Monday, April 30, 2018

The Eiger Sanction

Over the weekend, I got around to watching The Eiger Sanction off my DVR. It's available on DVD and Blu-Ray in multiple editions and, for those of you with the Cinemax premium cable package, it's going to be on several times this week.

The movie starts off in lovely Zürich, Switzerland, with an older guy walking up to his apartment and opening up a piece of bubble gum that contains some microfilm. In the background, we can see a pair of shady figures, which can mean only one thing: spies are afoot, and somebody's about to get killed by somebody else. Sure enough, the two shadowy guys whose faces we never see (for reasons that will become obvious in a bit) kill the one guy whose face we did see.

Cut to a college somewhere out west. Professor of art Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is finishing up the last lecture of the semester. In his office, he's approached by somebody who clearly has nothing to do with the university. Hemlock, as it turns out, had a past in the spy services himself. Specifically, he was an assassin, but he insists he's retired now. Still, Dragon (Thayer David), the head of this spy service, wants Hemlock to perform one more assassination, or "sanction" as they say in their jargon. Find the guys who killed that agent in Zürich. And you're going to do it, Hemlock, because I've got all sorts of dirt on you, says Dragon.

The guy was also one of Hemlock's best friends when they fought as mercenaries in Indochina some time in the past, so Hemlock goes to Switzerland and finds one of the guys who killed their spy and kills that guy in return. End of story. Oh, you bet that it's not going to end that quickly. Nobody could find the other guy. But that's good enough for Hemlock, who did the job he was asked to do.

And then, bizarrely, the agency gets a piece of intelligence that the other guy who killed this agent is going to be taking part in an international expedition to climb the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland, and this is where Hemlock really comes in. Hemlock, in addition to being an assassin and an art connoisseur, also used to be an accomplished mountaineer. They don't kow which of the other guys on the expedition killed the agent, but it's going to be Hemlock's job to find out and make the other guy's death seem like a mountaineering accident. Hemlock, with his mountaineering past, is the only agent who can do the job, because climbing the north face of the Eiger is notoriously difficult.

So Hemlock goes off to train with his old friend Bowman (George Kennedy), faces another mercenary Mellough (Jack Cassidy) who once betrayed him and the previously murdered agent, and then finally gets ready for the big climb in Switzerland. It really seems as though any of the other three climbers could be the man Hemlock is looking for....

To be honest, the main plot of The Eiger Sanction is a bit absurd. The idea that they'd get a bead on only one assassin but not the other is mildly odd, but then the idea that they just know he's going to be on that expedition, but still don't know which one it is, really defies logic. Having said that, however, the movie as a whole is fairly entertaining. I felt that the training scenes at Bowman's tourist resort in Monument Valley went on too long, but other than that everything pretty much worked.

There's enough suspense in the Alps, and the scenery is gorgeous. There are lots of picturesque mountains in Switzerland, Utah, and at Hemlock's university. Plus Zürich isn't a bad backdrop, although this is a decidedly lower-rent part of the city. Suspend your disbelief, and strap yourself in for two hours of entertainment.

Briefs for April 30-May 1, 2018

Tonight's the last night for TCM's Star of the Month William Holden's movies, although the movies will continue into May, as there are a couple of Holden movies in the early hours of TCM's Tuesday lineup. He's the only Star of the Month this week. It's not that the next Star of the Month is on Mondays in May; instead, there's a special this week and then the Star of the Month salute will run four nights later this month.

Blogger's search function is a bit wonky again, which always surprises me considering it should be using Google's search algorithm. The regular box at the top of the site that you'd all use to search this blog seems to work; it's the search on the dashboard list of posts (anybody else using Blogger knows what I'm talking about; it's the page from where one can edit one's posts) that caused me problems. I decided to add a few tags; I'm always behind in tagging posts properly. Anyhow, for one on Australia, I was going to blog my post on Animal Kingdom since I know fully well I blogged about it. The search on the dashboard didn't bring it up, but the one on the main page did. Go figure.

I should probably have mentioned director Michael Anderson earlier. He died last week aged 98. Anderson directed a series of noteworthy films, including the British war movie The Dambusters; the epic Around the World in 80 Days, and the science fiction movie Logan's Run which always seems to divide opinion.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hollow Triumph

This week's selection on TCM's Noir Alley was Hollow Triumph, a movie that was new to me. It was re-titled The Scar in a re-release, and is available on DVD and Blu-ray under that title, although the print that TCM ran had the original title.

Paul Henried plays John Muller, who at the beginning of the movie is just getting out of prison after serving time for an extensive series of crimes he's committed. The prison warden has gotten him a job out in Los Angeles, but John isn't so certain he wants to live his life that way, especially when he sees his partners in crime and finds that they're making rather better money than he's going to be making.

He gets the idea rob a shady gambling joint. The joint itself is probably illegal, and naturally they wouldn't want to be robbed even if they were wholly on the up-and-up. Still John and his men rob it, but things go wrong when the lights aren't turned out as early as John had planned. Half the guys get killed, but John is able to get away, only to have to face a life on the run. At least that nondescript job isn't a place the guys he robbed would think to look.

Sure enough, John's brother Frederick (Eduard Franz) shows up to tell John that the other guy who escaped was gunned down in Mexico, so obviously the bad guys are on his trail; Frederick correctly assuming that his brother went straight back to his old life of crime. John correctly knows there's really no place where he'll be truly safe, but he remembers something....

Not long after the robbery, he was stopped on the street by a man who said he looked amazingly like a Dr. Bartok -- except that Bartok had a scar on one side of his face or the other. So John goes to look up said doctor, and meets his lovely secretary Evelyn (Joan Bennett). Those two fall in love, but John is all the time thinking of another plan, which you can probably guess: if he could make himself up to look like Bartok, perhaps he could get away from the guys chasing him. And since he studied psychiatry, the same field as Bartok, before his life of crime, there's just a chance he could take Bartok's place.

Of course it's a nonsense scheme, as trying to take somebody's life is nigh-on impossible. There are all sorts of things that you're just not going to know about the other guy. Is he married? What are his outside interests? What are the names of his friends? If he were on the run on the east coast and passing himself off as Bartok, that might be one thing, but killing Bartok and taking over the practice? Idiocy.

Some movies work on such an implausible idea. Dead Ringer had Bette Davis playing two estranged sisters, so the murderous sister knew a fair amount of the other one's life, if not all of it. In Hollow Triumph, however, it's just ludicrous. And the fact that John scars the wrong side of his face is foreshadowed and then given away so clumsily. Yet nobody seems to notice it!

Fans of noir who are looking for something new may enjoy Hollow Triumph, but I found the whole thing maddening.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

They do explain the first five

Quite some time back, FXM had the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness in their rotation, and I recorded it then. I never got around to watching it because when I looked it up on the TCM Shop, it didn't seem to be in print on DVD. But the movie is going to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM, and again at 10:15 PM on May 7. (Amazon lists is on DVD and currently streaming for those who can do that.)

The movie is a dramatization of the life of Gladys Aylward, played here by Ingrid Bergman. Gladys was a British woman who, at the start of the movie, has no real prospects in the UK and has felt a calling, so she wants to become a missionary in China. The folks who run the mission don't think she's up to it, so she gets a job as a maid until she can save up to go to China.

Once she gets to China, she meets Jeannie Lawson (Athene Seyler), an elderly British woman who needs help running her inn and taking care of the people there while telling them Christian stories. Of course, Jeannie being old she dies fairly early in the story, leaving poor Gladys to take care of the inn, and ultimately a bunch of orphans, herself.

There are many of the usual tropes here, notably the local leader, the mandarin (Robert Donat), and the mixed-race military officer Lin Nan (Curd Jürgens credited as Curt). Gladys endears herself to the community by being willing to do things that locals won't, such as serving as an anti-foot-binding official, checking to make certain the loca girls are no longer having their feet bound. Or, seeing that the local prisoners get humane conditions. She's so good at what she does, and loves the place so much, that she takes Chinese citizenship and gets a Chinese name.

But it's the 1930s, which you may know from your history was a turbulent time in China because the Japanese had invaded Manchuria at the beginning of the decade and were about to invade much more of the country. Eventually, the war comes to Gladys' neck of the woods and she gets yet another batch of orphans dropped off at her door, so she has to take all of them on a difficult overland journey to the big city.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was not my type of movie. I found it overlong, and filled with tiresome tropes of the type I've seen in all sorts of movies about China. Apparently, the real-life Gladys hated it too because it took a lot of liberties with the truth, which would have made an interesting enough movie in its own right. The one thing the movie has going for it is the nice cinematography. Well, that and Bergman's performance; she's competent in a thankless role.

As for the title, it's based on a legend that you wish people five types of happiness: wealth, longevity, good health, virtue, and a peaceful death in old age. As for the sixth happiness, that's one you have to find within yourself. But even here this is all bunk, as the inn was named the Inn of Eight Happinesses, eight being an extremely lucky number in China.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Actually, Italy uses "miliardo"

Another movie that's available from Fox's MOD scheme that I caught when it aired on FXM Retro is Mr. Billion.

