Wednesday, January 31, 2018

31 Days of Oscar 2018

With tomorrow being February 1, it's once again time for TCM's annual 31 Days of Oscar. This year, the movies are going to be grouped by a category in which all of the movies in that group were nominated. Obviously, a lot of movies were nominated for multiple Oscars, so many of the movies could have been scheduled on various days. I haven't looked through the schedule closely enough to see whether they specifically put Oscar-winners in prime time, although there are some Oscar-winners during the daytime.

Anyhow, the first category up is Best Original Song, which is an interesting category in that there are a quite a few mediocre movies that could be used in 31 Days of Oscar only because the movie has a song that was nominated. Lionel Richie was nominated for writing the song "Endless Love" used in the 1981 movie. I can't imagine any other reason that movie would be nominated.

But that's not why I'm writing about the Best Original Song category. In fact, that's not what it was originally. (The Academy's searchable database lists the category as "Music (Song)", as opposed to "Music (Score)".) Tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM, TCM is running Lady Be Good. This movie, about a songwriter in an on-again, off-again relationship, won the Oscar for its song "The Last Time I Saw Paris", beating out stuff like "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (from Sun Valley Serenade) and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B" (from Buck Privates). Jerome Kern wrote the music with Oscar Hammerstein providing the lyrics.

The only thing is, "The Last Time I Saw Paris" wasn't original to the movie Lady Be Good. It had been written a year earlier in response to the Nazis marching into Paris, and the thought that people weren't going to see Paris again, at least not as it was. Jerome Kern, despite picking up a statuette, campaigned for it not to win, as well as for a rules change.

The rules were later changed, and there are a bunch of songs since then that are well known from their use in movies, but which would not be eligible because they were not originally written for the movie.

It's almost time for 31 Days of Oscar again

We're in the last day of January, which means that tomorrow is the start of 31 Days of Oscar again, in which TCM only runs movies nominated for at least one Oscar. More on that later in the day, as I plan another post on that.

It seems to be a thing for a couple of years now for TCM to spend the night of January 31 looking at the Governors' Awards, the honorary awards the Academy hands out in a ceremony separate from the one we normally think of when we watch the Academy Awards on TV. (Well, if we watch them.) This year there were four honorees, and with ten hours of programming in TCM's nighttime lineup, it means we get time for five movies and a second film from one of the honorees:

First up at 8:00 PM is independent black filmmaker Charles Burnett, with his film My Brother's Wedding at 8:00 PM. This is one of the two, along with Killer of Sheep, that TCM always seems to bring out whenever they need to honor Burnett for something or other.
Then, at 10:00 PM, we get cinematographer Owen Roizman, and his work on Straight Time, a movie that I have to admit I haven't seen before.
Donald Sutherland never won a competitive Oscar. I'm not certain if he was ever even nominated. He got one of the honorary awards, and TCM is showing him in Klute at 12:15 AM.
Finally, it's pioneering French New Wave director Agnès Varda, who is the one to get two films. Cleo de 5 à 7 at 2:30 AM may be her most famous; the other is Le Bonheur at 4:15 AM.

Oh, and there are several shorts during the night too, although none of those deal with tonight's honorees.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A couple of briefs for January 30-31, 2018

I didn't follow the Oscar nominations since I didn't even go to the movie theater once in 2017. So I can't comment on what did or didn't get nominated, although once again I find it interesting that there are bean counters going on about the genetic makeup of nominees. At least the acting Oscars are still separated by gender. Apparently the Grammys made the news for not having enough winners with the right genitalia or something.

TCM apparently did not renew its contract with Tiffany Vazquez, the Saturday afternoon host. Last Saturday's intros were her last set. Somebody on the TCM boards mentioned that the new Saturday afternoon host is going to be a woman from Filmstruck whose name I didn't recognize. The TCM site doesn't mention anything as far as I could find, but that's not surprising.

The bots apparently decided to pay me a visit over the weekend. When I was putting up yesterday's post, I noticed on the dashboard that lists all the recent posts that the one on Death of a Scoundrel has like a dozen times the views as anything else recently. In general, I'd expect the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon posts to get the most views mostly because I always add my link over at the TMP page. Anyhow, it turns out that in just three days the Death of a Scoundrel post has become the second most-viewed post, behind only a Debra Paget birthday post. I'd think that people might have been driven to that by a picture of her, but surprisingly, I didn't use a Debra Paget photo there. Go figure. Having said that, I'm not certain entirely how accurate the stats are since the page that lists posts by most viewed has a slightly different number of views from the edit post page that lists the recent post -- and the one that I updated more recently had fewer views listed.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Old Dark House

So I recorded The Old Dark House when it was on TCM last Halloween, and finally got around to watching it. It's available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Philip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart respectively) are driving through a rainstorm in the middle of nowhere, with snarky Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) in the back seat. The road becomes impassable, so they stop at the nearest house and ask to spend the night. The house is owned by the Femms, Horace (Ernest Thesiger) and Rebecca (Eva Moore), who have a servant in Morgan (Boris Karloff). They're none too happy about having guests, acting very strangely. Morgan is the worst of the lot, looking frightening with a beard.

Into all this come another couple, Sir William (Charles Laughton) and his girlfriend Gladys (Lilian Bond). Actually, Gladys seems like more of a kept woman, and when she and Penderel meet they fall in love. Still, all of the guests begin to get the impression that there's something wrong going on in the house, although they can't quite put their finger on what. It goes on like this.

I have to admit that I was left a bit cold by The Old Dark House. I found some of the characterizations annoying, and the story never really seemed to go anywhere for me, with it just suddenly ending. Perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention. There was also a scene where the curtains were set on fire, and that fire didn't get put out from what I could tell.

Having said that, The Old Dark House became a template for a whole sub-genre within the horror film cycle. Also on Halloween, TCM ran a later movie in that sub-genre, The Cat and the Canary, which I reviewed here several weeks back. That one was better because it gave everybody coherent motivations where this original is closer to a slice of life movie in that nobody has any motivations.

The Old Dark House is generally highly-rated, or at least higher than I would rate it, so it's certainly another movie where you should probably watch and judge for yourself.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

And yet there's no Scarlett O'Hara here

TCM's Noir Alley offering this week was Tomorrow Is Another Day. It's a movie that I hadn't seen before, but it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive so I sat down and watched it as it aired so I could do a full-length post on it.

Steve Cochran plays Bill Clark, who at the start of the movie is getting out of prison after serving 18 years for killing his father. This even though the crime occurred when Bill was only 13; you'd think he would have been tried as a juvenile and released at 21. Anyhow, there are a couple of consequences to being a notorious killer who spent once's adolescence in jail: Bill will have a lot of doors closed to him, while he's also had no contact with women. Bill tries to get a job in his old home town, but one of the reporters writes a story about him, so he feels forced to leave.

Bill winds up in New York, looking for women and eventually winding up at a dance hall stocked with a bunch of taxi dancers. Among them is Cay Higgins (Ruth Roman sporting a bleached blonde look). She's thoroughly professional, which means she takes Bill's tickets and flatters him but doesn't let him get any closer than that since it's not professionally allowed. Bill, having gone through puberty in prison and not understanding sexual relationships at all, gets all the wrong messages and decides that this is the right woman for him to try starting his first relationship with.

Bill more or less stalks Cay until following her back to her apartment for the equivalent of a nightcap. But already in the apartment is police detective Conover (Hugh Sanders), who apparently has Cay as an illicit girl on the side, claiming he pays her rent. Conover is not one bit happy to see Bill show up, and a scuffle ensues with Conover pulling out his service gun and knocking Bill out. Cay winds up with the gun, shooting Conover in self-defense, or at least what could be a plausible self-defense claim if there were a neutral observer there. But there isn't so Cay has to leave while the wounded Conover leaves for help. Bill later finds out that Conover died, and has no idea what really happened.

