, a second for one-reelers (presumably only in black and white), and a third for two-reelers. This only lasted two years before the color short award was discontinued. The one- and two- reel shorts categories continued through 1956, after which there was just one award for live action shorts.

The other interesting thing is that through 1942, the nominees are listed as the studios. Only in 1943 did this change and it was the producers of the shorts who were nominated. Something similar happened with the Best Picture (ie. feature-length; or the big award) category, except there it wasn't until 1951 that the nominees were changed to being the producers and not the studio.

Enjoy the shorts!

Obituaries I probably should have noticed

A couple of people died in the past few days who probably deserve at least a brief mention:

Jacques Rivette. Rivette, who died on Friday at the age of 87, was a French director who was part of the French New Wave movement that certainly changed American perceptions of French cinema regardless of whatever else it did or didn't do. I have to admit that Rivette is one of the New Wave directors I knew very little about since the French New Wave isn't particularly my thing. The title Celine and Julie Go Boating sounds vaguely familiar, but that would only be from seeing show up on a TCM schedule or something since I know I haven't seen it after looking at the the synopsis.

Frank Finlay. Finlay died on Saturday at the age of 89. He was a British actor who, seemingly like a lot of the British actors, did a fair amount of work on the stage as well as in dramas for the BBC. But he had smaller roles in quite a few movies too, with bigger roles in the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers as Porthos, and an Oscar-nominated turn as Iago in Laurence Olivier's 1965 version of Othello. There's yet another Shakespeare adaptation I haven't seen.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

February is coming up again

February on TCM means the annual 31 Days of Oscar programming feature, a title that takes it name from the days when the Oscars were still handed out in March and it made sense to have a full 31 days given over to such a programming theme. Presumably it must have been cheaper to keep the title 31 Days of Oscar than to have to pay rights fees to the Academy to change the title. That, and once every four years you'd have to change the title from 28 Days of Oscar to 29 Days of Oscar anyhow.

I finally got the chance to see the end of a movie as it aired on TCM (as opposed to off my DVR) and noticed that they're using the same music and graphics package that they've used for the past couple of years. They even repackaged the "Word of Mouth" piece that Liza Minnelli did on her father Vincente, although the editing seemed a bit odd in that it didn't look properly cropped for 16:9; the pastel bit at the bottom that TCM uses to display graphics seemed almost a bit cut off.

Anyhow, I was really posting about the beginning of February so as to point out that the Rusty movies as well as the Bowery Boys movies are going to be taking a four-week break from their usualy Saturday morning time slots for the Oscar programming, but will both be returning at the beginning of March. I think there are two more Rusty movies, and I don't know how many Bowery Boys movies. There were close to four dozen Bowery Boys movies, but I don't know if TCM will be showing every one of them.

Tonight is also the final night of the current season of The Essentials. That, too, will be returning on the first Saturday of March, and as far as I am aware Sally Field is also going to be returning to present the movies along with Robert Osborne. I know there are a lot of people who don't really like The Essentials, but I've always thought of it more as something that's not particularly geared to those of us who are big enough fans of the old movies to read or even write a movie blog; instead it's for the more casual viewers who might not realize that yes, they can be fans of classic cinema too.

Finally, there are going to be some movies returning to FXM Retro in February after a substantial absence. I think I noticed two coming up next week; I don't know how many will be coming back in the weeks following if only because I didn't look at the schedule past the 7th and don't know how far out the FXM schedule is available anyway.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Victor Mature, 1913-1989

Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah (1949)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Victor Mature, who was born on this day in 1913. He started his career in 1940's One Million BC and his career looked promising when all of a sudden the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, dragging the US into World War II. Like a lot of Hollywood people, Mature took time out to serve, in his case with the Coast Guard. Before leaving however, he was able to make his star shine brighter with work like I Wake Up Screaming.

Mature returned from the war and to Fox, where he was promptly cast as Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine, a movie which kick-started his career even though I would have thought Mature had entirely the wrong physique to play the consumptive Holliday. Mature would eventually put that physique to good use, playing a football player in Easy Living; and perhaps most famously the biblical Samson opposite Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah. Other epics followed, most notably The Robe and The Egyptian.

Mature's career really cooled off in the late 1950s, in part because, I think, Mature was more laid back about his career. He was famously self-deprecating, with lines like, "I'm no actor, and I've got 64 films to prove it!". And some actors just develop other passions in life anyway. Still, in the two dozen or so movies Mature made in the decade after returning from World War II, there are some interesting roles well worth watching. In addition to what I've mentioned, there are also the noirs Kiss of Death and Cry of the City, as well as the entertaining if not particularly good Violent Saturday.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Whip appeal

This month's TCM Spotlight on production designer William Cameron Menzies concludes tonight, with the night's lineup including a strange little movie that he directed as well as doing the production design on: The Whip Hand, at 11:30 PM.

Elliott Reid plays Matt Corbin, a journalist who is on vacation in some small town in the northern part of Wisconsin, which you might think is an odd place to go for a vacation, until you realize that some people want to do things like fish and go in the great outdoors for their vacation. This particular town is supposedly one of the best around for fishing. Except there's one small problem: the fish aren't biting. Well, that's the immediate problem. The real problem is that all of those fish have died, as Matt learns when he goes to the local hotel, managed by Steve Loomis (Raymond Burr). Now, if you're watching a movie of this vintage, you should know that the casting of Raymond Burr means Something Is Wrong. Loomis helpfully informs Corbin that all of the fish have died, and that the town seems to be dying along with the fish. So if Corbin wants to go fishing, he'd be better off spending his vacation somewhere else.

But Corbin is a journalist. When he finds that something has killed all the fish in town, his first instinct is to investigate! As we've seen with the recent story of the government screwing up the water supply in Flint, MI, when a man-made disaster hits a town like this, it's a big human interest story. So, naturally, Matt starts poking around. Big mistake. A lot of people are just giving him a wide berth, or else politely but evasively suggesting that he get out of town. The only one who isn't is the doctor's kid sister (Carla Balenda). Worse, when Matt gets close to the big estate out in the middle of the forest, he raises the ire of its security system, something which threatens to get him killed.

And that's just for starters. Matt tries to telegraph his boss, but the lines suddenly go down. And the one other person who seems to be enough of an old-timer, and uncomfortable enough about what's happened to the town to tell Matt what's really going on, suddenly dies just before he gets the chance to tell Matt. So what is going on out that house out in the forest? Well, I'm not going to give it all away, but the next paragraph does include a spoiler, so beware.

The Whip Hand is decidedly B material, made interesting thanks to a decision from RKO boss Howard Hughes. The movie was originally conceived in the late 1940s with the Nazis being the evil people in the house out in the forest. But then anti-communism became a thing, and Howard Hughes suddenly decided that the baddies shouldn't be Nazis, but Communists. This was after principal shooting had been done, forcing a fair bit of reshooting. There's also an opening sequence tacked on that gives the game away that the bad guys are communists, but not what it is they're doing.

I've stated several times before that if you want to look at whether an anti-communist movie really is as bad as the anti-anti-communists might have you believe, a good way to analyze this is to make the bad guys either Nazis or the mob depending on which one fits the plot better. The Whip Hand, then, offers us an intriguing opportunity to test that hypothesis. I tend to think that the movie wouldn't be that much better if the bad guys were Nazis. It might be a little more coherent in that they wouldn't have had to do any reshooting, but if the movie had been conceived with the Communists being the villains, it would have been just about as good: a B movie that's bizarrely entertaining at times, but overall just a B movie.

I don't think The Whip Hand has received a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Garbo says a word or two

One of the movies stuck on my DVR that I finally got around to watching is Garbo Talks. It's available on DVD, so I can feel comfortable doing a full-length blog post on it.

