Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A summing-up

And so we reach the end of 2017, with TCM still to ring in the new year by running the six Thin Man movies, something I'm certain they've done in previous years. But the first one has a New Year's scene and is such a damn good movie that why not watch it.

As for this blog, I think this post means I wrote exactly as many posts as I did last year. Not that the quality is all that much better. I feel, but didn't actually count to prove it, that I didn't write as many full-length reviews of movies as I have in years past. Part of that should be natural. After all, I blog about old movies, and there's a finite number of old movies. At least if you mean something like studio era or movies from the Production Code era. They aren't making any new 1930s movies. But part of that is probably down to work being so busy, as well as a few things in my personal life.

My intention is to try to do full-length posts more frequently in 2018, but who knows? I've got a bunch of movies on my DVR, although I'm always saddened when I look through the DVR and find yet another movie that's out of print on DVD. I just watched Sea Devils this morning, and it's a mildly entertaining movie that, like Thunder Bay is certainly worth watching for people who are already fans of old movies. But it's not on DVD, probably because it was an independent/British production made with just enough Hollywood stars (Rock Hudson and Yvonne de Carlo) that it would be easier to get distribution in America.

As I stated in the "What I'm looking forward to" thread a week and a half ago, I've also got a bunch of DVDs that I bought for myself when I was buying everybody's Christmas gifts. I think I've got a good 30 or more movies on those DVDs, not counting the shorts as extras, that I've never blogged about. Time to start working on whittling that down so I can do another Amazon bulk purchase.

With all that said, I wish everybody a happy and healthy 2018, and I hope that the movies that you wish to see finally get DVD/Blu-ray releases do get them.

Thunder Bay

I watched Thunder Bay off my DVR this weekend, the movie having been shown on TCM back in November when James Stewart was the Star of the Month. It's available from Universal's MOD scheme, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off telling us that it's set in Louisiana, 1946, so it's set a few years in the past considering the movie was released in 1953. Steve Martin (James Stewart) and his friend Johnny Gambi (Dan Duryea) are walking along a rural road, looking to get to town of Port Felicity where they have an important business meeting. They're picked up by Teche (Gilbert Roland), but the two men jump off the back of the truck before they can pay Teche the $5 they promised him.

They then hire the boat of Dominique Rigaud (Antonio Moreno), offering him $50 for the day, but it's clear that they have no cash to pay them off, something Dominique's daughter Stella (Joanne Dru) is smart enough to figure out. she's one of the few people who has left this declining shrimp town to spend time in the big city, so she's seen it all and is also a woman with a past as a result. It turns out the business meeting is with MacDonald (Jay C. Flippen), an oil company executive whose company has a lease out in the Gulf of Mexico but hasn't been able to exploit it because offshore drilling was a difficult thing at the time. Steve is convinced he's solved the technical problems.

There are other problems, of course. The townsfolk have been having problems finding shrimp, and they're worried that the oil drilling is going to disrupt the shrimp beds permanently. This especially once Steve starts dynamiting to figure out where the best place to drill is. And once they do start drilling, of course there are all the other problems you can imagine.

But that wouldn't be enough of a plot, so we have to get personal stuff. Stella finds herself becoming attracted to Steve, although because of her past she doesn't want to pursue the relationship. Worse is the problems she can see her kid sister Francesca (Marcia Henderson) about to have. Marcia is Philippe's fiancée, but Johnny is pursuing her and she gets stars in her eyes since Johnny has been around the block and becoming involved with Johnny might be a way out of town for Francesca.

There are a lot of traditional tropes in Thunder Bay, but the movie more or less succeeds, thanks to the performance from Stewart and capable direction from Anthony Mann. It's not the sort of movie I would sho if I were trying to introduce people to old movies, but for people looking for one they haven't seen before, I don't have too much trouble saying it's more than worth a watch.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

I'm surprised it's not in print

Last weekend, I finally got around to watching Hour of Glory off my DVR from the recording I made during a TCM salute to the Archers, the company that made a bunch of the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger movies. This one is certainly a lesser movie in the canon, and a search never revealed DVDs for Hour of Glory. That's probably because the original British title was The Small Back Room. Under that title it did get a Criterion release, but as you can tell that's now out of print.

Some weeks earlier I watched Outrage, the Ida Lupino-directed movie about a young woman (Mala Powers) who runs away from home after being raped. This one was distributed by RKO, which makes me surprised that it's not available from the Warner Archive. But then that might have to do that the movie was produced by Lupino's own production company which might have something to do with why it hasn't gotten a Warner Archive release. It's a bit of a shame because I could say even more about this one than Hour of Glory.

The Country Doctor (1909)

So this morning I was watching something off my DVR, and TCM filled out the time slot with the RKO-Pathé Screenliner Film Fun. This short, which I hadn't heard of before, is one of those subjects from the 1950s where they would take old silent films and edit them with "humorous" commentary by some narrator. The first film was A Cry for Help from 1912, starring a young Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, and Harry Carey, before he was even a senior becaue Harry Jr. hadn't been born yet. I looked this one up on Youtube, but apparently the full original isn't available. That seems to be true as well for the other short IMDb identifies: the third silent in this short is a police drama from 1909 called His Duty. There's another movie in the middle about a woman preventing a bell from getting rung because that's the signal to execute her lover, or something. IMDb doesn't identify it.

In looking up His Duty, one of the links Youtube gave me was a 1909 short called The Country Doctor featuring a very young Mary Pickford at the beginning of her career. This one, as well as the three in Film Fun, should all be in the public domain, although scores added to them might not be:

Friday, December 29, 2017

TCM Remembers in prime time

TCM had been running Christmas movies in prime time on Friday nights. But Christmas was this past Monday, so on this last Friday in December we're going to get a look back as eight of the people who died in 2017:

Jeanne Moreau plays the woman Oskar Werner and Henri Serre both love in Jules et Jim at 8:00 PM;
Bill Paxton was one of the stars of Apollo 13 at 10:00 PM;
TCM used Ordinary People in the year-end piece for Mary Tyler Moore, but tonight they're running Thoroughly Modern Millie at 12:30 AM, instead;
Director George Romero became famous for Night of the Living Dead, at 3:15 AM;
Don Rickles has a memorable role in Kelly's Heroes at 5:00 AM;
No James Bond movies, so TCM will remember Roger Moore with Gold of the Seven Saints at 7:30 AM Saturday;
Voice actress June Foray can be hears in The Phanton Tollbooth at 9:15 AM; and
Barbara Hale is remembered for The Window, at 11:00 AM.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rose Marie, 1923-2017

Rose Marie, the comic actress who started her career as a child singer in the late 1920s and is probably best remembered for playing Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, has died at the age of 94.

If you do a Youtube search for "Baby Rose Marie", you'll get a goodly number of hits on the various shorts she did at that young age. I don't think that she made too many films as a serious actress, that is, not the singing child. It's been a long time since I've seen Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round.

Rose Marie was also a frequent guest on The Hollywood Squares, and the subject of the recently released documentary Wait for Your Laugh, about her long career.

Thursday Movie Picks #181: Friendship (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last week of the month, it's time for another TV edition. This time, the theme is friendship. Once again, I've gone with a couple of older TV shows since I don't watch much episodic TV these days. Two have a pair of best friends, the other one has a few more:

Bosom Buddies (1980-1982). Tom Hanks (before stardom) and Peter Scolari play two men who have to move out of their apartment building when it's going to be demolished, and find a great rate on a new apartment. There's only one catch: the new apartment is in a women-only apartment builing. You can guess what happens next. The opening credits, with Billy Joel's song "My Life", make all this clear anyhow. Hanks and Scolari have nothing on Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983). Penny Marshall (when she was an actress and not a director) and Cindy Williams play roommates in Milwaukee working at the Shotz brewery. At least until ratings started flagging, when they along with their platonic boy pals Lenny and Squiggy moved out to Los Angeles.

What's Happening!! (1976-1979). Sitcom about the adventures of a bunch of high-school aged friends in Watts, Los Angeles. That iconic theme song was composed by Henry Mancini, who surprisingly enough wrote a lot of TV themes.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Screenshots from Night Descends on Treasure Island

I mentioned the Traveltalks short Night Descends on Treasure Island back in 2013, commenting that it was a physically beautiful Traveltalks short, looking at the light show that was set up for nighttime visitors to the island. (Well, that, and an art exhibit that takes up half the short.) The light show is spectacular, and would probably be even better on a big screen.