Eventually, Bill and Cay wind up on the run, getting married and Bill changing his name to Mike Lewis and making their way across country. Once they hit California, they meet a family with car trouble, the Dawsons (Ray Teal and Lurene Tuttle with kid Robert Hyatt). Bill/Mike helps the Dawsons fix their tire, and the Dawsons repay the kindness by getting Mike and Cay jobs in the lettuce industry. However, their kid comes across an article in a crime magazine with a mug shot of Bill who is wanted for questioning in the Conover shooting, setting up the film's climax....

Tomorrow Is Another Day is a movie with a lot of interesting ideas even if it's not really treading any new material here. Cochran and Roman are both effective in their roles, as are Teal and Tuttle as support. The one big problem with the movie is the ending, although you get the impression this wasn't the original ending.

I'm not certain what movie I'd pick if I were going to introduce somebody to noir, although I'd probably pick something more famous. For anybody who already enjoys noir, however, Tomorrow Is Another Day is an excellent addition to the cycle.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Death of a Scoundrel

TCM ran Death of a Scoundrel a few months back, and I finally got around to watching it off my DVR so I could do a full-length post on it here. It was distributed by RKO, so it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

The movie starts off with a bang. Bridget Kelly (Yvonne de Carlo) administrative assistant to the wealthy Clementi Sabourin (George Sanders), enters his house and demands to go up to his room, just knowing that he's been shot. Sure enough she opens the door to his bedroom, and finds that he's lying dead on his bed. Police are called in and Bridget is questioned, so she tells the whole story. Cue the flashback....

Some years back, Clementi was living in Czechoslovakia, having survived World War II and the concentration camps where he was interned for his criminal behavior. He'd left a girlfriend behind, and when he comes back to her, he finds that his brother (Tom Conway, Sanders' real-life brother) has married the girl! Clementi gains revenge by informing the authorities that his brother is dealing in black-market goods, so the authorities reward him by arresting the brother (who gets killed resisting arrest) and giving Clementi a (probably fake but this isn't really mentioned) French passport that will give the otherwise undesirable Sabourin a way out of the country.

Clementi arrives in America to find that a woman is picking the pocket of Wilson (Victor Jory), a man with whom Clementi had struk up a conversation aboard ship. Clementi follows the woman, who turns out to be Kelly, and plans to steal the wallet for himself. For his trouble, Clementi gets shot by Bridget's boyfriend. But Clementi gets treated with the new wonder drug penicillin, and since there's a cashier's check in the wallet, Clementi uses that to make a killing on the stock market investing in the company distributing the penicillin.

This is the first in a series of one fraud after another, blackmailing Bridget into working for him, as well as the stockbroker (John Hoyt), using a widow (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sanders' ex-wife) as his personal slush fund more or less, and even getting control of Wilson's business out from under him. It goes on like this until returning home one night, he finds a gun pointed at him and at the other end of that gun... his ex-girlfriend/sister-in-law! Thanks to the Production Code, things spiral out of control from there.

Death of a Scoundrel is a wonderfully trashy movie. The plot is ludicrous, but the actors make it fun to watch. Sanders is a riot when he finds out that he actually made people money honestly for the first time, and delightfully hissable the rest of the time. De Carlo does well, although sometimes you wonder about her character's motivation. Gabor doesn't have a demanding part. The schemes Sanders comes up with are nuts and could never work in real life. Never mind their historical inaccuracy: penicillin, for example, was first mass-produced during World War II. Sabourin would never have gotten in on the ground floor.

But don't let wild historical inaccuracy dissaude you. Sit back with a bowl of popcorn and if you've got friends who like to yell at the screen at the idiocy, invite them. Death of a Scoundrel may become a guilty pleasure movie for you, too.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Schedule update for January 26-27, 2018

Tonight's last night of the survival movies spotlight starts off with the 1963 version of Lord of the Flies at 8:00 PM. I've read the book, but this is one of those movies that I've never actually seen before. Sadly, I'm not certain if I'm going to get around to it this time either. I don't have enough room on my DVR and have to watch other stuff to clear up space.

The short The House in the Middle at about 11:30 PM, following the second movie, My Side of the Mountain (9:45 PM, 100 min plus an intro and outro), which is a movie I haven't heard of and I'm guessing a TCM premiere since there's no synopsis.

Walkabout, which I blogged about only last month, is back on the TCM schedule overnight at 3:30 PM, which is fully appropriate considering it's another survival movie.

I just mentioned 13 Rue Madeleine last month, so for the next "back on FXM" movie, I'll mention Five Fingers, which will be on tomorrow afternoon at 1:10 PM.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #185: Books to TV

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week being the last Thursday of the month, it's time once again for a TV version, this month focusing on books turned into TV series. I was thinking of going with a theme within a theme and picking books that had been turned into movies first, but there were some shows I hadn't seen such as the TV version of Peyton Place (which I suppose also would have been appropriate with the recent death of Dorothy Malone) or the long-running TV western The Virginian. So two of the TV shows had movie versions first but not the third:

Perry Mason (1957-1966). The show that made Raymond Burr a good guy, based upon the books by Erle Stanley Gardner. Burr plays defense attorney Perry Mason, who solves mysteries and getting his defendants off by the use of theatrics in the courtroom. Before Perry Mason, Burr played a whole lot of bad guys in a lot of really good movies I've blogged about before, like Rear Window, Pitfall, or Red Light. The theme is one of the more iconic TV themes, although I was a bit surprised to see it be a bit brief over the opening credits. I always thought it was longer on TV, although that might be the closing credits.

Hotel (1983-1988). Good old Arthur Hailey. The same author who brought us Airport also wrote the book Hotel about the workings of a hotel, which was turned into a movie back in 1967 starring among others Rod Taylor, Melvyn Douglas, Karl Malden, and Catherine Spaak (remember her?). The idea was brought out of mothballs and the hotel moved from New Orleans to San Francisco for the TV show. Two interesting bits of trivia: Bette Davis was originally supposed to play the owner of the hotel, but she suffered one of her strokes and had to back out of the project. She was replaced by... Anne Baxter. Not only shades of All About Eve, but Baxter would die of a cerebral hemorrhage herself during the series' fourth season. Also, the bellhop (Michael Spound) and the desk clerk (Heidi Bohay) fell in love during the series' run, and married not long after production wrapped in 1988. They're still married nearly 30 years on.

The Love Boat (1977-1987). In the mid 1970s, cruise director Jeraldine Saunders (still alive at 94) wrote a book called The Love Boats, going behind the scenes of what really happens on cruise ships. The book was optioned into a TV movie, and that TV movie was so popular that much of the cast was brought back for a weekly TV series, which of course we know as The Love Boat. Telling the story of the Pacific Princess, a working cruise ship (that was eventually scrapped about five years ago), the show brought a bunch of old Hollywood actors as well as people promoting their other TV show on hiatus in an anthology-style series telling usually three stories a week about people finding love on the ship, for the most part. Half the fun is missing the opening credits and trying to identify the guest stars:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Maggie

Over the weekend I watched The Maggie off my DVR. It's a British movie that, when it was released in the US, was retitled High and Dry for no particularly good reason since the title refers to the name of a boat and not as far as I can tell any British cultural reference Americans wouldn't get. Anyhow, the movie is available on DVD from the TCM Shop so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

MacTaggart (Alex Mackenzie) is the skipper of the Maggie, a boat known as a puffer that is in a very parlous state. So much so that when it pulls into harbor in Glasgow, the harbor master declares it not seaworthy. MacTaggart is going to need £300 to repair it, a princely sum in early 1950s Scotland.

However, he's in a bit of luck. A wealthy American businessman is on the phone with one of the shipping companies saying that he needs to get a bunch of stuff shipped from Glasgow to his new house on one of the islands off the coast. All of the other boats are booked solid, and where is the guy going to get a boat at this short notice? It just so happens that MacTaggart has his boat, even if it shouldn't be sailing. The inspector inspects the wrong boat and MacTaggart doesn't stop him, and soon enough MacTaggart is going to be on his way.