Ron Silver plays Gilbert Rolfe, an accountant with one of the big firms in New York City liing with his wife Lisa (Carrie Fisher). Gilbert also has a mother Estelle (Anne Bancroft) who is quite the character. She loves the movies of Greta Garbo, and she has principles to the point that she's willing to get arrested for them. Indeed, at the start of the movie, Estelle has just gotten arrested again, in a dispute over the price of some produce. It's up to Gilbert to bail her out of jail. What a mother!

Things, however, are about to change. Estelle has been suffering from headaches recently, and they've been getting more severe. When she goes to the doctor, she gets the terrible news: she's got a brain tumor, and it's inoperable. There are some treatments, but they're probably going to be futile, so in all likelihood she's only got six months or so to live. She can't live in her apartment any longer, so it's off to the hospital while the doctors treat her as best they can, and while Estelle waits to die. While having a conversation with Gilbert at the hospital, she comes up with a daffy wish: she'd like the opportunity to meet Greta Garbo before she dies.

It was well enough known that it didn't take the sort of people who nowadays read movie blogs to be aware that there's a big problem with this wish. Garbo was famously private. Not quite reclusive, since she could be seen in shops in the vicinity of her Manhattan apartment; but private in that she wasn't about to let anybody get close to her and didn't do any public appearances. How's a regular schlub like Gilbert Rolfe going to find Greta Garbo, much less convince her to see his mother?

With this begins our son's quirky quest to fulfill his mother's dying wish, regardless of the consequences. There's a substantial monetary commitment in trying to find her, which puts a strain both on his work and on his marriage. But along the way, Gilbert meets a number of interesting characters played by a series of actors not quite of the prestige of an Anne Bancroft. Howard Da Silva (in his final film) plays a photographer who used to stalk people to get photos of them; Hermione Gingold (also in her final film) plays a woman who made silent films with Garbo, although she was well down the cast list; Harvey Fierstien plays a gay man Gilbert meets on Fire Island; and Dorothy Loudon has a hilarious scene as a cat lady/agent.

All in all, Garbo Talks is a pretty good journey, although I have to admit that I found the Estelle character to be terribly irritating. It's easy to understand why Lisa would find her difficult and why Gilbert's sudden chasing of Greta Garbo would put a huge strain on her marriage. Not that Lisa is a saint, of course. But the problems Lisa poses Gilbert seem more for comic effect, while Estelle is the sort of person you'd think seriously about not bailing out the next time she got herself arrested. It is, however, a testament to Anne Bancroft's acting that she makes Estelle a compelling character to watch.

Especially if it shows up on TV anywhere, give Garbo Talks a chance.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lost Boundaries

I apologize for failing to notice that Lost Boundaries was on TCM this past Sunday night. I had intended to blog about it then, but on the day totally failed to notice it was on the schedule. The joys of working 6:00 AM to 2:30 PM. At any rate, the movie seems to have been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you can still catch it whenever you want, albeit at a higher price point than with a lot of movies.

After telling us at the beginning that what we are seeing is based on a true story, the action of the movie begins. Scott Carter (Mel Ferrer) is about to graduate from medical school around 1920 and marry his girlfriend Marcia (Beatrice Pearson). Interesting, all of his friends are black. That's because Scott and Marcia are both supposed to be light-skinned black people (although played by white actors; more on this later). In fact, they're light enough that they can "pass" for white, much like the daughter in both versions of Imitation of Life did.

They don't want to pass for white, however, and Scott tries to get a good job as a doctor. However, being black, he finds that a whole bunch of avenues are closed to him because of the racial prejudice that existed in America to a much more prevalent extent than today. Eventually, there's an opening for the town doctor in one of those small New Hampshire towns that dot the New England landscape, kind of like the one in Peyton Place or the one our heroine departs from at the beginning of Valley of the Dolls. There's only one small problem: in order to take the job, the Carters are going to have to pass themselves off as white, which pretty much means closing one chapter of their life.

Still, they make the difficult decision to do so, and move north to New Hampshire. The have a son and a daughter, and never tell the kids that the kids are legally black. Time passes, the son Howard (Richard Hylton) goes off to the University of New Hampshire and even makes friends with a black student, and everything seems good for the family. And then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, sending the US into World War II. Now, World War II tore apart a lot of families' lives, but it was really going to have an effect on the Carters. Howard wants to enlist in the Navy, and Dad eventually agrees reluctantly to join the medical corps. But there's a problem. The military was still segregated during World War II; President Truman wouldn't desegregate it until a few years after the war. Howard of course tries to join a white outfit, but the Department of the Navy is having none of it for either him or Dad. Needless to say, Howard isn't particularly happy with suddenly finding out after 20 years that he is in fact legally black. And will the town still accept Dr. Carter?

Lost Boundaries is an interesting idea, especially since it's based on a true story. But it's also not without its problems. One is that you know exactly what side of the issue the movie is taking; there's not much subtle here. The other issue is casting a bunch of white actors in the parts of legally black people trying to pass themselves off as white. This, I think, is rather a complex issue. Of course, a lot of people are going to be anywhere from disappointed to outraged that the part of a main character who is black is not going to a black actor. However, the script specifically calls for the characters to be able to be viewed by the public (at least in the context of the movie characters) as white. People like Sidney Poitier (whose career hadn't begun yet) or Lena Horne were very talented. But I don't think there's any why they could have passed as white. There's also the further issue of whether the movie would have gotten a budget at all by casting a black person in such a role. After all, a lot of those Lena Horne (and other black musician) musical numbers were scripted such that they could be easily cut in the segregated South. Some movies get it badly wrong here, such as Pinky, where Jeanne Crain is just too unbelievable. (Supposedly Linda Darnell really wanted the part, and she would have been far less egregious as somebody trying to play black-passing-as-white.) The first version of Imitation of Life actually used a light-skinned black actress, Fredi Washington, to play the daughter, helped somewhat by lighting and film stock that I think lighten her skin tone even more. The later version has Susan Kohner, who had a Czech father and a Mexican (European-Mexican, I think) mother. Mel Ferrer looks like he could vaguely play one of those Mexicans of European heritage, so he's not too awful in terms of casting.

Whatever your opinion of the casting, Lost Boundaries is an interesting movie that deserves at least one viewing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Briefs for January 25-26, 2016

TCM's prime time theme for tonight is spy movies of the 1960s. I thought it was people who get reluctantly involved in the spy game, but that is not in fact the case. One of the movies running is The Ipcress File, at 10:00 PM. In this one, Michael Caine plays already-a-spy Harry Palmer, who has to investigate a series of brainwashings. I'm sorry to say that the one time I saw this I had a hard time getting into it, and have never been bothered to watch it again when it shows up. So since I don't really care for it and haven't seen it in ages, anyway, it's not something I'd be comfortable doing a full-length post on. That having been said, watch the movie and judge for yourself.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with another movie I haven't seen in quite a few years, Arabesque. In this one, Gregory Peck plays a professor of Middle Eastern studies who gets involved in some plot involving a piece of ancient hieroglyphics, which supposedly contain the key to the political intrigue going on in one or another Middle East hotspot. Sophia Loren plays the female lead. My memory of this is that it was a good example of 60s style, although I have to admit that the plot details are rather fuzzy, since a lot of those 60s spy movies tend to blend into one another.

TCM, I think, made a slight mistake in scheduling the movies, however. At 4:00 AM tomorrow, you can catch The Prize, followed at 6:30 AM by Our Man in Marrakesh (also known as Bang! Bang! You're Dead!). In the latter movie, Tony Randall plays the man who gets roped into some plot involving somebody trying to bribe delegates to the United Nations. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on it. In The Prize, which is entertaining, Paul Newman plays a writier who is in Stockholm to pick up his Nobel Prize for Literature; while meeting with the other Nobel laureates, he gets the distinct feeling that one of them Edward G. Robinson has been kidnapped and replaced by a double.

