Monday, December 31, 2018

The Bravados

Over Thanksgiving when I had the free preview of the Starz/Encore package of channels, StarzEncore Westerns ran The Bravados. It doesn't seem to be on DVD, but it's going to come up again on StarzEncore Westerns tomorrow at 1:00 AM (which is still late tonight out on the west coast) and again tomorrow night at 9:49 PM.

Gregory Peck plays Jim Douglass, who at the start of the movie is riding toward the town of Rio Arriba. He's stopped by a sheriff's deputy, who says that nobody's coming into town unless his name is Simms. Jim's name isn't Simms, of course, but you can't really stop the free movement of people in America, so eventually the deputy reluctantly backs down and lets Jim pass, although he's going to have to surrender his weapon at the sheriff's office for the duration of his stay.

The reason for all this security is that there are four men scheduled to hang the next day for having robbed the bank and killed a teller in the robbery. Everybody is scared that somebody is going to try to spring these men, which is why they didn't want to let Jim into town. As it turns out, Jim wants to see these men, but not with the purpose of breaking them out of jail.

In town, Jim runs into Josefa (Joan Collins), an old flame whose real purpose in the story is the exposition of Jim's back story to explain why he's in Rio Arriba now. After Jim split from Josefa, he married another woman and fathered a child by that woman. However, one day when Jim was away from his ranch, some men broke in, and raped and murdered Jim's wife. Jim has reason to believe that the four men to be hanged in Rio Arriba are the ones responsible for his wife's murder, although he didn't see the people who committed the crime.

As I mentioned earlier, the townsfolk are worried that somebody is going to try to free the four men, and sure enough, that happens in the form of Simms (future Stooge Joe De Rita), who is not the real Simms but an imposter. The four men run off with a hostage in tow, and a posse is set up to chase down the four men. Jim heads off with the posse, but of course, he has his own reasons for wanting to find the four men.

I've stated on several occasions that western's have never been my favorite genre, although I've also warmed up to them in the 11 years I've been blogging. With that in mind, my assessment of The Bravados is probably going to be slightly less charitable than that of anybody who's a fan of westerns. There's really nothing wrong with the movie, other than possibly Collins being given too small a role. Yet, to me, the movie felt almost interchangeable with any of the other psychological westerns of the 1950s.

Peck, of course, is the sort of actor that was especially well-suited for the role of someone like Jim Douglass, and he gives a professional turn here that's quite good. The four bad guys (Lee Van Cleef, Stephen Boyd, Henry Silva, and Albert Salmi) don't get as meaty characterizations, but that's because the script is about Jim's quest for revenge than about what the villains did. The cinematography is good, with nice color and as far as I could tell in the proper Cinemascope aspect ratio.

Western fans will certainly enjoy The Bravados, although I can't help but think there's a reason it's a relatively forgotten movie.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Public Domain Day

I've written a couple of times about the changes to copyright laws and how Disney got the copyright length extended the last time it seemed as though Steamboat Willie was about to enter the public domain. The law in question extended copyrights for stuff going back to 1923. For some reason I thought the copyrights had been extended longer; I thought there were 120-year terms. But that was due to a misunderstanding on my part. Technically there are but according to the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, that 120 years is from the date of creation, not the date of publication. Once you publish, the 95-year clock starts.

So what that means is that anything copyrighted in 1923 should be entering the public domain on Tuesday That means that five years from Tuesday, if there are no changes, Steamboat Willie, released in 1928, would enter the public domain. I can't see Disney letting that happen if they have any say, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Having said that, as much as I dislike rights holders like Disney getting copyright terms extended, I do think that trademark is a perfectly valid protection for characters like Mickey Mouse that are still being used commercially. If I understand intellectual property correctly, that would mean that anyone who owned a print of Steamboat Willie five years from now, assuming the copyright terms aren't extended, ought to be able legally to sell copies of it, or to charge admission to show it, without having to pay Disney for that. However, people wouldn't be able to create new Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Of course, that brings up a different and equally interesting question. Suppose we had current IP laws back when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein 200 years ago. The book would be in the public domain, but would her estate have been able to trademark the character, even if the estate were not producing any new books. Think of all the classic horror movies that wouldn't have been feasible under such IP rules. Or have I misunderstood the way trademark works?

Blessed Event

A movie that I DVRed earlier in the month as part of TCM's Star of the Month salute to Dick Powell is Blessed Event. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so now you get the full-length post treatment on it.

This was Dick Powell's film debut, so he's not the star here, although he gets a relatively big supporting role. The star here is Lee Tracy, so you should probably already know what to expect. Tracy plays Alvin Roberts, who's working his way up the ladder in the newspaper business. He gets a chance to move up when Moxley (Ned Sparks), the guy who writes the gossip column, goes on vacation leaving Alvin to write it. Alvin has a contact at the maternity hospital to the stars, so he starts dropping hints in the column that various famous people are going to be having "blessed events".

This ticks off a bunch of people who don't want their private lives discussed like this. It also bothers his girlfriend Gladys (Mary Brian), who thinks Alvin should be doing more honest work. On the other hand, the column proves to be a hit as circulation increases massively. With that, he also gets a radio show.

As for Dick Powell, he plays crooner Bunny Harmon, who has a radio show of his own what with his brand of band music being perfect for the radio. Alvin doesn't like crooners, and especially Bunny, for no real reason. So Alvin and Bunny have a rivalry throwing barbs at each other although these aren't just friendly barbs: the two really dislike each other. One final person who dislikes Alvin is the gangster Gobel (Edwin Maxwell), who sends underling Frankie (Allen Jenkins) to try to get Alvin to lay off those notices involving the unnamed gangster.

Of course, Alvin is unable to do so, especially because one of the stories he breaks involves the gangster in a way Alvin doesn't realize at first. But when it does, Gobel has a plan to get Alvin, and the opening of Bunny's new nightclub might be just the way to do it. Bunny doesn't want Alvin there crashing the party, of course, while Alvin knows he's going to be there. Gobel could arrange for Bunny to be there and get killed....

Blessed Event is a fun little movie, although it's in many ways typical of the sort of thing Lee Tracy was doing in the pre-Code (and pre-public urination) portion of his career. So it's not bad by any means; it's more a feeling of having seen it before because it's really not treading any new ground. Sometimes, though, you want something comfortable, and if you want that out of a pre-Code, Blessed Event isn't a bad way to get that. Tracy is as good as always; Powell shows promise for his first film; and Ruth Donnelly is a lot of fun as Tracy's secretary.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The last of Sissi

Another recent film watch was Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress, the third and final movie in a trilogy about Austrian empress Elisabeth, "Sissi" being a short name in German for Elisabeth.

This one starts off roughly where the second movie ends, with Sissi (Romy Schneider) in Hungary which had recently been united in the dual monarchy with Austria. There, she rides on hunts with Andrassy (Walther Reyer) and his staff. He's in love with her, but she's so pure and in love with her husband Franz Josef (Karlheinz Böhm) that she'd never consider anything beyond friendship with the nice Andrassy. While in Hungary, Sissi tries to get the leaders of the anti-Austrian faction of Hungarians to come to an amicable political agreement.

But other matters intervene. Sissi coughs and has some aches and pains that just won't go away. Doctors examine her, and determine that she has a lung problem without ever calling it tuberculosis, because of course the Sissi movies are too sweet to allow a dirty word like tuberculosis to show up. In fact, the doctors say that she needs a change of climate from Vienna. Even if she does go abroad for her health, there's no guarantee that she'll ever recover from her illness. Franz Josef is devastated, while his ever-practical mother Sophie (Vilma Degischer) points out that his duty is to produce a healthy male heir. If his current wife can't do that, it's perfectly OK if she dies so that he can remarry and get that male heir. Harsh, but there's geopolitics for you.

Sissi goes off to Madeira (the film uses southern Italy as a stand-in), with Andrassy following behind. Sissi is depressed there,a nd it looks like she's never going ot recover, until her mother (real life mother Magda Schneider) shows up. Sissi miraculously recovers and travels to Greece before returning to Vienna. At this point she has some difficult political visits to Italy to make. If she thought the people of Hungary hated the Austrian monarchy, wait until she sees how the Italians feel.

This last installment of the Sissi series is as ridiculously schmaltzy as the first two, but it's just as fun for it, and impossibly beautiful in its cinematography. There's a reason these movies showed up on TV in central Europe on Christmas for years, as they're the perfect feel-good stuff. If you're looking for accurate history, you're not going to get it, but if you want something nice to look at, this is perfect.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A few notes and apologies for the recent lack of reviews

Work has been busy so I've been working obscene amounts of overtime, which understandably cuts into my movie watching time. I was hoping to get more movies watched what with having Christmas and New Year's off, but that hasn't been the case.

And then there were the movies I was going to watch and do reviews on, but it turned out they're out of print on DVD. Last week TCM ran the Mexican Santa Claus in TCM Underground, and I figured that would make perfect viewing for Christmas and a review. But although the TCM Shop claims there were multiple DVD's released, all of them seem to be on backorder, which means out of print, and none of them were available at Amazon as far as I could find.

