Saturday, September 30, 2017

Angel on My Shoulder

I recorded Angel on My Shoulder when it was on TCM not too long ago, and notice that it's available on DVD. So I watched it to do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with Eddie Kagle (Paul Muni) getting let out of prison. He's a head gangster of some sort, and gets picked up at the jailhouse gate by his second-in-command Smiley (Hardie Albright). Smiley apparently enjoyed heading up the gang while Eddie was in prison, because Smiley takes Eddie's gun and shoots him dead! Now Eddie was a bad guy which we already know since he spent time in prison, which would have satisfied the Production Code. However, authorities higher than Joe Breen wouldn't have been satisfied, which is why Eddie gets sent straight to Hell (except of course that it's not called that).

Eddie is obviously displeased with his new surroundings, and tries to get out -- who wouldn't? Of course there are bouncers whose job it is to keep people in and keep them doing the backbreaking labor their souls have been sentenced to do for all time. Anyhow, in one of his escape attempts, Eddie winds up in Mephistopheles' office. Mephistopheles is the closest our devil (played by Claude Rains) gets to calling himself Satan, usually being preferred to be called Nick because that's something Eddie can understand more easily.

Eventually Nick comes up with a scheme that will at least temporarily allow Eddie out of this hell. There's a goody-two-shoes judge named Parker who looks amazingly like Eddie. And Nick doesn't want Judge Parker to succeed because apparently that would make Nick's work up on the surface of planet earth much more difficult. So Eddie will be put into Parker's body, and in exchange, Eddie will get to deal with Smiley for double-crossing him.

Poor Eddie gets more than he bargained for when he winds up in Parker's body. Parker had a fiancée Barbara (Anne Baxter) who probably deserves to wind up in Hell for being such a grasping exploitative bitch using Parker for her own ends of fame, wealth, and power. But Barbara is supposed to be one of the good guys here. Eddie begins to fall in love with her because she's good looking, but this causes all sorts of moral problems for Eddie. Nick, for his part, is insistent that their bargain be carried out (where's Bruno Kirby when you need him) and desperate to ensure that Eddie wind back up in Hell.

There's a fair amount to be recommended in Angel on My Shoulder, first in the performance from Paul Muni but even more so in the performance from Claude Rains, who is as always excellent here. The story at times strains credulity, although that's to be expected considering the supernatural nature of the material. But having to satisfy the Production Code probably had something to do with it too. Still, I can't help but think there are some open questions left by the resolution of the Eddie/Smiley dispute. A bigger problem for me, however, was an extended sequence when Eddie first takes over Judge Parker's body. Everybody around him realizes something is up even if they don't know what, but it's all presented as one of those lies on top of lies things that have always turned me off. And really nobody would ever have noticed the similarity in appearance between Eddie and Judge Parker?

Still, Angel on My Shoulder is definitely worth watching for anybody who likes older movies.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Things I probably should have mentioned in the past few days

Anne Jeffreys died on Wednesday at the age of 94. She just came up last weekend since she was the female lead in Zombies on Broadway, which was on TCM last Saturday. She never reached big star status, but some people will remember her from the Topper TV series (based on the same material as the movies) of the early 1950s and others will remember her from General Hospital where she had a recurring role.

It looks like TCM's Saturday morning series movies are a thing of the past. TCM ran the last of the Boston Blackie movies last Saturday, and tomorrow in the same time slot is Mystery of the Wax Museum. It's a great film, of course, but it's not part of any series. Having said that, it might not be such a bad thing that they're giving all those series a rest for a while.

FXM has a hi-def feed. A day or two ago I was looking for any showings in the next two weeks of a movie that's coming up next week, and was surprised to get four results. It turned out that two of them were on FXM, and the other two were on FXMHD, at least as DirecTV calls them. I think the hi-def feed only showed up on DirecTV in the last week, since I was looking up the airings of a different movie last weekend, and only got the FXM showings. I watched, and The Desert Rats was being shown pillarboxed on the hi-def feed and stretched on the regular feed. I don't know if people with other cable systems get FXMHD, but it's nice finally not to have to deal with the TV's aspect ratio if I record something from FXM Retro.

Four stars are born

TCM is running all three or four versions of A Star Is Born tonight in prime time. Whether you consider it three or four depends on what you think of What Price Hollywood?, which concludes the night at 3:45 AM. At any rate, I made it a point to watch the 1976 version of A Star Is Born (1:15 AM) off my DVR since it's on tonight.

Barbra Streisand plays the woman who's going to become a star. Here, she's not an actress, but a singer. And the movie starts off with her already in Los Angeles, not abandoning a family farm and granny (118-year-old May Robson was not available; the Andy Devine character seems written out too). Kris Kristofferson plays the established star who is also an alcoholic, doing rock music and some crazy things before seeing Babs as part of a band with two black backing singers called the Oreos (really!) and immediately falling for her white afro.

Kristofferson puts Streisand on at a benefit concert, she wows the audience, and her career takes off as his goes down the tubes. But you already know the story if you've seen the other three movies. That's one of the things that makes the movie a little tougher to grade. The other thing is the fact that it's built around Barbra Streisand's singing. I don't think this movie is going to change anybody's opinion of Streisand, especially her singing. Barbra is Barbra in spades here. I would, however, say that the movie is nowhere near as bad as some of the reviews would have you believe.

A search of the TCM shop suggests that all four movies are available on either DVD or Blu-ray.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #168: Families (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is the last Thursday of the month, so we get another TV edition, with the theme for this month being families. I grew up during the 1970s and 1980s, so it's not surprising that I've picked shows from that era:

Eight Is Enough (1977-1981). Dick Van Dyke spent his days like bright and shiny new dimes as the patriarch of the Bradford family, a family with eight children (nine in the last season as they adopted an older child, presumably in an attempt to boost saggind ratings). This one is actually based on a real family. The actress playing the original mother died a few months into shooting, so they gave Tom Bradford a second wife (Betty Buckley) and stepmother to the children.

Family Feud (various incarnations, although the Richard Dawson version is the best). Two teams of families compete to answer survey questions. Nowadays with Steve Harvey as host, all the questions seem to be written to get somebody to answer "penis". But the real reason I picked the show was to include this clip that shows you can get comedy just by having somebody have a brain cramp:

For this week's last entry:

Mama's Family (1982-1984 and 1986-2000). Vicki Lawrence took one of her characters from Carol Burnett's variety show and it was turned into a series in the early 80s. The first incarnation didn't do so well, but a few years later a syndicator needed programming, and Lawrence was willing to make new shows, although only a couple of the original cast members could return. Betty White and Rue McClanahan were in the original run, but by the time of the second run, The Golden Girls had become a hit.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Big Man from the North

Not being able to think of anything to blog about today, I decided to watch another of the cartoon extras from the Warner Gangsters set I've mentioned a couple of times before. (I think it's three cartoons down, three to go.) This time, it was Big Man from the North, on the Smart Money disk.