Thanks to the Traveltalks shorts having been released to DVD recently, I can now get some screenshots from the short. I don't think these quite do justice to what it would look like if it were restored, but they should give you an idea. The short starts off with an overview of the whole site:

There are some fountains outside the buildings:

And then there are individual statues that were lighted up:

Much more interesting than paintings.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Post-Christmas roundup

I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas. I didn't get anything movie-related, but then I wasn't expecting anything movie-related. Most of my family got DVDs from me, except for Dad, who got wine, but not from the TCM Wine Club.

I saw this Twitter over the holidays, and should have given it its own post here:

I probably should have mentioned the Hitchcock marathon that started last night. Edmund Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, appeared in two Hitchcock movies, Foreign Correspondent and The Trouble With Harry. The latter was on TCM as part of the Hitchcock salute.

Tonight on TCM is the last night of the Lana Turner movies in her turn at TCM's Star of the Month. This week features some of her later work, including another chance to catch the hilariously awful The Big Cube, at 4:15 AM tomorrow.

Up against The Big Cube over on FXM Retro is another airing of the Maury Dexter classic Raiders from Beneath the Sea. This is another one that's hilariously awful, and comes on at 4:45 AM tomorrow. If you miss that showing because you're watching The Big Cube, there will be another airing at 3:30 AM Thursday.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Goin' to Town

For Christmas I watched one of the movies off my Mae West box set: Goin' to Town.

The plot starts off looking as though Mae is going to be doing a comic western. She plays Cleo, a woman who is seeing one man in the upstairs part of a saloon, while Buck (Fred Kohler), a rancher accused of cattle rustling, comes in downstairs and wants her. Back and Cleo eventually play dice to determine whether she'll marry him, and he wins. But before the marriage, he's killed in another cattle rustling incident. Still, the agreement the two signed means that she inherits his spread.

And, there's oil on that spread. While inspecting that part of the ranch, Cleo sees engineer Edward (Paul Cavanagh) who is managing the first phase of the oil extraction, and immediately falls in love with him, although he doesn't like the way she shows it. So he's happy to take a job down in Buenos Aires. Cleo, undeterred, follows Edward to Argentina.

Cleo is looking for a place in society to go with that wealth, but nobody will accept her. That is, until she finds a man Colton (Monroe Owsley) with gambling debts who is willing to make a deal with Cleo: a portion of her money in exchange for his good name. His aunt (Marjorie Gateson) however, is decidedly unhappy with this, and vows to get Cleo thrown out of high society. Further complications ensue....

Goin' to Town is probably the least satisfying of the Mae West movies I've seen to this point, mostly because the movie veers wildly from one part of the plot to the next. The western scenes seem as though they should be from around the turn of the century, but the car Cleo drives up to the ranch and the last two-thirds of the movie seem clearly in the present (well, 1935 when the movie was made). And the plot goes from one man to another to another to another at the drop of a hat along with switching locations. Plus, the part of the plot about Marjorie Gateson's character trying to drive Cleo out of the Hamptons is rather rushed in its resolution. Still, Mae gets to deliver some good lines (which of course she wrote herself) such as "I'm a good woman for a bad man."

Although Goin' to Town is one of Mae West's lesser efforts, it's not that bad, and since it was on a cheap box set, it's still worth getting the box set.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What Can I Say About A Clockwork Orange That Hasn't Already Been Said?

Just in time for Christmas, I watched A Clockwork Orange off my DVR. It's available in multiple formats, so I"m OK doing a full-length post on it. Having said that, I'm not certain this is going to be quite a conventional post: I have to admit that while A Clockwork Orange is generally considered a masterpiece, I found that it left me generally cold.

Most people probably already know the basic story. Malcolm McDowell plays Alex, leader of an adolescent gang called the Droogs (which I'd guess comes from the Russian word for "friend", because a lot of badly-pronounced Russian gets used in the movie). They commit what they call "ultraviolence", which as you can guess is more violent than regular violence. Eventually Alex gets caught by the police after one of the violent acts after the rest of the gang revolts against him.

Alex gets sent ot prison, where he becomes a seemingly model prisoner because he wants to get the hell out of there. He's given a chance at parole when scientists come up with a new method of reforming violent criminals that basically involves conditioning physical violence out of people by making them violently ill at the thought of committing violence. However, this conditioning causes problems when Alex gets out of prison.

So why did A Clockwork Orange leave me cold? One thing I already mentioned, the use of badly-pronounced Russian. I happened to major in Russian in college, so I was eventually able to figure out what all of the references were supposed to be, but what I couldn't figure out was what point this proved. Apparently this was from the original Anthony Burgess novel, so I probably shouldn't be too critical of director Stanley Kubrick for using it in the movie. But there doesn't seem to be any good artistic or plot-driven reason for it.

There was a lot in the visual style of the movie that I didn't care for either. A lot of the scenes seemed almost sterile and choreographed, and highly unnatural. It was almost like watching a Busby Berkeley musical minus the music. I was reminded at times of some of the scenes and pacing from The Big Lebowski, another movie that left me cold. Kubrick I think used a similar style (at least to me) in 2001, except that the obviously futuristic nature of that movie makes it work. Even though A Clockwork Orange is supposedly set in a dystopic near-future, the dystopic nature of it probably ought to make the sets look the worse for wear. The lower classes' apartments in Soylent Green, for example, are suitably lousy; Alex and his parents' apartment is much too nice.

The third act of the story was also a problem for me, eventually resulting in an ending I found too abrupt and a final scene that didn't really fit in terms of character development.

The one thing that didn't bother me was the violence. I don't particularly care for sex scenes, of which this has a lot, but that wasn't much of a problem here since they're clearly needed to advance the plot. The violence, while brutal, was also needed to advance the plot. True, a lot of it seems choreographed, but the mere fact that it was violent didn't disturb me the way it apparently did some critics at the time.

Ultimately, I'm glad I finally got around to seeing A Clockwork Orange, but it's not the sort of movie I'm particularly interested in revisiting. Considering the critical praise the movie generally gets however, this is definitely one that other viewers should judge for themselves.

Christmas briefs

TCM has been running Christmas movies since this morning, with a lot of old favorites, at least for people who are movie buffs. Obviously nothing like It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, since those big titles are snatched up by channels with more resources. However, there's also The Cheaters, overnight tonight at 12:15 AM. TCM was able to get the rights to this one several years ago (I think 2008 but I'm not certain) and showed it one Christmas Eve at that time, and then... nothing. It's finally back on after that long absence, and is worth a watch. Eugene Pallette and Billie Burke play a married couple who were wealthy but have suffered financial reverses, at least until the opportunity comes to get an uncle's inheritance -- except that to do so is going to require some underhanded treatment since another person is in line for the inheritance first. A "forgotten man" actor (Joseph Schildkraut) winds up teaching them the importance of the Christmas spirit, and doing the right thing.

FXM has for the past couple of years run a marathon of the 1951 Scrooge (or A Christmas Carol) on repeat, but they're not doing that this year. In fact, FXM is doing very little that looks Christmas-specific. The closest that they're getting is Come to the Stable, which will be on once tomorrow, at 9:00 AM. (Somehow I don't think of The Sand Pebbles, on at 6:00 AM, when I think of Christmas movies.)

A couple of deaths that came too late for the annual TCM Remembers piece should be noted. Composer Dominic Frontiere, who wrote several movie scores at Paramount in the 1970s such as Brannigan as well as a bunch of TCM stuff, died on Thursday at age 86. Perhaps more interestingly, he was married to Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere in the 1980s which eventually got him in legal trouble due to his part in scalping Super Bowl tickets. There's also film editor Gerald Greenberg, who died on Friday aged 81. He won he Oscar for editing The French Connection.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Cremator?

Foreign cinema is one of those areas I have to admit I don't know as much about as I probably ought to what with being a movie blogger. One of the ways I learn about foreign films I wouldn't otherwise know is through my listening to what used to be the old short-wave international broadcasters.

The other day, Radio Prague had a report on The Cremator, a 1969 Czech movie that is getting a new Blu-ray release. It's a movie I had never heard of, but one that sounds interesting. The link above includes a transcript (more or less) of the audio, and there's also an opportunity to listen via streaming audio, or to download the MP3 (that link is 1.7 MB, which should be about 3:30).