There were also a bunch of westerns I've had on the DVR for various lengths of time, but at least in this case a couple of them are going to be coming up next week. There Was a Crooked Man has been sitting on the DVR for over a year, but if I looked at the schedule it should be on next week, so time to watch that, either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. I recorded The Bravados, a Gregory Peck western, and while that one got a DVD release ages ago, it too is out of print. Amazon has it on Prime if you've got Prime's version of the Starz/Encore package, and I believe it's supposed to air on Encore's Westerns channel next week, so that one I'll finally get around to as well.

I actually have a few more movies that I watched recently and are available on DVD that I haven't gotten around to doing full-length posts on, just because of all that overtime. Thankfully I can get those out over the weekend.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #233: Comedies (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 with the very broad theme of comedies. With that in mind, I picked three that I wanted to mention for no particular reason other than their coming to mind today. Unfortunately I'm on my tablet, and the mobile Youtube site doesn't seen to want to give me the embed code, so you're getting links to the opening themes instead:

AKA Pablo (1984). Short-lived sitcom about a Mexican-American stand-up comic (Paul Rodriguez) who, unsurprisingly, has a wacky family at home that served as an inspiration for his humor.

227 (1985-1990). Marla Gibbs, fresh off 11 years as the maid to George and Weezie Jefferson, plays the wife in a family living in a middle-class apartment building in Washington DC. My memories of the show were of something inoffensive and well-meaning; when I saw it show up on one of the African-American oriented channels a few years back I was and was surprised at how much it was filled with lowbrow (but clean) insult humor.

Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister (1980s). Brilliant British sitcom about Cabinet member Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) and the civil service chief of staff for his department Sir Humphrey (Nigel Hawthorne). The civil service sabotages maverick, reform-minded Hacker's ideas at every turn, long before anybody ever scoff at the idea of a "deep state". Back then, everybody took it for granted. Even though it's British, so much of it fits in with American government, as in this scene when Sir Humphrey is talking with another of his senior civil service colleagues about politicians' logic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

TCM's Burt Reynolds tribute

For the past few years, TCM has been taking a night toward the end of December to run a night of movies remembering people who died over the previous year, one movie per person. Burt Reynolds died earlier this year, so TCM is doing something a bit different this year, which is to run one night full of Reynolds' movies. TCM has selected six of his movies, and they're airing tonight in prime time into early tomorrow:

Smokey and the Bandit at 8:00 PM;
Deliverance at 10:00 PM;
The Longest Yard at midnight;
Hooper at 2:15 AM;
Smokey and the Bandit II at 4:15 AM; and
Best Friends at 6:00 AM

Looks like I'm going to have to make some more room on my DVR.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Behind Green Lights

Last night I watched my DVD of Behind Green Lights, a movie I hadn't heard of until I saw it come up in the suggestions list at Amazon.

Carole Landis plays Janet Bradley, who at the start of the movie is visiting a blackmailer. Apparently he has some documents about her or her father, the reformist party's candidate for mayor, and the blackmailer wants $20,000 for them. However, he lets his guard down, and she's able to wrest control of his gun and the documents away from him.

The bad news is that later that evening, the man's car shows up at the police station, with him dead at the steering wheel, with a gunshot wound. Janet, therefore, is an obvious suspect, what with her fingerprints having been found on the gun. And newspaper editor Calvert (Roy Roberts) wants the police detective investigating the case, Lt. Carson (William Gargan) to book her. It could probably help Carson's career too since it would help the non-reformist candidate win and put Carson in good with them.

But there are problems. The medical examiner (Don Beddoe) notices that there's not much in the way of blood from that gunshot wound. And there's remnants of poison in the dead man's mouth. The conclusion is that perhaps the man was only shot after he was dead, and actually poisoned to death. Calvert realizes there's a problem, and suggests to the less-than-honest medical examiner that perhaps he should switch bodies in the morgue.

However, the switch is discovered, and the corpse ends up in the press room where cub reporter Johnny (Richard Crane) finds it and hides it in the closet, kind of like Rosalind Russell did to John Qualen in His Girl Friday, except that Qualen's character was very much alive.

It all adds up to a moderately interesting mystery movie in Behind Green Lights, and something that's surprisingly good for a B movie. That's the good news. The bad news is that the movie fell into the public domain, and the print on the DVD leaves a lot to be desired. It jumps from the Fox fanfare to the credits a little too quickly; it has a bug from the DVD producer in the bottom right corner for the entire movie; and the sound gets bad before the end.

The TCM Shop advertises a different DVD with both Behind Green Lights and Lady in the Death House from a different company. I have no idea if the print on that one is any better. It's a shame, because Behind Green Lights is one of those movies that winds up being more fun than it should have any right to be.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas programming

For some reason, it doesn't really feel like Christmas here, probably because with it being on a Tuesday, I didn't get a three-day weekend, having had to work today, and going in on Wednesday. That and no snow. But, of course, many of the movie channels are running Christmas movies at this time of year, and especially today and tomorrow.

TCM has been running Christmas themed stuff pretty much non-stop since Sunday night, and will go through to 8:00 PM on Christmas, at which point they decide to celebrate the holiday in good cheer with some comedies, starting with Some Like It Hot at 8:00 PM. I've mentioned that there are three versions of Three Godfathers before, and this Christmas it's the turn of the John Wayne version from 1949, at 8:00 AM tomorrow.

In past years, FXM has dug out the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol and run it on and endless loop. This year, the loop is a little shorter. There are going to be five consecutive airings beginning at 7:00 PM this evening, and then seven more airings from 3:00 PM on Christmas. In between, it's the normal FXM Retro block, without any Christmas movies. Among them is Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, which I haven't mentioned in quite some time, at 4:00 AM Tuesday.

The George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol from the 1980s will be on HBO Family tomorrow morning at 6:55 AM for those who have that package. And StarzEncore (the main channel, not the mnore specific ones) will do the endless loop thing with Scrooged, airing it 14 times over 24 hours starting at 8:00 PM ET tonight, or three hours later if you have the west coast feed. And if you have both, more power to you.

Merry Christmas!


A few months back TCM ran Miloš Forman's Valmont. I watched it not realizing that it's out of print on DVD. It's going to be on the MGMHD channel this afternoon at 5:05 PM for people who have the channel, as well as a few other times in the next few weeks, but I don't have the channel so I'm not certain how much it's going to be interrupted by commercial breaks.

Colin Firth plays the Vicomte de Valmont an upper-class ladies' man in early 1780s fan. He's got a couple of women in his life, in the form of former girlfriend Merteuil (Annette Bening), now a widow; and the recently-married Mme. de Tourvel (Meg Tilly), whose husband is off in the provinces on government business. There's a lot more complication, however. Merteuil has a new boyfriend in Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones), but he's engaged to be married in an arranged marriage to young Cécile (Fairuza Balk). Cécile's mother is Merteuil's cousin.

Merteuil is a bit of a loose cannon, so she makes several proposals to Valmont. One is that perhaps he should seduce Cécile, so that when Gercourt marries her and goes to consummate the marriage he'll discover that Cécile is in fact not a virgin. But she also makes a bet with Valmont over whether he'll be able to seduce Mme. de Tourvel and, if he can, she'll let him sleep with her again.

Meanwhile, Cécile isn't so sure of whether she wants to go through with the arranged marriage. The thing is, she has a young music teacher Danceny (Henry Thomas) with whom she's in love, and the two have secretly been passing letters back and forth. Cécile's mother discovers this, and she's furious, basically grounding Cécile. This brings Valmont into the picture, as he would be a perfect courier for letters from Cécil to Danceny and vice versa.

So things get quite complicated with everybody getting involved with everybody else. Eventually enough is going to be found out that the whole set of schemes is going to come crashing down, but whose hopes are going to be dashed?

If I had a problem with Valmont, it's that it's got a pretty complex plot that requires paying a lot of attention, and even then it's easy to miss things. That's a bit of a shame, because the acting is pretty good, and the production design is excellent. Valmont is a sumptuous movie to look at, even if the plot at times lets the rest of the movie down.

With its provenance of director and stars, Valmont really deserves to be back in print on DVD.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Where are James Stewart and Carole Lombard when you need them?

A movie that's been in the rotation on FXM recently is the 1971 film Made For Each Other. It's on again this morning at 11:40 AM, and tomorrow at 6:00 AM.

The movie starts off in flashback as the two main characters are conceived, followed by their naming by their very dysfunctional parents. Giggy (a nickname for Guido; Mom absolutely does not want to name the kid Guido although it's an honorable old name in Dad's side of the family) is an Italian Catholic with Paul Sorvino and Olympia Dukakis for parents; Pandora is Jewish with overbearing mom Helen Verbit and skirt-chasing absent father Louis Zorich (who was married to Olympia Dukakis for 55 years until his death at the beginning of this year although their characters here aren't related to each other).

