Monday, July 31, 2017

Jeanne Moreau, 1928-2017

I see that French actress Jeanne Moreau has died aged 89. Moreau starred in some of the more well-known movies to come out of France and the French New Wave in a career that actually spanned 60 years:

Elevator to the Gallows, a very good thriller about a man who plots to kill his boss, only for the plan to go wrong in part because he gets stuck in an elevator and in part because his car gets stolen; Moreau plays the lover of the murderer and wife of the victim.

In Jules et Jim, Moreau plays the love interest who intrigues both of the main characters although only one gets to marry her. To be honest, I'm not such a big fan of this one.

Then there's The Bride War Black, in which Moreau plays the bride whose husband is killed accidentally on their wedding day; Moreau then seeks out the men who were responsible for the shooting.

When it comes to English-language movies, Moreau was an unsurprising choice to appear in The Train, since the story is set in Paris in World War II. There's also Monte Walsh and The Yellow Rolls-Royce, among others.

Diane Keaton night

Apparently the AFI honored Diane Keaton with its lifetime achievement award not too long ago. I don't pay close enough attention to these things and only spot them when the special shows up on TCM. That night is tonight.

The one thing I find interesting is that TCM is actually running it three times. Normally, a special like this gets an airing at 8:00 PM, followed by one feature and then a second airing for the benefit of the folks on the West Coast. That's true again this year, although the first feature is Reds at 9:30, which takes up three and a half hours out of the schedule. Also, TCM is running a 67-minute special in a 90-minute slot, padding it out with a short in each case. So after the second feature, there will be a third airing of the special at 4:30 AM. (TCM had to finish the schedule up at 6:00 AM since Summer Under the Stars begins tomorrow.)

Assuming the AFI special really is 67 minutes, I'm surprised they couldn't put it into a 75-minute slot and get the rights to a third Keaton film. For a film not also involving Woody Allen (Manhattan Murder Mystery at 2:30 AM is the second feature), they could have gotten something like Mrs. Soffel, which I've blogged about before. That would fit nicely into a two-hour slot.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


I see that the Criterion Collection has released the Japanese cult film House to DVD and Blu-Ray. It was on TCM Underground a few months back, so I recorded it then and watched it to do a full-length post on it. It's one that rather defies rating.

Gorgeous is one of several Japanese classmates who are about to have their summer vacations. The other six are all going to go off to some sort of summer camp together with their teacher Mr. Togo, but Gorgeous is going to be spending some quality time with her father, a film composer who has been working in Italy. Unfortunately for Gorgeous, her father reveals when he gets home from Italy that he is going to be remarrying; the first wife (Goregous' mother) died several years ago. Gorgeous doesn't like her stepmother-to-be, so she decides she doesn't want to vacation with them. Instead, she gets the idea to write to her mother's sister and ask to spend the summer there.

Meanwhile, Gorgeous' classmates learn from Togo that their summer plans are going to have to be nixed, as Togo's sister has gotten pregnant. So Gorgeous decides to invite her friends to come and visit Auntie with her. With that, Gorgeous and her friends all set off for the country. Just from reading so far, you might have gotten the idea that something is up since the main character is named Gorgeous. In fact, all of the classmates are named after their main character trait, and all of the characters are pretty much tropes. In addition to Gorgeous, there's Fantasy, who has a vivid imagination; Melody, who is musically inclined; Kung Fu, the athlete; Prof, the bookish one with glasses; Sweet, who is just a nice girl; and Mac, who is obsessed with food.

Auntie seems pleased to meet the young girls, but things start to go wrong. The cat's eyes sparkle artificially, and all of a sudden one girl's camera flies off her neck and gets broken on the floor. And that's the least of their problems. Mac has put a watermelon in the well to keep it cool, and never returns from fetching it. Fantasy goes to look for Mac, and pulls Mac's severed head out of the well! Of course, nobody believes Fantasy. It seems as though the house has a mind of its own, and the house is becoming increasingly malevolent.

As I said at the beginning, House is a difficult film to rate, mostly because it's so bizarre. In some ways, it seems almost amateurish, as the first-time movie director Nobuhiko Obayashi uses every film technique he can think of. There are bizarre transitions; flats that reminded me of the stylized dream sequences in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; homages to silent movies; animation; and so on. The result of this mélange, however, winds up being something visually striking.

The acting isn't high quality, but then most of the cast were not professional actors and are playing one-dimensional characters anyway. The overplayed characters fit well, as I think it's part of the point to portray everybody with an extremely broad brush.

As for the plot, I'm not certain whether Obayashi was going for straight horror, or whether he was intending House to play out as a comic horror film. At any rate, the characters suffer increasingly bizarre fates that grow ever more ridiculous and surreal. (You'll note that I'm deliberately not giving any of them away.) This elicits laughter in the vein of "What on earth is going on here"; I don't know if that's what the director wanted.

All in all, House is a unique viewing experience, and the sort of film where it's easy to understand why it has a cult following. I think the film does ultimately succeed, as long as you go into it knowing beforehand that you're in for a very unorthodox movie. If you want straight-up horror, you'll be disappointed; if you want "What the heck?", you'll get that in spades and enjoy it very much.

I just wish the Criterion Collection DVDs weren't so damned expensive.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Gumball Rally

Last September when TCM had its monthly Spotlight focus on slapstick comedy, I recorded the movie The Gumball Rally which was part of the spotlight. I was going to watch it some months back to do a full-length post on it, but was surprised to find it wasn't available on DVD. That's changed, as the Warner Archive, released it to Blu-Ray about a month ago.

The movie starts off with Bannon (Michael Sarrazin) in a business meeting in New York City. He's bored to tears by it, so he opens a prop miniature safe that happens to be filled with gumballs, and this gives him an idea. He calls someone up and mentions the word "gumball", and other people get sent a telegram with the word "gumball". Apparently this means something to all of them.

Several groups of people come, with their cars, to New York, where they of course know that the word "gumball" meant that another edition of the Gumball Rally is about to be on. For those new to it, the Gumball Rally is a secret cross-country car race from New York to Long Beach, CA and the parking lot of the Queen Mary which is docked there. There are no real rules, other than try to stay safe. Certainly, obeying the speed limit -- and these were the early days of the 55 MPH speed limit -- is not part of the rules. Bannon will be driving his Cobra along with his friend, college professor Graves (Nicholas Pryor); his main opponent is Steve Smith (Tim McIntire) driving a Ferrari. Steve hires Franco (Raúl Julia) to be his co-driver. Also in the race are a stunt driver in his Camaro (Gary Busey is the co-pilot); two women in a Porsche; two jolly old men in a Mercedes; a police cruiser; a van with 200 gallons of gas so they don't have to stop; a man transporting a Rolls Royce across the country; and a mad motorcyclist.

Of course, the Gumball Rally is highly pushing against the boundaries of the law. Even if there were no speed limits per se, there is an understandable law about reckless driving, since you don't want to be a danger to other people on the roads. And New York City cop Roscoe (Norman Burton) is determined to stop the Gumball Rally from going ahead at all, much less having the participants actually reach Long Beach. Bannon and his friends know this, and they're using the then-new (and now obsolete) technology of CB radio to find out what the cops are doing and keep one step ahead of the cops.

Meanwhile, the participants run into all sorts of situations along the way that are supposed to be comedic; some of these situations succeed more than others in the comedy department. Who will win the race? To be honest, it doesn't really matter, since the whole point of the race is about the freedom of driving and about staying one step ahead of the police. Just finishing is just as important as winning.

The Gumball Rally is a movie that it took me a while to warm up to. There are enough racers that nobody really gets enough screen time, and since the cast isn't identified in the opening credits and the characters' names are mostly not emphasized, it's sometimes hard to keep track of who is who and where they are on their cross-country trip. But once the movie gets going, it entertains quite nicely. It's not trying to be any work of great art, just a piece of entertainment you can sit back and watch with a bunch of friends and a bowl of popcorn. In that regard, it succeeds quite well. Indeed, it spawned several imitators, most notably The Cannonball Run.

It would be nice if The Gumball Rally were on a less-expensive DVD, for those who don't have to have an ultra-HD print. But it's nice to see an entertaining movie like this available at all.

