Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #203: Entertainment business (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, and this month the subject is the entertainment business. I actually had some trouble thinking of fictional shows at first. Nowadays we have all sorts of celebrity gossip crap that I don't care one bit about. But finally I was able to come up with three shows, and to be honest I was pleased with myself for the selections:

The Muppet Show (1976-1981). Remember that the conceit of the show was of the Muppets backstage trying to put on a music hall-type show, with a very special guest star every week. The Muppets are back in the news because Jim Henson's son produced a more grown-up Muppet movie and the blankety-blanks at Sesame Street didn't like that so they sued.

The Partridge Family (1970-1974). C'mon, get happy as you watch hot Shirley Jones, stepson David Cassidy, and actors playing David's siblings, members of a talented band. Susan Dey would go on to LA Law; David's brother (or is it half-brother) Shaun would have a #1 hit at the end of the decade with a disco version of "Da Doo Ron Ron". (Seriously, look it up on Youtube and shudder.) Danny Bonaduce, well, the less said about him the better.

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966). Dick Van Dyke plays a writer for a TV variety comedy show along with Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie and commutes back to the suburbs where he gets to come home to hot young Mary Tyler Moore and trip over an ottoman. (They actually changed the opening sequence in the final season so that Van Dyke went around the ottoman.) Carl Reiner (still alive at 96) showed up occasionally as the man for whom they were writing the TV gags.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hell's Angels

Another movie I watched off my DVR recently that's available on DVD is Hell's Angels.

This one is relatively formulaic, although it's a good formula. Sensible Roy (James Hall) and passionate Monte (Ben Lyon) are brothers and students at Oxford with their German classmate Karl (John Darrow) circa 1914. As you can guess from the year, the Great War (it wasn't World War I yet during the storyline and the movie was released in 1930 so even then there was no World War II) is about to start, splitting the brothers and Karl. Karl gets drafted into the German forces, while Roy and Monte sign up for the air corps.

Meanwhile, Roy and Monte meet Helen (Jean Harlow), both falling in love with her and providing romantic tension. Roy loves Helen although the feeling isn't mutual; she wants somebody more passionate. But that someone doesn't seem to be Monte.

Karl takes part -- very reluctantly -- in a zeppelin attack on London, while Roy and Monte wind up in France. Monte, in order to redeem himself after being declared a coward, takes on a dangerous mission with his brother that would have both of them declared spies if their plane gets shot down.

There's not much to say about Hell's Angels, I suppose, that I couldn't say about any other war movie. I don't think I can even say it created any of the tropes, since there were buddy war movies like Wings and Two Arabian Knights that had already been made. Having said that, however, Hell's Angels is still pretty good.

For one thing, there's that zeppelin attack. It goes on too long, but a lot of it is pretty harrowing. Especially when the movie decides it's going to propagandize by showing the Germans to be monsters during the scene. I couldn't help but think of the character in 49th Parallel who just wanted to be a baker and bake bread.

There's also a two-strip Technicolor scene that, as I understand it, has the only surviving color footage of Jean Harlow. At first it surprised me that they'd use a soldiers' ball for the big Technicolor scene, but then I'd guess there were technical limitations on using it for any of the outdoor or flight scenes. The color, I thought, was quite good for two-strip.

The aerial scenes are also quite good. Howard Hughes assembled a ridiculous number of aircraft and pilots to do the aerial scenes, and the quality shows. It's as good as anything you'll see in Wings.

Finally, there's the ending, which I won't give away, but it's realistic and handled well. Overall, I can certainly recommend Hell's Angels.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

At least I got to learn a bit about the Interstate Highway system

I had the opportunity to watch a bunch of movies off the DVR since we had a long weekend here in the States; one of those movies was Vanishing Point.

The movie starts off with a brief sequence of a car outrunning a police car and then turning around to avoid a police roadblock, eventually telling us that it's Sunday at 10:02 AM. I actually had to go back and check the time; the movie ended with a scene telling us it was 10:04 AM Sunday. When you see the movie it will all make sense. Anyhow, after that opening scene, the action moves back to Denver, CO, at about 11:30 PM Friday.

Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a man making a living delivering cars across the country; rather then putting a bunch of cars on one of those car carriers you see on the highway; he actually drives the cars himself, and he insists on driving them fast. (You'd think the people getting them delivered would want him to take more care with the cars.) Kowalski's next job is to deliver a Dodge Challenger to San Francisco. He makes a bet with a guy who provides him uppers that he'll make it to San Francisco by 3:00 PM Saturday.

At this point, my first instinct was to see how far Denver and San Francisco are. Google Maps gives a couple of routes, all in the 1200-1300 mile range and in the 19-20 hour range. I didn't know about the state of the Interstate Highway system at the time the movie was released (early 1971). Nowadays, you could just take Interstate 25 to Interstate 80 which would get you to San Francisco. But while the Interstate system was conceived back in the Eisenhower administration, the last bit of I-80, in the Salt Lake City area, didn't get completed until 1986. Still, with the higher speed limits in place before the oil embargo of 1973, and the lower volume of traffic, I'd think 20 hours would still have been reasonable back then, maybe a little less depending on how much over the speed limit you're willing to go without bringing yourself to the attention of the police.

Kowalski doesn't care about any of that. He wants freedom, including the freedom to speed. So of course the police in multiple states are following him trying to track him down. At every step of the way, however, he's helped by a bunch of strangers who are also on the edge of society. There's a prospector (Dean Jagger); a couple of biker types; and, most notably, a blind radio station DJ named Supersoul (Cleavon Little) who listens to the police radio and speaks in Delphic phrases giving Kowalski information about where the police are.

That's about all there is to the movie. As a look at people on the edge of society, there are probably interesting points to be made. But I found that the story was at times full of holes, and at times filled with characters that were just too bizarre to be real. The geography is to me all off; Kowalski would have entered California around Lake Tahoe instead of in a desert that's presumably around the Death Valley area. Supersoul's scenes were just tedious, and then there's a pointless scene of a mob beating him up because, well why? The faith healers in the desert who don't want Kowalski around also made no sense. And then there were the "gay" carjackers. I don't know if they were making a point about homosexuals being similarly on the fringe of society, or if the two criminals were just passing themselves off as a gay couple as their MO. Either one would work. But in either case there's another utterly strange scene.

The characters in Vanishing Point are even quirkier than the ones in Antonia's Line that I recommended several weeks ago. At least in that one the characters have some grounding in reality, as does the story. Vanishing Point i found to be a mess.

But again, this is one of those movies you'll probably want to judge for yourself. A lot of people who have seen it give it extremely high praise. The movie is available on Blu-ray at a fairly reasonable price. Just make certain you're getting the 1971 movie and not the 1990s remake.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Horse Soldiers

Today is Memorial Day, a holiday which was originally about remembering the dead of the US Civil War. So rather than watching all those World War II movies on TCM, I decided to watch a Civil War movie off my DVR, one that's also available on DVD and Blu-ray: The Horse Soldiers.

The time is sometime early in 1863. The Union has wrested control of much of the Mississippi River from the Confederates, but there's one stronghold on the river still: Vicksburg, MS. The Union has been trying to besiege the city, but there's a problem in that there's still a rail line open to the city. That line leads to an important railway junction at Newton Station, so the plan is for a small Union expeditionary force to go to Newton Station and destroy as much of the rails and rolling stock as possible.

There is a big problem, of course, which is that Newton Station is a couple hundred miles inside Confederate territory, so when Col. Marlowe (John Wayne) is asked to lead the force, he knows it's not going to be easy. He also knows that the men are going to hate the mission since it's dangerous and there's a good possibility that they'll be captured and sent to the notorious POW camp at Andersonville. Marlowe gets an even bigger problem thrown in his lap, in the form of Maj. Kendall (William Holden) from the medical corps. Marlowe thinks having a doctor in his ranks is only goin to slow all of them down, and he doesn't like doctors anyway. Kendall doesn't like war and feels his first duty is to sick people period, not to sick Union soldiers.

With all the preparations taken care of, it's time for the forces to set off. They quickly wind up on a farm run by Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers); all the men are either dead or of fighting the war. The Union soldiers commandeer the place to spend the night, but they discover that Hannah and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson the tennis player in her only acting role) are eavesdropping, so the two women have to be taken along as prisoners since they'll certainly notify the authorities otherwise.

The soldiers continue south facing the possibility of detection by Confederate patrols, and also from time to time having to deal with medical issues. Eventually they make it to Newton Station, and achieve their objective after a short skirmish with tha Confederates stationed in the town. And they all lived happily ever after, or at least the Union folks did.