Bosko, looking like a monkey, is a Mountie in a decidedly non-RCMP uniform. His superior officer tells him to go bring back a certain notorious criminal. Bosko goes to the saloon, dances with a peach of a female and plays piano for her, and then gets the guy, who I think is supposed to be a bear. That's the plot, such as it is; in these 1930s cartoons there's often not much of a plot going on.

But there was still a lot interesting about the movie. First of, multiple characters were depantsed to the point that you could see their butt cracks; second was the card at the end, pictured above. Bosko actually says "That's all folks!" Also, there's the line about being licensed through the Bray-Hurd patents. I had to look that up, and as it turns out J.R. Bray and Earl Hurd each got patents for using transparencies in animation: if you've got a static background and one character moving, you can put the background on a transparency and only have to draw the movements of the character. It's the forefather of the cel, as I understand it. (I'm not an expert on animation.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Some more thoughts on remakes

I see that the movie kicking off tonight's final night of Jennifer Jones' turn as Star of the Month on TCM is The Barretts of Wimpole Street, at 8:00 PM. The title should sound familiar, since there was a famous 1934 movie by the same name. Interestingly, both versions were directed by Sidney Franklin, a man who didn't do that much else. At least, not in the sound era. He did do The Good Earth and The Guardsman, and a whole bunch of silents.

Anyhow, this puts Franklin in the relatively small list of people who directed the remake of a movie they had already directed. There's also Alfred Hitchcock with two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Frank Capra who did Lady For a Day and the remake Pocketful of Miracles. There are probably several others, although offhand I can't recall them.

The other interesting thing is the number of remakes in the 1950s and early 60s. As somebody on the TCM boards mentioned, there was probably a good reason for it in that the 50s brought wide-screen and much more common use of color to Hollywood. It would probably be easy for TCM do one of their monthly spotlights on 1950s lavish color remakes. Douglas Sirk did two of them in Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, for example.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Herbert Lom night on TCM

Tonight TCM is shining a light on Herbert Lom, the veteran character actor whom you would most likely remember as Dreyfus in the Pink Panther movies. TCM is running one of those in the overnight hours, although I'd rather mention The Dark Tower which kicks off the night at 8:00 PM. Lom plays a hypnotist who winds up with a struggling circus, and uses his power to remove enough fear from the high-wire walker to make the act much more interesting. Of course, he also tries to use that power to make her fall in love with him, which her husband naturally doesn't like. This is a surprisingly good B movie from the UK.

To be honest, though, I'm really mentioning Herbert Lom because it's a good opportunity to update one of the several hundred photos that have been orphaned over on Photobucket. What's even more grating is that when I clicked the link to the photo as I used it on my blog, the Photobucket page which theoretically ought to display the photo since it's not third party showed that damn "pay us $400 for third-party hosting" image. And the Herbert Lom photo is one that didn't survive the transition from my old computer to the one I have now. Thankfully, the "download" link worked. But the Photobucket change is even worse than I realized.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


So I DVRed Desire when TCM ran it back in June as part of a night of Marlene Dietrich movies. It turns out that the movie is available on DVD as part of Universal's MOD scheme, so I can be comfortable blogging about it and anybody who wants to see it being able to.

Gary Cooper plays Tom Bradley, an American automotive engineer who has been doing some work in Paris, and who wants to go vacation in Spain for a bit before heading back to America. (The movie was released a few months before the start of the Spanish Civil War, for those paying attention.) The only thing is, he's going to have to drive there because of his employer's desire to have him do some PR work. On the way out of Paris, he has a bumper-to-bumper collision with Madeleine de Beaupre (Marlene Dietrich).

Madeleine goes to Duvalle, a fine jeweler, and decides to buy one of the finest strings of pearls in the shop. She tells the jeweler that she's the wife of Dr. Pauquet (Alan Mowbray), one of the most renowned neurologists in France even if they didn't use that term back in the day. When Madeleine goes to see Dr. Pauquet that she's Mme. Duvalle and that she's worried about her husband, who is going to try to bring a bill to Dr. Pauquet. Madeleine walks out of the doctor's office, basically having Pauquet, but especially Duvalle.

However, she has to get the pearls out of the country. At the border of France and Spain, who should she meet but good old Tom Bradley? She's able to slip him the pearls without his knowledge, and the pearls make it safely into Spain. However, Madeleine has car troubles and hitches a ride with Tom before ultimately stealing and crashing his car!

Of course, Tom is going to find out where Madeleine is staying in San Sebastian, in order to look her up to be reimbursed for the car. Tom, of course, knows nothing about the pearls. But Tom also knows he's beginning to fall in love with Madeleine. Madeleine, for her part, finds herself falling in love with Tom, too, which presents a bigger problem. Madeleine didn't steal those pearls herself; she's part of a gang with Margoli (John Halliday), who is posing in San Sebastian as her uncle. The last half (at least) of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game among the three involving both romance and the attempt to get those pearls.

Desire is another of those very well-made movies, down in no small part to Ernst Lubitsch being on board as the producer (not the director; that was Frank Borzage who was also pretty darn good). It helps to have Dietrich and Cooper, as well as the higher-end production values that Paramount was always able to bring.

As for the story, I have to admit that it fell slightly short of expectations for me. That's probably more because the drawing-room style of comedy that had been a bigger thing in the early 1930s when the camera was more static has never been my thing. Too much of the second half is stuck in that hotel room, and why is Tom staying with them anyway once they get the pearls off him? There's also the problem that, since Madeleine is after all a thief, the Production Code is going to have a problem with resolving the story in the way you'd expect of Tom and Madeleine ending up together. That's a minor quibble, however, and as more my slightly bigger problem, anybody who likes this style of comedy is absolutely going to love the movie.

Another round of two-reelers

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights lineup, running from midnight to 2:00 AM, is five two-reelers starring Harry Langdon. The Surf Girl is listed as being from 1916 which means it would be in the public domain, but it doesn't seem to be on Youtube. And I haven't actually seen any of these so I can't comment on them.

But I can point out that yet again, TCM has the irritating habit of listing all of these as starting at midnight, and putting them in different orders. And of course the box guide may or may not match up the time each short begins for DVR pruposes with the times the shorts actually do begin. So if you want to record them individually you're probably out of luck. You'll have to record the whole block.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Winning of Barbara Worth

It's amazing how many love stories are set against the backdrop of disasters, and possibly more amazing how blatantly Hollywood movies foreshadow some of those disasters. A good example of this is The Winning of Barbara Worth.

The movie starts off with an introductory sequence that's a good fifteen minutes. Jefferson Worth (silent actor Charles Lane, not to be confused with the character actor from movies like It's a Wonderful Life who is a different Charles Lane) is leading a group of people through the desert looking for a place to settle. They come across young Barbara, who has been orphaned when her father died in the desert and then Mom was killed in a sandstorm. So Jefferson takes Barbara and treats her as an adopted daughter.