Fast forward thirty-some years to the present day, and thanks to the bickering from Giggy's and Pandora's parents, the two of them have grown up to become adults who are barely capable of functioning in the real world. So one Christmas Eve they go to an emergency group therapy session where the patients say why they're here. Everybody else gives one-sentence synopses, but Giggy and Pandora both go into quite a bit more detail, as we see in flashback.

For whatever reason, Giggy and Pandora click with each other, and they start up a relationship of sorts that you'd think is not only doomed, but a very bad idea. (In real life, Bologna and Taylor were married for 52 years until his death in 2017.) Pandora has always wanted to make it in the world of entertainment, but she's at best a sub-Ruby Keeler in that she can't sing, can't dance, and can't act. And when Giggy goes to her nightclub show and makes a critical comment, there's going to be hell to pay.

Still, they continue their relationship, going to Giggy's parents for a New Year's dinner. Giggy's mom realized Pandora is Jewish, and boy does that set her off for some reason, having a hysterically unfunny screaming fit. Still, our two crazy lovers may persevere through all this....

As I was watching Made for Each Other, I found myself thinking of two other movies: Fatso, which has been running on FXM recently, and Little Murders, which is set around the same time as Made for Each Other, both having been released in 1971. I had problems with all three, but Made for Each Other is by far the worst. All of them have loud, obnoxious, unfunny characters, but in the case of Little Murders and even more so Fatso, it's relatively easy to understand the point the movie is trying to make even if the point is overwhelmed by the characters. In Made for Each Other, there's less of a story and the vignettes are shrill and tedious.

Made for Each Other, in addition to being on FXM today and tomorrow, also got a DVD release courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, if you want to watch and judge for yourself.

And regarding the question in the title of the post, the 1939 Made for Each Other is going to be on TCM at 6:00 AM on January 5.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Cooley High

Continuing to work my way through the movies I recorded during the "Black Experience on Film" spotlight on TCM a few months back, I'm up to Cooley High.

The movie opens up with a montage of shots of Chicago, after which a title helpfully tells us this is Chicago, 1964. Cochise (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs) is a high school senior and star of the basketball team at Cooley Vocational High School, hoping to get a scholarship to play basketball at Grambling State which will also get him out of the Chicago projects. His best friend is Preach (Glynn Turman), a smart and sensitive young man who writes love poems and dreams of going to Hollywood to become a screenwriter.

But being high school seniors, they also develop a case of senioritis as we called it back when I was in high school, leading them to fake illness and blow off the day at the Lincoln Park Zoo with a couple of other friends. Their other hangout is Martha's, a cafe where they spend time shooting the breeze and shooting craps, the latter much to the chagrin of Martha the proprietress. At the cafe the meet Brenda (Cynthia Davis), another student at Cooley High, in whom Preach shows an immediate interest; the two end up having a brief relationship.

However, Preach and Cochise also meet Stone (Sherman Smith), and Robert (Norman Gibson). They're gang members who already have criminal records, which should be a bad sign, but Preach and especially Cochise want to enjoy life, and it's not as if there's all that much to do in that part of Chicago. Eventually, Stone and Robert steal a car and offer Cochise and Preach a joyride. Preach tries to drive, and his lousy driving skills bring the attention of the police, which ultimately results in the arrests of all four.

Preach and Cochise have a teacher, Mr. Mason (Garret Morris) who cares about both of them since Cochise actually does get his scholarship and Preach is the bright one who should have a future ahead of them. So Mason intercedes with the cops on their behalf, pleading for leniency because of that and their heretofore clean record. Of course, Stone and Robert see Preach and Cochise getting released, and logically think that it's because the two ratted on Stone and Robert. They want misplaced revenge, with tragic results.

Cooley High is a movie that I found started off rather slowly and a bit aimlessly, as though it was going to be more of a slice-of-life movie. But around the time of the joyride things pick up and the movie gets much better, thanks to the script which was based on the screenwriter's own experiences. (I was kind of surprised by the craps scene, since that's usually a big signal for racial stereotypes, but the screenwriter and director were both black and having been based on real life, there was obviously no ill intent here.) The movie is also helped out by a score of Motown songs (no other labels here presumably for cost-saving music rights reasons).

High school wasn't like this at all for me, in part because I grew up in a small city district, and in part because I grew up in the sticks (literally, next to 1000 acres of state forest), and in part because I had a warped childhood. So I don't quite identify with the characters the way that other people might. But that doesn't mean I don't like the movie, which was quite enjoyable and well worth a watch if you haven't seen it before. It's available on DVD too if you want to watch.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Briefs for December 21-22, 2018

Movie reviews have been a bit slow in coming, in part because work has been so busy and in part because I watched a movie last weekend that I didn't realize is out of print on DVD. (It's going to be on next week, I think.) I'm hoping to have more time to watch stuff in the new year since work is supposed to return to normal.

If you like the TCM Saturday morning block, it's taking a week off for Christmas, with a bunch of religious-themed movies airing Saturday morning up to 8:00 PM. Well, not too many, since they're epics and run endlessly. At least The Miracle of the Lady of Fatima at 7:45 AM is a change of pace.

I probably should have mentioned the deaths of Donald Moffat and Peter Masterson earlier this week. Moffat was a veteran character actor whom I feel like I should recognize more than I do, although to be fair a lot of his work was on TV. Masterson directed The Trip to Bountiful, a movie I highly recommend, and also wrote and acted.

Finally, I was a bit premature in some of my comments on the 2019 movies blogathon post yesterday. I didn't realize that our dead mall has already found a replacement for the sixtyplex that closed in August, and it's supposed to open in January. Not that I'll be going up there very often in any case.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #232: 2019 movies we're looking forward to

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week is a very different one for me, the theme being 2019 movies I'm looking forward to. The reason it's different is that there aren't any movies I'm looking forward to.

There are several reasons for this. One is that I don't follow particularly closely what movies will be coming out in the future, so I don't know that I'd be able to think of much in the way of movies coming out next year, never mind ones I'd be interested in seeing. I should add that I'm not just saying that because of my love of older movies. I've blogged about a couple of movies that came out after I started the blog, with at least two from this decade. OK, that doesn't sound like a lot, and it isn't, but give me something interesting to watch and I'll give it a try.

The second reason is that when it comes to movies that are scheduled far enough in advance that we know they're coming out next year, it always seems to be the blockbusters, and those -- especially the comic-book superhero movies -- are a genre that doesn't particularly interest me. Looking at other people's selections, I see a lot of such blockbusters and series movies.

And then there's the big reason, which is that we don't have a local theater to watch Hollywood movies any more. Our local multiplex closed in August, being in a dying mall that's a depressing place to visit I stepped foot in the mall once about a year and a half ago and it was nearly deserted; the last time I was at the theater was in 2016 to watch a weekday matinee of Florence Foster Jenkins. There was me and one older couple in the theater. The last time I looked at the local arthouse's website, they were promoting the latest Michael Moore propaganda film, and I think there are some second run theaters. Or at least there certainly used to be; I have no idea how many of those are still open.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Brief encounter in Japan

Over Thanksgiving, I DVRed Lost in Translation. It's on one of the Showtime channels off and on, and is also available on DVD.

Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a successful actor who is traveling to Japan to film some commercials for Suntory whiskey for a large sum of money. Financially he's made it, but his home life leaves something to be desired. At the hotel, he's already gotten a fax from home about missing one of his kids' birthdays, and his wife is constantly pestering him about renovations going on involving the new study that's going on the house.

Meanwhile, there's Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). She's not long out of college, having studied philosophy at Yale. She's married to John (Giovanni Ribisi), a photographer to the stars who is in Japan on a business trip to photograph some rock bands among other things. His job takes him away for long hours and to other parts of the country. Charlotte isn't even certain why she's in Japan, since she's utterly uncertain what she wants to do with her life.

With two people who are both at a crossroads in their lives, both in a country where they don't speak the language, you just know they're going to run into each other at some point. The fact that they're both in the same hotel helps. One night they sit next to each other at the hotel bar and start talking to each other. What with them both having time on their hands, they decide to spend some of that time together

An emotional bond develops between the two, although it's decidedly uncertain whether they have the same bond for each other. On top of that, we know that they're not going to be meeting for very long, if only because Bob should have gone back to the States earlier but delayed his flight for a lucrative appearance on a Japanese TV talk show. Soon enough, his flight home comes, leaving the viewers to wonder what's going to happen to these two people.

Lost in Translation is on its surface a fairly simple movie. But that belies a much more complex range of emotions. In watching Lost in Translation, I found myself thinking of an earlier movie, David Lean's Brief Encounter. But I liked Lost in Translation much more. I think the thing for me is that when I watched Brief Encounter, I got the distinct feeling that the woman (Celia Johnson) was trying to defend her actions. Lost in Translation is much more ambiguous, letting people to decide for themselves about the characters.

Bill Murray is surprisingly good here. For people who are used to seeing Murray in all those vintage comedies, he shows that he really can do drama, too. Scarlett Johansson had already done a bunch of juvenile roles, but this is one of her first adult roles (she's 19 playing mid-20s; usually it's the other way round), and she brings a decided maturity to it.