The movie starts off with a humorous sequence of financier Anthony Falcon celebrating 50 years of his investment bank. However, the logo on his shiny corporate headquarters falls off, hitting him in the head and killing him instantly.

Falcon's will is read, and it turns out that he's decided to bequeath everything -- totaling a billion dollars -- to a nephew Guido (Italian actor Terence Hill) who works as a sports car mechanic in Rome, because Guido is the one person who didn't try to make financial demands on Anthony -- except for a pair of cowboy boots. Apparently Guido learned English by watching westerns and Steve McQueen movies.

Anyhow, Anthony's attorneys and his second-in-command at the bank Cutler (Jackie Gleason) travel to Rome to deal with the will, which also has a clause that Guido has to show up at a meeting in San Francisco at a certain time or else the will is invalid and, presumably, control of the financial empire reverts to Cutler. I can't quite understand why people would write wills that create obvious conflicts of interest, but this is something we've seen already in the several versions of Brewster's Millions.

If I were in line to inherit a billion dollars and had to be somewhere by a certain time, I'd want to get there as soon as possible. Guido, however, makes the idiotic decision that he's going to go to San Francisco the way his uncle did, by boat and train. This gives ample opportunities for things to go wrong, and sure enough things go wrong, encouraged by Cutler. Cutler has hired a hot young lady Rosie Jones (Valerie Perrine) to get Guido to sign a power of attorney that will effectively give Cutler all the control and Guido a pittance. But Rosie falls in love with Guido along the way, leaving Cutler to try more forceful methods to deal with Guido....

I already referenced Brewster's Millions above, and having a premise involving one party trying to prevent a will going into effect has obvious comic potential. Mr. Billion, however, falls short in the execution. The director used the whole "learning English from Hollywood movies" things to set up a couple of scenes that are just tediously stupid. Once they get to America, the action just goes all over the place. After the first thing that goes wrong, you wonder why Guido wouldn't just get onto a plane to San Francisco. And too often, the characters come across as cardboard cutouts with little depth.

I'm sorry to say I was disappointed by Mr. Billion. As always I suggest judging for yourself, so it's a bit of a shame that the Fox MOD discs are as pricey as they are.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #198: TV Shows that failed to get a second season

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, which this month is shows that failed to get a second season. To be honest, I don't watch much episodic TV any more, so this one was a bit hard for me to think of much, and I had to go back and look to see whether the shows did get a second season or not. Thankfully, the theme doesn't seem to require that we liked the shows in question. So without further ado, here are some old obscurities:

Life With Lucy (1986). Lucille Ball was pushing 75 and had already begun having the strokes that would ultimately do her in a few years later. Still, somebody thought that bringing her back to TV for another sitcome 20 years or more past her time would be a brilliant idea. Oh, and they brought back Gale Gordon from Here's Lucy too. They couldn't bring back Vivian Vance because she was already dead. Needless to say, the show didn't succeed and was pulled after 13 episodes.

Nowhere Man (1995). Bruce Greenwood plays Thomas Veil, a photographer who took a photo of what looks like CIA types running a secret operation in Central America. Whoever is behind that operation doesn't like that the photo got taken, so they try to steal the negative and erase Veil's identity. I tend not to believe that the federal government engages in this sort of conspiracy theory -- they're much more open about the evils they commit -- but the show was very well done.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982). I don't care for the movie, although I can understand why people who like musicals do. There's at least a reasonable idea for a story there, ending with the brothers getting marries. Turning into a weekly TV series? That to me makes no sense. Unsurprisingly it didn't get a second season. Richard Dean Anderson, before MacGyver plays one of the brothers, as does a very young River Phoenix. And as far as I can tell, none of that opening theme is by Elmer Bernstein.

Now to see what everybody else has picked. And if I've even heard of half the shows selected.

Hell and High Water

I had the day off work today, so I was able to watch the FXM Retro showing of Hell and High Water. It's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM, and that's going to be your chance to see it because as far as I can tell it's long out of print on DVD.

The movie starts with a voice-over about a mysterious nuclear test on a Pacific island in 1953. Sadly, the footage is shown in 16:9, which immedately led me to fear that Fox panned-and-scanned this down from the Cinemascope 2.35:1 aspect ratio for TV purposes. Sure enough, the opening credits come on in the correct ratio. And they actually use the Cinemasope aspect ratio to good effect, with the mushroom cloud in brilliant color taking up a central column of the frame, with credits left and right. Anyhow, the credits over, Fox pans-and-scans things back to 16:9 and we get our story.

Professor Montel (Victor Francen) is a French physicist who goes to Vienna for a conference, but never shows up His disapperance is headlines throughout the western world for weeks. Then cut to Tokyo where an American businessman (Richard Widmark) is landing. Some guys pull him aside and calls him Jones, which he insists isn't his name. It is, of course, and these guys who know his real name have some big plans for him.

Jones is taken to a basement hole in the wall, where he finds Prof. Montel! Apparently, there are a lot of people worried about that nuclear explosion, which took place on an island in neutral territory. Since no government can go exploring what happened without setting off an international incident that could lead to war, it's up to the concerned scientists of the world to set up their own committee and investigate. To that end, they've purchased an old Japanese submarine, which they're going to take to the island (maps seem so imply either somewhere off the Aleutians or somewhere in the Kuril Islands off Kamchatka) to investigate. And that's where Jones comes in. He's Captain Adam Jones, a submarine Captain back in World War II.

So Jones assembles his crew; it's amazing how many people were willing simply to drop everything in life to go to Japan and get into a submarine for an unknown mission. Most of these people are Americans, after all, since that's who Jones would have worked with and because the movie needs people who could speak English. In addition to the crew, there's Prof. Montel and his assistant Denise (Bella Darvi), who has been in labs her entire life. Really, though, she's there because they wanted a love interest as well as some dramatic tension over guys cooped up in a submarine and their hormones.

It's going to be a difficult mission, and even more difficult than they had planned. Refurbishing that sub is tough, but they have to break it off early because reports come through that there's a Chinese freighter heading in the direction of the island where the explosion occurred. So the submarine has to head out to sea sooner than planned, which means it's not going to have those torpedoes Capt. Jones insisted on having. And, as it turns out, he could have used them: the freighter is being accompanied by a Chinese submarine. If you've seen one submarine movie -- it doesn't matter which one -- you can imagine the sort of scenes you'll get here.

Anyhow, the investigation takes them first to one island, and then a second, and the horrifying reveal much too late in the game that it's the Chinese Communists up to no good, and that they're doing this because.... Well, I'm not going to give that part away.

The story told in Hell and High Water is serviceable, although it's pedestrian thanks to there only being so many things you can do on a submarine. There's a reason the Love Boat was not a U-Boat. There's also the severe plot hole of why the Chinese Communists are even using a Pacific island. In real life they didn't have a deep-water navy at the time. But furthermore, they had scads of space out in the deserts of western China where they could have performed their nuclear experiments without any fear of anybody coming after them. Also, not being precisely sure of where the explosion was is a bit of a hole, as seismological testing can figure out the location of the mini-earthquakes produced by nuclear testing.

Still, Richard Widmark does a professional job. Bella Darvi shows why she never became a star. She doesn't do much here even though the script seems to want her to do more. Francen is good, and everybody else is pretty much a character type straight out of any navy movie. Hell and High Water is good enough for a viewing, but I can see why it's out of print on DVD.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

Another recently-watched movie that's available on DVD is the 1934 version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Note that the movie is based on the Alexandre Dumas père novel which is in the public domain, so the book has unsurprisingly spawned several movie versions. (Wikipedia lists eight, although I don't know if any of the later ones are from TV movies.) I haven't seen the other movie versions, so I can't comment on them.

Robert Donat plays Edmond Dantès who at the start of the movie is a ship's first mate in the France of early 1815. From the date, you can guess that Napoleon is an issue; at the start of the story he's in exile on Elba, obviously soon to return to France for a couple of months before he faces his Waterloo. The ship's captain is a secret supporter of Napoleon, which is an issue because with the restoration of the monarchy they obviously wanted to stamp out Napoleonism and its supporters. The captain has a secret letter to give to somebody that has to do with bringing Napoleon back to France, but the poor captain dies. So it's up to Dantès to deliver that later, not realizing he's about to get in legal trouble.

Back in port, Edmond has a girlfriend in Mercedes (Elissa Landi) whom he's about to propose to. Her mother isn't so certain she should marry a sailor, and suggests her other suitor, Mondego (Sidney Blackmer) instead. Mondego hears about the letter from one of the ship's officers who didn't get named captain, so Mondego sees his chance, and gets Dantès arrested on trumped-up charges and locked away in the island Château d'If without trial. And then, with Napoleon coming back, he gets Dantès declred dead (not true, of course!), leaving him free to marry Mercedes.