Fast forward about 20 years. Barbara (Vilma Banky) is all grown up and Jefferson wants to irrigate the portion of the desert he's living in, to turn it into a paradise by damming the Colorado River and diverting some of the water. So he hires an engineering firm, led by James Greenfield and junior partner Willard Holmes (Ronald Colman). Willard sees Barbara and immediately falls in love with her. But Barbara insists that she's a product of the desert, and that the big city isn't for her. Plus, if she loves anybody it's Jefferson's surveyor Abe Lee (a very young Gary Cooper).

The irrigation scheme gets built, but Jefferson and a bunch of his employees point out that the dam isn't big enough, and when the big rains come closer to the source of the Colorado, the dam isn't going to hold. So we know that there's going to be a failure of the dam. In addition, Greenfield decides he's going to fire anybody who disagrees with him. Worse, he's going to bankrupt them.

Worth and his men decide to start a new town, another company town in which Worth runs everything. Greenfield makes certain none of his banker friends will extend credit to Worth. And when one does, Greenfield sends his henchmen to shoot Abe and Willard who are transporting the cash for the payroll back to Worth's town. Willard makes it back to town just in time, as well as just in time to learn that the dam is in fact bursting and threatening Greenfield's town....

The Winning of Barbara Worth is a beautiful movie to watch. I was very impressed by the quality of the print I saw on the TCM recording. Daytime desert scenes are tinted yellow, while nighttime scenes have a blue tint. All three leads are photogenic, depending on what you're looking for in an actor. There are numerous plot holes, mostly centering around the time it takes to cover various distances. When Jefferson Worth gets the line of credit, for example, it's supposed to take 20 hours to transport the money back to Worth's town. However, the information somehow reaches Greenfield instantly. And how were they able to get from Worth's town back to Greenfield's to warn of the impending deluge when the journey in the reverse direction was shown to be gruelling?

Plot holes aside, The Winning of Barbara Worth is an entertaining silent. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, too, although that of course means it's a bit pricey.

Friday, September 22, 2017

That list again

A month ago, I mentioned the BBC list of 100 greatest comedies that had made the news in the past few days. Somebody obviously gave an advance copy of that list to the folks at TCM. (Well, to be fair, Ben Mankiewicz was one of the people polled.) Tonight's prime time lineup on TCM is five of the top movies from that list. Even if you're not a fan of everybody on that list -- I'm not the biggest Charlie Chaplin fan and I was curious to see somebody pick a Marx Brothers movie for yesterdays "Thursday Movie Picks" blogathon -- there should be something for your liking. But TCM normally comes up with these schedules a couple of months in advance, before the BBC list was made public. (As I understand it, the monthly spotlights and Stars of the Month are planned out up to a year in advance while they try to secure the rights to needed movies.)

Saturday morning starts off with something that clearly isn't on BBC's list of 100 great comedies: Zombies on Broadway, at 6:00 AM. This RKO B movie shows up surprisingly infrequently considering it's part of the old Turner library. But I suppose there's a reason why the RKO B's show up less than those from Warner Bros. or MGM. Still, Zombies on Broadway is fun but silly even if it's not that good.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #167: Just Not Funny Comedies

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 "Just Not Funny" Comedies, and the ones I've picked aren't quite as old as my normal picks. (Well, I suppose I could have gone with the Ritz Brothers.)

Dondi (1961). David Janssen plays a World War II soldier who takes pity on an Italian orphan and wants to adopt him. Of course, bringing him back to America in the first place is going to be a problem. The kid playing the orphan is monstrously obnoxious and unfunny, and the story isn't particularly good either. This was based on a popular comic strip.

The Party (1968). Peter Sellers plays a Hollywood extra who is supposed to be blacklisted for incompetence, but accidentally winds up on the list for the swankiest Hollywood part ever. At some point around Dr. Strangelove (excluding some of the Pink Panther films), Sellers became almost unwatchable and cringe-inducingly unfunny. The bizarre party he attends here is apparently supposed to be hippie-inspired or something, but it's just tedious.

Neighbors (1981). John Belushi's final film has him as a suburbanite with a wife (Kathryn Walker) whose lives get turned upside down when a new neighbor (Dan Aykroyd) moves in. IMDb opinion is sharply divided, but I fall into the negative side, finding it stupid. It probably doesn't help that the first time I watched it I was probably too young: there's a joke about edible underwear that I was definitely not mature enough to get back then. (This was in the VHS era; I was only nine years old when it was released and did not go to see it in the theater. I think we got a copy from my movie-theater manager uncle.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Some weeks back I mentioned by surprise that the Oscar-winning movie Klute was out of print on DVD. It's coming on TCM overnight tonight (or early tomorrow morning depending on your perspective and time zone) at 4:00 AM, so now is a good time to do a post about it.

The movie starts off with what looks like a big family dinner, followed by a sudden cut and just a couple of people left at the table. It's some months later, and one of the people who was at that table has disappeared. Now, the authorities are talking the the disappeared man's wife as well as local policeman John Klute (Donald Sutherland). More worrying, it sounds as though the disappeared man had a double life, as he was writing extremely dirty letters to a call gilr in New York City, where he also took some business trips and where he disappeared.

People want to find the disappeared man, to Klute starts working as a sort of private detective to find out what happened to him. Obviously, a good place to start would be with that call girl. So Klute goes to New York and looks up Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda, who won the Oscar) and finds that she's no longer living the good life of a high-priced call girl. Instead, she's in much shabbier surroundings, a couple of floors above a funeral home in a building that looks like it could use some work. Bree, for a whole bunch of reasons, doesn't want to talk about the disappeared man, the letters, or her life as a prostitute at all. In fact, she'd like to get away from it if she could, but it pays the bills and she's good at it.

Klute tries to get to Bree, and he's straight-arrow to the point that you wonder whether Bree has ever met a man like this. Eventually, she gives in to Klute's persistence, in part because she needs help. Somebody has been stalking her, making obscene phone calls and making her feel like she's constantly being watched. If this weren't a movie, we'd understand it could be entirely coincidental considering how many clients Bree had. But it is a movie, so we can guess from the emphasis placed on it that yeah, it has something to do with the guy's disappearance.

Klute and Bree go around the seedier parts of early 1970s New York, eventually finding... well, I'm not about to give that away. Klute is a well-made movie, doing a good job of depicting the New York of that era as the unromantic, falling-apart place it was becoming, the whole "Ford to city: drop dead" thing I've mentioned in relation to several other movies from the era. It's most definitely a grown-up story for intelligent, thinking people. Fonda does a good job, although I can't help but wonder that the Oscar is in part down to playing the sort of character that hadn't much made to the screen before, at least not in this gritty way. Sutherland is good too, although as always he got overlooked. Roy Scheider plays a pimp for whom Bree used to work, and Edith Bunker (er, Jean Stapleton) has a one-scene role as a secretary to one of Bree's elderly clients.

It's a shame that Klute seems to be out of print on DVD, because it's really worth seeing. It would also be good as part of a spotlight on New York of that time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Silents update, September 19, 2017

So I don't particularly care for any of tonight's Jennifer Jones movies, and I haven't sat through any of the recent TCM airings of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit to do a full-length review of it. Instead, I should mention a few things I learned over the weekend while looking for movies on my DVR that are available on DVD.

