Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #177: Workplace (TV edition)

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

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

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

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

More new-to-me movies

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Smart Set-Up

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

What a character!

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

An American Tragedy vs. A Place in the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Kirk Douglas wears a porn 'stache!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Anne of the Thousand Days

I recently watched Anne of the Thousand Days off my DVR, since it's available on DVD (in a two-disc set along with the 1971 version of Mary, Queen of Scots).

The story is one that's well-known, since this is a historical drama. The Anne of the title is of course Anne Boleyn. Anne (played by Geneviève Bujold) was educated in France and returned to England where she was noticed by the King, Henry VIII (Richard Burton). The Boleyns were already known to Henry, since he'd been banging Anne's elder sister Mary thanks to their father basically pimping the kids out to the King for financial gain. (At least, that's the way it's presented in the movie.) Of course, at the time, Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas).

The marrige between Henry and Catherine had problems, however. Henry desperately needed a male heir to the throne, and all Catherine had been able to do is bear Henry one living child (she had two stillborn births, a couple of miscarriages, and one son who lived seven weeks), Mary ("Bloody Mary", not Mary, Queen of Scots). Henry feared he'd never have a male heir by Catherine. He wanted Anne, but trying to marry her would present all sorts of problems: Catholic law wouldn't permit it, and Henry had been declared "Defender of the Faith". Further, the Spanish Emperor was Catherine's nephew and he sacked Rome, so there was no way that Henry VIII would get the Pope to annul the marriage to Catherine.

Henry tried to get an ecclesiastical court led by top advisor Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle) to annul the marriage, but when that didn't work Henry sacked Wolsey (who was terminally ill) and found a Cardinal who would be more pliant to Henry's claim that Catherine's first marriage (to Henry's brother) was in fact valid so her marriage to Henry wasn't. This ultimately freed Henry to marry Anne, and split the English Church from the Catholic Church.

Anne got pregnant... but she bore Henry another daughter, named Elizabeth. And then she got pregnant again... but gave birth to a stillborn child. Henry began plotting with his new top advisor, Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) on how to get rid of Anne so that he could marry his new squeeze Jane Seymour who obviously would deliver him a son. (She did, although as King Edward VI he didn't outlive Henry by too long.) Eventually Henry accused Anne of adultery, which meant treason, a crime punishable by death.

Anne of the Thousand Days is one of those post-studio system costume dramas that's lovely to look at. No longer tied to the backlots, the studios were able to film in British locations that lend an air of verisimilitude. Burton and especially Bujold are good in their roles; Thomas Cromwell is excellently portrayed as a manipulative schemer, while Wolsey is well-played as someone trying to please two masters while enriching himself on this world. The movie has a longish running time at 145 minutes, but it didn't feel that long as I was watching it.

Obviously, a lot of the material in this movie is related to material in A Man For All Seasons. Personally, I think I preferred A Man For All Seasons which to me looks even more beautiful. But Annd of the Thousand Days is more than worth a watch.

TCM Guest Programmer November 2017: Matthew Modine

It's that time of the month once again on TCM when we get a Guest Programmer; this time it's actor Matthew Modine. He sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss four of his favorite films, and those films are running tonight. I'm mildly surprised that they scheduled the Guest Programmer for a holiday weekend, but Mondays through Wednesdays were already taken. Perhaps they could have done it on a Thursday earlier in the month. Anyhow, Modine's selections are:

The Dirty Dozen at 8:00 PM, in which Lee Marvin leads a group of reprobates on a suicide mission against a Nazi compound in France;
Cool Hand Luke at 10:45 PM, which sees Paul Newman eating 50 hard boiled eggs and George Kennedy ogling a girl washing a car;
Network overnight at 1:15 AM, Paddy Chayefsky's biting satire of a TV network that is a stand-in for [insert favorite channel you love to hate]; and
Grand Illusion at 3:30 AM, the story of a bunch of French POWs in a German camp in World War I.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #176: Origin Stories

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 "origin stories", which I assume has to do with all those superhero movies and how the superheroes became heroes in the first place. That's not a genre of movies I know much about, so I came up with a couple of movies that kinda, sorta fit the idea of "origin story" in a different way:

The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966). Dino de Laurentiis produced this oversized look at the Book of Genesis and a cast of stars: Richard Harris, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, and Peter O'Toole show up. Directed by John Huston, who also plays Noah.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Here we learn about how man descended from the apes, and how the apes learned to use tools. The final third, which frankly makes no sense at all, is supposedly about human origins or something. Every time TCM shows this one I watch the last third with the descriptive audio in the second audio channel turned on, and it still makes no sense.

The Story of Mankind (1957). The voice of good (Ronald Colman) is up against evil (Vincent Price) in a heavenly court to determine whether man should be allowed to continue existing in the age of nuclear weapons. We then get a series of vignettes showing various scenes from history including an all-star cast, or should I say an all-star miscast (Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton? Peter Lorre as Nero?) -- this one goes off the rails in an unintentionally hilarious way.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving programming

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for those of us in the States, and being a prominent holiday, means that there's all sorts of specials going on out in the TV world. There's been a Thanksgiving Day football game going all the way back to the 1930s, and for decades it was the Lions hosting the Packers after a Thanksgiving Day Parade. When the Dallas Cowboys came into the league in the 1960s, they offered to host a second Thanksgiving game; having to play on Thursday isn't an easy turnaround.