Friday, July 28, 2017

June Foray, 1917-2017

You probably wouldn't recognize the face, but you'd recognize the voice: voice actress June Foray has died two months shy of her 100th birthday. Foray provided the voices for a bunch of well-known characters, with the most famous of them being Rocket J. Squirrel from the various Bullwinkle shows; she also provided the voice of Natasha Fatale, partner of Boris Badunov. There's also Cindy Lou Who, the little girl in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, opposite Boris Karloff's Grinch.

As for her connection to the movies, Foray also provided the voice for Granny, Tweety's owner in the Looney Tunes' Sylvester/Tweety cartoons, something she was doing already in her 30s. (Actually, Foray didn't create the voice; she took over for Bea Benederet.) Foray was also a vocal advocate for animation as a medium, and partially responsible for getting the Oscars to include a category for Best Animated Feature.

It's a shame that TCM doesn't have the rights to any of the animation for Warner Bros. or MGM so they could show some of the shorts in her honor. I don't know if Cartoon Network shows any old cartoons any longer.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #159: Non-English TV Shows

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, and this time it's non-English TV shows. Being a fan of game shows, I've picked three foreign games:

Super Grips

Older Americans, and possibly more likely Brits, should recognize this German version of the American game show Blockbusters, one of the more underrated game shows devised. The variation on Hex is simple but unique; having clues based on what letter of the alphabet the answer starts with isn't particularly common, and the two-versus-one was a stroke of genius. The original American host, Bill Cullen, mentioned at the end of the US run how much money had been won by solo players and how much by family players, and the two amounts were within about 2% of one another.

Jeux Sans Frontières

I think the French originated this game under the title Intervilles; the better known name Jeux Sans Frontières was a Europe-wide competition featuring the champions of various countries. Teams of regular people from various cities competed in offbeat physical games that were designed to be just as much funny as actual feats of athletic skill. The game was known in the UK as It's a Knockout and had a brief run in the US in the 1970s as Almost Anything Goes. The international competition, known in English as Games Without Borders, inspired a Peter Gabriel song.

Brain Ring

This Russian show asks two teams riddles in the original sense of the word: not a joke with a punchline, but questions that require serious thinking, just not simple recall of facts. If anybody remembers the brief run in the US of the Million Dollar Mind Game (which had great writing but sadly got shunted to Sunday afternoons against NFL football), that's the sort of question being asked. But Brain Ring has two teams going against each other, as opposed to the derivative idiocy of a money ladder and lifelines.

And for a bonus, here's one that has nothing to do with game shows, but reminded me of a scene in Baby, Take a Bow, since I just blogged about that the other day:

Sorry Canadians

So tonight is the highlight of the month's schedule on TCM for me, that being what I think is the premiere of A Double Life, the movie that won Ronald Colman his Best Actor Oscar, at 8:00 PM. I was surprised, however, when I saw over on the TCM boards recommending White Heat tonight at 8:00. Sure, that's a great movie, but it doesn't have Ronald Colman.

So it immediately occurred to me that the poster must be Canadian and that they don't get A Double Life in Canada, the poor things. Sure enough, a look at tonight's TCM lineup in Canada reveals that White Heat is on at 8:00 PM, no A Double Life.

On the bright side, Canadians don't get Random Harvest, which I think is a terrible, mawkish movie with a fully idiotic plot. They get Greer Garson with Clark Gable instead, in Adventure.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Take an arrow too while you're at it

Another movie that I watched off my DVR because it's available on DVD is Baby, Take a Bow, which can be found on one or another Shirley Temple box set.

Shirley doesn't show up for a while due to the structure of the story. Kay (a very young Claire Trevor) in on her way to Niagara Falls with a stopover at Ossining. The later is the town that gave its name to the notorious Sing Sing prison, which is where Eddie (James Dunn), Kay's fiancé, is finishing up his sentence. Unfortunately, on the train up to Sing Sing Kay meets the obnoxious Welch (Alan Dinehart), an insurance investigator who is responsible for putting a lot of people behind bars. About to start a stretch in Sing Sing is Eddie's friend Larry.

Years pass. Eddie and Kay have a five-year-old daughter Shirley (that, obviously, is Shirley Temple), and Eddie has a good job as a chauffeur to a wealthy industrialist. And Larry is about to get out of Sing Sing and join his wife Jane. Eddie is planning to teach Larry the chauffeur gig so that Eddie can take an apparently better job in the industrialist's factory. I'd think the chauffeur job is better, but what do I know. At any rate, both men have kept their noses clean, despite the predictions of Welch.

There's a third convict who's about to make a mess for everybody. Trigger (Ralf Harolde) steals a necklace from the home of Eddie's boss, and when it's discovered that Eddie had a criminal past, well, there goes his job. This even though we know he's innocent. And Trigger is going to make things an even bigger mess by trying to get Eddie and Larry to fence the necklace, something they have no desire to do. When that doesn't work, Trigger finds little Shirley and gives the necklace to her.

Welch comes along looking for the necklace, absolutely certain that he's going to find it in Eddie's apartment and send Eddie and Larry back to prison, something he seems overly anxious to do. Can they keep Welch from finding the jewelry, and would anybody believe Shirley's story? Thankfully for Shirley, events overtake her and it becomes obvious that Trigger is the man behind the heist.

Baby, Take a Bow came out before Bright Eyes (indeed, it was before the merger with 20th Century, so the print FXM showed had no Fox fanfare), so Shirley doesn't get to do any singing, and only has one short dance scene as a dance student of Jane. Temple is fine and charming enough, except for a few points where the script lets her down. And to be fair, at that point the script lets everybody down. When Welch shows up looking for the necklace, everything screeches to a halt, as Eddie and Larry keep making up ridiculous lies to throw Welch off the scent. It's supposed to be funny but winds up wildly unfunny and obnoxious.

Overall, Baby, Take a Bow is something that would play well as a quality B movie of the era, but which, if it's remembered at all, is remembered for being an early Shirley Temple vehicle. That's a bit unfair because the movie is better than that. And for the price of the Temple box sets I saw, you can't really go wrong if you do pick it up.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hot Rod Fever

So tonight's lineup on TCM is "hot rods", which doesn't mean the movies of Rod Taylor, or even Rod Larocque, sorry people. Of course, it refers to the muscle cars of the 50s.

To be honest, half the movies are ones I've never heard of. The two that I have heard of are coming up overnight: the original The Fast and the Furious at 1:30 AM, which of course has nothing to do with the franchise of the last 10 years or so. The Fate of the Furious was the 8th, wasn't it? After all, that's why they used the word "fate" because it rhymes with "eight". Or have I not been following the series closely enough? I don't actually follow it at all.

That will be followed at 3:00 AM by Rebel Without a Cause, a movie that I think I've mentioned a couple of times is really only worth watching for James Dean's "You're tearing me apart!" line early on. It's like Bette Davis' nervous breakdown in the opening reels of Now, Voyager: the rest of the movie is tedious melodrama.

The night starts off at 8:00 PM with a 1950 movie called Hot Rod, which I would have thought was a bit early for the "hot rod" craze as we know it, but I was born after it all died down. The second one, Hot Rod Gang, which sounds like it might be the most interesting mostly because of the presence of Gene Vincent. This is from the pre-Fabian days when rock was still more rebellious, and singers like Gene Vincent were probably more likely to bring in the teens than Fabian or, in later the few years following, Pat Boone or Frankie Avalon. I was thinking Vincent appeared in Untamed Youth with Mamie Van Doren, but that was actually Eddie Cochran. Vincent can be seen performing in It's Trad, Dad!

Oh, and the night concludes with a Bowery Boys movie. At least them I recognize, even if I don't watch the movies.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Movies I was going to watch off my DVR

I took a couple of vacation days this past week, so I actually got to watch four or five movies. If it weren't for the soccer, I would have watched more, but that's another story. Anyhow, I was looking for my DVR for movies I could blog about, and I was surprised to see that some of what I recorded has fallen out of print on DVD.

First up was Klute. Jane Fonda won an Oscar, for heaven's sake. That's the sort of thing that you'd expect would make a movie more likely to be readily available. And it's Jane Fonda, not somebody from the 30s. But I was very surprised to see that Amazon had a copy available for upwards of $40, and the TCM Shop didn't have one at all.