I was looking for a DVD of the 1966 Soviet film Wings, which of course shares its title with the first Best Picture Oscar winner. So a search for the Soviet movie is definitely going to yield clases with that, as well as box sets of the 1990s sitcom Wings. But I learned that the 1927 silent is going to be getting a new DVD and Blu-Ray release, coming out at the end of October.

Having thought of that and Gary Cooper's brief role in it, I thought about The Winning of Barbara Worth, which I have on my DVR having recorded it when Ronald Colman was Star of the Month back in July. It turns out that that one is available from the Warner Archive, so it's one that I should probably sit down and watch so that I can do a full-length review on it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Briefs for September 18-19, 2017

Tonight's lineup on TCM is listed as being the 90th anniversary of what used to be Grauman's Chinese Theater, but is now apparently calle the TCL Chinese Theater. I couldn't figure out what movies like Sullivan's Travels were doing tin the salute, but it turns out that there are only three movies in the spotlight, all of which are from the early days of the theater: the first movie to premiere; the first sound movie; and the first Best Picture Oscar winner. That at least makes more sense.

Somebody over on the TCM Message boards posted this Newsweek article decrying how popular streaming services have so few old movies. I'm not certain exactly where I fall on the issue, other than to say I can't help but think that the constant lengthening of copyrights doesn't help. There was a time not too long ago that copyrights were a 28-year term, renewable for another 47. I'd have to look it up again to see if there were two extensions, but definitely by the time the first Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie was nearing 75, there was another push on to lengthen copyrights. Under the old scheme, we'd be getting movies from 1942 entering the public domain this year.

What does Criterion do with some of the movies to which they hold the rights? I was going to watch Look Back in Anger off my DVR just to free up some space, since I didn't think it's in print on DVD. I was mildly surprised just before the opening titles to see the Criterion logo. Having seen recently that the Soviet movie Wings was put on DVD by Criterion, I decided to look on the Criterion site for Look Back in Anger and found... nothing. So do they no longer have the rights to the movie, or just no plans to put it on DVD? To be honest, though, I had to bail on the movie halfway through, in part because I started watching too late in the evening, and in part because I found Richard Burton's character such a jerk that I couldn't get into the picture.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


So I watched Witchcraft on FXM Retro this morning since it's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 7:20 AM.

The movie starts off with a man on a bulldozer grading some land somewhere in the Home Counties of England. The land is a disused cemetery, and descendants of most of the people there have already removed the gravestones. Except for one family, the Whitlocks. And patriarch Morgan Whitlock (Lon Chaney Jr.) is furoius about all this.

Whitlock goes to the developer ultimately responsible for the new housing development, Bill Lanier (Jack Hedley). It turns out that the Whitlocks and the Laniers have a history going back centuries, to the point that Morgan as well as Bill's aunt are both unhappy that Bill's younger brother Todd (David Weston) wants to date Morgan's niece Amy (Diane Clare). We later learn that 300 years ago, the Laniers accused the Whitlocks of witchcraft, and were able to get one of the Whitlocks killed and the rest dispossessed of their land, which now happens to be the Lanier estate. No wonder the Whitlocks are still pissed.

Actually, when I said they got one of the Whitlocks killed for practicing witchcraft, that's not entirely correct. Vanessa Whitlock was put to death by being buried alive, and she was buried in the cemetery that is now being disturbed by the property development. And the work has disturbed Vanessa's grave. We find that Vanessa is still alive, and that she is still more than interested in practicing witchcraft. I suppose you can't blame her after what the Laniers did to her.

Anyhow, she first gets a devil doll placed in the office of Bill's manager, who then drowns in his bathtub although there are signs that he was strangled. That's followed by attempts on the lives of various members of the Lanier family! Are Morgan and Amy involved in this?

Lon Chaney gets top billing here, although it's probably the Bill Lanier character that's the real male lead. The movie is understandably put in the horror genre, although it's really not very scary. It's decidedly a programmer, and in that regard it pretty much succeeds even if there's nothing particularly great or memorable about it. It's the sort of movie that would be a great 80-minute watch in the runup to Halloween if you're looking for something you probably haven't seen before.

Witchcraft doesn't seem to be on DVD, although Amazon does do the streaming thing.

Černý Petr

So I was listening to Radio Prague's English-language podcast the other day, and one of the stories was about a restoration of one of Miloš Forman's early movies, Black Peter. It's from even before Loves of a Blonde, and to be honest a movie I hadn't heard of until hearing about the restoration.

Radio Prague has individual pages for most of their current affairs and feature stories, and the one on Black Peter can be found here. As usual, it's more or less a transcript of the report. If you wish to listen to the report, there's a streaming player at the top of the article, as well as a link to the MP3 file (1.5 MB and a little over three minutes).

I always find it interesting to listen about film preservation.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


I finally got around to watching the 1966 Soviet film Wings off my DVR since I realized that it is in fact available on DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection. (It's actuall available as well on the TCM Shop and Amazon, but searching on the title Wings doesn't show it; it helps to search under the name of the director, Larisa Shepitko.)

There's not much of a story here; Wings is really more of a character story. Nadezhda Petrukhina (Maya Bulgakova) is the 40-something headmistress of a vocational high school in a provincial Russian city (unnamed, and I couldn't find where the exteriors were shot although I'd guess that was in one of the satellite cities around Moscow). Nadezhda doesn't seem to have much joy in life, as there's work, and not much else. Well, there's a museum director who takes an interest in her, although for her it's really a platonic friendship.

It turns out there's a good reason there's not much joy in her life: Nadezhda was a pilot in World War II, earning the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and worthy of being a museum exhibit. It was there that she met her husband Mitya, who unfortunately died in the war. Nadezhda has flashbacks to the war, which seems to have given her a sense of purpose in life, and with the war long over Nadezhda has lost that purpose in life.

Nadezhda adopted a daughter and obviously told the daughter Tanya that Dad died in the war because Tanya has no idea that she's adopted. Tanya has recently gotten married, and she and Mom are distant enough that Mom has never seen her son-in-law. She goes to visit, and the visit doesn't go so well.

Wings is a very well-made movie, even though there's very little story here. Bulgakova does extremely well as the middle-aged woman has sacrificed for everybody, and there are some fun scenes, such as when Nadezhda has to fill in for a student in a school performance, and one where she commiserates with the owner of a Soviet-style diner for the working class. That scene made me think of Joan Crawford and Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce. The cinematography is also excellent. I did have one lingering question of what Nadezhda did in the 20 years following the war, since you'd think it would have taken her less than 20 years to get used to the war being over. Perhaps she was only more recently retired from the military, although I find that hard to imagine.

As long as you know going into it that you're getting a character study and not a full story, I can strongly recommend Wings.

Harry Dean Stanton, 1926-2017

Veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton, who got a career boost in late middle age when Wim Wenders cast him in Paris, Texas, died yesterday aged 91.

