Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hollywood, My Hometown

I mentioned back in June when TCM ran Hollywood Without Make-Up that the producer, Ken Murray, would go on to do another special, Hollywood, My Hometown.

That latter special shows up tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM once TCM is done with Summer Under the Stars.

Behind the scenes of a Reinhard Heydrich movie

I've mentioned the name Reinhard Heydrich several times before. Heydrich was the man the Nazis put in charge of the Czech lands (Slovakia was a separate puppet state during World War II) after they took over the place in 1939. He was assassinated, and a couple of movies were made about the subject during World War II, most notably Hangmen Also Die.

There's a new English-language movie about the subject called Anthropoid which has received a limited release so far; IMDb does seen to say when it's going to go into wide release. The title comes from the name "Operation Anthropoid", the code name of the operation to assassinate Heydrich.

This version, unlike the others, was filmed in the Czech Republic; there are of course obvious reasons why Hollywood couldn't make previous versions there. Radio Prague's English section interviewed historian Zdeněk Špitálník, who was a technical advisor on the movie. As is the case with most of Radio Prague's programs, there's a transcript of the interview.

If, however, you'd rather listen to the audio, you can listen at that website via the embedded audio player, or download the MP3 directly (4.1 MB, around 9 minutes).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Raymond Massey, 1896-1983

Raymond Massey (center) along with Cary Grant and Peter Lorre in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Several famous old-time Hollywood stars have their birthday on August 30. Among them is Raymond Massey, who was born on this day in 1896.

Massey's film career started at the beginning of the sound era, but really took off in the second half of the 1930s with moives like Things to Come and the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda. Massey worked steadily in movies through the 1950s, only slowing down his film career to take the Dr. Gillespie role in the TV version of Dr. Kildare.

Massey's movies are too numerous to mention. I'm not certain which of his roles is my favorite. I particularly enjoy Arsenic and Old Lace, but he was in some movies that might be even better except that he only had small roles. For example, he was the narrator for the American version of Michael Powell's A Canterbury Tale, and also has smaller roles in Powell's 49th Parallel (as the Canadian soldier going AWOL) and A Matter of Life and Death.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gene Wilder, 1933-2016

Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh in Silver Streak (1976)

The death has been announced of comic actor Gene Wilder, who died today aged 83. Wilder is probably best remembered for playing Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Wilder also made several films for director Mel Brooks, including The Producers and Blazing Saddles. You have to wonder if a movie like Blazing Saddles could be made today, considering some of the material:

And that's probably one of the milder bits. Some of Wilder's work with Richard Pryor is also stuff that some people today would scream offense at, such as the scene in Silver Streak where Pryor puts Wilder in blackface so Wilder can evade the police.

Wilder also directed some of his movies, such as The Woman in Red.

Charles Boyer night

Summer Under the Stars is winding down, but we've still got three more stars. First up is Charles Boyer, that suave bilingual actor who could work in both English and French. Prime time contains a couple of movies I haven't seen in years.

First up, at 8:00 PM, is Algiers. Come with Boyer to the Casbah as he does the English-language version of Pepe Le Moko, about a criminal (Boyer) who hides out in the Casbah district of Algiers; at the time, Algeria was still a French province. Hedy Lamarr goes to the casbah, finds Pepe, and falls in love with him; the police realize they have the opportunity to use her to get Pepe out of the Casbah so they can arrest him. I've long thought that it was movies like this that gave Chuck Jones and the rest of the animation department at Warner Bros. the idea for Pepe le Pew.

Algiers is followed at 9:45 PM by Hold Back the Dawn. Boyer plays a Romanian who would like to enter the US what with the war going on over in Europe. But there's a severe quota system, and that forces Boyer to stay in Mexico with his dance partner (Paulette Goddard) in limbo. That is, until he meets an American schoolteacher (Olivia de Havilland) who has never known love. She falls in love with him, and he sees his chance to marry her, thereby becoming a US citizen. After a suitable time, he can divorce her and marry his dance partner. Except that he actually falls in love with the American. This was a Paramount movie, now controlled by Universal, which is why it doesn't show up very often on TCM.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Café Metropole

A couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to watch Café Metropole after having DVRed it off of FXM Retro. It's going to be on FXM Retro again tomorrow at 8:40 AM, so you've got the chance to catch it, too.

(NB: FXM doesn't show its movies properly. A lot of things are forced into a 16:9 format, including pre-Cinemascope films that were in a roughly 4:3 aspect ratio. To watch an old movie like this properly, you'll have to look through your TV's aspect ratio settings.)

Adolphe Menjou plays Victor, the manager of the titular Café Metropole, a swanky restaurant in Paris. He meets a drunk Alexander (Tyrone Power) as a customer at his restaurant, and then later at the casino. Victor is going to the casino because he's desperate to make money. The thing is, he's been embezzling from the restaurant, and needs to put the money back into the business before the auditors come in a few weeks. So he goes off to the casino and plays baccarat, eventually winning the FFR 960,000 he'd embezzled from the business.

But there's a catch. The last round of baccarat was played against Alexander, who goes on to inform Victor that the check he's written is going to bounce: Alexander has barely a sou to his name. Victor can send Alexander to jail, but then Victor wouldn't have any way to get the money back, which would mean jail for him too once the restaurant's books are audited and the mising FFR 960,000 are spotted. So Victor has an idea. The wealthy American businessman Joseph Ridgeway (Charles Winninger) will be coming to Paris with his sister Margaret (Helen Westley), and more importantly daughter Laura (Loretta Young). Alexander should pose as one of the many Russian émigré noblemen living in Paris, and woo Laura until he and Victor and wangle a large financial settlement from the Ridgeways.

Alexander isn't too thrilled about becoming Alexis, but then he doesn't have much choice. He takes up the offer, and things don't quite go as expected when Laura runs into him before the two have been officially introduced. So, when the two are introduced to each other, Laura may be suspecting that something isn't quite right, and simply because she's in love with whatever is behind Alexis.