I think these two movies should have been flipped in the TCM schedule. That's because tomorrow, January 26, is the birth anniversary of Paul Newman. TCM are running a bunch of his movies in the morning and afternoon, beginning at 8:15 AM after Our Man in Marrakesh. So if they had flipped that and The Prize on the schedule, you'd have The Prize ending the night of 60s spy films and beginning the day of Paul Newman movies.

Over on FXM Retro, you've got two chances to catch Captain From Castile, tomorrow at 4:00 AM and 11:00 AM. Who says FXM doesn't repeat its films often enough?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

She's so fine she blows my mind

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights selection on TCM is Mickey, airing tonight at midnight.

Mabel Normand plays the title character, the orphaned daughter of a miner out west. She's been raised by her father's business partner. They're looking to sell the mine to secure a comfortable living for Mickey, and when they meet the mining engineer looking to buy it, he and Mickey develop a liking for each other.

But meanwhile, Mickey and her guardian also have to go back east, where Mickey has an aunt she hasn't seen in years. The aunt is living a life of luxury, but it's a bit of an illusion in that she really doesn't have that much money and is looking to marry her daughter off into a well-to-do family. Mickey shows up with that mine, and naturally, Auntie thinks the money earned from selling the mine would be just the thing to help her daughter's prospects. However, she finds that perhaps the mine is all played out, which would make it worthless, and suddenly starts treating Mickey terribly.

Mickey is a comedy, however, so we all know that things are going to work out right in the end. It's been a while since I've seen it; I know I watched it on TCM when they ran a night of silents for some reason or another. Maybe it was when they had silent stars as Star of the Month; I can't remember. But it's one of those movies where I have a clear memory of the basic plot but not enough of the specifics to do justice to it with a full-length blog post.

Thankfully, however, Mickey, having been released in 1918, is in the public domain, which means that it's available on Youtube legally for free:

Saturday, January 23, 2016

MGM Oddities

A lot of the studios produced some odd little shorts back in the day, but MGM actually called one of its series of shorts "MGM Oddities". One of those oddities, Chili and Chills, airs tomorrow at about 8:01 AM, just after Rasputin and the Empress (6:00 AM, 121 min). This one, which I haven't seen, involves a couple driving through Mexico and seeing some odd sights.

In fact, I have to admit to not having seen most of the MGM Oddities. MGM made about two dozen of them in the early and mid 1930s, with subject matter that often seems as though it would be more suited to the Pete Smith shorts. Indeed, Pete Smith was already working at MGM by this time and was involved in some of the MGM Oddities, at least according to IMDb. Menu, for example, comes to mind. That's also one of the few that I've seen.

Friday, January 22, 2016


I briefly mentioned the movie Skippy a couple of times, but I've never done a full-length post on it. It's coming up on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM, so now would be a good time to rectify that.

Skippy, played by Jackie Cooper, is a young boy living in the upper-middle-class part of one of those Anywhere USA towns that populated movies of the 1930s. Think the Hardys' house, only with one young son instead of two teenage kids. Skippy lives with his father, Dr. Skinner (Willard Robertson) who works for the Health Department, and Mom (Enid Bennett). When school is out, he's got the neighbor children to deal with, Eloise (Mitzi Green) and her kid brother Sidney (Jackie Searl). Skippy, however, has a bit of a rebellious streak, combined with a sense of adventure, as a lot of boys his age do. He wants to spend his days over in Shantytown, the part of town on the wrong side of the tracks, and a part of town that Dad is trying to get dismantled for "public health" reasons. (Stick them all in public housing. Brilliant idea.)

It's over in Shantytown that Skippy meets Sooky (Robert Coogan). Sooky is a young boy who lives with his widowed mother (Helen Jerome Eddy) and dog in a woeful little shack. Skippy and Sooky become fast friends, but there's a problem with that dog. It's unlicensed, so don't tell the government about it! Sure enough, Skippy, Sooky, and the dog run afoul of the government when they accidentally break a car windshield. That car just happens to belong to Harley Nubbins, who is the town's dog catcher. Nubbins takes the dog into custody, and demands the princely sum of $3 for the boys to get the dog back. This was the early 1930s, so that $3 would probably translate to the mid-to-high two figures nowadays, which is substantial for a young boy in general, but well beyond the reach of Sooky and his mom, who have to watch every penny. Sooky could probably get the money in an emergency, but in this case, that would require telling Mom and Dad that he was over in Shantytown, and that he actually got in trouble there, which of course he doesn't want to do. Can he get the money?

Well, yes, he has a piggy bank, but in a plot twist Nubbins turns out to be even meaner than when we first meet him. Skipy and Sooky go to the dog pound with their three bucks to pick up the dog, but Nubbins takes the money on the grounds that it'll go to pay for the windshield; the kids need another three bucks to get their dog. (They should have asked for a receipt.) If they don't get the money by the next afternoon, the dog is going to be sent with all the other unclaimed dogs to go wherever it is thta unclaimed dogs are sent. Best not to think about those things. How are they going to get these three bucks? Well, they try a bunch of schemes that seem hare-brained to any adult, but natural and humorous to anybody willing to look at this movie through a child's eyes.

Skippy is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, even though you know it's eventually going to arrive at a happy ending. Jackie Cooper is fun in the lead; Coogan does a good enough job as the emotional Sooky; and Mitzi Green is a hoot in her scenes as the brat next door, especially when she's given awful poetry to recite. There are enough plot twists here to surprise and even shock along the way to that happy ending, although looking at the movie from 80 years later, I did find myself sometimes wondering whether adults really treated kids the way the characters here do back in the day.

I don't know if Skippy is available on DVD; I couldn't find it on Amazon.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tyrone Power in period action flick #15872745689207583548267

It's said that Tyrone Power grew tired of making all those swashbuckling movies. Heaven knows he made enough of them. One of those costume pieces I haven't blogged about before is coming on on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM, and again early Saturday morning: Prince of Foxes.

Power plays Andrea Orsini, a man in the court of Cesare Borgia (Orson Welles). Borgia is trying to gain more territory for himself, and has some very clever ideas about how to do it. One of the little dukedoms in what is now Italy -- remember that the place was a lot of city-states and small kingdoms back in the early 1500s -- is the Città del Monte. Borgia sends Orsini there ostensibly to be the ambassador to the tiny dukedom, but in fact it's to gain intelligence on the place's defenses: much of the place is a fortified city-state atop a mountain, run by Count Verano (Felix Aylmer). Along the way, Orsini stops in Venice, where he meets the Countess Verano (Wanda Hendrix), not knowing who she really is. Also he gets waylaid by a would-be assassin Mario (Everett Sloane), and stops off at a nice farm, where he sees his mother, at which point we learn that Orsini is a made up identity and that Andrea is in fact of low birth.

Anyhow, Orsini eventually makes it to the Città del Monte and as he works there, he begins to discover that the Count is in fact a decent man, unlike Orsini's boss. It's enough to make Orsini think about changing loyalties, but there's also the problem that Orsini was smitten by the Countess from the first time he met her, and the feeling might be mutual. Eventually, Orsini decides to join up with the Count even though their situation vis-à-vis the Borgias is wholly untenable: the Borgias' forces could destroy the Città del Monte any time they'd like.

Sure enough, Borgia comes along and attacks; the Count dies during the battle, and then the Borgias lay siege to the city it's going to lead to the city's eventual surrender. But since Tyrone Power is playing the good guy, you know that he's goign to come back and save them from those horrid Borgias....