Stanton started his career in the 1950s, often being credited as just Dean Anderson (when he even did get a credit) in movies like The Proud Rebel and Cool Hand Luke. The 70s saw some bigger movies: The Godfather Part II, Kelly's Heroes, The Missouri Breaks, and Alien among others. But it was getting cast in Paris, Texas that really gave Stanton more prominence.

Stanton also did a lot of TV work, with the best known today proabably being the Mormon patriarch who supports polygamy in Big Love. But Stanton's IMDb page lists supporting roles everywhere in the 50s and 60s, including one on The Rifleman. I don't know if MeTV has the ability to change their schedule that quickly to run it this weekend, the way they did with Richard Anderson. But they had more time after Anderson's death and Anderson did multiple episodes of the show anyway.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hands Across the Table

TCM is running a night of Carole Lombard movies tonight, so I made a special point of watching Hands Across the Table off my cheap Lombard box set since that movie kicks off the night at 8:00 PM.

Lombard plyas Reggie Allen, a working girl working a humdrum life as a manicurist. (To be honest, I wonder how humdrum it could really be considering the size of her apartment.) The shop she works in is on the ground floor of a hotel, so all sorts of rich men come to the place and get a manicure as part of their routine. Among them is Allen Macklyn (Ralph Bellamy), a pilot. Well, ex-pilot, since he had a crash and is aralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair. Reggie goes up to his suite and does his nails, and finds him to be a nice guy. Marriage material? Well, it is Ralph Bellamy. This even though Reggie is open about the fact that she only plans to marry for money. Allen likes this honesty to the fact that he falls in love with Reggie.

On the way out Allen's suite one day, she runs into Ted Drew III (Fred MacMurray). He's acting like a spoiled rich playboy, and Reggie doesn't like him one bit because he says nothing in that first meeting to indicate that he's rich. And then he calls for an appointment, specifically looking for Reggie since he's obviously fallen in love with her. Reggie doesn't like him -- until she finds out that he's from a rich family. Obviously she can learn to like him in that case.

So Reggie and Ted go out for a night on the town, in which Ted gets drunk to the point of passing out and misses his boat to Bermuda. You see, he was supposed to go away for a couple of weeks because his fiancée's family is redoing the house. Oh yeah, and he has a fiancée. But he doesn't even have cab fare to get back to a hotel, so he spends the night at Reggie's place.

It turns out that Ted isn't rich at all. His family was at one time, but the lost it in the crash of 1929. Ted isn't even suited to holding any sort of job, which makes you wonder how he got along for the previous five years since the movie was released in 1935. But Ted is clearly in love with Reggie to the point that he'd think about getting an honest job, while Reggie has conflicted feelings about Ted. And of course there's poor Allen back at the hotel; you know he's not getting the girl at the end. Predictable consequences ensue.

Hands Across the Table is formulaic and certainly not bad, but it's also a movie that I had some problems with. The big one is that Ted's character is written to be such a jerk that it's difficult to figure out why Reggie would fall in love with him. There are also various minor plot holes that it should be easy enough to suspend disbelief over (such as the previously mentioned size of her apartment), although there were enough of them that I kept noticing them. Still, Lombard gives a profeesional role, while a young MacMurray does just fine. Poor Ralph Bellamy is given yet another thankless role but pulls it off.

The supporting cast has Marie Prevost as Reggie's annoying coworker who believes in numerology, and Ruth Donnelly as Reggie's boss who seems more interested in finding Reggie a husband than in whether Reggie does her job well. Astrid Allwyn plays the fiancée. All of them do well, even though Prevost, like Bellamy, is given some really thankless material.

Hands Across the Table was cheap for the price of the ultra-cheap box set I got, what with no extras and movies on both sides of the disks. But if you just want to see the movies, that's not a bad way to go.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #166: Financial World

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 financial world, and I've selected three movies that to a greater or lesser extent touch upon the world of finance:

Jumping Jack Flash (1986). Whoopi Goldberg plays an exchange trader in an office where one day somebody hacks into her computer. That person is claiming to be an British spy trapped in the Soviet Union, and he has to hack into a private-sector computer to get help because that's the only way the Soviets won't notice him. She has to help by getting the British Consulate to help him, but when that goes wrong she's drawn deeper into international intrigue.

A Successful Calamity (1932). George Arliss plays a financier who's just returned from a post-World War I conference in Europe to discuss financing the reconstruction, only to find out that his family are doing their own thing and are too busy to take the time to care about him. So he engineers a fake financial collapse that will get the family to listen to him, only for him to turn the tables and teach them a lesson. Arliss is, as always, delightfully mischievous in this little programmer.

Mister 880 (1950). Edmund Gwenn plays a lonely old man who decides to engage in a little bit of quantitative easing. The only thing is, he doesn't work for the government, so instead of quantitative easing, it's called counterfeiting as he expands the money supply by passing off fake $1 bills. Burt Lancaster plays the Secret Service agent (remember, their original task was to deal with counterfeiters and they were part of the Treasury Department) charged with finally cracking the case, and Dorothy McGuire a UN interpreter who knows Gwenn.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cop movies, some good, some bad

TCM's lineup this morning this morning and afternoon has a whole bunch of police movies, a common staple of filmdom since time immemorial. Quite a few of these are movies I haven't seen before, to be honest. The afternoon half of the lineup begins at 12:30 PM with the 1950s version of The Racket. That and the original silent version are both quite good in their own right.

That's followed at 2:15 PM by Bullets or Ballets, a mid-30s gangster movie I'm pretty certain I've seen before, but it would have been several years. It's gotten a DVD release, on multiple box sets. What I find interesting is that the Warner Bros. Gangster set lists for $59.95, but is on sale for rather different prices at Amazon and the TCM Shop. There's also a four-film TCM Edward G. Robinson set which is apparently not available at Amazon. The standalone DVD is out of print, but you can also stream it at Amazon.

3:45 PM sees Borderline, a Fred MacMurray film that's interesting and enjoyable even if there are better movies in the genre. Still, it's a good way to spend an hour and a half.

I can't say the same for Tear Gas Squad, which comes on at 5:15 PM. Dennis Morgan plays a singing cop. Ugh ugh ugh. And Stephen Bochco thought Cop Rock would be a good idea.

The last movie of the afternoon is Beast of the City at 6:30 PM. This is another of those movies that I think I've seen, but those early 1930s cop/gangster movies tend to blend together to the point that I'm not certain.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

60% of Fellini

So I watched Five over the weekend. It seems to be out of print on DVD, but if you can do the streaming video thing, Amazon has it for rent or purchase.

The movie starts off with a woman (susan Douglas) shell shocked and wandering around a world that doesn't seem to have any other people in it. There's a good reason she can't find anybody else, which is that there was recently a nuclear war. She was safe because she was getting x-rayed in a lead-lined room, and that kept the rest of the radiation out. (The concussive effects of the bomb are completely overlooked.) She keeps wandering, and eventually comes across a hilltop house where there is another human being!