Next up I thought about Look Back in Anger, which I recorded back when Richard Burton was Star of the Month. There's another big name, and you'd think that might make it more likely to be available. But again, it's fallen out of print. Of course, this one is a British movie, and the DVD seems to have been released by whatever part of MGM/UA didn't wind up in the same corporate family as Warner Bros./TCM and all that other fun stuff.

Then I thought about Crime of Passion, which I recorded when it showed up on Noir Alley. That one isn't available... yet. At the TCM Shop, you can get it on pre-order, with the DVD available sometime in September, I think a few days after Labor Day. Well that gives me something to watch over Labor Day weekend.

I still actually have one or two movies I can blog about later in the week, although one was a DVD I bought and not something off the DVR.

Shorts report, July 24-25, 2017

I haven't talked too much recently about any shorts coming up on TCM, either because I had other things to talk about, or there were days where TCM didn't have much in the way of shorts. But there are a couple that deserve mention:

Early tomorrow morning at about 5:05 AM following Mogambo is Big Blue Goose. The year of release (1956) and the subject (goose hunting) made this one sound like it's one of the RKO Sportscope subjects, and sure enough a look on IMDb reveals this is exactly the case. I think I prefer the current events RKO Screenliners which show a more interesting snapshot of America as it was then.

Another of the Bobby Jones shorts, on the proper swing, comes up a little after 10:30 AM tomorrow, sometime after Good-Bye, My Lady (a 95 minute movie in a two-hour slot starting at 8:45 AM). I'd have thought the golf shorts would have been more appropriate last week. Jordan Spieth certainly could have used it on the 13th hole.

Last, a little after 1:15 PM, there's Swing High, a 1932 short about trapeze artists. My immediate thought was yet another Pete Smith short, and for better or worse, an IMDb search confirmed this. I think I've stated more than enough times that I don't particularly care for Smith's narration, but there are certainly people who like it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

I didn't care for The Big Lebowski

So I watched The Big Lebowski off my DVR this weekend. It's on DVD and Blu-Ray, and for people with the HBO package, it's going to be on various channels in that package multiple times this week. Check your box guide. Having said that, however, it's a movie that left me cold.

Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is an unemployed slacker in Los Angeles who generally goes not by his legal name, but by "The Dude". His one love in life seems to be bowling, as he bowls in a league on a team with his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). One night after getting home, he finds that there are two men there waiting for him. Those men, it turns out, are loan sharks, and they want him to pay back the large sum of money he's borrowed from them. And when he can't -- and claims he doesn't know anything about the money -- one of the men pees on his Oriental rug.

It turns out there's another Jeffrey Lebowski out there, no relation to the Dude. This one is a wheelchair-bound businessman (David Huddleston) who runs a charitable foundation helping inner-city would be child entrepreneurs. His current trophy wife is apparently spending money like there's no tomorrow, and she's the Lebowski responsible for the loan sharks' showing up. So the Dude wants his namesake to pay for the damage to the carpet, since it's the elder Lebowski who's gotten into all this trouble.

A few days later, the Dude gets a call from the other Lebowski's personal assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Apparently Mrs. Lebowski has been kidnapped, and if the Dude is willing to take part in delivering the ransom -- after all, the kidnappers wouldn't recognize him -- there's a substantial reward awaiting him. Things start to get really complicated from here. The elder Lebowski's daughter (Julianne Moore) gets in on the action, since the ransom money is coming from the foundation, what with the elder Lebowski only having a stipend from the foundation and not his own wealth. And that's the least complicated part.

So what didn't I like about the movie? A lot. It's not just that the plot is complicated; it's that it often came across as incoherent. There was one bit about the Dude's beater car being stolen and then finding a high school kid apparently responsible for it that didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the movie. And some of the bowling scenes seem to serve no purpose but to pad out the plot. I couldn't figure what John Turturro's character was doing, either, other than being unfunny.

And for unfunny characters, there's Walter. I consistently wanted somebody to beat the crap out of him because he was almost uniformly an unfunny jerk screwing things up for the Dude, as with the original ransom delivery that went wrong. The whole "I served in Vietnam" shtick was also stupid and tedious, as was the constant swearing. Julianna Moore and her artist sidekick were also unfunny, although at least not jerks.

There's also the cinematography, which engages in a lot of unorthodox camera angles and film techniques, especially in shots of bowling balls and pins. These seemed to serve no purpose other than for the filmmakers to say, "Look! We can do techniques like this now!"

The end result of all of this was, for me, a confused mess that was supposed to be funny but isn't. And yet, the movie is on the IMDb Top 250 list, which means that it's obviously got a lot of fans out there. So if you haven't seen it before, you may not want to take my opinion on staying away from it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Where's the one-armed man?

One of the films that I watched off my DVR recently since I saw that it's available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection is John Ford's 1947 film The Fugitive.

Few of the characters have actual names here, as they're all supposed to archetypes for a story that, as the opening titles tell us, is one that is as old as the Bible itself. Enter Henry Fonda, playing The Priest. He winds up at a church somewhere that's obviously Mexico, although as those opening titles tell us could be anywhere a thousand miles on either side of the equator. In that church he meets A Native Woman (Dolores Del Rio), who asks him to baptize her baby. This The Priest does in a very Protestant way, speaking in English instead of Latin and referring to the Holy Ghost, a phrase I never heard at any Catholic Mass I sat through; Catholics use the "Holy Spirit" instead.

Anyhow, it turns out that what The Priest is doing is dangerous, because a strongly anti-clerical government has taken hold in this district. (Again, you'd think a craven Vatican in this era would have worked with the government.) The police, in the form of The Lieutenant (Pedro Armendáriz), are trying to rid the district of every last priest, and Fonda's seems to be the last one. Our priest tries to do his priestly duties, while running into a thief who is also a police informer (J. Carroll Naish).

Into all of this comes the Gringo (Ward Bond), who is, like the priest, a fugitive from the law, although in this case he's escaping the American authorities and hoping he won't be extradited back to the States. There's a big reward on his head. So the informer figures he can come up with a plan to get the priest to minister to the Gringo, which will eventually bring the authorities in....

The story is obviously a loose retelling of the Jesus story, with Fonda being the Jesus substitute, Armendáriz being Pontius Pilate, and Naish being Judas. (There aren't really any disciples, however.) As such, the story isn't badly told, although it's told in a way that I found off-putting and difficult to get into. As I said at the beginning, the characters don't even have names (if they do, they're almost never mentioned), since they're all archetypes. And it's all told in an elliptical visual style with a paucity of dialog. The result is a bit of a slog at times.

All of that is unfortunate, since the performances are for the most part good, and the cinematography excellent. Some of the camera shots, however, are a bit too blunt in trying to make the point of the story; I suppose you could also use the word didactic to describe them, which never seems to be a good thing.

The final result of all this was a movie I found it hard to care for, even if it tends toward uniqueness in its storytelling. But that originality in its methods (if not the story itself) is something that a lot of people praise highly. So this is one you'll probably want to watch for yourself.

Friday, July 21, 2017

North to Alaska

So I made it a point to watch North to Alaska off my DVR, since it's going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 7:35 AM. It's also avaialble on a cheap DVD and Blu-Ray, the latter being under $10 the last time I checked the TCM Shop, so you can still catch it if you don't have FXM Retro. And it's more than worth a watch.

John Wayne plays Sam McCord, who has struck it big in the Alaska gold rush outside Nome circa 1900. Sam is in a mining partnership along with his friend George (Stewart Granger), and George's kid brother Billy (Fabian, obviously there for the teen crowd). Sam is throwing money around like there's no tomorrow, and he's setting off for Seattle to get provisions. Fortuitously, George's fiancée Jenny is in Seattle, so now that George is rich, he's ready to marry Jenny, and Sam could do worse than to pick up Jenny in Seattle for George. Just before leaving for Seattle, Sam meets newcomer Frankie (Ernie Kovacs), who is clearly a con artist trying to bilk people out of their money. This is an obvious bit of foreshadowing.

