Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Another month is about to begin

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas movies are here

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gloria Grahame, 1923-1981

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Crap, everything's out of print!

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, another block of shorts

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

TCM prints and opening titles

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Avenging Conscience

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

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

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

A few more obituaries

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Salesman again

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The rest of the Traveltalks

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mmmm, cookies

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

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

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

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

Ralph Meeker, 1920-1988

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016


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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

Last night, I finally got around to watching The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, which I had DVRed back when it was on TCM as part of 31 Days of Oscar, that's how long ago it was. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive, so I'm OK doing a full-length blog post on the movie. Unfortunately, I can't say the movie is worth watching.

Paul Newman is Roy Bean, who at the beginning of the movie rides up to a brothel in the middle of nowhere in west Texas, west of the Pecos River. He boasts of having robbed a bank, at which point the men and women in the brothel assault Roy and shake him down (literally) for his money, before putting a rope around his neck and having a horse drag him off to his death. Except that the rope snaps and Roy, tended to by Maria Elena (Victoria Principal), recovers. Obviously he wasn't happy with the way he was treated, so he goes back to the brothel and kills the people there.

He finds there was a law book in the brothel, so he turns the place into a saloon/court, calling himself the "Law west of the Pecos". People get brought into his court, and he sentences them to hang, with little or no rhyme or reason. Along the way, he acts like a complete self-righteous jerk, reminding me of the portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt in The Wind and the Lion. (The movie has one scene praising Roosevelt as the best president the country has had.)

Bean also has a thing for singer Lillie Langtry, even though he's never seen or heard her, there not being any movies or records for him to see or hear. But still, he just knows she's unbelievable beautiful and dammit, he wants to see her. This actually leads to Bean's downfall, as his rival Gass (Roddy McDowall) is elected mayor while Bean is away trying to see Langtry in San Antonio.

After Bean is forced out of town, there's a wholly fictitious sequence about the next 20 years ending in the 1920s; in fact, Bean died peacefully in 1903. But in the movie, Bean gets to return to take the town back from the evil Gass.

Sadly, I found the movie wholly unfunny. Paul Newman's Bean (to be fair, it's not Newman's fault, but that of the screenwriters) is, as I said above, a total jerk who shows no respect for the rule of law and is basically a self-centered totalitarian. And this is presented as a good thing; we're supposed to have sympathy for him and root for him. And the whole Lillie Langtry thing was overdone to the point that I didn't give a crap about Bean's creepy obsession. Apparently, the real-life Langtry did visit Bean's town (which had been renamed Langtry) after Bean's death; that's the closing scene in the movie and Bean is portrayed by Ava Gardner. In fact, a number of well-known actors get small parts in which they only appear in a couple of scenes. Anthony Perkins gets one scene when he's burying the original brothel people; Jacqueline Bissett shows up for the last third as Bean's daughter. But overall, I found this Roy Bean such an irritating character that I just wanted to smack him.

Perhaps you should judge for yourself, however; maybe you'll like the movie. There are enough reviewers on IMDb who do.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Academy has a Youtube channel

I don't know if I've posted to any videos from the channel, but apparently, AMPAS, the folks behind the Oscars, have a Youtube channel dedicated to the Oscars.

I ran across it this morning. Recently, I watched The Bespoke Overcoat, having DVRed it last week when it was on TCM. I was curious to see if it was available on DVD (apparently not) or even on Youtube (unsurprisingly not). I think I've read the Gogol short story on which the short film is loosely based. I say loosely based because I didn't recognize the story. Then again, I may be mixing it up with Gogol's "Nevsky Prospekt"; I'm not the biggest fan of Gogol's work.

Anyhow, when I was looking on Youtube, what I found was the Academy Awards presentation for short subjects the year The Bespoke Overcoat won for two-reelers. I probably should have realized, but the winner for one-reelers was Crashing the Water Barrier.

