Sunday, April 30, 2017

Where Have I Seen This Before?

So I watched The Ear this morning, a Czechoslovak movie about a couple being spied upon that reminded me at times of The Confession. Unfortunately, the movie only seems to be available on DVD in Europe, and I'm not certain if that DVD is even in print. So I can't do a full-length post on it, which is a shame since it's an interesting movie.

Anyhow, tomorrow is the first day of a new month which means some movies back on FXM Retro after an absence. Tomorrow at 7:15 AM, FXM Retro is running Tall, Dark, and Handsome. Cesar Romero plays a 1920s Chicago gangster who meets a pretty lady (Virginia Gilmore) in the park and decides he wants her close to him. However, that would mean hiring her as a governess... and he doesn't have any children. So he hires a boy to play the part of his son, and that boy, well, is a holy terror. And there are the other competing gangsters.

If this sounds familiar, it probably should. Tall, Dark, and Handsome was released in 1941. Nine years later, Fox decided it would remake the property, and I've blogged about that movie, Love that Brute before. I really enjoy Love that Brute, although that may be in part because I'm a Paul Douglas fan. I can't recall whether I've actually seen Tall, Dark, and Handsome before.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Two Way Stretch

I was thinking of what to blog about today, and decided I'd look through my DVDs for something I haven't blogged about before, ultimately deciding on Two Way Stretch, off the same Peter Sellers box set as The Smallest Show on Earth, which I blogged about seven weeks ago.

Sellers plays Dodger Lane, whom we see at the beginning in a relatively cushy prison cell along with cellmates Price (Bernard Cribbins) and Knight (David Lodge). Part of the reason why it's so cushy is because the head of the guards, Jenkins, is a pushover who has an eternally optimistic view of the prisoners and their capability for rehabilitation. To that end, he's aided by the warden, called the Governor in British English (Maurice Denham). The Governor is even bringing in a welfare group to show them how good the prisoners are, unaware that they're taking severe advantage of him.

And then the Governor has a visitor for Lane: Stevens, Lane's vicar from his old parish (Wilfrid Hyde-White). Except that, from the way Lane responds to seeing the vicar, it's clear that the vicar and Lane have some problems in their relationship. Indeed, the vicar isn't a vicar at all, but a fellow criminal in the same gang as Lane, Price, and Knight. And Stevens was the only one with an alibi for the last heist, which is why he's a free man and they're in prison. But he's got a brilliant idea. Some sultan is coming to pick up his diamonds that he stores for safekeeping in the UK, and Stevens and the gang are going to steal the diamonds during transport. There's only one catch: Lane and his cellmates need to break out of prison for the heist, and then smuggle their way back into prison, so that they have an airtight alibi. (The prisoners are scheduled to be released on completion of their sentence soon, but after the transport that will result in the heist.)

With the Governor and Jenkins, getting out will be easy. So of course there's going to be a snag, which is that Jenkins is past retirement age, but has stayed on mostly because there's nobody to replace him. Only now, there is somebody to replace him, and Jenkins will soon be leaving. He's going to be replaced by Crout (Lionel Jeffries), who is an over-the-top martinet and brooks no nonsense from the prisoners in his charge. Getting out under Jenkins' watch would have been a breeze, but under Crout's watch? That's a problem.

There's nothing earth-shattering, ground-breaking, or even of any great significance, in Two Way Stretch. All it is is a jolly good ride. The movie was made in the pre-Strangelove stage of Sellers' career, when his characers weren't the irritating things you want to smack and which make some of the later movies nearly unwatchable. And he's got a wonderful supporting cast of British character actors, to the point that this is almost more of an ensemble cast than a Sellers vehicle. The gags almost uniformly work and don't insult the viewer's intelligence, even if there's relatively little new here. I particularly enjoyed the one involving distracting the guard supervising prison visits.

As I said back in March, the Peter Sellers box set is being sold at a fairly moderate price on Amazon. For that price, the films are more than worth it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

About Mrs. Leslie

Almost a year ago, I briefly mentioned the movie About Mrs. Leslie. It's running on TCM again tonight at midnight, and is worth a watch.

Mrs. Vivien Leslie (Shirley Booth) is a now unmarried woman living in Los Angeles, running a rooming house. Among her roomers are an older couple who are only in town to deal with a relative in hospital, a young woman who wants to make it in Hollywood and seems to be a party girl, and a young man who would probably be better for the young woman, but does he have the gumption to convince her of it? Vivien tries to make everybody's lives a little less humdrum in her own subtle way.

Meanwhile, there's the story of how Vivien wound up in Los Angeles. Fifteen year ago, before World War II, she was working as a nightclub singer in New York (yeah, Shirley Booth of the 1950s as a nightclub siren). Into the nightclub come a couple of businessmen, including George Leslie (Robert Ryan). George is captivated by Vivien, and Vivien seems flattered by the man's erudition. He makes her a strange offer: accompany him on a trip to California for six weeks, and after that time they'll go their separate ways.

Amazingly, she takes him up on the offer, and unsurprisingly, the two fall in love. But there's a catch: George Leslie is only using his first and middle names. His last name would give the game away as he's in the news and once the war comes he's one of those people who serves the government by offering his expertise free of charge, like the Charles Coburn character in The More the Merrier. And he's already married into a prominent family. Of course Vivien finds out eventually, but what will that do to their relationship? And what will happen to the folks in her romming house and the girl next door?

It's with good reason that TCM is running About Mrs. Leslie as part of the Spotlight on post-war melodramas: boy does this one fall into that category. It's actually not a bad little movie however. That probably has a lot to do with the two leads, both excellent actors who could rise above less-than-stellar material. And the material here is at times less than stellar. Most of the screen time is given to Booth, with Ryan close behind; the stories of the rooming house tenants are decidedly secondary, thankfully.

I'm not certain if About Mrs. Leslie has ever been released to DVD, so you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #146: Police (TV Edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week is that week of the month where the theme focuses on TV shows, and this month it's TV shows about cops, and I've picked a couple of older shows:

Ironside (1967-1975). Raymond Burr, who had been the heavy (no pun intended) in a whole bunch of movies in the 1940s and 1950s, and usually excellent in that role, did a volte-face in the late 1950s when he played defense attorney Perry Mason. After that show wrapped, Burr moved on to playing Ironside, the head of the police detectives who solved cases from his wheelchair rather than going on disability. I think I actually learned about Burr from this show before learning about Perry Mason or his movie work, since this was syndicated and we'd watch it when Grandma was babysitting us.