Prince of Foxes is a solidly good movie, although if you've seen enough of Tyrone Power's historical movies this one will blend in with some of the others quite a bit. Power is just fine in his role as are most of the male actors; Wanda Hendrix is an almost nonentity as the Countess which is down to her bland acting and not the script. Worse, however, is that the movie is in black and white. There are several theories as to why Fox wouldn't make this in Technicolor when the movie just screams for brilliant color -- especially because it was filmed on location. I thought I read someplace that they weren't able to film in color because the Technicolor cameras required so much light that the Italian authorities were afraid it would damage the interiors of the historic sites where they were going to do shooting, although that may be another movie, as IMDb doesn't mention that theory. There's also the possibility that Fox was using blocked funds that they couldn't get out of Italy to make the movie, and they didn't have enough to bring over Technicolor cameras from America. Whatever the reason, the movie is in black and white, which is a huge shame.

Prince of Foxes is available on DVD, although the TCM Shop page for it claims the movie is in Technicolor.

Sheila Sim, 1922-2016

The death has been announced of actress Sheila Sim at the age of 93. Technically, her real name was Sheila Beryl Grant Attenborough, The Lady Attenborough; she was the widow of actor Richard Attenborough having been married to him for nearly 70 years and, since he was knighted, she became a Lady. But she used the name Sheila Sim when she worked.

She didn't make too many movies, just a handful in the 1940s and 1950s. Of those, the one I would really recommend highly is her playing the female lead in Michael Powell's A Canterbury Tale.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Millionaire For Christy

TCM's Star of the Month Fred MacMurray was adept at comedy. Somebody who is not particularly remembered for doing comedy, however, is Eleanor Parker. The two were teamed in A Millionaire for Christy, which is airing early tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM.

MacMurray plays Peter Lockwood, a radio host out on Los Angeles who is about to get married to June (Kay Buckley). This to the chagrin of his best man Roland (Richard Carlson), who had a thing for June. What none of these people knows is that things are about to change for them, in a big way. Apparently, Peter had a distant relativedie and leave him a $2 million inheritance, which would be quite nice today, but a whole lot nicer back in the early 1950s. The law firm sends one of their secretaries, Christy Sloane (Eleanor Parker), to inform Peter of his inheritance.

Except that Christy gets some other ideas. Well, she's given those ideas by fellow secretary Patsy (Una Merkel). If you're going to meet a man who is about to become a millionaire, Patsy tells Christy, why not try to get him to fall in love with you? Sounds like an utter violation of ethics to me, but then this is the legal profession. Sure enough, Christy thinks this is a great idea. So when she gets to Peter's place as he's getting ready for the wedding, she no longer has the professionalism to inform him of the inheritance, instead screwing up her job and getting Peter to think that perhaps this woman is a lunatic. And what is this lunatic doing at his apartment on the day he's supposed to get married, anyhow? That's not going to go over well with June.

Roland, a psychiatrist who is more than happy to delay Peter's wedding, gives Peter the idea to take Christy to a mental hospital, which for some reason Christy doesn't have a problem with! I guess she wants the wedding broken up too. And all this even though it's Roland who should have been doing that. But the wedding gets put off as Peter takes Christy to the hospital. Only, they never get there. Bad weather forces his car off the road in the apparent middle of nowhere in southern California, and the two wind up at a beachfront shack owned by Mexican immigrants who don't speak a word of English. They get the idea that Peter and Christy are on their honeymoon, and treat the couple appropriately. This, unsurprisingly, gives Peter and Christy a chance to fall in love....

To be honest, I found A Millionaire for Christy to be an utter mess. Christy is a dishonest, scheming blankety-blank and I can't think of any rational reason for Jef to fall in love with him. The bigger problem is that the movie is full of plot holes. I can't imagine anybody being able to pull off unprofessionality the way Christy tries to; in real life it would have been the doctor taking the alleged nutcase to the hospital, if he hadn't already figured out she's faking it; the conveniently-placed shack in the middle of one of the fastest-growing regions of the country; and on and on. Parker tries too hard and may have been better suited to drama; MacMurray tries but is weighed down by the awful script.

Thanks to the Warner Archive, however, you can watch this dreck whenever you want and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A pair of shorts for January 20, 2016

Looking at tomorrow's schedule on TCM, they're running a bunch of Myrna Loy movies, even though it's not her birthday. To be fair, her birthday comes in August, during Summer Under the Stars, so TCM can't honor her every year. At any rate, the lineup contains movies I've either blogged about before, or have yet to see and so can't blog about them. (Yes, there are a lot of studio era movies I have yet to get around to seeing.) So I looked at what shorts are airing on TCM, and there are a couple of interesting ones.

First up is another airing of From the Four Corners, tomorrow at 5:43 AM, after The Devil Makes Three (4:00 AM, 90 min), or before the Myrna Loy salute begins. I've blogged about this one before; Leslie Howard talks to soldiers from various parts of the British Empire who have made it to London in the early stages of World War II and are there on leave. Howard shows them (these were real soldiers, not actors) London and discusses just what it is they're fighting for. Sure, it's propaganda, but it's well made.

The other one is Magic on a Stick, tomorrow at 1:03 PM, following So Goes My Love (11:30 AM, 88 min). So Goes My Love is about an inventor, so it makes sense to show this particular short. Part of the Passing Parade series, this one looks at one of the men who helped to invent what is the modern safety match, back at a time when it was much more dangerous to handle fire. (Thankfully it's not a Pete Smith short looking at the invention of the match.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend

For those of you with FXM Retro, you may have noted that one of the movies in heavy rotation on the channel for the time being is The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend. It's coming up again twice in the next couple of days, Tuesday 8:40 AM at and Wednesday at 7:20 AM.

Bette Grable stars at the titular blonde, named Freddie, although we see Freddie first as a young child, being taught by her grandfather how to handle firearms safely and be a good shot. Freddie's going to need that when she grows up, as we fairly quickly see once the action moves to Freddie's adulthood. She's living in the old west town of Bashful Bend, working as a saloon singer. She's got a boyfriend Blackie (Cesar Romero) and a servant Conchita (Olga San Juan). Blackie, however, has a roving eye, and when it roves too much for Freddie, she tries to shoot him. Unfortunately, she hits the posterior of Judge Alfalfa O'Toole (Porter Hall) instead, which causes serious legal ramifications. Fortunately, however, she's able to skip town before those ramifications can come down on her.

Conchita happens to find a woman who was passing through Bashful Bend and died there, enabling her to pick up the deceased's woman's baggage and identity. It's a convenient escape, since Freddie will have a disguise and train tickets to another town. That's the good news. The bad news is that this woman was travelling through Bashful Bend on her way to Snake City to become Snake City's new schoolteacher, something which Freddie is singularly unqualified to do. Still, she takes up her job at the one-room schoolhouse, teaching all of the town's children including those who are much too old to be in a one-room schoolhouse such as the Bassermans, played by twentysomething Dan Jackson and 43-year-old Sterling Holloway. Freddie uses her shooting skill to handle any discipline problems at the school

Elsewhere in Snake City, she's being pursued by mining engineer Charles Hingleman (Rudy Vallee). He's bought the local mine and has taken to wooing Freddie because who wouldn't want to woo Bette Grable at that stage of her career. Still, Freddie is a wanted woman, and eventually, Blackie shows up in Snake City, starts asking questions, and finds out that Freddie and Conchita are there.

The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend is generally remembered for being one of director Preston Sturges' worst films. Perhaps it wouldn't be viewed so badly if it had been directed by the sort of director who was assigned programmers. To be honest, however, I'm not so sure. The plot is just too zany, at least what plot there is, since there's even less here than in other Sturges movies. Making matters worse are those Basserman brothers. Freddie uses her guns in the way a circus sharpshooter would use them, but I found myself thinking it wouldn't be so bad if she shot the brothers in the head; the really are that irritating.