Of course, the businessman, airline executive Calvin Marshall (Paul Douglas) soon finds out about the ship that is transporting his goods, and he's none too happy, demanding that his stuff get taken off the boat, and sending his representative Pusey (Hubert Gregg) after the boat. However, MacTaggart is a crafty man, constantly outwitting the dull Pusey.

Eventually, Marshall himself starts going after the Maggie, finally coming to the conclusion that the only way he's going to make certain his stuff remains safe is to get on the boat himself. Even then, however, MacTaggart isn't going to make the journey an easy one for Marshall...

The Maggie is a movie that has a really good idea but one that I found was fairly substantially hampered by the execution. The big problem for me is that MacTaggart in his dishonesty becomes an increasinly unappealing character. At one point, Marshall gets the brilliant idea to buy the boat out from under him, although it's actually MacTaggart's sister who owns the boat and she refuses to sell. Still, I would have been happy with Marshall gaining ownership and throwing MacTaggart into the ocean. There is a story to be had about a boat owner who needs a job to save himself financially (I'm reminded of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure as an example) combined with the adventure of The African Queen in getting from point A to point B. Indeed, a story could have been fashioned to have Marshall become sympathetic to MacTaggart and the two working together. But that's not what we get in the movie.

And then, with all that having been done, the movie turns around and comes up with an ending that to me made no sense in one of the main characters' motivations. Oh, and there's an obnoxious kid, too.

Still, Paul Douglas puts in another good turn as the brusque American in a strange land. I suppose Mackenzie is good at what he's being asked to do, although I still find the character extremely irritating. There's also one wonderful sequence when the boat stops at one of the islands and winds up at a former fisherman's 100th birthday party. You get the feeling there's a fair amount of authenticity in this, especially with the Scots Gaelic (I think; I didn't understand the speech) being used.

I think I'd be more likely to pick this up if it were part of a box set of Ealing comedies rather than as a standalone. But your mileage may vary; as always feel free to judge for yourself.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Connie Sawyer, 1912-2018

A couple of months back, TCM did a spotlight on the Motion Picture Home and even did interviews with some of the residents there about movies they worked on. One of them was Connie Sawyer, who appeared just shy of her 105th birthday to talk about her movie A Hole in the Head, in which she had a smaller role. Apparently she was in the original Broadway version and reprised her role in the movie.

Connie Sawyer died on Monday at the age of 105. Among her other credits are Dumb and Dumber and When Harry Met Sally, and a whole bunch of television credits through last year. Sawyer was also billed as Hollywood's oldest working actress.

When the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Forces fail

So I watched The Delta Force off my DVR since it's available on DVD and Blu-ray in multiple editions, and Amazon has it in the streaming thing, too.

The movie starts off with a sequence that isn't quite necessary to the movie, but establishes the Delta Force. In 1980, after the Iranians took US embassy workers in Teheran hostage, a plan was hatched to rescue them by sending in helicopters. The plan failed, and eight people died. In the movie, this plan is credited to the Delta Force, with commander Col. Alexander (Lee Marvin) and his second in command Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris).

Fast forward six years. For those who don't remember, the 1980s were a time with a lot of terrorism, especially in Europe. One of the more memorable incidents was that of TWA Flight 847. Hijackers (played in the movie by Robert Forster and others) got on the plane in Athens and hijacked the plane, forcing it to land in Beirut. The plane then went from Beirut to Algiers, and then back to Beirut.

In the movie, the hijackers, being from an Arab terrorist group, want to kill all the Israelis, but there are supposedly no Israelis on board. So instead, they want all the Jewish men. There were a couple of men with Jewish-sounding surnames (Martin Balsam and Joey Bishop, with their wives played by Shelley Winters and Lainie Kazan respectively), a couple of young Navy guys, and a Catholic priest (George Kennedy) who all got taken to the front of the plane, presumably to be treated differently from everybody else.

Anyhow, it's time to call in the Delta Force. As far as they know, there are two hijackers on the plane, which is now heading for Algiers. What they don't know is that at the fuel stop in Beirut, the two hijackers smuggled in about another ten accomplices, making the Delta Force's task much more difficult. The mission in Algiers gets aborted as the plane heads back to Lebanon. However, the hijackers had magnanimously let the women and children off the plane.

Back in Beirut, they deal with the remaining hostages, while Delta Force scrambles to figure out a way to rescue them. This is going to be a bigger problem, as the US was able to get the cooperation of the Algerian government. Lebanon, however, was in the middle of a civil war at the time, and there was no way they'd be able to get in normally.

The Delta Force is very much a movie of two distinct halves. The first half deals with the hijacking up until about the second landing in Beirut, and the second half deals with the Delta Force's rescue operation. The two halves couldn't feel more different. The first half is a generally tense, dramatic, and suspenseful affair, with shades of movies like The Incident when you wonder why nobody fights back. But once the Delta Force lands in Lebanon, it becomes a 1980s action movie, with increasingly ludicrous premises (the motorcycle Chuck Norris' character rides, for example).

Having said that, the action half still entertains and winds up being a lot of fun as long as you know you're getting something that's not prestige movie material. Don't pay too much attention to the acting here since there's not much. Well, fat-era Shelley Winters gets to overact some more which is always enjoyable. And George Kennedy is a more believable priest than OJ Simpson was in The Cassandra Crossing. Acting honors probably go to the actor playing the Greek Orthodox priest in Beirut, a man named Shaike Ophir I'd never heard of. (I don't recognize most of his movies either.) This was a Cannon movie, at a time when the studio was owned by Menahem Golan, so much of the filming was done in Israel and the movie got one of the bigger budgets in the studio's history. It shows, I think.

The Delta Force is ultimately very much a product of the 80s, but also a fun way to spend two hours if you're looking for a popcorn movie.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Joanna Knows Where She's Going

So we get to that night of the month where we have another Guest Programmer. This month's programmer is actress Joanna Going, whose credits include such diverse fare as the 1994 Wyatt Earp and Terrence Malick's pretentious The Tree of Life. She selected four of her favorite movies and sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss them. Those movies are airing tonight:

The Black Stallion at 8:00 PM, a story about a boy (Kelly Reno) and his horse;
Wings of Desire at 10:15 PM, Wim Wenders' movie about angels over Berlin that I didn't particularly care for;
Day For Night at 12:45 AM, François Truffaut's delightful movie about moviemaking; and
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at 3:00 AM, which has Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton arguing and arguing and arguing. I've always found this tough to sit through due to the nature of the material.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Cabin in the Cotton

I had watched Cabin in the Cotton some time back but I didn't think it was on DVD. Apparently it got released to DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood: Vol. 9 set, which is also available from the TCM Shop. So I watched it again in order to do a full-length review.

Cabin in the Cotton is probably the least pre-Code of the movies I've seen mentioned in the "Forbidden Hollywood" sets, although by the time you're getting to Vol. 9, you've probably gotten through all of the really Code-violating films. Anyhow, this one starts off with scenes of white families picking cotton; it turns out that they're sharecroppers working for wealthy planter Lane Norwood (Berton Churchill). One family, the Blakes led by patriarch Tom (David Landau) is admonished because they're letting their son go to school instead of pick cotton. That adult son Marvin (Richard Barthelmess) is trying to get the family ahead.

Still, the family seems to be getting by, and can even lend coffee to some cousins in the form of Betty Wright (Dorothy Jordan), who is the obvious love interest for Marvin. But all of a sudden, Dad dies and everybody gives their best melodramatic reaction. Marvin gets a stroke of luck in that Lane is willing to help with Marvin's education in exchange for Marvin's keeping the books at the company store.