T.J. Hooker (1982-1986). What William Shatner did when he wasn't doing Star Trek movies. The intro above is a very early episode, since Heather Locklear hadn't come on yet; she would be in the cast by the middle of the first season. And what ever happened to Adrian Zmed?

The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985). One in which the cops, influenced by corrupt Boss Hogg, are the bad guys. Character actor James Best played Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, and future Congressman Ben Jones played Enos (and got a spinoff series). Of course, the series might be best known for Daisy Dukes, the cut-off short shorts worn by the Catherine Bach character.

Jonathan Demme, 1944-2017

The death has been announced of Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme. Demme, who won for directing Silence of the Lambs, was 73.

Directing Silence of the Lambs obviously means that Demme directed a couple of actors there to Oscar wins, since the movie took all the big awards that year. But Demme directed other stars to Oscar wins as well. I think the first was Mary Steenburgen in Melvin and Howard, a movie about Howard Hughes' controversial will and the people around Hughes at the end of his life. That came about a decade before Silence of the Lambs.

A couple of years after Silence of the Lambs, Demme directed Tom Hanks to the first of his Oscar wins in Philadelphia, although the less said about that movie the better since I find it terrible: it makes Guess Who's Coming to Dinner look subtle.

I wonder if Demme would have been offended if we celebrated his life with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Younger Generation

TCM is running a bunch of Ricardo Cortez movies on Thursday. A search of the blog claims that I haven't done a full-length post on The Younger Generation before, and it's a really interesting little movie.

The Goldfishes are a Jewish immigrant family led by patriarch Julius (Jean Hersholt). He's got a wife Tilda and two children, son Morris (Ricardo Cortez) and daughter Birdie. They, like a lot of Jewish immigrants of the early 20th century, live in the tenements of lower Manhattan, where Julius works as a peddler, buying and selling stuff from a push cart.

Immigrant parents want their children to have a better life, and to that end, Morris starts from the bottom in childhood as a paper boy, while Birdie wants to marry her sweetheart Eddie, a budding musician. Morris grows up to become a second-hand dealer, and then a dealer in antiques, making good for himself and being able to move uptown.

There's a catch, however. When you talk about the "polite" society uptown, it really means Gentile society. And the Goldfishes are Jews. Morris is anxious to fit into that society enough that he's willing to change his surname. And then he brings his parents uptown, only for them to find they don't necessarily like polite society. Meanwhile, Eddie is about to get in a legal jam....

The Younger Generation is a very early Frank Capra movie. So early, in fact, that it's only a partial talkie. The movie was conceived back in the silent days, but with the release of The Jazz Singer (a movie with similar themes that also happens to be a partial talkie), studios realized that talking pictures could work. So they did some of the scenes as sound, and the result is a mix of silent and talking picture, something that's always interesting even if it doesn't always work.

In the case of The Younger Generation, it does more or less work, although the themes play almost as tropes and there's a lot of melodrama. I don't think the movie has ever been released to DVD, so you'll have to catch the exceedingly rare TCM showing. It's worth a viewing, too.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Another set of new-to-me shorts

Coming up early tomorrow (or overnight tonight depending on your point of view) on TCM, you can catch Holland Sailing at 3:35 AM following Tea For Two (1:45 AM, 96 min). Given the date (1956) and the subject (boat racing in the Netherlands), I figured this had to be another of the RKO Sportscopes I've mentioned on the site before. Sure enough, IMDb says that's what it is. Specifically, they say it's #6 from the 1956-57 season, which makes me wonder just how many of these Sportscopes were made. I'm sure there's a complete list somewhere but up until now I haven't bothered to look for it. I just did a cursory search, and couldn't find much.

I was only going to mention two shorts, but I just noticed earlier in the overnight, at about 1:25 AM, there's Mr. Whitney Had a Notion. From the title and date (1949), my first guess was John Nesbitt's Passing Parade, confirmed by looking at IMDb. (Passing Parade No. 71, no less; my goodness a lot of these were made.) But I mention this one about Whitney's invention of the cotton gin because the part of Eli Whitney is played by... a young Lloyd Bridges.

The other short I had planned to mention is For Your Convenience, at 7:34 AM after Speedy at 6:00 AM. The subject here is inventions that presumably make things more convenient, and since it's from 1939, my conclusion was that it's another Pete Smith short. But it's not. It's from Warner Bros. And it's in color. Unfortunately, the one IMDb reviewer claims it's not any good.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Back on FXM Retro: April 24-25, 2017

For some reason, I thought I had mentioned recently that The Roots of Heaven is bck in the FXM Retro rotation, as it's been running for a month or two. It's going to be on at the end of this morning's FXM Retro block, at 12:50 PM, and then starting tomorrow's at 3:30 AM.

Coming on immediately before today's airing of The Roots of Heaven is Guns at Batasi, at 11:05 AM today. Both movies are overlooked, although you could argue that The Roots of Heaven deserves to remain overlooked.

Both movies have received DVD releases in the past, and The Roots of Heaven even got a Blu-Ray release. It's also available from Amazon's streamin service. I don't think the DVDs are still in print, however.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


This morning I watched The Confession on my DVR, having noticed that it's available on DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection. You can get it at Amazon and the TCM Shop, although being the Criterion Collection, it is a bit pricey. If it shows up again as a TCM Import, watch it.

The movie starts off in Prague in early 1951. Gérard (Yves Montand), nom de guerre of Artur London, is an undersecretary at one of the Communist government ministries, and a dedicated Communist. The movie is based on the real-life story of Artur London, and in one scene in the movie the character of his wife Lise (played by Simone Signoret) is referred to as Londonová which would be the proper Czech surname for her, but IMDb and my box guide refer to Gérard's actual name as Anton Ludvik. For what it's worth, the character is almost exclusively referred to as Gérard. Anyhow, when Gérard leaves the office for home, he notices he's being followed by another car. And it's been going on for a couple of days.

So that night at his house he meets several other Communists with whom he shares something in common: they all fought in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War against the Falangists/Fascists. Although they fought against Fascism, and some of them including Gérard wound up spending time in Nazi concentration camps as a result, they're all in danger. As we learned from the movie Dark Blue World, those who fought Fascism on the western front came back to Czechoslovakia not to be hailed heroes, but considered enemies of the state by the Stalinist Communists. Such was eventually to be the case for the International Brigade members, too.