Poor Edmond. Everybody believes him dead, and he's in prison alone. Well, not quite alone as one day he hears some sounds. Those turn out to be the Abbé Faria (O.P. Heggie), who's been scraping away for years trying to tunnel his way to escape. Faria invites Dantès to help, meaning a quicker escape for both, with any luck. But the only luck the Abbé gets is bad, as the tunnel caves in on him, crushing his chest and eventually killing him. But it gives Dantès a chance to escape. That, and the Abbé tells him about the presence of a legendary treasure on the island on Monte Cristo. Dantès finds it, and uses it to gain revenge on the people who wronged him....

Robert Donat is the star here in one of his earlier leads, and milks it for all it's worth. He's good, even when the story elements get ludicrous and strain credulity. Elissa Landi didn't make too many movies, so it's always nice to see her. She's OK here as the one person who recognizes Edmond from her past. But she's got a problem in that she's married to one of his enemies, and she has a son who is going to get ensnared in all of this. In addition of Blackmer, Dantès' enemies are Louis Calhern and Raymond Walburn.

If the movie has a problem, it's at certain points of the story. Some defy belief (the climactic court trial especially), and others make the movie drag a bit. The latter is, I think, not so much the fault of the movie as of the book. All in all, though, the movie is entertaining with nice production values for a United Artists movie. It's well worth a watch.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Eyes of Annie Jones

20th Century-Fox distributed several little British movies in the 1960s along with the cheap Maury Dexter-type stuff that I've mentioned on several occasions in the past. One of these British movies is The Eyes of Annie Jones, which FXM Retro will be airing tomorrow at 3:30 AM -- and then again at 12:30 PM tomorrow and 3:00 AM Thursday.

Geraldine Wheeler (Jean Lodge) is a British woman who's getting ready to leave on a holiday in Spain, the 1960s being a time when travel to the Continent was a much bigger deal than it is today now that it's so cheap. However, she gets in an argument with the cab driver taking her to the train station, and he kills her and buries her body out back!

Aunt Helen (Joyce Carey) suspects something's up, since she never hears from Geraldine in Spain and her luggage is nowhere to be found. So she gets in touch with Geraldine's brother David (Richard Conte of all people!) who manages the factory that Geraldine owns, and David's wife. David points out that he's an obvious suspect in a disappearance if in fact there was a crime committed, since he doesn't actually own the factory but stands to inherit it if Geraldine should die.

Aunt Helen decides that since the police can't solve the crime, she's going to bring in an orphan psychic Annie Jones (Francesca Annis) from the local orphanage. Annie is for her part happy just to get out of that hellhole. She uses her "psychic" powers to find things, and always gets suspected of having taken them in the first place. Annie, however, never exactly says that you'll find the missing object here; instead, she speaks in the sort of verse that would have given Carey Wilson a field day in those horrendous MGM Nostradamus shorts from 20 years earlier. And then she "finds" one of David's cuff-links.

Meanwhile, the police really are making progress, in that the cabby has some money that he can't explain how he came into. He wants more money, however, and that's going to involve the person who paid him to commit the murder....

The Eyes of Annie Jones is an interesting enough premise, but it doesn't really deliver. The movie is slow, slow, slow, even though it's short at 73 minutes. Conte is a ludicrous presence in the plot, and his American accent is explained by his having been sent to the States as a child because of the Blitz. Well, why wouldn't Geraldine have been sent too? And Richard Conte was born in 1910, which would have made him 30 by the time the Blitz began.

The Eyes of Annie Jones is, as far as I know, not available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch it while FXM has it in its rotation.

A couple of obituaries

Verne Troyer, who died over the weekend at the age of 49, is probably best known for playing Mini-Me to Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies. It's hard to think that the first of those movies is already 20 years old. My parents had the one on DVD, but I can't find what happened to that DVD. After Mom died, my sisters came up and helped clean out part of the house: Mom was a hoarder, and you should have seen the back bedroom. So I looked through the CD cabinet since I thought the DVDs would be there, too, and couldn't find it. I think the very first DVD they got when they got a DVD player however many years ago was Anaconda, which is a head-scratcher since that's not the sort of movie I'd think of them watching. I don't know what would happened to the DVDs, since my sisters didn't throw out the kajillion Irish music CDs that Mom had. And there were some other DVDs: Michael Collins (unsurprising with all those Irish CDs) and The Manchurian Candidate (the original; and ooh, I didn't know that one was lying around the house!)

I'd never heard of the Russian actress Nina Doroshina, or the movie Love and Pigeons that Wikipedia's English-language obituary page lists for her. (The obituary is also in Russian.) Apparently the movie is also known as Love and Doves, which makes reasonable sense considering that Russian uses the same word for both and doves are really nothing but white pigeons anyway. The movie actually sounds interesting, but it's not available on DVD in the US. Amazon supposedly used to offer it in their streaming service, but apparently the rights to it ran out since when I checked Amazon says it's currently unavailable. However, as of this writing there is a version with English subtitles available on Youtube. (I can read Russian reasonably well, but I find the pace of spoken Russian to be more difficult than German or even French, which for me should be much rustier.) I'm not giving out the URL because I've got too many posts here with Youtube videos that have been taken down for alleged copyright violations, even to old silents that should be in the public domain: either there can be music issues, or the poster's other videos have copyright problems. And then there are the channels that get removed for no good reason.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A brief mention of The Man From Colorado

TCM's Star of the Month salute to William Holden continues tonight with western after western after western. In fact, I'm not quite certain I know Holden made so many westerns. A few years back I caught The Man from Colorado, and that's going to be on early tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM.

Holden plays the second-in-command to Glenn Ford at the end of the Civil War. The war clearly broke Ford, but people on the home front don't know that, and he gets named federal judge in the Colorado territory, with Ford naming Holden a federal marshal.

The only thing is, all the guys they fought alongside have had their gold claims taken out from under them during the war, and who's going to give those guys justice? It turns out that it's not going to be Ford.

Unfortunately, the movie was one of those good enough, but not particularly memorable movies that I'd want to watch again before doing a full-length post on it. I saw it a couple of years ago on Starz/Encore's westerns channel when I have all the premium channels as part of a free promo. I never did a post on it then because some brief searching implied that it wasn't in print on DVD. There's a Mill Creek box set that came out at the beginning of 2017, which is definitely after I saw the movie, but TCM lists another three-film set from 2008 which they imply is still in print since you can get it from the TCM Shop. I'm surprised I missed this back in the day.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Down to Earth (1947)

Quite a few years back I bought the Mill Creek "Romance film" set that has eight movies on two DVDs. I think I've blogged about every movie on the set except for Down to Earth, so I finally got around to watching that one.

The movie starts off as an extension of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, with James Gleason reprising his role as Max Corkle. Where Max was a boxing manager before, now he's a theatrical agent. And he's being questioned for murder, since he knew five minutes in advance to call the police. He's also seen looking for an unseen Mr. Jordan. Cue the flashback....

Danny Miller (Larry Parks) is a Broadway producer putting on a show with ancient Greek themes; the plot involves a couple of World War II-era flyboys getting romanced by Terpsichore, the ancient Greek muse of dance. What these people down on Earth don't know is that the gods above are watching them, and in this case it's specifically Terpsichore (Rita Hayworth) who's been paying attention. And she's pissed, because this musical production makes her look like some sort of tramp. It's scandalous!

But how can she make it right? Eventually, she pleads with Mr. Jordan (Roland Culver) to let her go down to earth in human form to show these Broadway people what the real Terpsichore is about. Unsurprisingly being Rita Hayworth, the real Terpsichore is so gorgeous and such a good dancer that she has no difficulty winning over Danny on the spot and getting the lead role in the play. That's the easy part.

Having gotten herself in the cast, Terpsichore, calling herself Kitty Pendleton and taking on Max as her agent, proceeds to act like a diva who thinks she should be telling everybody how to do the play. Of course, that was her intention, in that she wanted an honest story of Terpsichore. But she comes across as selfish to the point that she's got all the other cast unhappy with her suggested changes. But Danny realizes he's got a star in the making on his hands. Worse, he's in love with her.

There's even worse than that. Terpsichore's changes turn the play into a flop. It's the sort of material that might have been good for a serious opera or maybe a ballet if it had been done as dance. But a Broadway show? Heavens no, and the type of people who go to Broadway shows are going to stay away from this one in droves. That's a problem not only in that nobody wants a flop, but also because Danny owes a whole bunch of money to bookie Manion (George Macready). If the show is a success, he'll pay off the debts; if it's a failure, Manion's men will be able to kill Danny and get it declared a suicide. What's a poor little muse to do?

Down to Earth is a movie that has a good premise, and anybody who's interested in a romance movie will find the plot pleasing enough. The Technicolor photography is quite good, even on the lesser Mill Creek print. The movie, however, has a pretty big problem in the form of all those musical numbers. There are a lot of them, and they just go on and on and on. Worse, they're not even particularly good musical numbers. It's a shame that this detracts from what would otherwise be a prety good movie.

