Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Painted Veil (1934)

I'm not a big fan of Greta Garbo. But I do have to say that it's not her fault that The Painted Veil is a mess. The movie is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you can watch and decide for yourself how much of a mess it is.

Garbo, at 28, plays unmarried Katrin, an Austrian who still lives with her parents. Her kid sister gets married, and one of the attendees is British Dr. Fane (Herbert Marshall), whose career involves studying cholera in Hong Kong and dealing with any outbreaks on the mainland. Garbo is so desperate that she decides to marry him and go off to China with him!

Katrin, now in Hong Kong, doesn't know anybody there, so she's bored out of her mind until she meets British civil servant Townsend (George Brent), also stationed in Hong Kong. Townsend seems to be relatively wealthy by Hong Kong standards, and is also intersted in Katrin. Katrin has nothing else to do because her husband is spending all his time on his epidemiology studies, so she naturally does what any woman in her situation would do, which is to take a lover in the afternoon.

Of course, Dr. Fane finds out and he's none too pleased. He has no desire to divorce her, but what's a good way to punish her? (Never mind the fact that he should have paid attention to her.) Well, the good doctor but lousy husband is in luck! A cholera epidemic has broken out on the mainland, and Dr. Fane is needed to treat the patients and find the source of the outbreak. Only this time, he's not going to leave Katrin behind to romance Townsend. Oh, no, he's going to take Katrin with him to middle-of-nowhere China even if it kills her. Or especially if it kills her. Of course, he's the one to get cholera eventually.

The Painted Veil is sunk by its thoroughly ludicrous plot. Garbo as a woman who is unmarried and not by her choice is nonsense. If she weren't married, it's because she didn't want a man, like the characters in the recently-mentioned Antonia's Line. The movie also completely overlooks the fact that both of them screwed up in the marriage. George Brent is also the sort of actor who would be right in Herbert Marshall's role, but not as the lover Katrin takes on the side. And the resolution of the whole cholera thing left me shaking my head at the improbability of it.

Still, as I said at the beginning, you may want to judge for yourself. The movie was based on a story by Somerset Maugham, and was remade about a decade ago. The 2007 version has actually been released as part of a box set, but not the Garbo version, which is only on the pricier standalone Warner Archive DVD.

Easter 2018

For those of a religious bent, I suppose I should with you a happy Easter. For movie fans, however, it's more just a chance to see some of the same religious epics that get trotted out every year.

ABC uses the opportunity to bring out the 1950s Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments yet again. This year, they're actually starting it at 8:00 PM ET. I think in years past they started it at 7:00 PM because by the time ABC adds in commercial breaks, the airing runs about 4:40. That's actually not a whole lot in terms of commercials, since IMDb claims the original running time was 220 minutes, so "only" a little over an hour in commercials if nothing has been cut out. I believe the traditional legal limit on commercials was 16 minutes in an hour so they could have put an extra 20 minutes in; more in the days when the networks still used to have news updates in prime time.

TCM is of course doing a lot for Easter, starting with the religious epics at 8:00 PM tonight with The Greatest Story Ever Told, and running through to 8:00 PM tomorrow. Sunday in prime time will have Easter Parade at 8:00 PM and Holiday Inn at 10:00 PM. There's no Noir Alley this week, unless somebody's been cheeky and let Eddie Muller host the movie in the Noir Alley time slot, The Bible... In the Beginning. After all, when I mentioned over at the TCM boards this was in the 10:00 AM Sunday slot on Easter, somebody humorously pointed out that Eve was the original femme fatale. Also, some of you will recall that this was one of the movies I mentioned at the end of last year in the Thursday Movie Picks theme of "origin stories".

FXM Retro isn't doing anything for Easter. The closest they get is Legions of the Nile at 1:25 PM tomorrow. This one is new to me; apparently it's an Italian sword-and-sandal movie about Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavius that was dubbed into English and distributed in the US by Fox in 1960, so while the troubled Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra was in production. (Wikipedia says the production was conceived back in 1958; I couldn't find when filming began although it stopped in March 1961 to take a break for another of Elizabeth Taylor's serious health issues.)

Friday, March 30, 2018

March 30 birthday notes

Today is the birth anniversary of actor Turhan Bey, who was born on this day in 1922. Turhan (his real given name, although Bey was not his actual surname) came to the US in 1940 to escape the Nazis, since his mother was Jewish, He was quickly noticed by talent scouts and appeared with Dominican actress Maria Montez in a bunch of films at Universal showcasing both of their perceived exoticness. Maria had the great quote "When I look at myself, I am so beautiful I scream with joy!". Hollywood didn't work so well for either of them, typecasting both. Montez died tragically young in France, while Bey retired from acting for 40 years before doing some TV work in the 1990s.

Two years ago, I did a post on Anna Q. Nilsson on her birthday. She was a Swedish-born actress who was quite successful in the silent era and one of the many whose careers went south in sound pictures. She's memorable for being one of the "waxworks" in Sunset Boulevard, and played Loretta Young's mother in The Farmer's Daughter. Two years ago, I found a Youtube clip of a 1912 silent film, The Confederate Ironclad. Unfortunately, the clip has been removed because the poster's channel was deleted for copyright violations. I don't know whether there was any music in the video I embedded that was a problem, or whether it was all the other movies.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #194: Foreign TV Shows

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 week of the month, it's time for another TV edition, and it's a foreign-language version. I'm a game show fan, so I've picked three more game shows:

Die Pyramide (Germany, 1979-1994). German version of the game show Pyramid, created in the US by Bob Stewart in 1973. You'll note that the bonus round is rather different from the American version. And the American version didn't have a musical interlude.

Trato Hecho (2005). Univision produced this version of Let's Make a Deal for Hispanic Americans in 2005. Unfortunately I couldn't find a full episode of the show, so you'll have to watch a fragment.

Rischiatutto (Italy, 1970-1974, revived in 2016). Italian version of Jeopardy! I don't actually speak Italian; I just wanted to post a clip of a foreign version of Jeopardy! instead of one of the zillion foreign versions of Wheel of Fortune.

Treasures from the Disney Vault, March 2018

Every three months on TCM, we get another installment of Treausres from the Disney Vault. The amusement park ride that was part of the original agreement was discontinued, and as I understand it there's no more TCM Cruise stopping at Disney's private island, but at least we still get some C-grade material from Disney, most of which I hadn't heard of before, much less seen. Anyhow, those Disney movies will be running tonight in prime time.

Looking at tonight's schedule, there doesn't seem to be any overriding theme that I can think of, except that none of the features seems to be set in the present day. There's the 19th century and earlier. Actually, no, I take that back; The Journey of Natty Gann is set in the Depression. The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (midnight tonight or late evening in more westerly time zones) has as its plot summary a family performing at the 1880 Democratic National Convention? Bizarre and with a Disney take on it, sounds positively awful.

There's some stuff from the British Isles further back which sounds more interesting. The Sword and the Rose (in the 8:00 to 10:00 slot) involves Britons in 15th century France, while Rob Roy (4:15 AM) is based on known material.

There's no Disneyland episode, although I don't know how much original stuff there was on Disneyland. By the time I was a kid in the late 1970s, the Wonderful World of Disney was running their old movies. The original idea for Treasures from the Disney Vault suggested we'd get the old nature documentaries too, and there are none of those this time around.

TCM has also screwed up the schedule by not listing the proper airing times for some of the shorts. I've complained about this a lot when they run blocks of two-reelers, but this time it's the same complaint I made a few month's back with the new Saturday morning lineup. It looks as though the night kicks off with a short The Golden Touch about King Midas, followed by The Sword and the Rose in that 8:00 to 10:00 slot, but both are listed as being on at 8:00 PM. Irritating.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Briefs and schedule notes, March 28-29, 2018

I notice that French actress Stéphane Audran died yesterday aged 85. She was briefly married to Jean-Louis Trintignant, star of French films from ... And God Created Woman through to the Emmanuelle Riva Amour; later she was married longer to French director Claude Chabrol. Audran's most famous roles would probably be in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, a movie I really disliked, and as Babette in Babette's Feast, a movie I quite liked.

Tonight's TCM lineup is World War II biopics. One that I recommended years ago is Carve Her Name With Pride, which will be on overnight tonight, or very early tomorrow morning, at 3:30 AM. I believe the DVD that I mentioned in that post nearly 10 years ago is now out of print, which is a bit of a shame since this is also a very good movie.