Anyhow, this is all to say that it's not just TCM that changes things up for Thanksgiving. TCM is running a bunch of family movies as usual; mostly stuff I've recommended before except that I don't know if I've ever mentioned Places in the Heart (tomorrow at 1:30 PM) before. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a Fox film, but that's on TCM tomorrow at 3:30 PM.

It doesn't really look as though FXM Retro is doing much for the holiday; I guess we'll have to wait for Christmas to see if they run the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol on an endless loop again. Which brings me to why I really brought up this topic today.

As I was looking through the various schedules, I noticed that StarzEncore Classics had Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on tonight at 10:00 PM. It's a perfect movie to kick off Thanksgiving. But: they're running it on a loop, 15 times in 24 hours, roughly 96 minutes apart. I'd assume they're just trying to get anybody who's channel surfing and runs across the channel, which isn't a bad strategy for a niche channel.

Don't get me started on the Hallmark Channel's running sappy Christmas TV-movies round the clock for about two weeks now, although that must be enough of a success as they do it year after year and it's not the same set of TV-movies every year.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

More Elizabeth I

In last week's Thursday Movie Picks post about strong female characters, I mentioned The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, in which Bette Davis plays Elizabeth I of England. Of course, she would go on to play Elizabeth I again, in The Virgin Queen, which is going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 9:05 AM.

Elizabeth I has shown up in a whole bunch of movies, probably because her story makes for something cinematically interesting. There's her father, the rise to power after Henry VIII's death (Mary of Scotland and Young Bess), the Spanish Armada (Fire over England), and the various men in her life (The Virgin Queen deals with Sir Walter Raleigh).

Try imagining an engaging movie about, say, Benjamin Harrison.

Monday, November 20, 2017

TCM is remembering Ralph Meeker on his birthday again

Last November 21 I wrote a blog post about actor Ralph Meeker, whose birthday it was. (Well, birth anniversary; he died in 1988.) It's one year on from that, and TCM is running some of his movies tomorrow morning. I've mentioned Jeopardy on a number of occasions; that one is airing at 12:45 PM. I thought I had done a full-length post on Shadow in the Sky before, but it turns out I only gave it a one-paragraph synopsis back in May when TCM ran a night of James Whitmore movies.

I've actually mentioned it a couple of times; the first time the mention wasn't quite as positive as last May: I said that it goes hilariously wrong at times. On further reflection, I think both reviews are OK: I always find the early 50s MGM B movies interesting, but they're still MGM movies. MGM always had a lot of glitz, but by the 50s outside of the musicals, that glitz was fading at the edges. There are a lot of smaller movies like Shadow in the Sky that have interesting ideas but for whatever reason -- they have a message to make being one of the big ones -- they don't get things quite right. Those MGM Bs from the 50s are mostly movies I'd recommend to people who are already fans of old movies, but for people just getting into it I'd start elsewhere.

Postponed movies

Over the weekend, the following story from India came to my attention:

Bounty placed on Bollywood actress' head after Hindu-Muslim film outrage

A top Bollywood actress has been given a special police security detail amid ongoing protests over a historical drama.

Deepika Padukone has received violent threats over her lead role in the film Padmavati - the fable of a 14th century Hindu queen of Rajasthan, based on an epic medieval poem.

Cinemas have been vandalised in response, and riot police put on alert for its release on December 1.

Rightwing Hindu groups claim the film besmirches the name of Padmavati by insinuating she had a romance with a Muslim emperor while she was married to a Hindu king - a charge denied by the film's director.

I did a bit of looking around for info on the epic poem and the movie, and discovered that according to Wikipedia, the movie release has been indefinitely postponed, at least in India. Supposedly it was going to get international distribution too. Not that it would have shown up in my neck of the woods, and not that I necessarily would have gone to see it, anyway. I'm not certain if I'd want to see a Bollywood musical version of an epic. But the story itself sounds like it could be made into just as interesting a movie as any of the western medieval historical dramas.

Anyhow, this got me to thinking about movies that got postponed in Hollywood. One I immediately thought of is Arsenic and Old Lace, which is on the TCM schedule this afternoon at 2:00 PM. It was based on a popular Broadway play, and apparently they were contractually bound not to release the movie until after the original Broadway run ended. Who knew that was going to be another two years; that sort of thing just didn't happen on Broadway back then.

RKO had a couple in the 50s I can remember. The Narrow Margin was held back for a year or two. The story, probably apocryphal, is that RKO boss Howard Hughes wanted to watch a copy before release, but forgot about it for a long time. There's also The Whip Hand, which got postponed because Howard Hughes decided the bad guys shouldn't be the Nazis, but Communists. This required a bunch of re-shoots and a plot that looks a bit of a mess.

Jerry Lewis famously shelved The Day the Clown Cried; I don't know if there were any surviving prints or if he had them all destroyed.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Time Table

Unfortunately we had a power outage this morning so my plan to finish watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller was scuppered. Thankfully I had watched Time Table last night off a DVD I bought, so I can do a full-length post on that one instead.

The movie starts off very interestingly. On an overnight train in the Southwest, Dr. Sloane (Wesley Addy) is alerted by the conductor of a sick passenger in one of the sleeping compartments. The good doctor investigates, and determines that the patient is sick with... polio! (The movie was released in early 1956; apparently not everybody had received the polio vaccine yet.) The patient has to get to a hospital as quickly as possible, and Phoenix is too far away, so they're going to have to stop at the next place with a hospital. Oh, and Sloane needs access to his medicine in the baggage car.