Gérard finally gets picked up off the street one day and taken to a special prison, where he's subjected to torture in the hopes of extracting a confession from him. He's not the only one, of course, and any time one of them makes a confession, regardless of whether the confession is at all truthful, that material can be used against the others. Artur seems to hold out the longest, because the film implies he was arrested in January 1951, while the show trials were held in November 1952.

We know he survives, however, because halfway through the movie the action briefly switches to France in 1965 and Gérard is seen telling his story and being told he should write a book about it. That did eventually happen and the movie is the result of that book.

The Confession was directed by Costa-Gavras, and as I was watching it I couldn't help but think of the similarites to his previous movie Z. They both deal with political intrigue and totalitarianism, and both of them have a slightly non-linear storytelling process that at times makes you question reality. Having said that, I'd introduce people who aren't well-versed in foreign films to Z first. The reason is that The Confession is unrelentingly brutal, in a way that really made me uncomfortable at times. Oh, the movie is well made, and Montand and Signoret are both quite good; it's just that the totalitarianism is harsher and more disturbing here than in Z, making it a bit harder to watch. At least for me. As I said at the beginning, however, definitely make it a point to watch it if it ever shows up on TCM again or if you can do the streaming thing; Amazon seem to imply it's available from them courtesy of streaming as well as DVD and Blu-Ray. It's too bad that Criterion price their DVD's so expensive.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison

So I watched Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison off my DVR this morning since I saw it's available from the Warner Archive. It's worth a watch, but I don't know that it's worth buy at Warner Archive prices.

The movie starts off with an overview of California's Folsom State Prison, and a narration from the point of view of the prison itself of how conditions were much more inhumane in the past. Cut to the 1920s, and a prison riot in which they take one of the guards and Warden Rickey (Ted de Corsia) hostage. The riot, of course fails, and the warden concludes that the way to get people to stop rioting is to be more brutal, which gets a reporter to show up for one throwaway scene.

That reporter is apparently what leads to the state authorities taking notice of the prison conditions, because they decide to send a new man Benson (David Brian) to head up the prison guards. Benson is a college man, and has "modern" ideas on how to treat prisoners, ideas that mean not being so brutal. Needless to say, this ticks Rickey off to no end, and he tries to undermine Benson at every turn.

Meanwhile, among the prisoners, we get several tropes of the genre, with about the only one I didn't see being the new guy who just doesn't know how to handle prison life. There's Daniels (Steve Cochran), the guy who's planning a breakout, and Red (Philip Carey), who is marking time until he can get out and go back to his wife and kids. They're actually friends, even if they have different ideas on how to get out of the place. As for Red, he's trusted enough to drive with a guard out of the prison to pick up dynamite for the prison's quarry operation. Unfortunately, hiding in the truck is another prisoner (William Campbell), and Red decides to alert the other guards in order to prevent his parole from getting hung up. Of course, he's considered a stool pigeon for this....

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison is a movie I found to be standard-issue prison fare. There's nothing new here, and it's all done with a B-list cast. Most if not all the tropes are here; including the ones I've already mentioned there's the brutality of solitary. Indeed, when I was watching one scene of the warden roughing up a prisoner for information, I couldn't help but think of Hume Cronyn and his truncheon in Brute Force. Looking at the IMDb reviews, I'm not the only person to have that thought.

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison is a perfectly competent movie, and another of those that would probably be best served by being on one of those four-movie TCM box sets -- say, with a prison theme. Unfortunately, it only seems available as a standalone from the Warner Archive collection, with the commensurately higher price that I'm not certain I'd want to pay for what is essentially a B movie.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Briefs for April 21, 2018

I see TCM is airing an RKO Screenliner I don't think I've seen before: The Beach of Nazaré, at about 7:50 PM, following Dear Heart (5:45 PM, 114 min). This one is about a Portuguese coastal village.

For anybody who wasted their money on TCM's Now Playing magazine, don't do it any longer. TCM has announced that they're discontinuing it and doing an email version. Now that there are no longer any Robert Osborn articles and with schedules available online so much easier, what's the point? Heck, what was the point ten years ago already? Unsurprisingly ome of the TCM Message Board commenters are in a tizzy.

TCM is bringing back The Essentials starting in May, hosted by Alec Baldwin and a changing lineup of guests accompanying him. As I understand it, the first three guest hosts will be, in order, David Letterman, Tina Fey, and director William Friedkin. The less said about the Essentials mini site, the better.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #145: Disappearances

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 disappearances, and once again I've picked three older movies. Well, technically four, since one of them was remade.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). An early British example of Alfred Hitchcock's mastery of suspense, this tells the story of a family (father Leslie Banks, mother Edna Best, and daughter Nova Pilbeam) on vacation in Switzerland. Somebody gets killed, and with his dying breath tells Dad an important international secret. There are nefarious people who don't want that secret falling into the "wrong" people's hands, so they kidnap the daughter and take her to England. Mom and Dad go around London separately trying to find her. This was of course remade by Hitchcock in Hollywood with James Stewart and Doris Day as the parents, but the original is a fun little 75-minute affair. Actually, I could have done an entire entry using only Alfred Hitchcock's movies, as others that fit include The Lady Vanishes, Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur and, I suppose, The Trouble With Harry.

Les diaboliques (1955). Michel (Paul Meurisse) is a martinet of a school master at a French boarding school, with both a wife (Vera Clouzot) and mistress (Simone Signoret) who are unhappy with him. The two women decide to gang up and murder him, drowning him in a bathtub and then dumping the body in the school's swimming pool. When it comes time for the police to search for the body, they drain the swimming pool... only for there to be no body! Needless to say, this is quite a shock to the women, one of whom handles it less well than the other. For those who are frightened by the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, this one is a perfect antidote. This one was remade in Hollywood in the 90s with Sharon Stone, but the less said about the remake, the better.

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). Carol Lynley plays Ann Lake, a young American single mother with a daughter who decides to go to visit London to visit her brother Steven (Keir Dullea). Ann puts her child in a preschool, but when the time comes to pick the daughter up, the daughter isn't there... and there's no record that the daughter was ever at the school. Steven takes the case to the police, led by detective Laurence Olivier, but nobody is ever able to find any evidence that the kid existed. Is Ann going insane, and never even had a child? Or is something more nefarious happening? Noël Coward plays an upstairs neighbor.

Emperor of the North (Pole)

Coming up on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, and available on DVD, is Emperor of the North.