Tomorrow is the start of the baseball season, not that I particularly care. But TCM will be running a bunch of baseball-themed movies tomorrow. There are several shorts included, such as Home Run on the Keys at about 11:45 AM. This is a musical starring Babe Ruth and a bunch of musicians whose names would probably have been moderately well known by moviegoers of the 30s, although I don't recognize any of them at first glance. (It wouldn't have surprise me if I'd seen the DeMarco Sisters before and just didn't recognize them, but a look at their credits says no, I haven't seen them.) Babe Ruth apparently tries his hand at a number, and the reviewers say the result is horrendous. Sounds interesting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

O common Ben Johnson!

TCM is putting a spotlight tonight on actor Ben Johnson, who was in quite a bunch of westerns in the 1950s. It's not from the 50s, but among the movies in tonight's lineup is Chisum, at 11:45 PM.

One that I don't think I had even heard of before is a 1973 version of Dillinger, which will be coming on at 3:30 AM. I've known about the Lawrence Tierney version of Dillinger from the 1940s, the last few times it's been on TCM something has come up. Once there was a thunderstorm that screwed up satellite reception, and then the other time there was a snowstorm that knocked out power long enough for me not to be able to set up the DVR. The 70s version is on a pricey DVD while the Tierney version is out of print. Both of them seem to be on Amazon streaming, but I don't have the bandwidth to do that.

There's some John Ford westerns too, although I have to admit those have never been my favorites.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Wire Under a Bird

The latest movie viewing to clear something off my DVR was the romantic chase flick, Bird on a Wire

The movie starts off with Eugene Sorenson (David Carradine) being releasd from a federal penitentiary and picked up by friend Diggs (Bill Duke). The two then go down to Atlantic City to discuss a big drug deal. The only thing is, they're going to have to take care of somebody before they can do the deal.

Cut to New York City. Marianne (Goldie Hawn) is a high-powered attorney handling a business deal for a client who has gotten to a sensitive part of the negotiations. She's going to have to go on a business trip to Detroit to deal with the company wanting to buy out her client's company. So of course we...

Cut to Detroit. Except that we don't see Marianne; we see one of those old-time independent gas station/garages. Billy Bob (Mel Gibson) is working for the owner, who wants to take him in as a partner. Marianne arrives to gas up her car and sees Billy Bob, who looks surprisingly like an old boyfriend she used to know, Rick.

And well he should, since Billy Bob and Rick are one and the same person. Rick ratted out Sorenson 15 years earlier after a previous drug deal went bad, and Rick's best friend got killed. And Sorenson turns out to have been a rogue agent. Rick/Billy Bob has been in the witness relocation program ever since, and having been recognized, he knows he's going to have to relocate again.

Except that his old handler has retired and is probably suffering from the early stages of dementia. Rick doesn't realize that his new handler is actually working for the bad guys, although he's going to find out soon enough when Sorenson and Diggs show up at the service station.

Fortunately for Rick, Marianne shows up at the same time and is able to save Rick from Sorenson and Diggs. The only problem is that Rick is going to be wanted by the legitimate authorities, as well as by Sorensen and Diggs. And Rick and Marianne have a bad past together. Rick basically jilted Marianne, although that's partly because he had to go into the witness relocation program. Marianne understandably doesn't believe any of this.

But both of them face a rather more pressing problem, which is that they've got Sorenson and Diggs on their tails. Rick needs to get to Baird, his old handler, but that's going to be difficult. And will Baird even be able to help him? And will old romantic complications between Rick and Marianne get in the way?

What I referred to as a "romantic chase movie" in the beginning is something that I think is actually a well-traveled genre, going all the way back to something like The 39 Steps if not further. In that vein, Bird on a Wire doesn't really offer anything new. But it does succeed in entertaining. Hawn gets to be quirky again, something that she can do easily. Most of Gibson's performance only requires him to be suitably masculine, although there is some acting required in that he seeks out help from some of his previous employers in the witness relocation program, which requires Rick to be a different person each time.

There's also ample opportunity for humor with Gibson having to take on personas for several of the set pieces. The best among this is when we find that Rick had worked as a hairstylist in Racine, WI, for a boss who is very stereotypically gay. You can imagine poor Rick wondering what Marianne is thinking.

Bird on a Wire is another of those movies where I can heartily say that if you want to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and some friends and have a good time, you're probably going to get it.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


During 31 Days of Oscar, TCM ran a day or two of movies nominated for Best Foreign Language film. Among the winners in that category the ran the 1995 winner Antonia's Line (called simply Antonia in the original Dutch). It's available on DVD and apparently through Amazon's streaming service.

Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) is an elderly Dutch woman living in a rural village who has decided that she's going to tell everyone today is the day she's going to die, and then she'll just close her eyes and die. But she doesn't plan on doing this until after she tells her life story....

Flash back to 1945, just after the Netherlands has been liberated from the Nazis near the end of World War II. Antonia is returning to her old hometown together with her adolescent daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans) because Antonia's mother is on her deathbed. Antonia's mother has had dementia for some time, but one assumes Antonia and Danielle couldn't get back to her because of the war. One would also guess that Antonia's husband died in the war since he's not around at all. This is Danielle's first trip to the village, so Antonia tells Danielle all about the quirky people who inhabit it.

Farmer Bas is a widower with severl sons; Crooked Finger is an atheist philosopher; Loony Lips has some sort of mental defect that I don't think is ever explicitly stated; Mad Madonna howls at the full moon much to the annoyance of the Protestant who lives one floor below her; and so on. There's also Deedee, a retarded girl working for a very patriarchal farm family. The family's eldest son Pitte is caught trying to rape her, so Antonia saves her from Pitte, who leaves the village for years, only to return.

Along the way, many of the characters find love in one form or another. Bas has physical needs, and he decides that Antonia must have the same physical needs. So why don't they just be friends with benefits, not that that phrase was used back then. Danielle goes off to the big city to study art, and decided she wants a child but doesn't want a husband. A fallen woman Letta helps her in this, and Letta ultimately moves to the village too. Danielle's daughter Thérèse is smart, and Danielle decides to have a lesbian relationship with Thérèse's tutor. Loony Lips and Deedee were obviously meant for each other. Thérèse and farm boy Simon are friends if not lovers, but it's a practical relationship for both of them. They have a child Sarah. Finally Antonia decides to die.

There's a lot to like about Antonia's Line and its offbeat story. However, there were a couple of times when I found things just a bit too quirky, as if the filmmakers decided that they should just try to turn the quirkiness up as far as possible. I also found the Mad Madonna/Protestant story line unnecessary and a time waster. The quirkiness also leads several of the characters to come across as unrealistic.

Director Marleen Gorris was apparently known from her earlier movies as an ardent feminist. While there are certainly some parts of the movie that can be seen as trying to push an ideology, much of the story is one where the main characters just happen to be women. I'm not particularly religious, but I usually find attacks on the hypocrisy of religious authority to be trite and tedious, much like Hollywood's anti-suburbia bias. We get the point already. But Antonia's Line didn't come across to me as anti-male.

If you want something different you likely haven't seen before, I can certainly recommend Antonia's Line.

Briefs for March 25, 2018

Somebody at a non-movie site decided to post their list of the "top 10" westerns ever made, although the page also includes ten honorable mentions. The site is one that normally deals with ideology and politics, so there's some of that in the comments, but the list itself is presented in a pretty apolitical way. As for the movies, well, they're a good primer for anybody who has no knowledge of the old westerns, although the list unsurprisingly leans on the big, well-known titles. Not even anything as "lesser-known" as Ride the High Country on the list.

There was a fire a few days back on the set of a movie filming on location in Harlem that killed a firefighter. As far as I can tell, the film itself didn't involve fire, and the fire breaking out there was just a coincidence. Fire is probably an even more unpredictable thing to work with in the movies than water, and I don't think I'd want to do it if I could avoid it.

Somebody posted on the TCM boards that Bonhams is going to be auctioning off Robert Osborne's movie memorabilia in June. There's nothing yet on TCM's sub-site that they use for all the Bonhams auctions they promote, but there is a small mention on Bonhams own site. No catalog published yet, and only a couple of items listed, although I'd assume there's a lot more coming. No idea of that book Robert showed off in his Private Screenings interview with Alec Baldwin will be in the auction.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Suspicion above wives

One of my recent batch of DVD purchases was the Alpha Video release of Wives Under Suspicion, a 1938 programmer from Universal that Alpha Video is clearly marketing for its direction by James Whale, the director who did the first two Frankenstein movies.