Down to Earth seems to be available on DVD only in the Mill Creek set, although Amazon also currently has it on its streaming video service. There have also been several other movies with the same title, most notably the Chris Rock movie from 2001 which is actually the same story as Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


A couple of weeks ago TCM ran a double feature of Don Siegel movies, which gave me the chance to get Madigan of my list of movies I'd wanted to see.

Madigan, played by Richard Widmark, is a New York City police detective accompanied by his partner Bonaro (Harry Guardino). We know it's New York already from the opening credits, which have some really nice photography of New York, set against some music that sounds more like it's suited for one of those TV cop shows of the 1970s than a big-screen movie. Anyhow, Madigan and his partner show up one morning at the apartment of Barney Benesch (Steve Ihnat), who is wanted for questioning about some small matter or another. However, the two detectives are just incompetent enough that Barney is able to get their guns and force them up on to the roof, leaving Barney to make his escape.

The two detectives then discover that they've got a much bigger problem then they thought. While they believed they were only picking up Benesch on a routine matter. It turns out he knew, and the folks back at headquarters know, the Benesch was actually wanted in connection with a murder. Police Commissioner Anthony Russell (Henry Fonda) is none too pleased. So Russell gives the two detectives 72 hours to find Benesch, who could be anywhere in the city, or else.

Russell, for his part, has a bunch of other stuff on his plate. There's stuff like the Police Athletic League and, more interestingly, an alleged police brutality case in which a local minister, Dr. Taylor, claims that his son was mistreated by two of Russell's policemen, while Russell claims the circumstantial evidence made Taylor's son a valid suspect. The problem, of course, is that Taylor is black, and this is the late 60s, you can probably connect the dots.

Back to Madigan, he's also got problems at home. He's got a long-suffering wife (Inger Stevens) who is sick of having to spend nights alone, and now is even worrying that he won't be able to take her to the upcoming Policemen's Ball since he's going to be busy trying to find Benesch. Still, the search must go on....

In many ways, Madigan felt like two movies. This is in part because, as Ben Mankiewicz explained in the intro, there was a clash between the director and producer over whether more of the focus should have been on Madigan, or on Russell. The result is that we get some parts that don't quite fit together. Not that Madigan was bad. It's good enough, and with Widmark and Fonda you know you're going to get good performances. It's just that it could have been better.

Madigan is available on DVD if you want to see for yourself.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Last American Hero

For those of you who have FXM, you'll have a chance to catch The Last American Hero, tomorrow morning at 11:35 AM.

The movie is based on the life of early NASCAR driver Junior Johnson (real name Robert Johnson Jr.), renamed Elroy "Junior" Jackson for the movie and played by Jeff Bridges. (The action is also updated to sometime closer to the present, or at least the 1973 of when the movie was released, although exactly when it's set isn't mentioned.) Junior's father (Art Lund) is a moonshiner, since that's the only thing he and his family knows, and Junior runs moonshine to beat the revenuers. However, Dad wants something better for his sons Junior and Wayne (Gary Busey). Making and running moonshine is highly illegal because the feds can't countenance not getting their vig, so the result for Dad is that he's spent his life in and out of prisons, leaving the boys to look after Mom (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Dad doesn't want his kids ending up in prison like him.

Dad gets caught once again, and this time Junior learns just what the cost is. Never mind having to look after Mom, there's the more prosaic financial cost of getting a lawyer for Dad and making certain that Dad will be relatively comfortable in prison. (This obvious bit of penal system corruption is treated surprisingly matter-of-factly.) There's no money coming in with the still having been destroyed, so Junior has to come up with some other way of making money. Eventually, he decides to enter a demolition derby, and then he gets the idea of entering actual car races, since he's got a good fast car.

Unfortunately, Junior discovers that prize racing is becoming big business. (NASCAR had been founded in 1948.) To get the best car is going to take more money than Junior has. That's why the best cars have owners like Colt (Ed Lauter) who have drivers working for them. There's also the problem that Dad isn't exactly proud of his son becoming a car racer. But Junior is an excellent driver, able to win the lower tier races and actually able to put in a creditable showing in the first big race he runs as an independent -- until his engine blows out. Oh, there's that financial problem again.

Meanwhile, there's the other issue of big-time professional sports, which is groupies and hangers-on. That and the rivalries among the various drivers. Junior wants his old friends as his pit crew while Colt offers him a good job but with Colt's pit crew. There's also the lovely Marge (Valerie Perrine), who Junior falls in love with, although she seems to be perfectly happy with whatever man is around.

I have to admit that I'm not much of a NASCAR fan, partly because I've reached a point where if I want to watch sports I want to watch things were people are competing more directly against each other than against the clock. (Yes, I know there are strategies and what not in car racing.) So I tend not to be interested even in things like swimming or track and field but sports like tennis or hockey or soccer. Still, I couldn't help but get the feeling that there was a bit of a cursory nature to the movie, like when I watch a documentary where I actually know a bit more about the subject.

On the other hand, even though I don't care much more NASCAR, the movie does entertain and is clearly a pretty well-made movie. The atmosphere came across as authentic, and the racing scenes aren't badly done. Bridges gives a good performance as Junior and is clearly the lead above everybody else, but all the supporting actors do a fine job as well. And it's got the memorable Jim Croce song "I Got a Name".

It's a shame that The Last American Hero is out of print on DVD, because it's a movie that deserves to be better remembered.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #197: Meltdowns

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 meltdowns. I'm assuming the figurative meaning of meltdown was intended, although I already used Now, Voyager late last year. And that's more of a breakdown than a meltdown. At any rate, I was able to come up with three movies that have real, no-foolin' melting to use for this theme:

The China Syndrome (1979). Jack Lemmon plays a technicial at a nuclear power plant who discovers that in building the plant, the builders skimped on safety, so there's actually a higher risk of a catastrophic meltdown. He tries to get the material out to a reporter (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas), but when that's thwarted, he locks himself in the control room and threatens to melt the reactor down.

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Alec Guinness plays a man who works for the Bank of England guarding shipments of gold bullion. He fantasizes about what he could do with all that gold, and decides he's actually going to rob a shipment. Of course, using those numbered gold bars is going to cause problems, so he finds a friend who's a smelter (Stanley Holloway) who could melt the gold down and turn it into miniature Eiffel Tower souvenirs, enabling them to smuggle the gold out of the country! Of course, the plan ultimately goes awry.

The Wizard of Oz (1939). Margaret Hamilton has a memorable meltdown after Judy Garland throws a bucket of water on her.

Now to see if everybody else went for the figurative meltdown.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hysteria (1965)

Hammer Films is known for its horror movies with Christopher Lee and the like, but they did make some other movies as well. An example is 1965's Hysteria.

Robert Webber plays Chris Smith, or at least that's the name he's going by now. He's an American in Britain being treated by psychiatrist Dr. Keller (Anthony Newlands). Apparently Chris was found in a car crash in a country part of Britain without any identification, and he lost his memory in that accident. in fact, the only thing he has is a cut-out photo of a gorgeous model. He's been trying to get his memory back, but with no luck. Dr. Keller has done all he can for Smith, too. Thankfully, some anonymous benefactor, apparently having heard about the case, has provided a penthouse apartment for Chris.

The only problem is, it's not exactly a life of luxury. It's a new building, so he's the only one occupying any of the apartments. Yet, when he goes to bed at night, he hears voices that sound like they're coming from the other penthouse. And those voices are talking about murder and other such fun stuff. Yet every time Chris goes into the other apartment, it's empty. It's enough to make a man question his sanity.

Chris tries to hire an investigator, and when he investigates the photograph, he's told by a fashion photographer that the woman in the photograph was killed in a car crash. Perhaps the same one that Chris was in? But Chris is soon about to get more reason to question his own sanity, as he thinks he sees the woman in the photo one day. And then she (Lelia Goldoni) comes out of the shadows as it were and turns out to be a real person.

However, there's still the problem of those voices coming from the other apartment, and they're getting worse, as Chris eventually finds a bloody knife and a dead body. It seems pretty clear that somebody is trying to drive Chris insane, but who? And why?

Hysteria is a movie that has an interesting premise, but one where I didn't really care for the payoff. I think it's because the plot just seems to have so many holes. If an American without a passport were in a serious car accident in Britain, you'd think the US Embassy would get involved once the guy realized he was American. And yet one would have to guess he had no family in the US. And the conspiracy to drive Chris insane is thoroughly unrealistic. In movies like My Name is Julia Ross where they can keep the poor victim confined, it's at least slightly plausible. But here it's all too far-fetched. And that's even before the reveal at the end, which gives a key character a dumb motivation for a key act.

Hysteria is available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection since they apparently have the distribution rights to Hammer Films in the US.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Notes for April 17-18, 2018

I should probably apologize for not pointing out the possible schedule conflict on Sunday. TCM ran Greed in Silent Sunday Nights, followed by the Soviet origial version of Solaris. The only thing is, Greed has two versions. The theatrical version in 1924 runs around 135 minutes, but several years back there was a restoration with found production stills that's padded it out to four hours. TCM ran the latter, and my box guide reflected that, with Solaris starting at either 4:00 AM or 4:15 AM, I forget with. But, on their schedule page, TCM had a time slot suitable for the 2:15 version, followed by Solaris, a featurette, and then a feature at 6:00 AM. I and another poster on the TCM boards mentioned all this on Sunday, but another poster missed it and wondered what was going on Monday morning.