Café Metropole goes on like this, until the eventual denouement. The movie is, to be honest, a little trifle, running a little over 80 minutes, even though it's got two of Fox's bigger stars. It's the sort of movie that's a bit forgettable after you watch, if only because it resembles so many other movies. (I happen to prefer Power and Young in Love Is News.) That doesn't mean it's not good. In fact, it succeeds very well in entertaining while it's running. Power didn't get to do enough comedy once he started swashbuckling, but he shows that he would have been quite adept at this sort of romantic comedy. Young is good at it too, and Menjou, unsurprisingly, is endlessly charming as the scheming restaurant owner. The movie also benefits from some good casting in the supporting roles, even beyond Winninger and Westley.

Café Metropole did get a DVD release at one point, but I think it's out of print.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Taste of Honey

I just had a chance to watch A Taste of Honey, which I had recorded back in April when Gloria Steinem was the TCM Guest Programmer. I didn't realize until I checked to see if it was available on DVD so I could do a full-length post on the movie that the movie was in fact just restored and received a Criterion Collection release within the past week. So yes, it's going to be pricey. But it had better look better than the print that TCM ran, which looked jumpy.

Rita Tushingham stars as Jo, an adolescent close to school-leaving age who lives in the lower-class section of one of those old English industrial cities in the days when the cities still had heavy industry; think the promotional video of Sheffield that kicks off The Full Monty as an example. (The movie was filmed in Manchester, although I don't think they actually mention the name of the city anywhere with the exception of one boat with Manchester in the name.) Jo's mother Helen had her out of wedlock, and is making a living, such as it is, by sleeping with men, moving from one grimy room to let to another since she's always behind on the rent. At least she has her eyes on a more stable man, Peter (Robert Stephens), however.

Jo and Helen have to move house right at the beginning of the movie, and as they do, they meet a black man Jimmy (Paul Danquah) who helps Jo with some of the luggage. Jimmy is a sailor, and Jo runs into him again, at which point she begins to fall in love with him as she's never been with a man before and what else is there for her to do in life. Jimmy presumably hasn't been with a woman for a while, what with all that time on the boat. They don't get to spend all that long together, though, since the boat is eventually going to sail.

Helen, meanwhile, decides to marry Peter, leaving Jo with the dilemma of what to do with her life. Fortunately she's gotten herself a job in a shoe shop, and is able to get a room of her own, even being able to pay for it in advance. She can't stand Peter, and the feeling is mutual. There's one big problem, though. Jimmy got her pregnant, so it's not as though that place is just going to be hers alone after nine months or so. Thankfully for her, she's about to get a bit of help. One day at the shoe store, she sold a pair of shoes to Geoffrey (Murray Melvin). The two run into each other at a parade and spend a day together, with Geoffrey winding up at Jo's place. The thing is, he doesn't have a place to go back to. Much as Helen's landlords would throw her out for having gentleman visitors, Geoffrey's landlord threw him out for having a gentleman visitor. Yes, this means that Geoffrey is gay.

Still, he decides to live with Jo, and even help her through the pregnancy. He's even willing to marry her since the baby needs a father; this even though there's only a friendship and no love. Jo, all the while, has no idea what to do with her life. And then Helen shows up, having been dumped by Peter. She's willing to help her daughter through that pregnancy, but there's the question of what Geoffrey is going to do. Helen doesn't much care for Geoffrey.

I have to admit that the plot of A Taste of Honey is something I didn't find terribly gripping, and the story just seemed to end suddenly as though the writers had no more ideas. But I'd still recommend the movie. That's partly down to the strong performances. These are a bunch of people who have screwed up their lives pretty badly, and are trying to make their way through life as best they can. The actors generally pull it off.

But there's another reason to watch the movie, which is because of its place in the cycle of "kitchen sink" movies that were made in the UK in the early 1960s. Director Tony Richardson uses the lower-class parts of Manchester to excellent effect, at he very adeptly shows the tough conditions not only in the characters' apartments, but that the city as a whole seems to be going through. I don't think any of the Hollywood studios could have come up with the American equivalent of this on their backlots. Even something like On the Waterfront, which was filmed largely on location in Hoboken, New Jersey, doesn't look this inglamorous. It wouldn't be until the 70s that Hollywood started to get to this level.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Starring the Computer

The interesting blogger David Thompson included in the most recent of his semi-regular Friday Ephemera thread a link to a website called Starring the Computer.

Basically, somebody who watches a lot of movies and TV shows enjoys looking for real-life computers that show up in them. Not fictional computers, like the HAL-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but real, identifiable computers such as the old TI-99/4A that was my first computer when I was a kid in the early 80s.

I've got another acquaintance on the internet who says something to the effect of, "Everybody should be an expert on something." Apparently somebody decided to become a self-educated expert on the topic of real-life computers as props.

(I think I've done a post on some of the fake computer tropes, such as the unrealistic password prompts.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Briefs for August 25-26, 2016

Apparently, Tab Hunter's autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential, has been made into a documentary movie. The movie is now available on DVD. You probably know the story of Tab Hunter's being gay (oh dear, I've just spoiled it, haven't I) and having to stay in the closet in 1950s Hollywood, hence the whole "Natalie Wood and Tab wouldn't" line when the studio tried to pass them off as a romantically involved couple.

I apologize for forgetting to mention The Criminal Code in Constance Cummings' movies yesterday; it concluded the overnight. Boris Karloff was also in the movie, and he's going to be the star in tomorrow's installment of TCM's Summer Under the Stars.

Speaking of Karloff, he's got a small part in Lured, and TCM is using that to kick off tomorrow's schedule at 6:00 AM. This is a movie I'd recommend for anybody who only thinks of the zany Lucy Ricardo character when they think of Lucille Ball.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A couple more obituaries

Steven Hill died yesterday at the age of 94. He might be best known for playing the district attorney on the long-running TV show LA Law, but I had the chance recently to blog about one of his movies, Running on Empty. In that, he has a small role as the father of Christine Lahti's character, a man who hasn't seen his daughter in 14 years because she's on the run from the law. He only has the one scene, but it's a memorable one. Hill also played the ex-husband of Anne Bancroft's character in Garbo Talks.