No, that's not it; they couldn't just stay in Newton Station of course. They have to get back to Union lines, and Marlowe comes up with the daring idea of continuing south to Baton Rouge on the Mississippi. After all, if they turn around and head back north, the Confederates are going to be waiting for them. Nobody expects them to keep going south.

The Horse Soldiers is one of those movies that I found to be solid entertainment, but nothing spectacular. It felt to me as if it was covering ground that had been done in other movies. There was also the problem that much of the soldiers' mission seemed to come a bit too easy for them. The conflict between Marlowe and Kendall isn't fleshed out as much as I thought it could have been. And poor Althea Gibson was given a stereotyped role, never mind her lack of acting ability.

Still, the flaws in The Horse Soldiers don't amount to enough for me not to recommend it. Fans of John Wayne will probably already have seen it, but if not, I can't see why they wouldn't like it. William Holden also does well. And the story is entertaining enough.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld

Todays movie is Max Ophüls' Lola Montès.

The movie starts off with an unnamed circus ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) telling a circus audience how they're going to meet and learn the life story of one of the most spectacular circus attractions to come down the pike in a long time: Lola Montez, born in Ireland but using the name Lola Montez to pass herself off as exotic. (Her name was spelled Montez, despite the movie's title being "Montès".) Lola (played by Martine Carol) herself is there to answer questions from the audience, with scenes from her life being portrayed in the circus ring by tableaux vivants, something you may recall from my mention of Florence Foster Jenkins last year. What would probably have been those tableaux vivants are shown as flashbacks.

Lola was a famed courtesan, having an affair with Franz Liszt before being forced to flee France. Eventually she made her way to Bavaria, Germany not having been unified at the time, where she meets an unnamed student (Oskar Werner) and then Bavarian King Ludwig I (not the "mad" king who was Ludwig II; the King being played by Anton Walbrook). All the men in Lola's life are immediately taken with her, although she seemed to bring bad luck to everybody. In the case of Ludwig, it's that his romance with Lola is not popular among his subjects, and when the revolutions of 1848 come, his and Lola's relationship is one of the reasons they revolt.

Lola eventually made her way to America and resumed her enterainment career for a while; as I mentioned when I reviewed Mitzi Gaynor's Golden Girl a few months back Montez was entertaining miners out in California in the early 1850s. In real life she didn't perform with any American circus. She died young, which I would assume why one of the plot points in the movie is that doctors are worried she's too sick to do her big stunt at the climax of the movie.

Lola Montès is a physically beautiful movie to watch, but one that I found a bit frustrating in terms of the story. I couldn't help but think of Sissi, which was made around the same time, has similarly beautiful color and some Bavarian settings, and has a story that made me shake my head. In the case of Sissi, however, my problem was that the story was impossibly romantic. With Lola Montès, the much bigger problem is that we don't really get to know the subject of the movie, who is left as a bit of a mystery. And from what we do get to know of her, I didn't particularly care for her. That's a big problem for a movie like this.

Still, thanks to the cinematography and direction, there are a lot of people who can overlook the problems with the story and give the movie extremely positive reviews. I, however, would give this one a less positive review than something like Sissi as I found myself unable to overlook those problems with the story.

Lola Montès received a restoration about a decade ago, and that restoration print is the one that is on the pricey Criterion DVD and Blu-ray.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Having Wonderful Time

Last night's DVR viewing was the vintage romantic comedy Having Wonderful Time. (Note that this is the correct title; not Having a Wonderful Time.) As an RKO release that ended up in the library of films Ted Turner bought, it's no surprise that this one is also available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection.

Ginger Rogers plays "Teddy" Shaw, a girl working in the typing pool in Manhattan but living wither her family in the Bronx. She's finally gotten two weeks of paid vacation that she's able to use, so she's going to be going up to Kamp Kare-Free, a resort in the Catskills, something that seems interesting because the Catskills even before World War II were part of the Borscht Belt and nobody here is Jewish. Teddy's coworkers hope she finds a good man up there, although she wants an educated man. (They give her a book of Schopenhauer essays.) Teddy's family think she should go back to the boyfriend Emil (Jack Carson in a very early role) who's been pursuing her and has his own business.

The vacation doesn't start off well for Teddy. She's picked up at the train station by Chick (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), a "waiter" at the resort. They're only waiters during meal times; at other times they're expected to perform other duties catering to the guests such as picking them up at the train station or be dance partners. Chick is a lawyer who hasn't been able to get a good job as an attorney, so we can guess that he's right for Teddy. However, he dumps her luggage by accident, so we can see they're going to have a lot of bumps along the way before we assume they wind up together in the final reel.

At the resort, Teddy's "semi-private" bungalow is shared with some other women: there's Fay (Peggy Conklin); Miriam (Lucille Ball) who has met Buzzy (Lee Bowman) at the camp and started a relationship; Henrietta (Eve Arden). Everybody tries to set Teddy up with a man, but of course she's not certain what she wants while Chick continues to pursue her.

Having Wonderful Time would have been a good movie, but putting Rogers and Fairbanks in the leads makes it more of a programmer. As such, it's not bad by any means, but it's certainly formulaic and arrives at its climax rather abruptly. The movie is helped out by a rich cast of supporting actors. In addition to all those mentioned, there's Donald Meek as the manager of the resort, and Red Skelton as another "waiter" who proms a couple of comic relief skits. He's not quite at the level of acquired taste that he would become in later movies.

Having Wonderful Time is one of those movies that frankly would benefit from being part of one of those TCM four-film box sets. It would be easy enough for TCM to do one with Ginger Rogers movies that don't also have Fred Astaire.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Elizabeth Taylor calls the sandtune

Another recent movie viewing off my DVR was The Sandpiper, which TCM ran when Elizabeth Taylor was Star of the Month in March. It's available on the four-movie box set of Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movies, since both are in it.

Taylor plays Laura Reynolds, an artist living in a beach house (or at least, for what passes for a beach) in California's Big Sur. She lives with her son Danny (played by James Mason's son Morgan) and no father in sight. Laura home-schools Danny, so although he's bright, he's got some problems with society. It's caused a few run-ins with the law, and this time the judge has decided he's had enough. Danny is going to be put in a boarding school, an Episcopal school run by Rev. Dr. Hewitt (Richard Burton).

Laura is unhappy with this, but the alternative is the boy going into reform school, so she reluctantly decides to send Danny there. She's afraid that Danny is going to develop "conventional" values which won't serve him well as an adult and that he won't be able to reason for himself. Danny isn't happy either at first, but when he recites Chaucer -- in Middle English, no less -- to Hewitt's assistant Claire (Eva Marie Saint), she sees the potential in him.

Oh, Claire is Mrs. Hewitt, too; remember that Dr. Hewitt is Episcopalian and they have no qualms about married ministers. This is going to be a problem for reasons you can probably figure. Dr. Hewitt has to deal with Laura both for the practical purposes of getting legal paperwork done, but also to try convince her that his school really is best for the kid. But while doing so, it opens up a whole new world to him, as he gets to see the real Laura and her bohemian artist friends Cos (Charles Bronson) and Larry (James Edwards). And slowly Dr. Hewitt begins to fall in love with Laura.

That is a huge problem for a man who is supposed to be a moral pillar, never mind what it's going to do to his wife should she find out about the relationship. Meanwhile, Laura's theories are beginning to make Dr. Hewitt question whether he should be raigins money for a new chapel for the school....

The Sandpiper is clearly a star vehicle for Taylor and Burton, who were a hot pair after their romance started a few years earlier (I think on the set of Cleopatra). It's too bad that the story is pedestrian, and director Vincente Minnelli couldn't be bothered to rein in Taylor. She takes every opportunity she can to chew the scenery and make the whole movie faintly ridiculous. If you like watching Taylor chew the scenery, you'll love this one. If not, unfortunately The Sandpiper isn't even bad in a fun way like X, Y, and Zee.

The Sandpiper also won an for its original song "The Shadow of a Smile", heard in instrumental throughout the movie and then with lyrics in a horrible MOR arrangment over the closing credits. It's a terrible song, and only makes the movie more aggravating.

Then again, I always say that you should probably judge for yourself. The TCM four-film box sets are always moderately priced, so if you don't like The Sandpiper, you might still like one of the other movies.