The Academy's channel allows for embedding, so here's Mickey Rooney presenting the Oscars for short subjects:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A couple of lesser-seen movies coming up

Tonight's TCM lineup is female con artists. This includes Blonde Crazy at 9:45 PM, a movie I thought I'd blogged about before. Joan Blondell and James Cagney go around conning people and trying not to get conned themselves. If memory serves, this is the movie in which Cagney comes into Blondell's hotel room while she's taking a bath and asks her where the $5,000 is, and she replies that it's in her bra!

I blogged about The Young in Heart seven years ago; it's on overnight at 12:45 AM. This is definitely one to watch as pretty much everybody in the ensemble cast gives a good performance.

Finally, I'll mention The Girl From Missouri at 2:30 PM tomorrow. This one has supposedly been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, but it doesn't seem to be listed that way on TCM's schedule page. Then again, the schedule page claims West Side Story isn't on DVD either.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

There's still stuff new to me

And I don't just mean stuff that's new to everybody, like films that are only hitting the theaters this weekend. TCM is spending much of tomorrow morning and afternoon with Rock Hudson on his birth anniversary, and I have to admit to not having even heard of the first two movies.

The one-sentence plot of Sea Devils (6:30 AM) made me think of To Have and Have Not, which had already been remade once. Rock Hudson is a fisherman from the Channel Islands given the task in the Napoleonic era of rescuing an English spy (Yvonne de Carlo) from France. The idea sounds reasonably interesting, but the reviews don't seem so good.

That's followed at 8:00 PM by A Fine Pair, in which Hudson plays a detective following jewel thief Claudia Cardinale. Sounds like one of the many, many heist movies from the era, which means it doesn't sound terrible, but doesn't sound particularly earth-shattering, either.

It's nice to see TCM bringing us movies that don't get shown all that often, so we can all learn new things. Now I just have to see if I can make enough space on my DVR to catch these two.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

TCM Guest Programmer November 2016: Steve Israel

So you were hoping the election season was over. Unfortunately, politics goes on, and we get a politician for this month's TCM Guest Programmer: US Rep. Steve Israel, from Long Island. He's selected four movies, three of them obviously politically-themed, and will be presenting them with Ben Mankiewicz I'd assume:

The Candidate at 8:00 PM, in which Robert Redford runs for Senate. Natalie Wood has a cameo so this one is showing up again later in the month;
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at 10:00 PM, with James Stewart getting named Senator and finding out how dirty a place Washington is; and
The Best Man at 12:30 AM, about a contested presidential convention. We'll win with Merwin, or maybe we won't.
As for non-political movies, you can't get more apolitical than Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, at 2:30 AM. It's funny because it's true, 70 years on. Just ask anybody who's built or renovated a house.

For some reason, I thought TCM had scheduled A Face in the Crowd to follow Israel's selections. The inimitable Jesse Walker has a good commentary on that and Meet John Doe here, although it was probably more timely last week at this time.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mary Poppins bares her breasts!

I mentioned the other day after Robert Vaughn died that he was in S.O.B., which I have on my DVR. So I made a point of watching it over the weekend. It's available from the TCM Shop, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post about it.

The movie starts off rather creepily, with Sally Miles (Julie Andrews) doing a rendition of "Polly Wolly Doodle" on a movie set; obviously, this is a scene in a movie-within-the-movie, as intertitles helpfully tells us after the opening credits. Producer/director Felix Farmer (Robert Mulligan) has just directed his wife Sally in "Night Wind", and the movie has been not just his first flop, but a spectacular flop. Meanwhile, Sally is preparing to divorce Felix. The result is that Felix goes nuts and decides to try to kill himself.

The suicide attempt fails when the gardener, trying to shut off the ignition in Felix' car, accidentally shifts it into gear, sending the car through the garage and ultimately into the ocean. This brings a whole lot of attention in the form of gossip columnist Polly Reed (Loretta Swit), as well as getting Felix' bosses at the studio to try to find him.