Sir Antony Jay died over the weekend aged 86. Jay actually has fairly little to do with the movies, except where any of the television work he created was adapted into a movie. Instead, he, with Jonathan Lynn, created the popular British sitcom Yes Minister. Lynn, interestingly, does have a career in the movies, having directed both the British comedy Nuns on the Run as well as the very American comedy My Cousin Vinny, among others.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A couple of Constance Cummings movies I've briefly mentioned before

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Constance Cummings. There are a couple of interesting movies airing that I saw years ago but haven't seen in ages, and have only given the one-paragraph treatment to elsehwere in the blog.

First up is The Mind Reader, at 9:00 AM. This one stars Warren William in the title role, playing a carnival phony mind reader tricking the small-town folks. Cummings plays one of those small town denizens, sees the act and falls in love with William, only to try to get him to go straight when she realizes his act is a fake. He tries, but soon learns it's easier to make a living as a phony mind reader to the bored housewives with money to burn. As I said four years ago when TCM ran this movie for Warren William's day in Summer Under the Stars, Stephen Sondheim picked it when he was a Guest Programmer back in 2005, which is when I first saw the movie. I can't recall whether I've watched any of the TCM showings since then. I'm not even certain how many there have been.

Later, at 6:30 PM, there's a movie that might be even more obscure, The Guilty Generation. Cummings plays the daughter of one of those upper-class gangsters, the kind that decamp to Florida like Lew Ayres' character in The Doorway to Hell. It's there that she meets architect Robert Young. He's taken up architecture largely to get away from his family's legacy, since his father is a gangster, too. As you can guess, the two fall in love, which presents all sorts of problems since the families (at least the fathers; there's a sympathetic grandmother) don't like the idea. You can see the ending coming a mile away, but it's still an interesting enough movie.

Monday, August 22, 2016

FXM Retro doing something interesting

I don't know if the folks who program the lineup on the morning FXM Retro part of the FXM schedule really put that much thought into it, but it looks as though somebody had an idea. Coming up today at 9:30 AM and tomorrow at 8:00 AM, you can catch, The Rains Came, one of Fox's prestige movies from the classic year of 1939.

Now, that in and of itself is no big deal. But the two apperances of The Rains Came will be followed by The Rains of Ranchipur, which is the 1950s Cinemascope color remake of The Rains Came. Those airings will be at 11:15 AM today, and 9:45 AM tomorrow. In the remake, Lana Turner takes the Myrna Loy part; Richard Burton does the Tyrone Power part; and Fred MacMurray the George Sanders part.

I'm not certain I'd want to see the two movies back to back, but at least somebody over there seems to be thinking. (And, FXM Retro is still trundling along; the suits still haven't pulled the plug.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Whales of August

Bette Davis is the star for the day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and TCM is finishing off the day with Davis' last completed movie, The Whales of August, at 4:15 AM tomorrow.

Davis, who was just shy of 80 when she made this, plays Libby Strong, the younger sister of Sarah, played by Lillian Gish who was past 90 when she did it. They've been spending their summers for decades in a summer cabin on an island off the Maine coast. But they're both getting old, and Libby has gone blind and wheelchair-bound thanks to a series of strokes. It's to the point where Sarah's daughter (unseen) thinks the two sisters should stop heading up to Maine for the summer. In fact, Libby seems more than ready to die.

Meanwhile, they've got a neighbor in Tisha (Ann Sothern) who is also showing signs of aging in that she's had her driver's license pulled. Of course these folks all know each other well since they've been spending so many summers on the island together. They're about to get a fourth, however. Maranov (Vincent Price, who I think was the baby of the cast at 75) has been going fishing at the shoreline, and when he catches a couple of fish, he offers then to the three women if they'll all have dinner together with him at Sarah and Libby's cottage. It turns out that Maranov doesn't really have a place to stay. In fact, he might not even be Maranov, the Russian émigré.

Back to the relationship of the two sisters, though. They're old an pondering the end of life, and in fact are getting sick of each other to an extent. Libby seems to take delight in making life difficult for Sarah, in fact one of the few things in which she takes delight any longer. Sarah, meanwhile, thinks about the past and her late husband.

That's pretty much all that goes on in the movie. The Whales of August is one of those things that's light on action and heavy on character. I don't know that I would even call it a slice-of-life movie, as it's more of a character study. But it's a movie with four interesting characters, and four darn good performances by the actors playing those players.

Ann Sothern got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her part, the only one of the four to earn an Oscar nomination. Hers is probably the least developed of the four, although that's fully down to the script and not Sothern's performance. She's quite good as the kind person who doesn't quite want to admit she's getting old in the way the two sisters recognize.

Vincent Price was always a capable actor, having done a fair amount of dramatic work before he became identified with the horror genre. For anybody who only remembers Price from those campy horror films, The Whales of August is a good one to watch at it shows him just how good he could be. He's charming and a bit mysterious, reminiscent of the character he played 40 years earlier in Laura, except that this one has a different provenance and is more prominent.

Bette Davis gets to be mean since her character has the physical infirmities of old age, and Davis does a fine job with it. Supposedly Davis and Gish didn't get along so well, which I suppose would give the meanness a bit more of an edge to it. At any rate, Davis does well portraying somebody who's almost OK with life ending.

Lillian Gish is proably best of all here, though. She's the sweet old woman who gave up a part of her life to take care of her sister, but doesn't seem to show much regret or resentment for it. Still, she does have wistful reminiscences, especially of her late husband.

If you want a little movie without a bunch of CGI and explosions, The Whales of August is definitely one for you. The movie did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but it seems to be out of print. That's a shame, since this is a really worthwhile film.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dead Reckoning again

I've mentioned Dead Reckoning multiple times, most recently when Lizabeth Scott died a year and a half ago. It's on again tonight at midnight as part of Humphrey Bogart's day in Summer Under the Stars.