Warren William plays Stowell, a district attorney who is focused on his job, and on always getting his man. He's a staunch believer in the death penalty for murderers, to the point that he's got an abacus with human skulls for beads on which he keeps count of how many men he's condemned. This much to the consternation of his executive assistant Sharpy (Cecil Cunningham; Cecil here being a woman).

I make it a point to call Sharpy more than just a secretary because she's been managaing Stowell's life. It's his wife Lucy's (Gail Patrick) birthday, and he's forgotten all about it, to the point that Sharpy had to arrance everything. It's also the first sign in that the marriage isn't as perfect as you might think. As you might guess from a man who keeps track of how many people he's sent to the electric chair, his wife isn't exactly thrilled that he seems to be more focused on his job than on her. Meanwhile, the couple have two young friends in Phil (a very young William Lundigan), and Elizabeth (Constance Moore).

To placate his wife, our district attorney decides he's going to take a leave of absence (you'd assume any DA's office has assistant DAs) to take his wife on an extended vacation. He even tells Sharpy about it and that he's not to be disturbed if anybody calls and that she doesn't know where he is. In another obvious bit of foreshadowing, what happens next is that there's a particularly juicy murder. Professor MacAllen (Ralph Morgan) shoots his wife, thinking she's been cheating on him. The defense is going to claim temporary insanity. It's too much for Stowell to resist.

Lucy, understandably, is pissed at all this. Her husband was supposed to take her on vacation, not try another case! Things get srained to the point that as the case goes on, Stowell gets the increasingly strong suspicion that Lucy might be carrying on an affair with Phil, just like MacAllen thought his wife was carrying on an affair.

Wifes Under Suspicion is a competently made programmer, although beyond that there's nothing earth-shattering about it. Warren William is the star here and gets most of the juicy bits, with Cunningham getting to deliver a few barbs Eve Arden-style. James Whale shows that he was a good director even given lesser material like this, as he makes it a point to use mirrors to good effect. It's a shame that TCM isn't really able to get B movies and programmers from outside the old "Turner Library" that Ted Turner bought in the 1980s consisting of the MGM, WB, and RKO movies. Wives Under Suspicion would be a perfect fit on the TCM daytime lineup.

As for the DVD, Alpha Video has a small logo on the opening credits; there weren't any closing credits. That logo was, however, far less intrusive than the one on Timetable, another Alpha DVD that I reviewed here a few months ago. The print isn't the greatest, but that's not a surprise for a programmer that's fallen into the public domain. And as you can expect from a low-end distributor like Alpha, the price was cheap.

If you like programmers and want something you might not have seen before, I can certainly recommend Wives Under Suspicion.

Friday, March 23, 2018

TCM Underground moved

I mentioned in a couple of posts earlier this month about the programming changes on TCM for the Saturday morning block, as well as the second airing of Noir Alley on Saturday night (at least in the more westerly time zones, since it's midnight ET which is technically Sunday already). The addition of the second Noir Alley showing also resulted in the moving of TCM Underground to the overnight between Friday and Saturday. This week's edition includes a double feature that last aired last October: Willard at 2:45 AM, followed by Ben at 4:30 AM.

Ben begins where Willard ends, quite literally: the opening credits of Ben include the final scenes of Willard in which Willard meets his fate regarding the rats. The police, led by detective Kirtland (Joseph Campanella), investigate the incident, which unsurprisingly has a lot of people in the neighborhood on edge. Kirtland finds Willard's diary, but he knows that nobody will believe what's in it. Well, reporter Hatfield (Arthur O'Connell) probably would, although there's no real reason why his character needs to be in the movie.

One of the local families is the Garrisons: widow Beth (Rosemary Murphy), her daughter Eve (Meredith Baxter, long before David Birney and Family Ties), and obnoxious kid brother Danny (Lee Montgomery). Danny is sickly, having been forced to have a heart operation with the possibility of another that might kill him, and one of the results is that he has no friends, spending his time playing with his marionettes.

That is, until Ben the rat shows up at the window. Danny finally has a friend. Really. Ben, meanwhile, continues to lead the rats on foraging missions that terrify people in various places, with their trip to a "European" spa (that really looks more like the remnants of one of those health clubs from 1930s movies) being the most hilarious. The police continue to investigate, and Danny lies through his teeth about having any knowledge of the rats of where they live.

I'm sorry to say that I found Ben nowhere near as good as Willard, and most of that is down to the presence of the kid son, who's such a brat that frankly I would have been happy if his character died when the police were exterminating the rats in Los Angeles' drainage system. The cinematography looks like it belongs to a TV movie, and the title song, famously sung by Michael Jackson over the closing credits and nominated for an Oscar, is introduced mawkishly and pointlessly earlier in the movie.

For some reason, I thought Ben was part of a set on DVD with Willard, but a search of the TCM Shop says no. I might have recommended buying the set, but I'm not so certain I'd recommend buying Ben alone. As always, though, judge for yourself.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #193: Nostalgia

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is nostalgia, which is going to be a bit tougher for me. I was born in 1972, so there's not much nostalgia about my childhood years in the general popular culture. Everybody's supposed to love the 60s, but the 70s? And the Reagan era? Heavens no! It's probably even worse in the UK since the 80s produced Margaret Thatcher, and the cultural types seem to think that everything wrong with the UK started with her.

But, I got some good ideas and came up with three entries that are going to leave everybody here commenting, "I haven't seen any of these!" Well, at least in one case there's some good news for the Americans reading this blog.

John Nesbitt's Passing Parade: Annie Was a Wonder (1949). MGM hired short subject producer John Nesbitt to make a series of two-reelers in the 1940s looking at the "passing parade" of life. Most of the entries in this series are nostalgic, not in the sense of those of us watching today feeling nostalgia, but viewers who saw them originally in theaters probably would have felt nostalgia. In this Oscar-nominated entry from the series, Annie (Kathleen Freeman) is one of the many Swedish immigrant girls who came over to the US at the beginning of the 20th century and worked as live-in maids, who were obviously fondly remembered by the children in the family. As I said, a lot of the entries in the Passing Parade look at the olden days, such as Our Old Car (1946), which is going to be part of TCM's Saturday morning block this week, sometime between 8:00 AM and 9:30 AM. (I can't recall whether the first block of shorts comes before or after the first feature.)

Let's Sing an Old Time Song (1947). I used up Strawberry Blonde a few weeks back so I can't use it here, but then I remembered this Warner Bros. short that presents a couple of old standards from around the turn of the last century, or long before the songs in the "Great American Songbook" that are thought of as the standards today. The history of the songs is discussed, and then, as with "The Band Played On" at the end of Strawberry Blonde, there's a chance for the audience to sing along.

I Never Forget a Face (1956). This weird short from Warner Bros. recycled a whole bunch of newsreel/documentary footage from the 1920s, starting with presidential candidate Warren Harding running his campaign from his front porch, and going through the rest of the 1920s. Most of the footage is of course silent since it predated talking picutres, but one of the highlights has sound: 1928 presidential candidate Al Smith, singing "The Bowery". Perhaps the other highlight is of Mary, then Queen Consort of King George V of the UK (and the one the ship is named after if you believe the story). She's seen with her daughter and granddaughter, the granddaughter being an infant named Elizabeth, who has been on the throne for close to 65 years now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tide of Empire

Yet another movie that's available from the Warner Archive is Tide of Empire.

A late silent with a synchronized score and sound effects, the movie is set mostly in late 1840s California, although we get an introduction to old Spanish/Mexican California and its noble families with large ranches. One such family is the Guerreros, led by patriarch Don Jose (George Fawcett) with son Romauldo (William Collier Jr.) and daughter Josephita (Renée Adorée). Of course, the late 1840s means the Americans have gained the territory in the Mexican-American war, and they've just discovered gold up at Sutter's mill in the northern part of the territory. The discovery of gold brings lots and lots of Anglos to pan for gold and try to make their fortune.

One such Anglo is Dermod D'Arcy (Tom Keene, although he's credited as George Duryea, which was his birth name). He comes on his fast horse looking for gold, and when he finds that Don Jose is entering one of his horses in a race with another Hispanic nobleman, Dermod decides to make his horse the third. And wouldn't you know it, Dermod has the fastest horse. There's been wagering on the race, and that results in Dermod winning the Guerrero ranch. Not that Dermod really wanted it. And once he meets Josephita, he of course falls in love with her. So he wants to deed the ranch back to her family, but as he's about to do that, Don Jose dies!