One thing the movie has going for it is its Technicolor photography, which is quite lovely. It's just too bad that it's in service of such an utter mess.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day

At least, it is here in the States. That means that TCM is trotting out a lineup of movies about the Black American experience. In many years in the past we've gotten a bunch of Sidney Poitier movies which, while good, are a bit disappointing to have as the same thing over and over on the day. Granted it's not as if there was too much that the studio system did that can show on MLK Day. There are some films, but if you made it point to show those, you'd have roughly the same lineup every year.

For what it's worth, we are getting some of those movies this year. Hallelujah! comes on at 2:00 PM, while Cabin in the Sky comes on at 6:00 PM. In between those, at 4:00 PM, you can catch The Green Pastures, in which biblical stories are retold with a rural southern black outlook, starring Rex Ingram as God.

The more interesting part of the schedule is in the morning, when we get a couple of race films. These were movies produced by blacks, with all-black casts (except for where a white character was needed for plot purposes such as people having to confront racism) and targeted at black audiences. The race films covered a whole bunch of genres; black audiences had pretty much as broad a range of tastes as white audiences although as I understand it black audiences tended to like musical numbers even more than white audiences. There are mysteries, such as Miracle in Harlem which I have to admit is new to me; or a sort of standard musical drama in The Duke Is Tops at 9:15 AM, starring a very young Lena Horne as a woman who joins a producer's roadshow, falls in love with him, but has to leave when the big time beckons. There were even westerns, with singing cowboy Herb Jeffries who shows up at 10:30 AM in Harlem Rides the Range.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Fish Called Wanda

One of the many films sitting on my DVR that I got around to watching recently is A Fish Called Wanda. It's available on DVD, so I feel comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie.

Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis) is an American in London on a mission. That mission is to take part in a jewel robbery planned by Georges (Tom Georgeson). Rounding out the group doing the heist are stutterer Ken (Michael Palin), and Otto (Kevin Kline), whom Wanda passes off as her brother. In fact, he's not her brother but her lover, which should be the first sign that something isn't quite right. Well, maybe the second; the fact that a heist is being planned at all may be the first sign that something isn't right. At any rate, the heist goes off in the first act, almost without a hitch. The one problem is that as they're driving the getaway car, they nearly run down an elderly woman walking her dogs.

As often happens in heist movies, the people involved in the heist begin to turn on each other, with Otto quickly calling in to the police that Georges committed the heist, and telling the authorities where Georges lives. The thing is, Otto and Wanda tend to get the jewels and get out of the UK all by themselves, leaving Georges and Ken high and dry. But to do that they're going to have to get the jewels, and not only do they not have the key to the locker where the jewels have been stored; they wouldn't know where that locker is, anyway.

Meanwhile, Georges has hired barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese) to defend him in court, so Wanda begins to use her feminine charms on him in an attempt to get Georges to reveal to Archie where the jewels are, with her then getting the information out of Archie. There are a couple of catches. The first is that Wanda is a witness in the case, as she's going to be Georges' alibi. That means that for Archie to have any sort of relationship with her is a serious violation of British legal ethics, as if lawyers anywhere have ethics. There's a bigger problem, which is that Archie begins to fall in love with Wanda, which isn't only a problem because of those ethics, but because Archie is already married. But he continues the relationship with Wanda, and she gets the idea of double-crossing Otto and running off with Archie.

And so it goes on, with everybody trying to get information from everybody else, except for poor Georges who is still in prison awaiting trial. It all moves inexorably forward, to the ultimate madcap climax at the airport where the various characters all try to get the jewels for themselves and get out of the country.

I have two big problems with A Fish Called Wanda, however. The first is down to several scenes involving Archie in which he has to resort to a series of lies about what's really going on. I think I've mentioned several times that I tend not to be the biggest fan of what I call the "comedy of lies" where a character tells one lie and then has to compound lie on top of lie to keep of the ruse. People who are OK with that sort of comedy will probably like the movie.

The other, bigger problem that I had was with Otto. I found that character to be incredibly irritating, and not particularly funny. It was to the point that when he would be on screen doing his antics I wanted to reach through the screen and smack him. God he's an obnoxious blankety-blank. But I'm sure many of you won't find such antics tedious, and as such you'll probably really like the film.

A Fish Called Wanda is certainly a well-made film. It just wasn't quite to my taste. Maybe it will be to your taste.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ivor Novello, 1893-1951

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Ivor Novello, who was a popular entertainer in Britain in the 1920s in various forms. He was a composer, and retired from the movies in the 1930s to devote his career full time to composing and the stage. But as an actor, he's probably best known for the Alfred Hitchcock version of The Lodger, in which he plays the character who may or may not be Jack the Ripper.

Novello also shows up as a character in the Robert Altman film Gosford Park (disclaimer: I haven't seen this one either); apparently Novello was well enough known at the time that it would have been normal for him to show up at the sort of upper-class estate which features in the movie. Several of his songs also appear in the film, at least according to IMDb.

The song that seems to show up the most, according to IMDb, is a World War I song called "Keep the Home Fires Burning (Till the Boys Come Home)", which you would have heard in The Lost Squadron if you watched the recent TCM showing. It also appears in Cavalcade. I couldn't find a rendition of Novello singing it; there may or may not be one. So we'll have to make do with a vintage version recorded during World War I:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Remembering Alan Rickman

Veteran actor Alan Rickman died today at the age of 69. Rickman is probably best known for having played Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies since those were so successful, but he also will be remembered for playing villian Hans Gruber in the first of the Die Hard movies.

I have to admit to not having seen too much of Rickman's work. I've never had any desire to see any of the Harry Potter movies, and it's been ages since I saw Die Hard. I think it probably would have been sometime back when I was in college that I saw the movie, and that was over 20 years ago. It's probably a movie that I ought to revisit if it weren't for the fact that I've got 40-somethign movies sitting on my DVR that I haven't watched and a schedule that really cuts into my movie-watching time. That and it's something you can't watch on any of the regular channels if they ever decided to do a tribute to Rickman. Never mind all the commercial breaks, the movie is full enough of bad language that it would be edited to pieces: airheads and melon farmers and all that fun stuff.

Among Rickman's other credits, there's the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie I remember better for that awful Bryan Adams song, and future Irish President Eamon de Valera in Michael Collins about the Irish fight for independence of a century ago.

Our Town

This month's TCM spotlight on production designer William Cameron Menzies continues tonight, starting at 8:00 PM with Gone With the Wind. The Menzies movie I'd like to mention, however, is Our Town, which you can catch overnight at 1:45 AM, or still late this evening out on the west coast.

This one is based on the classic stage play by Thornton Wilder which looks at life in the fictional town of Grovers Corners, NH, at the turn of the last century. More specifically, it looks at two people in that town, young George Gibbs (William Holden) and neighbor girl Emily Webb (Martha Scott). At the start of the film, they're high school students and, as you can guess, they begin to fall in love with each other, although we'l get to that more later in the movie. There's a life for people to live, and we first see what a wonderful place Grovers Corners is supposed to be for the rich panoply of people who live here, portrayed by some of the great character actors of the era: Thomas Mitchell and Guy Kibbee play Mr. Gibbs and Dr. Webb respectively; their wives are played respectively by Fay Bainter and Beulah Bondi. For all that Hollywood did in creating a stereotypical image of small-town America, Thornton Wilder may have topped them all.

Fast forward a couple of years. I mentioned that George was falling in love with Emily, and now that they're both fully-fledged adults, they're ready to get married. Of course, there are the worries about whether they'll be able to support themselves, and all the other other stereotypical worries about whether the wedding is going to go off, but since this is Grovers Corners, we know that the wedding is going to be beautiful and a show of love between our two young leads.