That man, Michael (William Phipps), eventually brings the woman, named Roseanne, out of her shell. The two set about the tedious work of foraging for food, cooking, and all those other things that suddenly become a lot more difficult when there's just been a nuclear war. It also turns out that these two aren't the only survivors. They hear what sounds like a car horn, and sure enough, two more men, black man Charles and elderly bank teller Barnstaple, show up. They were trapped in the vault, which is how they didn't get killed by the radiation. But Barnstaple has subsequently been poisoned, as he's developing dementia and some lovely physical symptoms. He insists they go to the beach, where Barnstaple dies.

And on the beach, another body washes up. This is Eric (James Anderson), who was supposedly climbing Mt. Everest when the bomb hit, which is why he was spared the reservation. He's made it to the west coast of America ridiculously quickly. He's also an overweening prick, thinking of himself as a Nietzschean superman and thinking that everybody else, especially black people, are inferior. He wants to go to the city to see if there are any survivors, and dammit, he's going to take Roseanne with him.

The movie goes on like this. It's an interesting premise, and generally done well, although there are certainly plot holes. Eric's back story makes no sense since it would take him much longer to get there from Asia than everybody else. Nobody seems to have any difficulty getting gasoline. Somehow all the buildings survived, an somehow only five humans did. No miners (as in The World, The Flesh, and the Devil); nobody on submarines (On the Beach) or in airplanes; and nobody else was getting x-rayed or in a bank vault or whatnot. The dialog is at times ridiculous, but I think that's largely because the characters are really supposed to be archetypes, and not fully fleshed out people. The story doesn't have time for that.

Five is a movie that probably deserves another DVD release, probably with The Twonky since both were directed by Arch Oboler. It's an interesting, if flawed little film.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Back on FXM Retro, September 12, 2017

I don't seem to have mentioned this movie in five years, but FXM Retro has As Young As You Feel bck on, tomorrow at 8:40 AM and again Wednesday at 7:20. Monty Woolley is delightful as always, playing a man forced to retire and decidign he's not going to take it lightly. Woolley is able assisted by Thelma Ritter, who is once again delightful. The standalone DVD seems to be out of print, but you can do the Amazon streaming, and the TCM Shop has a Monroe box set with the movie.

Having said that, the other reason for posting is because I knew I had that old photo of Monty Woolley on one of my hard drives. Since I can't link to the Photobucket incarnation of it, I figured I'd upload it to the blog. I really ought to figure out reasons to post more of them because so often when I look up an old blog post for some movie or another there will be that obnoxious Photobucke "we want to charge you a ridiculous amount for hotlinking" image.

Treasures from the Disney Vault, Spetmber 2017

It's time for another quarterly installment of Treasures from the Disney Vault on TCM. Even though as I understand it the TCM-sponsored ride at Disney is no longer running, the part of the agreement that allows for a limited number of Disney things to show up on TCM is still there. I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of Disney's output, but having some of the stuff on TCM is still a good thing.

I note that there's only one animated short on the lineup tonight, Lonesome Ghosts at 12:15 AM, which has Mickey Mouse as a ghost hunter. And there's no Disneyland/Wonderful World of Disney episode either, which makes me wonder whether we're going to be seeing fewer "treasures" and more just a few of the more tentpole-like live-action titles that Disney produced back in the golden days. Hell, I'm amazed we even got the third-level animated features once or twice.

But the tentpole titles this time around include Swiss Family Robinson at 8:00 PM, and Freaky Friday overnight at 2:30 AM, for what it's worth.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Shorts update, September 10-11, 2017

In looking through the upcoming shorts on TCM, one that I haven't seen looks interesting: Desert Killer, at about 7:49 PM following Sex and the Single Girl (5:45 PM, 114 min plus an intro or outro). It's about a rancher hunting a cougar that's killing his sheep, but from the IMDb comments, it sounds like it has Pete Smith-style comments narrating. But it's not a Pete Smith short, since it's at Warner Bros. It's also in Technicolor.

Tomorrow morning, The Audition comes up, at about 9:49 AM. It's after Meet the Baron (8:30 AM, 67 min) and before the next movie, which starts at 10:00 AM. I actually blogged about this one four months ago when I couldn't figure out anything else to blog about. I've got a couple of movies I watched off my DVR, but none of them are in print on DVD. (A couple of them are streaming at Amazon, and I think one is on the TCM schedule in October, so I decided to watch it now.)

Getting back to those old 1930s musical shorts, there's also The Mills Blue Rhythm Band around 8:15 AM, showcasing several dancers and musical acts. This is another one I haven't seen so I can't comment on.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Well, I don't have any children....

I mentioned the TCM lineup the other day featuring movies by woman directors. One that I hadn't seen before but I saw somebody recommend, was Where Are My Children?. It's not available on DVD, but the movie was made in 1916 which means that it's in the public domain and is available on Youtube:

The Library of Congress print that TCM ran has an intertitle card at the opening stating that this is about the adult topic of birth control, which is only partly true. It's about a bunch of related themes, of which birth control is one. Richard Walton (Tyrone Power Sr., father of the Tyrone Power with whom people are probably most familiar) is a prosecuting attorney who is an advocate of eugenics, which was promoted as a way of ensuring good birth and that the population would not be saddled with the mentally and physically unfit. (It would later be used by governments across the political spectrum from US states to Nazi Germany to Sweden to force wrong people into forced sterilization, among other horrors.) Walton is shown at the beginning asking for mercy for a doctor who distributes birth control information in the slums -- people who in Walton's view clearly shouldn't be reproducing.

Meanwhile, back at home Walton has a lovely wife (played by Power's real-life wife, credited as Helen Riaume) who is unfortunately childless. Mr. Walton can't undertand why his marriage hasn't been blessed with children, but what he doesn't know is that his wife is behind it. The Waltons are the sort of people who shouldn't (in his world view) be using birth control because they're the right people. But Mrs. Walton is using primitive birth control in the form of abortions from Dr. Malfit (Juan de la Cruz). And she's helping her social circle maintain their childles frivolity by directing them to the abortionist.

Ultimately, a botched abortion will leave Mrs. Walton infertile, leading to the moving finale. But before that, we see the maid's young adult daughter, who gets knocked up by Mrs. Walton's brother. Oops, gotta get her an abortion too. Only that abortion gets even more botched than Mrs. Waltons, and the poor girl dies, which leads Mr. Walton to start a vicious prosecution of Malfit for being the monster that he's perceived to be by 1916 standards. But there's stuff that Mr. Walton doesn't know....

Where Are My Children? is a fascinating movie for a bunch of reasons. It's a decidedly polemical movie: producer/director Lois Weber makes no secret of where her loyalties lie. Some of the political views of the day will be obviously controversial if anybody presented them today. Abortion is no longer performed in back alleys, of course. But perhaps the more interesting one is how unapologetically birth control is presented as being vital to keep the wrong class (and race, although that's not mentioned in the movie) from reproducing too much. Point out today that this was a big thrust of the Margaret Sanger types, and the condemnation will be fierce.