Studio head Blackman (the aforementioned Vaughn) wants to take control of the picture, while Felix' lawyer Culley (William Holden, in his final film role) just wants Felix to live. Things get complicated at Felix' beach house, until they wind up holding a party there with a whole bunch of people who got invited heaven only knows how. Felix is still trying to kill himself, but when an attempt to shoot himself goes awry, he gets a sudden insight: the way to rescue "Night Wind" is to turn it into a softcore porn movie!

Remember that scene at the beginning of the movie of Julie Andrews doing "Polly Wolly Doodle"? Apparently it was a dream sequence from "Night Wind", and now it's going to be an erotic dream sequence detailing the sexual horrors Sally's character had to face. Or something like that. The result is that Sally is going to have to bare her breasts as part of the scene. Except that she's a pure and virtuous as Julie Andrews' image supposedly was. (Not that she's impure; it's just that she was, after all, willing to do whatever it took to make a movie work.) Sally isn't sure she wants to do it, but she owns half the movie since she's in a community propery state, and dammit she's going to protect that property.

This is the basic plot of the movie, but it really just serves as a hook on which to put Blake Edwards' satire of all things Hollywood. The plot actually goes all over the place, with only about a third of the movie going from the time Felix gets his idea to the resolution in which Sally actually does go topless. (And yes, we see it. The way it's handled makes Sally look rather less erotic than any of the other characters in the dream sequence.) And after the resolution of that plot strand, there's still another third of the movie to go.

The result is something that reminded me of the Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin movies, Divorce American Style and The Night They Raided Minsky's. All three movies have some good ideas, and some of those ideas are very well executed. But I found S.O.B, like the earlier movies, to be less than the sum of its parts. Among the things that work are a running joke about a man who's suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging on the beach with his dog just outside the Farmer beach house, and nobody noticing the poor dead man. Loretta Swit does well in her part, as does Shelley Winters as Sally's agent. Andrews is perfectly acceptable, although you have to wonder how she/Sally wound up with all these nutcases. I'd say the same for William Holden, except that he'd already done Network and probably drank prodigiously with enough people in Hollywood for him to fit in to Blake Edwards' satire.

As for what doesn't work, there's Sally's servant who wants to be an agent, and the Chinese cook; the attempt to satirize the way Hollywood treated Asian servants just falls flat and is grating. There's also the doctor who comes to treat Felix after the original suicide attempt (Robert Preston); he's obnoxious. And much of what happens in the final third of the movie just makes no sense, as though Edwards ran out of a coherent plot, but still had punchlines for how to satirize Hollywood.

Overall, I think people who like movies in the "Hollywood on Hollywood" genre will like this one, while people looking for an introduction to any of the actors in the movie, or even the "Hollywood on Hollywood" genre, would be better served with other movies.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Briefs for November 13-14, 2016

Lupita Tovar has died at the age of 106. Tovar was one of the first stars of Mexican sound cinema, going back to the early 1930s. Actually, her career started a bit earlier, when she was discovered in Mexico and brought to Hollywood to make Spanish-language versions of early US talkies for the Spanish-language market. (Garbo did a German-language version of Anna Christie, while I've also mentioned a couple of Laurel and Hardy shorts done in Spanish.)

Tonight's prime time lineup looks at the Fleischer family. Dad Max was an animator, which means that we're going to get a couple of animated movies in the 8:00 hour. TCM is listing two two-reel Popeye movies, one starting at 8:00 PM, and the second at 8:30. That leaves a pretty substantial amount of time for something in between the movies, however. As for son Richard Fleischer, I'm always pleased to see The Narrow Margin (9:00 PM) and Solyent Green (10:30 PM) on the schedule.