Memorial Day weekend is here again

This coming Monday is the Memorial Day holiday in the US, which is the unofficial start of the summer but of course has its origins in remembering the dead of the US Civil War. Apparently "Memorial Day" as a term started being used all the way back in the 1880s but didn't become the official name until the 1960s. Anyhow, TCM is showing a bunch of war movies as usual, but focusing on World War II probably because Hollywood was around during that war and with the conflict being a total war, lots and lots of movies about it were made.

This time around, the marathon starts at 8:00 tonight, and runs for 3-1/2 days until the start of the Tuesday morning schedule (a Bob Hope birthday salute). We get another airing of Fox's Twelve O'Clock High tomorrow morning at 6:15 AM, two Noir Alley airings of the war noir The Clay Pigeon at the traditional times for Noir Alley.

I thought I mentioned William Wyler's Memphis Belle before, and it turns out I did back in September 2015 when TCM had the spotlight on the book about the directors who went off to World War II. That one's going to be on early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM, and is probably the highlight of the first day of the marathon. Well, up until December 7 (ooh, another film I blogged about during the Five Came Back spotlight) at 6:30 PM tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #202: Friendship

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 movies about friendship. I suppose there are a lot of buddy comedies out there, so coming up with three movies shouldn't be so difficult. So without further ado, here are my three selections for this week:

Two Arabian Knights (1927). Louis Wolheim and William Boyd play a pair of World War I soldiers who get captured by the Germans, escape from a POW camp, and make their way to Arabia, where they get in a series of adventures, albeit without T.E. Lawrence. They meet a beautiful princess (Mary Astor) and fall in love with her, although she's already betrothed to an Arab nobleman, causing further dander for them.

Of Mice and Men (1939). George (Burgess Meredith) and Lenny (Lon Chaney Jr.) are itinerant farmhands going from place to place in California trying to save up the money to buy a place of their own. George always helps Lenny out of jams because Lenny is mentally slow. Eventually they work for a sadistic boss which results in Lenny getting into trouble George may not be able to help him out of. Based on the novel by John Steinbeck.

Less than Zero (1987). Andrew McCarthy is a kid from the LA suburbs who goes east to college, and returns home for the holidays to find out that friend Robert Downey Jr. has gotten himself addicted to cocaine, this being Robert Downey Jr. and the 1980s. McCarthy and hot Jami Gertz try to help Downey out of his predicament. This one is hilariously awful, but a guilty pleasure for me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lots and lots of shorts, May 23-24, 2018

TCM's Spotlight this month is on movie series, with this week looking at detectives. By the time you read this, they're either just finishing or will already have finished the Miss Marple movies, moving on to Torchy Blane. Anyhow, I was looking at the schedule and surprised by the volume of shorts that TCM scheduled between the movies.

Just before the first of the Torchy Blane movies, Hot News Margie gets another airing, or about 8:35 AM this morning. (So you'll probably have missed it.)

For those of you who like the Robert Benchley shorts, there are two this afternoon, How to Vote around 5:15 PM and How to Be a Detective at about 7:50 PM.

Movies on Sundays will be on a little after 8:00 AM tomorrow morning, just after the first of the Perry Mason movies that TCM is showing on Thursday.

And it's not a short, but the recently deceased Patricia Morrison was in Song of the Thin Man, the last of the Thin Man movies, which will be on TCM early tomorrow morning at 5:15 AM. (TCM is unsurprisingly running all six Thin Man movies in prime time tonight.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

No Questions Asked

Several weeks ago, TCM's Noir Alley ran a movie that was new to me: No Questions Asked. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I finally got around to watching it to do a post on it here.

Barry Sullivan plays Steve Keiver, who at the beginning of the movie is running from both the police and some underworld types. Flash back to how he got into this situation.... Some time back Steve was a lawyer for an insurance company, handling the legal niceties of paying out claims. The latest claim is on a bunch of furs that were stolen, and Steve's boss Henry Manston (Moroni Olsen) is none too pleased about having to pay out on the claim. Indeed, he says he'd be willing to pay, no questions asked, to get the furs back. This gives Steve an idea....

Steve's fiancée Ellen (Arlene Dahl) is sick and tired of Steve's lack of advancement. She wants some of the better things in life, and feels she can't get them on an insurance lawyer's income, which is why Steve is trying to get a raise. But what Steve doesn't know is that Ellen has already gotten married -- way to break off the engagment, baby, and wait until Steve finds out! Anyhow, Steve, in an attempt to make more money, decides he'll arrange to be a go-between for the return of those furs. He and Henry are able to recover the furs, but there's a cost.

Steve decides to become a go-between full time (there's a brilliant idea), which unsurprisingly leads to a sudden crime wave, which the police, in the form of Inspector Duggan (George Murphy) and Detective O'Bannion (Richard Anderson) don't like. They're looking to nail Steve, and when the next heist hits they plan to stop everybody who talks to Steve.

That heist occurs in the ladies' powder room during the intermission of a stage play. Two women come into the powder room and hold everybody up. However, when I was watching, one of the women sounded suspiciously like a man in falsetto, and I had read before watching the movie that it had a twist, so I figured the twist was that it was Ellen and her husband doing the heist. It turns out that that is not the case, although Ellen and her husband are in town, with Ellen claiming she still loves Steve and only married her husband for his money. Meanwhile, the attempt to get the ladies' jewelry back is hitting quite the snag....

I personally found No Questions Asked to be well-enough made, although it's also one of those movies that I don't think will stand out to me as being a particularly memorable part of the noir cycle. It's not that it's bad by any means, just that it's serviceable and not a whole lot more. Fans of noir who haven't seen it will certainly like it, while if I were introducing noir to people who had never seen a noir movie, I'd start with something else.

A couple more obituaries

Actress Patricia Morison died on Sunday at the ripe old age of 103. Morison had a more substantial career on Broadway where she originated the lead in Kiss Me, Kate. Among her films were playing the French Empress Eugenie in The Song of Bernadette, and the lower-budget (but still quite good) story of the Reinhard Heydrich assassination Hitler's Madman. One role that wound up on the cutting room floor was as Victor Mature's wife in Kiss of Death. The story called for the character to commit suicide while Mature's character was in prison, and that apparently was too much for the Production Code. So the scenes were deleted and the suicide was only referenced.

Bill Gold, a name I'd never heard of, also died on Sunday, at the age of 97. Gold wasn't seen on screen, because his work was well away from the studio, instead designing posters for movies. Among the posters are for Casablanca at the beginning of his career, Strangers on a Train, A Clockwork Orange, and a whole slew of movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Gold's is one of those jobs we don't normally think about when we think about the movies, but that in some ways are almost as important as the ones we see on screen. Not to denigrate the work of a Saul Bass, but why for example is his name better remembered just because his art design is actually in the movie?

Monday, May 21, 2018

One Third of a Nation

Tomorrow morning TCM is running some Sylvia Sidney films, including one I've only briefly mentioned before, One Third of a Nation, at 9:15 AM.

Sidney plays Mary Rogers, who lives in a New York tenement with her kid brother Joey, played by a 14-year-old Sidney Lumet (yes, that Sidney Lumet who would go on to become a renowned director). When there's a fire in the building, rich benefactor Peter (Leif Erickson) happens to be there and offers to pay for Joey's medical bills. Peter and Mary fall in love.

There's a catch, however. Everybody in the tenements hate the slumlords who own the buildings and let them deteriorate the way they have. And it just so happens to be Peter's family that owns the building where Mary and Joey live. Boy is Mary going to be pissed when she finds this out. Mary and the other tenants want improvements to be made to the building, but can this happen before disaster befalls the people living there?

One Third of a Nation is hilariously awful propaganda. It was produced under auspices of the Federal Theater Project, a New Deal scheme that was instituted in no small part to produce propaganda favoring the ideas of the New Deal. (Even if this wasn't the express purpose, it doesn't take a genius to understand it was going to be taken over by people who wanted to use it to produce their own brand of propaganda.) Everything is the fault of the tenement owners, and all the problems are going to be resolved by destroying the buildings and building government housing projects that are going to be perfect. In fact, we've seen over the past 60 years how perfect government housing programs are. And never mind what's going to happen to the people while those projects are being built.

It's hard to judge the acting when the actors are being asked to spew agitprop, although honors have to go to young Sidney. (Sidney's father Baruch, a mainstay of the Yiddish theater, has a role as Mr. Rosen.) It's not Sidney's fault, though. His standout scene involves a fever dream in which the tenement talks to him, and shows him how tenement life has always been thus, and always will be unless the government takes over. It was the cinema's great gain that Sidney took up directing.