Josephita and Romauldo both have good reason to be bitter. There's also the matter of all those Anglos coming into the territory looking for gold. They've been finding it, and are going to ship it back east via the shipping company run by Messrs. Wells and Fargo. But not if some people have their way. They'd just as soon hold up the shipments and take the gold for themselves. Romauldo joins one such gang....

Tide of Empire is a breezy, well-made late silent. When it comes to silents, I've always preferred the comedies and adventure movies, but Tide of Empire certainly succeeds in entertaining. Not that there's anything particularly new here; I couldn't help but think of The Trail of '98 which was about the gold rush in the Klondike and released about a year before this one. With certain scenes, I was wondering whether I had seen them before. Still, fans of silents will like Tide of Empire.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Down Argentine Way

For some reason, I thought Down Argentine Way was available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme. It's not as far as I can tell, but it turns out there is a standalone DVD that's probably out of print because you can get it at Amazon but not the TCM Shop. Amazon also does the streaming video thing, and there's also a four-film Betty Grable set that is apparently in print, as it's available from both Amazon and the TCM Shop.

Although the movie is in a Betty Grable box set, it's actually Don Ameche who gets top billing and shows up first. He's Ricardo Quintana, an Argentine and son of Don Diego, a wealthy horse breeder. Don Diego is looking to sell some of his horses in the US, and sends Ricardo there to handle the sales. Get the highest price, but with one caveat: don't sell to Willis Crawford (Edward Fielding), who apparently screwed Don Diego over while the two were at boarding school in Paris ages ago, or any member of his family.

While in America, Ricardo meets the beautiful Glenda (Betty Grable). He falls in love with her, and she with him, as well as with one of the horses he's selling. However, there's one catch. Glenda's last name is Crawford: she's Willis' daughter. No sale.

Glenda is determined to get that horse, and frankly determined to get Ricardo as well, so she follows Ricardo back to Argentina, accompanied by her aunt Binnie (Charlotte Greenwood). The usual complications ensue. One further complication is that Don Diego's horses only do show-jumping, ever since one of his beloved horses died in a flat track race 15 years earlier. Ricardo and Glenda decide to train Don Diego's current favorite for the big flat track race.

The plot of Down Argentine Way is silly and predictable, and you know where it's going. But there are still good reasons to watch it. Charlotte Greenwood provided support in several Fox musicals of the 1940s, notably this one and The Gang's All Here, and she's got a great high kick for musical numbers and pretty good comic timing. More noteworthy would be the Hollywood debut of Carmen Miranda. She was still under contract at a New York nightclub at the time of production, so Fox had to film her scenes in New York and then splice them into the movie. That's probably why she only shows up as a musical performer, with just two or three songs. The one you'll most recognize is "South American Way", which is sung by the two daughters in Mildred Pierce as well.

Also appearing for the musical numbers are the Nicholas brothers, doing one of their dance routines including cringe-inducing splits for those of us who aren't quite as flexible as the brothers. Since they were black, the numbers have fairly obvious cutting points where exhibitors in the South could snip to remove the scene so that white audiences wouldn't have to see it.

To be honest, there's nothing in Down Argentine Way that movie buffs haven't seen in any number of other movies. But it's still solid entertainment, and anybody who likes the early 1940s musicals or romance movies will certainly enjoy it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Movie Endings

TCM spent last week looking at the films of Elizabeth Taylor, showing her films every weeknight in prime time for the entire week. So, with no Star of the Month this week we get a new week-long theme, which is Movie Endings.

Somebody came up with movies that have interesting endings and categorized them into a bunch of different types, so we get a different type of ending on each night. Unsurprisingly, I'm not certain I agreee with all of their choices.

They thought, for example, that it would be a good example to include 2001: A Space Odyssey (11:45 PM Tuesday) in a night of movies with musical endings. So the movie used "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and the "Blue Danube" waltz. Big whoop. The whole final third of the movie is a mess. Just because it's prettied up with some classical music doesn't make it a great ending.

They put Now, Voyager (4:30 AM Thursday) in with the "Romantic Endings", which is reasonable considering the scheduling challenges in programming something like this. But Thursday night's theme is "Famous Last Words", which would also be suitable for Now, Voyager

And then there's the lack of comedic endings, which excludes a whole bunch of great movie endings. Some Like It Hot is one of the best examples. I also really love the ending of the original To Be or Not to Be, with Jack Benny playing Hamlet in England. Dinner at Eight is another movie with a great closing line. But none of these show up this week.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Come to Dinner

So I popped in my DVD of the 1933 Dinner at Eight off the Jean Harlow four-film box set. (It's got the same four films as this from the TCM Shop, but different cover art.) The short included with Dinner at Eight was the hilarious Come to Dinner.

Released in early 1934, a few months after Dinner at Eight, Come to Dinner spoofs the feature film in two reels using as much as possible lookalikes to play the main characters and parodying the plot. Among the scenes shown are the aspic dispute; one in Lionel Barrymore's office implying that the company actually makes toy boats rather than being a shipping company; the doctor visiting Jean Harlow (the Harlow lookalike has a dozen maids who put on a musical number parodying people like Mae Zest and Greta Gargle); and, perhaps best, the scenes in John Barrymore's hotel room. In the parody, the actor isn't a failed actor who's become an alcoholic, but an actor addicted to lemons! And he's willing to wind down his career to take small roles. This, much to the chagrin of his press agent, who reacts by trying to gas himself to death!

As for the portrayals, the men are weaker. The John Barrymore lookalike is quite good, with the Wallace Beery character being by far the weakest. The women are much better. The woman playing Harlow tries her best and doesn't do badly although nobody can do Harlow justice. The woman doing Marie Dressler is even broader in her gestures than Marie. But spare a thought for Billie Burke. The lookalike here is absolutely perfect and had me in stitches every time she was on screen.

I think anybody who's seen Dinner at Eight will absolutely love Come to Dinner.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pot O' Gold

I don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but if you want a movie with some Irish characters you could do worse than Pot O' Gold.

James Stewart plays Jimmy Haskell, who runs a small-town music store that he inherited from his father. Unfortunately, Dad was never really able to make a go of it, and Jimmy is the same, as he faces a life of privation and debts that he really can't pay off. His uncle C.J. (Charles Winninger) knows all of this, and is willing to help Jimmy out. C.J. runs a big factory in the big city, and is offering Jimmy a well-paying job at the factory. Since the sheriff has an order to attach the store for unpaid debts.

Before Jimmy arrives, we learn that C.J. hates music, and has a dispute with the neighbors, the McCorkles, led by Ma (Mary Gordon) and her daughter Molly (Paulette Goddard). The let out rooms in their building to members of a swing band, who would use Molly as their singer if only they could get gigs. In the meantime, they practice and practice, which drives C.J. insane. He tries to get the law to declare the McCorkles a nuisance.

Jimmy arrives in the city, and before he's able to see C.J., he meets Mary. And then he finds that the McCorkles are being harassed for their practicing music. Jimmy plays the harmonica and joins them in a jam session, so you know Mary is going to fall in love with Jimmy. But other events transpire. C.J. tries to serve an order to cease and desist, and in the resulting dispute, Jimmy throws a tomato that accidentally hits his uncle. So Uncle wants the assailant thrown in jail, not realizing that he'd be jailing his nephew. Mary, meanwhile, never learned that Jimmy's full name is James Hamilton Haskell. If she did, she'd certainly hate him.

You can probably guess where all of this is going to go: Jimmy and Mary are going to wind up together in the last reel, and C.J. is going to be OK with music. How it gets there is always the point of a movie like this. In that regard, I prefer any number of other movies. I'm never a fan of the stereotypical Irish mother portrayal, and I didn't particularly care for the musical numbers, save for one fun dream sequence. The resolution of the plot, involving a radio show giveaway, also made no sense, as we've seen from all sorts of movies from the era that radio contests were a big thing back then.

Still, if you're looking for something that's amiable and not one bit challenging, you could do a heck of a lot worse than to watch Pot O' Gold. And I'm sure that many of you will like it more than I did.

Another TCM programming change I should have mentioned

Last week, I pointed out that TCM was scheduling Saturday mornings to be like the old Saturday matinees with shorts, a western, and other stuff. What I didn't think to mention was that TCM added a second showing of Noir Alley. Not to the Saturday morning block, although it would be fun to blow the kiddies' minds with movies like Double Indemnity or The Big Heat.