Apparently I haven't done a full-length post on The Battleship Potemkin, this week' Silent Sunday Nights movie, before. It's on at 12:15 AM and is well worth seeing. Perhaps I should watch it again, because I don't think I've seen it in years. It kicks off a night of Communist bloc movies, with two movies about the 1940s following. I've recommended The Cranes Are Flying (1:30 AM) before; I've never actually seen the Czech Courage for Every Day (3:15 AM) before.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Robert Vaughn, 1932-2016

I suppose I should mention the death of actor Robert Vaughn, who died yesterday aged 83. A lot of the obituaries are mentioning the TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but he also made a fair number of movies. Looking at the recent (well, 2009) picture of him at the top of his Wikipedia page, it's easy to see the resemblance to the character he played in Bullitt 40 years earlier.

Vaughn was also the last of the Magnificent Seven, I believe. That movie is going to be on the regular Starz channel several times on Wednesday.

Several of the UNCLE episodes were stitched together to turn into movies, and Vaughn also made a cameo as Napoleon Solo in The Glass Bottom Boat. I've also got S.O.B. on my DVR, and haven't gotten around to watching it yet.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The matte shot

One of my favorite non-movie bloggers, David Thompson, has a weekly, more or less, "Friday Ephemera" post in which he links to stuff that's not exactly newsworthy, but interesting or noteworthy. A lot of Youtube videos, but also things like blog posts with lots of photos of the way things were in the past.

This week, one of the links was to the matte shot, from a blog looking at the use of matte painting technology in the movies, and how it makes good background shots. There aren't many posts on the blog, but this one has a ton of interesting photos.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Comments on TCM's upcoming schedule, November 10-11, 2016

TCM is running a salute to British direct Jack Clayton tonight. Clayton didn't make very many movies, and TCM is running three of the features plus one short. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Our Mother's House, which has been released to DVD since the last time I blogged about it. Despite the title and the fact that the cast is full of kids, this is really a grown-up movie. I'm looking forward to the short The Bespoke Overcoat, airing at midnight; this one is based on the Gogol short story The Overcoat. I haven't seen this short before. Clayton also directed Room at the Top, but that one isn't on the TCM schedule tonight.

Tomorrow, TCM is running a bunch of Joel McCrea movies; his birthday was last Saturday. What I find interesting -- and frankly refreshing -- is that TCM is running all of these on Veterans' Day, instead of trotting out a bunch of war movies for the umpteenth time because heaven forfend we don't supplicate ourselves before people who committed violence in the name of the state. Foreign Correspondent at 12:45 PM is always worth watching.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Another pair of obituaries

Swiss actor Marc Michel died last week at the age of 83. I was going to wait until the weekend to mention his passing, mostly because of what is probably his best-known role for those of us who aren't quite so expert on French-language cinema. Michel played Roland, the gem dealer who is suggested as a suitable match for Catherine Deneuve in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. That movie is on TCM this coming Sunday at 6:00 AM.

The other death is cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who died the other day aged 92. Coutard worked with both Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut on some of the classic films of the French New Wave, starting with Breathless. He also did Contempt and Alphaville with Godard, and Jules et Jim and The Bride Wore Black with Truffaut. Oh, and he also did the cinematography on Costa-Gavras' Z. For some reason I thought Z was on the TCM schedule soon, but I think it was on late last month.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Another Norman Lloyd birthday salute

So I've blogged about Norman Lloyd's birthday a couple of times before. Well, he's still alive, and today is his 102d birthday, which would deserve a post just for that. But TCM is celebrating Lloyd in prime time, including a TCM premiere. Apparently, Lloyd was well enough to travel to the TCM Film Festival last spring, where he sat down and did an interview, I'm guessing with Ben Mankiewicz since Robert Osborne wasn't there. That interview will be airing tonight at 8:00 PM and again at 11:15 PM.

As is often the case, TCM is showing it twice, once for the people on the east coast and the second time for those of you out west. In between, there's one feature, in this case Saboteur, from which Norman Lloyd is pictured above playing the bad guy. That comes on at 9:15 PM.