Anyhow, Sam gets down to Seattle, and looks up Jenny. It turns out she's a servant in a rich family's house. Also, she couldn't be bothered to wait for George, so she went and married the butler. Oops. But Sam is fortunate enough to meet Michelle, nicknamed Angel (played by Capucine), at a burlesque house. They become friends, and through spending time together, Michelle begins to fall in love with Sam and is willing to follow him back to Nome. Of course, Sam thinks she's doing it to pretend to be Jenny so that George will still have a wife.

When we get back to Alaska, there are two main plots. The first is the obvious one of Michelle not being George's fiancée, and Michelle really preferring Sam to George. Never mind the fact that there's also Billy around lusting after Michelle even though he doesn't have anything close to the experience necessary to win the heart of a woman like Michelle. But there's another plot line involving Frankie. Apparently Michelle knew Frankie in the lower 48, and Frankie is trying to jump Sam and George's claim. He finds somebody who spent some time on the land and cons that person into filing a counter-claim, and Sam and George also get the impression that Michelle might be in on it.

It all ends pleasantly enough, however, as this is the sort of movie that you can see a mile away that it's not supposed to be anything serious and heavy.

North to Alaska is yet another of those movies that really has nothing groundbreaking, but works as more than serviceable entertainment. John Wayne was a lot better at comedy than he's often given credit for, in part because he didn't make all that many comedies. I'm not the biggest Stewart Granger fan, but he does nothing to drag the movie down. Ditto Fabian and Capucine, although they're the two who get the movie's one really weak scene, in which Fabian sings a song to her and then gets drunk at dinner. It's the comedic storyline, however, that's the real winner here, and that's what makes the movie entertaining.

North to Alaska probably won't stick in your mind as long as other movies, but what it sets out to do, it does well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #158: The Chosen One

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 The Chosen One. I'm not certain if this was conceived as having some sort of religious significance as in people thinking they're called by God to do something (pick your favorite version of the Joan of Arc story), but in any case I decided to pick movies with people chosen in other ways:

Great Expectations (1946). Pip (John Mills) plays a young man in early 19th century England who has a really difficult life, being orphaned and living with a tough aunt and uncle, until he suddenly is told of a benefactor who has left him a substantial sum of money. Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) introduces him to Estella (Valerie Hobson), and things proceed from there. There have been other movie versions of the Dickens story, although this is the one I've seen.

The Best Man (1964). Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson play two candidates who are the two leaders for the presidential nomination at their party's convention, although neither has a majority of the delegates, so they have to work other delegates to try to gain a majority and become the nominee. Needless to say they resort to all sorts of underhanded tactics, especially Cliff Robertson's character. Lee Tracy is excellent as the dying ex-president who represented the party back in the day.

42nd Street (1933). Ruby Keeler is chosen to be the understudy for a new Broadway show, but she ultimately gets to be the star after the original lead (Bebe Daniels) injures her leg and can't dance. Of course, Ruby Keeler couldn't really dance, either, but that's another story. This is the ultimate backstage musical, and the one that made Busby Berkeley a star, although his choreography would become much more elaborate in later movies.

I'll be really curious to see what other people picked.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

They re-issued Noah's Ark?

It's not all that long ago that I blogged about the part-talking Noah's Ark. Apparently Warner Bros. re-released it 25 years later. They made a promotional short to go along with it, and that short, Magic Movie Moments, is showing up on TCM overnight a little after 3:15 AM, following I Confess (1:30 AM, 95 min plus an intro/outro).

I can't comment on the short, since I haven't seen it, although the one IMDb reviewer suggests it's little more than an extended trailer for the movie. I have to admit, however, my surprise that Warner Bros. would have picked Noah's Ark to re-release. When it comes to silents, I've always thought the comedies hold up better, and the two-reelers are the easiest to get into just because they're short. In particular, though, I'd think a part-talkie like this would be a harder sell still.

If I had been in charge of selecting movies for re-release, I'd probably select some tent-poles with big stars, like the Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca) and James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy) movies, and possibly some good Bette Davis titles. The Adventures of Robin Hood would, I think, also be another excellent choice. But what do I know? I'm not a studio boss.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


I've mentioned on quite a few occasions before that I listen to what used to be the various international short-wave broadcasters, most of which are only on the internet any more. Indeed, I've linked to a fair number of stories over the years.

So my ears picked up when I listened to this past Saturday's edition of Radio Prague's English broadcast. They're starting a new series on Barrandov Studios, the Prague production facility that produced many of the well-known Czech films, as well as hosting western productions after the fall of the Iron Curtain, since production in central and eastern Europe was cheaper and the cities could pass for all sorts of vaguely eastern European locations. (And as we saw in Gymkata a few months back, even further east, although that was the former Yugoslavia, not the former Czechoslovakia.)

The first episode in the series is an interview with a set constructor, Štěpán Červený. The link above links to a text that is a close transcript of the audio. There's also an option to stream the audio online, and one to download the MP3 directly. That's a ~2MB MP3 file, with the interview running around four minutes. (I don't know the precise length of that file; I timed it listening to the full half-hour program.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Martin Landau, 1928-2017

Martin Landau (r.) with Johnny Depp in a scene from Ed Wood (1994)

Actor Martin Landau, whose career spanned over 50 years, from the stage in the 1950s to working with Tim Burton in recent years, has died at the age of 89. Landau eventually won an Academy Award in the Burton-directed Ed Wood, playing Bela Lugosi. Lugosi was supposed to star in director Wood's Plan Nine From Outer Space, but rather unceremoniously died early in the production.

As for Landau, one of his first notable roles is probably in North by Northwest, where he plays one of James Mason's henchmen. Landau worked in TV with notable roles being on Mission: Impossible and later the cult series Space: 1999 where he worked opposite then-wife Barbara Bain in those daft 1970s "futuristic" uniforms.

In addition to Ed Wood, Landau was Oscar-nominated twice in the late 80s for Tucker and Crimes and Misdemeanors. I didn't realize that he was also an acting teacher, and a well-respected one at that.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

George Romero, 1940-2017

Writer/director George Romero, who jump-started the zombie movie genre with 1968's low-budget Night of the Living Dead, has died aged 77.

Night of the Living Dead is a wonderfully creepy little movie in which the zombies become zombies not long after dying and start going after people because of an insatiable desire for their brains. Eventually, they trap a small number of humans in an isolated house in the middle of nowhere in western Pennsylvania, with the people turning on each other as they can't figure out how to deal with this unknown menace.

Night of the Living Dead led to several sequels, as well as a whole bunch of other moviemakers making their own zombie movies in the past 20 or so years. Granted, being a low-budget movie, it has some plot holes, such as the fact that humans should be able to move faster than the zombies, and that it's not as though there should be all that many zombies considering how many people die each year. But the horror works, and here we are.

Night of the Lepus

I noticed that Night of the Lepus is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I watched it off my DVR in order that I could do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a dramatized news report of how mankind introduced rabbits into various places that weren't the species' natural habitat, and how it resulted in the rabbits getting loose and, well, breeding like rabbits so that they became a pest. Among the places mentioned in this report is the US Southwest.

Cut to the real action. Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) is an Arizona rancher who's found that the rabbits are eating him out of house and home. He doesn't want to poison them because of the obvious deleterious effects that would have in the longer term. So he calls Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley), the president of his old alma mater, to see if their sciences department can do something. Fortunately, there are two visiting researchers, the Bennetts (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) who are doing relevant research, trying to find some sort of contagious disease that will leave the rabbits sterile.

Unfortunately, the Bennetts have an idiot daughter Amanda. She doesn't understand what a control group is, and thinks it unfair that her parents are experimenting on cute little bunnies. So she switches two bunnies between the control and experimental groups, and then asks her parents if she can keep one of the bunnies from the control group. And this is where her parents are profoundly stupid in a way that severely tests one's disbelief: they let her keep one of those rabbits. She naturally picks the one she moved from the experimental group. Even dumber, she brings the bunny with her when the Bennetts visit the Hillman ranch! The bunny gets away.

Unfortunately, the Bennett's research is a failure in that their injections don't lead to the rabbits' becoming sterile. The side effect is that they become gargantuan, like 150-lb rabbit big. Oh, and they also become carnivorous, so they start attacking people.

The idea behind Night of the Lepus really isn't a bad one. In fact, as I was watching it, I couldn't help but think of Them! and the giant ants. And yet, Night of the Lepus has the reputation of being a ridiculous almost cult classic. Why is this? I think that the movie winds up being not as good as Them! in part because the script requires people to act in utterly implausible ways -- real life scientists would never have let their daughter screw with the experiment like that. There's also the fact that this one came relatively late in the horror cycle of dangerous creatures.