If you want to sit down and watch something intelligent, you could do far worse than to watch Lost in Translation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Penny Marshall, 1943-2018

Penny Marshall (r.) with Cindy Williams in Laverne and Shirley

Penny Marshall, the star of the hit sitcome Laverne and Shirley who went on to become an accomplished movie director, has died at the age of 75.

This being a movie blog, I don't talk all that much about TV shows except during the monthly Thursday Movie Picks TV edition, for which I've already used Laverne and Shirley. But Marshall graduated from that into directing some well known movies, such as Jumpin' Jack Flash which helped give a boost to Whoopi Goldberg's career, and A League of Their Own.

I don't know if TCM will be editing their year-end TCM Remembers piece to include her, although there's certainly space in it for them to make additions.

Treasures from the Disney Vault, December 2018

Tonight brings another installment of the roughly quarterly series of Treasures from the Disney Vault to TCM. I don't know how much choice TCM gets in these selections, but at least this time out the movies seem to be well thought out thematically.

It's a sports theme, starting off with a a Goofy basketball short at 8:00 and perhaps the most well-known of the movies, The Absent-Minded Professor, which is also listed as being in the 8:00 slot, which I presume means that if you want to DVR them you're going to get both together.

Later in the night there's Kurt Russell taking steroids in The Strongest Man in the World at 2:00 AM. Well, not quite; it's "vitamins", but nowadays it would be considered a performance-enhancing drug by some people.

The last feature is Gus at 4:00 AM, about a field-goal kicking mule. Francis must have been unavailable since Disney didn't have his rights.

The one thing I notice is that there are none of the Herbie movies; I wonder if Disney thought those were too big to let out to a non-Disney channel. The other thing is that there are a couple of non-Disney shorts in between the features, notably Football Headliners, an RKO Sportscope that I think I've mentioned in the past about some of the big college football games of 1955. That comes on in between The Strongest Man in the World and Gus. There's another one about bowling just before The Strongest Man in the World that I think is a non-Disney, too.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Ascent

Some months back TCM ran The Ascent in the TCM Import slot. The movie is available from Criterion's Eclipse series (although seemingly only at the Criterion site), so I sat down to watch it and do a full-length post here.

The scene is the occupied western part of the Soviet Union (what would now be Belarus) in the winter of 1942. What Russian soldiers might have been on the front are now partisans behind enemy lines, an extremely difficult existence. They're running out of food, but the commander knows of a farm nearby that may have some food they can commandeer. So he picks two men: Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) and Rybak (Vladimir Gostyukh) to go to the farm and get some food for the partisans.

It would be a difficult, dangerous mission in good weather, what with the Nazis all around. But it's the dead of winter so things are even worse. They get to a small house that is home to an elderly village elder and his wife, although when they get there they realize that the elder is a Nazi collaborator. The elder, for his part, claims that he was forced into it with the threat of losing his life, but still, collaborating with the Nazis is seen as treason in the Soviets' eyes, so the elder is taken out back and....

Eventually, the farm that the two soldiers were supposed to find is located, but it's been burned to the ground so there's no possibility of getting the needed food there. There's no point in going back to their commander without food, and they're probably lost anyway, so they head on. This despite the fact that Sotnikov gets shot in the leg which seriously slows him down and threatens to kill him. They end up at the house of a widow with young children who has clearly been aged before her time as a result of the war. She's not unwilling to help, although one wonders how much she can do. And then the Nazis come.

The soldiers hide in the attic, but are unsurprisingly found out by the Nazis and brought into town along with the woman; the children are left behind presumably to die. Soviet movies always had to show the Nazis' savagery, after all. In town, the two partisans are given the opportunity to turn sides and reveal what they know to the Nazis, in exchange for their lives. Now, you'd think that a Soviet movie would have the propaganda of making Red Army soldiers heroes who would never give in to the Nazis. But that's not what happens here. Sotnikov is probably going to die soon anyway, what with that wound and his general physical condition. So for him to resist the Nazis in his own little way isn't so difficult. But Rybak doesn't want to die, and faces a conscience of crisis.

The Ascent is a stark, emotionally draining picture, although I found a few slight quibbles with it that a lot of the other reviews I read didn't seem to have. The issue for me was that once the partisans get captured by the Nazis, the movie slows down to a crawl, which may make it even more difficult for some viewers. Still, the performances are quite good, and the cinematography, which was surprisingly in black and white for a movie from 1977, is starkly beautiful. War is hell, and The Ascent definitely shows it.

Sadly, director Larisa Shepitko was to die two years after making The Ascent in a car crash. She only left a couple of movies, but they deserve to be better known.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

TCM Remembers 2018

So apparently TCM's piece looking back at the people who left us in 2018 has begun to run, as it was posted to Youtube recently. I haven't seen it on TCM yet, but to be honest my live watching of the channel has been down quite a bit as I've been DVRing a lot of stuff. I did make it a point of watching the first half hour of Wednesday's prime time block of stuff named to the National Film Registry, especially as I noticed that with the length of the movie in the first half hour, there might be time for a TCM Remembers piece. It didn't air then.

One addition I was surprised by was that of Sondra Locke, who died back in November but whose death wasn't announced until this past week. Unsurprisingly, some of the posters on the TCM boards are spending just as much time mentioning those people who didn't get included in the tribute. As least none of them have put out the idea that I see there and nowhwere else every year that TCM should wait until January. I listen to various international broadcasters as I've mentioned on several occassions, and Radio Slovakia's English section already stared with the look back at 2018 on December 4.

Anyhow, if you haven't seen the TCM Remembers piece on TCM yet, here it is on Youtube:

Coming attractions, December 16-17, 2018

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights movie is The Passion of Joan of Arc at 12:15 AM, which I think I've mentioned before several times in passing but not done a full-length post on. Maria-Renée Falconetti plays the child saint in a movie based on the trial and her ultimate martyrdom. The stark black and white photography is excellent, as is Falconetti's performance. If you haven't seen this one before, I highly recommend it.

Tomorrow morning and afternoon's lineup on TCM is a bunch of crime movies, a day which shows me once again you can always learn something new. High Sierra is on at 4:15 PM, and I discovered that it's apparently out of print on individual DVD. There is a box set, but according to some of the reviews on Amazon that one has some problems. But the real reason I mentioned learning something new is that the first movie of the day, at 6:00 AM, is Villain, a new one to me. It stars Richard Burton as a British gangster who starts suspecting everyone around him, at least according to the synopsis. As I said, I'd never heard of it before seeing it on the TCM schedule, so I can't say more. I'll have to clear some space on the DVR and record it.

Over on FXM, they'll be showing The Lion, which will be on tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM and twice more at the end of the week. I can't believe it's been five years since I blogged about it. As far as I can tell, it's still not available on DVD, but you can watch it on Amazon's Prime Video.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

It's a Gift

I mentioned at the beginning of the week when John Landis was TCM Guest Programmer that one of his selections was the W.C. Fields movie It's a Gift. So I watched it to do a full-length post on it here.

Fields plays Harold Bissonnette, a man with a family that drives him nuts at every turn. His daughter Mildred (Jean Rouverol) commandeers the bathroom and is worried that she'll never see her boyfriend John (Julian Madison) again if the family movies. His young son Norman (Tommy Bupp) is an obnoxious brat who constantly wears roller skates and when he takes them off, leaves them in a place where you know Dad is going to trip over them; you can see it coming a mile away. And then there's Harold's wife Amelia (Kathleen Howard), who henpecks Harold to no end, being as bad as Harcourt Fenton Mudd's wife in the two Star Trek episodes where Harry Mudd appears.

Harold dreams of getting away from the rat race and moviing the family out to California to buy an orange grove, and he's got his eye on a plot, too. He might just be able to get the money, since his uncle Bean is at death's door and that stands to leave an inheritance for Harold, not that the rest of his family want him to use it on an orange grove. Amelia points out that he can't even run the corner grocery store he owns; how is he going to run an orange grove?

Sure enough Bean dies and Harold buys the plot he's had his eyes on, except that there's one small problem. John works for the bank and has found out that that plot has been the subject of some false advertising in that it's not going to grow much of anything, except for weeds, not an orange to be found. But Harold has been so insitent on badgering the bankers into lending him the money that they do so anyway. What is Harold going to do when he finds out his farm isn't all it's cracked up to be?

To be honest, the plot of It's a Gift is even more threadbare than some of Fields' other movies, and serves more as a hook for Fields' set pieces and his brand of physical comedy. This time, however, unlike most of the reviews I've read, everything -- and I mean everything -- fell flat for me. Harold's son is such a jerk and so annoying you want Dad to smack him like what happened to Jane Withers at the end of Bright Eyes. Mrs. Bissonnette is no peach either and there would have been a more interesting movie if Harold just got up and fled to California, abandoning his family.