The Cremator doesn't seem to be available in America, but only through the distributor, Second Run DVD, a British company. The Blu-ray claims to be region-free (they have a DVD that came out 10 years ago which apparently is not region-free), but is pricey at £19.99 plus postage from the UK. There was a completely unrelated movie which I had also never heard of called The Cremators which looks like silly low-budget fun.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Electric House

So a blog I visit that has a "Friday Ephemera" thread of silly links included the following:

One of the responses pointed out that delivering food by model train had already been done almost a century ago by Buster Keaton in the movie The Electric House. This is another of those two-reelers that I have to admit I hadn't heard of before. God knows there were a lot of comedy two-reelers produced back in those days. Anyhow, since it's from 1922, it should be in the public domain, and sure enough, it's made its way to Youtube:

And then there's the whole push-button house storyline of Ma and Pa Kettle.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #180: 2018 Movie things I'm looking forward to

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is supposed to be "2018 Movies I'm looking forward to", but I have to admit that I very rarely go to the movie theater, especially since I prefer old movies. The last time I went was for a matinee showing of Florence Foster Jenkins a year and a half ago. But there are some movie-related things I'm looking forward to:

1. How will IMDb screw around with their site in 2018? They got rid of the TV listings; they got rid of the forums; they messed up user reviews, and now they're in the middle of doing away with the old reference view. The last time I looked up a person's page, the reference view was no longer there, and today I notice big changes to the reference view for movies (or, at least, for the movie Private Lives; I assume other movie pages are the same). What other long-term functionality will they remove?

2. What's going to happen to FXM Retro? As I understand it, Disney's plan to buy some of the Fox assets would include the FX channels. It seems logical that Disney wouldn't devote a channel to movies from the Fox studio. When the old Fox Movie Channel changed format back at the beginning of 2012, I gave it six months. Surprisingly, it's lasted six years.

3. I've got a ton of movies on my DVR that I've never seen before, as well as a bunch of DVDs. Unfortunately I've been busy, which is why actual posts about movies have been fewer. (Well, Thursdays have also been taken up by this blogathon, which has been a lot of fun.) With any luck I'll be able to watch more old movies in 2018.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Treasures from the Disney Vault, December 2017

Tonight sees the quarterly installment of Treasures from the Disney Vault on TCM. I have to admit that there's not all that much I'm interested in in tonight's lineup.

There's all of one short at 8:00 PM before the feature movies start, with the first one being The Story of Robin Hood at 8:15 PM. I don't recall whether I've seen this version before.

Probably the best known of tonight's movies would be Pete's Dragon, overnight at 2:15 AM. I would have been about five years old when this one came out, so I'm not certain whether I saw it in the theater or not. My mom especially liked all that Disney stuff and we got dragged to a bunch of things put out by the studio. One of my childhood memories is being in line at a theatre where everybody else wanted to see Ice Castles, and we were there for... The North Avenue Irregulars?! No, I don't remember the movie at all. I probably slept through it.

But, as always, there's a good section of the population these movies will appeal to, so I think it's a good think that TCM has these Disney nights once a quarter even if I tend not to care for the movies.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


I probably should have watched it back in October when TCM ran it, but I only got around to watching Blacula over the weekend. It's on both DVD and Blu-ray in a double feature with its sequel Scream Blacula Scream (which I have on my DVR but haven't gotten around to watching yet).

As you can probably guess from the title, "Blacula" is a portmanteau of "Black" and "Dracula". The movie starts off with an origin scene, set in Transylvania in the late 19th century. Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is visiting the count with his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) to try to get the count to do something to help stop the slave trade. The count, however, has other ideas, especially after Mamuwale is offended by the count's views on slavery. The count bites Mamuwalde, which of course turns Mamuwalde into a vampire himself; the poor guy is sealed in a coffin to await its reopening.

That reopening doesn't come until 1972, when a pair of obviously gay interior decorators travel from Los Angeles to Transylvania to look for some groovy kitsch, and boy do they find it in Transylvania. (The fact that Transylvania was behind the Iron Curtain at the time is completely overlooked.) Of course, they don't know that that coffin they're buying has a vampire in it. They open it up, and Mamuwalde, now Blacula, comes out and bites both men to death before starting his rampage through Los Angeles.

Of course the two interior decorators are found dead, and when one of them turns out to be a friend of a forensic scientist Dr. Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) and his girlfriend Michelle (Denise Nicholas), Thomas visits the funeral home and notices the odd bite marks on the dead man's head. And then another murder victim gets brought into the morgue (run by Elisha Cook Jr. in a small role), which causes Dr. Thomas to put two and two together.

Meanwhile, Blacula is going out on the town every night and runs into Dr. Thomas, Michelle, and Michelle's friend Tina. Tina looks amazingly like Luva, which should be unsurprising considering that Tina is also played by Vonetta McGee. Blacula wants Tina as his princess. Can Dr. Thomas stop Blacula before it's too late?

Blacula is another of those hugely entertaining movies. The story is pretty good, at least as far as Dracula movies go. There's only so much you can do with the story before you get to ludicrous. Updating the story the then modern-day Los Angeles works well. Although Dr. Thomas begins to suspect vampirism, nobody else does and he has to prove it to them, which seems like a plausible way of handling things. Just don't expect too much horror here.

One weakness is that the movie seems uneven at times. There are some really fun scenes, split by scenes that come across as having incredibly wooden acting. There's also the plot hole that once Dr. Thomas figures out he's dealing with a vampire, he doesn't find more crucifixes to give the police, which causes problems in the climax. 1970s soul group The Hues Corporation, best known for their hit "Rock the Boat" a few years after this movie, are on hand in the nightclub to sing a couple of songs.

If you haven't seen Blacula before, I can highly recommend it for the sheer fun it provides.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Notes on upcoming programming, December 18-19, 2017

Tonight's lineup on TCM is going to be a bunch of Rex Harrison movies. That includes Blithe Spirit overnight at 1:45 AM, which in my opinion is probably the best of the movies. For some reason I thought there was an earlier version of this one made in the 1930s. But it turns out that Noël Coward wrote the play in 1941, so there couldn't have been a movie version of it in the 1930s. I think I was getting this one mixed up with MGM's 1931 version of Private Lives, also based on a Coward play.

Tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM, there's an airing of A Scandal in Paris, which being a Universal movie, doesn't show up on TCM very often. It's worth a watch, even though there are other George Sanders movies I prefer.

Meanwhile, over on FXM Retro at 9:50 AM tomorrow (and then again Wednesday morning), there's a chance to catch Crash Dive, the Tyrone Power submarine movie that he made just before going off to World War II. I didn't care all that much for this mostly because of the predictable war movie themes, but I'm sure it's one of those that other people would rate more highly.

TCM Remembers 2017

The TCM Remembers piece for 2017 finally aired on Saturday afternoon. Or, most of it because I tuned in a bit late, trying to make it a point of tuning in in between movies so that I could catch it when it finally showed up. Unsurprisingly, it's been posted to Youtube, and equally unsurprising, people have complained about who isn't in the piece. At any rate, here it is:

Sunday, December 17, 2017


Last night's viewing to get something off my DVR was Walkabout.

Jenny Agutter plays The Girl, a teenager living in Australia (although she's revealed to be English later in the movie) with her parents and kid brother (Lucien John, full name Luicen John Roeg and son of director Nicholas Roeg), who apparently have a middle class urban life that involves living in an apartment and doing the same thing every day.

One day, her father (John Mellon) takes the two kids out into the outback for a picnic; why Mom isn't on the trip isn't mentioned. Dad doesn't seem to want to be there, looking at some business papers which imply he's in the mining industry. The kid brother gets out to play, and all of a sudden Dad picks up a gun and starts shooting at the kid! When the girl saves herself and the kid brother behind a pile of rocks, Dad burns the car and shoots himself!

Now, the logical thing to do would be for the kids to walk back out the way they came in. If they weren't on a paved road, they should be able to find tracks, and probably should have some idea of exactly how they got there. And they couldn't have driven that long to get where they are. But no, the idiots go in the opposite direction, which means danger and near certain death.

But they have a bit of luck in that while they're at a watering hole, an Aboriginal yough (David Gulpilil) shows up. He's on a rite of passage known as a "walkabout", when young Aboriginal men have to spend a bunch of time alone in the outback to prove that they can live off the land. But, the Aboriginal boy doesn't speak a word of English. (The exposition about the family being English expats probably has something to do with the girl's idiocy in just speaking more slowly to get the Aboriginal boy to understand English.) Thankfully, the kid brother has enough sense to make a charades drinking motion. The three youths ultimately go off together; of course, the two whites have no idea where they'll be going.