Sloane goes to the baggage car, and when he gets his bag... he pulls out a gun! He gives the three attendants in the baggage car a sedative, and when they're knocked out, he robs the safe of the $500,000 that it contains. And of course he has an out since the train is stopping to take the "patient" to the hospital.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, insurance investigator Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens) is told that he's going to have to delay his vacation to Mexico with his wife in order to investigate the robbery. There's a bit of luck in that one of the people in the getaway ambulance was shot, which leads to more evidence coming out: they probably got away by helicopter which brings in more suspects, and so it goes. But the biggest shock is Charlie's relationship to the case.

Time Table is a competent, if low-budget crime movie from the mid-1950s. It's definitely not the first thing I'd think of if I were trying to get people interested in crime movies of the era, but for people who have already seen the well-known movies from that era and enjoy the genre, I'd have no qualms recommending this one. The movie is pedestrian in that it's not particularly memorable and there's nothing outstanding about it. But it's more than entertaining enough.

The DVD, courtesy of Alpha Video, has a relatively muddled print, which I'm sure has to do a lot with the fact that they deal in lesser-known public domain movies. The print has an Alpha Video bug over the opening and closing credits, annoyingly in the top right instead of the bottom right. The DVD cover also prominently mentions Jack Klugman, although he only has one scene.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

30 years before Scooby-Doo

Last night I watched The Cat and the Canary since it's available on DVD and since it's short enough I could watch in one sitting in the evening before going to bed. Longer movies will have to wait until the mornings.

The lawyer Crosby is making his way to a house somewhere in the Louisiana bayous; it turns out that a rich, eccentric old man died there ten years ago with his housekeeper, Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard) staying to maintain the place. According to the terms of the dead man's will, the rest of the will wasn't going to be read until ten years after his death or some nonsense that I don't think would be legal and doesn't need to make much sense for the rest of the movie anyway. Anyhow, the lawyer is here for that will reading; a bunch of relatives who are cousins of each other show up in ones and twos.

Among them are vaudevillean Wally (Bob Hope); the lovely Joyce (Paulette Goddard); the young men Fred (John Beal) and Charlie (Douglass Montgomery); and a couple of older aunt types. The old man's will specifies that one and only one of the assembled is going to inherit the money, but with the caveat that if that person dies or is found insane within a month of the will reading, than a second relative, whose identity is kept secret in a separate codicil, will inherit that money. The first in line to get all the money is... Joyce!

Naturally, everybody tries to start getting Joyce to crack up mentally, except possibly Wally, who seems almost romantically attracted to the lovely Joyce and wants to protect her even though he's a coward at heart. And then word comes that "the Cat" has escaped from a local asylum and there's an officer who's reached the island where the house is looking for the Cat. Strange things start to happen, with eyes looking through the cut out eyes of a painting, and secret passages.

As I was watching The Cat and the Canary, I couldn't help but think of the Scooby Doo cartoons from the 1970s, where there was always a bad guy in a mask trying to scare the bejeezus out of everybody in order to get some financial gain down the line, and things like eyes looking through a painting and secret passages. And, of course, the climax with Fred pulling the mask off the guilty party, who informs us that he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids. Of course, there are no meddling kids here, and the movie is supposed to be a straight-up comedy with a few horror elements, being a parody of the "old dark house" genre.

The Cat and the Canary does mostly work, although I have to admit that I wouldn't give it quite as high a rating as most other commenters seem to do. Part of that probably has to do with Bob Hope's humor not really being my thing; another part might have to do with my being reminded of Scooby Doo. At least there's no Scrappy here. Still, I'm sure that most people will enjoy this one, and many of you will probably enjoy it even more than I did.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Half-watched movies

So TCM is sitting down with the writer behind Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick, tonight. Apparently, the movie has stories set in both the 1920s and the 1970s, so Selznick is going to be presenting three movies from those eras and discuss how they influenced Wonderstruck. Or something like that. The night starts off at 8:00 PM with The Wind, a really good Lillian Gish.

Something that I thought was part of the night's programming, but apparently doesn't have Selznick presenting it, is McCabe and Mrs. Miller at 2:30 AM. I had that one on the DVR and with it coming up on the schedule, I made a point to try to watch it so I could do a full-length review on the movie. But I only got part of the way through before something came up -- a live sporting event I had wanted to watch or somesuch. I never got around to watching the rest of it, thanks to my hectic work schedule. The one thing I did notice, however, was the very 1970s cinematography.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller isn't the only movie I only got halfway through. The other one is Looking for Mr. Goodbar, although at least there there's a good excuse. I think I'm most decidedly not in the target demographic for the movie. It's one of those that reminded me of An Unmarried Woman in that it deals with adult topics of the era, but seems targeted at women. Maybe not quite as much as An Unmarried Woman, but definitely not to my taste. And Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as far as I know, is out-of-print on DVD.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #175: Movies with Strong Female Characters

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 movies with strong female characters, and it should come as no surprise that my selections include three of the toughest women (in real life) in Hollywood's golden age:

Mildred Pierce (1945). Joan Crawford plays the title character who, finding out that her husband (Bruce Bennett) has been unfaithful, divorces him and goes to work, working her way up to a chain of restaurants. But she's got an ingrateful daughter (Ann Blythe) who wants the better things in life, so Mildred spoils her rotten. This was Crawford's first picture at Warner Bros. after 18 years at MGM, and it starts the going over the top part of Crawford's career, as she was determined to make the movie a success. Crawford did win the Oscar.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Bette Davis plays England's Queen Elizabeth I, who had to be tough as nails to keep her throne and to keep foreigners from harming the country in the form of the Spanish Armada. This movie, however, is set toward the end of Elizabeth's life. She's felt love for any number of noblemen but was never able to marry them because of her perceived duty to the state. This time around, it's the Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn); Elizabeth eventually sacrifices him.