The movie starts of with a scrolling intertitle telling us that the time is 1933, which means the Great Depression, and a lot of hobos riding the rails. We then see one particular hobo trying to hop a train, except that this time there's a bit of a difference. The conductor, named "Shack" (Ernest Borgnine) is more vicious in getting people off his train, and responds by hitting the guy in the head with a hammer, killing the guy as he falls off the train.

After the credits roll, accompanied to some horrible music by Marty Robbins, we met another hobo, A Number 1 (Lee Marvin). He's one of the more experienced hobos, and knows how to evade detection. He hops on an empty car in Shack's train. And he'd be able to get where he's going too, except that not long afterward, another idiot, young Cigaret (Keith Carradine), insists on getting on the train in the same car as A Number 1. Cigaret is an obnoxious jerk, and thinks he can be just as "good", or renowned, a hobo as A Number 1.

The two hobos eventually have to burn their way out of the boxcar they were riding in after Shack locked them in, but Cigaret decides he's going to tell anybody who will listen that he rode Shack's train. And dammit, he's going to do it again, just to show proof of concept of something, not that they used that phrase back in the 1930s. A Number 1 is none too happy about this, and decides he's going to be the one to show everybody how it's done, although he's going to have to take Cigaret under his wing since Cigaret isn't going to stop following him.

Shack, of course, is brutal, as we already saw from the way he hammered a guy to death. And when Shack finds he's got a pair of hobos riding his train, he's going to try any means he can to get the bastards off. And they're going to try anything they can to stop the train and get on it, leading to the climactic fight scene....

Emperor of the North is entertaining enough, although not without its problems. It runs a shade under two hours, but is the sort of story that could probably have been told in only a 90-100 minute running time. Parts of the story really drag. The bigger problem, however, is the Cigaret character. He's one of those obnoxious jerks constantly screwing things up for A Number 1. Sure, there are characters you want to see get their comeuppance, but good writing can make such characters fun: think the way southern sheriffs are often portrayed as buffoons. Cigaret isn't so well written, and the result is the sort of character I wanted to see A Number 1 smack.

Overall, however, if you haven't seen Emperor of the North, it's a movie well worth a watch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Claude Rains double feature: They Won't Forget/They Made Me a Criminal

Back in January when I was doing a Thursday Movie picks post on legal thrillers, one of my choices was Claude Rains as a prosecutor in They Won't Forget. I mentioned in that post that you might think Rains is miscast as a southern prosecutor, but then he was just about as good playing a police detective from Queens in They Made Me a Criminal.

I didn't know it at the time -- and I'm not certain if the April TCM schedule had been released at the time I wrote that post -- that the two movies were going to be on back to back. Tonight, TC is looking at a bunch of movies Rains made in the 1930s, not even including The Adventures of Robin Hood. Among those movies are They Won't Forget overnight at 1:30 AM. That wil be followed at 3:30 AM by They Made Me a Criminal, which has Rains investigating boxer John Garfield who is on the run for a murder he didn't commit.

Both movies are well worth watching.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hollywood Handicap

Another new to me short is Hollywood Handicap, which will be on TCM today at about 5:45 PM, or following What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? a(3:30 PM, 134 min).

The plot involves a group of black stable hands who form a singing group and pool their money to put a horse into the Hollywood Handicap horse race at Santa Anita. But it really seems to be an opportunity to show a bunch of stars enjoying a day out at the track. The cast list includes a whole bunch of stars, from multiple studios. The short was distributed by MGM and so has Mickey Rooney and Robert Montgomery. But there's also Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour who I think were both at Paramount at the time; I think Ruby Keeler and Al Jolson were with Warner Bros. Or, at least, they had been. Oliver Hardy appears; Stan Laurel doesn't. The short was also directed by Buster Keaton in that sad period of his life when he was no longer starring in movies and reduced to stuff like this.

The short has been released on DVD as an extra. IMDb says it's the 2007 release of The Jazz Singer, which I think would mean this set from the TCM Shop. It's also currently on Youtube here, although it's not in the public domain and the screenshot that accompanies the short (the one you'd see over in the sidebar) looks to be in rather poor quality.

Monday, April 17, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer April 2017: William Daniels

Tonight sees the monthly Guest Programmer segment on TCM. That programmer is William Daniels, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Daniels is probably best known for his roles on the TV series St. Elsewhere as well as Knight Rider, where he provided the voice of the car KITT. TCM's site is listing Daniels as having selected only three movies, which makes me wonder if he had selected a fourth but for some reason TCM wound up hitting a snag in getting the rights to it.

Anyhow, Daniels has actually selected two of his own movies, both of which are roles he had done earlier on the stage. First, at 8:00 PM, there will be the musical 1776, about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence; Daniels plays John Adams.

That will be followed at 11:00 PM by A Thousand Clowns; Daniels plays one of the social workers. But I have to admit I haven't seen the movie in ages. The kid was so obnoxious that one viewing was more than enough for me.

The third film is Dodsworth, at 1:15 AM. Walter Huston plays a retired businessman who finds that spending retirement with his wife isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Presumably, the last movie of the night, Cass Timberlane at 3:15 AM, is not being presented by anybody.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Another movie I didn't realize is available on DVD is Tish, which you can find at the TCM Shop courtesy of the Warner Archive. To be honest, however, Tish is really a movie that's only worth buying if it were part of one of those four-film sets TCM/Warner Home Video put out, likely focusing on one of the character actors who populate this film.

The star is Marjorie Main, playing Letitia "Tish" Carberry, a spinster aunt in one of those New England towns who's raised her nephew Charlie (Lee Bowman) from a young age. He's gone on to become the editor at the town newspaper, and if he could work up the courage, would finally propose to Kit (Virginia Grey), who is the daughter of the town's Judge Bowser (Guy Kibbee).

The judge, for his part, doesn't really like Tish, mostly because Tish insists on trying to run everybody's life in that small town. Tish, for her part, is slightly helped by her two widow friends, Aggie (ZaSu Pitts) and Lizzie (Aline MacMahon), who live at the local boarding house now that they're on limited incomes. Also living there is young orphan Cora (Susan Peters), who thinks she's in love with Charlie and who Tish thinks would be much better for Charlie than Kit would. However, the one who really loves Cora is the judge's son Ted (Richard Quine, who would later quit acting and become a director).