Walkabout is a well-made movie, albeit one that I have some problems with. I already mentioned the huge plot issue for me, but there was another issue in that I didn't care for the constant cutting, interspersing the current action with images of the westernized life the two white kids had back at home. There was even one section that had a couple of frames of some printed material in between the outback shots, which made no sense whatsoever. The story, however, is for the most part good if full of unanswered questions, the outback cinematography is beautiful, and John Barry has an interesting music score.

Walkabout is available on DVD and Blu-ray, but it's courtesy of the Criterion Collection, so it's a bit pricey.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

They made All the King's Men a comedy

The latest movie I watched off my DVR since it's available from the Warner Archive is A Lion in the Streets.

The movie starts off with a bunch of kids going to a rural one-room schoolhouse somewhere in the South in a pouring rain, being helped to the school by Verity Wade (Barbara Hale). Arriving just before the start of classes is peddler Harley Martin (James Cagney). He sees Verity and immediately falls in love with her, and by the start of the second reel, the two are married. Hank presents Verity first to his rich friend Jules (Warner Anderson), from whose books Hank has been studying law. Then it's time for a wedding party with all the sharecroppers.

At this point, the sharecroppers inform Verity that the local bigwig, Castleberry (Larry Keating) has been cheating them out of money for their cotton for years, by using weights that short the farmers on how much cotton they've produced. Hank has gotten to the point where he thinks he can prove it, and is willing to risk a criminal libel prosecution to do it. This eventually makes Hank a hero with the poor folk, and hurtles him into a career in politics.

Hank is a populist much in the mold of Broderick Crawford's character in All the King's Men, one who probably meant well at first but ultimately gets consumed by the drive for power, to the point that he cares more about himself and the election than about anybody else. He uses one of the farmers who gets caught up in a murder charge over the weight check, and then uses the guy's body when the guy gets shot just before the murder trial. But power ultimately means a pact with the devil who is a much more experienced operator than Hank (Onslow Stevens, a relic from the 30s).

The movie is a good idea, but the whole thing seems faintly ridiculous, starting with poor James Cagney. He's trying to put on a Southern accent, and he's thoroughly unsuited to it. The movie looks like it's being done on a backlot which makes much of it look thoroughly unrealistic, and the plot careens wildly out of control. I found myself laughing throughout, and that wasn't a good thing.

Still, you should probably judge for yourself. And you might find it interesting even if you don't find it very good.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Briefs for December 15-16, 2017

I haven't seen the annual Parade of the Dead, or TCM Remembers 2017 yet. I haven't even seen anybody comment on it over on the TCM boards. TCM is going to have a night of programming late in the month honoring a handful of people who died in 2017, of course, but the ~4-minute piece with clip off all the notable deaths seems to be missing. I actually made a point of watching for the end of Around the World in 80 Days around 7:45 PM yesterday since I knew there were be some time in between that and prime time, and just before prime time is a good place to put it.

Speaking of dead people, Filmways boss Martin Ransohoff died on Wednesday aged 90. Among the movies he helped produce were Boys Night Out and The Cincinnati Kid. Filmways was probably better known for its TV shows, however, such as Mr. Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies.

I have know idea what Disney's intention to purchase some of the Fox properties means for fans of old movies. As I understand it they get the 21st Century Fox studio that runs the FX Networks, which would include FXM and thus FXM Retro. I don't know if Disney gets any of Fox's older library and without that, well, there wouldn't be an FXM Retro, would there?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #179: Small Towns

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is small towns, and being a fan of old movies, I went back to a time long before John Mellencamp for my three choices:

The Stranger's Return (1933). Miriam Hopkins plays a woman from the big city who, having just gotten a divorce, decides she's going to take some time out from life to visit her grandfather (Lionel Barrymore) who still runs a farm in the Midwest. There she finds two of her aunts who have been living on the farm and expecting to inherit it, and they're trying to get the farm before Grandpa dies. Hopkins also meets a neighbor (Franchot Tone) trapped in a marriage to a woman who isn't urbane like him, although he feels the commitment of "'til death do us part".

Way Back Home (1931). Phillips Lord reprises his radio role of Seth Parker, a farmer and country sage in small-town Maine. The two main plots involve his foster son (Frankie Darro) and the biological father who wants him back, and a young man (Frank Albertson) who loves a woman (a young Bette Davis) even though her father doesn't approve of the relationship. There's a lot of stereotypically small-town stuff like a barn dance and a taffy pull.

Theodora Goes Wild (1936). Irene Dunne plays a small-town woman who has written a grown-up novel under an assumed name, since it's the sort of material that would scandalize the town and her spinster acts. She has to go to New York for contract stuff, and there the illustrator for the book's cover art (Melvyn Douglas) meets her, falls in love with her, and follows her back to her small town. All sorts of complications ensue.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

So what's on tonight?

When TCM came out with the December schedule a couple of months ago, there was a blank spot on the schedule for December 13. Well, not quite blank; it says TBA. That spot is still there, and nobody's been able to find any information publicly released as to what's going to go into that slot.

Now, I'll admit I'm writing this a bit early (evening on December 12 for publication early on the 13th), but there's not even anything on the TCM website that they're going to have some sort of surprise in the prime time schedule for the 13th.

The box guide doesn't have anything either. The set-top guide has "Movie" from 8:00 PM to 4:00 AM, followed by "Movie" from 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM, and then the 1959 Ben-Hur at 6:00 AM. (Everybody agrees on this.) Titan TV (which may use a different listings service from my set-top box guide) has two "TCM Presents" blocks to kick off the evening, followed by three "Movie" slots, and TCM's own daily schedule still has just the one long TBA slot. So, whoever came up with the idea of having a mystery lineup has done a good job.

My first guess would have been something Backlot-related, although I find it hard to think how enough people could have kept a secret for it to be that. At any rate, I guess we'll find out in a few short hours. Now to clear enough from the DVR to record it if there is anything interesting....

Edit: It turns out tonight's lineup is a salute to movies added to the National Film Registry this year, with Carla Hayden from the Library of Congress sitting down with Leonard Maltin to discuss the movies aired. The night is going to kick off with a documentary about film preservation at 8:00 PM, These Amazing Shadows. I'm interested in that and the short about The Sinking of the Lusitania which, from the 1918 date given on the TCM schedule page, is the Winsor McCay short, at 2:00 AM.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This is Spinal Tap

I mentioned earlier today that I watched This is Spinal Tap so I could free up some room on my DVR since the movie is available on DVD.

The movie starts off with Rob Reiner, who plays Marty DiBergi. Marty is on a soundstage, telling us that he's a director of TV commercials. But, close to 20 years ago in some obscure hole in the wall, he saw a band that blew his mind. So when the band decided to tour the US for the first time in several years to promote their new album Smell the Glove, Marty decided to document the tour. The movie is the result of the footage documented on that tour. Of course, Spinal Tap is a completely fictitious band, actually having been conceived for a sketch TV show some years earlier. The movie is a mockumentary, not a documentary.

Vocalist David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) was childhood freinds with guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and eventually added keyboardist Viv (David Kaff) and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer, if you're wondering what the Simpsons voice actor looks like), as well as a series of drummers: one of the running jokes is the bizarre deaths of the band's drummers. Much of this is explained in scenes set before the tour, on what looks like a British estate, reminiscent of all sorts of documentary interviews from the era.

As for the tour, there are ominous portents. Their manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) informs them that dates are canceled, or they're forced to play in smaller venues, with one of the more humorous ones being at an Air Force base (Fred Willard plays their Air Force liaison at the base). There's also a problem with their album cover as record label liaison Bobbi (a young Fran Drescher) tells them, and all sorts of other problems.

In between the performances, we get to see scenes of the band backstage and on their days off, as well as some footage of the members away from the tour; notable here is a joke about Tufnel's amplifier, which has a maximum setting of eleven instead of ten. Why not just prorate the volume so that when you want the extra volume you can go from nine to ten on a regular amplifier? Oh no, you don't understand at all. This amplifier goes to eleven.

This Is Spinal Tap is one of those movies that has its reputation now thanks to its becoming a cult classic, as opposed to being acclaimed on first release. The scene of the amplifier going up to 11 is probably the iconic scene, having crossed over into more general culture.