The bigger reason, I think, has to do with the effects. Every time they need to show the giant rabbits, there's this bizarre music, with regular-sized rabbits running around sets of miniatures. And then they took this footage and slowed it down. The result is just ridiculous unbelievable and laugh-inducing, and every time the action switches from the humans to the rabbits, any possibility of horror goes right out the window. And then there are the scenes when rabbits kill humans, which are even sillier.

Night of the Lepus is, however, ultimately well worth a watch both for the ideas and for its inherent silliness. The Warner Archive DVD is unfortunately a bit pricey.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Take one down, pass it around

Some time back, I recorded 100 Rifles when it aired on FXM Retro. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:15 AM and again on Monday at 9:15 AM, so I figured that now would be a good time to watch it and do a full-length post on it. (The movie is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray.)

The movie starts off with a hanging: Sarita (Raquel Welch) sees her father being hanged by a representative of Gen. Verdugo (Fernando Lamas). Verdugo is the military commander of the Mexican state of Sonora circa 1912, and Sarita is part of the Yaqui people who don't like the Mexicans. Sarita's dad apparently got a rifle from the Mexican forces which was forbidden him, and that's enough to hang him for.

Cut to one of the big towns. Verdugo is there on a military visit, while watching from a hotel room is Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds). Joe doesn't want to be seen, and for good reason. Into all this comes Lydecker (Jim Brown), who it turns out is looking for Herrera. That's because Herrera is wanted back in Arizona for robbing $6,000 from a bank. Lydecker is there to bring him back, claim the reward, and get a job with the police as a result. The Mexicans don't care for any of this, and are perfectly willing to kill both Herrera and Lydecker because of Herrera's motives for the bank robbery.

It turns out that Herrera is of mixed ancestry, having a father from Alabama and a mother who was Yaqui. Herrera claims to have spent the $6,000 on women and whiskey, but Verdugo knows that the money was really spent on obtaining rifles for the Yaqui so they can resist the federal government's depredations. That, of course, is highly illegal.

Rounding out the main cast are Dan O'Herlihy as a representative of the railroad, who really just wants the trains to keep running and doesn't care how that happens or who's running them, and Hans Gudegast as a German adviser to Verdugo, who thinks committing genocide is just fine and dandy.

Anyhow, Lydecker has no desire to stay in Mexico, except that circumstances force him to stay. Verdugo is going to execute him and Herrera together, but the two are saved by the Yaqui, and Lydecker reluctantly joins up with them because there is no other option. To make matters worse for him, the Yaqui want him to be their "general".

100 Rifles was actually made in Spain; I would have thought it was made in Mexico. It's well-enough made, although it's yet another movie that doesn't feel as if it's treading any new ground. Everybody does adequately, and the movie is entertainig, but it's also the sort of thing that I don't think is particularly memorable. Still, because it entertains it's more than worth a watch.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Heads-up: The Paradine Case

Back in January when I started doing the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon, the first theme was legal thrillers. One of the movies I selected was The Paradine Case, an Alfred Hitchcock movie about a barrister (Gregory Peck) who falls in love with the woman he's defending (Alida Valli) on a murder charge. With this month's TCM spotlight on Alfred Hitchcock movies, it's unsurprising that this one is on, early tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM. (Or, overnight tonight depending on your point of view and time zone.)

I also selected Strangers on a Train yesterday; it should be unsurprising that that one is part of the Hitchcock spotlight too. But since the movies are going in rough chronological order, that one isn't coming up until next Wednesday, at 11:30 PM.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #157: Amusement Parks

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 amusement parks, and for once I'm actually selecting four movies, none of which has much amusement at the park:

Strangers on a Train (1951). Alfred Hitchcock's classic stars Farley Granger as a tennis player with an estranged wife who meets Robert Walker on a train; Walker has an overbearing father. Walker comes up with the ridiculous idea that since each of them has someone they want out of their lives, each should murder the other guy's bête noire. Walker strangles Granger's wife at a carnival; the climax comes at the park when both men try to get to the park to retrieve some evidence that will prove who did it.

Some Came Running (1958). Frank Sinatra plays a World War II veteran and writer who goes back to his hometown. Shirley MacLaine plays a floozy who follows Sinatra's character to the home town. Unfortunately, her old flame also follows, and that leads to a showdown at the carnival in the movie's climax.

Under the Volcano (1984). Albert Finney plays a British diplomat in 1930s Mexico who's lost his job because of his drinking, and is now planning to drink himself to death. His wife (Jacqueline Bisset) and brother (Anthony Andrews) travel there to stop him. One scene has Finney at a carnival riding the airplanes-go-round-in-circles ride, loose change falling out of his pockets for the poor kids to pick up on the ground.

And for one that's a little less depressing, Gorilla at Large (1954). At a carnival, the gorilla escapes and breaks somebody's neck. Or is it somebody who borrowed the carnival barker's (Cameron Mitchell) gorilla costume? Police detective Lee J. Cobb investigates. Anne Bancroft plays the girl; Lee Marvin plays a cop; and Raymond Burr may just be the bad guy again. This one is cheesy low-budget fun, originally filmed in 3-D.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Lazar Meir, 1884-1957

Today marks the birth anniversary of an immigrant named Lazar Meir. Unsurprisingly, he anglicized his name in North America, changing it to Louis B. Mayer, a name you probably recognize much more readily. I didn't realize that Mayer's family emigrated first to Canada; Mayer then came to the US from New Brunswick. Mayer was one of the movie moguls who merged his studio into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924; Mayer remained head of the studio for a quarter century.

I'm not certain how many movies Louis B. Mayer's name is on. Obviously, the Mayer part is on pretty much all of them, since the opening title cared with Leo the Lion says "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer". But as Louis B. Mayer? I don't think his name was ever actually listed as a producer, much in the same way that Irving Thalberg's name wasn't on the screen until after his death. And to be honest, I don't think Mayer actually did the things that the producer does, being the actual head of the studio rather than a producer like Thalberg. IMDb lists only one sound movie where Mayer was the producer, 1940's I Take This Woman.

IMDb also mentions that Mayer is credited as a "presenter" on a bunch of silents; this was a credit that came just over the title on the first card. I think some other studios kept their bosses' names on the opening card well into the sound era; Jack Warner being in charge of production comes to mind.

Mayer as a studio head was a tough man and the stories of what studio bosses did to stars are legion. And yet I don't think there would be many of those stars and their movies if it weren't for the toughness of the bosses.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Whither the Guest Programmer?

So I was looking through the weekly online schedules over at TCM yesterday, since those have the theme for the prime-time lineup listed if you can't tell from the monthly schedule. As I was looking through the schedules, I noticed that I couldn't find when July's Guest Programmer would be. And on TCM's main site, there's usually a section with links to several articles about upcoming nights of prime-time programming: the Spotlight, Star of the Month, and some random interesting evenings. But there wasn't one for the Guest Programmer.

So I asked over at the TCM boards, and somebody there apparently figured out that there isn't one this month, and there isn't one on the schedule for September either. (There was never going to be one for August since that's Summer Under the Stars.) It make me wonder whether they're just going to get rid of the Guest Programmer entirely.

There are all sorts of good reasons why a Guest Programmer night might not come off. As we saw with the final season of Robert Osborne hosting the Essentials that never was, it can be tough to coordinate schedules with a guest should something go wrong. And TCM has to schedule the guests relatively far in advance.

I also wonder how much of it has to do with money. I would assume that the guests get paid union (AFTRA, I think) scale at least plus expenses since I think the pieces were taped in Atlanta. And with the new Essentials having another host and a guest, there's a portion of the budget gone. I note that the summer Essentials Jr., or whatever it was that it became in that last season, hasn't been on the summer schedule for a couple years now. But Ben Mankiewicz is hosting this month's Spotlight along with the director of that documentary, and supposedly tonight's lineup of Shakespeare adaptations is being used to promote a TNT series with one of the series' producers, TNT being part of the same corporate family as TCM.