Tish tries to set up Charlie and Cora, but it turns out all she's really able to do is make life difficult for everybody. And it's at this point that the movie takes a surprisingly dark turn. Ted wants to make a man of himself, and since the opening part of the movie is presumably set before Pearl Harbor (the movie was released in September 1942 and the action covers well over a year), Ted signs up to train to be a pilot and fly Lend-Lease planes from Canada to the UK. And once he gets that job, Cora realizes she loves Ted, so elopes with him, to follow Ted to Toronto once he gets settled and the good salary starts rolling in. Cora runs off to Canada stealing some money Tish had in her purse that actually belonged to the church's organ fund, and Ted's boat gets torpedoed on the way back across the Atlantic. And Tish winds up with temporary custody of Cora's baby....

Tish really isn't a bad movie, a good example of the sort of B movies that MGM was producing back in the day. I generally prefer Warner Bros. B movies, but this one is one of the better-made and more interesting ones to come from MGM, with a bit less of the treacly moralizing that I often find in MGM's B movies. Marjorie Main dominates, of course, and not just because she's the leading character. Aline MacMahon and ZaSu Pitts are both quite good in support as Tish's two best friends. Lee Bowman is OK but his character is supposed to be a bit mousy so he comes across as bland. Not Bowman's fault, but more the way the character is written. Poor Susan Peters wound up with a tragic life; she sparkles. Guy Kibbee doesn't have all that much to do.

Tish, as I said, is pretty good, so it's a bit of a shame that it's only available in a standalone format from the Warner Archive. Those discs can be pretty pricey, and for a B movie, there should probably be something in a budget option available.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


I looked through my DVR and saw that Tension is available on DVD from the TCM Shop (the same DVD can be had at Amazon), so I figured I'd watch that one in order to have something to blog about today.

Los Angeles police lieutenant Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan) tells us a good portion of the story in narration. He's a homicide detective who likes to up the tension on the people in a case until the key people snap and the details are revealed, enabling him to find the killer. And boy has Bonnabel got a doozy of a story this time....

Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is a pharmacist at one of those all-night drug stores, working the night shift because somebody's got to be open to handle any emergency prescriptions that have to be filled. He's also doing it because the money's good and he wants to buy a house to satisfy his wife Claire (Audrey Totter). They're living in an apartment above the pharmacy, and she doesn't like it. Then again, she doesn't like much of anything, since she's perfectly willing to leave her husband behind to spend evenings with people like Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough) and his beach house.

Eventually, Claire leaves Warren for good to live with Barney, and Warren's none too happy about it. But he's the stereotypical 98-pound weakling, complete with glasses, while Barney is a much biger and more virile man. One day, however, Warren gets an idea while at the eye doctor. Soft contact lenses are a new thing, and Warren figures if he gets himself a set, he can completely change his identity, and use the new identity to kill Barney and leave Warren in the clear!

To that end, Warren takes the name Paul Sothern, and takes an apartment in a complex along with shutterbug Mary (Cyd Charisse in a non-dancing role). She falls for him, and eventually the feeling is mutual. And then the day comes when Warren intends to carry out his plan to murder Barney. He goes to the house, only to find that Claire is out with yet another man, meaning that Claire is going to treat Barney the same way she treated Warren. That seems to Walter like punishment enough for Barney, so why compound it by murdering him. Just get a divorce from Claire and let other people suffer with her.

When Warren gets back to his apartment over the pharmacy, apparently planning to come clean to Mary or something because he can't go on as Paul, he's in for a surprise. Claire shows up, saying that Barney has been murdered! Now, we know that Warren didn't do it. But since everybody knew this Paul Sothern had threatened Barney, all the suspicion is going to fall on Paul, which ultimately means it's going to fall on Warren....

Tension is entertaining enough, despite the fact that it's wildly unrealistic. Richard Basehart is quite good as somebody much wimpier than he played in He Walked By Night, while Audrey Totter gets to be a fun over-the-top as the nasty, nasty wife. Surely Warren would have figured out long ago that she wasn't worth marrying, but noooooo.... Barry Sullivan as the head detective, and William Conrad as his partner, are both more than adequate in supporting roles. There's nothing special here that hasn't been done in other noirs, but it all does work, and is more than worth a watch.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Organ Grinder

So I watched another short off the DVDs in the Warner Bros. Gangsters collection Vol. 3. This time, I took out the DVD of The Mayor of Hell and watched the short The Organ Grinder. This is another of the Harman and Ising Merrie Melodies from before they left for MGM; I'd guess Warner Bros. didn't want to put more prominent cartoons on this inexpensive DVD box set.

As you can guess, the subject is an organ grinder (complete with creepy vaguely ethnic smile) and his monkey. The monkey performs, and this gives the opportunity for a bunch of sight gags. Several involve the monkey's prehensile tail, and when he steals a banana from one of those sidewalk fruit vendors, the banana has zippers to open it.

Later in the short, the monkey does a Harpo Marx impersonation, followed by his impressions of Laurel and Hardy. There's even a playing of the music from 42nd Street. But one scene shocked me. The organ grinder wants the monkey to take the can of coins and shake it to get more people to donate. Oh, the monkey shakes the can, all right:

And then there's the scenes of the monkey using a cat's tail as a crank. Boy are these old cartoons interesting.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #144: Rivals

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 rivals, and as a fan of and blogger about older movies, it's no surprise that I've piced three older movies:

Front Page Woman (1935). Bette Davis plays a lady journalist who has a rival in George Brent in that each of them tries to scoop the other. Bette and George get involved in a fire that turns out to be a red herring for the murder of a gangster, and engage in all sorts of shenanigans to try to break the case, much of which would be illegal. It's a routine programmer, but with Bette Davis and George Brent involved, you get a lot of entertainment value.

School for Scoundrels (1960). Ian Carmichael plays a man who loses his girlfriend to Terry-Thomas, and decides he's going to take "lifemanship" courses from Alastair Sim to gain confidence and get the girl back. These courses really just teach people to be even more smarmy and scheming than the characters Jack Carson played (watch Mildred Pierce for an excellent example). Complications ensue. If you enjoy watching the sort of characters portrayed, you'll love the movie; I find them a bit more grating.

The Wrong Box (1966). Two elderly brothers (Ralph Richardson and John Mills) are the last surviving members of a tontine, a sort of insurance scheme/lottery in which the money put in is paid out to the last survivor. Mills wants to kill off his brother so his grandson (Michael Caine) can get the money. Richardson doesn't seem to care about the money, but his nephews presumably on his wife's side (Dudley Moore and Peter Cook) do care about the money. Caine falls in love with Richardson's niece (Nanette Newman). Again, all sorts of complications ensue. Another movie where there were parts that irritated me, but that a lot of people will really, really love.