The various set pieces are equally obnoxious, particularly the one at the grocery store. There's a blind guy depicted as too stupid to use his cane properly, and a customer who wants ten pounds of kumquats, which is supposed to make us laugh because the word "kumquat" supposedly sounds funny. Except that this bit goes on and on and on and the customer is frankly mean instead of funny. The other big set piece is Fields trying to sleep on a porch swing and constantly being interrupted.

Everybody else seems to enjoy It's a Gift, so you will probably want to watch it for yourself to judge. And thankfully, the box set it's on is inexpensive, so even if you don't like this one it's not as if you're out a bunch of money.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Some thoughts on Wednesday night's TCM National Film Registry lineup

So I watched the first half-hour of TCM's Wednesday night lineup, having no desire to watch My Fair Lady at 8:30 PM. For some reason I thought it was going to be Ben Mankiewicz sitting down with the Librarian of Congress, but it was actually Leonard Maltin.

Anyhow, the night started off with a very brief movie from 1898, Something Good -- Negro Kiss. The title describes what the movie is about, although it's apparently a takeoff on an earlier Edison kissing short. In this one, the two black people are rather more passionate, and both look like they're really enjoying themselves. Each time they stop to come up for air, the guy looks at the camera looking like he's hamming it up shamelessly. But, since this is in some ways designed as a parody, that fits in and actually makes the short more charming. I would have thought the Library of Congress would have put it up on Youtube by now, since it should be in the public domain, but it isn't. It does appear to be on Vimeo; it looks like they allow embedding too:

The second short was Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People, a 1984 short that was followed by a brief interview with the director, Ayoka Chenzira. It's about the difficulties black women have had throughout the years with their hair and the fact that in a world where white people are in a significant majority, black people's hair types aren't going to be considered the standard of beauty. Now I'm white, and a man, and I keep my hair short in the way that a Steve McQueen did in his 1960s movies, basically just long enough that I could part it if I so desired, and I don't spend much time on fancy hair care. So I felt able to watch this one with a sense of detachment. (Chenzira said in the interview that she chose animation because she thought that would make the topic -- apparently a touchy one among black women -- less threatening.) Let's just say that after watching it, I'm glad that I keep my hair short (to be honest, if it grows out too long, it starts curling up, which would be a deal-breaker) and don't have to deal with any of the stuff women of any race do to try to achieve "beautiful" hair. Some of the things described sound like they'd be rather uncomfortable. All in all, an interesting short I would never have seen any other way.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #231: It's a Party

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 "It's a Party". So cry if you want to. But as for me, I'll pick three movies that fit the theme, all of which happen to be from the mid-1930s:

Remember Last Night? (1935). A bunch of society types hold a wild party where they get really drunk. So blackout drunk that the next morning none of them can remember anything they did. The problem is that in the morning they find their host's dead body in his bed, clearly having been murdered. How is anybody going to figure out who done it? Detective Edward Arnold has the duty of trying to do the figuring.

Hollywood Party (1934). Jimmy Durante is about to premiere his next Schnarzan movie (with the tagline "Don't miss this if you can!") and to promote it, he and the studio throw a party at his house in hopes of getting an explorer's real lions. It's really an excuse for a whole bunch of sketch comedy, with a visit to MGM by Mickey Mouse who shows a Technicolor short (I think the Disney shorts at this time were being distributed by United Artists but in any case Disney didn't have its own distribution the way it does now).

Triumph of the Will (1935). Leni Riefenstahl's document of the Nazi Party rally in Nuremburg in 1934. If you can get a copy of the 1993 documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl I highly recommend it as the movie is discussed in much detail there and Riefenstahl was still around (at 90) to discuss it and defend the directorial decisions she made in filming the movie. (She claims, for example, that Goebbels hated her putting a camera so close to Hitler, but that Hitler was such an effective public speaker that he was oblivious to it.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Another night of National Film Registry movies

Last year around this time, there was a blank night on the TCM schedule, and there wasn't much information on what was going to be in that slot until not long before the night. It turned out that was the day the Library of Congress was announcing the new selections to the National Film Registry, and Ben Mankiewicz was sitting down with the representative from the Library to present some of the selected movies.

Obviously, they can't release such a lineup too long before the movies are supposed to air, although I assume TCM knew far enough in advance to be able to deal with the rights issues (or perhaps the federal government representatives handled that). But we've reached that time of the year when another batch of movies are being named, and it's tonight that those movies are going to be shown, which is why there's another blank night in the TCM schedule. I haven't come across any lineup of the actual movies.

At least this year, TCM announced that this is what they'd be doing. The bad news, of course, is that trying to DVR these movies is going to be a pain in the butt. Not that I've got room on my DVR anyway.


One of the commenters on the TCM boards has posted tonight's schedule:

8:00 PM Hair Piece (1984)
8:30 PM My Fair Lady (1964)
11:30 PM The Informer (1935)
1:15 AM Monterey Pop (1968)
2:45 AM Hearts and Minds (1975)
4:45 AM The Lady From Shanghai (1948)

Personally, I'm surprised with this years selections, more by the fact that some of the movies on the list hadn't already been selected. In addition to My Fair Lady, there's On the Town and Disney's Cinderella, as well as several that are only slightly less well known but very much of Hollywood like Bad Day at Black Rock and Leave Her to Heaven.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ulzana's Raid

Thanks to DirecTV making all the premium movie channels available on a free preview over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to DVR Ulzana's Raid.

The movie starts off on an Apache Indian reservation in the early days of the reservations when the representative of the federal government was still there and ran the place, not giving the Apache a fair deal on anything. So a couple of the Apache escape

Cut to the local army fort, where things seem normal, at least to the point there the men can play an impromtu game of baseball. That is, until a rider comes in informing them of the escape from the base. That means trouble, because the Apache in general were vicious in fighting against the encroaching Americans, and the leader of the group that broke out, Ulazna (Joaquin Martinez), is particularly brutal. All those homesteaders who have been moving into the Arizona territory are in danger. But how to deal with Ulzana?

Capt. Gates (Lloyd Bochner), the base commander, would prefer not to resort to violence, although it's probably not going to be his choice. He sends out the old scout McIntosh (Burt Lancaster) to get information on the size of the raiding party and their intentions. McIntosh knows the Apache well enough to have a fair amount of respect for them but also to have no illusions about them. Meanwhile, Gates gives military command of the Army pursuit to greenhorn lieutenant DeBuin (Bruce Davison), son of a minister and as such a devout Christian. DeBuin doesn't quite understand McIntosh, and McIntosh is none too sanguine about having DeBuin in command.

So they set out with a bunch of men across the desert to try to find Ulzana and if possible see that he gets to Mexico and becomes their problem, or get him back to the reservation. Neither scenarios is particularly likely. Ulzana is clever and ruthless, as DeBuin finds out in how they deal with one of the homesteaders. Also it seems as though Ulzana is playing a cat-and-mouse game with DeBuin, trying to tire out DeBuin's horses, something which would be fatal for the army men.

I think I've said quite a few times that I'm not the biggest fan of westerns, so I tend to be a harder judge when watching them than when I'm watching some other genres, or than other people might be of westerns. With that in mind, I generally liked Ulzana's Raid, although I wouldn't say I was blown away by it. It's very well made, with an intelligent plot and excellent performances by Davison and Lancaster. At the same time, the movie had the feel to me of a solid genre picture, something that's good but been done before. Mind you, what's done here is done quite well. Anybody who's a fan of westerns will very much enjoy this one, I think.

Ulzana's Raid is available from Universal's MOD scheme.

Monday, December 10, 2018

TCM Guest Programmer December 2018: John Landis

The Monster and the Girl at 8:00 PM, a 1941 Paramount B that I have to admit is new to me, so I can't say much about it;
The Laurel and Hardy shorts Helpmates and Towed in a Hole at 9:15 PM; the TCM page lists both of them as starting at 9:15 PM so I'm not certain which one is first;
Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick's anti-war movie starring Kirk Douglas, at 10:15 PM; and
W.C. Fields' It's a Gift at midnight.

I had been planning on watching and doing a post on It's a Gift since I knew it was on this week, but I didn't know it was this early in the week so I haven't re-watched it yet. TCM, oddly enough, claims the movie isn't on DVD, even though I have it on a Fields box set. The problem, I think, is that it is on a box set. When I looked up that box set, it showed right up at the TCM Shop.

The movie that follows It's a Gift, apparently not selected by Landis, is an interesting-sounding British comedy I haven't seen before, Mr. Love at 1:30 AM.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A not-so-cold December

Working my way through the backlog of movies that I recorded during TCM's Black Experience on Film spotlight back in October, I'm up to A Warm December.

Sidney Poitier plays Dr. Matt Younger, who at the beginning of the movie is commandeering an ambulence to get to Dulles Airport in Washington DC so he can catch a plane to London on vacation with his daughter Stefanie (Yvette Curtis); he's a widower so Mom is out of the picture. That, and bring his motorbike. When he lands in London, he's met by Dr. Barlow (George Baker). Apparently, Younger started a charity that does medical work in underprivileged areas all around the world, and Barlow works for that charity too. But Matt insists this is a vacation, not a working trip.