I'm surprised I didn't get any responses from people saying they were glad the Guest Programmers are gone because none of them are adventurous and just pick the same stuff all the time. At any rate I'd miss the Guest Programmer. Not that I always watched it, but I thought it was a nice way to try to get people who might not necessarily be intrested in old movies to find out they're not so intimidating, what with the black and white and all that.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mid-Century Modern

I've mentioned in the past that one of the things I enjoy about old movies is the set design of things the way they looked back then, or at least the way people wanted them to look for a certain segment of society. The residences for the upper-middle-class families in The Best Years of Our Lives and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House would be good examples; that apartment kitchen Fredric March and Myrna Loy have looks tiny compared to some of the impossibly luxurious apartments we see on screen.

But for this post I'm thinking more of the Technicolor (or whatever color processes followed it) sets of the mid-50s to the mid-60s: things like the brick red appliances in Doris Day and Rock Hudson's large kitchen in Send Me No Flowers. Apparently, the term for it is "Mid-century modern", and TCM is showing a night of movies showcasing the design. (Sorry, no photos this time.)

It's just too bad that I really only care for one of the movies. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The Moon is Blue a "comedy" that violated the strictures of the Production Code, which is why the movie is famous, since I never found it funny.

The Best of Everything at 10:00 PM is one of those slightly-sprawling movies, like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit or Return to Peyton Place that I'm probably a bit too harsh on, but they never quite live up to their billing.

I'm not a fan of Judy Garland's singing, so I don't care for her version of A Star is Born at 12:15 AM, especially considering the fact that it's interminable.

The house in North by Northwest (3:30 AM), however.... The one good thing about the movies is that TCM is showing a contemporary look at the designs, and not the nostalgia we've gotten since the Baby Boomers have been in the cultural ascendancy.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sudden Fear

So I watched Sudden Fear off my DVR because the TCM Shop has a restoration Blu-Ray available for purchase. Indeed, when Ben Mankiewicz presented the movie on TCM, in the outro after the movie he mentioned that Blu-Ray, probably in a bit of advertising necessary to get the rights to show the restoration print. In any case, though, we're happy to have seen the movie show up on TCM.

Joan Crawford plays Myra Hudson, who at the beginning of the movie is in New York City watching rehearsals for her newest play -- Myra is a successful playwright and heiress, although she comes from San Francisco and lives there when a new play doesn't bring her to New York. Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is the romantic lead in her new play, cast by the director and producer, but Myra doesn't think Lester is right for the role. (No offense to Jack Palance, but he really didn't have romantic leading man looks.) So she fires him from the play.

Myra takes the train back to San Francisco, and who should show up on the train but Lester? They talk and eventually fall in love, and Lester decides to follow all the way back to San Francisco. Indeed, they fall enough in love that they decide to get married! It seems rather sudden, and we've seen enough of this nonsense in other movies like Suspicion or Leave Her to Heaven that we know such sudden marriages are going to run into serious problems.

In this case, that other problem is Irene (Gloria Grahame). She was an old flame of Lester's, although as it turns out she's really his current flame. Lester's marriage to Myra is a sham -- not that Myra knows -- and Lester is biding his time until he can get enough money off of Myra to live comfortable. Unfortunately, Myra is making a new will, one that will leave Lester a modest sum, but not as much as he would have wanted. He and Irene discuss this, and figure that they have to make Myra die in an "accident" before she can sign the new will.

Myra, however, finds out! She uses a fancy dictaphone system, and forgot to turn it off when she dictated the new will. And when Lester and Irene discussed offing Myra, they did it in the room with the dictaphone, which of course picked up the plot and recorded it for Myra to hear. So she does what any rational person who finds she's going to be offed does: first she panics, and then she comes up with a plan to foil her would-be killers.

Sudden Fear is reasonable fun, although it does tread territory we feel like we've seen several times before. It also runs a bit long. Still, Crawford and Palance both give very good performances, and both got nominated for Oscars. The climax, with a lot of twists, is suspenseful enough although it does also elicit a few laughs at the absurdity. Part of that absurdity probably has to do with the fact that the writers had to come up with an ending that satisfied the Production Code.

Overall, Sudden Fear is well worth a watch by anyone, but especially Joan Crawford fans will like it. It's too bad that it only seems to be available on a higher-priced Blu-Ray and not a lower priced DVD, but thankfully it's available period.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Escape to Victory

I think in large part because of the subject matter and the high number of athletes in the cast, the movie Victory (also known as Escape to Victory in the UK) gets a reputation as a hilariously awful movie. I bought the DVD some months back, and the movie is nowhere near as bad as it's often given credit for.

Max von Sydow plays Nazi Major von Steiner, who at the start of the movie is accompanying a delegation of Swiss Red Cross workers visiting a POW camp full of Allied prisoners. Steiner recognizes one of them, Capt. Colby (Michael Caine). Apparently, before the war, Colby played soccer for West Ham, one of the big English clubs, and even for the English national team. Colby has set up a makeshift soccer league in the camp.

Eventually, all of this leads to the Nazis having the idea of setting up a propaganda soccer friendly between a German team and a team of international POWs. This presents all sorts of problems because the British wouldn't want its soldiers becoming propaganda pawns of the Germans. Plus, there's really no way the soccer players can train properly. But Colby is told there are any number of internationals who are now POWs, including a Trinidadian (the Caribbean islands weren't independent countries yet) who looks and sounds surprisingly Brazilian, which is understandable when you consider the player is played by Pelé.

At the same time all this is going on, you've got an American who doesn't know much about soccer, and who wants to escape. Capt. Hatch (Sylvester Stallone), when he does play, tries to make American football-style tackles, which are highly illegal in soccer. But he spends more time on his escape plan, except that the soccer match is screwing that up. And then he does escape and make it to Paris, where the Resistance tells him it's possible that the big soccer friendly in Paris could be used as an opportunity for the team to escape! So we get to the big game. Will it be a fair fight? Will the Allies be able to escape at halftime? And what is Hatch doing playing in goal?

Victory is in some ways a familiar movie, what with the World War II theme and the idea of breaking out of a POW camp, topics that were covered in lots of movies. It's more the daft idea of putting a bunch of POWs in a soccer match in Paris that makes people want to bring the movie in for criticism. I find it's not so much that hook that's the problem. It's that the whole movie doesn't just require a suspension of disbelief; it requires disbelief to be levitated and flown off. The Resistance wants Hatch to go back into the camp to inform the soccer team of the escape attempt, but as we saw in The Great Escape, the Nazis just would have shot him in front of the others POWs without him having the opportunity to inform them of anything. Pelé gets subbed out of the soccer match, and then gets subbed back in, which is thoroughly against the rules of the game. And even though the refs aren't so neutral, there aren't even any yellow cards handed out to the Allies. If I watched the movie a second time, I could probably remember more obvious plot holes.

All that aside, though, Victory does entertain, and is nowhere near as bad as it's been made out to be. And the DVD is relatively inexpensive.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Testing Hitchcock

This month's TCM Spotlight on the films of Alfred Hitchcock continues tonight with a bunch of Hitchcock's sound pictures from his days in Britain, starting at 8:00 PM with Number Seventeen. The purpose of this post isn't really to point that out, although Number Seventeen is a movie that's worth a watch. Instead, since I've got the cheap Mill Creek box set, I decided to pop the DVD with Number Seventeen on it into my computer's DVD player and take a screenshot to see how posting photos is going to go now that I can't use Photobucket any longer. The first minor problem I noticed right away is that Blogger's native "Add image" dialog mucks around with the line spacing that I use. Normally I format posts with a modicum of HTML, just the links, bold, and italic. If I try to add a blockquote, that screws up the formatting for everything else that comes in the rest of the post in that the line spacing is much narrower than I like, forcing me to add in paragraph tags. But that's not much a big deal. When I first posted a photo here nearly 10 years ago, I simply copied the templates Blogger was using at the time, which didn't put the image in a div tag, and used that when I compose the stuff off-line, just modifying the URL to the image and the size tags.