The new airing of Noir Alley is on at midnight, that being the midnight between Saturday and Sunday, so late Saturday evening in the more westerly time zones. I suppose you could say that the movie begins around 12:03 AM Sunday after Eddie Muller's intro. This showing is actually the same movie as will be run ten hours later in the old (and still there) Noir Alley time slot of 10:00 AM Sunday.

Today being St. Patrick's Day, it's interesting to think of the contrast between the traditionally light, doe-eyed look at Irish-Americans we got in old Hollywood movies with the whole idea of noir. And yet, TCM is running what might be the one noir I can think of as possibly being appropriate for St. Patrick's Day -- Crossfire. I think I've posted it before, but the book that the movie was based on had a guy get murdered because he was gay and the killer didn't like a gay guy propositioning one of his friends. In the movie, it's changed to the dead guy being Jewish. The key person asked to help ferret out the murderer is an Irish-American soldier, and his commanding officer plays on the themes of anti-Irish bigotry to get him to understand why he has to rat out somebody who'd kill a guy for being Jewish.

Surprisingly, TCM isn't airing The Quiet Man on St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Another movie that left me cold: Taxi Driver

Every now and then, I watch a movie that's generally considered a classic but for which I feel little affinity. Another example of this would be Taxi Driver.

Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet now living in the New York City of the era when Gerald Ford told the city to drop dead, and working as a taxi driver. Bickle was left broken by his experiences in Vietnam, as he has difficulty socializing and dealing with the crime and social degradation in the city. He meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who is working for the presidential campaign of Senator Palantine. He falls in love with her, but the feeling is obviously unrequited because of Travis' boorish treatment of her.

Driving a cab in the overnight hours also brings Travis in contact with some of the seedier parts of the city, notably the prostitutes. Eventually he sees one named Iris (Jodie Foster) and decides he's going to be nice to her. Her pimp (Harvey Keitel) doesn't particularly like that. And in general, Travis has decided to take matters in his own hands, which involves buying a whole bunch of guns....

So why didn't I care for Taxi Driver? The obvious first thing to think about is the nature of main character Travis Bickle. He's such an unappealing jerk that I frankly didn't care what happened to him. Indeed, he's probably more of a schumck than the characters in director Martin Scorsese's earlier Mean Streets, which I mentioned here not too long ago also left me cold.

I think a brief comparison of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver is in order. While I didn't like the characters in Mean Streets, I could at least understand the point the movie was trying to make and see how it succeeded in many ways even if I didn't much care for what it was doing. Taxi Driver is even more baffling in that regard. Travis' seeming desire to shoot Palantine at a campaign rally makes no sense, which I could also say for the scene involving Travis taking a fare who is stalking his cheating wife. And the movie pretty much turns on a dime to start dealing with the prostitution angle.

Perhaps Taxi Driver was intended more as a character study. In that light it does do better, I think, than as straight storytelling. But I still found it slow, plodding, and meandering.

Everybody else says Taxi Driver is one of the great American movies, however, so you're probably going to have to watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #192: Childhood favorites

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is childhood favorites, which is easy enough except for the fact that I'm getting old and childhood was a long time ago. (OK, not that long ago. My dad is still alive at 80.) I'm picking three older movies, as well as a shout-out to Dad at the end:

King Kong (1933). I was a kid when the Jessica Lange remake of King Kong was released in 1976. The local library's children's program organized a showing of the 1933 original, so I would have been about four years old when I saw this, I think. The showing I saw might not have been in conjunction with the remake; my memories of that young an age are of course a bit hazy as are most people's memories from when they were just four. And the library is no longer in the same building. The old library was across from the old post office, which had already been torn down by that time, with a Jack-in-the-Box fast food joint in the location. That hasn't been there for decades, with a series of restaurants being in the location. The library wound up near Grandma's house; within walking distance when we were warehoused there while Mom and Dad were out for a day or something.

Rabbit of Seville (1950). When I was a kid, the networks still ran cartoons on Saturday mornings, and not that E/I scam designed to put programming on air that the nannies in Washington think is good for the children. (I know I've seen reruns of Saved by the Bell with the E/I bug on one of the digital sub-channels.) Anyhow, one of the channels ran the old Looney Tunes shorts, and we all watched them not realizing that these old shorts had been shown in the theaters when our parents were children. Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, and the Pink Panther were among those shown syndicated, from what I recall. As for Rabbit of Seville, it's the short with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in a barber shop, set against Rossini's overture to The Barber of Seville. They have the race in the barber chairs, and Bugs stands on Elmer's scalp, massaging it with his feet.

Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968). I saw this one as an older child, again on TV -- I think this was what is now the local Fox affiliate, before there was a Fox network. Hollywood made quite a few movies in the late 60s dealing with the generation gap, putting older stars in movies trying to make them appeal to the teen audience by including young stars. The ones I've seen are uniformly terrible, like I'll Take Sweden and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. As I blogged about near the beginning of this blog, Yours, Mine, and Ours took a different tack and made a movie that probably would have seemed square to the young people of the day, but which stands the test of time and is much better than all the generation gap stuff. Lucille Ball plays a navy nurse who is a widow with eight children. Henry Fonda plays a naval officer who is a widower with ten children. You know the two are going to be right for each other in the end. Also stars Van Johnson and Tom Bosley.

My dad's abiding childhood memory, or at least the one we always heard about, wasn't of a favorite. He has mentioned seeing some of the Bowery Boys movies, but he always mentioned how, having gone to a Catholic elementary school, the nuns dragged the students out to see The Bells of St. Mary's when it came out in 1945. He's hated the movie to this day. Of course, it's a follow-up to the treacly and mawkish Going My Way, so there's a built-in excuse for anybody who hates it. My sister bought Dad a VHS tape of The Bells of St. Mary's as a gag gift one Christmas, that's how much we all know the story of Dad's hatred for the movie.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

That Hamilton Girl

A dozen years before the lovely British production That Hamilton Woman, Warner Bros. made a silent covering much the same material called The Divine Lady. Having been made at Warner Bros., it is unsurprisingly available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

For those of you who remember That Hamilton Woman, you know what the movie is about. For those who don't, Emma, Lady Hamilton (played here by Corinne Griffith) was a British beauty of the late 18th century would would marry Lord Hamilton (played here by H.B. Warner), who at the time was the British ambassador to Naples, what with Italy still being 75 years or so away from being united. It's the 1790s, and the French revolution is leading up to Napoleon's rise to power, so British naval officer Horatio Nelson (Victor Varconi) stops in Naples to talk to the British ambassador. He meets Lady Hamilton, and the two start a doomed love affair: both of them were already married. Oh, and you know what would happen to Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.

With that history out of the way, it's time to look at the things that are a bit more speculative. The movie starts off introducing a real historical figure, Charles Greville (Ian Keith), a minor member of the British nobility. Here, her mother (Marie Dressler in a bit part) is to be Greville's new cook, but the real story is more sordid. Greville is in parlous financial straits, so in the movie he concocts a plan to send Emma off to Naples to be the mistress Hamilton, who was Greville's uncle. Hamilton won't marry this common girl and this will die unmarried, and Greville will inherit the estate, solving Greville's monetary problems. When Emma discovers the truth, Hamilton marries her because what else is there for the two of them to do.

One other big difference between this movie and That Hamilton Woman is that the latter movie shows some of Lady Hamilton's downfall after Nelson's death. (Lord Hamilton died two years before Trafalgar, and in real life Lady Hamilton did go into serious debt.) The Divine Lady concludes with Trafalgar.

But is The Divine Lady good? I think fans of silents will really enjoy it. I'm a bit less of a fan of silents, and find some of the dramas can be tougher going. The Divine Lady is one I found a bit slow at times, but there's really nothing particularly wrong with it. It's more that if I were going to introduce people to silents, I'd start with the comedies and then the adventure movies, and save dramas and melodramas for later.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hubert de Givenchy, 1927-2018

French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who would probably be best known to movie fans for supplying actress Audrey Hepburn with her wardrobe, has died at the age of 91.

Givenchy started his association with Hepburn by designing the dresses that she wore in Sabrina, at least the stylish stuff from after she returns from her sojourn in Paris. Givenchy wasn't credited with these dresses on screen, but he would get credit for other of Hepburn's movies, notably the little black dress she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Oscar-nominated costume design in Funny Face. I don't think he ever did traditional movie costume design; just the stylish clothes that Audrey Hepburn wore.