On the way to the hotel, we see a black woman being pursued by somebody who is of one of the East Asian nationalities, a pursuit shown in a way that makes it look as if this is going to be some sort of spy movie. The fact that the woman wants Matt to stand between her and the Asian man reinforces this. Matt is intrigued by the beautiful woman, and when he sees her again, this time being watched by an older white guy in a museum, he wants to get to know her. But she's decidedly coy about meeting Matt.

That is, until Matt and Stefanie go to a show of African dance. Among the dignitaries showing up is the Ambassador of Torunda (Earl Cameron) and his niece Catherine (Esther Anderson). Matt realizes that Catherine is the mysterious woman he's kept running into. No wonder she didn't want to see him: she's got official duties.

Eventually, however, she does relent and sees Matt privately, and we can see why she's been of two minds about everything. Not only is she the ambassador's niece, she's on Torunda's economic development council, and has to use her beauty and knowledge of foreign languages to woo various first- and second-world countries for financial aid, and those official duties keep her from seeing people. Like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, however, she wants to get out, which is why she starts seeing Matt.

Things take a turn for the worse on one of those trysts, however. Catherine starts wincing in pain, claiming nausea, although thanks to the music cues we can tell something more serious is going on. It happens again, and Matt, being a doctor, decides to do an impromptu examination, and confirms his suspicions that Catherine has sickle-cell anemia. It would also explain a lot of the other characters' motivations.

Sickle-cell anemia is treated here as an even more life-shortening disease than it is in real life, although since the movie came out in 1973 things may have changed in the intervening decades. Catherine is only 27, but it's felt that it would be a miracle if she makes it to 35. Matt doesn't seem to care, as he loves Catherine and wants to see her whenever he can. Not only that, but he'd like to take her back to America with him. Catherine begins to fall in love with Matt, and loves Stefanie even more. But she has her official duties, and isn't certain if she's want to die early on the people she loves. Better to leave them now with the good memories and go back to Torunda. Which will she choose?

I found A Warm December to be a nice, unassuming movie that handles its grown-up issues with sensitivity for the most part. I don't know what a sickle-cell attack would look like in real life, but what's shown here in Catherine's climactic attack out in the country left me laughing at a scene that came across melodramatic and overdone. The movie has some other minor flaws, such as the music cues that I already mentioned. Sidney Poitier's direction is also a problem at times, as he's putting more attention on himself than on the story.

Still, I'd recommend A Warm December to anybody who wants an intelligent movie. You can get it on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Without Reservations

Another movie that I watched recently so I could get it off my DVR is light comedy Without Reservations.

Claudette Colbert plays Christopher "Kit" Madden, a woman who has recently written a big important novel that also philosophizes about the new world we should create in the aftermath of World War II, called Here Is Tomorrow. (Without Reservations was released in 1946, when that topic was highly relevant.) The novel has been so successful that Hollywood producer Baldwin (Thurston Hall) has bought the rights to the book in order to turn it into a movie starring Cary Grant and Lana Turner: the non-philosophical part of the book is, at its heart, a romance between a Marine pilot and a woman.

So Kit has to go out to Hollywood to do the screenplay, a la Dick Powell's character in The Bad and the Beautiful. Now, as successful as her book was and as urgently as Baldwin wants her out in California, you'd think she could have taken the plane. But no, the studio got her train tickets, and couldn't get her a compartment because they were all booked. So she gets on a regular Pullman car, which turns out to be fortuitous. Kit hasn't liked the idea of casting Cary Grant in the male lead since she, having written the book, thinks the character should be played by a new face. And wouldn't you know it, she's going to find that new face on board the train.

Her seat on the train is next to two Marines who have to go to San Diego, Dink (Don DeFore) and Rusty (John Wayne). They both find Kit charming, even if they don't know she's written the wildly successful book everybody's talking about. And Kit thinks Rusty would be perfect for the part of the male lead. Kit telegraphs Baldwin about Rusty, and he responds that she shouldn't lost Rusty at all costs.

Anyhow, as I said, Rusty and Dink don't know Kit is the author of the book, which turns out to matter because when they start discussing the book, Rusty takes a decidedly different point of view from Kit. Kit is decidedly on the left and has written her characters that way, while Rusty takes his views from John Wayne's "national greatness" brand of conservatism. So when the time finally comes to ask Kit her last name, she makes something up, ot letting them know she's the author of the book Rusty hates. You just know they're going to find out later.

They have to change trains in Chicago, and it turns out that they've got different trains out to the west coast, so Kit comes up with an idiotic idea, which is to miss her train despite having had her baggage forward on the train she's missing. That, and she gets on the one Rusty and Dink are taking, without having purchased a ticket! The ultimate result of it is that the three of them get thrown off the train and have to make it out to the west coast in other ways, a la It Happened One Night, a movie with which Without Reservations bears no small resemblance. And sure enough, along the way, Rusty and Dink discover Kit's true identity.

Without Reservations is a fairly undemanding movie. I briefly mentioned the resemblance to It Happened One Night, but I also found myself thinking about The Palm Beach Story, and any number of other cross-country movies. Even though the subject material has been done to death, Without Reservations still works largely thanks to the strength of the cast. Granted, it loses some of its steam in the last half hour after the Marines find out Kit's real identity, and you know how it's going to end up. But Colbert and Wayne make a surprisingly appealing couple, and the supporting cast does even better. Notable is Anne Triola as a "beetle", an obnoxious other woman whose job it is to drive the action along. There are also cameos from Jack Benny and Cary Grant, but not Lana Turner; the movie was done at RKO and Turner was under contract at MGM.

Without Reservations is available on DVD, and if you want a movie you can just sit back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy, you could do worse than this one.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

If I hadn't done a post on The Ghost Goes West for Halloween, I probably would have done one on The Ghost and Mr. Chicken instead.

Don Knotts plays the man who's chicken, a man named Luther Heggs. Luther is a typesetter at the newspaper in the small town of Rachel, KS. He'd like to be a reporter instead of just a type-setter, which would also help him in winning the heart of his girlfriend Alma (Joan Staley). The problem is that Luther is known for telling tall tales, which is something you don't really want in a reporter who should probably be giving readers the facts.

But Luther might just get the chance to write that story. The town has a famous murder case in the past, at the old Simmons place 20 years ago. Legend has it that as a result of that murder, the house is haunted, and you can even hear the organ play all by itself at midnight. With the anniversary coming up, it would be a good time to send somebody to the haunted house to see if it really is haunted. (You'd think they'd send multiple people to have witnesses, but that's another story.)

Besides, they may not get another chance to send somebody into the house, as the dead owners' nephew Nicholas Simmons (Philip Ober) is looking to tear the house down and rebuild. (Here again, if he really didn't want the story out there, couldn't he get an injunction?) But Luther goes into the house, and sure enough, he sees a lot of things that would lead anybody who saw them to think that the place might indeed be haunted. So he writes a story about what he saw.

This is why he should have had witnesses, so that somebody would believe him. Nicholas is none too happy about the story, and sues Luther and the newspaper for libel. The courtroom scenes are idiotic, but the judge comes up with a reasonable suggestion that perhaps the interested parties could go back to the house one night to see what really happens inside the house. Naturally, this time nothing happens, dashing Luther's hopes. Perhaps nothing will happen until there's only one person alone in the house....

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a natural vehicle for the comedic talents of Don Knotts. So, if you don't like Don Knotts, you're probably going to have some problems with this movie. I tend to prefer Knotts in a supporting role, so I'm one of the people who had some problems with the movie, which is why I was picking it apart for plot holes. Having said that, however, Knotts' brand of physical comedy is the sort of thing that a lot of parents say appeals to their children. (I bought one of my nieces a DVD of The Incredible Mr. Limpet for Christmas several years back, and my sister said the nieces really enjoyed it.) The frights are quite mild, and it's easy to see Knotts' physical comedy appealing to kids.

I can definitely recommend The Ghost and Mr. Chicken to families. People looking for a serious prestige picture? Well, you probably knew you wouldn't be getting that with this one.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #230: Meet the Parents

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 "Meet the Parents". If you've watched François Truffaut's Day For Night, you may recall that the movie-within-a-movie that Truffaut's director character was filming was "Je vous présent Pamela", a movie in which a young man brings his girlfriend home to meet the parents. Well, I used Day For Night earlier this year, and I wanted to do something different. But then life intruded and I got too busy to worry about whether or not I've repeated titles here. So instead I decided to go for a theme within a theme and if I've repeated anything, I apologize:

Family Plot (1976). Alfred Hitchcock's final film stars Barbara Harris as a phony psychic who learns about a wealthy woman looking for her long-lost son (which is how this one barely fits the theme), and she decides to get in on the action with the help of her taxi driver boyfriend Bruce Dern. However, the search gets dangerous as it brings them into contact with high-class kidnappers (William Devane and Karen Black) who have a taste for diamonds.