The rest of the night has other movies with Lloyd in the cast. I don't remember him in Limelight (12:30 AM), but then, I'm not the biggest Charlie Chaplin fan. Lloyd is quite good as a creepy farm hand in The Southerner (3:00 AM). Finally, there's The Black Book, which reunited Bob Cummings and Norman Lloyd from Saboteur, at 4:45 AM.

One other Norman Lloyd role I haven't mentioned is a small one in He Ran All the Way. That movie will be on at 1:15 PM Saturday -- right after another airing (noon Saturday) of Lloyd's interview from the TCM Film Festival.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Over the weekend I watched Sally off of my DVR. It's available via the Warner Archive, so I feel OK doing a full-length post.

Sally, played by Broadway star Marilyn Miller doing a reprise of the Broadway role, is a New York waitress who likes to practice her dance steps while she works, something which unsurprisingly causes all sorts of problems. She meets impresario Otis Hooper (T. Roy Barnes), but loses her chance at getting a job with him, as well as losing her job as a waitress, when she spills a tray full of food on him.

She's not the only one who's distraught; also unhappy is Blair Farell (Alexander Gray). He's a wealthy young man from one of those Long Island families, who has been looking through the big plate glass window at the front of the restaurant to watch Sally, whom he doesn't even know. He's just infatuated with her. Of course, he's engaged to wone of the society daughters out on the Island.

Anyhow, Sally gets a job at a restaurant out on Long Island, along with her friend Connie (Joe E. Brown), who is a deposed royal from some Eastern European family. He's working as a waiter, but he keeps up the trappings of being a royal, not letting high society know what he's been reduced to. Blair meets Sally there and tells her his love for her. Meanwhile, Hooper also meets Sally there, and gives her a second chance when it turns out some Russian woman who was supposed to dance at the party where Blair's engagement is going to be annouced had to back out; Sally can pretend to be that woman. Of course, Blair recognizes Sally; Connie had an issue with the woman Sally is supposed to be playing; and Blair's engagement is announced.

It's all high society pre-42nd Street musical piffle. A lot of the early talkie musicals had poor, threadbare plots, and this one is no different. There are interesting things in the movie, however. Joe E. Brown gets some physical comedy scenes, notably helping an old guy up a ladder. There's also the song, "Look for the Silver Lining", sung, if not that well, by Miller and Gray. But perhaps most interesting is that the movie was apparently originally released entirely in two-strip Technicolor. Unfortunately, only most of one dance number at the party out on Long Island survives in color, and that bit is for the most part surprisingly well-preserved. The rest of the movie looks slightly off, in that the black and white looks different from most other movies of the era, which I think is a sign of how the movie was in fact originally filmed in color, which had much brighter lighting needs.

Overall, I'm not certain Sally is for the average film fan. Certainly, if I wanted to introduce people to films from this era, this isn't the movie I'd pick. Even just one year later, in 1930, movies had vastly advanced in terms of the use of sound. But for people who like early musicals, Sally is well worth a watch. Especially when you consider that Miller didn't make too many movies.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

TCM's transition continues

So I hadn't heard anything about a guest host for TCM for November. I also hadn't heard anything about Robert Osborne returning. So I made a point of watching TCM live last night, to watch the outro for Coal Miner's Daughter.

And there was Ben Mankiewicz, doing the outro. Apparently he's going to be on five nights a week this month, since Alec Baldwin will be handing the hosting duties for the TCM Spotlight on Mondays and Wednesdays. If I had to guess, Robert Osborne will finally take his well-deserved retirement at some point, and Ben will become the official TCM host, not just the de facto head host he currently is. I'd guess in that case, they'd probably put Tiffany Vasquez on Sunday afternoons as well. And maybe Osborne will get healthy enough to make it back to another TCM Film Festival or two. After all, he's going to be 85 next spring.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Night Mail (1936)

I recorded the documentary Night Mail, which aired last Wednesday night as part of TCM's salute to the documentary genre. This 1936 short tells of the workings of a mail express train which takes mail from London up to Scotland. The train works overnight, leaving London in the evening and picking up mail and dropping some off along the way. Meanwhile, there are workers inside sorting all the mail so that it can get to its destinations more quickly. Remember, this was in the days before postal codes made sorting the mail easier.