The actors give pretty good performances even considering how the requirements for acting changed once talking pictures came to the screen. Lois Weber apparently liked special effects, and there's one repeated effect of the "souls in Heaven" waiting to be born. There's also an effects shot in the finale that works much better.

Where Are My Children? is ultimately worth seeing not just for the historical value of the issues it discussed.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tonight's cabbie movies

Tonight's TCM lineup is focused on taxicab drivers, and I should probably mention the last one, Night on Earth at 3:45 AM. I think it's a TCM premiere

It's an anthology of five stories of cab drivers and their fare, all set at the same time. Except that they're in various time zones, so the first story, in Los Angeles, is set at the beginning of the night, while the last one, in Helsinki, Finland, is around daybreak. In between, we have stories in New York, Paris, and Rome.

The one in Rome is worth mentioning because it's got Roberto Benigni, playing a taxi driver who picks up a priest and then starts telling the sort of stories he'd usually tell. Except that thos stories are incredibly bawdy. And things go badly. I'd also mention the last one, as there is in many ways nothing going on here. A couple of drunk guys get in a cab, and tell the driver they've just been laid off and how sad their lives are. The cabbie responds by telling his passengers an even sadder story. That's it. And yet the story will stay with you.

Unfortunately, this is one I haven't seen in ages, since back in the days when the old IFC was commercial-free, and actually showed independent films. So that's probably a good decade. I don't have quite as strong memories of the second and third stories as of the last two, and that's part of the reason this one isn't getting a longer review. But this is certainly worth watching, and I think I've finally got the room on the DVR to record it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #165: Animated movies for adults

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time around, the subject is animated movies for adults, and since I don't watch all that much animation, this one was a bit difficult for me. But I was ale to come up with three movies:

Twice Upon a Time (1983). A bad guy wants to steal the mainspring from the Cosmic Clock because, if he does so, he'll be able to stop time and give everybody permanent nightmares. Mumford and his pet Ralph sre sent to stop this, with help from a good witch and her superhero boyfriend. It's a bizarre little movie and older kids could probably enjoy it, although there was both a clean version and a more grown-up version with more adult humor. The film combines animation with photographic backdrops.

Pvt. Snafu (World War II). Pvt. Snafu was an animated character in a series of short warning films made specifically for enlisted men. They're not really training films per se, instead being the opposite, in telling the men what not to do. Mel Blanc provided the voice, and other talented people from the World War II-era military's film division wrote and directed. A good example is The Goldbrick (1943), which has writing by Dr. Seuss, and direction by a young Frank Tashlin:

Fritz the Cat (1972). An anthropomorphic cat has drug- and sex-fueled adventures in hippie-era New York, ultimately going on a failed cross-country trip with a crow. The movie was the first animated movie to receive an X rating from the MPAA.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Crime of Passion

I mentioned a while back that I had DVRed Crime of Passion when it showed up on Noir Alley back in the spring, but didn't do a full-length blog post because it was out of print on DVD. Except that it was scheduled for a DVD release on September 5, which is of course yesterday. For some reason, both the TCM Shop and Amazon are listing the DVD as scheduled for a release yesterday, but either on backorder (TCM Shop) or temporarily out of stock (Amazon). Having said that, Amazon is currently offering it via streaming video.

Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, who at the start of the movie is a women's advice columnist at a San Francisco newspaper, single and proud of her career. This even though she writes sappy crap. San Francisco is in the news because a female murder suspect from Los Angeles has fled there, and the LA police send a pair of cops up to find the suspect and bring her back to justice in Los Angeles. It's because of this that Kathy meets Bill (Sterling Hayden) and his partner Charlie (Royal Dano).

Both of the cops are dismissive of Kathy, Charlie more so, but Kathy apparently begins to feel some sort of lust for Bill. She was going to take a better job in New York, but she suddenly decides to drop everything and go down to Los Angeles to marry Bill! Not only this, but she's going to become a housewife and give up the columnist gig! It's never really made clear why Kathy does something so out of character. Maybe her biological clock was ticking, although Stanwyck in real life was pushing 50 by the time she made the movie.

Back to Kathy's idiot motivation, she soon realizes she's done something incredibly stupid, since she doesn't care for the gossipy wives, and the men don't respect her intellect. Eventually Kathy gets so fed up with it that she decides she's going to help her husband's career by getting to know the Popes. Tony (Raymond Burr) is Bill's boss, married to Alice (Fay Wray). If she can do this, she can possibly put a good word in for Bill and get him a promotion. So she starts stalking Mrs. Pope and eventually causes an accident.

Mr. Pope sees right through this, asking Kathy what she was doing over there since it was way out of the way for her. But in a movie where several of the main characters have screwed up motivations, he's willing to succumb to her attempts to seduce him! To be fair, Mrs. Pope has been on the verge of a nervous breakdown, hoping that hubby would retire so she doesn't have to worry about him. And if he does retire, well there's a great career opportunity for Bill. And if Mr. Pope passes Bill by? Well hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!

Crime of Passion is a movie that I have decidedly mixed feelings about. The movie is really only partly a noir, being at the end of the noir cycle; the other part is more of a soap opera as you could easily see a Joan Crawford character doing many of the things Barbara Stanwyck's character does. The characters act in ways that are almost ludicrous at times, leading me to laugh at times when that most likely wasn't the intent of the movie.

Stanwyck does the best she can with the material. Burr does fairly well; he was still a heavy at the time as it was still another few months before Perry Mason would premiere on TV. But his character suddenly finds his conscience again, making for a rapid volte-face in yet another plot veer. Sterling Hayden doesn't have to do much other than be sturdy, something which was easy for him to do.

All in all, Crime of Passion is not without interest, but is another of those movies that would probably be better in a box set.

Women directors, and more

I probably should have posted this last night, but I see that today's TCM lineup has a bunch of movies directed by women back in the days when it was truly pioneering for women to be directing. Heck, some of the movies are from the days when it was pioneering for men to be directing. There are a couple of Alice Guy-Blaché movies in the lineup, such as 1912's Algie, the Miner at 3:30 PM:

We also get a pair of Ida Lupino movies. Outrage is back on at 6:00 PM; the last time I tried to record that one there was an interruption in my service that caused it not to record properly, so maybe I'll get to see it in full this time.

Tonight, and every Wednesday in September, TCM is putting the Spotlight on the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which is probably best known for the retirement home for people in the injury who need it. Actual residents of the home are going to be sitting down (I'd assume with Ben Mankiewicz and not some other guest host, although the TCM page doesn't say) to discuss movies of which they were a part, including 104-year-old Connie Sawyer talking about her scene in A Hole in the Head (10:45 PM tonight). There's also a mini-documentary, Showfolk at 10:00 tonight.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TCM Star of the month September 2017: Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie (1948); Sept. 12 at 8:00 PM

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month. This time, it's Jennifer Jones, and her movies will be airing on Tuesdays in prime time. The picture above is from Portrait of Jennie; that's going to be on next week. This week starts off with Jones' Oscar-winning role in The Song of Bernadette at 8:00 PM, which isn't one of my favorite movies, but you can understand why TCM would run it right at 8:00 PM.