Marnie (1964). Sean Connery meets frigid kleptomaniac Tippi Hedren who also has a fear of the color red. The two marry, and Connery sets out to find just why his new wife has all the fears she does. The answer will be learned with he meets her mother (Louise Latham). Bruce Dern has a pivotal if brief part in the climax, although that's not part of the theme within a theme.

Psycho (1960). Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) talks about his mother to anybody who will visit his out-of-the-way motel. Various visitors (Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, and John Gavin) meet Norman's mother, although it's not quite the meeting they hoped for.

TCM Star of the Month December 2018: Dick Powell

Dick Powell (r.) with Barry Sullivan and Lana Turner at the end of The Bad and the Beautiful

We're in the first full week of a new month, so it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM, and this time it's Dick Powell, a choice given over to Backlot members (I think the choice was between him and Warren William). Powell's movies are going to be on TCM every Thursday in and around prime time. Powell started off in the 1930s doing light musicals, before abruptly switching in the 1940s to hardboiled detective movies, showing his range and proving he really could act for anybody who think those light musicals aren't much The picture above is from one of my favorites, The Bad and the Beautiful, which will be on at 1:00 PM on December 27.

Of course, this being the first Thursday in the month, we don't get the "serious" dramatic movies just yet; no, we get the 1930s fun. Powell I think really became a star with 42nd Street, another movie I really like, and that comes on at 9:30 tonight. It's preceded at 8:00 PM by what I think is his movie debut, in Blessed Event, where the star is Lee Tracy, playing a gossip columnist who isn't quite orthodox in his methods. Powell is a crooner (surprise, surprise) in that one who is the object of Tracy's poison pen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

One of Charlie's Angels meets Austin Powers and Star Trek

Over the Thanksgiving free view weekend of the premium movie channels, I had the opportunity to DVR Barbarella and watch it.

Jane Fonda plays Barbarella who, after some groovy 1960s MOR music is seen in a spaceship that looks like it's full of shag carpeting. She gets a call from Earth's president, who tells her that she's going to have to go to the planet Lythion because that's the last known location of the notorious scientist Durand-Durand (Milo O'Shea). It seems that most of the galaxy has done away with violence and lives in love, but Durand-Durand has possibly come up with some sort of device called a "positronic ray" that could be used as a superweapon to who knows what end. Barbarella has to find him and stop him.

Barbarella crash-lands on the planet and as soon as she gets out of her spaceship she's attacked by dolls. The man who saves her tells her that if Durand-Durand is on the planet, she's going to have to go to the capital city of Sogo to find him, although that's a dangerous proposition. To get there, she's going to have to go through a Labyrinth with a bunch of slaves, including a Professor (Marcel Marceau) and the blind angel Pygar (John Philip Law).

Eventually, Barbarella does get to Sogo, and finds that it's a city built on a lake of neural energy or somesuch, except that the neural energy is all evil. The city is ruled by the Evil Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), and danger lurks at every turn. However, there are also some rebels hiding in the city, led by Dildano (David Hemings). Eventually, Barbarella does find Durand-Durand, and....

If my summation of the plot sounds like a mess, it's not just because I'm not the best of writers, but also because the plot really is a mess. It sounds more like something director Roger Vadim came up with as an excuse to put Fonda in those skimpy, skin-tight outfits. The men all want "old-fashioned" (ie. lustful instead of scientifically planned) sex with her, although not rape so much as actually wanting to know what real sex is like.

The sets are bizarre, and the ending is even more bizarre. It all adds up to something that's most definitely different. I don't think I can say that I either loved it or hated it; instead it's one of those movies that I find hard to judge simply because it's so off-the-wall bizarre. Parts of the movie were laugh out loud hilarious, and parts of it were actually tedious.

With all that in mind, I'd still say that Barbarella is a movie everybody should see once, just because it is so bizarre.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Free association with obituaries

Bernardo Bertolucci died a week ago at the age of 77, and I've been to busy to get around to mentioning it. Bertolucci won an Oscar for directing The Last Emperor, which I have to admit is a movie I've never seen. If I were going to do the Blind Spot series that a bunch of other bloggers do, I'd have to pick this one, although I'd have to come up with a bunch of other movies.

TV actor Ken Berry died over the weekend at the age of 85. He did do a couple of movies, including the Disney titles Herbie Rides Again and The Cat from Outer Space. One wonders what the suits at Disney were thinking with the latter one; I assume that with the success of the original Love Bug they wanted to milk the funny car for all it was worth. I think I saw Herbie Goes Bananas once. Or was it Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo?

New Zealand director Geoff Murphy died yesterday aged 80. The title that jumped out at me was Young Guns II, a movie that I think I saw back when I was in college and somebody rented it from the video store. For some reason I found myself looking it up a month or so ago, and saw that according to the TCM Shop it was scheduled for a MOD release two weeks ago. But the TCM page says it's on backorder. It also made me wonder what ever happened to Casey Siemaszko from the original Young Guns, who wasn't in the sequel. Wikipedia implies he's still acting, although it's been mostly guest appearances on TV for the past several years. Oh, and Murphy also directed Freejack, oh my. That one also got a Blu-ray release last month.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sweet Bird of Youth

I'm not the biggest fan of Tennessee Williams, to put it mildly, but I had never seen Sweet Bird of Youth before, and since it won Ed Begly an Oscar, it's one of those movies that's been on my list to see for some time.

Paul Newman plays Chance Wayne, who at the beginning of the movie is driving to somewhere on the Gulf coast of Florida with a drunk woman in the back of the car. It turns out he's going back to his old home town, and when he gets there, he takes a suite at the big hotel. The woman is Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page), who was apparently a big actress back in the day but turned to booze and hasn't been big for 15 years.

The local Dr. Scudder (Philip Abbott) goes up to see Alexandra, and recognizes Chance, because pretty much everybody in town would recognize him. Scudder has a lot of bad news for Chance. First is that Chance's mother died a few weeks previously. Scudder had sent both a telegram and a letter, but Chance got neither. In the letter, Scudder also warned that the local political boss, Boss Finley (Ed Begley) didn't want to see Chance back in town again, and certainly didn't want Chance to talk to his daughter Heavenly (Shirley Knight).

Unsurprisingly, that's part of why Chance came back. He was in love with Heavenly back before leaving, and promised to take her away to fame and fortune, but things quite never worked that way. Instead, Chance became a hanger-on to Alexandra, but he's using her for his own purposes. He's got the goods on her illegal drug habit, and if he can et the evidence on tape, he'll be able to get her to sign a contract getting screen tests for both him and Heavenly.

Meanwhile, Boss Finley is in his most difficult political campaign. He's held a variety of offices, and now seems to be the power behind the curtain. He's about as smooth an operator as you could expect from an overheated Tennessee Williams play, so fairly smooth but not quite as much as the operator in Ada or the civil servants in Yes, Minister. Worse, Boss' son Tom Jr. (Rip Torn) is quite the hothead, and has been using the "Finley Youth Clubs" to commit violence against political opponents.

Boss has a reputation for purity, although it turns out he's got a mistress, and his virginal daughter isn't quite so virginal, what with that relationshp with Chance. And Chance's return to town, might just upset the political apple cart if the truth about the Finleys' private lives should come out.

The material is firmly in the space occupied by a whole bunch of late 50s and early 60s potboilers, including the previously mentioned Ada. In that regard, it's not a bad movie, even coming from somebody who is predisposed to dislike Tennessee Williams. Part of the problem is that I find the characters loud and easily dislikeable, and Alexandra is that in spades, and not in the hissable way. Tom Jr. is closer to the fun hissable dislike, but Williams hits us over the head with his evil naïvete. We get it already. Sweet Bird of Youth also uses flashbacks in a way that I thought didn't quite work with the rest of the movie visually.

As for the good things, Newman does OK with his role, and Begley is even better Mildred Dunnock as Heavenly's aunt who is sympathetic to Chance is probably the best of the lot, however.

Tennessee Williams fans will like Sweet Bird of Youth, I think, although they've probably already seen it. It's available from the Warner Archive for anyone who hasn't.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

River of color

I've been blogging for almost 11 years, and I note that I've never done a post on Red River. Since it was on TCM recently, I DVRed it and re-watched it to do a full-length post.

John Wayne plays Thomas Dunson, who at the start of the movie is a scout in a group of pioneers going west sometime in the 1840s. However, he's reached a point where he feels going west isn't a good idea, and he goes south with his friend Groot (Walter Brennan). It's a fortuitous decision, as not long after the leave they see a bunch of smoke coming from the direction of the wagon train, which can only mean they've been attacked by Indians.

Dunson talks of setting up a big ranch even though he doesn't quite have the cattle yet to do it, and because somebody further south claims the land. And a few days later, young Matt Garth (Mickey Kuhn as a boy; he'll grow up to be played by Montgomery Clift) shows up. He passed by the pioneers who were in fact annihilated, and has nobody left in the world, so he becomes a sort of foster son to Dunson.