This comes to the second issue, which is also minor but just enough to be irritating. Photobucket at least seemed to have a standard format for photo URLs in that you could name the photo and them just use one URL and change only the "nameofphoto.jpg" part at the end for whatever new photo you use. Blogger's URL is convoluted enough that I can't tell whether all my photos are going to end up in one place, and whether I can just copy everything but the name of the photo. But at least posting images is working, after a fact.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #156: Summer Vacations

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 an appropriate one for early July, at least in the northern hemisphere: summer vacations. As always, I've picked three relatively old movies:

Bank Holiday (1938). The British use the term "bank holiday" roughly the same was Americans use "public holiday", and not like the way Franklin Roosevelt shut all the banks down in 1933 to prevent further runs. This one is an ensemble-cast movie about a whole bunch of people who spend their vacation at one of those old British seaside resorts, in the days when they were still relatively stylish and not like the post-war days of movies like Separate Tables or The Entertainer. Margaret Lockwood plays a nurse who thinks about the mother who died in childbirth while the nurse's boyfriend is trying to put the moves on her; other stories involve a beauty contest and a family trying to get away from it all.

M. Hulot's Holiday (1953). The largely non-speaking Jacquet Tati, as Hulot, goes on vacation to his habitual French seaside resort, which is not the romantic and glamorous Riviera. Monsieur Hulot inadvertently causes all sorts of complications. This is the sort of movie I'd really recommend for people who think they're not fans of foreign films, because the humor easily crosses cultures and because since Tati cut down the dialogue in his movies, there are relatively fewer subtitles to read.

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962). Hobbs (James Stewart) plans on a vaction with his wife (Maureen O'Hara) alone; she arranged a family reunion with the two minor kids and two married daughters and their husbands. And it doesn't help that the beach house Mrs. Hobbs rented is in parlous shape. All sorts of further complications ensue.

TCM Star of the Month July 2017: Ronald Colman

No photos accompanying this, since I still haven't gotten around to dealing with uploading to Blogger/Blogspot. And I don't think I currently have any photos of Colman, anyway. But Ronald Colman, who I think is one of the less remembered stars of the classic era, is finally getting honored as TCM Star of the Month. Every Thursday in July, his movies are going to be on TCM in prime time.

For me, the highlight is going to be A Double Life, at 8:00 PM on the 27th. It's the movie that won Colman his Best Actor Oscar, and one of those movies that I've always wanted to see mostly because of its presence on the old Oscar lists. I don't know if I've seen it show up on the TCM schedule, and I've been paying close attention to the schedule for a dozen years now. I've got the schedules going back to July 2007 on my computer, although Linux doesn't play well with searching the Windows drive. But I think I would have noticed if it every showed up on the schedule.

Anyhow, tonight's first night of Colman movies has a couple of Colman's silents, as well as some early talkies. I've briefly mentioned The White Sister (8:00 PM tonight) before; it's a melodrama about Colman getting separated from Lillian Gish by war. She, thinking he died, becomes a nun. And then an earthquake ensues. Because why not. I'm not certain if I've mentioned the first of the Bulldog Drummond movies from 1929 before; that one is on overnight at 12:15 AM. TCM did a night of Bulldog Drummond movies some years back, and I think the Colman version was the one I made a point of watching. But when you've got something that was made into a series a decade later it's easy to get the movies mixed up.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

50 years of Hitchcock

Well, it's more like over 90 years since Alfred Hitchock's earliest movies came out, but his career spanned just about 50 years from the silent movies in England through to Family Plot in 1976. This month's TCM Spotlight is on the films of Hitchcock, and will run every Wednesday and Friday in prime time, presented by documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe, who has apparently made a documentary about Psycho. I don't see if the TCM blurb says he'll be hosting alone or sitting down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss the movies.

For me, the highlight would be tonight's lineup, which includes five of Hitchcock's silents. I think I have all of them on the cheap Mill Creek box set, although I haven't gotten around to watching most of them yet. People who aren't that familiar with early Hitchcock would probably do best to watch The Lodger overnight at 1:45 AM. (And then watch the Laird Cregar remake.) Early Thursday morning, and then Friday in prime time, will have a bunch of the 1930s British movies.

Having said that, I note that once again The Secret Agent doesn't seem to be on the TCM lineup. I've seen the channel run one Hitchcock retrospective after another, and none of them ever seem to have The Secret Agent. I've never been able to figure out why.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Getaway (1972)

I noticed that The Getaway is scheduled to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 5:45 PM. (It's supposed to be on again at 12:15 AM on July 16 as part of a Saturday night prime time lineup.) So I decided that now would be a good time to watch it off my DVR and do a full-length post on it here. You can also get it on DVD and Blu-ray at the TCM Shop, as well as Amazon streaming video.

Steve McQueen plays Doc McCoy, who's in prison in Texas, but is up for parole, and dreams of getting out so he can see his wife Carol (Ali McGraw). Unfortunately, his parole is denied. So his wife goes to a bigwig who apparently can pull some strings, Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson), and tells Benyon that Doc is ready to pay whatever price Benyon sets for Doc's parole.

That price turns out to be taking part in a bank heist. Benyon's brother is a manager at a small town bank that gets a large amount of cash for an oil company payroll, and Doc and a couple of other guys are going to pull off the heist. So they prepare for the heist, which immediately goes wrong because that's what happens in the movies. The other guys in the heist kill a couple of people at the bank, and then one, Rudy (Al Lettieri), kills the other during the getaway.

Doc realizes he's been set up, so he goes to Benyon and shoots him dead, and then goes to the rendezvous with Rudy and shoots Rudy dead. Doc and Carol then try to make it to Mexico, although they have to deal with the authorities and Carol's incompetence that makes Doc wonder whether she was in on the set-up too.

Oh, and it turns out that Doc wasn't such a good shot. It certainly looks from the scene in which he shot Rudy that Rudy died, but not only did he not die, he remains well enough to move around and search for Doc to try to get the money. To that end, Rudy kidnaps a husband and wife Harold and Fran (Jack Dodson and Sally Struthers) and makes them drive after Doc.

In many ways it's a formulaic heist movie, or at least formulaic in the fact that the heist goes wrong and everybody turns on everybody else. But a couple of things stand out. One is that the heist is over with pretty early, so much of of the action in this one than even in something like The Asphalt Jungle is about the attempt to get away and the double-cross. The other thing is the portrayal of the violence, of which there is a lot in this film.

Now, I don't have a problem with violence in movies. But director Sam Peckinpah's depiction of it in this movie does bother me for artistic reasons. Peckinpah seems to want everybody to die in slow-motion so that, when there's a shooting, time seems to slow down and the deaths look overdone to the point of tedium. (The movie also runs a little over two hours, and probably could have done with a script that ran 20 minutes less.) We get it, Sam.

It's a shame that Peckinpah went down this road, because the rest of the movie is well made, with good performances from McQueen and McGraw, and a lovely look at Texas as it was in the early-1970s. The production design has an authentic feel to it that doesn't seem all that common to me in the movies, with maybe Panic in Needle Park being one of the other early 1970s movies I was reminded of.

Still, this is one that a lot of people love more than I do, so you'll probably want to watch and judge for yourself.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Too old to care about my reputation

On Saturday morning when I was listening to the top of the hour news on the classical music station, one of the reports began, "Hollywood legend...." My immediate thought was "Now who died?" It turned out that the rest of the story was about Olivia de Havilland, who was turning 101, is is suing FX. The suit has to do with the FX miniseries Feud, which is about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

Apparently (I haven't watched the show), Olivia de Havilland is depicted in it, and she or her lawyers don't like the portrayal. (I can't imagine Olivia, living in Paris, watching the show.) They think it damages her reputation and is inaccurate. I understand there's the principle of it all, but I can't help but think that once you get to be 101, you shouldn't have to worry too much about your reputation -- the luxury of being too old to give a damn.

And then there's the question of how pristine de Havilland's reputation is. After all, as part of the Bette/Joan feud, Olivia and Bette celebrated with Coca-Cola after Joan Crawford left the production of Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte. Joan probably deserved it, but I'd think people worried about their reputation would want to be seen as classier and above that. And I can only wonder what Joan Fontaine would say if she were still alive.