The Purchase Price (1932). Barbara Stanwyck plays a nightclub singer and gangster's moll who wants to get away from her boyfriend (Lyle Talbot). So she flees to Montreal and then offers to switch places with her maid, who was planning on quitting to become... a mail-order bride! So Stanywck goes off to North Dakota where she meets her new husband (George Brent) and tries to make the best of it. It's not easy, and then complicating matters is that her old boyfriend finds her again. (To be honest, I really would have preferred to use Night Nurse or Baby Face for Stanwyck, but of course I've already used both of them.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tulips Shall Grow

So I watched The Puppetoon Movie off my DVR, from TCM's recent two-night salute to animator George Pal. The programming block was with Arnold Leibovit, who produced and directed the wraparounds for the movie and has gotten a DVD and Blu-ray of the movie released. It was the latter release which obviously spurred the programming: a little bit of advertising in exchange for the rights to run at least that movie; TCM probably had a much easier time getting the rights to some of Pal's later stuff.

The Puppetoon Movie is really nothing more than a bunch of Pal's animated (with puppets, of course) shorts from the 1930s and 1940s, together with that wraparound involving Gumby, Pokey, and Arnie the Dinosaur. The Puppetoons are, I think, a bit of an acquired taste, especially because a couple of the shorts are even shorter on plot and even more so sight gags than most of the traditionally animated shorts of the era. I think the best of them was Tulips Shall Grow, from 1942.

Jan and Janette are two lovers in Holland; Jan romantically pursuing Janette who lives in a windmill. Their idyllic lives are upended one day when the screwballs (obviously a stand-in for the Nazis although they're just screws with bolts for heads) invade, and overrun the whole countryside. But the screwballs never considered the possibilty of rust, much the same way the invaders in War of the Worlds never considered human viruses might lay them low. Jan and Janette are able to live happily ever after, as an end title reminds us that "tulips shall always grow".

Overall, the Puppetoon shorts would be best served as extras on various DVDs, but there's the usual problem of rights. The 40s Puppetoon shorts were distributed by Paramount, but Paramount is not listed in the IMDb production companies. Besides, a couple of the shorts are from the 1930s and were done in the Netherlands; Philips distributed those. No regular studio is going to license the shorts just to include them on a DVD with one of their own classics, and you can't blame them. The result is a standalone DVD, and a Blu-ray with a lot of extras, but which is extremely pricey by DVD and Blu-ray standards.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

More on TCM's James Stewart programming

I mentioned two weeks ago -- are we almost halfway through the month already? -- that TCM was starting its programming of James Stewart's movies on Wednesday mornings and continuing through prime time Wednesday.

What I didn't notice, because I have a tendency not to look that far ahead, is that the programming isn't beginning at 6:00 AM every Wednesday. Tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM is Citizen Kane. Alan Ladd has a bit part, as one of the reporters at the end, I believe, but certainly no James Stewart, who was already too famous for a small part. Besides, at 8:15 AM, there's Gun Crazy, another movie that absolutely doesn't have Stewart in it.

Indeed, Gun Crazy is pretty clearly where it is on the lineup because Dalton Trumbo liked the right kind of dictator. The original screenplay was apparently written by him but had somebody else's name on it.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Five Gates to Hell

A few weeks back I mentioned the movie Five Gates to Hell that was completely new to me. I made it a point to watch it since it's coming up again on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 9:20 AM and then again Wednesday morning at 8:35 AM.

The movie didn't start off promising, since the opening credits were both letterboxed and pillarboxed. That's a pretty good sign that FXM is only going to show the credits in Cinemascope and then pan-and-scan the rest of the movie. Sure enough that's what happened. On to the story, Athena (Dolores Michaels) is a Red Cross nurse at a field hospital in French Indochina in 1950. The Vietnamese were of course fighting for their independence from the French, but the disparate staff at the hospital try to be neutral in whom they treat. Athena is American and the daughter of a diplomat in Hanoi; there's a French head nurse, a Brit, a German, a Japanese, a nun and a couple of American doctors.

Eventually, a group Vietnamese decide to attack the hospital. Led by Chen Pamok (Neville Brand), the attack isn't a terrorist attack, but one with a more serious purpose. He needs doctors and nurses, because the ultimate commander of his group of guerrillas is sick and, in all likelihood terminally ill. But Chen wants to get the man medical care, even if he has to kidnap doctors and nurses to do so.

Chen and his fighters take the medical staff to a castle high atop a hill. The doctors and nurses would like to escape, but that's going to be extremely difficult because the journey to and from the castle has a number of bottlenecks that are the only way through -- the "gates" from the title. Chen, for his part, wants Athena for his wife, not that she's going to accept that proposal. Still, with a heavily fortified fortress, how are they going to escape?