One Third of a Nation deserves to be seen once, for how awful the propaganda is. The movie did get a DVD release, although it's out of stock at Amazon and the TCM Shop. However, the DVD was put out by Alpha Video, and they still have it at their site,

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Evil Angels

Another recent viewing off my DVR was A Cry in the Dark, which was released in Australia (where it was made) as Evil Angels. This is one of those odd movies that seems to be available on DVD (and in print) at Amazon, and also available on streaming video

A Cry in the Dark tells the story of the family of Azaria Chamberlain. Azaria's father Michael (Sam Neill) was a Seventh-Day Adventist minister in Queensland, Australia, living with his wife Lindy (Meryl Streep borrowing the wig Robert Wagner wore in Prince Valiant), their two sons, and infant daughter Azaria in 1980. The family goes for a vacation to Ayers Rock, and we see in a bit of foreshadowing as the film shows us a dingo looking down on everybody that the Outback can be a dangerous place.

At night, Lindy and Mike are talking with some of the other campers assembled at the popular tourist spot, when Lindy decides to go back into the tent, only to discover that the baby is missing. Lindy then sees a dingo darting off into the night, so she reaches the obvious conclusion: "The dingo took my baby!", a line that has been parodied ever since. A large search is conducted, and eventually all that's found is a bloody onesie; a jacket Azaria had on over it isn't found, which will be important later in the story.

The family eventually goes home to suffer the death of their baby alone, except that the incident has become a national case. The Chamberlains are weirdo Seventh-Day Adventists, after all, and their faith in God means that they don't show the sort of repulsive emotion that the media engendered after Princess Diana died because she was too stupid to wear a seat belt. So the media decide to start a campaign against her, but for a while the law is on the Chamberlains' side. The coroners' inquest backs up the Chamberlains' story that the baby was most likely taken by a dingo, and the judge presiding has a blistering attack on the media's handling of the case.

Somewhere along the way, however, the Chamberlains must have made some powerful enemies, because the authorities decide to reopen the case based on circumstantial forensic evidence, allowing the media to resume their Two Minutes' Hate against the Chamberlains as Lindy is put on trial for murdering Azaria. The amount of prosecutorial grandstanding during the trial is also shocking. All of this also puts a huge strain on Michael and Lindy's marriage. (They divorced in 1991, a few years after the film was released.)

A Cry in the Dark is an excellent study in the media circus that forms around prominent events and how mob mentality can doom people. It's helped in part by being based on a real case, and in part on using more of a docudrama style of filming than what had been done back in the Hollywood studio days. Films like Spencer Tracy's Fury are well-made looks at the same sort of mob mentality that surrounded the Chamberlain case, but they, and even a relevant Fox docudrama from the 1940s like Boomerang! seem to be too Hollywood-bound. A Cry in the Dark has an ugly underside that's needed to make the movie work.

It's also a big plus that the two leads, Streep and Neill, both give excellent performances in difficult roles. Streep has a difficult task, both in seeming emotionless and then having to stand up for herself when both her husband and her attorneys are trying to get her to act in a stereotypical way. Neill's character has to break down on the stand, not in a crying way, but in a way that he's not mentally able to handle questioning that's designed to be deliberately confusing and catch him in a trap. This too is a difficult portrayal that Neill pulls off well.

A Cry in the Dark is strongly recommended.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Seven Sinners

A good two years ago, I recorded a movie called Doomed Cargo on TCM and watched it. For some reason I thought it wasn't on DVD so I never did a post on it. It turns out I was wrong and that the movie is on DVD under its original title, Seven Sinners. So I watched it again last night to be able to do a post on it.

Edmund Lowe plays John Harwood, who in the opening of the movie is on vacation on the French Riviera. He meets another man and, when he later goes to that man's room, he finds the man dead! Fortunately, Harwood is a detective, so he could work on the case if need be. But he's more needed by the American insurance company he works for, who have snet Fenton (Constance Cummings) to fetch him. In the meantime, the body Harwood saw has disappeared!

Anyhow, Harwood and Fenton take the overnight train to Calais to get to England where the insurance company wants him for that job. The train, however, gets in a crash, and it turns out that the signals were deliberately swtiched to cause the crash! Much more interesting is that Harwood swears he sees among the dead bodies the guy who he had seen in the hotel. He concludes that apparently somebody killed the guy down in Nice, and then disposed of the body by staging a train crash.

It's a bizarre idea, and Harwood's investigation takes him first to Paris, and then to London where he investigates a "peace" group that may or may not be on the level. Since the original killing took place in France, there's also a French investigator Turbé (Thomy Bourdelle) on the case. There's another train crash that kills a key witness, and then the possibility of a third crash, leading up to the climax and the reveal of who's behind these train crashes and why.

The screenplay for Seven Sinners/Doomed Cargo was written by Launder and Gilliat from a 1920s play; they're the same writing team that did Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. So it's not surprising that watching Seven Sinners that one notices a lot of things that make the movie look as though Hitchcock could have directed it. It plays out in many ways like The 39 Steps, which is really more about the various set pieces than the plot of what those steps are. Seven Sinners is even more confusing, however, and more abrupt in its ending.

Still, I'd say that Seven Sinners is entertaining enough for a 1930s programmer. I think that anybody who's interested in movies of the era, and especially pre-war British movies, would enjoy Seven Sinners.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Briefs for May 18-19, 2018

Actor Joseph Campanella died on Wednesday at the age of 93. He was mostly a TV actor, but he made some movies sprinkled throughout, including quite a few 70s and 80s things I've never heard of. I'd guess his most notable movie appearance is as the police detective investigating in Ben, which is a terrible movie, but not because of Campanella. There's also The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which is certainly worth a watch.

Tonight's prime time lineup on TCM is devoted to Alastair Sim, best remembered for playing Scrooge in the early 1950s version of A Christmas Carol. The night begins with what I think is the TCM premiere of School for Scoundrels at 8:00 PM. There's also Laughter in Paradise at midnight.

A few months back I mentioned a two-reeler whose title I couldn't recall about a girls' school where the administrators were virulently opposed to the new jazz dancing styles. Looking through the past posts, it was called Somewhat Secret. (Shows how memorable the short was.) Tomorrow morning at around 7:36 AM TCM is showing the short Public Jitterbug No. 1, which is obviously a different short, but another one with an anti-dancing theme. Then in the 8:00 AM to 9:30 AM slot, one of the shorts TCM is running is Desi Arnaz and his orchestra, one of the Vitaphone shorts highlighting various bandleaders of the 1940s. Desi had already married Lucy by the time this was made, but this was also well before I Love Lucy.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #201: Twisty Thrillers

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 "Twisty Thrillers". It's easy enough to think of thrillers, although the question of just how twisty they are is a good one. Still, I came up with three movies that I think fit the theme, more or less:

The 39 Steps (1935). Robert Donat plays a Canadian in England who is followed home from a music hall by a woman who, it turns out, is a spy in fear of her life. She warns him about "the 39 steps" before getting stabbed overnight. Donat, realizing nobody will believe his story, has to set off to find the murderers himself, and figure out what those 39 steps refer to. The twists take him to Scotland, a political campaign, handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll, and back to London.

The Liquidator (1965). Rod Taylor plays a man who saved Trevor Howard's life in World War II by killing a couple of Nazis, so when Howard needs somebody to do some secret killings of some double agents in the current day, he calls on Taylor. The only thing is, Taylor never considered himself a hero, and frankly has little competence at killing people. But he keeps up the ruse and gets himself involved in a big spy case.

The Eiger Sanction (1975). Clint Eastwood plays an art professor who used to be a killer for a secret government agency, and is "asked" out of retirement to kill two men who killed a fellow agent. There are two twists. The first of which is that finding the second killer is going to involve making a dangerous ascent up the north face of the famous Swiss mountan the Eiger. The second twist is how the second killer is identified and ultimately dealt with. I won't give away more.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Scream Blacula Scream

Some months back I did a blog post on Blacula. The movie was successful enough that, despite the apparent death of Blacula in the movie, American International put a remake into production. The result is Scream Blacula Scream.

The movie starts off not with Blacula, but with the death of the matriarch of a group of voodoo practitioners. Mama Loa is dying, and the people around her are arguing over who should be the next head of the group. Her son Willis (Richard Conrad) suggests it should be him since he was her son after all. But apparently the head has to declare a successor, or else the matter is put up to a vote. Everybody clearly has something (never really mentioned) against Willis, and they'd like Lisa (Pam Greer) to be the next leader. She seems to have a much better knack for voodoo anyway.