The plot, convoluted as it is, involves Bogart as Capt. Murdock. He's returning home from World War II with Sgt. Drake (William Prince), who was under his command. Drake was a hero in the war and is up for the Congressional Medal of Honor. But on the way to Washington DC, Drake gets off the train and goes missing. Murdock investigates, and that investigation takes him to Florida's Gulf coast, where he finds that Drake escaped town at the beginning of the war, and in fact wasn't even Drake at the time.

Drake, it seems, was involved with Coral, who was married at the time to another man. The husband wound up dead, Drake was accused of the murder, and beat the rap by taking the name Drake and enlisting in the war. You can see why he wouldn't want to be recognized for his heroism: everybody in his hometown would recognize him, and there's that murder charge hanging over his head.

Things get very complicated after this. Thankfully, it's not as bad as The Big Sleep, which I find to be a terribly overrated movie. Still, I found Dead Reckoning hard to follow, and the ending a bit of a mess. It's one that you should probably watch once if you haven't seen it before. The TCM Shop does list it as being available to purchase on DVD.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Will Penny

Last autumn, when I had the Starz/Encore channels as part of a promo, I had the opportunity to record Will Penny. I think it's out-of-print on DVD although you can stream it at Amazon. But it's going to be back on Starz/Encore Westerns, or whatever the channel is calling itself these days, twice tomorrow, at 5:20 AM and 6:05 PM. So if you've got the premium channel package or Amazon access, you're in luck.

Will Penny, played by Charlton Heston, is a cowboy doing the cattle drive thing at the end of the 19th century in Montana, a place that holds a fairly bleak existence back in the day since it gets so unbelievably cold after the cattle drive is over. So he and two of his friends, Blue (Lee Majors) and Dutchy (Anthony Zerbe), head off for town. Along the way, they find an elk, but it turns out that another family, the Quints, headed by a preacher patriarch (Donald Pleasance) have also spotted it and after somebody shoots it both sides are trying to claim it. Dutchy gets shot, as does one of Quint's sons, the latter of whom dies.

Blue stays with Dutchy either to nurse him back to health or bury him, depending on what happens, while Will takes a job for the winter as a "line rider", that is, somebody who stays in an isolated cabin to watch the land and find any stray cattle lost in the snow. At least it's a job for the winter.

However, when Will gets to the cabin, he finds... that it's already occupied! Catherine (Joan Hackett) and her son HG (Jon Gries) had met Will and his friends already when Will was looking for a doctor for Dutchy; it seems she's trying to head west but her husband went ahead to pay for a trail guide who never showed up. Will presumes that the husband is dead, or possibly just left her, but in any case, there's no way Catherine is going to make it all the way west before winter sets in. However, it's a huge no-no for any guests to be at the line riders' cabins.

Still, with winter setting in, Will realizes there's not much he can do. Sure enough, there's an attraction beginning to form between Will and Catherine, and even more so between HG and Will, the son seeing Will as the father he no longer has. But there's one more big problem: the Quints are out there somewhere, and sure enough Will runs into them. Thankfully they don't know about Catherine. Yet.

Apparently, Will Penny was one of Charlton Heston's personal favorite movies of all the ones he made. It's not outsized the way that certainly Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments are. And that's something that really works to the benefit of the movie. There's just a little story here, made real by some good acting performances and some lovely, evocative cinematography. This Montana is really a forbidding place, with none of the romantic ideas of a more active western, and it's well shown from the beginning with shots of the cold, treeless high plains.

The fact that Will Penny isn't outsized probably has a lot to do with why it's not as well remembered as either other Heston movies, or other westerns. But it's one that should be remembered, and is a pretty darn good movie. It's well worth a watch.

I'm interested in The Phynx

TCM is concluding Ruby Keeler's Day in Summer Under the Stars overnight at 4:00 AM with The Phynx, which looks delightfully awful.

The plot is that George Tobias and Joan Blondell are the President and First Lady of Communist Albania, and one of their military has been kidnapping Western stars to entertain the leaders. So the US Spy Agency recruits four men to be a rock band, go in to Albania to entertain the leaders, and return with all the hostages.

Apparently a whole bunch of people from the golden age of Hollywood get brief cameos, which is part of what makes the movie sound fun. The other part is that everything I've read makes it sound unbelievably awful, on the level of anywhere from "so bad it's good" to "you have to see it to believe it". I enjoyed Skidoo, so this one sounds like fun, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Arthur Hiller, 1923-2016

The death has been announced of director Arthur Hiller. Hiller, who was born in Canada, started his career in Canadian TV, being noticed in America first by US network NBC and then by Hollywood.

In Hollywood, Hiller directed several notable movies: I've done full-length posts before about The Americanization of Emily, Plaza Suite, and Silver Streak among others.

But Hiller will probably be best remembered for a movie I find retch-inducing, 1970's Love Story, starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw as two opposites attracted to each other who wind up having a tragic romance. "Love means never having to say you're sorry"? Bleah.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Shorts and FXM for August 17-18, 2016

TCM has been having quite a few shorts running recently. Today, for example, sees three later Traveltalks shorts:

In the Valley of the Rhine, at 6:05 PM, is one of the very last of the series.
Then there's Calling on Michigan at 7:48 PM, one of three that FitzPatrick made during a visit to Michigan in the late 1940s; and
A Wee Bit of Scotland at 9:33 PM, which also dates from the late 1940s. There's one that FitzPatrick did looking at bombed-out London just after the end of World War II that I think is more worth watching.

As for other shorts, overnight at 2:35 AM there's another chance to watch Four Minute Fever, one of the RKO sports shorts from the mid-1950s.

Over on FXM Retro, they're rerunning Seven Thieves this morning at 11:25 AM, followed at 1:10 PM by Boy on a Dolphin. The latter movie shows up again tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

James Edwards doesn't normally get honored

The TCM star for August 17 is James Edwards, a name that people are less likely to have heard of, if only because he was black and black actors didn't get the plum roles in Hollywood. TCM is showing a bunch of movies in which he has supporting roles, some of which I have to admit I wouldn't remember his presence.