It's at the store that Marvin meets Lane's daughter Madge (Bette Davis). She's sexy enough in an early 1930s way, and is presented as the romantic rival for Marvin's interests. But Marvin's presence amongst the Norwoods is more important in a different way. The sharecroppers just know that Lane is cheating them, and now that they've got one of their own in with the Norwoods, they expect him to get the goods on Lane. Lane, for his part, knows that the sharecroppers are stealing from the cotton warehouse, and thinks he can use Marvin to find out who's doing the stealing.

It goes on like this until the climax, with one interesting break for a scene of a murder "investigation" that's basically all the rich guys chasing after the person they know is guilty, and meting out mob justice when they catch him in the swamps!

Cabin in the Cotton is clearly the product of a Warner Bros. that was producing those social issue movies in the early 1930s. In terms of moralizing, it ultimately comes down more on the side of the sharecroppers, which is understandably easy to do. Still, I did have some beef with them in that their desire to force Marvin into doing their bidding when he probably would have been better off getting a job elsewhere (there are one or two references to going to the big city) and supporting his folks as a white collar worker.

Richard Barthelmess is OK but nothing great; Bette Davis does reasonably well in a supporting part although that accent just didn't do it for me. David Landau's character dies off early enough that he doesn't have to suffer the indignities of playing the more melodramatic side of the sharecroppers; most of the rest of the sharecroppers are cutout archetypes with the exception of the Dorothy Jordan character.

Cabin in the Cotton is certainly worth a watch, although I've also definitely seen much better from the early 1930s.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dorothy Malone, 1925-2018

Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind (1956)

Actress Dorothy Malone, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a sex-starved woman in Written on the Wind, died yesterday, a week and a half before her 93rd birthday.

Malone's career started off in the early 1940s in a bunch of uncredited adolescent roles such as The Falcon and the Co-Eds which I actually still have on my DVR although it's out of print on DVD. Then there came low budget stuff like Security Risk (which, to be honest, I'm only mentioning because I had that photo on my hard drive) and The Fast and the Furious. Looking through her credits, I forgot that she was in The Killer that Stalked New York too.

Winning the Oscar helped her career for a few years in the late 50s as she had better credits like The Last Voyage opposite Robert Stack. But in the 60s she'd be best remembered for the TV version of Peyton Place, taking the role of Constance that Lana Turner had done in the the movie several years early.

I've said recently that I should probably have taken part in the "blind spot" blogathon that somebody's running, because one of my blind spots happens to be Malone's last movie, 1992's Basic Instinct.

I don't know if TCM will be doing any sort of programming tribute for her, at least not any time soon, what with 31 Days of Oscar coming up relatively soon and there wasn't a Malone birthday tribute planned for her birthday on the 30th of this month.

Bradford Dillman, 1930-2018

Bradford Dillman (center) with Dean Stockwell (l.) and Orson Welles (r.) in Compulsion (1959)

Bradford Dillman, an actor who started his career in the 1950s and made several interesting movies, died on Tuesday at the age of 87, although his death wasn't announced until yesterday as far as I can tell.

There's the early Compulsion, based loosely on the Leopold and Loeb case, with Dillman and Dean Stockwell as the two killers and Orson Welles as their attorney. A year later came Circle of Deception. Apparently Dillman met his first wife, actress Suzy Parker, while making this one. Then came Francis of Assisi, although that's not one of my favorites.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Easy Virtue (1928)

Last weekend, I got around to watching Easy Virtue off my cheap Mill Creek Alfred Hitchcock box set.

The movie starts off by telling us "'Virtue is its own reward' they say -- but 'easy virtue' is society's reward for a slandered reputation." Cut to a scene in divorce court. Larita Filton (Isabel Jeans) is in the dock, being the named defendant in a divorce case. The story of the events that led to the divorce is told through the testimony. Mr. Filton (Franklin Dyall) may or may not be a drunk and abusive to her, and when Larita sits to have her portrait painted by Claude Robson (Eric Bransby Williams), Mr. Filton becomes incredibly jealous, thinking they're having an affair. Claude accidentally gets shot in a scuffle, and Larita is found at fault in the divorce.

It was a notorious divorce case too, so Larita gets the brilliant idea to get away from it all by going to the south of France. You'd think she'd go someplace where English high society didn't, but we probably wouldn't have much of a movie then. Watching a tennis game, she's hit in the face by a tennis ball hit by John Whittaker (Robin Irvine). He tries to comfort her and immediately falls in love with her. It eventually results in new nuptials.

However, when Larita goes back to England with John, she finds that John's family hate her because they just know she must have a past that she's not telling them about. (True, she does, but nowadays there would be a lot fewer people who would have an issue with Larita's past.) They set out to discover her past.

Easy Virtue is, like a lot of Hitchcock's silents and even some of the sound movies up until about the first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, decidedly different from what we normally think of when we think Hitchcock. That, combined with the vastly different morals 90 years on, make this one a bit difficult to sit through. I found myself wanting to knock everybody into the 21st century and get a grip. Heck, I watched the out-of-print Marilyn Monroe movie Ladies of the Chorus recently, and the mother-in-law in that one shows a modern attitude. It also didn't help that this print isn't particularly good, although that should be expected from an ultra-cheap box set. Still, Hitchcock is already showing some nice visual touches at this point in his career, starting with the shots of the judge's wig, and including the finale, which was really a shocker.

When it comes to early Hitchcock, I'd recommend starting off with The Lodger and then go to something like The Farmer's Wife. But for people who have already seen a lot of Hitchcock, why not give Easy Virtue a try?

Surrender to the Void

I haven't paid close attention to my blogroll in a while. Yesterday when I was looking at some of the folks who took this week's Thursday Movie Picks theme seriously, I noticed that one of the blogs participating was Surrender to the Void. A lot of posts about newer movie that are, well, new to me.

As always, my decision to add something to the blogroll is based on two things: that the blog be interesting, and that it still get posted to relatively regularly. Surrender to the Void fits both, so I've added it to the blogroll. I probably should get around to getting rid of some of the stuff that hasn't been updated in a long long time, however.

Oh, and I do fully plan to have a real post about one actual movie later today. Imagine that.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #184: Sundance Favorites

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 "Sundance Favorites", which I would assume means movies that gained their fame through the Sundance Festival. That's not an area of expertise for me, so I'm going in a completely different direction with the theme:

Sundown (1941). Gene Tierney plays a half-Arab woman in British Somaliland who winds up helping the British commanders of a military base there (George Sanders and Bruce Cabot) because Britain is already at war with the Nazis. (The movie was released about two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.) I have a feeling the filmmakers didn't realize Somalis are black Africans, and not Arabs.

Plunder of the Sun (1953). Glenn Ford plays an insurance man who in Havana gets offered a substantial sum of money to take something on the boat to Mexico. He should know better. The guy who paid him (Francis L. Sullivan) dies, and Ford is left to fend for himself as he discovers he's got maps that could lead to ancient Mayan treasure. And everybody wants those maps. Fun enough if undemanding.

Bridge to the Sun (1961). Carroll Baker plays Gwen Terasaki (née Harold), a 1930s southern belle who meets Hidenari (James Shigeta) in Washington where he works at the Japanese embassy. The two fall in love, marry, and have a child despite everybody around them not being sure of an interracial relationship. Sure enough, December 1941 comes and the US and Japan wind up at war. Gwen makes the difficult decision to follow her husband back to Japan. This movie is based on a true story.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Oh those censors

I'll post this link and text from the article without comment, other than to say I didn't see the movie in question (I don't think it's currently running at the local sixtyplex and don't know when/if it did):

Steven Spielberg's 'The Post' Gets Banned in Lebanon

Lebanon has banned Steven Spielberg's newspaper drama The Post just days before the film is set to premiere in Beirut.

A source involved with The Post's international rollout says the movie, which stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, was presented to the Lebanese censorship board, which nixed it, citing a "boycott Israel" list that includes Spielberg due to his Oscar-winning Holocaust film Schindler's List (the 1993 film shot some scenes in Jerusalem).