Willis, suitably ticked off, is given a bunch of sacred bones that are supposed to hold the secret of a powerful voodoo curse, which is just what Willis needs to get the leadership of the group. The only problem is the he doesn't really understand what he's doing, and what the result of the curse is going to be. The curse awakens Blacula (William Marshall reprising his role from the first movie) from the dead (or is that the undead?), and Blacula is even more pissed about that than Willis was about getting passed over for the voodoo sect's leadership. Hell hath no fury like a vampire scorned, and Blacula responds to his raising by biting Willis and turning him into a vampire.

Blacula has that insatiable desire for human blood, which results in his turning a bunch of people into vampires. But he also chances upon a party where a local professor has some African artifacts. Remember from the first Blacula movie that Blacula was really Prince Mamuwalde 200 years earlier, so he knows those artifacts intimately. It's there that he meets Lisa and learns about her aptitude for voodoo. It's here that Blacula gets a startling idea: perhaps he can use voodoo to remove the vampire curse!

Meanwhile, there are dead bodies mounting up, and the police are investigating, along with Lisa's boyfriend Justin (Don Mitchell), who used to be a police detective. He's the one who figures out that it must be a vampire doing the killings, but unsurprisingly, he's unable to get anybody to believe him. Will Blacula be able to go through the voodoo ritual, or will the police get to him first? And what about all those other vampires?

Scream Blacula Scream is about as intelligent as you can expect from a vampire movie. This isn't to say that vampire movies are necessarily bad, but come on, they are vampire movies. Some large suspension of disbelief is required. Still, in both this and Blacula, the whole plot strand of trying to get people to believe there's a vampire is handled well. There's also a rather humorous scene when Willis first realizes he's a vampire. The whole mixing of voodoo and vampirism is something that, for a blaxploitation movie, also makes logical sense.

I didn't find Scream Blacula Scream to be particularly high in the horror area, but much more good-natured fun. Some people may find that a flaw, but I didn't. In fact, I think it made the movie better in my eyes. It, along with the original Blacula is just a rollicking fun ride.

The two movies are available together on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ride Lonesome

A few weeks back I recorded a night of Randolph Scott westerns since I hadn't blogged about any of them before and they're all on DVD. Second up is Ride Lonesome.

Scott plays Ben Brigade, who in the opening scene is approaching a man he's clearly been following for some time. That man is Billy John (James Best), and he's clearly a wanted criminal. Ben plans to bring him into town some distance away for the reward. That distance, however, is going to cause some problems. This isn't a courtroom drama, after all.

Some of those problems come into stark relief when Ben reaches the stagecoach station. The wife of the stationmaster, Mrs. Lane (Karen Steele), is there, but not her husband. Two other men show up, and they're both criminals: Sam (Pernell Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn). But for the time being they're going to be a lesser problem as everybody has to deal with an attack from the Indians who, as it turns out, also killed Mr. Lane.

Eventually they all set out for town, with the looming question of whether Sam and Whit will try to take Billy John themselves. There's an amnesty for whoever captures him, and the two could obviously use it. However, there's an even bigger problem in that Billy John's brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) is in pursuit. Strangely to Sam and Whit, Ben seems to be taking his own sweet time in getting everybody to town. It's almost as if he wants Frank to catch up....

Ride Lonesome is solid entertainment. I didn't have any problem with it, other than the western not being my favorite genre. Reviewers who are western fans, however, generally praise the movie quite highly, and my comments are in no way a criticism of the movie. About the only criticism I could give is that it travels familiar territory: The Naked Spur and Along the Great Divide both came quickly to mind. If you want a familiar western, though, Ride Lonesome is a great place to start.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Margot Kidder, 1948-2018

Margot Kidder, who came to prominence in a string of movies in the 1970s before health issues cropped up in the 1990s, has died at the age of 69.

Born in Canada, it shouldn't be a surprise that one of her earlier starring roles was in the Canadian-produced Black Christmas, which I reviewed here last year. Margot plays a college co-ed who has to deal with an obscene caller at her sorority, and then with somebody killing the sorority sisters. But Kidder would probably be most famous for playing Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve in Superman in 1978.

Kidder was seriously injured in a car accident in 1990, and then had mental health issues come to the fore later in the 90s, most notably when she went missing from her home in Montana for several days before being found among the homeles in Los Angeles. What a sad fate.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Test Pilot

Another recent movie watched off the DVR that's available from the Warner Archive is Test Pilot.

The movie starts off with Gunner (Spencer Tracy) checking a plane to make certain it's in good working order. Gunner's best friend Jim Lane (Clark Gable) is goin gto be getting in that plane to try to fly it across the country to set a new coast-to-coast speed record, these still being the days when aviation was young enough that coast-to-coast records and aviation records were still a thing. Anyhow, Gunner goes to get Lane, only to find that he's got one woman waiting for him, with Jim eventually showing up with another woman hanging from one arm. You get the impression that these aren't the only two women by any means.

Sadly for Jim, the attempt at the speed record is doomed to failure, as an oil line is going to break and Jim is going to be forced to crash land in a field somewhere in the middle of the country. As he's trying to fix the plane, he's approached by young Ann (Myrna Loy), a college graduate who lives with her parents on the farm where Jim crash landed, 20 miles outside Wichita KS. Jim immediately falls for Ann and the feeling is mutual. Ann, however, has conflicted feelings as she doesn't know whether she should go off with a pilot or take the safe way out of going with the man who's been pursuing her.

We all know there wouldn't me much of a movie if a leading lady like Loy walked off with the third wheel 20 minutes in, so we shouldn't be surprised that Jim and Ann elope and Jim shows up back at the office of his airplane-manufacturing boss Drake (Lionel Barrymore) with a wife, much to Drake's chagrin. Drake wants Jim to test a new plane before the big race, but Jim wants a honeymoon. Eventually, it leads to Jim quitting despite the financial hit he's going to take.

Being in constant financial straits is just one problem that Ann finds she's going to have in the marriage. There's a bigger problem, however, in that Ann is in many ways not Jim's wife but his mistress -- the real love of Jim's life is the sky, and Ann worries that the sky is never going to let Jim go, ultimately leading to Jim's doom. It goes on like this for the better part of two hours.

Test Pilot is the sort of movie that left me with no small amount of mixed feelings. It's well made, and yet there was something about it that just didn't seem quite right, and I couldn't quite put my finger on that something. One definite problem is with Jim's character, who for much of the movie comes across as a spoiled jerk. He wins a big air race, and then immediately squanders every last cent of the prize money on the bender to end all benders. If I had been in Gunner's position on finding Jim at the end of the bender, I probably would have beat the shit out of him and looked for a better job elsewhere, probably back with Drake.

Yet that I don't think was the only issue I had with the movie. For what is for large stretches an action movie, it has a very sterile feel to it. There's also a pretty big plot hole in the climactic flight also saying what it is gives some plot points away. The problem wasn't with the performances, I don't think. Gable does well in a caddish role; Spencer Tracy was still in his pre-Hepburn persona; and Myrna Loy is good as a wife who suffers a lot more than Nora Charles ever did. Ultimately, I can recommend the movie, although I think it could have been rather better.

Test Pilot is one of those movies that probably would benefit from being in a box set than only as a stand-alone DVD from the Warner Archive. It also looks as though they've increased the prices on the Warner Archive DVDs, as this one is listed at $21.99, although it's on sale at both Amazon and the TCM Shop.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Charley Varrick

I finally got around to watching Charley Varrick off my DVR. It's available on DVD, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

Charley (Walter Matthau) and his wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) show up in the idyllic small town of Tres Cruces, NM, one day, he looking to cash a cashier's check at the local bank. It's a ruse, of course; Charley is really planning to rob the bank with the help of a couple of plants he's already got in the bank with Nadine being the getaway driver. However, as with any good heist movie, the robbery doesn't go according to plan. In this case, it fails because a policeman sees the out-of-state plates on Varrick's car and is convinced that he's seen this plate on a stolen car. Sure enough, when he runs a check he finds the plates are stolen, and Nadine gets fatally wounded in a shootout.

Meanwhile, only Charley and one of his accomplices, Harman (Andy Robinson), make it out of the bank with their haul. They get away, abandoning Nadine and the car when they ignite it, before heading back to the trailer park where Charley lives to count the loot. It's here that the heist takes another turn for the worse. Charley counts the money, and realizes that they've got about $750,000 on their hands. You'd think they'd be happy to be rich, and dim-witted and impulsive Harman is glad to have that much money. Charley, however, knows better.