The film has some prominent involvement. Poet W.H. Auden wrote a poem that's recited in the closing music; this poem is set to the music of Benjamin Britten. And the sound department is credited to Cavalcanti, he of Dead of Night fame among others.

The movie is available on Youtube; I'm not certain about the copyright status since it was produced by the Royal Mail's General Post Office Film Unit.

The last day of Daylight Savings Time

Tonight's the night when normal people in North America turn back their clocks one hour to go from summer time to winter time. The time change, as always, presents a problem for TV schedules.

TCM's online schedule has a couple of Sissy Spacek movies as part of the prime time lineup. TCM Underground begins at the first 2:00 AM, or just as the clocks are switched back to the second 1:00 AM. As I've said in the past, I like to think of Universal Time (pretty much the same as GMT, for practical purposes like this) to keep track of things. That means that TCM Underground stars at 0600 UTC with Alone in the Dark, which runs 93 minutes. So, the next movie should begin an hour and 45 minutes later, which is 0745 UTC or 2:45 AM Eastern Standard Time. TCM's online schedule, however lists this movie, He Knows You're Alone, as beginning at 3:45 AM, although to be fair it is just an hour and 45 minutes after Alone in the Dark This one is 94 minutes, so should also fit into a 1:45 time slot.

TCM rounds out the overnight with a short and a featurette. The featurette is 1950's The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Story which runs 57 minutes, while the short is the 27-minute Gang Boy. However, here is where we get into problems. TCM's online schedule lists The MGM Story as beginning at 3:47 AM. Now, they could put it in between the second feature and Gang Boy, but it would have to start sometime later, between 4:20 and 4:30 AM to get Gang Boy to start at 5:30 AM. My box guide lists Gang Boy as beginning at 4:30 AM, followed at 5:00 AM by The MGM Story.

Over on FXM, they've got The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel beginning at midnight, in a 2:35 timeslot. This would take it to the second 1:35 AM (or 0635 UTC), at which point there's an FXM Presents advertising some Fox product or other. Then, at 0700 UTC (2:00 AM Eastern Standard Time), there's The Rains of Ranchipur, which runs 104 minutes and is put in a 1:45 time slot. Just right. This leave enough time for Nine Hours to Rama to begin at 3:45 AM and be a 124-minute movie in a 2:15 time slot.

That's all according to my box guide. The online TV schedule page I use actually has The Rains of Ranchipur coming before FXM Presents. And don't even get me started on FX's site.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Back on FXM after three years

I know the movie is terrible, but it's still worth a watch to see just where it went wrong: Spaceflight IC-1, which I blogged about back in October 2013, will be back on FXM Retro twice tomorrow, at 3:30 AM and 10:25 AM.

The other interesting thing about the current schedule is that there are a few things that have shown up recently that I don't think have been on since I started paying really close attention to the schedule, and that would have been 10 years ago. This morning, Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man, which is going to show up again next week. That's one that's completely new to me. And then there was another one, but I'll forgive myself for not knowing this one: Air Patrol. It's going to be on again next week too. It was directed by Maury Dexter, who directed a bunch of short features (ie. in the 60-75 minute range) that were distributed by Fox, I'm guessing because they needed material while Cleopatra was going through its horrendous cost overruns. I think Dexter's The Day Mars Invaded Earth will be back on the schedule next week; the awful Raiders from Beneath the Sea isn't.

TCM Star of the Month November 2016: Natalie Wood

We're in the first full week of a new month, which means we get a new Star of the Month on TCM. This time, it's Natalie Wood, who drowned in a boating accident 35 years ago. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but it has. TCM is showing 27 of her movies on Fridays, which is about half the number of films she made.