R. Lee Ermey, who played the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket among a whole host of other roles, died on Sunday at the age of 74. I have to admit I'm not particularly a fan of movies about Vietnam, or a lot of Kubrick's movies.

The TCM website still has, as far as I can see, nothing about the death of Miloš Forman and whether there will ever be a programming tribute.

Monday, April 16, 2018

X, Y, Zee & Co.

A movie I'd wanted to see for a while was Zee & Co., which was released in the States as X, Y, and Zee. TCM ran it a month ago when Elizabeth Taylor was Star of the Month, and the movie is available on DVD courtesy of the Sony/Columbia MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with opening credits superimposed over a scene of Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine playing a game of table tennis, sporting the sort of exaggerated facial expressions of joy that you'd see in TV commercials. Right away, this was a sign to me that we've got a movie in the "Disaster Waiting to Happen" genre. Sure enough, it's coming.

Taylor plays Zee Blakeley, the wife of Robert (Caine), an architect in London. We learn fairly quickly that it's not a particularly happy marriage. Zee spends too much, and Robert drinks and has a wandering eye for the ladies. When their friend Gladys (Margaret Leighton) throws a swanky party, Robert makes the acquaintance of dress designer Stella (Susannah York).

Margaret Leighton (l.) and Elizabeth Taylor in X, Y, and Zee

Stella is a widow with youngish twin sons, and she could use a man in her life. Robert is a man who needs a woman who's not as nuts or nasty as Zee. So of course the two are drawn to each other. And they're not exactly keeping it a secret. Zee knows fully well what's going on, and she decides that she's going to make life as difficult for Robert and Stella as possible.

The antics range from Zee making business difficult for Stella by insisting on taking somebody else's dress, all the way up to trying to slit her wrists. And on her hospital bed after the suicide attempt, she learns something she can use against Stella, setting up the spectacularly nutsy finale.

X, Y, and Zee is one of those movies that's terrible because of how screwed up the story is, to the point that there are a lot of times you'll want to laugh at how ludicrous it all is. The characters deliver a bunch of tawdry one-liners, all while bathed in a production design that takes the style of the era and says let's turn it up to 11. Taylor's hair would be spectacularly bad if it weren't that she's easily outdone by Leighton in her two scenes. Taylor has to settle for that horrid eye make-up, as well as the opportunity to chew every bit of scenery in London.

X, Y, and Zee isn't very good, but it's a movie everybody should watch once for how hilariously off the rails it goes.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bird of Paradise (1951)

This morning, FXM Retro ran the 1951 version of Bird of Paradise. As is their wont, they're going to be running it again soon, at 4:00 AM tomorrow. It's also available on DVD from FOX's MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with an expository scene. André Laurence (Louis Jourdan) is on a schooner going through the tropics which takes aboard a passenger who complains about the Polynesians. It turns out that André is on board with his best friend and college roommate Tenga (Jeff Chandler), who is three-quarters Polynesian: his grandfather had married one of the local Polynesian women before being forced to leave the island. André is going to visit Tenga's society.

Tenga, it turns out, is royalty. His father is the chieftain on this particular island, and Tenga has a kid sister in Kalua (Debra Paget). Tenga's family is grudgingly OK with having André on the island, although the local shaman Kahuna decidedly is not. He remembers previous whites who brought violence and disease to the island, and he fears having another white man on the island will be a curse. And Kahuna has some political power.

While Tenga's parents are grudgingly accepting, Kalua is rather more accepting. She's taking by the presence of a nice-looking white guy, while the feeling is mutual. However, the island traditions, strange to a white guy like André, mandate that he and Kalua not speak to each other until they're betrothed. There's also a bunch of other traditions that André doesn't get, although he does try to follow them conscientiously.

And there's the white guy who didn't try to follow them: he was made taboo and sent to a neighboring island. When André is sent there, the other guy warns him about trying to stay on the island with the natives. But André doesn't care, because he's just too damn much in love with Tenga.

Eventually André does marry Tenga, the Kahuna tries to curse the marriage, and Tenga is declared barren after a whopping three months! Somebody has to be punished. Especially when the volcano starts to erupt....

Jeff Chandler doesn't look Polynesian at all, although he didn't look like Cochise either, despite the fact that he had played Cochise a year earlier in Broken Arrow. Paget has also played an Apache in Broken Arrow, and at least the writers had the good sense to remind us of Tenga and Kalua's white grandfather when André wonders why she has blue eyes. Louis Jourdan is of course playing white, so his presence in the cast doesn't matter. The producers just wanted a bunch of eye candy, since the women are in sarongs and the men are shirtless from the moment they get to the island.

The story is OK, but more than the 1932 Joel McCrea/Dolores Del Rio version, this one gave me the vibe of trying to be sensitive to foreign cultures only to wind up all feeling a bit silly. I don't think the 1932 version was trying to have any grounding in reality; plus, it has the benefit of being a pre-Code movie. The 1951 version, for its part, had a title card in the opening about how it was filmed on location in the Hawaiian Islands, and how all the cultural traditions were based on real traditions.

Overall, this version of Bird of Paradise is good for one viewing, but not one I'm actively looking to add to my DVD correction.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Tall T

I recorded all four of the movies aired last night in the TCM salute to Randolph Scott. I think all four are available on DVD, so I'll start off with a post on the first one aired, The Tall T.

Scott plays Pat Brennan, whom we see at the film's opening riding up to the local stagecoach line station. Pat knows the station-master and his son, and Pat is becoming a sort of neighbor to them as he's taken a nearby ranch which he plans to operate and build up. To do that, however, he's going to need a bull to inseminate whatever cows he has, and to get that, he's going to have to see his old boss, Tenvoorde.

Tenvoorde drives a hard bargain and would franly like Brennan back as a ranch foreman since Brennan was the best one he ever had. Instead, he engages in a bet with Brennan, his bull for Brennan's horse, which is just a set up for Brennan to lose his horse and get to the next piece of action. While Brennan was in town before going to see Tenvoorde, he met stagecoach driver Rintoon (Arthur Hunnicutt), who was getting badgered by bookkeeper Mims (John Hubbard) about hiring a private coach to take him and his new wife to Bisbee for their honeymoon. It turns out that the new Mrs. Doretta Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan) is the daughter of the man with the biggest copper claim in the territory, and so fabulously wealthy as a result. No wonder Mims would want the plain spinster when nobody else seemed to.

Anyhow, Brennan had to walk back to his ranch having lost his horse, which is how he meets up with Rintoon driving the private coach hired by Mr. Mims. They stop at the station where Brennan is hoping to borrow a horse, and find that the station is deserted. Or, at least, the station master and his son don't respond to calls. It turns out that there are three men there, led by outlaw Frank Usher (Richard Boone), and Usher had planned to hijack the stagecoach. He just didn't realize that there was going to be a private coach stopping at the station before the regularly scheduled coach.

So now he's got four hostages he doesn't know what to do with. Thankfully, it's about to become three since Rintoon plays the hero and gets himself shot for it. However, Usher also has a pair of accomplices in Billy Jack (Skip Homeier) and Chink (Henry Silva) he doesn't particularly like. Usher doesn't like to kill, while the other two are gun happy and talk incessantly about women. But Usher is in a bit of luck when he learns about Doretta's rich father....

The Tall T is a taut, well-made little western. Pretty much everybody in the movie does a good job with their role, although I didn't particularly care for the fact that Rintoon was on the irritating side. I don't know whether that was Hunnicutt's fault, or the way the character was written. The story is also well-plotted, being based on a story by Elmore Leonard. The cinematography on the print TCM ran seemed slightly uneven to me: excellent on the long shots, but a bit off on both some of the close shots and the credits, where the background scenes behind the credits seemed a bit grainy. Perhaps that was just my eyes.

All in all, I can recommend The Tall T to any fan of westerns, and am happy to see that the prices on the DVDs are good (although that may mean the prints aren't as good).

Miloš Forman, 1932-2018

Czech-born director Miloš Forman, who emigrated to the US after the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring uprising in 1968 and directed a series of iconic movies, has died at the age of 86.

I think most people would remember those English-language movies. After all, Forman won Oscars for two of them, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and then Amadeus. And of course, both of them are excellent movies. But I have to admit that I have a softer spot in my heart for a couple of his early Czech movies.

First is Loves of a Blonde. A small-town girl working at an out of the way shoe factory meets the leader of a small band when the band is brought in to perform at a parter pairing the female factory employees and the men of the local military base. Things don't go quite as planned for anybody. One of the iconic images from the film is of the two main leads lying on a bed together half naked, but I like the image of the young lady tying his necktie around a tree. In the movie, it's supposed to be a sign of their enduring love, but looking at it from foreign eyes, it's as ludicrous as picking petals off a daisy must seem to foreigners looking at us Americans. There's a reason the cover of Criterion DVD has the necktie on it.

