Saturday, June 30, 2018

Anthony Adverse

One of those movies I had known about for a long time only because it's in those lists of Oscar winners is Anthony Adverse. I finally DVRed it the last time it showed up on TCM. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:30 AM, which was the impetus for me finally to get around to watching it.

Fredric March gets top billing, although he doesn't show up for quite some time. Instead, we get a long introductory sequence introducing us to Anthony and his backstory. In France circa 1770, Don Luis (Claude Rains) is the Spanish ligate to France, having just gotten married to Maria (Anita Louise). However, he's also busted his foot and has to go to the spa for a spa cure. Maria is perfectly happy for that, since this is an arranged marriage and she doesn't like her creep of a husband. She's been having a torrid love affair with Denis (Louis Hayward), one that results in her getting knocked up. Eventually, Don Luis finds out and kills Denis in a duel. Maria dies in childbirth, and Don Luis leaves the baby at a girls' convent school, and Maria's maid Faith (Gale Sondergaard) with Maria's father John Bonnyfeather (Edmund Gwenn), a British merchant in Livorno (called by the old-fashioned English name Leghorn), Italy.

Long backstory, isn't it. And it's still not over. Ten years pass and the nuns have to do something with the kid, since you can't well have a boy at a girls' school. So they look for a foster parent among the British merchants to whom they can apprentice the boy, whom they named Anthony since the boy was dropped off at the convent on the feast day of St. Anthony. Bonnyfeather immediately recognizes the resemblance between the young boy and his dead daughter, although how the kid grows up to look like Fredric March is a mystery to me. Faith, on the other hand, is pissed. She knows the kid is a danger. She was slated to receive the bulk of the Bonnyfeather estate if John died without a biological descendant, but now there's this damn kid. And don't you know that John wants to make Anthony his chief heir.

Anthony grows up and falls in love with the chef's daughter Angela (Olivia de Havilland, turning 102 tomorrow unless she drops dead in the next 24 hours), who wants to be an opera singer. But Napoleon invades, and that threatens everybody's business, especially Bonnyfeather who's got debtors all over the place. Bonnyfeather sends Anthony to go to Havana to deal with one of the debts. But before heading off, Anthony marries Angela and the two go off to their separate jobs.

Years pass, and Anthony goes first to Havana, and then to Africa to be a slave trader to pay off Bonnyfeather's debts. And when he finally does that he heads for home in Livorno, where he finds out that John died and that Faith hid the news from him because of that whole inheritance thing. So it's off to Paris to straighten out the inheritance, with Faith and her now husband Don Luis in hot pursuit to stop Anthony. To make matters even more complicated, Angela has made her way to Paris where she's known as Mlle. Georges, a successful singer and mistress of Napoleon. She's also born Anthony a son, who was obviously conceived in the quickie Anthony and Angela had in the 20 minutes between when they were married and when the two had to go off to Havana and the opera tour respectively.

Anthony Adverse is one of those wannabe epics that's not particularly epic, instead being more of a story that goes on and on and on and never really goes anywhere. To me it felt more like a series of scenes than a connected whole. The acting is also uneven. March is surprisingly bland here, while Rains overacts, chewing the scenery every chance he gets. De Havilland is second-billed, but doesn't have much to do. Gale Sondergaard won the first Best Supporting Actress for hissing her way through the role and basically looking nasty all the time.

Anthony Adverse is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. But it's a movie I'd suggest watching on TCM first before deciding whether you want to spend the money on the DVD.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Briefs for June 29-30, 2018

Famed science fiction writer Harlan Ellison died on Wednesday at the age of 84. He did some writing for TV, notably the classic Star Trek original series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever". But when I looked him up on IMDb, it turns out that he does have a movie credit: apparently he co-wrote the screenplay of The Oscar, of all things. If it had been something science fiction, that might make sense, but The Oscar?! Whatever puts food on the table, I suppose.

The Chinese Communist authorities are proposing a law to cap the wages of actors. At least, actors in movies and TV shows made in China. Such a law would never fly in the US, although I'm sure there are some Hollywood producers who would like the idea very much. Then again the same creative accounting they use to have every movie declare a loss could be used to get around the law.

Tonight's prime time lineup on TCM is "matriarchy movies", which gives them another chance to run the hilariously bad Queen of Outer Space at 1:15 AM (so still late Friday evening if you're on the west coast.