Obituaries for April 13, 2017

German-born cinematographer Michael Ballhaus died on Tuesday aged 81. He started his career in Germany with Rainer Fassbinder in the 1970s, and in the 1980s started working in Hollywood, with such famous directors as Martin Scorsese. Ballhaus was nominated for an Oscar on three occasions, but never won the big prize.

Charlie Murphy died yesterday after a battle with cancer. He was only 57. He was an actor in a whole bunch of smaller roles, as well writing a screenplay; he was also the elder brother of the much more famous Eddie Murphy. I didn't realize Eddie Murphy was that young; it means Eddie wasn't even 20 when he started on Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Not just a beach bum

It's probably natural when one thinks of Frankie Avalon to think of of two things: his singing, and the movies he made with Annette Funnicello. TCM is running a night of Avalon's movies tonight, and there is one of those on tonight's lineup, Beach Party at 10:00 PM. Also appearing in that movie is Joel McCrea's son Jody.

I mention him because it's not the only movie in the lineup with Frankie and the child of a famous Hollywood star. Beach Party will be followed at midnight by Guns of the Timberland, in which lumberjack Alan Ladd gets in a range war with a bunch of ranchers, led by Jeanne Crain. Avalon shows up, and as a love interest, he gets Alan's real-life daughter Alana.

Jody and Alana had appeared with Robert Mitchum's son James in a movie, Young Guns of Texas which at one point was in the FXM rotation, I think back when they were still the Fox Movie Channel. But it hasn't been on in a while.

And as for Avalon, don't forget Panic in Year Zero! kicking off the night at 8:00 PM. Poor Ray Milland.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Out of Darkness

Looking through the shorts that are coming up on TCM in the next day, one that's new to me but looks interesting is Out of Darkness, which will be on at about 11:45 PM tonight, after The Bride Came C.O.D.. (The feature is well worth watching, as Bette Davis and James Cagney do comedy together.) This one is part of the Passing Parade series, and from the IMDb synopsis, looks at the Germans trying to shut down the Belgian press that isn't toeing the line after the Germans occupied Belgium in both World Wars.

The short was released in March of 1941, so it was several months before the US joined the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I've mentioned a few times in the past how Hollywood had begun to make a few movies very critical of the Nazis, and how this nearly got them into trouble with the Senate. (I linked to an academic paper some years back, but the academic died and the link to that paper changed.) I'd think it would have been obvious to audiences back in 1941 how a short about the Kaiser's government going after Belgian papers in the first World War was really just a veiled attack on what the Nazis would have been doing.

Monday, April 10, 2017

That Midnight Lace box set is out of print!

So I was thinking of what to watch off of my DVR yesterday to make way for new stuff, and I decided on Doris Day's Midnight Lace, because I remember the promo TCM was running for a box set of, if memory serves, Day's films at Universal. The one TCM ran so they could get the rights to some of the Paramounts that Universal has the rights to now, considering how few Universals show up on the TCM schedule.

Anyhow, I was looking on Amazon and the TCM Shop, and it turns out that the movie is available... but for preorder. Well, at Amazon you can get the old out of print copies for a ridiculous price, but that box set doesn't seem to be available.

The DVD on preorder is coming out in early June, so if you really want to see the movie, you won't have to wait too long. But I was hoping to do my post today on the movie. I guess I'll have to write up that post and stick it in the draft queue to show up when the new DVD comes out.

It also turns out that this past weekend was John Gavin's birthday, and he's in the cast of Midnight Lace. Still alive too, having just turned 86. And married for over 40 years to Constance Towers.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Rare" animation shorts

TCM's prime time lineup for tonight is listed on the online schedule page as Rare Animation. It's a whole bunch of shorts, running from 8:00 PM until Silent Sunday Nights at 12:30 AM. Now, I've mentioned before that when TCM runs blocks of shorts, there's always a problem. The box guide has the shorts separately, and in a different order from the TCM schedule pages. As for the TCM schedules, they list a bunch of shorts all beginning at 8:00 PM, followed by further bunches at 9:00 PM, 10:15 PM, and 11:30 PM. So if you want to record one individual short, you're out of luck.

I also couldn't find anything on TCM's main site about whether this is hosted by Ben Mankiewicz alone, or whether he's interviewing somebody who's an expert in animation history and why these shorts are being singled out. So I had to go to the message boards, to see if somebody else was able to find it. It turns out that yes, they were. This is the page, which is apparently a night of animated shorts from the National Film Board of Canada.

Silent Sunday Nights comes on at 12:30 AM with Fatty Arbuckle's 1921 feature Leap Year. Since it's in the public domain, you can find it on Youtube:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Briefs for April 8, 2017

I forgot that this weekend sees this year's TCM Film Festival. I didn't notice until after The Bad and The Beautiful (or maybe it was just before the Friday Night Spotlight), and noticed today's "update" from the Festival, which is being held in memory of the late Robert Osborne. The brief shot of Sidney Poitier they showed from the 50th anniversary screening of In the Heat of the Night showed he looked good for a man of 90. Norman Jewison was there, too, I believe, and he's even older.

As for the Friday Night Spotlight, it was hosted by Michael Phillips, film critic for the Chicago Tribune. Why the TCM site didn't seem to mention this is beyond me. He did a good enough job introducing Love Letters at 8:00 PM, and I didn't watch any later movies or record them. I'm out of room on my DVR right now.

I probably should have mentioned Don Rickles, who died earlier in the week aged 90. Here's a clip of him from Kelly's Heroes:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Post-war melodrama

Since we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new TCM Spotlight, which this month sees a bunch of post-war melodramas. When I think of the genre, I tend to think of either Douglas Sirk (who gets a night next Friday) or a lot of the over-the-top stuff Joan Crawford did. Harriet Craig and Mildred Pierce are paired together, although I don't quite think of the latter as post-war since as far as I know a lot of the work on it was still going on while the war was stil on. After all, it premiered only a couple of weeks after the war ended. But there are also a couple of other Crawford movies in the spotlight, such as Autumn Leaves and Queen Bee, both of which definitely fit.

Tonight's theme is melodramas set in World War II, although it includes The Best Years of Our Lives (10:15 PM) which I wouldn't really consider a melodrama. Neither is From Here to Eternity (1:30 AM). And I don't think I've ever seen The End of the Afair (1:30 AM).