Italia Film was poised to release The Post in Lebanon on Jan. 18. A spokesperson for Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment says he cannot comment because the company has not been told officially by the Lebanese distributor that the pic will not be released there because of censorship.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


I don't follow Broadway much, other than the fact that my DirecTV box gets the local broadcast channels out of New York City. On the regular TV antenna I get the channels out of Albany, so the only things I see are which shows are traveling and doing a performance in the area. Late last year there was a production of She Loves Me which apparently premiered in 1963, this even though it's a story that Hollywood had done multiple times (itself based on a play from 1937), first as The Shop Around the Corner and then as a musical In the Good Old Summertime.

Anyhow, last night there was a commercial for a traveling production of... The Bodyguard, the musical. OK, I know the original movie had Whitney Houston which gave her the chance to do her version of the Dolly Parton song. However, the commercial also included the lead singing "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", which is from five years before the movie, and isn't on the movie soundtrack. Apparently this musical is already five years old. Shows how much attention I pay.

Of course, it's not the first non-musical movie by a long shot to get a musical reworking on the stage. Applause was based on All About Eve, although apparently the movie was based on a short story. Sunset Boulevard the musical turns 25 this year, and I think that one was based on a story original to the movie. Ditto 42nd Street. As with a whole bunch of Hollywood stuff, there's been a large amount of borrowing back and forth. Hell, much of the early talking picture lineup was of stage plays, with actors from the plays brought out to Hollywood and becoming movie stars that way. As I've said before, Ricardo Cortez was the ultimate Sam Spade.

There are also the trends of reviving 1990s stuff, as well as the extended Broadway trend of taking some famous musical act and turning all of their stuff into a musical: the Four Seasons, Billy Joel, ABBA, Carole King, Whitney Houston, and probably others I'm missing.

Monday, January 15, 2018

It's Martin Luther King Day again

Ah, the annual day where we get a bunch of black-themed movies on TCM, with a lot of them being repeats because Hollywood just didn't make too many and anybody who wants to show old movies appropriate for the day would be picking from the same set.

I probably should have posted this last night since it would have been nice to make mention of the fact that the day kicks off at 6:00 AM with Hallelujah, something that I blogged about not for Martin Luther King Day, but in March six years ago. In that post I also linked to my post on Cabin in the Sky, which is also unsurprisingly on today's TCM schedule at 10:45 AM.

Immediately proceeding Cabin in the Sky, at 9:30 AM, is The Duke Is Tops. I've briefly mentioned this one twice; you can probably guess that once of them was in conjunction with Martin Luther King Day a couple of years ago. The other time was when Lena Horne, the female lead, died. This was at the very beginning of her career when she wasn't in Hollywood, but making a race movie. This one has a standard Hollywood plot with Horne playing a young singer discovered by the producer of a traveling revue with the two falling in love, only to be discovered in turn by a New York guy who could get her to perform in the big time of Harlem.

Finally, going back to the them of late last week of TCM getting more movies from Fox, I see that at midnight tonight there's what I think is the TCM premiere of Trouble Man. This one from the days of blaxploitation but not nearly as over the top as the ones with female leads, is pretty good although as with a lot of movies that have one good guy against a bunch of bad guys, the ending is a bit improbable.

Today's TCM schedule has all of the movies I've mentioned above listed as having links to buy them at the TCM Shop; I haven't checked to see if the links are accurate and not to things on backorder. One movie that doesn't have a link -- and to be honest I was surprised to see it not have a link -- is Sounder at 4:00 PM.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Lieutenant Wore Skirts

I saw that The Lieutenant Wore Skirts was on FXM Retro today, and it will be on again tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM. It'll be on again on Friday, as well as being available courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme.

Tom Ewell plays Air Force Maj. (Ret.) Gregory Whitcomb, who served with distinction in World War II and, having been retired from the service (OK, technically it wouldn't have been the Air Force in WWII but by Korea it would have been), is now working as a TV writer in Hollywood. He's married to Katy (Sheree North), who is a retired Air Force Lieutenant from having served in whatever female auxiliary force the Air Force had back in Korea. Or maybe by then women served in the regular forces; it doesn't much matter for the story. Anyhow, on the day of their third wedding anniversary, Gregory gets a letter calling him up to serve again in the reserves. What's poor Katy to do?

She thinks about going to live with him wherever he's called to serve, but eventually decides against that and comes up with a better idea: she's going to re-enlist! Now, with both of them back in the service, she's able to rent out the house as well. It solves a whole bunch of problems, as she prepares to do her two years of service in Hawaii.

Ah, but there's one thing Katy forgot to think of: the possibility that her husband might not pass his physical. After all, he's much older than her. Gregory now has a bad knee, which means that he can't serve, and he's got a wife in the Air Force whom he can't get out.

So Gregory does the next best thing, which is to move to Hawaii and live with his wife, doing his part as a military "wife" who does all the housework and all the things the women married to military guys do. Of course, all of this causes problems of its own, and the relationship between the Whitcombs starts to get tense. Ultimately, Gregory's agent Hank (Les Tremayne) comes up with the oh-so-brilliant idea of having Gregory try to get Katy declared mentally unfit (which of course she isn't) so she can be medically discharged. You'd think she'd be aghast at the idea, and of course she isn't told of it.

The Lieutenant Wore Skirts is one of those comedies that has a good idea, but goes off in a wrong direction somewhere. Gregory comes off as a jerk once he follows his wife to Hawaii, and the way he tries to drive her "insane" is not only unfunny, but something you'd think she could never forgive him for. And the resolution is abrupt and unlikely.

The Lieutenant Wore Skirts isn't something I'd stop to watch again, but I'm sure there are other people who will find it interesting.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Mean Streets

I should probably have taken part in the "Blind Spot" movie series that one of the other bloggers out there runs, in which people are asked to list a bunch of classic movies they haven't seen before, and then review them over the course of a year. For me, one of those movies I hadn't seen before is Martin Scorsese's early Mean Streets.

Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, a small-time mobster low on the Mafia pole working for his uncle Giovanni (Cesare Danova). Charlie is actually a relatively devout Catholic when you wonder who Christian a lot of things the Mafia does are. At the local bar where he spends a fair amount of time, he runs into Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), an utter jerk who spends his time running up debts and steadfastly refusing to pay them off. One of the people he's in debt to is Charlie's friend Michael (Richard Romanus), and Charlie winds up feeling part of his Christian burden is to try to protect Johnny Boy as best he can. Well, this and the fact that he's in a relationship with Johnny's cousin Teresa (Amy Robinson) that Johnny would be pissed to find out just how far it's gone.

Much of the movie is focused on the continuing adventures of Charlie and Johnny as they try to scrounge money, Johnny so he can spend it, and Charlie so he can get the money to Michael to help Johnny pay off his debts. A subplot involves a restaurateur who is deeply in debt to uncle Giovanni, to the point that the guy is going to have to give up the restaurant to pay the debt. Charlie has a vague dream of owning the place himself, but what would he really know about running a restaurant?

However, Mean Streets is a movie without a fully-fleshed plot, preferring instead to be something that looks at a certain place and time, that being New York's Little Italy in the early 1970s. In that regard, I have a feeling Scorsese really succeeds. I know next to nothing about what Little Italy in particular was like back then, but as I watched the movie I couldn't help think about some of the other movies that were set in New York around the same time: The French Connection and Panic in Needle Park would both come to mind. Both of those excellently capture the seedier, lower-class side of the city, and I found that Mean Streets captured much the same atmosphere.

That's the good. Where the movie falls flat for me, however, is with the Johnny Boy character. He's a jerk. A complete, unmitigated asshole. He's somebody I found thoroughly unlikeable, and not in the sense of, say, Albert Finney's alcoholic in Under the Volcano. Instead, he's more like Julie Harris' character in Member of the Wedding in that I wanted Charlie to drop Johnny like a hot rock and just let Michael do whatever he wanted. There's one scene in which Johnny is on a rooftop firing off a gun; I would have been OK with Charlie pushing him off that roof. Of course, that would have gone against the whole Christian duty and actual penance above and beyond a few Hail Marys thing that Charlie opens up the movie talking about.