Now, some of the movies it's obvious to remember. For example, take The Phenix City Story at 10:00 AM. There's one black family that gets relatively prominent mention, and that's Edwards as the husband. The Phenix City Story is worth watching on its own.

And then there's The Steel Helmet, at 6:15 PM. This one deals with a unit of soldiers in Korea who get cut off from the rest of their forces, and how they deal with it. Since the military had been integrated by this time, there's a black guy in the unit, and that of course is Edwards.

If black actors got leading roles, it was either in the rare all-black musical like Cabin in the Sky or Stormy Weather, or in a movie about racism, such as Home of the Brave at 8:00 PM. And then there's Bright Victory at 11:15 PM, in which Arthur Kennedy, blinded in World War, is befriended by a similarly blinded Edwards. Since they're both blind, race shouldn't matter, but of course it does.

Timothy Hutton turns 56

Timothy Hutton (center) with Mary Tyler Moore (l.) and Donald Sutherland in Ordinary People (1980)

Today marks the birthday of Oscar-winning actor Timothy Hutton, who was born on this day in 1960. Hutton was the son af actor Jim Hutton, who died tragically young before getting to see his son's success. Timothy had appeared in a couple of TV movies as an adolescent before getting tapped to play the role of the son in 1980's Ordinary People. Hutton's role as the son who survived a boating mishap that killed his elder brother earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, even though he's really the main character in the movie.

Hutton followed up Ordinary People with Taps, about a group of military-school cadets who want to save their school from going under, and are willing to go to fairly extreme measures to do so. And then... well, I suppose it's tough to start one's career with really big successes like that. Hutton has worked steadily since the 1980s, but has never really had the chance to do anything that brought him the plaudits that Ordinary People did. (Then again, even if he was destined to play supporting roles, the world needs supporting actors. You all know my love of character actors.)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Briefs for August 15, 2016

Fyvush Finkel died over the weending at the age of 93. He's one of those people who grew up in one of those old Jewish neighborhoods of New York that you see in old movies like The Jazz Singer, and started his career in the Yiddish theater. He's probably best known for the TV series Picket Fences.

I only got around to watching one movie off the DVR this weekend, Alexander Hamilton. This one has the daring casting of having a sixty-something white guy (George Arliss) play the main role of a man who was around 40 at the time of the movie's events. Arliss doesn't get much chance to shine, and everybody else stands around declaiming as if they were on a theater stage. The movie isn't available on DVD as far as I know, so I can't do a full-length post on it.

Today on TCM brings a day of Roddy McDowall movies; tomorrow brings a day of the films of Anne Baxter. Baxter's day kicks off with Bedevilled at 6:00 AM, a film which I have to admit is new to me. Now I just have to see which movies I'm going to clear from the DVR to make room for it....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Kenny Baker, 1934-2016

British actor Kenny Baker died yesterday, 12 days short of his 82nd birthday.

Baker is probably best known for playing R2-D2 in the first six Star Wars movies; he obviously could fit into the housing being a whopping 3'8". Apparently, he was planned to reprise the R2-D2 role in the latest Star Wars movie that came out late last year, but illness prevented him from doing so.

Baker played other diminutive characters, such as dwarves in Flash Gordon and The Elephant Man, or an elf in the Cannon Group's version of Sleeping Beauty. The Cannon Group actually made several fairy tale-themed movies in the late 80s; I think I saw their version of Red Riding Hood show up on ThisTV back when I was able to pick up the TV channel that had it as a sub-channel.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Wrong Box

I thought I had done a full-length post on The Wrong Box before, but it turns out I've only mentioned it briefly when it aired a couple of years back as part of a salute to its director, Bryan Forbes, when TCM ran a programming tribute in response to his death. It's on this evening at 6:00 PM as part of Ralph Richardson's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars. Thankfully, it seems to be available on DVD, so even if you miss today's airing, you can still catch it on DVD.

Ralph Richardson plays Joseph Finsbury, the elderly brother of Masterman (John Mills), in 1880s England. Back when they were kids, the two of them were entered into a tontine with about 20 other young boys. A tontine is an old form of insurance in which each person puts a sum of money into an account, that money is invested, and when only one of the people is surviving, that person gets the money plus whatever profits it's made due to prudent investments. Now, you'd think this would lead at least one greedy member of the tontine to want to off the others to get the money. And to an extent, that does happen, but only after most of the members die in various Victorian-era accidents, all humorously shown in a montage that takes up the opening reel or so of the movie.

Joseph and Masterman are the only two surviving members, and Masterman doesn't seem to be doing very well. Not only does he seem to be ill, his finances are in a rather parlous state. He's living with his grandson Michael (Michael Caine) and his perpetually drunk and befuddled butler Peacock (Wilfrid Lawson). Masterman would like the money from the tontine so that he can bequeath it to Michael and Peacock. To then end, he has Michael inform Joseph of his health, so that Joseph can come and visit one last time. That "one last time" is of course supposed to result in Joseph's dying before Masterman.

Joseph, for his part, doesn't seem to care about the money from the tontine. Instead, he's developed into an idle rich old man, as well as a sort of 19th century version of Cliff Clavin 100 years before the TV show Cheers, endlessly boring people with his knowledge of minutiae that nobody else cares about. However, he's living with a niece Julia (Nanette Newman) and two nephews Morris and John (the comedy pair of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore respectively). Nanette is at home in London a few doors down from Masterman and Michael; the rest are on a rest holiday in Bournemouth on the coast. When they hear the news of Masterman's health, they take the first train back to London, Morris and John desperately wanting to get the money. But Joseph escapes and the train derails, leaving them to believe Joseph has died. Of course, they can't let that information become public.

And so things develop. Joseph gets to London before his nephews, so Masterman knows he's still alive. The nephews try to get a post-dated death certificate, so they can "prove" that Joseph died after Masterman. Michael goes to Joseph's house, finds only Julia there, and those two fall in love. And a wrong box with what Morris and John thought was Joseph's dead body winds up at Masterman's house. It all leads to a bunch of zany comedy....