Quite a few years pass, and now it's 1865, which if you know your American history you'll recall is the end of the Civil War. Texas being part of the Confederacy was destroyed, leaving all of the ranchers in the region destitute. Worse, the southern rail stock was destroyed because it was a strategic objective by the north, so it's not as if there are any stockyards nearby in a place like Dallas to deliver the cattle to. The nearest would be Kansas City, although that has its disadvantages, too.

Still, it's drive the cattle or starve, so the other farmers go along with Dunson and set out toward Missouri. But there are also sorts of problems, with Indians and the threat of dissension within the ranks being the biggest. The second one is a bigger problem because Dunson is obsessive about continuing the drive and everybody else is thinking he's going too far. That, and there are rumors of the railroad having made it to nearer Abilene KS, and Dunson not wanting to go someplace where there's no concrete proof of a railroad. These may sound like clichés, but I'm trying to think of a big cattle drive movie that came before Red River.

Red River is one of those movies that is pretty well done, although to me it falls a bit short of the masterpiece status that some critics want to give it. Part of that is due to Brennan's character, who is just obnoxious. But there's also the ending, which felt rushed to me (and to a fair number of reviewers I've seen). The movie is entertaining, however, and certainly well worth watching if you've never seen it.

Heads-up: My Cousin Rachel

I've mentioned the movie My Cousin Rachel a couple of times in the past, although I haven't seen it in a couple of years and have never done a full-length blog post on it. It's going to be on FXM later in the week, first at 9:20 AM Wednesday and with subsequent re-airings.

The story involves a young man named Philip (Richard Burton) living with his older cousin guardian in England around the time Queen Victoria ascended the throne. The cousin goes off to Italy and marries another cousin Rachel (Olivia de Havilland), but sends Philip disturbing letters leading Philip to believe his guardian is being murdered. Philip eventually brings Rachel to the estate back in England to get a handle on what really happened, only to find that Rachel isn't at all what he expected, although her motives are decidedly unclear.

Anyhow, I mention it today, even though FXM isn't running it until Wednesday, for good reason. It's based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, and with that in mind it's unsurprising that the story has been done several times, both on the big screen and the little screen. Indeed, after the previous round of TCM showings in early 2017, there was a new version released to theaters in June 2017. That 2017 version is going to be on Cinemax tomorrow morning at 10:05 AM for those who have the premium packages. I haven't seen this version; I don't remember it showing up at the local sixtyplex; and the parent corporation closed the sixtyplex in our dying mall over the summer anyway. Rachel Weisz plays Rachel; Sam Claflin plays Philip.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Christmas double features

Now that we're at the first of December, TCM is going to be running more Christmas movies. I kind of like one of the things they're doing this year, which is to have double features every Saturday and Sunday in prime time in the run-up to Christmas. It works well now that there's Noir Alley in the midnight slot between Saturday and Sunday as well as the old Silent Sunday Nights. There's only around four hours each night to program, which isn't really enough to do justice to regular themes, but running something like Christmas movies throughout the month works well.

I haven't read enough on the TCM boards yet to see whether anybody's complaining about it being the same old Christmas movies, but TCM claims that three of the movies are TCM premieres. That should give people something to look forward to. And of the ones that aren't premieres, O. Henry's Full House on November 9 doesn't show up very often what with it being a Fox film. Granted, it's an anthology and only one of the segments deals directly with Christmas. But that one is "The Gift of the Magi".

As for tonight's lineup, it's Beyond Christmas at 8:00 PM followed at 9:45 by the venerable The Bishop's Wife, one of the best Christmas movies in my book.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Saturday matinee FXM style

After watching TCM's Saturday morning lineup tomorrow, you could switch over to FXM and watch another appropriate movie, Legions of the Nile, at noon.

Ettore Manni plays Coridius, a Roman legionnaire in Egypt. The name of the actor should give away that this is one of those European sword and sandal productions that Fox picked up the US distribution rights to. In this case, the movie is mostly Italian, with Spanish location shooting. Anyhow, after engaging in a brief battle, Coridius goes to Alexandria, then capital of Egypt. He's looking to see Marc Antony (Georges Marchal), carrying a message from Octavius (later Augustus) that Marc and his mistress Cleopatra (Linda Cristal), who rules Egypt, are going to get their asses kicked if they try to revolt against the power of Rome.

But the Egyptians have no desire to see a Roman legionnaire, so Coridius has to bide his time at an inn that hosts gladiators. There he meets Berenice and the two fall for each other. But there's a catch: Berenice is actually Cleopatra in disguise; the queen is going gout among her subjects so she can see what's really happening. Needless to say, she's going to be none too happy when Coridius shows up at the palace looking for Antony.

Along the way, Coridius has come into some slaves, and when his life is in some danger after getting into the palace, they're able to help him out. Or something like that.

One of the big problems with Legions of the Nile is that it's been panned and scanned, and dubbed into English for the American distribution. Or, the distribution that was delayed by several years because Fox didn't want anything to compete against the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra which was already in production at the time.

In its butchered state, Legions of the Nile comes across as a Saturday matinee version of history: perfunctory and younger people who like action movies may like it, but not particularly great. I haven't seen the original, so I don't know how that compares.

I don't think either version is on DVD as far as I could tell.

TCM's Saturday morning lineup in December

It doesn't seem like all that long ago I noticed that TCM had gotten through running the Tarzan movies in the 10:00 AM Saturday slot and had movied on to Saint movies. I don't recall how many of those there are, but TCM has already run through them, as tomorrow morning after the 10:00 AM Popeye short there's the first of the Hildegard Withers movies, The Penguin Pool Murder. Edna May Oliver and James Gleason are a hoot as the snoopy teacher/detective and the police detective respectively. But I think there are only six movies in the series, so we'll be done before 31 Days of Oscar. How long until we get another year and a half of Bowery Boys movies?

Starting off the morning, in the 8:00 AM cartoon block, is the short Peace on Earth. This one, made just before the start of World War II, is a surprisingly dark one set in a world after mankind has destroyed itself through war, and anthropomorphic baby squirrels ask their grandfather what the phrase "good will to men" means in the "Peace on Earth, good will to men". It's also quite good and well worth a watch if you haven't seen it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #229: Adapted from a non-English series

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 yet another TV edition, with the theme being shows adapted from a non-English series. This was a difficult one for me, until I hit upon the bright idea of thinking of game shows yet again. (How many times have I said I don't watch much episodic TV?) With that in mind, here are the three shows:

Countdown (1982-present). Original country: France. An institution in the UK and its native France, this game show asks contestants to take a series of randomly selected letters and come up with the longest word they can, as well as asking them to use the four basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) on numbers to reach the target number. Using only the six numbers provided, did you come up with 867? People who like Scrabble and math love this one; everybody else, probably not so much.

Ultra Quiz (early 1980s). Original country: Japan. In Japan in the days when globe-hopping wasn't quite so common, a popular series of quiz shows took contestants all over the world answering questions in pursuit of the grand prize. Of course, this being Japan, they had to add the twist of sending off losing contestants in humiliating ways. (I recall from the one American Ultra Quiz that they guillotined the luggage of the losing contestants in Paris.) One version of this was tried in the US and quickly forgotten.

1 vs. 100 (2000s). Original country: Netherlands. This show had a lone contestant answer multiple-choice questions against a "mob" of 100 questions that was whittled down by people getting the questions wrong. If the One got a question wrong, the remaining Mob members would split the pot. In the non-US versions, the next contestant would be the person in the Mob who had answered the questions in the shortest amount of time, but the US insisted on gimmicking up yet another show so they could have casting with archetypes, and then adding further gimmicks to try to get jackpot winners.

For the Countdown Numbers Game: 6 * 6 = 36; 36 - 1 = 35; 35 * 25 = 875; 875 - 8 = 867. Get it in 30 seconds?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Shanty Where Santy Clause Lives

Back in September, I mentioned that the short The Shanty Where Santy Clause Lives was on the Lady Killer DVD and that, since it was a Christmas movie, I'd be doing a post on it during the Christmas season. We'll we're between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so now is as good a time as any to do that post.

There's not all that much in this short. An orphan is trudging home through the snow on Christmas Eve despairing at all the people celebrating Christmas while he has nothing but an empty stocking. Of course, in cartoon Hollywood Santa Clause is real, so of course the sleigh shows up outside the orphan's window.

Santa takes the kid to his workshop, where you have all the standard-issue 1930s windup toys, and dolls. These toys are then used for the usual sight gags, until one of them accidentally sets the Christmas tree on fire, forcing the kid to put it out and save the day.

It's not a bad cartoon, although there's not all that much original here, certainly not by the standards of looking back 85 years. I was intrigued by the songs, as I had forgotten that "Get Happy" was originally from 1930 which is why it's showing up here well before Judy Garland ever sang it. There was also a Kate Smith joke.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a glitch in the DVD that's not allowing me to go back and forth through that short and stop at a precise point to get a screenshot. Well, I could start from the beginning and wait for the point, but that's too time consuming. So no screenshot with this one.