As for the rest, I don't think I have quite the high opinion that critics and a lot of fans do, although I think that may be because of how lat I've come to the movie. If I had seen it when I was younger I'd probably think more of it. It's amusing, but to me not something I would have thought of as a cult classic. That having been said, Rob Reiner and the rest of the cast did an excellent job giving the movie an air of reality. (I'm not a metal fan, which may also have something to do with my not appreciating the movie as much as others.) Apparently much of the dialog was improvised which is why it sounds more real. The camera work also does a very good job of making this look like a real documentary. And according to Wikipedia, several musicians got the impression that the film captured their experiences on the road.

With all that said, This is Spinal Tap is one that I can recommend because I'm sure a lot of you will like it more than I di

An update on IMDb's user reviews

I mentioned back on Sunday that IMDb seemed to have gotten rid of the user review that links to all the others on the front page of the old style, but still had it on the new-style pages for movies. As you might be able to guess from the links above, I recently watched This Is Spinal Tap from the recent TCM airing as part of the BBC list of funniest comedies of all time. (I was intending to do a review today, although that may come a bit later.)

What I noticed today was that the old style still doesn't have one full review on the front page, which isn't that big a deal of course since there's still the "user reviews" link on the sidebar on the left, and it's the same amount of clicks to get to the reviews either way. But now the actual reviews page seems to be more optimized for tablets and smartphones. For reviews that aren't short, there's a down arrow that you have to click on to get the full review. After the first ten reviews there isn't a set of links to pages (each with ten reviews), just a "load more" button that loads another ten reviews.

I can't tell if there's any way to change the sorting of reviews, or an index page if you're looking for one particular review. I do remember certain specific reviews for certain movies, like the person who first saw Xanadu at a showing with a whole bunch of gay men who knew every line, or the guy who got the soundtrack album for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band when his parents were working at the Canadian embassy in Moscow, and wondered for years what the movie was like. And when I tried what looked like it should be a link to an individual comment:

I got an error message.

Who knows what's up with the user reviews, but right know they're slightly less convenient and useful.

Edit: The IMDb admin types announced all this here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer December 2017: Matt Walsh

Tonight we get the monthly (well, at least ten months out of the year) Guest Programmer on TCM: Matt Walsh, a comic and acotr/director from such shows as Veep on HBO. He sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to present four of his favorite movies, and those movies will be on tonight:

Being There at 8:00 PM, in which Peter Sellers bores the audience for two hours with tedious platitudes;
My Favorite Year at 10:30 PM, with Mark Linn-Baker as a TV producer who has to get a good performance out of a notoriously drunk actor (Peter O'Toole);
Withnail and I at 12:15 AM; and
Horse Feathers at 2:30 AM, the Marx Brothers' look at college and college football.

I think I've said several times now that I am absolutely not a fan of Being There, but I know there are a lot of people who think it's great.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

That Man from Rio

Last night I watched That Man from Rio, since it happens to be available on DVD.

The movie doesn't start off in Rio, but in Paris. Prof. Catalan (Jean Servais) is a curator at a museum of anthropology, and during the museum's luch break, two guys go in the building and steal a valuable artifact! It was apparently recovered from a "lost" tribe in Brazil, which is how we're going to end up in Brazil eventually. This was one of three nearly identical statues that were recovered on the expedition; one is still in Brazil and the third was taken to France by a Prof. Villermosa who subsequently died. But the professor had a daughter Agnès (Françoise Dorléac) who might be able to help on the case.

As for Agnès, she's got a boyfriend in Adrien (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Adrien is currently doing his military service, but he's lucky enough that he's got eight days' leave to go see his girlfriend in Paris, not that he knows anything about these statues yet. He gets to the apartment where Agnès lives with her aunts to find out about it. Meanwhile, the folks who stole the statue have kidnapped the professor, and when the police tell Agnès her car is blocking traffic, it turns out to be a ruse from the folks who stole the statue to get her out of the apartment and kidnap her.

Adrien runs after Agnès, but he winds up at the airport with no money and no luggage. Thinking quickly, he's able to commandeer a general's wheelchair and get on the plane that way, which is headed for Brazil. Of course, it's not as if Adrien has thought about what he's going to do once he gets to Brazil. But when he does, it's the start of a long, involved search for Agnès, the professor, and the statues that takes everybody from Rio to Brasilia to the Amazon rain forest.

Ben Mankiewicz, in his introduction to The Man From Rio, called it one of those James Bond spoofs that were a big thing in the 1960s, but also mentioned that it had homages to a lot of other things, like the old heist movies and Alfred Hitchcock. I for one don't think I'd compare it to a Bond spoof. There are some lighter moments, but for the most part I think it's a relatively straightforward chase movie, in the vein of Saboteur or The 39 Steps.

It's also a movie that it took me a while to warm up to. I found that large portions of it were slow and made it difficult for me to care about the characters. And I don't think that was because it's in French and I was reading subtitles. But the movie eventually does succeed. A much bigger plus is the cinematography. The color photography of Paris, Rio, and Brasilia are good. At this point, Brasilia was less than ten years old, having been conceived as a planned city to be in a more central location. Concrete monstrosities and isolating open spaces were the order of the day, and the photography effectively makes Brasilia look like a dystopia, reminiscent of the apartment blocks in Alphaville although they're different dystopias.

That Man from Rio is, as I said at the beginning, available on DVD, as part of a double feature with another Belmondo movie, although it's a bit pricey being a foreign film.

IMDB User Reviews

So yesterday afternoon I was looking up some movies on IMDb. As an example, I went to the page for Scarlet Street, which is going to be on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM. Normally, just after the "Did you know" section, there was one user review, which at the end had a link to all the user reviews. But suddenly, yesterday afternoon that was gone. I could swear it was there yesterday morning, and note that I prefer the old format for the movie pages. There's still a link in the sidebar over on the left for User Reviews. But it did get me to wondering whether IMDb is planning on doing anything with the user reviews.

I was wondering if there were just a problem for me, and tried to see if IMDb said anything about the change. IMDb's Facebook and Twitter pages are just fluff, but there was one commenter who pointed out the change and wondered why it happened. There was another one from about a day ago talking about the change to TV listings, something that may or may not be the same thing I noticed back in October.

But since I use the old format for viewing IMDb, I was wondering if the regular format they want people to use had changed. It was actually a bit of work for me to find out, since I keep myself logged in by default, and every time I tried to get rid of the "reference" bit at the end of link, it sent me to the old format. I didn't feel like logging out since I'm not certain where my password is, so I got the idea of trying to open the link in a "private" (for Firefox; I assume it would be incognito in Chrome) window. Interesting, the user comment is there near the bottom, as well as a "User Reviews" link near the top.

So I have no idea what's up with the IMDb user reviews.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Murder Man

Going through my DVR to clear some space, I found another movie that's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive so I can do a full-length post on it: The Murder Man.

Spencer Tracy, not long after moving to MGM from Fox, is the star here, although he doesn't show up until a little ways in. The opening is set in the investment firm of Halford and Mander. This is one of those Depression-era firms that took clients' money and invested it rather too riskily, on inside information or on hot bonds, losing money for a lot of clients who were understandably pissed as a result. Indeed, Halford finds that Mander (Harvey Stephens) has taken a bunch of money out of the firm to buy some bonds, and that's the breaking point. Later that evening, Halford is found shot to death.

Meanwhile, another very brief scene that really only makes sense at the end involves a woman who jumps to her death from a ferry, drowning in the river. It's only after these opening scenes that we get to meet Tracy, who is playing star reporter Steve Grey. However, Steve isn't doing any reporting just now, going on the mother of all benders. His editor (Robert Barrat) is looking for him, though, because of Halford's murder.

You see, Steve is known as "the murder man", a name he's gotten because he seems to be good not only at getting the evidence that convicts people, the way that somebody like Torchy Blane over at Warner Bros. did, but because he's able to get that information to the public before anybody else -- sometimes including the police -- can. It leads to his constantly scooping all the other reporters.

Now, Mander is an obvious suspect in the Halford murder, but so are a host of other people, all those investors who had their money stolen by the firm. But Steve overhears that Mander and Halford had an insurance policy that if one of the two died, the other would get a big payout, and Steve puts two and two together. He figures out the audacious scheme that Mander went to a shooting gallery and used one of the gallery's rifles to kill Halford across the street!

This case caused a strain on Steve, however, because after it's over and Mander is sent to the chair, Mander just wants to go off and drink and write a book. Mander, however, is granted an interview on the day he's supposed to be executed, and Steve's editor is insistent that he do the interview, thereby dragging him back into the case he wanted to forget about, and setting up the interesting ending.