There's a lot to like about The Wrong Box. And yet, I found myself not liking it quite as much as a lot of other people seem to. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that as I've stated on a bunch of occasions, I'm not a huge fan of the genre of a comedy of lies where somebody (in this case Morris and John) tells a lie and then has to keep expanding on it lest the truth comes out. There's also the presentation that uses intertitles in a way I didn't think was necessary, sometimes slightly slowing things down. The biggest problem I had, however, was with the character of Dr. Pratt (Peter Sellers), the disreputable doctor from whom Morris and John try to get that post-dated death certificate. His character is irritating and unfunny, and his two scenes bring the movie to a screeching halt that made me want to fast forward through them.

Having said that, Michael Caine shows he can do light comedy even when up against people like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Nanette Newman is lovely to look at and holds up her end of the bargain OK. But perhaps the highlights are the two old guys, John Mills and Ralph Richardson, both of whom look as though they're having an absolute blast. Mills has the more obvious comedy, but Richardson gets top honors, I think, for playing the ultimately nice guy who is at the same time intensely irritating with that small talk. And of course his character is utterly oblivious to how he's irritating everybody around him.

Overall, I think most people will like The Wrong Box. And if you like Peter Sellers, you'll probably like it even more than I do.

Billie Holiday in New Orleans

One of the movies I watched last weekend was New Orleans, which I don't think is in print on DVD. The plot is trite. Rich, white, classically-trained girl comes to New Orleans; hears the new sound (jazz in this case; the movie is set in 1917); falls in love with it despite the protestations of polite society; complications ensue.

The white part of the plot is not only trite but not particularly well done. The movie, however, is saved by the presence of Louis Armstrong as the talent for the white club-owner; Holiday makes her one feature film appearance as a maid who can sing the blues. Here's one of their scenes together to give you a taste of their talent.

Armstrong was charismatic enough that he probably could have played comic relief or a sidekick if he wanted to do real acting work. Holiday's performance doesn't give much indication either way, but then, she really isn't called on to do much acting. There's one or two scenes as a maid and then the songs she sings.

The movie is currently available in whole on Youtube, although I think it's still under copyright.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Shorts for August 12-13, 2016

A couple of shorts I've commented on before are back on the TCM lineup for today and tomorrow.

First, sprinkled throughout the day's lineup are several Bobby Jones golf shorts, for those who want to break 90.

For those sweltering in summer heat, there's Christmas in August today as you can watch Compliments of the Season at about 7:45 PM, following Change of Heart (6:15 PM, 77 min).

Finally, I'll mention Lambchops, at 9:50 PM following Lucky Star (8:00 PM, 100 min). This one has George Burns and his young wife Gracie Allen doing their thing. Or, mor accurately, her thing, as poor George is exasperated by his wife's ditziness.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A couple of notes on Spencer Tracy's day in Summer Under the Stars

20,000 Years in Sing Sing kicks off Spencer Tracy's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars at 6:00 AM, although by the time most of you read this, the movie will probably already have aired. This is one of those films that for whatever odd reason doesn't air on TCM as much as you'd think it would. It was made at WB, which means it should be in what was Ted Turner's library that formed the backbone of TCM's programming when the channel premiered back in 1994. For whatever reason, some prestige movies show up more than others, but at the time 20,000 Years in Sing Sing was made, it probably wasn't a prestige movie. Tracy and Davis weren't big enough stars yet, I don't think.

As far as I can tell, I've never done a full-length post on Desk Set (6:00 PM) before. To be honest, I find it good enough, but a fairly predictable movie that gets more attention because it pairs Spencer Tracy with Katharine Hepburn yet again (the eighth of nine times, I think). Tracy plays a computer expert (in the early days of computers, of course) selling a computer to a media conglomerate's research library. Hepburn plays the head librarian, who unsurprisingly thinks the computer is being installed to take her department's jobs away. Tracy's and Hepburn's characters fall in love. The computer was re-used for What a Way to Go.

I was also thinking about doing a full length post on Whipsaw, which concludes the day's proceedings at 4:15 AM tomorrow. But then, it turns out I'd already posted on the movie back in 2011. Even if it has its problems, it's still got Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Another chance to see Around the World in California

I've mentioned the Traveltalks short Around the World in California several times before. I don't think I saw it among the shorts in the Traveltalks box set that came out a few months ago, and I also haven't seen it on Youtube. So it's one of those shorts that you'll have to wait for to show up on TCM.

Thankfully, this afternoon is another one of those days. At around 3:45 PM, or following Tortilla Flat (2:00 PM, 105 min), it's going to be on TCM. It's fun, in part to see just how much California has changed in the 70 years since the short has run.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Running on Empty

So I mentioned that I watched Running on Empty over the weekend, and that it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection. In other words, I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie even though I don't think it's coming up on TV any time soon.

River Phoenix plays Danny Pope, a high-school kid who at the start of the movie is on the baseball team somewhere in Florida. He goes home, and finds that there are two dark sedans with two men in them tailing him, and staying a good distance away from the house. Obviously, he knows that this means danger, as he takes the long way around to the house, and gets his kid brother Harry and a few belongings, before waiting for their parents by the side of the road somewhere on the parents' way home from work.

There's a reason for the danger. Dad Arthur (Judd Hirsch) and Mom Annie (Christine Lahti) were radicals back in the Vietnam War era (Arthur even points out that he was a "red diaper baby", somebody whose parents were Communists and raised him from birth to be a Communist), to the point that they bombed a napalm plant. Their intention was just to case damage to the building and stop the war effort, but in fact there was a janitor in the building, and the janitor suffered severe injuries as a result of the bombing. For the past 15 years, the Popes have been running from the law. (Why they'd bring another child into all of this is a good question, and one that Annie does mention briefly once before dropping the subject.) Every few months, when it looks like the feds are closing in, the Popes have to create new identities and move again.