Charley understands that there's no way that a small-town bank should have that much money in its vaults. If they do, it can only mean one thing: somebody is using the bank to launder money, where they can get it out of the country from here and eventually bring it back in with nobody being any wiser about the true source of the money. Charley is also bright enough to realize it's the Mob that would have this much money, and that they're going to be much more insistent on getting their money back than the police are. The police only care if it's their wings getting clipped; having to investigate actual crime, not so much.

Maynard Boyle (John Vernon) is the head of the bank of which the branch in Tres Cruces is a subsidiary, and knows fully well that the money was being laundered -- he's in on it and not some honest bank executive whose bank is being used by rogue agents. He also knows the mobsters above him aren't going to be happy, so he hires Molly (Joe Don Baker) to investigate and if need be kill the people involved in the robbery. Charley understands all this, but stupid Harmon only sees dollar signs....

Charley Varrick is an entertaining movie that doesn't have nearly as much action as a plot synopsis implies. The bank robbery and getaway are done in the first 20 minutes or so, and there's an exciting climax in the last 20 minutes or so, but in between, the movie is quite methodical. That doesn't mean the movie is bad; in fact I found it quite good. There's always something important going on as Charley tries to stay one step ahead of everybody, and it all logically builds up to the climactic showdown with Molly. Matthau gives an excellent performance, with Robinson doing well in a smaller role. Joe Don Baker doesn't really do all that much, but then I think that's by design, as his character works better as a bit of a cipher.

Not only is Charley Varrick on DVD; it's less expensive than a lot of the Warner Archive or other MOD disks.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Briefs for May 11-12, 2018

I was going to watch With Byrd at the South Pole this week and do a post on it, since it aired the other day as part of a day of movies set in the Arctic or Antarctic. However, it turns out that it's not in print on DVD. Amazon implies that Milestone released a DVD ages ago but that it's unavailable; the TCM shop don't have anything. Hence why you're getting another "briefs" post.

I've never heard of Hanover Street, airing tonight at 10:00 PM on TCM as part of a night of movies with Leslie-Ann Down. Ditto the two Japanese movies airing in TCM Underground. It never ceases to amaze me how many movies are still new to me.

Anne V. Coates, a film editor who won an Oscar for her work editing Lawrence of Arabia, died on Tuesday at the age of 92. I think one of the reasons editors don't get the recognition that deserve is that you don't notice the editing unless it's particularly bad for the most part.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #200: Cannes Favorites

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Since the 2018 edition of the Cannes Film Festival began this week, it's only natural that an appropriate theme for the Thursday Movie Picks would be Cannes favorites. Now, I have to admit that I didn't know too much about what films to select, so I did the simplest thing, which is to look up a list of Palme d'Or winners. Ooh, there enough interesting movies that I can do a post with no difficulty:

The Cranes are Flying (1958 Palme d'Or winner). Tatiana Samoilova plays Veronika, a young woman in love with Boris (Aleksey Batalov) in Moscow just before the Nazi invasion of 1941. Boris goes off to fight and gets listed MIA (in fact we know he's been killed), leaving Boris' cousin Mark to try to pursue Veronika, who enters a loveles marriage. A beautifully filmed and moving story. We know the Soviets will win the war, but what happens when Boris isn't among the victorious returning soldiers?

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964 Palme d'Or winner). Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) works in her mother's shop selling umbrellas in 1957 Cherbourg. She's got a boyfriend in Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), who gets called up to fight in the rebellion in Algeria (remember, it was still part of France at the time). Guy gets injured, so Geneviève's mom suggests she marry diamond dealer Roland. Of course, Guy eventually returns from the war, but by the time Geneviève has married Roland and left Cherbourg. The interesting thing about the movie is that all of the dialogue is sung.

Secrets and Lies (1996 Palme d'Or winner). Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a young middle-class black woman in London who, after the death of her adoptive mother, decides to find out about her biological mother. It turns out that her biological mother, Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), is white! Cynthia has a daughter Roxanne who knew nothing about having a half-sister, and a brother with a family of his own. Needless to say, the sudden presence of a black relative causes all sorts of old tensions in the family to come back to the surface.

TCM Star of the Month May 2018: Marlene Dietrich

We're a bit late into a new month to get a new TCM Star of the Month, but that's because TCM decided to spend last Thursday night honoring Robert Osborne. That, and they picked a star where getting enough movies for five nights might have been an issue. At any rate, tonight's the first night for that star, Marlene Dietrich. Her movies show up tonight and the rest of the Thursdays in May.

This being the first night of the salute, it's unsurprising that we get five of her earlier movies. The photo above is from Blonde Venus, airing overnight at 3:30 AM, which may be more interesting for the costumes than for the story. Oh, it's not bad, it's just the sort of creaky story that was a thing in the 30s but wouldn't work today.

I wouldn't say that The Scarlet Empress (10:00 PM) is a favorite of mine by any stretch, but the photography is stunning, making the movie worth one watch. I rather preferred Shanghai Express (midnight).

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Matrimonial Bed

One of the seldom-seen Michael Curtiz movies that showed up in the spotlight TCM did last month was The Matrimonial Bed. Having been done at Warner Bros., it's unsurprisingly available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Florence Eldrige plays Juliet Corton, a fashionable Parisian society wife married to Gustave (James Gleason), her first husband Adolphe having died in a train crash five years ago. However, she and all the servants loved her first husband, so a portrait of him still hangs on the wall, much to Gustave's consternation. Anyhow, Juliet is having a get-together tonight, so she needs to have her hair styled. Her friend suggests the stylist she uses, Leopold (Frank Fay).

Leopold shows up, and all the servants are convinced that he looks exactly like the first husband in the portrait, which sends them all into a panic. However, Leopold understandably says that he has no memory of the place and that he couldn't possibly be Adolphe, despite not having memories going back much farther than five years. Julite is also stunned, and Gustave is even more dyspeptic over the fact that the servants are all going nuts.

The way to solve the mystery is to bring in the famed hypnotist Dr. Beaudine, who is going to be able to hypnotize Leopold and bring back his past. Really, it's that idiotic. If Adolphe hadn't died in the crash, wouldn't the doctors at the hospital have done this and solved everybody's problem? Well, the hypnotists does his spiel, and the man that wakes up is Adolphe, with no memory of Leopold.

Everybody in the house starts going even nuttier than Billie Burke's Millicent Jordan from Dinner at Eight, and things get even more complicated when Leopold's wife shows up. How are they going to solve all the problems?

Frankly, I found The Matrimonial Bed to be a tedious slog to get through. I think I've stated in the past that I tend not to be a fan of the drawing-room comedies of the early sound era, as well as not a fan of the sort of movie where a character has to build lie upon lie upon lie, especially since it doesn't work and isn't funny. The Matrimonial Bed has both of them, and the glaring hypnosis-related plot hole that I mentioned earlier. Pretty much everybody is irritating and stupid, and you just want to smack everybody and explain to them what happened.

OK, so I saw The Matrimonial Bed and can check it off the list. I have no desire to see it again. If you do like this sort of movie, you can get the Warner Archive disc, although it's a bit pricey.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

There's No Business Like Show Business

Another movie that it's time for me to get off my DVR to make room for something else is the early Cinemascope musical, There's No Business Like Show Business.

Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey play Molly and Terrance Donahue, a husband and wife who in 1919 are going around the country performing in vaudeville as the Two Donahues. Well, at the end of the act they bring out their son for a cameo and call the act the Three Donahues. Time passes, and the act becomes The Four Donahues, and then the Five Donahues. But a life on the road is no place for the children, and Molly wants them in a school.

A long time passes, and now it's the late 1930s, the three Donahue children are all grown up, more or less, and they knew they'd rather be on the stage than in a stuffy Catholic school. Son Timothy (Donald O'Connor) dances along with his sister Katy (Mitzi Gaynor) while the other son Steve (Johnnie Ray) sings a mean tune. And the family has made it big, performing at the Hippodrome in New York.

One night after the show, Tim goes out to a club where he meets hat-check girl Vicky (Marilyn Monroe) with whom he immediately falls in love. Why wouldn't he? It's Marilyn Monroe, after all. But she has dreams of becoming big, and a little guy like Tim is just going to get in the way. Not that she's mean per se; she already has a meeting with a big impresario set up and Tim is just being a jerk.

More time passes, Vicky becomes a success, and for her new show, somebody suggests the Donahues. Tim and Vicky meet again, and although she could fall in love with him, it's going to be a rocky road getting there. You probably know the story, having seen it from a hunderd movies. Other things threaten to break up the act, such as Katy getting married, and Steve deciding to take the priestly vows.