The Murder Man is, despite Tracy's leading the cast, strictly a programmer. As I said at the beginning it was one of his first films at MGM, and it would take another year until San Francisco and Libeled Lady that's he'd become a prestige movie star. Tracy was already quite good, having honed his craft over the previous five years at Fox, and does a fine job here. Virginia Bruce plays an advice columnist for the paper and on-again, off-again girlfriend. James Stewart, at the very beginning of his career, plays another reporter. Overall, however, I think the more notable thing about the movie is the turn the plot takes. And that plot certainly makes the movie watching.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Black Christmas (1974)

Over the weekend, I watched Black Christmas off my DVR. It's available on Blu-ray, although the research I did seems to imply that only the early 2000s remake is in print on DVD.

The movie starts off innocently enough, at a sorority house in one of those stereotypical university towns that seemed to populate studio-era movies. (Black Christmas was actually filmed in Canada although it's set in the US as evidenced by the American flags on police uniforms.) The sisters are getting ready to go home for Christmas, or elsewhere to get away from college, and doing the typical things young, sex-obsessed women do. The phone rings, and Jess (Olivia Hussey) picks it up. Dammit, it's that obscene caller again! (What was the deal with obscene callers in the 1970s?)

Meanwhile, outside, we see somebody trying to get into the sorority house, although we only see it from that unknown person's point of view. Eventually, the person get into the house through an attic window, and eventually makes it down to the second floor, where he hides in a closet in one of the bedrooms. It's Claire's bedroom, the poor thing. She doesn't know what's about to hit her.

The next day, Claire's father is waiting at the university to pick her up, but of course she doesn't show, and we know why. Eventually, Dad goes over to the sorority house to find out what's going on. Meanwhile, Jess has her own personal problems involving her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) who's knocked her up, although he doesn't know because she's planning to get an abortion without his knowledge. If he knew, he'd have a shit fit. Peter, for his part, is studying at the conservatory, although it doesn't look as though he's really going to make it as a concert pianist.

Everybody goes to the police station to report Claire missing. Our mysterious intruder goes back into the sorority house, and kills another woman. And the obscene phone calls keep coming. It goes on like this until....

Well, I'm not about to give that ending away. I have to say, though, that I found Black Christmas hugely entertaining, and fairly well constructed in that a lot of what happens at the end is hinted at but not made obvious. There are a few minor plot holes (wouldn't there be somebody staying with Jess at the very end?), but nothing nearly enough to cause problems. Sure, Black Christmas is never going to be looked at in the same way prestige movies are, but there are a lot of times when you just want to be entertained, and Black Christmas succeeds spectacularly in that regard.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #178: Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan makeovers

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is makeovers from ugly ducklings to beautiful swans, which is a bit of a difficult theme for me. But I came up with three movies eventually:

Ninotchka (1939). Greta Garbo plays a repressed, by-the-books Soviet functionary sent to Paris to find out why three colleagues are failing to sell some jewelry that would bring in valuable hard currency. They're fascinated by all that the west has to offer, but she isn't -- until she gets finds herself falling for Melvyn Douglas, which brings out a big change in her character. Except that staying in the west would be treasonous and dangerous to her family. Garbo laughs, and shows she was quite adept at comedy.

Now, Voyager (1942). Bette Davis plays a spinster youngest daughter who suffers a nervous breakdown under her mother's wheedling. She gets out of Claude Rains' sanatorium a changed women, taking a cruise to South America where she meets Paul Henried who is unfortunately trapped in a loveless marriage. This is one of those movies that screams chick flick and won't shut the hell up; frankly, the best reason to watch it is for Davis' nervous breakdown. (Much like Rebel Without a Cause, which you watch for James Dean's "You're tearing me apart!" line and then change channels.)

Born Yesterday (1950). Judy Holliday plays the trophy wife of a shady businessman (Broderick Crawford) trying to curry favor with Washington politicians. The only thing is, she's not quite a trophy since she doesn't have the social graces and intellect. So hubby hires a writer (William Holden) to teach her those qualities. He does his job too well, as the wife comes to realize just how shady her husband's business dealings are. Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar in a very strong year for actress' performances.

The Great American Songbook

As with Lana Turner the other day, now that we're in a new month we get a new Spotlight on TCM. This time, it's the "Great American Songbook", a bunch of songs mostly from musicals of an era. Michael Feinstein is presenting the spotlight. He's probably a great choice for this: the couple of times I've seen him on TCM he's clearly had a passion for the movies, and with his career in that sort of music, he probably knows the material well. I distinctly recall when he was a Guest Programmer he actually played the piano that was a prop in Robert Osborne's set. (I always wondered whether they had to bring in a working piano. I figured having to move a working piano every time they put up or struck the set would be too much work.)

Anyhow, as an example of the sort of music we're talking about, there's Hollywood Hotel overnight tonight at 2:15 AM. This is the movie that introduced "Hooray for Hollywood". The following feature, Dames at 4:30 AM, gave us "I Only Have Eyes for You". In between, at 4:15 AM, there's a short featuring Harry Warren, a songwriter performing a couple of his songs, including "42nd Street". The movie 42nd Street will be in the spotlight on the 21st, as well as part of the daytime lineup on December 16.

One movie that doesn't seem to be part of the spotlight is Roberta, which if I'm not mistaken is the one that gave us "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". That, however, will be on this Saturday at 10:00 AM. Roberta was remade as Lovely to Look At, which will be on TCM on Saturday, December 16.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Ladd Company

I mentioned the other day that IMDb seems to have but its production company information behind the paywall. I found it out when I was looking for info on the Ladd Company, the company founded by Alan Ladd, Jr. in the late 1970s, and was doing so because Ladd Jr. is the subject of tonight's TCM lineup.

Ladd (son of the actor, who had already died in the mid-1960s) started off at Fox in the early 70s, bringing such little known stuff as Star Wars to the screen. At the end of the decade, he struck out on his own, and the company would go on to produce the Best Picture Oscar winner Chariots of Fire (overnight at 12:30 AM), as well as The Right Stuff (9:00 PM) among others.

You may notice the odd starting time for The Right Stuff. That's because there's a documentary on at 8:00 PM. It's not a TCM original as far as I know since it's got a 2016 date. The TCM originals tend to show up in that 8:00 PM slot, followed by one feature and then a repeat for the folks on the west coast. In this case, there is a second airing, but it's after Chariots of Fire at 2:45 AM. (The Right Stuff is 193 minutes per the TCM schedule. I know it's long but I haven't seen it since the 80s.)

The night concludes with another new-to-me movie, The Walking Stick, at 4:00 AM.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

TCM Star of the Month December 2017: Lana Turner

So we've got a new Star of the Month on TCM: Lana Turner, who, as I understand it, was selected in a TCM Backlot poll. Ooh, pay big bucks, and if I'm lucky, the person I pick from among TCM's choices may become Star of the Month. (To be fair, I think Charles Boyer is finally going to be Star of the Month in January, and I'm really looking forward to that. And it's not as if I'm not looking forward to Lana Turner.) As you can guess, Lana Turner will be on TCM in prime time into Wednesday morning every Tuesday night in December.

This first night in the salute has several of Turner's early movies; the first of them is in fact her first billed performance, in They Won't Forget at 8:00 PM. I recommended this one at the beginning of the year in the first of the Thursday Movie Picks I took part in, and it's a really good movie. Turner gets bumped off early on, and the movie is about the trial of the man put on trial for that murder, with Claude Rains playing the ambitious DA prosecuting the case. This one is based on the true story of Leo Frank, and is a very good movie.

The photo up at the top of the post is, I believe, from Dancing Co-Ed, which will be on at 11:45 PM tonight. Lana Turner plays a ringer in a college dance contest that is ostensibly supposed to pick a dance partner for a movie studio star, except that the studio already knows who they want (Turner). Turner falls in love with the editor of the campus newspaper (Richard Carlson), and all sorts of complications ensue. This is typical of the sort of B movie MGM made back in the late 30s and early 40s. It's more than good enough and probably better than a lot of MGM's B movies; as I think I've said on a number of occasions I generally prefer Warner's Bs.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Production companies

So I had reason over the weekend to be interested in a lesser-known movie production company. I was curious to see what all movies they produced, so went to IMDb and the main page for one of the movies they made, from which you can go to a company page, something like this one for A Double Life. When I clicked on the link for the company in question, I got... a request to join IMDbPro to get the information!

I wondered if there were a glitch over selecting some obscure movie producer from the past, so when I was on the A Double Life page, I decided to click on the Universal link, since that's a fairly mainstream company. And I got this. The same thing about joining IMDBPro. Just to find out, say, what movies Universal made in the 1940s? Thankfully, there's still the IMDb Advanced title search for at least the well-known studios, although that will also bring up things that studios distributed rather than producing.