So, while I had some serious problems with Mean Streets (not with the violence, which causes other people problems), I can easily see why other people would give this movie much higher marks. It's something that people should definitely watch for themselves and draw their own opinions about.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The TCM schedule for January 12-13, 2018

TCM had a short on the schedule earlier this afternoon called Dancing on the Ceiling that I had never heard of before, and the TCM schedule had no synopsis for it. It turns out it's a one-reel MGM musical set in a... musical dentist office. How one dentist could afford such a staff is beyond me, and I could only imagine the prices. It's currently >available on Youtube. Theoretically it could get taken down for copyright violations, but it's been up for eight years with a minimal number of views. Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding is better, and even the Lionel Richie version is better.

TCM seems to be having even more success in getting movies from Fox. Somebody over on the TCM boards looked at the 31 Days of Oscarschedule and commented that the number of Fox movies has gone up quite a bit over the schedules from the beginning of the decade. I also notice a couple of Fox premieres on TCM. (At least, I think they're premieres; a lot of the premieres tend to be listed with "TCM Presents" for the genre and don't have a synopsis.) Tonight's lineup of survival movies includes Inferno at 10:00 PM, which you can now get on DVD as part of the Fox MOD scheme. I've blogged about this one before, and it's excellent if you haven't seen it.

Tomorrow night (if you're in a more westerly time zone) as part of the lineup of witness protection movies, there's Murder, Inc., which will be just after the midnight between Saturday and Sunday for those of us in the Eastern Time Zone.

And going back to the survival movies, there's also the TCM premiere of Into the Wild overnight tonight at 1:30 AM, which I suppose is an interesting selection since in the book the main character dies. Frankly I didn't care for the book. (This one isn't a Fox premiere, however; it was made at Paramount.)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #183: Once Was Enough -- Movies I have no desire to see a second time

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 "Once Was Enough", meaning movies that we saw once and don't really want to see a second time due to the difficult nature of them. It's too bad I used Under the Volcano six months ago, because that's one I'd love to use in this challenge. But it turns out I was able to come up with three movies from the 1970s to use in this challenge:

Cries and Whispers (1973). Harriet Andersson plays a woman dying of cancer in Sweden around 1900, and looking after her now that her final days are here are her two sisters (Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann). The family dynamic is screwed up, and all three sisters have flashbacks as to why that might be. One of the sisters cuts her vagina with a piece of glass. Seriously. It goes on like this. Ingmar Bergman directed with an extremely red palette.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972). Paul Newman plays the famous hanging judge who was the "only law west of the Pecos" as a complete jerk who makes the TV judges of today look like nice people. It doesn't help that John Huston got self-indulgent later in his career, and this is one of the more self-indulgent of Huston's movies that I've seen.

An Unmarried Woman (1978). Jill Clayburgh plays a modern urban woman who one day is divorced by her husband (Michael Murphy) because he's having a mid-life crisis and wants another woman. She tries to put her life back together, seeing a shrink and meeting another man (Alan Bates). I was about six when this came out and remember thinking back then that it sounded like such a sophisticated movie. Then I grew up and watched it and found out I was most definitely not in the target demographic. I had no desire to hear Clayburgh's character talk about getting her first period.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


A couple of months back TCM ran Willard and Ben as part of TCM Underground. I finally got around to watching Willard (I haven't watched Ben yet), and since both are available Blu-ray, I'm more than comfortable doing a post on Willard.

Bruce Davison plays Willard, a young man who works in the accounts department at a factory and who is a bit of a loner. It's easy to see why he's become a loner. His boss Martin (Ernest Borgnine) treats him like dirt for even the smallest mistakes, and his home life isn't the greatest either, what with his having to live with his mother Henrietta (Elsa Lanchester) in the old family house that's too big for the two of them, but which she's not about to give up. Mom henpecks her son, which he resents no end. Furthermore, she thinks he should have an executive position in the business, considering that her husband helped found it and she believes Martin cheated him out of it.

The closest Willard comes to caring about anybody are the rats who live in the basement and the backyard that's getting overgrown. Indeed, he's beginning to think about training them to respond to simple cues. But that training goes father than Willard can imagine. He names two of the smartest rats Ben and Socrates, and then sics all of the rats on one of Martin's swanky parties. He also starts taking Ben and Willard into work.

Be careful when you train animals that haven't been domesticated. Siegfried and Roy could tell you about that, although they were dealing with animals that are dangerous because of their size. In Willard's case, the problem is with the sheer number of rats. One rat might not be a problem, but of course once you get a male rat and a female rat, they're going to multiply beyond anything one person can control.

Willard is never going to make anybody's ten best list, but boy is it a lot of fun. It's easy to empathize with Willard and see why he would take solace in those poor rats, and then with his plight when events spiral out of control. I can also only imagine how difficult it was for the rat handlers working on the movie; this after all was the days before CGI could produce more rats than you can shake a stick at. It's also not particularly scary; I found it more of a drama than a horror movie.

If you ever want a good popcorn movie to watch with friends, you could do far worse than to watch Willard.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Briefs for January 9-10, 2018

So I was looking at the online TCM schedule this morning to see if there was anything interesting worth blogging about. What I noticed first was the popover in the bottom right corner, with a picture of Ben Mankiewicz and an ad for the TCM Backlot. I don't know how long it's been there, but I don't think it can have been too long. The one thing that's not completely obnoxious about it is that with my browser, there's enough blank space on the side of the schedule that the ad doesn't cover up the schedule, the way pop-out things do on other sites. That and it's there right away; some sites have things that only show up after you scroll down the page and then you have to get rid of them.

As for tonight's schedule, it's a night of June Havoc movies. The night starts off at 8:00 PM with the 1945 version of Brewster's Millions, which I last mentioned back in 2013. I don't know if they'll ever run the Richard Pryor version, but I might be interested in seeing some of the other versions that were made. I don't know how many of them are easily available for TCM to get. As for the other movies, there are a couple of musicals with titles that look familiar, while there are a couple of other movies (Once a Thief at 9:30 PM and Powder Town at 2:15 AM) that I think are new to me.

Tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM is Triple Cross, one of those movies that I can't remember the last time I watched, otherwise I would have thought about doing a full-length post on it. It's based on a true story. Christopher Plummer plays Eddie Chapman, a British criminal who wound up in prison in Jersey in the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands were the only British territory invaded by the Nazis, and Chapman took the opportunity to make nice with the Germans when they invaded. Well, only nice enough to become an agent for them; when he was sent to England he decided to become a double agent.

Monday, January 8, 2018

These Amazing Shadows

Last month, Ben Mankiewicz sat down with the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden on the day that the new entries to the National Film Registry were announced. Together they presented a night of movies that were among the 2017 honorees, but started off with a documentary about the National Film Registry, These Amazing Shadows. It's available on DVD and for those who do the streaming thing, Amazon streaming.

Apparently, we have Ted Turner to thank for the National Film Registry. Not, however, for the same reason we can thank him for TCM. Our story begins in the mid-1980s when Turner amassed the back library of movies that would become the "Turner library" and formed the backbone of the TCM schedule, even more so in the early years than now. To try to monetize that library meant not a cable channel yet, since cable space was still at a premium. Instead, he tried to colorize the movies, which pissed off a lot of old-time Hollywood people, who testified before Congress. (Since Ted Turner was now the copyright holder on these movies, he was probably legally in the clear to colorize them if he wanted, but the early colorization looked terrible.) The stars' pleas for film preservation in the original state ultimately led to the creation of the Registry, which has as its task the annual selection of 25 movies that are aesthetically, culturally, and historically important.