There's No Business Like Show Business is a movie with a well-worn plot, although it's serviceable enough. As a result, the success of such a movie depends on the quality of the music and the performers. Dan Dailey, not to be confused with Dan Duryea, a heavy of the same period, made a lot of light movies at Fox and is one of those people who could always be relied upon to give a dependable performance, if nothing spectacular. Mitzi Gaynor's dancing shows a lot of talent, although she's one of the more minor characters. Ethel Merman is a force to be reckoned with. A little of her goes a long way, and there's a lot of her here. And the lest said about Johnnie Ray, the better. I'm of the age where I remember him better from the reference in the 1980's song "Come on Eileen". I can't stand his singing style, and he couldn't act a bit.

The music is by Irving Berlin, and as with his earlier Alexander's Ragtime Band, there's a lot of it. I'd say that this time, there might actually be a bit too much of it. There's a version of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" early on before Steve joins the priesthood with all five Donahues doing a rendition. It goes on, and on, and on, almost the point of tedium.

Overall, I'd say that There's No Business Like Show Business is definitely worth a watch. Whether you'll want to watch it more than once depends on whether you like the genre.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Taxi Boys

A movie I recently watched off the DVR from a TCM airing had a good 20 minutes left over, which was more than enough time for a TCM Extra. In this case it was Taxi for Two.

This was one of the Taxi Boys shorts (I'm not certain what month the TCM page is from), which Hal Roach produced in 1932 and 1933. Ben Blue plays Ben, an incompetent taxi driver who screws up a fare's elopement, and when the taxi breaks down and causes a traffic jam, Ben's partner Billy (Billy Gilbert) comes to "help". Of course he only makes matters worse.

I didn't care for the short; everybody was just too manic and the humor was forced and not particularly funny. I think I had vaguely heard of the Taxi Boys but never actually seen any of the shorts, so I'm glad finally to have seen one even if I didn't particularly like it.

Having looked around, I couldn't find whether any of the shorts are on DVD. You'd think they'd be bonus features somewhere, but since they're Hal Roach shorts I don't know how the DVD rights work. You'll have to look for them on TCM, I guess.

A couple of recent Robert Donat mentions

TCM's prime-time lineup tonight is dedicated to the movies of Robert Donat. Here in the US I'm looking forward to The Winslow Boy at 8:00 PM, although apparently Canadian viewers only get Goodbye, Mr. Chips for rights reasons.

Anyhow, at the end of April TCM ran The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and I mentioned then that it was going to be on tonight at 10:15 PM, although I don't think I mentioned that it was going to be a part of a whole night of Donat movies.

I also wasn't paying attention to the fact that earlier in the week I had done a post on The Count of Monte Cristo, which will be on the TCM lineup at 3:15 AM tomorrow, or overnight between tonight and tomorrow depending on your point of view.

I don't recall whether I've seen Sabotage Agent (1:15 AM) before. This is also known as The Adventures of Tartu, although as I understand it the two versions actually have some differences. Have to see whether I've got enough space on the DVR for both that and The Winslow Boy.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Women in Love

In the 1953 Marlon Brando movie The Wild One, Pegy Maley asks Brando, "What are you rebelling against?", to which Brando answers, "Whadda you got?" I couldn't help but think of that exchange when was watching Women in Love.

Glenda Jackson plays Gudrun Brangwen, elder sister to Ursula (Jennie Linden), two single sisters still living with their parents in a middle-class home in the industrial part of 1920s England. The being the years just after World War I, the times are changing a bit, and Gudrun (and to a lesser extent Ursula) isn't so certain she wants to conform so tightly to convention. So the two ditch a family engagement to watch the wedding ceremony of Laura, daughter of a local colliery owner, to military officer Tibby. At the wedding Gudrun catches the eye of the bride's brother Gerald (Oliver Reed), while Ursula catches the eye of Gerald's best friend Rupert (Alan Bates).

Rupert is a school inspector, so when he inspects the school where the two sisters teach, it's a chance to rekindle the relationship with Ursula, as well as invite her and Gudrun into the "smart set" run by Rupert's current girlfriend Hermione (Eleanor Bron). The result is that Rupert winds up breaking things off with with Hermione and pairing up with Ursula, while Gerald and Gudrun also become an item.

While the two sisters have some unconventional ideas about love, it turns out that the two boyfriends might have even more unconventional ideas, if that were possible. Gerald isn't certain he wants a marriage, but certainly wants a lover, and tends to think that all women are either wives or mistresses. Rupert is more radical. While he's OK with a marriage, he also wants a relationship with a man that's as emotionally close as the relationship between a husband wife. Perhaps he wants it to be physically close, too.

And so, the two couples go on like this, through love and various tragedies. Rupert and Ursula get married; Gerald and Gudrun remain just lovers although they have some very intense sex along the way. Eventually, though, on a Christmas trip to Switzerland, a third man comes into the picture, threatening to tear everything apart.

I have to admit that I found Women in Love a bit tedious, largely because I found the philosophical ideas spoted by the characters to be no better than the sort of stuff you'd hear from your high school classmates and think it was deep, only to realize years later that everybody was so terribly immature. In doing a bit of unrelated reading, I came across the term "bright young things" that was used derisively to describe a certain stratum of upper-class interwar British society, and calling the characters here "bright young things" certainly fits.

The acting is probably good, although sometimes it's hard to tell considering the material they have to deal with. Glenda Jackson won the Best Actress Oscar and, looking at the nominees, it looks like a fairly weak class she was up against. None of the other actors were nominated. This isn't to say that Jackson does a bad job; it's more to say that I didn't notice anything spectacular and that much of the reason for it was the hindrance of the script.

Perhaps the best summation I can think of comes when the two sisters go off by themselves at a big party. Ursula is singing when a bunch of cattle approach. Gudrun confronts the cattle -- by doing interpretive dance. Eventually the cattle get perplexed enough to wonder what the hell this is all about and wander off, desperate to get out of the movie. I understood the feeling.

Women in Love is available on a pricey Criterion disc, so even though I didn't particularly care for it, some of you might.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Sea Wolf

During the month of Michael Curtiz movies, one that I recorded because I hadn't seen it in ages is The Sea Wolf.

The action begins in San Francisco in 1900. George Leach (John Garfield) is a man on the run from the law who is looking for a way to escape the city. Being a port city, getting a job on a ship going to sea seems like an obvious way to escape. A guy alongside George at the bar offers him a job on a ship, but George sees the bartender slip him a mickey. Still, George takes the job!

Meanwhile, Ruth (Ida Lupino) is on the run from the law and gets on a different ship, along with the writer Julius (Alexander Knox). That ship runs into the ferry, leading to people getting thrown overboard. Ruth and Julius are recovered, on the same ship where George is working.

Not that either of them would want it that way. The captain "Wolf" Larsen (Edward G. Robinson) is running a sealing boat, and the plan is to go to sea, catch those seals, and only then return to San Francisco. And it's not as if they're going to be in the normal shipping lanes. Making matters worse is that Wolf is a no-nonsense taskmaster as captain.

Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. OK, more than a bit of understatement. Wolf believes the bit from Milton's Paradise Lost that it's "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven", and boy is he reigning in Hell! The thing is, pretty much everybody on board is there because they're escaping a criminal past, so the alternative to not taking orders from Wolf is obviously pretty bad. The one guy who might think about a bit of rebellion is the doctor Prescott (Gene Lockhart), but he'd be happy with a bit of respect.

Ultimately, George decides to lead a rebellion, although the ship's cook Cooky (Barry Fitzgerald) is an all-watching eye who finds being a stool pigeon for Wolf is the least bad option. How the hell is anybody going to escape this ship?

The Sea Wolf is a well-made movie with good acting performances, particularly from Knox and Robinson. Knox is an actor you'd probably best remember from Wilson in 1944, since Knox's portrayal of the president probably should have brought him an Academy Award, he was that far above every other performance that year. Knox for whatever reason never really got plum roles after Wilson, which is a shame because he already shows here how much potential he has. Robinson's performance should come as no surprise. He plays a man who, although brutal, is probably also going mad, I'd guess from a brain tumor of some sort since he's got some condition that causes temporary blindness. It's a difficult role to make anything but a caricature, and Robinson does it with aplomb.

The print of The Sea Wolf that TCM ran was about 87 minutes. I was wondering what would happen since I saw that the Blu-ray is 100 minutes. It turns out that when The Sea Wolf was re-released in the late 1940s, about 13 minutes of footage were cut. That footage was only rediscovered in the last few years, and a restored print was made. That restoration got its Blu-ray release earlier this year, but I'd assume that the terms of the release prevent TCM from running that print for some period of time. I don't know what footage was cut, but even the cut version is quite good.