But this is life, and it turns out that not everything goes according to plan. People live their lives, which means they grow up, get married, have children, and then die. And sure enough, death is going to come for poor young Emily in childbirth. When Emily dies, she goes off to Thornton Wilder's vision of the afterlife, which has all the other dead wives and mothers overlooking the cemetery in Grovers Corners, commenting on life there but no longer having any real emotional connection to the town. Emily is horrified by this....

I'm going to give a bit away by saying that the ending of the movie is not the same as the ending of the play, although from what I've read Thornton Wilder specifically approved the changes for the movie since it still kept his philosophical vision that life is to be lived and savored. As for the story, I have to admit that it's not particularly a favorite of mine, since it comes across as so syrupy, especially the third act when Emily dies. It's not the actors' faults, they do as well as can be expected with the material But since the movie is being shown tonight for William Cameron Menzies' production design, I have to say there that the movie succeeds in spades, being highly evocative of an idyllic small town that never really existed anywhere. The scenes of the afterlife are also handled interestingly, although I don't know if that's down more to Menzies or the cinematography.

Our Town is a movie that everybody should see once, although I don't have any strong desire to see it a second time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

If I had the time....

I'd think about doing a full-length blog post on Double Indemnity, which is airing tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM as part of the salute to Star of the Month Fred MacMurray. That having been said, I'm always a bit loath to do a full-length post on such a famous movie since it's somethign people already know pretty darn well and there's not much that I can add.

All three leads are excellent in their parts. Fred MacMurray plays the insurance man who meets Barbara Stanwyck when he has to meet her husband to discuss the husband's policy; Fred immediately falls hard for Barbara and comes up with a daft plan to bump off the husband and take the money from a new insurance policy. Edward G. Robinson plays the insurance fraud investigator and friend of Fred's who investigates the case because he realizes there's something not right about it. The movie was nominated for several Oscars, but unfortunately in 1944 the Academy had the nonsensical idea that Going My Way might actually be a good movie. There were so many better movies that year, not just Double Indemnity. Ingrid Bergman won the Best Actress Oscar for Gaslight, but then it's not like there was a strong female character in Going My Way. Alfred Hitchcock probably did his best directing work on Lifeboat. And as much as I hate the hagiolatry, Alexander Knox as Wilson is a standout performance.

At any rate, I can strongly recommend Double Indemnity. That will be followed at 10:00 PM by a lesser known movie that definitely deserves a full-length post: There's Always Tomorrow. Oh, look at that: I have already done a full-length post on it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Lída Baarová

I've stated from time to time here that I listen to the international broadcasters that used to be on short-wave radio, generally in the context of when they mention something interesting about the movies. Monday's edition of Radio Prague had a report about a documentary on 1930s Czech actress Lída Baarová:

A documentary is now screening in Czech cinemas on the life of the actress Lída Baarová, sometimes described as the first Czech international movie star. For its tragic twists and roller coaster ride, Baarová's own life story, including a tempestuous love affair with the Nazi propaganda boss Joseph Goebbels, surpassed any of her film roles. The young star ended her life in exile, a controversial, if not despised personality in her homeland.

The text of the report is available at the link above, along with some photos. Apparently she was offered a contract by MGM in 1937, which she probably should have taken since it would have gotten her out of Europe, along the lines of a Rose Stradner. But she didn't, and the rest, as they say, is history. I have to admit to not having heard of her. The only one of her movies I'd recognize by title is Fellini's I vitelloni.

As always, Radio Prague's reports include an option to listen to the report via streaming audio, as well as to download the report directly, as an MP3. That MP3 is about 1.6 MB and about 3:30 in length.

Thoughts on David Bowie

By now you've probably heard the news that David Bowie died; it's been a good 24 hours since the news hit. Bowie was of course best known as a singer. I think I first became acquainted with his work when I was about 10 years old and "Let's Dance" was a huge hit. But that was one of his more pop-oriented tunes and Bowie did a whole bunch of stuff in other genres.

Bowie did some acting too, most notably in The Man Who Fell to Earth. That's one of those movies that I seem to recall showing up someplace on late night TV back when I was a teen, probably on my local PBS station which at the time was showing movies at about 11:30 PM on Saturdays. I believe I've mentioned before that's where I first ran across such classics as Kurosawa's Ikiru or the Soviet war film The Cranes Are Flying. I never stayed up to watch the end of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and it's something that I've never gotten around to doing since. The Man Who Fell to Earth, as I understand it, is the sort of thing that would fit in well on TCM Underground, although I don't know that TCM has ever run it. I did a search of the schedules on my computer which go back to July 2007, and didn't get a hit.

Bowie was also in the Jim Henson-directed Labyrinth, a fantasy film that I haven't seen but from the description looks as though it would be a suitable double bill for Th eMan Who Fell to Earth if TCM ever got around to running stuff like this in TCM Underground. And then he was Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Monday, January 11, 2016

TCM Guest Programmer January 2016: Dick Guttman

Today we reach that time of the month where another person sits down with Robert Osborne to present four favorite movies and discuss them with Robert. This month, that person is Dick Guttman, a name that I have to admit I've never heard of before. It turns out that he's a Hollywood PR person, which would explain why I'd never heard of him. That having been said, a long career in Hollywood might be part of what's led him to make the eclectic selection of movies that he's presenting tonight.

First up at 8:00 PM is Love in the Afternoon, which has Gary Cooper in Paris pursuing Audrey Hepburn romantically, while her father (Maurice Chevalier) investigates.
That's followed at 10:30 PM by Bonnie and Clyde, the ultraviolent (at least by 1967 standards) story of the early 1930s bank robbers and lovers, played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.
Then at 12:30 AM comes The Bad and the Beautiful, with Kirk Douglas playing a ruthless Hollywood producer who has ticked off everybody who has worked with him (Barry Sullivan, Lana Turner, and Dick Powell) and, now that he's fallen on hard times, wants them to work with him again.
Finally, there's Sullivan's Travels at 2:45 AM, starring Joel McCrea as a director who wants to make a "serious" picture, and gets a hell of a lot more than he bargained for in the process.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Tonight, TCM is spending the overnight hours with Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. I have to admit that I don't know much about him, and am not certain if I've seen any of his movies. I'd have to look of his filmography to see since when it comes to Japanese directors I'm not all that conversant on which director did which movie. Anyhow, TCM is not only using him for their Imports slot, but also for the Silent Sunday Nights slot, the film A Story of Floating Weeds, which is from 1934.

Notice the date. 1934 is well after the introduction of sound films in Hollywood and most of the rest of the world. Obviously it was going to take a bit of time for the technology to make its way around the world, but it turns out there's a very specific reason it took so long for sound film to take off in Japan. That's down to the Japanese use of a benshi.

The benshi, a concept taken from kabuki, was a sort of narrator. Where a western silent film would have intertitles, the Japanese would have a narrator at the side of the stage explaining the events and filing in the dialogue for the viewers, generally handling all of the characters regardless of age or sex. Because of this, Japanese cinema didn't particularly need dialogue on film the way that Hollywood movies really benefitted from it. And since Japanese filmmakers knew fully well that their films were going to be presented by a benshi, they could make their films with that in mind, allowing them to go on making silent films longer.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The House in the Middle

I could swear I had blogged about the short The House in the Middle, which is coming up tomorrow morning at 5:45 AM as part of TCM Underground.

The short was made in the mid-1950s, funded by an organization called something like the "National Clean-It-Up Fix-It-Up Society", which was a front for, if memory serves, paint manufacturers or something. This one has the remarkably daft premise that, in a nuclear war, it's going to be important to have kept your house and yard clean, because if you don't, your house is going to be more likely to catch fire in the resulting conflagration. That is, if it even survived the initial bomb blast.

The short then creates several examples with mutliple houses, one kept up well in each case, and one or more not so well. Unsurprisingly, when the "nuclear" blast hits (supposedly this is all real test footage from the atomic tests done out in the Nevada desert), it's that well-maintained house that survives, apparently so the occupants inside can die of some other horror. The whole thing is bizarre, but that's what makes it so interesting.