Five Gates to Hell is a movie that has a good premise, but it's a movie that winds up being less than the sum of its parts. Part of that has to do with looks like a low budget to me; watching the movie I couldn't help but get the feeling something was missing. A bigger problem, I think, is the script, which gives some of the women motivations for the actions that aren't quite believable. Worse is the dialogue it gives poor Neville Brand. The writers at least explained away having a white guy play Vietnamese by saying that his mother was a westerner who died in childbirth, but he's given a command of English that's only slightly above "Me Tarzan, you Jane". Every time Brand opens his mouth the movie comes to a screeching halt.

Still, Five Gates to Hell isn't as bad as some of the IMDb reviewers make it out to be. It's more mediocre through and through than anything else. The movie is, in fact, available on DVD courtesy of the Fox MOD scheme.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Best Men

I had the movie Best Men on my DVR for quite some time, not realizing that it is in fact available on DVD courtesy of MGM's MOD scheme. So now I finally feel comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with four men going through their morning routine and getting dressed in tuxedos. They get in a car and go to... a prison? Well, there's a good reason for that, which is that they're about to pick up their friend Jesse (Luke Wilson) who is about to be released from that prison. And they're dressed in tuxes because now that Jesse is out of prison he can get married to his fiancée Hope (Drew Barrymore). The other guys are obviously the groomsmen. On the way to the church, however, one of the groomsmen, Billy (Sean Patrick Flannery), says he needs to get a little cash, so they make a stop at the bank along the way.

What Billy didn't tell them is that he was planning to hold up the bank. Billy, as it turns out, is a notorious serial bank robber nicknamed "Hamlet" because of his tendency to quote the works of Shakespeare. Anyhow, Billy goes in the bank with none of his friends knowing his real plans. Robbing the bank takes more time than just making a simple withdrawal (for which he could have used the ATM anyway), so eventually the friends start to wonder what's taking Billy so long. Especially Jesse, since he's nervous about getting to the wedding on time.

So one by one, the friends go into the bank, and find out that it's being held up -- by their other best friend! Buzz (Dean Cain) is ex-military; Teddy (Andy Dick) is a bit of a nerd; and Sol (Mitchell Whitfield) is Jesse's former defense attorney, who clearly doesn't want to take part in a bank robbery. Jesse, given a choice, would prefer to go stratight. The other friends however, find themselves getting caught up in the robbery.

Things get even more complicated when the sheriff and a hostage negotiator get to the bank. The feds are portrayed as buffoonish, while the sheriff (Fred Ward) is actually Billy's father! Oh, and there's also the poor bride. She winds up at the bank, and is willing to support her fiancé in whatever choice he ultimately makes. And there are a lot of people in the bank who have support for Billy and his accomplices, notably "The Vet" (Brad Dourif) who, like Buzz, is also ex-military.

Best Men is mostly a comedy, although there is enough drama in it that people expecting a straight-up comedy might be in for a bit of a surprise. The characters are, after all, committing a serious crime and you'd expect them to get caught and punished for it even though we're clearly meant to have sympathy for them. And, despite the title, it is most definitely not a romantic comedy in the sense that most people would think of it. Not that it's a bad movie by any means. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and can recommend it to anybody looking for something a bit offbeat.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


About a month ago TCM ran Sissi, the first of three movies in a trilogy about Austro-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth; actually they ran the whole trilogy although I haven't gotten around to seeing the second and third movies yet. The trilogy, along with a condensed and dubbed version, have been released together in a box set, so I'm OK doing a full length post on the movie.

Sissi (Romy Schneider) is the 16-year-old daughter of a Bavarian Duke Max, living an idyllic life at the family castle in southern Bavaria. Her mother Ludovika (played by Romy's real-life mother Magda) is worried about what will happen to her daughters since Sissi and older sister Helene, nicknamed Nene, are of the age where they should start being looked at as marriageable and should be married to good royalty. Anyhow, they're in luck as they receive a letter from Aunt Sophie in Vienna that her son Austrian Emperor Franz Josef (Karlheinz Böhm) will be visiting Ischl (not far from southeastern Bavaria), and she might be able to work an arranged marriage between him and Nene. But Mom is worried about Dad screwing things up, so Mom decides to take Sissi along with Nene to Ischl.

All Sissi really wants to do is go hunting and fisching, but her mom doesn't think that's appropriate for a lady; besides, Sisi is really too young for all the courtly engagements Nene and Mom will have to take part in. So they lock Sissi in her room! She climbs out the window to go fishing, and that's how she meets Franz Josef. (A humorous subplot in the first half of the movie involves a policeman trying to stop assassination attempts against the Emperor, and thinking that Sissi is an assassin.) Of course, the two fall in love, knowing that they can never have each other. Sissi doesn't realize that he his supposed to get engaged to her sister, while Franz Josef doesn't realize that he's talking to Nene's sister. Sparks fly when they meet in their royal capacities.

The story presented in Sissi is impossibly romantic and rose-colored. But damn if the movie isn't just gorgeous to watch. It was filmed in lush Agfacolor, which makes the already good-looking backdrops of the Austrian Alps look even better. Having access to real European castles also helps, and the sets and costumes are beautiful as well. The actors, for the most part, do a reasonably good job, so the end result is that even though you should dismiss the material as treacle, the movie as a whole entertains. (They had the good sense not to make it a musical.)