Friday, May 4, 2018


Back when Charles Boyer was the TCM Star of the Month, one of the rarities TCM ran was a film he made in France in 1934, Liliom. The TCM Shop has a Kino Video DVD of the movie available for purchase, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Boyer plays Liliom Zadowski, who makes a modest living as a carnival barker getting people to ride the carousel at a French carnival; presumably this was one of those carnivals where you bought tickets for each individual ride since Liliom is going up against the strongman to try to get people to try the various attractions. Liliom is a bit of a ladies' man, which eventually gets him fired wih he's accused of trying to romance one of the young lady riders: the cashier who owns the ride is a woman and she wanted Liliom.

Julie (Madeleine Ozeray) is a good woman working as a maid, until she's found out to be going out with an unemployed carnival barker. She too loses her job, and the two eke out a living sharing accommodations with Julie's aunt. Poor Liliom has lost his manhood, at least in a psychological sense; he's still able to knock poor Julie up. And get in fights with her.

With a child on the way and no money coming in, what's a man to do? One of Liliom's "friends" suggests the perfect crime, which you know means it's something that's going to go wrong. The proposed crime is to rob the guy who's going to be bringing the payroll cash to a local factory; Liliom also gets the unwelcome job of having to stab the guy to death.

Of course, the job goes wrong and Liliom and his partner in crime are caught by the police. Well, not quite so much Liliom. He knows he's going to be caught with no escape, so he decides to take another way out and stab himself to death, leaving Julie even worse off than when he was around.

Liliom is taken up to heaven, where he's shown just what a jerk he was down on earth, so he's going to have to spend a lot of time in purgatory, until he's given a chance to go back to Earth for one day to try to make amends for the things he did wrong while he was alive.

If the story of Liliom sounds familiar, it probably should. It's based on a play by Ferenc Molnár (credited here as Franz which is just the German equivalent of Ferenc), who wrote the play behind The Guardsman, The Swan, and One, Two, Three. Further, Liliom was turned into a musical by Rogers and Hammerstein, Carousel. Fritz Lang directed, having recently fled Nazi Germany and on his way to Hollywood. The result is some beautiful cinematography, especially in the heavenly sequences.

I had a big problem, however, with the fact that it took so darn long for the story to get to the heaven part. The movie is a shade under two hours, and it's not until about 1:20 in that Liliom finally dies. The resolution is much too quick. And in the first half, he's not the sort of person I cared for, but a sort of snotty Jack Carson-type whom I'd just want to smack.

Still, it's easy to see why a lot of people would like Liliom. I just wish the Kino DVD weren't so expensive for them.

Irish Independence Film Collection

I've mentioned quite a few times how I listen to various international broadcasters. Oftentimes, I'll just download an individual news story that sounds interesting. Yesterday, for example, there was a story from Ireland that the Irish Film Institute has restored a bunch of newsreel footage from the time of Irish Independence 100 years ago.

The news report itself isn't of particular note; I don't think I would have mentioned it if it weren't for the fact that the stuff is available online. The "Independence Film Collection" can be found here, although what looks more interesting is the home page for the Irish Film Archive media player.

Just for kicks, I tried one of the videos, which unsurprisingly didn't want to play in Firefox on my Linux system, although it did play in Opera. (I don't have a Chrome-based browser on this system.)

Not that I'm particularly interested in the Irish war of independence, but ilm archives are almost always interesting.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #199: Characters making a new start

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 characters making a new start. I thought about it for a few minutes, and realized that there was an obvious way in which movie characters make a new start. With that in mind, I came up with the following three movies:

The Emigrants (1971). Life is ridiculously difficult for tenant farmers in 1840s Sweden, and with enough crop failures and other disasters, one family, led by Max von Sydow, decides they've finally had enough. So they sell off everything to make the money to book passage to America, specifically Minnesota Territory where they have a cousin. This was followed by the sequel The New Land, in which the characters, finally having reached Minnesota, settle down and try to make a living of it.

Plymouth Adventure (1952). Hollywood telling of the Pilgrims crossing the Atlantic on the Mayflower and settling in what is now Massachusetts to get away from religious persecution in Europe. The story is of course glamoured up so that they could have a lead actress like Gene Tierney play Dorothy Bradford. Spencer Tracy plays the captain of the Mayflower; Van Johnson plays John Alden; MGM got a bunch of character actors you'll recognize for the smaller roles. It also has nice color cinematography.

The Big Trail (1930). John Wayne got his first starring role in this very early Fox talkie as a trail scout leading a group of pioneers west along the Oregon Trail. Marguerite Churchill plays the love interest; El Brendel is comic relief, and Tyrone Power Sr. appears (the Tyrone Power we most remember was still a teenager at this time). The movie was filmed in a wide-screen process called Grandeur alongside the then-standard aspect ratio, and you can see some potential in the Grandeur print such as a scene of trying to get all the wagons and animals down a cliff. Unfortunately, Grandeur couldn't handle close-ups well, and with theaters having just paid a pretty penny to convert to sound, they didn't want to convert to wide-screen too, so the film lost a bundle and sent Wayne to Poverty Row for years until Stagecoach.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Tillie's Punctured Romance

Over the weekend, I watched Tillie's Punctured Romance, having downloaded it from one of the public domain prints available on Youtube. It's also available on DVD, at least according to the TCM Shop. (Note that, because of its being in the public domain, and thanks to various restorations, there are prints of varying length.)

Tillie (Marie Dressler) is a country woman who has come into a bit of money. A City Slicker (Charlie Chaplin before becoming The Tramp) meets her and immediately pretends to be smitten with her; he really wants the money. Anyhow the two get married and head off to the city, at which point the Slicker takes Tillie's money and goes off with his real girlfriend Mabel (Mabel Normand). Poor Tillie is left to wait tables in a restaurant.

Ah, but Tillie has an uncle who likes to go adventuring. And he's far richer than Tillie's father. Uncle goes off to the mountains, but has an accident that leaves him dead, with a will that bequeathed his estate to Tillie. Tillie now has a mansion, and the Slicker decides he's going to try to put the moves on Tillie again. This time the Keystone Kops are on hand to cause all sorts of comedic complications....

Tillie's Punctured Romance is probably best looked at in light of its status as being one of the first feature-length movies, depending of course on how you define "feature-length". The print that I saw was 74 minutes with limited intertitles; other versions might be longer or shorter depending on frame rate and how much time is spend showing intertitles.

As for the comedy, it's underwhelming. Dressler would go on in the sound era to learn how to become a much more natural film actress; here she has a style more suited for silent melodramas. Chaplin isn't yet the Tramp and apparently wasn't involved with the writing. Mabel Normand looks nice, but she's a decided third wheel. It's not terrible, but if I wanted to introduce people to silent comedy, this is certainly not the movie I'd use to do it. (I'd start off with the two-reelers anyway, for people who don't think they can watch a silent movie that's that long.) It didn't help, either, that the print I downloaded didn't have a musical score, probably to make certain it remained in the public domain.

If you're a fan of silent movies, I'd recommend Tillie's Punctured Romance, although if you are you've probably already seen it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Wanna see a bunch of similar movies?

Today being May 1, we get some new features for a new month. As I said yesterday, no new Star of the Month yet, but it's already time for the TCM Spotlight. Starting at 8:00 tonight and for the next 48 hours, through to prime time Tuesday, and then again every Tuesday and Wednesday in May, we get movie series. Lots and lots of movie series.

Already tonight I'm looking forward to Blondie at 8:00 PM, which kicks off six movies in that series. Arthur Lake plays Dagwood Bumstead with Penny Singleton playing Blondie. The comic strip son Alexander appears in the entire series from what I can tell, although he's much younger than in the comic, where he was a teenager. I can't tell if daughter Cookie is in the first movie. There were about 28 movies in the series which ran from 1938 to 1950, but TCM is only showing the early entries tonight. You can't blame them for not running the entire series.

The series movies tend to be shorter, so the six Blondie Movies only run through to 4:15 AM, leaving time for nine movies in the Mexican Spitfire series, which I think is all of them, and we're still not to Wednesday in prime time yet.

TCM ran a whole bunch of series in the old Saturday just before noon slot, now replaced by the shorts/western/Tarzan block, and before that, I think it was in November 2007, the month with all the Guest Programmers in prime time, that they ran a whole bunch of series during the day.