It's also on Youtube:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Apologies for misssing the TCM Spotlight

Or, at least, for missing the first night of the Spotlight. TCM's website became bloated a few months back and causing problems with my creaky computer, so I haven't been paying quite so much attention to the site. That, and working 6:00 AM to 2:30 PM. So I failed to notice that last night was the first night of a spotlight on art director/production designer William Cameron Menzies.

Every Thursday night in January, Robert Osborne is sitting down with James Curtis, who wrote the book about Menzies (literally), and presenting Menzies' films. Last night saw the TCM premiere of the 1929 version of Bulldog Drummond as well as Chandu the Magician, one of those movies that used to show up on the Fox Movie Channel all the time several years ago but hasn't been there since I don't know when. Later Thursdays will have a bit more "conventional" lineup, or at least "conventional" in the sense that several of the movies are a lot better known: Menzies did Gone With the Wind and Kings Row for example.

As for missing the fact that there was a spotlight going on, I should also add in my defense that I know I've seen weekly schedules on TCM's web site where two different prime-time lineups are listed as the TCM Spotlight.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Including a short I'd never heard of

Unfortunately, by the time most of you read this, the short will probably have aired already, but at about 10:48 AM this morning, TCM is running one called High Spots of the Far East. This one is a travelogue, but done a couple of years before James A. FitzPatrick would get into the game with those Traveltalks shorts I love to blog about. The bad news is that, being a couple of years before Fitzpatrick, there was no three-strip Technicolor available, so we apparently get a bunch of images of East Asia and the Near East in black na dwhite. I haven't seen the short, and before seeing it come up on the schedule, I had never even heard of it or knew of the series, which is supposedly part of a brief "World Adventures" series put out by Vitaphone/Warner Bros. back in 1933. Apparently, they also released Wonder Spots of the World, Strange Ceremonies of the World, and Costumes of the World the same year.

Another short I don't think I'd heard of before I saw it on today's schedule, is Fortune Seekers, a little after 7:45 PM. This time, however, I recognize the series. I saw that the 1956 date was too recent to be a Pete Smith short with Dave O'Brien, and upon looking this one up, saw that it's an RKO Screenliner, this time a one-reeler. This particular short apparently takes a brief look at inventions and the attempt to make one's invention profitable. As you've probably seen from old-timey stock footage, there were quite a few daft inventions back in the day. I've always found the RKO Screenliners to be interesting time capsules, but sertainly not particularly well made.

Finally, and this has nothing to do with the shorts, I see that before all of the movies for Elvis Presley's birthday tomorrow, TCM is running the silent Sadie Thompson at 6:30 AM Friday. I briefly mentioned this one once, back in November 2014 when TCM looked at silent stars. Gloria Swanson plays the title role in a movie which was probably more famously remade a few years later as Rain, which had Joan Crawford as the prostitute who has escaped the US and is one her way through the South Pacific to get to Australia; it's there that she meets some Marines and a preacher who wants to reform her. The movie would be remade again as Miss Sadie Thompson, but perhaps most interesting as the all-black race film Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA. Gertie unfortunately doesn't get to be that dirty, and thanks to blacks having even more reverence for the pulpit than whites did back then, the ending gets changed to something unsatisfying but interesting for being different.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Day-Time Wife

I briefly made mention of the movie Day-Time Wife a few months back on the birth anniversary of its star, Linda Darnell. It's coming up again on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM (and again on the 15th and 16th).

Darnell plays Jane Norton, who is happily married to Ken (Tyrone Power), a successful architect. Or, at least, she believes she's happily married. She throws a party for her second anniversary, and a lot of people show up. None of those people, however, has the name Ken Norton. And when he doesn't bring her a gift, she comes to the conclusion that he's forgotten her anniversary. That's bad, but making matters worse is her friend Blanche (Binnie Barnes). Blanche, à la Wife vs. Secretary, tells Jane that perhaps Ken is seeing the secretary, because that's something bosses do, don't you know.

What's a wife to do? In this case, Jane comes up with the idea that two can play at this game. She's going to go out and get a job as a secretary herself, so that she can figure out what it is that bosses see in their secretaries and then presumably use those same techniques on Ken. You'd think somebody would have written a book on the subject or something. And of course Ken is never going to find out about it, since he's at work all day and Jane just stays home or goes out and shops. So she gets a job with Bernard Dexter (Warren William).

It turns out, however, that there's one catch. Dexter knows Ken Norton. They're not good enough friends that Dexter would know Mrs. Norton, which means that he doesn't recognize Jane when she shows up to take a secretarial job, but they are close enough to be working on a business deal. That, of course, means that Ken is going to show up at Brad's office, or Brad is going to need to go over to Ken's place with a secretary in tow. This is a problem, since Jane is trying to keep the fact that she's working, and even more so why she's working, a secret from Ken.

Unsurprisingly, it does eventually come out that Jane is working, and working for one of her husband's colleagues, when Ken and Brad bring their secretaries to a dinner that's only half business, and half pleasure. Predictable complications ensue, and there's the eventual happy ending that has Ken and Jane making up. This is a comedy after all.

Day-Time Wife is a fairly predictable movie, but that doesn't mean it's a bad one. Darnell was all of about 16 when she made it, and already shows she's got the chops for light material like this. Power had already made some comedies, such as Love Is News, although I do tend to think he's one of the people who would be better served by having people be funny around him than having to carry a comedy himself. Still, he's more than good enough for a trifle like Day-Time Wife. There's nothing special here, but fans of 1930s movies and especially the screwball comedies, will like it, I think.

Day-Time Wife did get a DVD release, but I don't know if it's still in print.

TCM Star of the Month January 2016: Fred MacMurray

Fred MacMurray and Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams (overnight tonight at 1:00 AM)

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM, and this month that honor goes to Fred MacMurray. Nowadays, MacMurray is probably best remembered for playing the patriarch on My Three Sons for a dozen years on TV, but he had a darn good film career before that. I'm not certain what his single best film performance is, but my first impression is that I'd probably rate it a toss-up between playing the guy who falls for the blonde in Double Indemnity (January 13 at 8:00 PM) or perhaps the boss who is having an affair with elevator operator Shirley MacLaine in Jack Lemmon's apartment in The Apartment (January 20 at 10:15 PM).

Looking through the movies TCM is showing this month in MacMurray's honor, however, there are quite a few more good performances in there. MacMurray is definitely a supporting character to Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams, airing overnight tonight at 1:00 AM; then again, everybody in that movie is playing second fiddle to Hepburn. I note that when it comes to MacMurray's movies, i've only mentioned the dramas so far. My Three Sons was a successful TV sitcom, but MacMurray made comic movies that were quite a bit better.

Airing tonight at 9:30 PM, for example, is Murder, He Says, which I have to admit I only saw the first half of the last time it aired on TCM. MacMurray plays a big city pollster doing a survey out in the sticks which is where he runs into a family containing Marjorie Main, Barbara Pepper, and a cast of even wackier characters. It turns out that there may be a tidy sum of money hidden on the property, and everybody is trying to get that money for themselves, to the point that they're willing to kill their own family members. (Grandma has already been poisoned and is glowing in the dark for the brief remainder of her life.) MacMurray gets in on the antics.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Love Light

Another movie that I got around to watching over the New Years holiday is The Love Light. It seems to be available on DVD, but it's also in the public domain and you can catch it on Youtube if you want.

Mary Pickford plays Angela Carlotti, a young woman living in a rural seaside Italian town with her two brothers Mario and Antonio around the time World War I is just breaking out. Of course, Italy gets involved in the war and all the young men of soldiering age eventually get called or go off on their own accord to join the war effort, and this includes not only Angela's two brothers, but also the man who's had a yen for her, Giovanni.