As with foreign films, the DVD box set is a bit pricier than I'd like to pay. But the restoration is beautiful; I can't stress that enough.

Friday, November 10, 2017

John Hillerman, 1932-2017

John Hillerman (r.) and Tom Selleck in a promotional still from the "Magnum PI" era

Actor John Hillerman, who is probably best remembered for playing Magnum's (Tom Selleck) boss Higgins on the very 80s TV show Magnum, PI, has died aged 84.

Hillerman's movie career started in the 1970s, and he's in quite a few interesting movies, including several of which I've recommended. He's the intermediary in the interesting and not very well remembered The Nickel Ride; a hotel manager in What's Up, Doc?; Howard Johnson in Blazing Saddles; and has roles in movies such as Chinatown, Paper Moon, and The Last Picture Show.

Unsurprisingly, of course, it's Higgins that all the obituaries are mentioning.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #174: Adaptations I'd like to see

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 adaptations you'd like to see, and this one is difficult for me since I was having trouble thinking of things I'd like to see turned into movies. In fact, I found out that one of the books I thought about was in fact turned into a movie that's been doing the festival circuit in 2017. Anyhow, I've got two serious ideas, and one frivolous remake/reworking:

Five Days in June. This 1974 novel by German writer Stefan Heym is a dramatization of the June 1953 uprising in East Germany that, unsurprisingly, was brutally put down. I actually had to read this one in German back in college. The Hungarian uprising of 1956 has featured in at least one Hollywood movie (The Journey from 1959, re-teaming Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr), and of course the Berlin Wall has, but I don't know about the 1953 uprising.

Shattered. I'm having trouble imagining Hollywood doing an honest look at the 2016 presidential election, and the mistakes Hillary Clinton's campaign made to lose what should have been a fairly easy victory. But we're probably going to get a lot of stuff about alleged Russian collusion.

And, I'd like to see a reworking of Gone With the Wind focusing on the wild miscegenation between Clark Gable's and Hattie McDaniel's characters. Mammy and the Bachelor. Of course, the book has already been lampooned before in the form of The Wind Done Gone, which engendered a legal case over copyright infringement.

I told you I was having trouble coming up with stuff.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Karin Dor, 1938-2017

I noticed today that German actress Karin Dor has died at the age of 79.

I have to admit that, surprisingly, I don't remember Dor from her role of playing a Bond Girl in You Only Live Twice -- I only recall the Japanese Bond Girls from that one. Her name really reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Topaz. She plays Juanita, the Cuban woman who gets killed in a memorable sequence, shot from overhead.

Dor didn't make many English-language movies, focusing on her native Germany as well as the stage. Germans would probably know her from a couple of films she did on a version of the American Old West that was even more fictitious than anything out of Hollywood, those based on Karl May's Winnetou character.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Herman J. Mankiewicz, 1987-1953

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of screnwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, brother of director Joseph and grandfather of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

Herman is probably best remembered for his work on the screenplay to Citizen Kane, which won him an Oscar although Orson Welles might have begged to differ over how much of the work on that screenplay was done by various people. Among Herman's other screen credits are adapting the play Dinner At Eight for the movie version. He also wrote the original story for It's a Wonderful World, which is going to air tomorrow at 12:15 PM as part of James Stewart's turn as TCM Star of the Month.

Herman also did a lot of screenwriting for which, according to IMDb, he doesn't actually have on-screen credit, and intertitles for a whole bunch of silent films.

And in an odd coincidence, Herman Mankiewicz died the same day as Joseph Stalin.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Stranger's Return

TCM is running a bunch of Miriam Hopkins movies tomorrow morning and afternoon. One that doesn't seem to be available on DVD is The Stranger's Return, which will be on at 7:45 AM.

Hopkins plays the nominal stranger, a big-city divorcée named Louise. Having just gotten a divorce, she wants to get away from it all, and decides that she's going to go back to the old family farm run by her grandfather (Lionel Barrymore), an 85-year-old Civil War veteran. This even though she's never been on the farm as an adult. But it'll do her good to get away and recharge.

Or so she thinks. Obviously, things aren't going to be completely easy. There are a couple of women relatives already living on the farm with Grandpa (Beulah Bondi as Beatrice and Aileen Carlyle as Thelma) and they don't take kindly to the new arrival, expecting that Grandpa is going to make certain she gets an inheritance in the will. They think he's too old to run the farm and they'd basically like to take it over for themselves.

And then there's the neighbor. Guy (Franchot Tone) is another farmer, although that's really a surprise, since he's college-educated and would like to have the finer things in life and the chance to talk about culture with somebody. Nothing against his wife Nettie (Irene Hervey); she just isn't cultured. You wonder how Guy ended up here. Anyhow, Guy and Louise meet and you know that they're going to feel an attraction for her. Nettie may not be cultured, but she's not stupid: she can see that Guy likes having this big-city woman around. Guy doesn't want to hurt his wife, and Louise doesn't want to break up their marriage, anyway.

But that story is going to have to take a back seat to the finale. Beatrice is trying to get Grandpa declared insane so that he's going to have to give up control of the farm to her. And Grandpa certainly is acting nutty. Louise, however, has come to love her grandfather and is willing to fight for him.