The Firemen's Ball is a huge favorite of mine. In an even smaller town than the one with the shoe factory in Loves of a Blonde, the former chief of the fire company is now dying of cancer. Last year was his 50th anniversary with the department, so the current members decide that they're going to hold a ball in his honor. What happens, however, is that everybody decides they want to use the ball to make themselves look good, with the predictable result that people are basically working at cross purposes and anything that can go wrong will. The Communists banned this movie and watching it, it's pretty darn easy to see why they would be horrified by the film's between-the-lines commentary on Communist solidarity not working. Forman, for his part, always claimed that wasn't his message, and it's a plausible claim. As I said when I reviewed this one ages ago, it could just as easily be seen as a commentary on almost any small town anywhere.

Right now there's nothing up on the TCM website about Forman's death. I don't know if they'll plan a tribute, and if so, what movies they'll be able to get. I think Criterion might have the rights to both The Firemen's Ball (currently out of print but streaming) and Loves of a Blonde.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Netflix vs. Cannes

I've mentioned a lot that I listen to international broadcasters. One of my morning news listens is Radio France International, which has a 10-minute news bulletin. The other day, one of the stories they mentioned was that Netflix is quitting the Cannes Film Festival.

Apparently, the festival now has a rule that films that want to be eligible for the Palme d'Or and other prizes have to, well, play in a theater like a movie does. I can understand why a film festival, or the movie awards people like the Academy, would have a rule like this. Back in the day when Hollywood really ruled the roost and when TV was much younger, there was a bigger difference between film and TV, especially when TV shows were recorded on videotape. Nowadays, though, with everything going to digital, I think the line between TV and the movies is getting blurred.

However, it turns out that there's a second line, and this is the line that Netflix is really worried about, which is the line between showing a digital movie in a theater, showing it over broadcast or cable, and streaming it. The French came up with a law that apparently says that, if you show a movie in a French theater, you can't stream it digitally for three years. The CNN article I linked to above has a link to the French law, although my French isn't good enough to read the whole thing and digest it for a blog post. I did find the section that I think mentions the delays between theater showing and showings elsewhere, but I can't figure which one -- and there are several -- would apply to Netflix. I think it's section 1.6 of the "Annexe".

It's easy to figure why Netflix wouldn't like this. Frankly, I'd think the French people wouldn't like it either, as I can't imagine anybody wanting to be forced to wait three years to see something that never played in their town. But it's easy to see why the French film industry would want it, and there's that old political adage about the hundred million people each with $1 in the game versus the thousand people whose livelihoods it means. The smaller group is going to be more motivated and get the ears of the legislators. There's some pretty blatant protectionism going on here.

I say all this as somebody who can't do very much streaming either since, as I've mentioned a lot, I have data limits and satellite latency.

Randolph Scott night

TCM is showing a night of westerns starring Randolph Scott, with the first three directed by frequent collaborator Budd Boetticher. It's been years since I've seen any of these, and to my surprise, I haven't blogged about any of them. In fact, a search of the blog for Randolph Scott suggests that I haven't blogged about too much of his output. That's probably in part because I don't watch too many westerns.

The lineup is:

The Tall T at 8:00 PM, also starring Maureen O'Sullivan and an adult Skippy Homeier;
Ride Lonesome at 9:30 PM, with Scott trying to bring an outlaw to justice;
Decision at Sundown at 11:00 PM, the one I think I haven't seen before; and
Colt. 45 at 12:30 AM, with Scott trying to figure out who stole his repeating rifle

Not to figure out what to delete to make room on my DVR....

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #196: Movies on Movies

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 on movies", and it was easy enough for me to come up with a couple of movies. The only difficult part was making certain I hadn't used them in a recent edition of TMP:

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Kirk Douglas plays Jonathan Shields, a movie producer nobody in Hollywood wants to work with any more. We then learn why, as his rise to stardom involved his screwing over pretty much everybody he worked with, from early co-producer Barry Sullivan, to actress Lana Turner, to screenwriter Dick Powell. Everybody is superb, including all the smaller players. Gloria Grahame, who plays the wife of the Dick Powell character, won an Oscar for her role.

Day for Night (1973). François Truffaut's movie about the making of a movie. Pretty much everything that can go wrong while making a movie does go wrong. Imported star Jacqueline Bisset is on the verge of a nervous breakdown; there are multiple love affairs; older actress Valentina Cortese can't remember her lines; and there's even a cat they needed for a certain scene that can't hit its mark. And yet, somehow, they still finish the movie.

Hearts of the West (1975). In the 1930s, farm boy Jeff Bridges is taking correspondence classes. When he wants to meet the "teachers", he finds a scam operation that eventually leads him to Hollywood, and ultimate results, through a comedy of errors, in him becoming a star of Poverty Row B westerns. Meanwhile, he'd still like to be a writer, and the guys running the scam school are looking for him since he has some of "their" money.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

So I finally tried the Watch TCM app

I've stated quite a few times that I have a suboptimal Internet connection that because of latency and bandwidth caps, makes me reluctant to try streaming audio on a regular basis. I'd been thinking about experimenting with the Watch TCM app to see if it works for me and try to figure out how much bandwidth it uses. I don't know the answer to the latter question, but in my brief use I was pleasantly surprised by the performance.

I didn't have any issues with latency when I watched the Our Gang short Don't Lie while lying in bed last Saturday morning. The short is fairly mediocre, being an MGM-era short. Buckwheat is accused of being a chronic liar, and when he claims to have seen an ape (there was in fact one that escaped from a circus), the other kids don't believe him. So they dress Froggy up as an ape to try to fool Buckwheat. Only the real ape shows up too....

It was OK but not great. All (I think) of the MGM-era Our Gang shorts are available on a Warner Archive box set if you want to see them, although those show up on TCM unlike the Hal Roach-era shorts, for fairly obvious reasons.

As for the app, I had no difficulty with it accepting my DirecTV account, which mildly surprised me since I thought it was going to ask at least for the email address associated with it. There was surprisingly no latency either, which really surprised me since I almost always have latency issues with Youtube. I don't know if that has anything to do with the fact that I view Youtube through my browser and this was an app. I didn't notice any particular issues with the picture.

If there was one issue I had, it was that trying to go to a certain time during a movie just didn't work for me. I don't know if that was a buffering issue (probably), but jumping ahead just didn't seem to work for me, which would be an issue if I wanted to watch a movie in two installments. The one other very minor issue is that the main screen for the app seems to be in portrait mode by default, while the movies are of course in landscape mode.

Overall, though, I had a pleasant experience, with the caveat that I didn't try watching a feature-length film. Now if I had unlimited bandwidth....

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Welcome to Mooseport

If you have the HBO cable package, or if you have access to Amazon's streaming video service, you'll have an opportunity to catch Welcome to Mooseport. It'll be on HBO Comedy overnight tonight at 12:05 AM, and again Friday morning (April 13) and next Monday afternoon (April 16).

Gene Hackman plays Monroe "Eagle" Cole, who at the opening of the movie is just finishing up his two-term tenure as President of the United States, discussing what to do next. He's got a lot of offers on his plate, and frankly, he has to take some of them because his ego wants to pay for a big presidential library, while he's also got an ex-wife who cleaned him out. He's going to make up his mind about what to do while living in what was his old vacation house in Mooseport, ME. (Some vacation house.)

The townsfolk of Mooseport are generally honored to have an ex-President in their midst, although there are some who can't seem to win for losing. In the latter category is local handyman and hardware store owner Handy Harrison (Ray Romano). He's been fixing up Cole's bathroom before Cole arrived in Mooseport, and Cole's arriving early gets the two of them off on the wrong foot. There's also Handy's long-suffering girlfriend, local veterinarian Sally (Maura Tierney), who nearly lost a case because the animal was being airlifted and the ex-President's plane got priority. She's also suffering because Handy just won't propose to her.

Anyhow, at the big meet-and-greet for Mooseport's newest and most prominent citizen, the town fathers ask him a favor. The relatively low-key post of mayor is being vacated by the current mayor, and they need somebody to run. Would he be willing to make for a good human interest story by becoming a small-town mayor? Cole finds it a neat idea, and so decides to run.

But what nobody knows is that Handy decided he was going to put his hat into the ring too, so it turns out that the ex-President isn't going to be running opposed. Handy is willing to pull out and let Cole run unopposed, except that there's the matter of Sally, who's getting fed up with Handy to the point that she's not going to want a quitter. Handy has to run for mayor if he wants to keep Sally. And so the two square off, the man with a political machine behind him, and the low-key handyman who never expected to get into a national spectacle.