The salute starts tonight in prime time with a bunch of the movies she made as a child actress. Well, technically it starts just before, as TCM is showing The Candidate at 6:00 PM and again later in the month. Wood has a cameo in that one as a favor she did to star Robert Redford since they were good friends.

Looking through tonight's movies, it's unsurprising that they didn't get Miracle on 34th Street; I think I've seen that one show up (butchered with commercials) on one of the broadcast networks at Christmastime. There also doesn't seem to be The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, which is a shame since that's a darn good movie in its own right, and not just for the presence of Natalie Wood. I suppose it would have been nice if TCM could have prised Father Was a Fullback from Fox, but apparently they couldn't.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

When good cars go bad

So I was stupid enough to forget to turn off the blinking hazard lights on my car. I turn them on when I come home from work and stop at the mailbox to get out and get the mail. 5:30 this morning I get in the car to go to work, and the dome light is suspiciously dim. Sure enough, I try to start the car, and nothing. Shit!

Anyhow, it got me to thinking about car problems in movies. There are lemons of course, as in the Crime Does Not Pay short Coffins on Wheels, but that's not what I have in mind. Unfortunately, Coffins on Wheels doesn't seem to be on Youtube. In a similar vein, there are cars that are deliberately sabotaged to try to kill the driver; Angel Face and Kiss Me Deadly both come to mind. Or the bus that couldn't go slow in Speed. Or Eddie Murphy sticking a banana in the tail pipe in the first Beverly Hills Cop movie.

Cars having breakdowns from normal use? I'd have to think longer about that. Running out of gas would be one thing, but that's kind of cheating. I suppose brakes go bad all the time to make rides down mountains either more terrifying or more comedic, depending on the film's genre. The Wages of Fear would be a good example of the former, while The Long, Long Trailer would be a good example of the latter.

One scene that I'm particularly reminded of is in Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage. Bob Cummings uses fan blades to try to break the links in his handcuff chains, while Priscilla Lane tries to flag down passing people, of whome there aren't many since it's an isolated road. One older couple does pass by and gives one of Hitchcock's great black-comedy lines, which I won't spoil for you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

TCM Spotlight, November 2016: Documentaries

Former Essentials co-host Alec Baldwin is returning to TCM! He's hosting this month's Spotlight on the channel, which is on documentaries. So, at least that means he won't be showing the Marlon Brando version of Mutiny on the Bounty. Anyhow, the documentaries will be on TCM Mondays and Wednesdays in prime time. There's going to be a two part documentary on documentaries, with the first part airing tonight at 8:00 PM and the second part running next Wednesday.

Of toniht's documentaries, the one that looks most interesting to me is The Secret Land, airing overnight at 3:45 AM. This one is about Operation Highjump, which was a US Navy operation just after World War II exploring Antarctica, led by Admiral Richard Byrd. The movie, in Technicolor, was co-produced by MGM and features three of their contract players who had all served in World War II: Robert Taylor, Robert Montgomery, and Van Heflin.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A few more lesser obituaries

Composer Ron Grant died on Friday at the age of 72. The description of him in Wikipedia's list of deaths mentions he won an Oscar, so I was curious to see what movie he scored to win an Oscar. It turns out he did something more interesting. He developed software that made it much easier to time scores precisely so that the music goes well with the action on screen, and for that won a technical award in 1986. (In case you're wondering who had the best score, it was Herbie Hancock for 'Round Midnight, a movie I haven't actually seen.)

On Sunday, actress Tammy Grimes died, aged 82. She's probably more associated with the stage than the screen, and it was on the stage that she originated the role later given to Debbie Reynolds on screen as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. As for Grimes' screen work, one that I wouldn't mind getting a chance to see is Can't Stop the Music. It's a musical faux biography of... the Village People. Oh, and it was directed by Nancy Walker. Yes, that Nancy Walker. No, I didn't know either.