I understand that IMDb needs to make money to keep the site running, and I get the point of IMDb Pro, as a way for people "in the business" to get information on stuff that's in production or pre-production. But I can't help but wonder at the decision to move the historical stuff behind the paywall. What's next? Moving the character search there, too? Or worse, actor searches? I'm probably getting a bit paranoid, though. IMDb has too many users to go the Photobucket route.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


Last night's DVR selection was Sergey Eisenstein's Strike, which is available in multiple DVD releases, if you can filter correctly. (The TCM Shop page only lists one movie under "Foreign - Russian", but three if you search on Strike and Eisenstein.)

Sometime in late Tsarist Russia, there's a factory where the workers aren't particularly happy, although to be fair that's a common thing for workers everywhere. Norman Wisdom was a huge star in Communist Albania for his British workplace movies which the Albanian regime apparently thought were a biting commentary on capitalist exploitation. Anyhow, somebody sets a cat among the pigeons by stealing one of the workers' micrometers, which actually belongs to the company so the worker would have to pay three weeks' wages to replace it. The workers decide to go on strike.

The factory owners, unsurprisingly, are depicted as fat cats: literally fat, but not literally cats. They don't care about the workers' demands, and they certainly don't care about what the strike is doing to the workers. The workers were already in poverty before, but now it's to the point that they don't even have enough to eat.

All that having been said, there's not much of a story here, and the characters are cardboard cutouts, with the strike ringleaders being called by nicknames like "Owl" and "Fox". Strike is a movie you watch for the images, and already at this early stage Eisenstein shows he had a promising talent with the camera. There are a lot of lovely tracking shots and some interesting angles at points. Just don't expect much more than the camerawork. Not that it's a bad movie; it's more of an archetype than anything else.

Strike is a movie that I'd certainly recommend watching once, although it's another one that I wouldn't spend the pricey foreign film DVD prices that we get charged here in the States. Note that one of the DVDs listed at the TCM Shop lists an 82-minute run time while another lists 94 minutes; the Amazon listing is 88 minutes. TCM ran it in a 90-minute slot and I think it was an 82-minute version. I don't know how much of the different running times is due to different frame rates and if any is due to other things; the TCM print included a brief mention that this was Eisenstein's first film and that it was a 1969 restoration.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Double Life

I had always wanted to see A Double Life ever since I saw it on those lists of Oscar-winners, this one for Ronald Colman as Best Actor. TCM ran it back in July when they had Colman as their Star of the Month, and I DVRed it and finally got around to watching it since it's available on DVD.

Colman plays Anthony John, a stage actor who's popular with the audiences as his current comedy, The Gentleman's Gentleman, is a big hit. But we learn already in the opening scenes through whisperings from people who know him that he can be a difficult person to be with as he's very intense and has a tendency to get too much into his characters. Indeed, part of this is why his ex-wife Brita (Signe Hasso) divorced him, even though the two remain good friends.

Anyhow, the current play is going to be closing, as Anthony's producer Max Lasker (Philip Loeb) has a brilliant idea to have Anthony do Shakespeare's Othello. Those whisperings about Anthony's becoming too much like his characters is an issue, but everybody blithely ignores it. Except for Anthony himself, who can't ignore it because he finds that acting and the characters he plays constantly intrude on real life to the point that you'd have to question his sanity. Somebody get this guy a shrink. Anthony even goes off with another women, waitress Pat (Shelley Winters), who notices right away that Anthony is f***ing nuts. It would have been simple enough for him to say that he's an actor to gets a little too much into his characters, but nooooo, he couldn't do that.

Anyhow, Othello becomes a stage hit, held over for months and months, even though Anthony already starts having more issues at the party after opening night. And then during one performance of the climactic scene, one which requires Othello to strangle Desdemona (played by Brita) before killing her with a kiss, Anthony throttles Brita to the point that she fears for her health and a doctor is called in. At this point, the film starts to go a bit off the rails, about which I can't really explain more without giving away major plot points.

It's easy to see why, on watching A Double Life, why Colman was awarded the Best Actor Oscar. Colman is really good, not just at Shakespeare, for which he's got a great appearance and voice; he's great at playing the guy losing his sanity if he ever had any to lose in the first place. But I found the final third of the movie to be fraught with plot holes. If Anthony is going nuts already on opening night, wouldn't it be far worse as the play goes on and on and on? And Shakespeare revivals get that long of a run? Also, a journalist and Anthony's press agent Bill (Edmond O'Brien) both get make ridiculous leaps of logic that are needed to advance the plot. Speaking of Bill, Brita mentions him as her new partner during one of his rages; or, at least, she gives this name to Anthony and a couple of scenes imply Brita and Bill are more than just friends. But when Brita mentions Bill to Anthony in that scene, he acts as though he has no idea who this Bill is!

Overall, A Double Life is one of those movies I'm really glad I finally got around to seeing. Fans of good acting will love Colman's performance, and I'd bet fans of the stage will probably enjoy it too. But it's one of those I won't be going out of my way to watch a second time.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Briefs for December 1-2, 2017

We're already in December, which means Christmas movies. TCM is going to be running Christmas movies on the first four Fridays of the month in prime time (Dec. 29 being after Christmas, they'll run something else), with this first Friday being movies that are set around Christmas rather than being particularly Christmassy per se. Bush Christmas, made in Australia just after World War II, is on again tonight at midnight, and it's really worth a watch if you haven't seen it the past few times it's been on. There's also the Night at the Movies "documentary" about Christmas movies overnight at 3:00 AM.

Meanwhile, over on FXM Retro, a movie that's back after an absence is 13 Rue Madeleine, which was already on this morning at 9:50 AM and will be on again tomorrow morning at 7:50 AM. It's one of the handful of docudramas Fox made in the second half of the 1940s, starring James Cagney as a man training OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) agents during World War II. There's a double agent in their midst, and that ultimately forces Cagney to go on a mission in occupied France himself.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #177: Workplace (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, this month focusing on the workplace. I've selected three sitcoms, mostly because they're what I remember.

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982). Sitcom about the adventures of a staff at a "full-service" radio station, that being a station that seems to have a department for everything, as opposed to just playing one genre of music as most FM stations do. Syndication was a nightmare for this show since the original run used real popular music, and getting the rights for syndication was a problem.

Newhart (1982-1990). Bob Newhart plays Dick Loudon, who run a bed and breakfast in Vermont, and the comedic problems that entails, thanks to the nutty staff including handyman Tom Poston and maid Julia Duffy. And then there were the neighbors Larry, his brother Darryl... and his other brother Darryl.

Are You Being Served? (1973-1985). Extremely low-rent British comedy about the menswear and womenswear staffs at the Grace Bros. department store. For an example of how low-rent this was, one of the running jokes involved Mrs. Slocombe (played by Mollie Sugden wearing a series of garishly-colored wigs, although that's not the running joke I have in mind), who had a cat named Tiddles that she consistently referred to as her "pussy". You can probably imagine the jokes, and if you can't somebody's compiled a bunch of them:

More new-to-me movies

Today is apparently St. Andrew's Day, the day of the patron saint of Scotland. So TCM is running a series of movies tonight set in Scotland. They were able to get a couple that I have to admit are new to me. To be fair, there are probably a lot of vintage British movies that never really made it to the States. As with the movies Warner Bros. made at its Teddington unit, there was stuff designed for internal consumption with no intention to export.

Anyhow, the night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Wee Geordie, staring Bill Travers as a Scot who's qualified for the Melbourne Olympics. Travers is one of those British actors who shows up in a bunch of stuff, probably best known in the States for Born Free. I've mentioned him once, in The Littlest Show on Earth, which apparently got renamed Big Time Operators when it was distributed in the US. (The Peter Sellers box set I got it on has it as The Littlest Show on Earth.)

That title change brings us to our next movie, The Maggie, at 10:00 PM. Paul Douglas plays an American executive who just has to get to one of the islands off the Scottish coast, and the only way there involves a rickety old ferry that could probably capsize at any moment. (At least, all this according to the synopsis, since I haven't seen it.) TCM's schedule page lists it as The Maggie, but the little drop-down "Leonard Maltin Review" ends with the amusing bit, "Originally titled THE MAGGIE." That would probably explain the difficulty I had in finding the movie on IMDb. Apparently the movie was released in the US under the title High and Dry, and that's the title of the movie's IMDb page, with a smaller mention below the title that The Maggie was the original UK title.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Smart Set-Up

Walter O'Keefe in The Smart Set-Up (1931)

Having nothing else to blog about today, I decided to go through the old DVDs that shorts on them want watch The Smart Set-Up, which is on the DVD of Smart Money that came with the Warner Gangsters Vol. 3 box set.