This means that it's not just going to be the Hollywood classics that are selected. Obviously, a lot of those classes are culturally important, and tentpole titles like Citizen Kane or Casablanca were among the selections in the first year (1989). But it's not just going through all the big classics that would lead to selecting independent films or even stuff that is basically home movies. There's a reason the Zapruder film is on the registry, or the "let's all go to the lobby" jingle.

Part of the job of the registry is to preserve the movies, so the documentary goes into a bit of discussion on preservation, telling us about the horrors of nitrate degradation and how nitrate was used up until the early 1950s as film stock before we got safety film that was just as good. There's also a look at the film vaults and the job that the preservationists actually do.

Overall, These Amazing Shadows is a good primer for somebody who knows next to nothing about the registry or the topic of film preservation. For the sort of people who watch too much TCM, however, it's probably too cursory. The part about how the committee actually makes its selections is probably the most interesting, but the film has too much in the way of clips of the classics. It would have been interesting to see more from the home movie-type stuff. I think all that got mentioned was the footage from the Topaz internment camp for Japanese Americans, and a few brief clips of a movie about the town of Cologne, MN.

These Amazing Shadows is something I'd certainly recommend if it shows up on TV again, but not particularly anything I'm looking to add to my DVD collection.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Doll Face

Last year, I bought a Carmen Miranda box set off of Amazon. (For some reason, this set doesn't seem to be available from the TCM Shop. But it's also avaialable on Amazon streaming for those who do that thing, and for free if you've got a Prime membership.) One of the movies on it I hadn't seen before is Doll Face, so I finally watched it over the weekend.

Vivian Blaine plays Doll Face, real name Mary Elizabeth Carroll. In the opening scene she's auditioning for a play to be produced by Flo Hartman (Reed Hadley), but one of Flo's assistants recognizes her as Doll Face. This is important because Doll Face is a burlesque star, and Flo wants respectable, cultured stars. This pisses off both her and her fiancé Mike (Dennis O'Keefe), who also produced the burlesque show. (He pronounces "burlesque" as "burly-Q".) But Mike gets an idea when he buys something and gets a free book as part of the purchase. Why not have Doll Face tell her life story, except that the book will be ghostwritten for her!

It's a wacky idea, but this is a movie, so why not try it? The only thing they have to lose is some money. So Mike contacts Fred Gerard (Stephen Dunne), the author of the book he got, and while Fred is initially resistant to the idea, he eventually decides to take it on. All goes well, or so it seems. Fred and Doll Face have to spend a lot of time together on the book project, which leads Mike to fear that the two are falling in love with each other.

The book becomes a success, leading Flo to decide to produce a show based on the book starring Doll Face. The only problem is, by this time, Mike has broken off the relationship, convinced that Doll Face is involved with Fred, and Doll Face responds by actually starting a relationship with Fred for real. And Doll Face is none too happy with the idea that Mike should be an integral character in the show. After all, Mike only discovered Doll Face and made her who she is.

You'll notice that even though I watched this off a DVD in a Carmen Miranda box set, I haven't mentioned her yet. That's because this is a slightly atypical role for her. She only gets one musical number, in the last 15 minutes as part of the Broadway play of Doll Face's life. Other than that, she's playing almost an Eve Arden type, a wisecracking but wise woman named Chita Chula who understands that Mike is really the right guy for Doll Face and tries to make things right between the two. She also gets one of the best scenes in the movie. When Mike is discussing the idea of everybody in the burlesque show getting parts in the Broadway show, he tells Chita that she could become the next Carmen Miranda. Chita is none too pleased about it, disparaging the Carmen Miranda stereotype.

On the whole, Doll Face is competently produced, but it's among the least memorable of all the Fox musicals I've seen. (If I'm Lucky, which I reviewed nearly five years ago and which is also on this set, might be even lower on the Fox musical scale.) Part of that is because of the lesser cast, headed by Blaine. The second couple subplot goes to Perry Como and Martha Stewart the actress and is also forgettable, other than a running gag about beating your girlfriend because women like that. There's also the fact that Carmen only gets the one number, with the other numbers being blah. Finally, it's in black and white. It's not bad; it's just absolutely nothing special.

For the price of the Miranda box set, I'm glad to have seen this movie. Fans of Fox's musicals will probably like it too. And for the price on Amazon streaming, it wouldn't be too expensive either. But I'm not certain I'd consider it good enough ever to buy it on a standalone DVD, certainly not if it were released on Fox's MOD scheme.

Eddie Muller meets Annette Bening

I don't follow new releases all that much since I live in an area that doesn't get the limited-release stuff, but apparently Annette Bening is playing classic movie star Gloria Grahame in the new movie Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. (Why don't they die there?) Somebody at TCM came up with the brilliant idea of bringing Bening in and having her talk about her new movie and Grahame while presenting some of Grahame's movies. That lineup is tonight, with Bening being interviewed by Noir Alley host Eddie Muller, which seems reasonable considering the noirs that Grahame made.

Unfortunately, it's on a Sunday night, which means that we only get two movies before we have to go to Silent Sunday Nights and the TCM Import. In a Lonely Place is a good selection since it's clearly a noir; it kicks the night of at 8:00 PM. The other movie is The Bad and the Beautiful at 10:00 PM. It's definitely not a noir, but you can't fault them including it since it's the movie that won Graham the Oscar. This even though Grahame's part is surprisingly small.

It's too bad they couldn't do this on another night of the week so they could include more movies like The Big Heat or Crossfire.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Naked Prey

TCM's monthly Spotlight was on last night, this month dealing with survival movies and hosted by Ben Mankiewicz. I recorded The Naked Prey and watched it this morning since it's available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Cornel Wilde, who also directed, stars as the Man, who has no other name. He's a safari guide in southern Africa sometime in the 19th century; I don't think an exact date was given. He's taking another man out on a safari, when some native African tribesmen show up. Wilde understands their dialect; the other guy doesn't. It turns out that they want some nominal payment in exchange for using their land, more or less. The other guy says no, and eventually the tribesmen respond by coming back and overrunning the safari party.

The tribe kills the other guy, but gives Wilde a chance at life. They strip him down to just a loincloth and give him a head start, only to have ten tribesmen head off after him not long after this. It seems like impossible odds, but if the odds were that long, we wouldn't have much of a movie, would we. The movie goes on like this for another 70 minutes or so, with Wilde trying to escape the tribesmen and make it back to the colonial fort, while for various reasons the tribesmen's number diminishes.

That's pretty much all there is to The Naked Prey. This lack of anything more than an extremely basic, primal plot, makes the movie a bit hard to review in the way you'd do a review of a more typical movie. There's also very little dialogue. Wilde is by himself for most of the movie, while when the tribesmen do talk, it's in their native language and not English. But the story is such that we can understand what they're talking about.

Having said all that, The Naked Prey is more than worth a watch. That very basic plot makes the action easy to follow, and it's easy to have sympathy with both sides of the chase. There's also a lot of beautiful cinematography, as the movie wsa filmed on location in South Africa and the then Rhodesia. There is what looks like stock wildlife footage interspersed, used to good effect to show the brutality of nature. However, all of that footage looks like it's on slightly different film stock, or taken with a telephoto lens, or something that makes it just enough different to be noticeable. I doubt there was much Wilde could do to get around that without ballooning the budget, however.

It's a shame that the Criterion Collection DVDs are so expensive. But for those who do the streaming thing, The Naked Prey is also available from Amazon video.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Jean-Pierre Aumont, 1911-2001

Jean-Pierre Aumont standing behind Diana Ross in a scene from Mahogany (1975)

Today marks the birth anniversary of French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, who was born on this day in 1911. Aumont was one of those Frenchmen who came over to the US during World War II, and that knowledge of English enabled him to get parts in various Hollywood and British movies set in France (or requiring somebody suitably French) over the years. Among them are Lili, John Paul Jones (as King Louis XVI), the above Mahogany, and at the end of his career, Jefferson in Paris.