Somehow I can't imagine Olivia testifying at trial, and certainly not going to Hollywood to do so.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Chicken Every Sunday

So I watched Chicken Every Sunday off my DVR since going through the screencap thing is a pain right now. The movie is available on DVD from Fox's MOD system, and can even be purchased at the TCM Shop. So I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

Celeste Holm plays Emily Hefferan, who in the film's opening scene is seen going to visit a lawyer in Tucson somewhere in the 1910-1920 range; I don't think the exact dates are given. Anyhow, she's going because she wants to get a divorce from her husband. The lawyer recognizes her name; after all Hefferan seems to be on the name of every business in Tucson. Why on earth would she want to get a divorce from Mr. Heffernan? Well, she's going to tell him....

Flash back 20 years or so to her wedding day, at a time when there wasn't much to Tucson. Emily is getting married to Jim (Dan Dailey), a man who seems pressed enough for money that he has to borrow some from a friend to pay the preacher. Emily is already aware of this, and has prepared by taking in another recently-married couple to be boarders in their house, which will pay the bills, especially the mortgage. Jim doesn't have much money, largely because he's invested in any number of businesses which he hopes will bring in big financial returns, but all seem to be less than successful.

This goes on, and every time Jim makes a new investment, Emily takes in more boarders to help pay the bills. The family is growing with three children, the eldest of whom, Rosemary (Colleen Townsend) grows up to be a fine young woman. Jim continues his scheming, ultimately coming up with a land purchase that he hopes will yield a copper mine.

It's this part of the movie that brings the climax both for Jim and for the other characters' sub-plots. Jim is looking for a particular investor Kirby (William Frawley, in a horrendous toupee); Kirby is looking for his estranged wife Ruth (Veda Ann Borg) and trying to dump her mother on somebody. Rosemary, however, likes Geoffrey (Alan Young) but he's too shy to pursue her; Harold (William Callahan), hor his part, is willing to pursue her.

It's all supposed to be a nostalgic look back to the turn of the century, a period which was getting a lot of looks in movies of the period. Fox also had The Late George Apley; other studios had things ranging from Meet Me in St. Louis to Two Weeks With Love. This one, however, has a big problem, in Jim's character. He's a Jack Carson-level chancer, consistently irritating everybody with his investments that everybody else refers to as get-rich-quick schemes. And frankly, it makes his character a turn-off. You wonder what Emily ever saw in Jim in the first place. The movie is well-enough made, it's just that when you have a lead character like Jim Heffernan, it makes it tough to like the movie.

Then again, some people may have differing views; you'll probably want to judge for yourself.

No photo thread today

Last weekend, I finally watched my DVD of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and was going to do a post on it this weekend. I was planning on taking the time because it's a movie that really needs to have a bunch of screencaps taken to accompany the post and show just how absurd the movie is.

Anyhow, Saturday morning, I discovered that my old posts had an error message from Photobucket. Instead of the photos I've been using to illustrate some of my blog posts, I was told that my account was in violation for engaging in third-party embedding. But, I could rectify that problem by signing up for a "Plus 500" account. So I clicked over to Photobucket and found... that a Plus 500 account can be had for the low low price of $399.99 a year!

Now, Photobucket is welcome to do with its website what it wants; after all it's their private property. And if they need to sell stuff -- be it services involving putting photos on swag or making paid accounts -- to pay for the bandwidth, I can certainly understand that. But $400 a year is frankly ridiculous. I looked up the various web-hosting giants of the sort that you see TV ads for, and I could set up a WordPress blog on one or another of them for a quarter of that price if not less (I think they were all in the $6-7/month range).

And Photobucket did this without any warning. Oh, I got sent an email that wound up in Gmail's spam folder, but it wasn't a warning. It was an announcement that the account was third-party linking and that this was no longer permitted. Which is nonsense because Photobucket had always had a bunch of tag options accompanying individual photos for what to post if you wanted to use a photo in a bulletin board (the sort of board that uses the square brackets instead of HTML); if you needed to use HTML; or if you just wanted to send a link in email. So obviously they were expecting and encouraging when you signed up ages ago that you were going to be embedding images elsewhere! If they had sent a message, say, on June 1 saying that as of July 1 third-party embedding would no longer be allowed, that would still suck but at least it would have given people time to figure out what to do. But they didn't seem to do that at all from what I've read elsewhere on the web. And it's not as if they grandfathered old images in. Lots of people all over the internet just had things broken for them one day.

Now, Blogger has a native system for allowing embedding of images in blog posts, with the images winding up on Google's servers. I never used it mostly out of inertia. I had had a bunch of photos up on Photobucket, and knew how to use it to embed images, so when I started the blog it was easy to just keep using Photobucket. Lots of people have such online inertia, I think. And it's not as if this low-traffic blog was anywhere near a bandwidth violation. Nine years and I think I'm at about 2% of storage capacity. I had even created a template to make the various alignment of photos in threads easier. I should still be able to use the templates; it's just that the URLs for any photos I post are going to change from something with a photobucket domain to something with a blogspot (I think) domain. (The Thursday Movie Picks posts are hotlinking to Wandering Through the Shelves' image which is already on Blogspot which is why those still show up. I figure since we're both on Blogger/Blogspot that hotlinking shouldn't be an issue.)

It's more that it's going to take some time to figure out how to do everything efficiently for me. And then there's the issue of unbreaking all those old posts that have photos in them. I don't know if that's ever going to happen. Ironically, just yesterday I got around to listening to a months-old interview on Radio New Zealand titled Losing our digital memory about issues like this. The MP3 file which is about 22MB and 22min, is here. It's not movie related, but it is related to this.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Sons of Katie Elder

I had another movie planned to blog about today, but things came up and so I had to watch The Sons of Katie Elder off a three-film DVD set of John Wayne movies. (It turns out there's a nine-film set available both at Amazon and the TCM Shop that has the three on the set I bought and six others.)

The movie starts off with a train heading towards a town, with opening credits and music that's unmistakeably Elmer Bernstein accompanying. That train stops in the town of Clearwater, Texas, where three men are waiting for a fourth. A man does get off the train, but it's not the one they were expecting, and the one they were expecting isn't on the train at all. It turns out that the three men are the Elder brothers: Tom (Dean Martin), Matt (Earl Holliman), and young Bud (Michael Anderson Jr.); they were expecting eldest brother John (John Wayne) to show up for their mother's funeral. John does show up, although he watches the funeral from afar.

The man who did get off the train, Curley (George Kennedy), goes to a ranch owned by Hastings (James Gregory), who is planning big things for the town. But the ranch used to be owned by the Elders' parents. Dad -- well, we'll learn a bit more as the movie goes on about how the ranch passed from his hands -- suffice it to say that he got shot to death, but the murder is unsolved. Mom had to move off the ranch after Dad died, and she died poor and one would guess of a broken heart.

The four sons begin to investigate, and find out that things aren't quite right, but that nobody will tell them the full truth of what's going on. Having said that, we can guess that Hastings is no good right from his first scene, as he's clearly expecing John Elder to mean trouble. The whole point of bringing Curley in is to deal with John before John can deal with Hastings.

The Sons of Katie Elder is one of those movies that I'd call good, solid entertainment, but it's also not the sort of thing I'd think of as standing out at anything. The movie has a fairly leisurely pace, running a bit over two hours and having a resolution that comes rather abruptly. The plot is one that you'd call "formulaic" if you wanted to denigrate the movie, but is really more of a standard-issue Western theme of revenge. (One of the top IMDb reviews used the word "traditional", which has rather more positive connotations than "formulaic".) There's a fair amount of action in the second half, and reasonably good performances. I just found it hard to find anything special in the film.

Still, the various box sets are relatively low priced. And considering that you're getting The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and The Shootist at least, it's easy to think of The Sons of Katie Elder as a bonus. Besides, there are other people who will like it even more than I do.

A couple of obituaries

Production designers don't get much credit, so we should mention the death of C.O. "Doc" Erickson, who died on Wednesday aged 93. His work spanned 40 years, with notable movies being Chinatown and Groundhog Day. Erickson was also a producer, and started with Alfred Hitchcock back in the 1950s as a production assistant.

Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist died on Tuesday at the young age of 56. He played Blomkvist in the Swedish versions of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the two following movies, but in Hollywood also appeared in one of the Mission Impossible movies as well as John Wick. Radio Sweden's English-language service devoted part of this week's show to Nyqvist. However, it doesn't seem as if individual reports from the weekly round-up are available on a standalone basis; only the entire broadcast, a ~26MB MP3 file.