Walter O'Keefe, an actor/comic/singer I'd never heard of, although it turns out he had a long enough career in radio, is the star, playing Walter Keen. Walter is a nightclub singer in love with Patsy, although Patsy's fellow chorines don't think he's good enough for her. He gets invited to hoity-toity parties in penthouses to sing for the rich folks, and they don't think he's good enough for them either. Oh, he's allowed to sing for them, but he's not supposed to mingle with them. So he tells them off, although not with any bad language that they couldn't have gotten into a movie, even a pre-Code movie.

Since this is a two-reeler, there's not much going on here, but I'd say there's even less going on than in many other shorts. O'Keefe isn't a particularly memorable singer. To be fair, however, it was probably his third or fourth skill so that could easiliy be forgiven if he were one number in a feature film. O'Keefe sings two songs and delivers that one monologue, and that's about it.

Smart Money would be worth the price, and if the Warner Gangster sets are still available, they're definitely worth the price.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

I finally got around to watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller in its entirety off my DVR. The movie is available on DVD and Blu-ray, having been put out by the Criterion Collection about a year ago.

The movie starts off with John McCabe (Warren Beatty) showing up in a dark mining town in Washington state. McCabe is a professional gambler and a bit of a blowhard. There are rumors that he's a gunslinger who killed a man, and he's not about to let them die. He's got plans to set up shop in this town, big plans. He wants to build a competing saloon, and even bring in prostitutes for a bordello. This even though he really doesn't know the first thing about it, picking up a couple of cheap hookers.

He's in luck, though, as Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) shows up. She's run a bordello before, and she also knows all the practical things about women that a man just wouldn't know. She comes up with the idea that she'll run the place for McCabe, and the two will split the revenues. McCabe isn't necessarily happy about it, but he eventually accepts. It doesn't help that Mrs. Miller his hot, in his mind.

The business becomes successful, succesful enough to attract interest from outside. A big mining company sends in two men to offer a buyout to McCabe, one that would be fairly lucrative. But partly thanks to McCabe's hubris, and partly because he seems happy with his current position in life, he turns the big company down. They decide that if they can't buy McCabe out, they'll force him out.

Most of the reviews of McCabe and Mrs. Miller that I've read are much more positive than I would be. I found the movie to be extremely slow paced, without much seeming to happen for long stretches. There's also the 70s cinematography with its pointless zooms that I've never appreciated. And to be honest, I didn't particularly care for either of the main characters.

Still, you should probably judge for yourself. In that regard, it's a bit of a shame that the Criterion Collection discs are always pricier than run of the mill disks.

Monday, November 27, 2017

What a character!

Last week I had the occasion to wonder whether René Descartes had ever shown up as a character in a movie. (Obviously, the real Descartes, having been dead for several centuries, was not about to show up in any movie.) So I used the IMDb character search, which revealed a couple of European films and TV movies. But there was a notice at the top of the page: Changes to IMDb Characters.

Apparently, they're redoing some things on the site, and that means that as of December 6, the character pages as we know them will be gone. I don't use them very often, and almost every time I look for one it's one of two things: either a historical figure (like the recent post on Elizabeth I of England), or a character from a film series (how many Falcon movies were there?). So it's going to be at most a mild annoyance for me.

Some people, though, seem to be getting rather up in arms about it. One person, however, had an intelligent question that elicited an intelligent answer from the admins. Suppose you remember a character named "Ugarte" (Peter Lorre's character from Casablanca) but can't remember the film. How are you going to be able to search that?

Of course, I still use the old site design, so what do I know?

As it turns out now, you can only find character pages that have already been created, which is why when you're on the main page for a movie you might see some of the characters have links and some don't. If the character didn't currently have a link, the search apparently wouldn't work. They'd like to change that so a character search works (I guess) more or less the same way a title search works. But I can only imagine the amount of database work necessary to get that to happen.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

An American Tragedy vs. A Place in the Sun

I finally got around to watching An American Tragedy off my DVR, having noticed that it's available on DVD courtesy of Universal's Vault Series, which is their MOD scheme. It's based on Theodore Dreiser's novel of the same name, which was probably more famously turned into a movie in 1951 is A Place in the Sun. So you probably know the story, but there are some differences.

Phillips Holmes plays Clyde Griffiths, the young man who gets a job at his wealthy uncle's factory, where he falls in love with a co-worker Roberta (Sylvia Sidney) against company policy. And then he meets the wealthy Sondra (Frances Dee) and falls in love with her (or probably her wealth), leaving Roberta up the creek without a paddle. And pregnant. So Clyde gets the idea to kill Roberta in a boating "accident", but chickens out at the last minute. Except that there's an accident anyway, leaving open the question of whether Clyde really did chicken out.

The first big difference is that we get to see Clyde's back-story here. A Place in the Sun opens up with Montgomery Clift playing the Clyde character (renamed George Eastman) hitching a ride into the town where his uncle's factory is located. We do learn that his mother ran the homeless mission, but in An American Tragedy we see it, and Clyde's life, in the opening scene. It looks even more run down than what studios put on screen in the 1950s, and you can see why Clyde would want to escape this life. More importantly, he has to leave as he and his friends got in a hit-and-run (Clyde was a passenger) and Clyde doesn't want to face the law. Already we see his moral cowardice which is a big theme of this earlier version.

Second, the wealthy girlfriend character is much bigger in A Place in the Sun> That's unsurprising, since that character is played by a 19-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, who looked stunning at the time and was a much bigger star than Frances Dee ever was. Of course they'd expand her character. But the meeting between her and Clyde/George is more natural in the later movie. George was over at his uncle's house to talk business, and thw young woman shows up for a party; sparks immediately fly. In An American Tragedy, the two meet on the sidewalk and you wonder why the young woman would give the time of day to Clyde.

The trial is also much more histrionic in the earlier movie, with a humorous scene of the DA and defense attorney nearly coming to blows! Yeah, I can't imagine that happening in a courtroom. There's also way too much histrionics and objections or lack of them in odd places. The DA gets the dead girl's age wrong and the defense attorney doesn't file an objection.

Still, I liked both versions, although I do prefer A Place in the Sun. It's probably because I saw it first. But An American Tragedy has a bit of a perfunctory feel to it, while A Place in the Sun has something special. Since I blogged about it, A Place in the Sun has received a DVD release, so now you can judge both side by side.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Kirk Douglas wears a porn 'stache!

So I watched The Arrangement off my DVR, since it's available on DVD. Kirk Douglas plays Eddie Anderson, an ad exec in Los Angeles who has it all: a wife Florence (Deborah Kerr), a big house with a three-car garage, and a fantastic porn 'stache. But apparently something is wrong in his life. As he's driving into work one day, he gets stuck between two semis and suddenly swerves to drive under one of them, an obvious attempt to kill himself.

But he ducked at the last moment, so he only wound up in the hospital, not too badly off, all things considered. However, he's decided he's not going to talk, just going over everything in his life that led up to this mid-life crisis.

The big thing is that he had a mistress Gwen (Faye Dunaway), and that complicated relationship went wrong as she decided to go back to the east coast. Eddie is going to have a chance to renew that relationship when he has to go back to New York after his Greek immigrant father (Richard Boone) falls ill. Meanwhile, the Andersons' lawyer Arthur (Hume Cronyn) is trying to get power of attorney to keep the erratic Eddie from spending all the money, and Florence is trying to get her analyst to analyze Eddie. It goes on like this.

Frankly, I think the movie is terrible. The narrative with all its flashbacks isn't easy, but is the least of the movie's problems. Eddie is just such a blankety-blank for nothing other than capricious reasons; Florence isn't so nice either; and the movie gives everybody terrible dialogue.

As I was watching it, I got the desire to look at the IMDb reviews to see how many of them thought the movie was making some sort of brilliant statement about suburbia and if any of them would mention Douglas Sirk. I didn't see Sirk's name pop up, but sure enough, there were a distressing number of comments that basically said that because this movie was criticizing suburbia, therefore it was good. Nonsense.

Of course, you should always judge for yourself, but The Arrangement is an overrated mess.