This time they move to New Jersey, where Danny takes music as one of his electives because he's always been pretty good on the piano. In fact, he's good enough that he comes to the attention of his music teacher, Mr. Phillips (Ed Crowley). Phillips takes an interest in Danny's well-being, something which is obviously a big problem for his parents, especially for Dad. Dad is even more worried than Mom about the prospect of attention to Danny meaning that somebody will figure out who his parents are. There's also the problem that when the kids grow up, they may want to strike out on their own. In particular, that issue is beginning to come to a head because Mr. Phillips suggests that Danny is talented enough to be able to attend the prestigious Juilliard School of Music.

Meanwhile, Mom is having her own conflicts. She's been wondering whether it's finally time to give up, although there's the question of what's going to happen to Harry in that case. Danny might be old enough to go off to college; Harry is in no way old enough to be independent. In addition, there's her past catching up to her in the form of an old contact from the extremist group showing up and wanting help in planning a bank robbery to raise funds for the struggle.

And then there's poor Danny. He loves his parents, and doesn't want to abandon them. But there's the possibility of being able to go on with his piano studies. More than that, when he visits Mr. Phillips' house to practice on the grand piano, he meets Phillips' daughter Lorna (Martha Plimpton), a classmate of Danny's. He falls in love with her, but the feeling isn't necessarily mutual. Lorna senses that there's something chaotic going on, what with Danny obviously keeping so much secret from her, and she doesn't know if she can love that. But can Danny really risk telling her the truth?

Running on Empty is a movie filled with excellent performances. River Phoenix earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, even though he's really the lead, and this movie shows what a tragedy it was when he died a few years later at the age of 23. Lahti, who would go on to moderate success starring in the TV show Chicago Hope and an otherwise steady career, gets a standout scene when she sees her father (Steven Hill) for the first time in 15 years, to tell Dad that she wants the grandparents to take custody of Danny so he can go to Juilliard. (Hill only shows up for this one scene, but makes the most of it.) Judd Hirsch does well in what might be his best film work outside of Ordinary People, beginning to crack in his own way -- different from the way Lahti's character does -- as he tries to become more stridently the leader of a terrorist cell that's really just a family. Martha Plimpton also does fine in a role that's difficult in its own way even if it's not as obviously difficult as what the family members have to display.

Running on Empty is a movie I can strongly recommend.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Briefs for August 8-9, 2016

Among the movies I watched over the weekend, only one of them, Running on Empty, seems to be in print on DVD, so I'll probably be getting to a full-length post on the movie sometime later this week.

A movie showing up again on FXM Retro after an absence is Beloved Infidel, which for some reason I thought I had done a full-length post on. You can catch it tomorrow at 3:30 AM and 12:55 PM. The movie is a fictionalization of the romance between writer F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was doing movie screenplays, and Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham.

Tomorrow on TCM, there's going to be a full day of Tim Holt movies as part of Summer Under the Stars. I remember him from Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but TCM is spending all morning and afternoon with the B westerns that made up the bulk of Holt's career, and about which I have to admit not knowing all that much.

Last week when I blogged about Fay Wray's day, I mentioned a bus-themed movie that I was convinced wasn't the same one that TCM was showing. It turns out the movie I was thinking of is one called Busses Roar, which was indeed made over at Warner Bros. and deals with a bus line that gets involved in foiling some sabotage in the early days of World War II. Busses Roar has a supporting role from a very young Eleanor Parker at the beginning of her career. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, and it's the sort of movie that TCM shows very infrequently.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Last of Sheila

So couple of weekends ago I got around to watching The Last of Sheila off of my DVR after having recorded it I think back in November. It's been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection and can be purchased from the TCM Shop, so I have no qualms about doing a full-length post on the movie.

James Coburn plays movie producer Clinton, married to Sheila (Yvonne Romain). One night at a Hollywood party, they have an argument and she goes running off. She makes it to what looks like the road leading to their home, when a car comes up behind her, running her down and killing her. The car goes driving off.

A year passes, and Clinton is on his yacht, named Sheila, somehwere off the coast of the French Riviera. He has an idea who killed Sheila, and to prove his hunch he's going to invite the six main suspects aboard that yacht. There's writer Tom (Richard Benjamin) and his wife Lee (Joan Hackett); starlet Alice (Raquel Welch) and her husband Anthony (Ian McShane); agent to the stars Christine (Dyan Cannon) and director Philip (James Mason).

To figure out which one did it, he's devised an elaborate parlor game. Each of his six guests has been given a card stating their "secret"; that is, a dark past that they're expected to play more or less. Each night, Clinton is going to take the guests ashore and set up a game where they have to find where one of the guests has been assigned a particular secret, given the clue Clinton provides each of them. (Would that I were wealthy enough to be able to pull off the logistics necessary to do this, never mind having the yacht.) As an incentive to play the game, the winner will get top billing in Clinton's film about "The Last of Sheila", or, what happened to his wife.

Now, some of the characters begin to get the impression that Clinton actually knows a deep secret about each of them, only he's mixed up the secrets among the various guests such that the one who is given the secret of being a shoplifter isn't actually a shoplifter, but one amongst their number actually is. Worse, things start to go wrong when Christine and Clinton are lounging in the Mediterranean while the ship is at anchor and somebody "accidentally" turns the engine on such that the wake threatens to pull Christine under.

It may not have been Christine who was the target of this, however; on the second night the game takes place at an abandoned monastery on an island, and Clinton winds up dead, having been murdered around the confessional where he was hiding in the hide-and-go-seek part of the game. So now instead of a parlor game, we've got a murder mystery on our hands!

The Last of Sheila is a pretty complex mystery, and one that's hard to decipher, although it turns out that all of the clues are there, if you're attentive. (Presumably, since the guests were spending all their time on the yacht, the clues would have been more obvious to them than to us the viewer.) Once the mystery was explained, I have to admit I found it a bit too convoluted, but that's a minor flaw.

The acting is fairly good; the plot is generally entertaining as long as you pay enough attention. I don't know that anybody in particular stands out among the cast, although Mason does a good job being the analytical one trying to figure out the mystery, while Benjamin seems a little to gung-ho to put out a scenario that fits a little too neatly.