Of course, Aumont also made a lot of movies in French in his native France, and that's probably where I first came to recognize the name. In François Truffaut's Day for Night, Aumont plays Alexandre, the actor who portrays the father in the film-within-a-film. It's one of the best movies about the movies you'll see, and I strongly recommend it if you haven't seen it before.

(And if you're wondering why I used a screenshot from Mahogany, it's because I've got that one at hand on DVD and not any of the others.)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #182: Character Names in the title

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 a character name in the title, and I have just so happened to pick three movies with one-word titles that are all the name of the lead female character:

Lisa (1962). Dolores Hart plays Lisa, a survivor of Auschwitz who is now a refugee and looking for a way out of Europe. Her first attempt has her followed by a detective (Stephen Boyd) to England, where an unscrupulous man plans to sell her into sex slavery in South America. So the detective gets involved, with the trafficker winding up dead and the detective feeling he has to help Lisa get to Palestine (this is before it became Israel; there was that British blockade as you'll recall).

Julie (1956). Doris Day plays Julie, a stewardess who meets Lyle (Louis Jourdan), falls in love with him, and quits her job to marry him, only to find out he's insanely jealous. So she decides she's going to get out of the marriage and go back to being a stewardess. Of course Lyle stalks her onto one of her flights. Doris Day did have the chops to do more serious stuff, even if she didn't actually do it often.

Emma (1932). Marie Dressler plays Emma, the maid in a family who helped raise the four children of a wealthy inventor (Jean Hersholt). He's an aging widower, and decides he's going to marry Emma. The three eldest children (including Myrna Loy) all hate Emma for this; the fourth has only known Emma as a mother and is devoted to her. Melodramatic, but Dressler is great as always.

TCM Star of the Month January 2018: Charles Boyer

We're into a new month on TCM, which means a new Star of the Month. This month I think is a first-timer for the Star of the Month honor, Charles Boyer, whose movies are going to be on TCM every Thursday in prime time continuing into Wednesday morning Unfortunately, the only image I could find already on my hard drive is from The Garden of Allah, which does not seem to be part of the tribute, which is a bit of a shame because despite the silly story, it's a physically gorgeous movie to watch. Apparently, I don't even have any photos of Boyer in Gaslight, which kicks off prime time next Thursday, Jan. 11, at 8:00 PM. (Surprisingly, I've got several of that other French actor, Louis Jourdan.)

Anyhow, this first Thursday in January features movies from the earlier part of Boyer's Hollywood career, up to about 1940. It looks like the latest movie this week is All This and Heaven Too (9:45 PM), from 1940 and starring Boyer as the father in a mid-19th century French family who falls in love with the governess (Bette Davis) with tragic results. Considering this is a Warner Bros. movie and the star power it has, it's one that shows up rather less than you'd think.

Boyer has a small role as Jean Harlow's chauffeur in Red-Headed Woman tomorrow at 8:15 AM; this is a really fun one thanks to Harlow's performance as a social climber out to get a rich husband. Boyer has very little to do here except look handsome, and get a key shot late in the story; I don't want to give that away if you haven't seen the movie yet.

One that I haven't seen before is Liliom at 12:30 AM; this movie is the same story that was later turned into the musical Carousel. This version of the story was filmed in France by Fritz Lang. The story is by Ferenc Molnár, who also gave us The Guardsman and No Greater Glory (a version of his "Pal Street Boys" story).

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Peggy Cummins, 1925-2017

Peggy Cummins (l.) with John Dall in Gun Crazy

Peggy Cummins, who had a very memorable role in the noir cycle opposite John Dall in Gun Crazy, died last Friday aged 92, although news of the death was not announced until yesterday afternoon. Eddie Muller, host of TCM's Noir Alley, has an excellent summing up of Cummins' life on his Facebook page. (I don't do Facebook.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Movies on Sundays

I thought I had mentioned the short Movies on Sundays before. To be fair, it's a bit tough to come up with a good search that will narrow the results down to this title, but using the names of the stars in it gave up no hits. Anyhow, it's going to be on TCM tonight at about 1:34 AM, following Never Give a Sucker an Even Break in the night of W.C. Fields movies.

Back in the day, states had blue laws that prohibited all sorts of commerce. Nowadays, most of what's left has to do with alcohol: you can't buy alcohol before noon on Sunday or somesuch. Apparently, Pennsylvania once had a law that prevented Sunday matinees at the movies. So in 1935 MGM put out a short aimed at giving talking points to moviegoers in Pennsylvania as to why that restriction should be lifted. (The proper argument should be, "Fuck off, slaver.")

A couple of stars: Kay Francis, May Robson, and Warner Oland reprising his Charlie Chan character, show up to give arguments for getting rid of the blue laws regarding the movies. It's all interestingly silly stuff. Not as bad as, say, This Theater and You or The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theatres, but still the arguments seem nuts to those of us watching it 80-some years later. Still, it's also an interesting historical document of an era when these blue laws actually existed.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages

I finally watched Intolerance off my DVR. It's available on DVD in several version, so I don't have a problem doing a full-length post on it.

Director D.W. Griffith made this one following Birth of a Nation, a film controversial for its depictions of black people and its perceived parise of the Ku Klux Klan, which was comparatively moribund until Birth of a Nation helped enable the renewed Klan of the 1920s. Griffith decided he was going to make a movie to answer his critics, and Intolerance is the result.

The structure of Intolerance involves parallel stories in four time periods, all showing how hate and a haughty spirit among those with power can lead to disastrous consequences. In chronological order, those four stories are set in the Babylonia of Prince Belshazzar; the Israel of Jesus; 16th century France, and the then present of 1916. The two middle stories should be well known to anybody who's studied history or grown up in a majority-Christian country.

As for the modern story, that's the most interesting part. It involves a bunch of women who decide to go on a moral crusade, calling themselves "uplifters". The leader of the "uplifters" is a spinster who guilts her brother into giving them the money for their actions. The brother owns a factory, and the money he spends causes the factory to become unprofitable, so he takes actions that lead to a strike and all the workers getting fired. The Girl (Mae Marsh) is the daughter of one of the workers who dies in the strike; she meets The Boy (Robert Harron) who after losing his job is forced into a life of crime. He gets sent to jail, she gets their child taken away from her, and so on and so on, leading up to a chase sequence to stop an execution.

I have to admit I was decidedly underwhelmed by Intolerance. The movie made it on the last AFI list of 100 greatest American movies released about a decade ago. I can't help but think, however, but that was largely a response to the previous AFI list back in 1999. Birth of a Nation was on that list, and frankly Birth of a Nation is a much better movie regardless of the political message it carries. But just as Griffith wanted to respond to his critics, I've always gotten the impression that Intolerance replaced Birth of a Nation on the AFI list because critics wanted to make a point about the terribleness of Birth of a Nation

What's the problem with Intolerance? There are a couple. Short shrift is given to two of the stories, the Jesus one and the Huguenot one. In general this would be a problem, but when you have a movie running over three hours you'd think they could come up with a narrative that gives enough time for all four stories. The bigger problem, however, is that the movie is didactic, and Griffith has no qualms about beating us over the head with his point about how horrible intolerance is. We get the point already. The melodramatic nature of the modern story is also a bit of a problem. Even with that, however, the movie probably would have worked better with just the modern story and the Babylonian story; I'm reminded of Noah's Ark which only had two stories as well. Or even more dramatically just make a standard and normal length movie about the present day story.

And yet there are good things about Intolerance, mostly in the Babylon sets. Those are spectacularly outsized, as befits a movie that was conceived as having an epic budget. You can imagine Cecil B. DeMille remembering this movie when he made the silent version of The Ten Commandments, and then thinking of it again when he made the sound version of The Ten Commandments that we all remember. The movie also has effective use of intercutting, especially in the climax. Griffith had learned this technique well from Birth of a Nation.

Would I recommend this movie? I think Intolerance is one of those movies that should be seen once, but that probably shouldn't stand as an all-time great.