It's all a good idea, and the sort of thing you could see the studio system having used for a nice little programmer 70 years earlier. But here the execution just isn't up to the premise. Part of it comes from the portrayal of the small town. As with the the recently-reviewed Antonia's Line, I found some of the portrayal just a little too quirky. I felt like a fair amount of the humor fell flat, especially surrounding the ex-President's advisors. Then there were the downright irritating characters. There was a town father who came across as more used-car salesman than anything else, as well as one of Handy's employees who was given the thankless job of playing Stereotypically Sassy Older Black Woman. In a programmer from the 1930s, though, she'd probably be playing Stereotypically Sassy Maid.

This was Gene Hackman's final movie, and one wonders if the low quality had anything to with his retirement. (To be fair, he was also 74 years old when it was released.) Not the best of ways to go out.

Monday, April 9, 2018

From the Terrace

FXM Retro brought From the Terrace back into the rotation a month or so ago, and it's getting another pair of airings tomorrow, at 3:30 AM and 12:35 PM.

Philadelphia, 1946. A train pulls into the station, and there's a passenger in need of medical assistance. Or maybe not. Martha Eaton (Myrna Loy) is simply dead drunk again (probably the result of 25 years of drinking with William Powell in all those Thin Man movies). Her husband Samuel (Leon Ames) has to pick her up and take her to the hospital. Meanwhile, returning to this lovely family scene is their younger son Alfred (Paul Newman). Since a title card showed us it was 1946, you can guess that he's returning from World War II, ready to start life. Frankly, he wants to get away, and who can blame him? Mom drinks because Dad doesn't love her, or anybody, ever since Alfred's elder brother died. And Mom has been looking for love with some guy in Philadelphia.

So Alfred goes off to New York, becomes an aircraft engineer together with his friend Porter (George Grizzard) and goes into business out on Long Island. But Alfred dreams of more. One night, at a fancy party, he meets Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward), daughter of parents even wealthier than his, but engaged to a shrink, Dr. Roper (Patrick O'Neal). Still, Alfred is obsessed with Mary, so he keeps seeing her every chance he gets, including surprising her at her family home down in Delaware. Eventually, she breaks off the engagement with Roper and marries Alfred.

It's an OK marriage, but could be better considering that Alfred is constantly obsessed with work. And he's about to get even more obsessed. One day while he and Mary are out driving, he sees a kid fall through some thin ice into a small pond. Alfred risks his own life to save the kid, and it's fortuitous, because the kid's grandfather is James MacHardie (Felix Aylmer) head of an investment banking firm and even more fabulously wealthy than the St. Johns. The elder MacHardie quickly offers Alfred a job.

Of course, the job is going to take Alfred away from home even more, so Mary spends evenings on the town with her friends, a coterie that just happens to include Roper. Alfred isn't happy, but the idiot should have been spending more time with his wife. But Alfred has his own way of dealing with the loneliness; on one trip to investigate a coal mine in Pennsylvania, he meets the mine owner's daughter Natalie (Ina Balin), and the two of them fall in love.

It goes on like this for about 140 minutes. It's all faintly ridiculous, as you want to take most of the characters and smack some sense into them. The movie was based on a book, and you have to wonder how much of the book didn't make it onto the screen considering some of the characters (Alfred's mom especially; Dad dies) just get written out without being fully developed. The actors all try, but they're hampered by that leaden script. From the Terrace is also one of those rare movies where I noticed the score in a bad way. Elmer Bernstein was normally better than this, but I consistently noticed the music swelling to outrageous levels every time the viewer was expected to feel strong emotion.

Still, there are ample parts when you can just laugh at the ludicrousness of the characters. It's too bad Myrna Loy gets written out early because she looks like she realized the script is a mess and decided to go as far over the top as the rest of the script. Oh, and the ending is nutty too. I sat through 140 minutes to get this?

From the Terrace does seem to be available on DVD, as well as via Amazon streaming if you can do that. Watch once and judge for yourself.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Jimmy the Gent

The latest DVR viewing that's available courtesy of the Warner Archive was Jimmy the Gent.

Jimmy Corrigan (James Cagney) is decidedly not a gent at the start of the movie. He's a sort of private investigator, who looks for people who would be heirs of people who died either intestate or with only distant relatives set to inherit, and then sees that the heirs get what's coming to them -- for a sizable commission, of course. In the first scenes, Jimmy gets ticked at his right-hand man Lou (Allen Jenkins), throwing something at him and breaking the window in his office door. That's the kind of man Jimmy is. Oh, and if he can't find real heirs, he'll make some up.

Joan (Bette Davis) used to work for Jimmy, but he was so bad that she decided to go work for the much higher-class Wallingham (Alan Dinehart). Wallingham calls himself a genealogist, but really he's just in the same business as Corrigan. It's just that he presents himself as being more dignified. Jimmy still holds a candle for Joan, so he visits Wallingham and sees his competitor's classy office, which gives Jimmy the idea that perhaps this is the way to do business.

Anyhow, Jimmy has another chance to get Joan back and make a killing. A homeless lady dies, and in the lining of her coat a whole bunch of bonds and jewels are found. So the search is on for her living relatives. Two are found, Sara (Nora Lane) and her estranged father Monty (Arthur Hohl). Monty is going under an assumed name, because he's wanted for a murder rap. But Jimmy has an idea on how to get Jimmy off and get the inheritance. Wallingham, meanwhile, is representing Sara, so obviously wants Monty to be found guilty.

A wife can't be forced to testify against her husband, although as I understand it there was never any prohibition on a wife who wanted to testify against her husband doing so. In any case, there is only one witness who can convict Joe/Monty, that being Gladys (Mayo Methot). So Jimmy has to see that she and Monty get married. But first he has Monty get married to Lou's long-suffering girlfriend Mabel (Alice White), for reasons that will become clear later in the story. You'd think Jimmy and Joan are going to wind up together in the end, and they do, although how they get there is a surprise.

Jimmy the Gent is a comedy with dramatic elements, and is typical of the sort of programmer Warner Bros. was producing in the mid-1930s. Bette Davis wasn't quite the queen of the lot yet, as her first Oscar-winning performance Dangerous was still a year away. Cagney was a star, and it's a bit surprising to see him in such programmers. But this one fits him well. Cagney is great with the material, and the story is a whole lot of fun once you see how everything finally fits together.

Fans of 1930s movies will, I think, really get a kick out of Jimmy the Gent.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

An Ideal Husband (1947)

My most recent DVR watching was the 1947 British production An Ideal Husband. Note that there were two movies in the 1990s based on the same Oscar Wilde play, and a TV movie called The Ideal Husband which has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde.

Hugh Williams plays Sir Robert Chiltern, a rising star MP in the British House of Commons in the mid 1890s, so the end of the Victorian era. He and his wife, Lady Gertrude (Diana Wynyard) are hosting a party. Who should show up but Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Paulette Goddard; the name is pronounced "CHEEV-lee" and not "SHEV-a-lee" as if it were French), who has come all the way from Vienna. Apparently, Mrs. Cheveley and Lady Chiltern knew each other when they went to the same finishing school decades ago, and Lady Chiltern doesn't like Cheveley.

Cheveley, however, isn't really here to see the lady of the house. No, she wants to speak to Lord Robert. Apparently, there's an engineering project about a canal in the Argentine, as they called Argentina back in those days. Looking at a map, you'd have to wonder where they'd build a canal, unless it was about shortening the trip around Cape Horn, although I don't know how far south the higher Andes extend. It's understandable that investing in such a canal would be a fool's errand, and Lord Robert plans to tell Parliament that Britain should not invest.

Mrs. Cheveley has apparently invested in the canal scheme, however, so she needs it to go ahead, and she's trying to impress upon Lord Robert to put forward a recommendation in favor of it. To make matters clear to Lord Robert, she point out that she knows a secret from his past. Apparently, he had insider information on the Suez Canal project, and he used that to make himself wealthy. It would be a huge scandal if that came out, and it would be bad for him too if Lady Gertrude found out.

So Lord Robert goes to his best friend Viscount Arthur (Michael Wilding) for advice. Arthur eventually comes up with a scheme involving a brooch that could double as a bracelet, but there's the matter of Arthur's relationship with Gertrude. And there's also Robert's much younger sister Mabel (Glynis Johns)....

An Ideal Husband is a movie that's very well-made from a technical point of view. The acting is more than adequate; the Technicolor photography is good although it looks like the print could use a restoration around the edges; the sets and costumes are superb. And yet as I was watching the movie, I was finding myself feeling emotionally distant.

It hit me that it was down to the Oscar Wilde source material. I've always found it difficult to get into the Ealing version of Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest as well. And I realized that these plays are strongly in a category (for me at least), with all those drawing room comedies that were a thing in the early days of the talking picture when they didn't want to move the camera as much. I don't have a problem with early talkies, but those drawing room movies have always been less my thing. So it shouldn't surprise me that An Ideal Husband wasn't my cup of tea.

Still, as I said, it's clearly very well made. Anybody who likes Oscar Wilde will probably enjoy the movie very much. The TCM Shop lists the 1947 An Ideal Husband as available on DVD; Amazon only seems to have a Region 2 DVD of the movie. But they have one of the 1999 versions available via streaming, and list both 1999 versions as out-of-print on DVD (you can get DVDs but they're pricey).