The Stranger's Return is one of those leisurely-paced programmers from the early days of sound. Sure there are a lot of movies from those days where they try to make the pace fast in order to get everything in in the short running time, but there are others that seem to meander along, more or less showing a slice of life. The Stranger's Return is definitely in the latter category, especially considering the amount of time they spend on a dinner for farmhands.

Still, the performances are good and the story does interest. The Stranger's Return ultimately succeeds as a programmer even if the ending is a bit hit-or-miss. This is another of those movies that Warner Home Video probably ought to put out on DVD on one of those four-film sets.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

My Pal Gus

So I watched My Pal Gus off my DVR last night since it's available on DVD at the TCM Shop courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with Dave Jennings (Richard Widmark) dictating a bunch of stuff to his secretary Ivy (Joan Banks) as he's being driven to the airport to catch a plane for an important business meeting. Jennings is clearly a Type A personality, and if there were a letter in the alphabet before A, his personality type would be that letter. They have to stop at his apartment to pick up his bags, and when they get to the building there's smoke coming from his apartment!

That's where we meet the second lead in the story, Dave's sun Gus (George Winslow, who would later get the nickname "Foghorn" because of his distinctive voice). Gus is a hell-raiser who seems to have no sense of discipline. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn't have a parent in the house, being raised instead by nurses. Gus needs somebody to show some love and discipline, at least in the non-physical sense. Eventually, Dave winds up enrolling Gus in the Playtime School.

Lydia Marble (Joanne Dru) runs the school, and she has some rather unorthodox for the time views on child raising. One of them is that the parents should be actively involved in the running of the school, to the point that parents are expected to spend one day a month at the school helping with the children. Usually this would have meant the mothers, since mothers of young children at the time would have been housewives instead of in the work force. But there's no mother in the picture for Gus: it turns out that businessman Dave had gone bankrupt some years back, at which point his wife left him. For richer, but not for poorer. So Dave is going to have to spend a day at the school, something he feels decidedly unfit to do.

But he notices that the school is having a positive effect on his son, and that Guss really seems to take to Miss Marble. And as Dave spends more time discussing his son with Miss Marble, he finds himself falling for her, too. They're all going to live happily ever after, aren't they?

Except that the ex-Mrs. Jennings (Audrey Totter) decides to show up. The Jennings got their divorce quickly in Mexico, and it turns out that that divorce may not have been handled 100% properly, which means the two are probably still legally married in the US. And Mrs. Jennings has decided that she wants custody of the son she abandoned back when the kid was an infant.

Logically, a court ought to look at the case and rule against Mrs. Jennings, but the idea that a mother ought to look after her children is a strong one, as well as men being financial support instead of active parents. So there's a contested trial to determin the outcome of the divorce.

My Pal Gus is clearly a lesser movie in Richard Widmark's career, but he gives it all he has, and doesn't do badly with the somewhat out-of-character material he's given. The movie does hit some problems, however, when it gets to the trial and the aftermath of the trial, as the plot really strains credulity. Even though times were different back in the 1950s, I think it's tough to imagine the trial going the way it did.

The end result is a movie that's watchable enough but not particularly great. It is, however, fun to watch poor Richard Widmark having to deal with a child actor, and to bring some of the same gangster-type attributes from the characters he had been playing up until them to being a father and businessman.

Unseen Cinema

Tonight's prime-time lineup on TCM, starting at 8:00 PM as always, is two compilations of shorts, together titled Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941. I have a feeling this one aired quite a few years ago, since the full set of movies together premiered back at the beginning of the century. Also, a box set of the shorts was released a few years after that, in 2005. I wouldn't be surprised if that's when I saw some of these on TCM. Unfortunately, I've only got the TCM schedules going back to 2007, and since I switched to a Linux box, searching based on words within text or word-processor documents isn't working so well.

Anyhow, that box set has seven discs, and that's a lot more than they can show in only one night. So the selection has been culled down to about four hours. The article on tonight's programs explicitly mentions Charlton Heston in a version of Peer Gynt, although this only shows one dance scene if memory serves. The same footage shows up in the Private Screenings interview Robert Osborne did with Heston way back when. I think this is the collection where I may have seen Mechanical Principles, although I'm not certain. The article doesn't mention Mechanical Principles.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula

TCM ran Billy the Kid Versus Dracula in October as part of Dracula's being the "Monster of the Month" for Halloween. The movie is available on DVD, so I can do a full-length post on it with no qualms.

The title pretty much gives away what the movie is about, but we don't see Billy the Kid for some time. Dracula (John Carradine) shows up right away, preying upon a German immigrant family who are migrating west with a wagon train but ultimately get detached from it. The mother in the family, Eva (Virginia Christine), knows all about vampires and knows the horror they can bring. Cut to a scene of Dracula aboard a stagecoach, where he learns that Mrs. Bentley has picked up her brother to bring him to her late husband's ranch, so that the brother can be the legal guardian to her daughter Betty (Melinda Plowman) until Betty turns 21. Dracula sees a photo of Betty and immediately begins to lust after her. So he arranges for the Indians to ambush the stage and kill everybody aboard.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Betty has hired William Bonney (Chuck Courtney), alias "Billy the Kid" as the ranch foreman, something that bugs some of the other ranch hands (one of them is Kurt Russell's dad Bing). Betty is in love with Billy, and plans to marry him. Dracula has taken her uncle's identity papers and shows up at the ranch claiming to be her uncle, all the better to make her his bride. Eva and her husband show up because their daughter has been killed (by Dracula, of course), and they try to warn Betty and Billy about vampires.