Givenchy remained friends with Hepburn for the rest of her life, and also designed clothers for a bunch of other famous women, not only actresses like Ingrid Bergman but notably first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Monday, March 12, 2018

TCM Star of the Month March 2018: Elizabeth Taylor

Last week was the first full week of March after the end of 31 Days of Oscar. However, there wasn't a Star of the Month last week. Normally, TCM takes one day in the week and then every day that week for the month, they run the pictures of whoever is star of the month. This month, however, they're doing something different, in that they're running Elizabeth Taylor's movies every weeknight in prime time this week, starting tonight. Well, actually, they're starting a bit earlier, at 4:15 PM, with Cynthia. The Elizabeth Taylor movies are also going to start before prime time on Tuesday and Friday.

Prime time is relatively a progression through Taylor's career, with 40s stuff on Monday, the 50s on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the 60s and 70s stuff on Thursday and Friday. There's also a documentary on Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait, at 4:45 PM Friday.

What's interesting, however, is what's not getting shown. Taylor won two Best Actress Oscars. Butterfield 8 is on the TCM schedule at 8:00 PM Thursday. But Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf isn't. As far as I know, it's not that they couldn't get the rights. As things stand, it looks like TCM got a premiere (for them) with 1970's The Only Game in Town (12:30 AM Saturday).

Also not on the schedule is A Place in the Sun. TCM has run it enough in the past; why they're not showing it as part of this salute to Taylor, I don't know.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Somewhat Secret

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, subject of yesterday's blog post, is an 86-minute movie that TCM put into a two-hour time slot. That meant there was a lot of time to fill. In addition to the obligatory promo for the TCM Wine Club, there was also time for a two-reeler, in this case 1939's Somewhat Secret.

The plot is hackneyed and the acting not very good, although that's beside the point. Mary Howard plays Emily, the assistant dean at a school for girls. She and the rest of the administration have decided that swing music is evil, evil, evil. And dammit, none of the students better be listening to swing or doing any jitterbugging! Of course, it's all the students want to do, with the exception of one nasty tattletale. Meanwhile, Emily's boyfriend, chemistry teacher Ben (Tom Collins) was a former pianist for a swing band, and his old colleagues want him to join them again! You can guess what happens among the various musical numbers, which this time aren't particularly elaborate.

I mention it because I didn't realize this one was on DVD. I suppose it might be an extra somewhere, but back in 2013(!), the Warner Archive released Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory, Volume Two. I didn't even know there was a Volume One. Probably the most famous short on this three-disc set is Every Sunday, the one featuring Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin at the very beginning of both their careers. But it also has a short I mentioned back in January, Dancing on the Ceiling. Yeah, some of these vintage musical two-reelers had nutty plots. Apparently, another short in this disc involves waffle iron manufacturers putting on elaborate musical numbers.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife

I recently watched Bluebeard's Eighth Wife off my DVR, and with it being available on DVD courtesy of Universal's MOD scheme, I'm also comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Gary Cooper plays Michael Brandon, a wealthy American businessman currently working on the French Riviera, for reasons that are never really explained. He goes in to one of those old-time department stores where you have to deal with the clerks, wanting to buy some pajamas. Well, he only wants to buy the pajama tops, since he uses those as a sort of night shirt and doesn't wear the pajama bottoms. The store only wants to sell them as a set. Into all this walks Nicole (Claudette Colbert). She solves everybody's problems by offering to buy the pants.

Michael immediately falls in love with Nicole, and starts pursuing her. Nicole, meanwhile, has a father who is a Marquis (Edward Everett Horton), although French titles of nobility no longer meant anything. That lack of meaning probably has a lot to do with why the Marquis is heavily in debt. He's been trying to do a business deal with Brandon, and then when he finds that Brandon has been pursuing Nicole, he gets dollar signs (or probably franc symbols) in his eyes. After an on-again, off-again thing, Nicole finally decides to marry Michael.

And then she finds out about Michael's past. Michael has been married seven times (who wants to deal with that many mothers-in-law?), and always winds up divorcing, leaving his ex-wives with a substantial settlement as he's agreed with them before the marriage. Nicole, for her part, decides that she wants to wangle more money out of him.

As you can guess, the kicker is that the two are going to wind up falling in love, although neither of them wants to admit it. They lead separate lives, with each becoming jealous of the other, leading to the predictable divorce and then a reuniting.

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife is a movie that I found to be a lesser one in the careers of all the major people involved with it. Colbert and Cooper both made much better movies. So did the director, Ernst Lubitsch, and the screenwriters, Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. I think it has a lot to do with the plot that seems all over the place. It's not really Wilder and Brackett's fault, since they were adapting a French stage play. Still, the characters aren't particularly likable and a lot of their actions make no sense.

Some of the supporting players do well in their smaller parts. David Niven, early in his career, plays Albert, a friend of Nicole's and one of Brandon's employees, and gets a good scene as the wrong man. Horton is quite good, as are Herman Bing as a private eye and Elizabeth Patterson as Nicole's "aunt".

If you want a good movie of any of the main people involved, you can do better than Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. But if you want a comedy from the 30s you might not have seen before, you could do a lot worse.

Friday, March 9, 2018

TCM's new Saturday morning

For quite a few years, TCM was running through various movie series on Saturday mornings in roughly the 10:30 AM slot, just before the first movie of the afternoon. Notably there was the whole run of the Bowery Boys movies, but there were also things like the Falcon and the Saint. TCM got away from that last year, and now with 31 Days of Oscar over, they've revamped the Saturday morning lineup again.

I've seen a couple of people on the TCM boards suggest it's like the old-time Saturday matinee thing children did of going to the theater and getting some cartoons, a serial, and a feature. Of course, I'm not that old so I don't recall those days. Anyhow, at 8:00 AM there's starting off with a John Wayne western from the era when Wayne was very young and toiling on Poverty Row, so there are a lot of those westerns for TCM to get through. There are also going to be some cartoons.

At 9:30 AM, there's the first installment of a serial I'd never heard of, Red Barry from 1938, starring Buster Crabbe as the titular detective. There's also going to a Tarzan feature at 10:00 AM, and a Popeye cartoon along the way.

The first thing I notice is that the Wayne movie is in a 90-minute slot with some of the cartoons and shorts leading up to Red Barry. So I don't know what order they're airing in Ditto the Tarzan movie and the Popeye short, which are in a two-hour block at 10:00 AM. It also looks like there's some time for padding in there, so it'll be interesting if they run the TCM Wine Club promo for the kiddies.

I don't think the TCM schedule for May is up yet, but the general Saturday matinee idea is running through the end of April. By the end of April, however, they're no longer sticking exclusively to John Wayne westerns. Red Barry has 13 episodes, so it should run through to sometime in June depending on whether they take a week off for the war movie marathon on Memorial Day Weekend.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #191: Just One Day

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "Just One Day", which I would assume means movies that are set over the course of one day, as opposed to movies that are set on the same date. I may be cheating ever so slightly, because one of my movies takes place within the span of 24 hours, although the very last scene is first thing the next morning. Anyhow, here goes:

Fourteen Hours (1951). Richard Basehart walks into a hotel, rents a room, and then walks out of the window onto the ledge, with the obvious intent to jump off and kill himself. Somebody down below sees him, and the cops are called into action to try to call him off the ledge. Meanwhile, a crowd develops below, waiting to see if he'll jump. Grace Kelly has a small role as a woman getting a divorce meeting her lawyer in an office with a view of the hotel across the street.

One Wonderful Sunday (1947). Akira Kurosawa directed this little movie about young Japanese man Yuzo, on a date with Masako in Tokyo. However, Yuzo only has a paltry amount of money on him, and doesn't have prospects of getting more any time soon since it's not long after the war and good work is hard to come by. So the two try to celebrate a day out with next to nothing, and see if their love can survive.

The Firemen's Ball (1967). Miloš Forman directed this movie in his native Czechoslovakia before being forced into exile. The retired fire chief of a small town had 50 years of service with the department but is now dying of cancer, so his colleagues decide that they're going to have a big party in his honor. At least, it's ostensibly in the former chief's honor. In reality, it seems to be in honor of everybody else as they're all trying to make themselves look as good as possible. Everything that could go wrong does, and anarchy ensues. The movie was banned in Czechoslovakia under the Communists because it can pretty obviously be seen as a scathing indictment on Communist "solidarity", although when I watched it I could see as being set in any small town anywhere. (Forman himself said it wasn't a commentary on Communism.) The final scene is of a man waking up the next morning, and there is an opening scene setting up decorations that in theory could have been a day or two before the party, but it's most likely all set in the span of 24 hours.