While all the men are away, Angela is tending the lighthouse since they're right on the coast and it's a dangerous coast. Sure enough, eventually there's a shipwreck or something on the coast, as Angela sees a man being washed up along the rocky coast. Except that the man isn't dead. Angela rescues him, and finds out that he's not Italian, since he speaks the language with an accent. Joseph (Fred Thomson) is American, and it's turned out he's deserted. His boat was in port in Genoa, and he and some buddies missed getting back on the boat in time. So they tried to take a smaller boat out to their ship, but the storm came up and, well, here's Joseph along the Italian coast. But since Joseph is a deserter, won't Angela be kind and hide him from the authorities?

It's love at first sight between the two, and Angela eventually asks the local priest to marry the two of them in secret. However, it turns out that there was another reason for Joseph wanting the marriage to be a secret. It turns out that he's really not an American deserter, but in fact a German. If you know your World War I history, you'll recall that Italy was on the side of the Allies in that war, which means they were against the Germans so Joseph is actually an enemy. And when he gets Angela to send him her "I love you" signal using the lighthouse, he's actually sending a signal to the German navy to attack a ship carrying returning Italian soldiers, including Angela's younger brother, who is killed in the German attack.

The townsfolk discover they've got a German in their midst, and set up a summary trial, executing him and leaving Angela a widow. But not before she had gotten pregnant by Joseph. She carries the baby, but she's deemed to have a sorry mental state and another woman in town who lost her baby decides to take Angela's. Meanwhile, Giovanni has returned from the war, blinded, and only Angela's love can save him.

There are some good ideas in The Love Light, but the melodramatic third act regarding Angela's child and Giovanni's blindness really drags the movie down. There's some lovely photography, and the print TCM showed has some nice tinting, but if I were going to recommend a Pickford movie to start off with for people who don't know her work, I'd start with Sparrows. Peoplr who already like Pickford's work will probably enjoy this one, however.

As I said at the beginning of the post, The Love Light, being in the public domain, has made its way to Youtube:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Briefs for January 4, 2016

Vilmos Zsigmond died over the holiday weekend at the age of 85. If you haven't heard of him, that's because he was one of the behind the scenes people, working as a cinematographer. Zsigmond, who was born in Hungary and fled after the failed 1956 uprising was put down and the Soviets invaded, won an Oscar for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Among his other work is Deliverance, Cinderella Liberty, and The Sugarland Express.

I don't know how many of you have seen the movie The Field; it's one that I've only seen show up in the TV listings but never actually got around to watching. The movie is absed on a play which is a dramatization of a real murder from late 1950s Ireland. Richard Harris received an Oscar nomination (he lost to Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune) for his portray of the older Irish farmer. However, the play and later movie apparently change a whole bunch of events, as you can hear in this documentary from Ireland's public broadcaster RTÉ. If you want to download the documentary directly, you can do that at this link; it's a ~37MB MP3 and a 40-minute program.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Seven Thieves

Among the many movies sitting on my DVR, I finally got around to watching Seven Thieves. It's going to be on FXM Retro again tomorrow at 11:00 PM and sometime Tuesday, so you've got a chance to catch it if you want.

The movie starts off with "Professor" Theo Wilkins (Edward G. Robinson) at the seaside at one of those French Riviera resorts, looking like he's enjoying the life there. But he's really down on his luck, and in France for a different reason, as you can probably guess from the title of the movie. As for why he's specifically at the seashore, well, that's where he's waiting for his young friend Paul Mason (Rod Steiger) to show up. Paul is actaully a protégé of Theo's and somebody Theo believes he can trust, which is going to be extremely necessary for the job he's got lined up.

That job, as you should have realized by now, is a heist; in this specific case a casino heist. They're going to go into one of the ritzy casinos in Monte Carlo, rob it of about $4 million in French francs, that being a very tidy sum back in 1960 even split seven ways. As to how they're going to pull it off, well, that will be made clearer a little later in the movie.

Theo has already assembled a cast of candidates suitable for the job: nightclub singer Melanie (Joan Collins); safecracker Louis (Michael Dante); driver Hugo (Berry Kroeger); Mealnie's protector Poncho (Eli Wallach); and inside man Raymond (Alexander Scourby). But, not all of them are quite thrilled about the plan, in part because they're not being given all the details. How, exactly, are they going to get the cash out of the building? The less they need to know, the better. Further, they don't like that Paul is more or less going to be making all the decisions, leaving the rest of them to take orders. And then Poncho in particular finds that his role in the caper requires him to do something very unpleasant.

But of course everybody agrees to participate, since otherwise we wouldn't have a movie. They get to the casino, and we're treated to a standard-issue caper movie. There's good suspense on a bunch of fronts, with a bunch of twists and turns leading the viewer to ask, "Is this the place where the caper will break down?" Since the Production Code was still in place, the plan must eventually fall apart, but the ways in which it does certainly surprised me, which is a good thing.

Overall, however, Seven Thieves comes across as a bit perfunctory. There's nothing particularly wrong, but there's also nothing particularly fresh and memorable the way there is in other heist movies. Robinson is good as always; Steiger might be a bit too intense; Wallach looks dissipated which is what the role calls for; Kroger looks like he's trying to impersonate Erich von Stroheim's chauffeur scenes from Sunset Blvd.. Joan Collins is nice to look at, and gets to display some ingenuity too. The result is something that does entertain, but also something you may not think to put in for multiple viewings. The movie did get a DVD release, but I'm not certain if it's still in print.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

William Haines, 1900-1973

A young William Haines (r.) with a very young Joan Crawford

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor William Haines, who was born on this day in 1900. Haines won a "new faces" contest in 1922 that got him a contract first with Goldwyn, and then with MGM when Goldwyn merged with the other studios that would become MGM in 1924. Haines quickly became popular as a leading man in light romantic comedies, such as Tell It to the Marines, or West Point which I apparently haven't blogged about before.

Haines had a voice that would have made the transition to sound just fine, but there was a bigger problem, which is that he was gay and pretty darn open about it being an open secret that people in Hollywood knew but didn't get mentioned in all the fan mags of the day, for obvious reasons. Still, Louis B. Mayer wantd Haines to go through with a sham marriage for appearances' sake, and when Haines refused, phffft there went the contract.

With the kibosh put on Haines' acting career, he went into a second career, which was as an interior designer. He still had all those old Hollywood friends, with Joan Crawford being near the top of the list, and the old-time Hollywood crowd recommending him to one another kept Haines in an active decorating career for the rest of his life until his death in 1973. Apparently he also remained with the same partner for 45 years or more until his death, something not particularly common in Hollywood regardless of whether it's a homosexual or heterosexual relationship.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Rusty the wonder dog

I mentioned briefly last week that TCM's Saturday morning airings of the Dick Tracy movies had reached an end and that, frome the start of the new year, the series that would show up on Saturday mornings before the Bowery Boys movies is the Rusty the Dog series. The first of them is tomorrow at 9:15, The Adventures of Rusty. In this one, a boy Danny (Ted Donaldson) who's dealing with the difficulties of his father's remarriage and having a stepmother he doesn't get along with finds a dog who, it turns out, had been trained by the Nazis to be a Nazi service dog. The result is that the dog finds it difficult to trust people. Danny takes to the dog and begins to rehabilitate it; as he does so he begins to learn how to rehabilitate his own relationship with his stepmother.

There were eight movies in the series, although for whatever reason, TCM will only be showing seven of them, skipping The Return of Rusty which should have aired next Saturday (January 9) if TCM had all eight movies. Anyhow, a look at the March schedule shows that the Rusty films do in fact resume after 31 Days of Oscar, with the final two films in the series airing on March 5 and 12. On March 19, TCM will start running the Lone Wolf series.