The TCM page doesn't mention if there's going to be a guest host and, if so, who it is. Or whether it's going to be Ben Mankiewicz interviewing somebody.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #143: Cars/Car racing

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 cars and car racing. I being a fan of older movies, am selecting three older movies:

Angel Face (1953). Robert Mitchum plays a paramedic and would be mechanic who meets Jean Simmons when her stepmother tries to commit suicide. Mitchum falls for her, and she starts asking him "innocent" questions about the workings of cars. It seems those questions might not be so innocent, however, and that perhaps Jean is trying to engineer a car accident that would kill Jean's father and stepmother. Nice daughter there. Mitchum is his usual self here, and the movie is entertaining if not without its problems.

If I Had a Million (1932). Anthology movie about an extremely wealthy man who, told he's going to die, starts picking names at random from the phone book and giving $1 million to each of the people he picks. One of the recipients is a couple played by W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth. She doesn't like the way other people drive, so he buys a whole bunch of automobiles and engineers car crashes, just to tick the other people off. Even though a million went a lot farther back in 1932, you'd think they'd burn through that money pretty quickly.

The Hitchhiker (1953). Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy play a pair of friends who are driving down to Baja California for a fishing trip, in the days when driving through Mexico was still safe. Except of course in this movie it isn't safe. The two men pick up an American hitch-hiker (William Talman), who turns out to be an escaped convict, and a psychopath to boot. If the two men try not to drive him where he wants to go, he'll kill them and take the car; if they do driv him, he'll kill them at the end of the ride! Directed by Ida Lupino.

Report from the Aleutians

TCM is honoring Walter Huston today, even though I think it was yesterday that was his birth anniversary. I probably should have mentioned Report from the Aleutians a bit earlier, but it's on at 3:00 PM today as part of the salute.

This is another of those movies that was made during World War II by the filmmakers who were enlisted into service; in this case it's John Huston who directed. Japan actually captured two of the Aleutian islands off the coast of Alaska at the start of the US involvement in World War II, and so the US stationed a whole bunch of men on the other Aleutians to stem Japan's advance, and possibly as a precursor to the eventual invasion of Japan's Home Islands that never occurred. Charlton Heston was stationed on the Aleutians, and he mentioned in the Private Screenings interview he did with Robert Osborne that he thinks the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved his life: being stationed on the Aleutians, he knew that he'd be in the early waves of forces invading the Home Islands and that meant a likely death.

As for Walter Huston, he's here in voiceover. The movie is worth a watch for its historical value, and for its Technicolor photography. If you've got Amazon Prime and do the streaming thing you can stream it for no additional cost, but there are also DVDs available.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I watched Lawman over the weekend since I saw that it was coming up on StarzEncore Westerns for those of you who have the Encore package (or however your cable provider packages the premium channels). It'll be on tonight at 8:10 and overnight at 2:45 AM. The movie has been released to DVD, but as far as I can tell the DVD is out of print: it's available in limited quantities on Amazon and not available at the TCM Shop.

The movie starts off before the opening credits with a bunch of guy shooting up a town somewhere in the west. Then come the opening credits, with a man riding horseback with a dead man on the horse behind him, coming into another town, which is how we learn about both towns. The first own was Bannock, with Marshal Jared Maddox (Burt Lancaster). He's bringing the dead body back to Sabbath, as well as to see Sabbath's marshal, Cotton Ryan (Robert Ryan). Maddox informs Ryan that there are a bunch of people that Maddox wants to bring to trial in Bannock since the guys who shot up the town killed a man. Oh, and you can strike one of the men off the list, since that was the dead guy Maddox brought into Sabbath during the opening credits.

Ryan kindly informs Maddox that it's going to be kind of difficult to bring in those men, since they all work for Bronson (Lee J. Cobb). Bronson effectively owns Sabbath, having built it out of nothing with his cattle ranching. The townsfolk all feel they owe their livelihoods to Bronson, so there's no way any of them are going to turn his men in. Oh, and Ryan happens to consider himself bought by Bronson too. He's OK with it, since he's at the age where he just wants to lead a quiet life, and Sabbath is quiet as long as nobody crosses Bronson.

Of course, Maddox's arrival is going to cross Bronson, but not for a while yet. Bronson, despite having built up Sabbath, also sacrificed a lot in doing so, and given a choice would prefer not to have to resort to violence. He'd rather deal with his legal problems by buying Bannock, too, if that were possible. But the men who rode through Bannock are convinced that they're going to be made to hang for it, and naturally they have no desire to be stretched at the end of a rope. So Bronson's right-hand man Harvey (Albert Salmi) comes into town to try to deal with Maddox, and gets himself killed for it.

At this point, everybody starts gunning for Maddox in ones and twos. Meanwhile, the townsfolk, some of whom have a past with Maddox, also decide to form a citizens' committee to ride Maddox out of town. Most interesting among these are two people who weren't in Bannock at all. First is Laura (Sheree North). She's the common-law wife of one of the men who was in Bannock, and she was in love with Maddox way back when. But Maddox didn't want to settle down. The other is one of Bronson's younger workers, Crowe (Richard Jordan), a hothead who is confronting Maddox when somebody else tries to ambush Maddox.

The movie has an intersting plot, although it ultimately winds up in a less than satisfying place. The ending feels rushed and illogical. But what I found more jarring was the cinematography. Lawman dates from 1971, a time not long after more zoom lenses came into use. Directors starting using zooms incessantly, something that can really be noticed in many 60s and 70s films once you learn to watch for it. In Lawman, it's particularly noticeable, and used to ill effect a lot of the time. The cutting doesn't work as well as the director would hope for. I think it's notable that I recognized these things, as this is normally the sort of stuff I'm not paying such close attention too (especially the cutting), so if I see it, it's pretty blatant.

Overall, western fans and fans of Burt Lancaster or Robert Ryan will like this one. If I were going to introduce people to later westerns, I wouldn't start with this one, however.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What a character!

Back in the day, TCM used to run pieces to fill the time between movies called "What a Character!" These were five- or six-minute pieces, each on a different character actor. I haven't seen any of them in quite some time, but then, I haven't been watching TCM as religiously as I used to. At any rate, I bring them up because this month, instead of having a traditional Star of the Month, TCM is having a month of character actors.