TCM Guest Programmer March 2018: Drew Scott

With 31 Days of Oscar over, it's time for TCM to get back to its regular features, among which is the monthly Guest Programmer. This month, it's Drew Scott who hosts the program Property Brothers on HGTV together with his brother Jonathan. (It may have been "hosted"; I don't watch HGTV. My mom watched that crap religiously.) Anyhow, Scott selected four of his favorite films and sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss those movies. Those intros will be on tonight.

First up at 8:00 PM is High Noon, in which Gary Cooper tries to get a bunch of unwilling townspeople to stand up against a couple of bad guys;
Then, at 9:45 PM, there's To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, defending a black man on a rape charge in 1930s Alabama;
At 12:15 AM you can catch Poltergeist, about spirits coming through a suburban family's TV and kidnapping their little girl; and
Last but not least at 12:30 AM it's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a story about a bunch of people who have to make their way to Devil's Tower in Wyoming but don't quite understand why.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Way Back Home heads-up

About three months ago in the Thursday Movie Picks on small towns, I used the movie Way Back Home. I don't know if the TCM schedule for March had come out yet, but it's on the schedule for tomorrow afternoon (March 8) at 2:00 PM.

The one-paragraph synopsis that I wrote three months ago holds. It's an interesting period piece, but not anything particularly great, about a country guy (Phillips Lord) and the people in his rural Maine community. Lord had created the character on radio, and I wonder whether the material works better on radio. That, and whether the material worked better back in the day. I don't quite know that I'd call Lord's character irritating, but the down-home folksy charm is at times turned up a bit much.

The movie is also interesting to watch for a very young Bette Davis, before she was a contract player at Warner Bros. Already at this young age she shows her ability.

Way Back Home isn't on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Megacetacean vs. Octopoid

And for fun over the weekend, I watched Tentacles, which is available on Blu-ray in a double feature with Reptilicus. (I recorded Tentacles off of TCM Underground, so I don't have Reptilicus to do a review on.)

The movie starts off innocently enough, with pleasant beach scenes somewhere in southern California. A young woman there with her toddler goes to get something out of her car, and gets stopped by one of her friends so the two have a talk. In some clear foreshadowing, we get camera angles some of which would block the mother's view of her baby. So eventually the baby and baby seat are just gone. The mother looks frantically, and finds the seat in the ocean! Her baby is obviously dead!

Ned Turner (John Huston, who thankfully is nowhere near as pompous when he acts as his can get when he directs) is a journalist married to Tillie (Shelley Winters) and they have a young son. Ned hears about the baby's death, and the odd circumstances, and he wonders what's going on. It turns out that it's not the first death, and when Ned sneaks his way into an autopsy, he finds that one of the deceased has basically been sucked clean, leaving just a skeleton.

Apparently some company has been constructing an undersea tunnel, and Ned suspects that company's tunneling of being somehow responsible, so Ned begins to pester the head of the company, Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda), and Whitehead's flunky Corey (Cesare Danova). They and the oceanography institute, under a team led by Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins) investigate.

More people get killed, including some of the people doing the investigating, and eventually they all come to the same conclusion we've already been kinda, sorta shown: there's a giant octopus, much larger than anything heretofore known by man, that has been lured out of its lair by the sonic waves or some such from the undersea tunnelling. Frankly, this seems faintly ridiculous to me. Most of the other creature movies used radiation in no small part because it's known to cause genetic mutations. Night of the Lepus had the good sense to use a drug experiment gone wrong.

Anyhow, it's up to the oceanographers to stop the giant octopus before it goes on more rampages and kills more people. One minor problem is that it can come up out of the sea and destroy boats. And then there's the minor issue of the junior regatta, in which Ned and Tillie's kid will be competing. Gleason finally hopes his killer whales will be able to help deal with the octopus.

Tentacles is silly fun, even if it's not particularly good. Fonda phones in his performance the same way he would in The Swarm, never mind that he's not given too much to do. Shelley Winters shamelessly overacts. Bo Hopkins talking to his whales is a hoot. The whole thing is clearly derivative of Jaws, except that this one has ridiculous plot problems. Remember that baby that got killed? Much too far away from the shore for the octopus to get him.

Winters is involved with the best humor in the film. In one scene Ned chides Tillie about eating too much candy, and Tille, referring to her ample size, says, "This isn't candy; this is passion!" Later, as she's entering her son and his friend in the regatta, she says she wishes she could take part, at which point the friend says, "Then we'd need a tornado to move the boat!"

If you're looking for something entertaining to watch with friends and a bowl of popcorn, you could do worse than Tentacles.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Two documentaries I hadn't heard of

Things happened such that I found out about a couple of documentaries recently that I hadn't heard of before. Unfortunately, only one of them is on DVD (at least, here in the States):

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. This is the story of cousins Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus, who founded a small Israeli film production company in the 1970s. That company would, through wheeling and dealing, eventually take over the Cannon Group, which made quite a few memorable films of the 1980s, even if the films aren't particularly good. Things like The Delta Force, the arm wrestling movie Over the Top, and riding break-dancing craze with Breakin'. (The sequel was called Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo from which the documentary gets its name.) This documentary sounds like a lot of fun.

Older than Ireland (2015). I always look at Wikipedia's obituary page to see if there's anybody who died that I need to write a post about. Last week, I came across the name Bessie Nolan, who was listed as being 106 and an Irish actress. I'd never heard of her, and it turns out that she was one of the "stars" of the documentary Older than Ireland. The filmmakers found about 30 centenarians in Ireland, all of whom would have been born before Ireland gained its independence from the UK, and interviewed them about their lives. I'm a sucker for true stories of people who reach an extremely advanced age and remain active, so this is one that would probably be interesting. Unsurprisingly, however, due to the niche interest of this one, it only got a Region 2 (Europe and a few other areas) DVD.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thank you for being a friend

Another movie I watched so I could get it off my DVR is Golden Girl, which is available on DVD from the Fox MOD scheme.

The movie opens up with a narration from producer George Jessel, telling us about "Lotta's Fountain", a landmark in San Francisco, which was donated to the city by celebrated 19th century actress Lotta Crabtree. After this little bit of fact, we're sent back in time for something that bears little to no resemblance to reality....

The setting is the town of Rabbit Creek, CA, in 1863. 16-year-old Lotta Crabtree is the daughter of John (James Barton) and Mary Ann (Una Merkel), who operate a boarding house in Rabbit Creek. Lotta has dreams of becoming a singer and dancer, and is excited by the upcoming visit to Rabbit Creek of famous dancer Lola Montez. Of course, the real Lola Montez died in 1861 so it must have been a zombie Montez visiting in this movie. (Actually, what really happened is that Montez was in California in the early 1850s, and Lotta started her career at the age of six. But this would have made the romantic parts of the plot of Golden Girl ultra-creepy.)

Dad loses the boarding house gambling on roulette, and Lotta gets the idea that she can do what Montez did, going to the various mining towns in California and making money by putting on shows for them. (Something similar is seen by Edwin Booth in Prince of Players.) The men threw gold coins at Montez; surely they'll do the same for Lotta.

So Lotta goes around California with her mother managing her, along with help by old friend Mart Taylor (Dennis Day). Following Lotta from town to town is professional gambler Tom Richmond (Dale Robertson), who announces himself as being from Alabama. This being 1863, there should be some red flags raised, what with the Civil War going on, but Lotta and her crew go on as though nothing else is going on in the outside world. In fact, Tom was sent west by the Confederacy to rob gold shipments. (As far as I can tell, there was no Tom Richmond type in Lotta's life.)

Lotta falls in love with Tom despite his perfidy, but the separate because of the war. Lotta eventually makes her way east and becomes a huge success in New York just as the Civil War is ending. She's still hoping to see Tom again, however....

I'm not the biggest fan of the Fox musicals, and frankly I find Golden Girl to be one of the weaker Fox musicals I've seen. That the story bears no resemblance to reality shouldn't be a problem, but the whole fake love during the Civil War thing with its ridiculous resolution certainly turned me off, and would have even if the characters were wholly fictional. The fact that Dale Robertson is uncharismatic doesn't help. A much bigger problem is that I'm not a fan of Dennis Day's singing. Mitzi Gaynor isn't bad, but she doesn't particularly excite me. Finally, the print could stand to be restored, as the Technicolor is not particularly vibrant.

For the Civil War-era stage, I'd much more recommend Prince of Players. But if you really like musicals, you may like Golden Girl.