Still, I think anybody who likes murder mysteries will enjoy The Last of Sheila.

Jean Harlow Day

I probably should have posted this last night, since Beast of the City is airing at 10:00 AM, so by the time some of you see this post the movie may already have started. This is one of those movies that I haven't seen in years, but if I had seen it more recently, I would have enjoyed doing a full-length post on it. So instead, today you'll get a one-paragraph synopsis. Walter Huston plays Jim, a police officer trying to take down the underworld gangs that have sprung up thanks to Prohibition. To that end, he uses his kid brother Ed (Wallace Ford) to infiltrate the gang. However, Ed meets moll Daisy (that's Jean Harlow; you can't miss her), and falls for her charms.

Best of the City is another of those very good early talkies that don't get the attention they deserve today. It's probably not one of Harlow's most remembered in part because she's really not the lead here. The movie has gotten a release to DVD thanks to the Warner Archive.

That having been said, I really wanted to mention that there's a documentary coming up. Harlow: the Blonde Bombshell will be on at 3:00 PM. Sharon Stone narrates this 1993 documentary which looks at Harlow's life and untimely death. I enjoy it whenever TCM pauses from showing the old movies to run these documentaries on the old stars.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Who wants to make a movie in the Czech Republic

One of Radio Prague's business-themed programs this week had a report on foreigners making films in the Czech Republic. It's an interview with an expat who founded a film production company in Prague back in the 90s and has been doing that ever since.

Radio Prague thankfully has transcripts of its reports if you want to read them; the link above should give you the opportunity to stream the audio if you want to listen that way. There's also a direct download link to the MP3 file if you want to download on your own time and listen later; that's here. It's 6.1 MB, which should be about 13 minutes.

Friday, August 5, 2016

RNZ podcast: movies about the Olympics

With today being the opening day of the Summer Olympic in Rio de Janeiro, I noticed a few days ago that Radio New Zealand's "Afternoons" program on movies about the Olympics.

RNZ's site doesn't go into much detail on the stories, at least not any more than you'd get if you just subscribed to the podcast. But you can stream the audio rather than download it here. If you'd rather download it, there's a direct link here; that's a ~3.8 MB MP3 that runs a little over 10 minutes. (I have to admit I haven't listened to it yet. I'm behind in my podcasts, usually listening to the more current affairs stuff first before getting around to more evergreen features.)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I apologize for missing Michael Feinstein

Sometime back in July, it was posted over on the TCM boards that Michael Feinstein was going to be the guest host taking some of what would have been Robert Osborne's nights hosting. I wasn't intending to post on this until tomorrow, since for some reason I thought he was going to be hosting on the weekends, which would have made tomorrow just the time to post it. In fact, he's hosting on Monday's through Wednesday, which means he was the host the past three nights (and I haven't actually watched any live TCM the past three nights, what with having to get up at 4:30 every morning).

As for Feinstein, I thought he was quite good when he was the Guest Programmer in January 2015. He clearly has a sizable knowledge of musicals, and when he introduced his first movie, he talked about composer David Raksin and even sat down at the piano on the TCM set and played the signature tune from The Bad and the Beautiful. (I wonder how long it had been since the previous time that piano prop had a tuning. Heck, I wonder if the prop is even a playable piano. It would be cheaper for the stage hands to move a prop that had all the strings taken out of it every time they have to strike the set. Grand pianos are heavy.)

I don't know how good he's been as a regular guest host, if only because I didn't see any of his intros and don't know just how much knowledge he has of non-musicals. But I didn't come across any complaints on the TCM boards, which is a good sign.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fay Wray Day on TCM

Tomorrow, August 4, sees a full day of Fay Wray movies on TCM. Now, of course Wray is best known from King Kong, in which the eighth wonder of the world falls in love with her and carries her to the top of the Empire State Building. You can catch that at 10:00 PM tomorrow.

Prime time is starting at 8:00 PM with The Wedding March, a silent movie which I have to admit I hadn't heard of before; reviews claim that it's quite good if you're into silent movies.

Actually there are quite a few movies in the day's lineup that I haven't seen before, and would record if it weren't for the fact that my DVR is down to like 3% free space which means I've only got space for about two movies. There's an early talkie called Thunderbolt at midnight, and a later movie called Wildcat Bus at 9:00 AM that sounds vaguely familiar, except that there's another bus-themed movie from the time period that is the one I have in mind. (I know the one I have in mind is a Warner Bros. movie; Wildcat Bus is RKO.)

As for those I have seen, I'd mention The Clairvoyant, which you can see at 3:45 PM. TCM doesn't show this one very often since it was made in the UK, but it's pretty good. Claude Rains plays the title role, a music-hall mentalist married to show partner Wray who gets real psychic powers when he's in the presence of one particular other woman. I did a one-paragraph synopsis of it back in March 2010, as you can see from the link. Interestingly, that post was titled "Miss Cleo", after one of those phony TV-advertising psychics. She died last week at the age of 53.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Another sign that I'm getting old

So I came home today to the news that my niece, who graduated college this year, has now gotten engaged. Makes me wonder how long until I'm going to be a granduncle. Being a grand-anything makes me feel old, and I was born in the 1970s.

Anyhow, I immediately thought of the movie Father of the Bride, since it's a fairly light movie and would be the sort of thing that pretty much anybody who's been through a wedding in any capacity would understand. For me, it's only been as the youngest sibling in the family, but I was reminded of the way the adults acted then when I watched the movie.

Anyhow, here's the trailer for the Spencer Tracy version of Father of the Bride:

I haven't seen the Steve Martin remake.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Gloria DeHaven, 1925-2016

Actress Gloria DeHaven, who appeared in MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s as well as any number of other films in a 50-year career, has died at the age of 91.

I did a birthday salute for her once a couple of years ago, but really only mentioned her once, for her appearance in Out to Sea.

If you want to see her on TCM, she shows up in Best Foot Forward, which will be airing at 1:45 AM Wednesday (ie. overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday) as part of Lucille Ball's day in Summer Under the Stars.