I'm not a fan of Cluny Brown, but I know a lot of people are fans of Ernst Lubitsch in general, so they may like this one too. (Not that I dislike Lubitsh; I just didn't care for this one. But I'm not quite as much of a Jennifer Jones fan.) Cluny Brown will be on overnight at 1:00 AM.

If I were going to mention one movie in tonight's lineup for its quality, it would probably be Since You Went Away, early tomorrow at 5:30 AM.

Monday, September 4, 2017

TCM's Jerry Lewis tribute

Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960); on overnight tonight at 2:00 AM

Comic actor Jerry Lewis died two weeks ago at the age of 91. TCM was still going through Summer Under the Stars, so there was no way they could do a programming tribute until sometime in September. Considering Lewis' longtime involvement with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the former Labor Day telethon, it's only fitting that TCM should run their Lewis tribute on Labor Day.

TCM has five Lewis films tonight, only one with Dean Martin; three from Lewis' solo career in the 60s; and one later movie:

The Nutty Professor at 8:00 PM;
The King of Comedy, the more recent movie, at 10:00 PM;
The Stooge, the one with Dean Martin, at midnight;
The Bellboy at 2:00 AM; and
The Disorderly Orderly at 3:30 AM

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The wine sparkles, but does the movie

Not having much idea of what to do a post about today, I decided to watch the 1928 silent movie Champagne off my cheap Mill Creek boxed set of early Hitchcock titles.

The movie has a simple plot. The Girl (Betty Balfour; I think her name is mentioned once as Betty but the characters here are otherwise not named), daughter of a wealthy Father (Gordon Harker), is in love with The Boy (Jean Bradin). Apparently, Father doesn't approve, because The Girl takes Daddy's plane out into the Atlantic to meet up with the boat on which The Boy is going across to Europe. And we can see that Daddy is none too pleased about it.

The two young lovers plan to elope, but also on the transatlantic liner is The Man (Theo van Alten) who seems to keep stalking The Girl. Disagreements delay the marriage -- the Boy doesn't want the Girl taking all the initiative -- and eventually they wind up meeting again in Paris at a party. By this time, Dad has also made it Paris, and he's got some bad news for his daughter: he's lost all his money. Will her beloved still want a poor girl? Of course, we know that the young man has his own means, but the daughter has pride and doesn't want him suporting her and Dad just because.

So the Girl decides she's going to get a job, eventually finding work as a flower girl at a posh Parisian club, handing out flowers to the male patrons to use as boutonnieres. It's at that club that she runs into both The Man and The Boy, and this eventually leads to the film's climax.

I found it a bit tough to rate this movie, in part because the plot is so hoary: Rich girl is willful, but may have to change once she suddenly becomes poor. The plot isn't Hitchcock's fault; he was early enough in his career that he didn't have much choice in the projects he did. Still, Hitchcock does a quite good job as director, with some imaginative shots that clearly show the command of the medium he already had. Still, give this material to any other director, and the result would be a serviceable programmer. Good, but nothing memorable.

A bigger problem I had was with the score. I don't know whether this was Mill Creek's fault or original to Hitchcock, but the score on this print is stock public domain classical music: even my father recognized Sibelius' "Finlandia". There was also Massenet's "Meditation" from Thaïs, Strauss (either "The Artist's Life" or "Tales from the Vienna Woods") and Liszt's Hugarian Rhapsody that I recognized. The problem is that none of the music fits with the action on the screen. I've read that Hitchcock's original intention for The Lodger was to use already existing classical music for the score, so perhaps that was intended here too. In any case, the music doesn't work at all.

There are pricier DVDs available, and a restoration was done although it's apparently not a restoration of the original theatrical print but a backup print.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

These Wilder Years

I recently watched These Wilder Years off my DVR since it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

James Cagney, about 55 at the time and really much too old for the role, plays Steve Bradford, a wealthy businessman. He comes into a board meeting one day and tells everybody he's taking a leave of absence for a personal matter. He goes to some Hollywood version of a midwestern small city, making his way to the Haven, a school for a certain type of girl.

It turns out that the Haven is a place where young women who have gotten knocked up out of wedlock can go to have their babies and put them up for adoption. Twenty years ago, Steve knocked up a girl and the two of them decided to put the baby up for adoption. Steve never got married, and feels an emptiness in his life, so he's going to Haven to find his child.

Of course, back in those days, the adoption records were strictly sealed, so Ann (Barbara Stanwyck), the woman who runs Haven, isn't about to let Steve have them. Steve, for his part, is a rich SOB who's used to geting his way, so he hires high-priced lawyer Rayburn (Walter Pidgeon) to sue and get the records released.

Set against this is young Suzie (Betty Lou Keim), a girl who has gotten herself knocked up and ran away from home to have the baby at Haven and put it up for adoption. Steve takes a liking to Suzie in a fatherly way.

These Wilder Years is exactly the sort of pabulum you'd expect from an MGM movie of the 40s, although this one was released in 1956. The script is didactic and close to moralizing at times, with a whole bunch of plot holes and timeline problems. And then it's revealed at the end that Steve's kid got the adoption information, which seems like a violation of policy that's totally overlooked. The characters are uniformly one-dimensional and although everybody tries hard, they're doomed by the story and script.

It's a shame that great actors like Cagney and Stanwyck wound up in movies like this later in their career. But as I've mentioned on other occasions, every actor if their career goes long enough winds up in a couple of serious misfires. These Wilder Years is one of those misfires for Cagney and Stanwyck.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Remembering Richard Anderson

So I noticed perusing the obituaries that actor Richard Anderson died yesterday at the age of 91. He's one of those actors whom I should probably know better than I do, if only because of how much he was in.

First of all, Richard Anderson was not MacGyver. That's a different actor, Richard Dean Anderson. The Richard Anderson who died yesterday started his movie career around 1950, with bit parts in movies like Cause for Alarm! Isn't that the movie where Loretta Young mails a letter and then tries to get it back? Looking it up, that's precisely the one. Of course, Anderson only had one small scene in that movie as a sailor, and I haven't seen the movie in a while.

Then there are more prominent movies like Forbidden Planet where he plays Chief Quinn. Which character is that? Obviously I remember Leslie Nielsen from the crew, and I also remember Earl Holliman as the cook since I'm a game show fan and GSN has run quite a few of his Pyramid appearances. (Holliman is apparently still alive and will be turning 89 this month. Then there's the role as Natalie Wood's boyfriend in A Cry in the Dark. Ah, that one I remember; he's the one who gets beaten by Raymond Burr, who gets the memorable part as the heavy with a mother fixation. Anderson was in Paths of Glory? Apparently he was. Ditto Seven Days in May.

To be fair, it's probably the TV work for which Anderson will be remembered, since he was the government boss to both Steve Austin and Jamie Summers on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman respectively.

Anderson was also in half a dozen episodes of The Rifleman, so maybe MeTV will air a couple of those over the weekend.