Friday, April 6, 2018

Die Frau im Hermelin

A few weeks back FXM Retro ran That Lady in Ermine. It's available from Fox's MOD scheme both as a standalone movie, and as part of a three-movie Betty Grable box set.

Countess Angelina (Grable), is the countess leading the principality of Bergamo in 1861. (There is a real Bergamo in Italy, but I think this Bergamo is supposed to be unrelated.) One morning she gets married to Count Mario (Cesar Romero). That night, Hungarians, led by Colonel Teglas (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) invade Bergamo, and are on the verge of overrunning the palace. This causes Mario to flee, and Teglas and his men eventually occupy the palace.

The isn't the first time the Hungarians have invaded. It happened 300 years ago, when Angelina's ancestor Francesca was running the place. Francesca looks amazingly like Angelina, as we can see from a portrait in the palace's entrance hall, which contains a bunch of other portraits of similar heroes from 1561. And then all of the figures in the other portraits come to life and implore Francesca to do something to save Bergamo!

Thankfully Teglas is taken by the exotic portrait of Francesca, as she's wearing a much too modern ermine and is also barefoot. And he gets the impression that Francesca is watching him. When he sees Angelina and realizes that Angelina and Francesca are dead ringers for each other (unsurprising since Francesca is also played by Grable), Teglas falls in love with Angelina. But she still has her husband to think of. And Teglas looks surprisingly like the Hungarian duke who invaded back in 1561....

It goes on like this, with Francesca putting ideas in Teglas' head without Teglas necessarily realizing it's Francesca he's dealing with, and Angelina figuring out how to deal with Teglas without being unfaithful to Mario. Meanwhile, we know that Teglas and Angelina are right for each other, but how are they going to satisfy the Production Code?

That Lady in Ermine is a mess for a whole bunch of reasons. The plot is muddled in no small part because of the Production Code. But the far bigger problem is with the direction. Fox hired Ernst Lubitsch to direct, and Lubitsch had the unmitigated chutzpah to suffer a fatal heart attack eight days into production. So Fox did the best the could and brought in the one director who could imitate the "Lubitsch touch": Otto Preminger. (Quentin Tarantino had not yet been born, so he was clearly unavailable.) You'd think they would have learned their lesson when Preminger had already been brought in to replace Lubitsch on A Royal Scandal after Lubitsch fell ill. That's another movie that's a mess because of the direction. The result is a movie that feels like it's had all the fun sucked out of it.

Interestingly, this is one of the rare occasions when a lot of the reviews I've read agree with my finding the movie a mess. But still, you should always judge for yourself. I don't think it's coming up on FXM in the next couple of weeks, but as I said it is available and in print on DVD.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #195: Underground

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 "Underground", and I wasn't certain exactly what was meant? Is it the sort of cult movie that airs on TCM Underground? Or perhaps it was the literal, physical underground locations like caves and mines? Or you could even go with underground movements like the French Resistance in World War II. I decided to go with the middle one, and picked three older movies:

Black Fury (1935). Paul Muni plays a coal miner who sees his best friend (John Qualen) get murdered for speaking ill of the company's unsafe practices, so Muni goes down the mine and threatens to blow it up! It's your typical Warner Bros. social commentary movie of the 1930s, which means there although there's some stuff people might find heavy-handed today, it's all handled professional and a good, entertaining movie is the result.

Transatlantic Tunnel (1935; also known as The Tunnel). British movie set in the distant future (at least from the time the movie was made) about ambitious plans to build a tunnel under the Atlantic Ocean connecting the UK and North America. Richard Dix was brought in from Hollywood to play the lead engineer, and the movie focuses on both the tunnel and the issues in his personal life. It's actually based on a German book from just before World War I.

You Only Live Twice (1967). Ernst Stavro Blofeld's lair, carved out of a dormant Japanese volcano. Need I say more?

Yet another TCM Spotlight this month

I mentioned the other day that in addition to the movies directed by Michael Curtiz, there was going to be another Spotlight on TCM this month. That spotlight is coming up tonight, and every Thursday in prime time in April, and looks at the Victorian era on film.

TCM is dividing up the films into four themes, starting tonight with Victorian-era crime. The 1944 Laird Cregar version of The Lodger kicks things off at 8:00 PM, but one that should theoretically be interesting is The Hour of 13, overnight at 2:00 AM. Peter Lawford stars as a jewel thief who gets caught up in the search for a serial killer of police after two crimes intersect. As I was reading the plot I thought it sounded familiar, and that's because it's a remake of the 1934 Robert Montgomery movie The Mystery of Mr. X. I really like that Montgomery film, although I'm not much of a fan of Peter Lawford.

The other three themes are:

Victorian science and exploration, on April 12;
Victorian romance on April 19; and
Victorian society and manners on April 26. This week includes what I believe is the TCM premiere of The Mudlark, starring Irene Dunne as Queen Victoria who finds a little boy has infiltrated the palace.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dog Day Afternoon

Back in January when TCM ran a night of "true crime" movies, one that I recorded was Dog Day Afternoon. It's out on DVD, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a series of images of New York that show what could be any late summer day in the city, circa 1972. Eventually, we get to three guys in a car outside a local bank branch just before closing time: Sonny (Al Pacino), Sal (John Cazale), and Stevie (Gary Springer). They look like they're casing the joint. Eventually, the three go in, and Sal sits down with bank manager Mulvaney (Sully Boyar, an actor I'd never heard of), and pulls out a gun. Oh, they're going to rob the place all right. Sonny also pulls out his gun and demands the tellers give them the money and open the vault.

But things quickly go wrong. First, Stevie gets cold feet and decides he's not going to shoot anybody, so he flees the scene! Then, Mulvaney points out that they already had a pickup of money earlier in the day, so that there's only a couple thousand dollars maximum in the bank. They're not going to get anywhere near what they hoped. And then the phone rings. It's police detective Moretti (Charles Durning), informing sonny that the police have the bank surrounded, and there's no way for the robbers to get out.

So, Sunny decides that he's going to hold the bank employees hostage to try to get some concessions out of the police, which ultimately means a hoped-for plane to somewhere out of the country. But as the negotiation is going on, things get ever more complicated as a crowd forms just on the other side of the police barricades (reminiscent of Fourteen Hours). And then we learn just why Sonny decided to rob the bank. Although he has a legal wife, he's also got a gay lover in Leon (Chris Sarandon). They had a "gay wedding", back in the days when there was no way two gays could legally marry each other. Well, maybe there was one way, which would be if one of them got a sex-change operation. Leon needs the money for that.

Dog Day Afternoon, as a true crime movie, is supposed to be straight up drama. And for the most part, there a lot of good dramatic plot elements. But the movie also has a very surprisingly level of dark comedy throughout. It starts early enough and innocently enough with Stevie fleeing because he doesn't want to shoot anybody, and slowly escalates with absurd moments like one of the tellers' husbands calling to find out if he's going to have to make dinner for himself. Meanwhile, the bank employees are beginning to develop a Stockholm syndrome-type bond with their captors, at times bickering among themselves and making demands of the captors. You can't lock us in the vault! How are we going to go to the bathroom?

Dog Day Afternoon is a wonderful movie thanks both to the intelligent script, and the excellent acting from much of the cast. Pacino, understandably, leads the way. Cazale does a great job playing dim-witted, and Durning makes a really good detective trying to manage the situation, at least until the FBI gets there and makes life more difficult for everybody. But the smaller characters come across as realistically drawn, too.

Dog Day Afternoon is a movie that I can highly recommend.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

There's a whole bunch of special programming on TCM this month

In the past, it's always seemed as though there's a Star of the Month on TCM, and usually one spotlight. Obviously, 31 Days of Oscar and Summer Under the Stars are different, but for a couple of years now there's been that spotlight on one or two nights in prime time.

This month seems to be a bit different. There's a prime time spotlight I'll get to on Thursday, but there's also one starting tomorrow morning. Every Wednesday in April starting at 6:00 AM (more or less) and going through to the start of the Thursday schedule, they're showing movies directed by Michael Curtiz. 53 of them in all according to the TCM article. Of course, it's almost entirely his output at Warner Bros. I know at least one of his silents that he made in his native Hungary survives, since I blogged about the restoration back in 2013. Somehow I doubt Criterion holds the American distribution rights to those, which would explain why we're not getting any of them in the spotlight.

There's also a premiere of a new interview. TCM retired the Private Screenings, I think, what with the TCM Film Festival and the opportunity to get a big star to interview there. They've interviewed a star, and then that interview gets edited and premiered on TCM usually about a year later. I don't remember all of the folks they've interviewed, but tonight sees the premiere of the interview from last year's Festival: Live from the TCM Film Festival: Michael Douglas. That will be on at 8:00 PM tonight. As is often the case with premiere documentaries and interviews, there will be a second showing of it after one feature film for the benefit of the folks on the west coast. The feature film is The China Syndrome at 9:15 PM, with the second showing of the interview at 11:30 PM.