Every Tuesday and Thursday this month, TCM is going to bring up a bunch of character actors, with each one getting one movie. So, there are going to be 32 of them in all, starting at 8:00 PM tonight with Guy Kibbee who gets a mention in Gold Diggers of 1933. Character actors are going to be spotlighted on each of the four Tuesdays this month, and actresses on Thursdays; four a night.

In addition to Kibbee tonight, there's Edward Everett Horton in Holiday at 10:00 PM; Walter Connolly in Fifth Avenue Girl at midnight; and Franklin Pangborn in Turnabout at 1:45 AM.

As far as I know there aren't any special pieces being made like the old "What a Character!" bits, or even what were done for traditional Stars of the Month back in the day.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Doris knew

So today is the birth anniversary of both Doris Day and Marlon Brando, and TCM spent part of the day with each. But Doris Day's age is apparently not what we thought it all was. Newspapers are claiming Birthday surprise for Doris Day as she discovers she is 95 - two years older than she thought.

Somehow I doubt Doris was surprised by this. It was common for actresses to use different ages; I remember reading when Jane Wyman died that her driver's license confirmed her year of birth as 1917 and not 1914. Some actresses who started off young wanted to pass themselves off as adults; others want to seem younger than they really are.

But certainly Doris would have remembered when she started school, and remembered certain historic events from early in her life. I can't believe she didn't know -- certainly not when she was starting out in Hollywood -- how old she really was.

At any rate, a happy 95th birthday to Doris Day.

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival: Faye Dunaway

Faye Dunaway was back in the news recently for screwing up the Best Picture Oscar award. A year ago, however, she was at the TCM Clasic Film Festival, where she did an interview with Ben Mankiewicz. That interview is running tonight at 8:00 PM as part of a night of Dunaway's movies.

Actually, the interview is airing twice, as is common practice for premiere documentaries/interviews when TCM has them any more. There's the 8:00 airing for the folks on the east coast, on feature movie, and then a second airing of the interview for the folks on the west coast. The feature film in between is Bonnie and Clyde at 9:15 PM, co-starring Warren Beatty, who helped screw up the Oscar award alongside Dunaway, with the interview being repeated at 11:15 PM.

Dunaway's Oscar-winning role in Network comes on at 12:30 AM.

I, for one, am always pleased to see these interviews showing up on TCM.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Raising Arizona is 30 years old

I was looking for a movie on my DVR that I hadn't blogged about before, and which is in print on DVD, to do a full-length post on. (And, I didn't feel like sitting down with any of the well over two-hour movies on the DVR.) I wound up picking Raising Arizona, and it just happens that the 30th anniversary of the release is coming up in a few weeks.

Nicolas Cage plays H.I. McDunnough, a career criminal, if you can call it a career since he's still so young. But he's been in and out and in and out of prison a bunch of times. Every time, he's booked into prison by booking officer Edwina, nicknamed "Ed" (Holly Hunter). Eventually, H.I. gets so enamored of Ed that he proposes marriage to her while being booked, pointing out that he actually paid for the ring. In prison, H.I. meets fellow repeat offenders, brothers Gale and Evelle Snopes (John Goodman and William Forsythe respectively).

After proposing marriage to Ed, H.I. decides that he's going to try to go straight, living in a starter house with Ed and getting a legitimate, if boring, job in a machine shop. Ed, for her part, wants to have a child, and the two go about tring to get Ed pregnant. But it turns out that she's barren, which causes all sorts of problems. Adoption isn't an option what with H.I.'s criminal past. Contrast them with Nathan Arizona and his wife. Nathan, a magnate in unfinished furniture, had been trying to start a family with a similar lack of success, but was able to get his wife on fertility drugs. This resulted in Mrs. Arizona giving birth... to quintuplets!

Ed reasons that, if there are people who have "too many" children like the Arizonas and others with "not enough" children, there's an obvious solution, which is to take one of the children from the family with too many and give it to the other family. Of course, what this means in practice is kidnapping, and Ed gets H.I. to kidnap one of the Arizona quints.

It sets off a whole chain of problems. H.I. loses his job, meaning that he's forced to start robbing convenience stores again to get the things the baby needs. Another couple, who have been able to adopt chilren, want an infant and wouldn't mind taking the Arizona kid that H.I. and Ed kidnapped. Gale and Evelle break out of prison and show up at the McDunnoughs' front door unannounced one night. And then there's bounty hunter Leonard Smalls (Randall "Tex" Cobb), who knows how to find people and wants that $25,000 reward that Nathan put up for the safe return of his child.

This is all a premise for a wild farce. To be honest, however, I found large parts of the movie to be zany in an over-the-top way that personally didn't suit me. Everybody seems to do a pretty good job with their roles; I think it's more that the script requires them to be zany. Leonard, the bounty hunter, is also written as a really irritating character. So is the father in the family with the adoptive children, who takes to telling Polish jokes that just make you want to smack the guy. He's not funny at all.

This is one of the earliest movies from Joel and Ethan Coen, and I wonder if they were still learning their style while they were making this movie. Overall, it's a pretty good movie, but that are parts that will probably irritate some people. The Coens certainly seemed more polished by the time they made Fargo a decade later.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

I've never been a big fan of Sleeper

I see that Woody Allen's Sleeper is on tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM. I saw it once, well over a dozen years ago, and to be honest I've never had a desire to see it a second time.

Sleeper is well enough known that you probably all know the basic story already. Woody Allen plays Miles, a man who dies in the early 1970s and gets cryogenically frozen, in the hopes that scientists in the future will be able to solve his medical problems and bring him back to life. Two hundred years later, medicine has advanced to the point that this is possible, so Miles is brought back to life.

Of course, there's all sorts of culture shock, and that provides much of the humor for the first half to two-thirds of the movie. The historians get a warped view of 1970s America from Miles, while he's shocked to find that things like nutritional science have changed in the intervening 200 years. And then there are future things like the "Orgasmatron".

But the other half of the plot is where I found problems with the movie. The future world is a dictatorship, and Miles has to flee because the future would people want him for nefarious purposes of their own. Those fighting the dictatorship want him, as well, as he's the one person who really can take down the dictator, something having to do with the dictator's nose. When the plot moves to getting the dictator's nose, I found that th emovie really lost whatever steam it had built up. It's not as irritating as Annie Hall and the rest of the nebbish Woody Allen stereotype, but you can see the seeds of it.

But, of course, there are a lot of people who like Woody Allen movies and who will like Sleeper.