You can probably guess from the title Billy the Kid Versus Dracula that the movie is going to be low-budget horror schlock, and fun schlock it is. There's absolutely nothing frightening about this one, with a red light shining across Dracula's face when he's about to attack somebody. Dracula can turn into a bat to get from one location to another quickly, and the bat they use is hilariously artificial, against an impossibly blue sky. And then the few times Dracula has to try to scare people, he does it by growling like a dog, as if this is supposed to scare anybody. Sure, it's no good, but it isfun.

Billy the Kid Versus Dracula is on a DVD set together with another movie produced at the same time by the same people (notorious quickie director William Beaudine who did a whole bunch of Bowery Boys movies), Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

Your semiannual Daylight Savings Time warning

Today in most of the US is the day when we set our clocks back an hour before going to bed. Overnight is the official time change, but not many people are up then. And besides, with the time change in the Eastern time zone being at a time when a greater number of people out west might still be up, there might be an issue for them if they look at the TCM schedule.

The TCM Underground schedule has the movie Deadly Friend kicking things off after The Woman on Pier 13 (starting at 12:30 AM and in a 90-minute slot). Now, this should lead up to the official time change in the east, when 2:00 AM becomes the second 1:00 AM. My box guide points this out, although the TCM schedule has Deadly Friend beginning at 2:00 AM. That's not such a big deal, since in both cases one move directly follows another.

The problem comes with the second film, Swamp Thing. My box guide has it immediately following Deadly Friend (which is in a 105-minute time slot), so it should be at 2:45 AM. TCM, however, lists the 1950 Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Story as taking up the extra hour, and coming between the two Underground movies. (TCM's schedule sticks it in a nominal one-minute slot.) The box guide has this after Swamp Thing and the shorts that round out the Underground schedule, or at 5:00 AM EST.

Back when I started listening to short-wave radio when there was no streaming audio on the internet, I learned about UTC, which is pretty much the same thing as GMT, and why all the international broadcasters use it. Days like today I tend to think having UTC for a TV schedule might not be such a bad thing. Eastern Time switches from UTC -4 to UTC -5, while last week most of western Europe switched from UTC +2 to UTC +1; the UTC time remains the same for all time zones.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Modern and not so modern Guatemala

I couldn't think of anything to post about today, so I wanted to mention something that a search of the site says I haven't done before. In this scene from the Traveltalks short Modern Guatemala City, James A. Fitzpatrick shows us the modern movie theaters they have:

I could swear there's another Traveltalks with a more traditional movie theater marquee advertising the shorts, but I can't remember which one that is.

And interestingly, when I put the DVD in my computer's DVD drive, the menu for the shorts was on three pages. But clicking with the mouse on "Next" went from the first page to the last page. To get to the middle page, I had to use the arrow buttons to select "Next", which did in fact take me to the middle page. Weird design.

Anyhow, since I knew which short the above photo came from, I was able to do a search of the site on "Guatemala". The only match was for Treasure of the Golden Condor. It turns out I was wrong about it not being on DVD: It's gotten a release courtesy of the Fox MOD scheme, and apparently you can even pick up that DVD at the TCM Shop. That link says the DVD was released in 2012, so I'm not certain why I wasn't able to find the DVD on offer when I blogged about Treasure of the Golden Condor back in 2014.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #173: A Stranger

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 strangers, and as always I've selected three older movies:

The Stranger (1946). Orson Welles plays a newcomer to a small New England town just after World War II. He meets Loretta Young and the two immediately fall in love. But Loretta begins to suspect that her new man is not what he seems, and that he may in fact be a Nazi who fled Germany, which means that he poses quite the danger. Meanwile, like Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (who is of course not a stranger), he's been making himself useful in his new home town. The climax is a bit ridiculous, but visually fun.

Phone Call From a Stranger (1952). Gary Merrill plays a man taking an airplane flight with three strangers (Michael Rennie, Shelley Winters, and Keenan Wynn), all of whom have secrets. The plane crashes killing the other three, and Merrill feels he has to approach the surviving relatives of the other three to talk about what they told him. Bette Davis is way down the credits in a thoroughly unglamorous role; her being married to Merrill at the time probably had a lot to do with that.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Spencer Tracy plays the stranger, who comes to a desert town somewhere out west looking for the surviving relatives of a World War II hero. His relatives are no longer there, and it turns out there's a good reason why. The townsfolk, meanwhile, don't want Tracy figuring out that reason. The excellent cast of townsfolk include Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, and Anne Francis.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Marcel Ophüls turns 90

Somebody over on the TCM boards puts up a monthly post of people who will be turning 90 in the next month. Anyhow, the post for November went up yesterday, and one of the names is documentarian Marcel Ophüls. As luck would have it, I was listening to Radio Prague yesterday, and their feature was an interview with Ophüls, who was visiting the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival.

It's an interesting interview, aside from the bit in which the reporter felt it was necessary to bring up Donald Trump for reasons that baffle me. Radio Prague's website, as I've mentioned whenever I post one of their movie-related stories, has a transcript (more or less) of their stories at the main link. Of course, being a radio station, there's also the streaming audio at the top of the page. There's also the direct link to the MP3 file just below the streaming player, if one wants to download the interview to listen later. That MP3 file is 4.9 MB and about 10 minutes.