TCM notes, March 4-5 2018

So Dave Karger is going to become a permanent host on TCM. The article suggests that Ben Mankiewicz will be doing prime time from Thursday through Sunday, and doesn't exactly say that Karger will be doing the other three nights, because they also mention Alicia Malone from Filmstruck. It was already known that Malone would be taking over Saturday afternoons from Tiffany Vazquez. The article doesn't say how much she'll be in prime time, suggesting that the two will "rotate". Vazquez is off the air, but apparently going to be doing other social media stuff for TCM.

I was looking forward to Million Dollar Legs on TCM this morning, but when I went to set the DVR last night, it wasn't on the schedule! Instead, in the 6:30 AM timeslot where Million Dollar Legs was supposed to air, they had Too Many Highballs. Sadly, it turns out that the listings service for the box guide screwed up. Too Many Highballs is a two-reeler that was always on the TCM schedule, after Million Dollar Legs, which in fact ran in the scheduled time slot. (You can't miss star W.C. Fields.) At any rate, at least Million Dollar Legs is on a cheap DVD box set.

Noir Alley returns today in its usual time slot. Tomorrow morning and afternoon there's a birthday salute to actor Dean Stockwell, who will be turning 82 on Monday.

Oh, and for anybody who cares, the Academy Awards will be given away tonight.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Mrs. Of

Another recent watch was The Earrings of Madame de..., which TCM ran during the Star of the Month Salute to Charles Boyer and which is available on DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

Madame Louise de... (played by Danielle Darrieux; the last name is never revealed), is an upper-class housewife in 19th century Paris (the exact time frame is never given) who has an affinity for spending vast sums of money that her general husband André (Charles Boyer) earns. I didn't think generals earned that much, but there you are. Anyhow, Louise has run up a bunch of debts, and doesn't want her husband to know about them. So she makes a deal with the jeweler Rémy that she'll sell a pair of diamond earrings to him to make the money to pay the debt. She then makes of big show of the earrings getting "lost".

Rémy doesn't want to bring any embarrassment to her or her husband, so he discreetly, and unbeknownst to Louise, approaches André to tell him his wife sold him back the earrings, and giving André an opportunity to buy them back. André does, and gives them to his mistress Lola, who only has a brief appearance in the movie. Lola is just as spendthrift as Louise, and promptely loses enough money gambling in Constantinople that she has to sell the earrings. The Italian diplomat Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica) buys them to use at a later date.

Donati being a diplomat, eventually gets sent to Paris, where he meets Louise, and falls in love with her. The feeling is mutual, because André spends so much time away thanks to his military career. Donati eventually gives the earrings to Louise as a gift, having no idea that Louise already had these earrings in the past. Of course, she doesn't know what happened with the earrings in between.

Louise is at first reluctant to wear the earrings, but then she realizes that she can come up with a lie about finding the earrings after all this time. She, remember, has no clue that André knows she had sold them, and certainly doesn't have any idea that André would be able to figure out that with the earrings having made their way to Constantinople, it would have been Donati who gave them to her. Complications and tragedy ensue.

The Earrings of Madame de... is one of those movies that is often praised as one of the best of all time but that, I have to admit, left me mildly underwhelmed. I think the thing for me was that the movie really started falling flat in the third act, once André realizes that Donati bought the earrings and gave them to Louise. The story up to then is quite good, however.

There are other things I noticed on a cursory first viewing that I hadn't realized the critics mentioned. One would be director Max Ophüls' very fluid camera movement, which is fairly obvious from some of the tracking shots. There was also a dance montage of Louise and Donati at the beginning of their relationship when I couldn't help but think of Alfred Hitchcock and Rope based on the way the cutting has the scene shift from one night out to the next.

The Earrings of Madame de... is a movie that everybody probably ought to watch at least once. I don't know that I'd be interested in getting the DVD to watch again, but I can see why many people would be.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Went the Day Well?

I mentioned a couple of weeks back when I blogged about It Always Rains on Sunday that there's an outfit putting out ultra-cheap DVDs of British movies. (I wouldn't be surprised if they're gray-market DVDs, but there's also the thorny topic of orphan copyrights.) Another movie I bought in that vein is Went the Day Well?

The movie was made in 1942 during World War II, but is told in flashback from a future in which the Allies had already defeated the Germans. In the bucolic village of Bramley End, we're informed of a monument with the names of some Germans on it. Therein lies a story of how Germans ended up in Bramley End in World War II....

One Saturday, at Whitsun (Pentecost in American Christianity), a group of English soldiers come to the village to be billeted for a couple of days, as the local squire Wilsford (Leslie Banks) tells them. This is perfectly normal as there's a war on and a lot of soldiers on the move. However, the villagers begin to develop some suspicions about the soldiers, in ways both plausible (they get some scratch paper in which one of the soldiers has written a 7 with a slash through it, as is much more common in continental Europe) and implausible (they find a wrapper for some Viennese chocolate; you'd think the Nazis would have nipped that one in the bud).

So the villagers go to the squire to voice their concerns that something fishy is going on, and he takes them to the soldiers. It's at this point the soldiers reveal that the villagers' suspicions are well-grounded, and that the soldiers are in fact the first in what is going to be a Nazi invasion of Britain; Bramley End is to be used as a beachhead. And now that the villagers know, of course the Nazis have to take them all hostage and start to carry out their plan a bit earlier! Worse for the villagers, the squire is the double agent who is in fact working for the Nazis!

Unsurprisingly, the villagers decide they're not going to take this lying down. At this point we get a bunch of standard movie tropes of things that people who are hostages or kidnapping victims might try to do to get word out about their situation. Those tropes also dictate that they come just short of succeeding, until it's time for the climax. One woman tries to make a surreptitious phone call; another writes a message on an eggshell; another gives a piece of scratch paper with a note on it to a visitor. Eventually, it's up to a young boy to try to escape and save the day....

Went the Day Well? is, despite what sounds like a formulaic plot, actually a pretty good movie. It effectively builds its suspense and results in a suitable climax, with of course the happy ending that the British win, because there was no way you could have made a movie about this subject with the Nazis winning. (I've always been mildly astonished that In Which We Serve which has a pretty bleak message for the most part, got made, although it has a rousing epilogue. Of course, the British Ministry of Information had a large hand in the proceedings.)

The version I got seems no longer to be available at Amazon at the low price, although it does at the TCM Shop. Amazon does have other prints available, however.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #190: Oscar-nominated movies that should have won

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. With the Academy Awards being handed out this coming Sunday, somebody came up with the brilliant idea to have the TMP take a look at movies that didn't win, but you think should have. This is a fairly easy category, I think, with the only difficulty being to make certain I haven't used the three movies I'm picking in the past year. Having checked that out, here are my selections:

Lifeboat (1944). Alfred Hitchcock earned his second nomination for Best Director. Four years earlier, he lost to John Ford and The Grapes of Wrath, so one can't really complain about that. Hitchcock would in later years go on to lose to The Lost Weekend, On the Waterfront, and The Apartment. Pretty stiff competition. But for the 1944 awards, Lifeboat and some other pretty good movies were passed over for one of the worse selections in Oscar history, the execrably saccharine Going My Way. Hitchcock did a brilliant job with his cramped sets and creating the atmosphere leading to really ugly mob justice in Lifeboat.

The Mating Season (1951). Thelma Ritter earned her second straight Best Supporting Actress nomination as the extremely blue-collar mother of aspirational engineer John Lund. Lund has married way up in the form of diplomat's daughter Gene Tierney, who has never met her mother-in-law. Due to a comedy of errors, Ritter ends up as a hired maid for a party, and then the couple's live-in maid: Lund is worried about what Tierney will think of his mother. Further complications ensue when Tierney's extremely snobbish mother (Miriam Hopkins) moves in. Ritter really has the lead if you ask me, since she makes all the action go, and as so often the case, she got the best lines and delivers them briliantly.

Honeysuckle Rose (1980). Willie Nelson plays himself more or less, a country singer married to Dyan Cannon. Nelson does an adequate job, but the nomination that deserved to win was for Best Original Song: this is the movie that introduced the song "On the Road Again", used to excellent effect in the movie. However, 1980 was an extremely strong year in the Best Original Song category. "On the Road Again" was up against two songs from Fame (the title song won); the theme from 9 to 5; and an off-the-wall choice from The Competition, a movie that's probably forgotten now. And that doesn't include the songs that probably could have been nominated, such as "Call Me" from American Gigolo, or one or another of the songs from Xanadu. If I had a vote, I'd probably have cast it for "On the Road Again".