I've actually got more movies to blog about, although that's going to have to wait until tomorrow. Life has been a bit busy here.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Their Social Splash (1915)

Today is the birthday of comic actress Polly Moran (1883-1952), whose career spanned silent one-reelers through to Adam's Rib a few years before she died. IMDb's filmography lists a series of shorts as "Sheriff Nell" that sound interesting, but in looking them up on Youtube there were no hits. (I have no idea if any of them survive.) Instead, Youtube found the 1915 short Their Social Splash, with Slim Summerville and (supposedly) Harold Lloyd. Since it's from 1915, the movie should be in the public domain, but the music could always get it taken down even though it's been up almost six years:

Thursday Movie Picks #207: Spinoffs (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're in the last week of another month, which means it's time for another TV version. This month, the theme is spinoffs, when they take characters from one show, change the situation, and voilà, you've got a new show. It wasn't too difficult to come up with three shows, although I was able to come up with a theme-within-a-theme this week:

The Jeffersons (1975-1985). George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) was the next-door neighbor of Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) on All in the Family, and during the 1974-75 TV season, George and his wife Weezy (Isabel Sanford) moved on up to a deeeeee-luxe apartment in the sky as George's dry-cleaning business became a success. The Jeffersons' neighbors (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker) were an interracial couple, something rarely seen on TV at the time. For those of you in the US, MeTV has been running the show at 5:00 PM ET on Sundays; check local listings if you've got a MeTV affiliate.

Archie Bunker's Place (1979-1983). After the death of Archie's wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), Archie bought a bar, co-managed it (Martin Balsam played the business partner for two seasons), and took in a foster child (Danielle Brisebois; Celeste Holm played her grandmother).

Gloria (1982-1983). Archie Bunker's daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) married Meathead (Rob Reiner) and later divorced; this spinoff has a divorced Gloria taking her kid and moving to a small town where she goes to work for a veterinarian (Burgess Meredith). The show was not a success and was cancelled after one season. Sally Struthers got fat and

begged people to feed starving children, something which would become subject for parody:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

His Arms Around the World

Another of my recent DVD purchases was this cheap four-film Gregory Peck set. The movie on it that was completely new to me was The World in His Arms.

Peck plays Jonathan Clark, the captain of a sealing boat, that is, one who goes up to Alaska and catches seal to sell down in San Francisco. It's 1850, which means that Alaska is still a Russian territory, and frankly, the Russians aren't happy about Clark taking their seals. Apparently, they're going to imprison him if he shows up in Alaska again. Meanwhile, he's short on the money he needs to fix up his ship and get back to Alaska. Meanwhile, he's got a friendly rival in the form of the Portugee (Anthony Quinn).

In San Francisco, Clark meets Countess Marina (Ann Blyth), a young woman who is the niece of the territorial governor in Alaska. But she's come down to San Francisco because she wants to get away from Prince Semyon (Carl Esmond). The thing is, she's been betrothed to Semyon in a marriage of political convenience, and she has absolutely no desire to marry Semyon. And if that was her desire when she fled Alaska, it's an even stronger desire once she meets Jonathan. Our good captain, unsurprisingly, is also taken with Marina, and he proposes to her, a proposal she's more than willing to accept. Except that she gets shanghaied back to Alaska for that arranged marriage to Semyon.

Jonathan is understandably pissed, since Marina never had the chance to tell her about the arranged marriage leading him to think that Marina was just stringing him along. The Portugee also goes on his ship, with the two going after Marina, the seals, and the danger presented by the Russian territorial government....

The World in His Arms is solid entertainment, no more and no less. It played out to me as the sort of movie studios put their stars in to keep them working and in the public eye. It's enjoyable, even if nobody would have remembered it as the best work of their career. If there is anything wrong with it, it's that the part in San Francisco drags on too long before getting to the good parts of the adventure. Oh, and Jonathan keeps a seal which is presumably to provide comic relief, although I thought that part was dumb. The movie is based on a book by Rex Beach, a name that really sounded familiar although I couldn't remember why. It turns out he also wrote The Spoilers, which was turned into a movie on multiple occasions. (I recorded the 1942 John Wayne/Marlene Dietrich version when Dietrich was Star of the Month, and intend to get around to that one at some point.)

As for the box set, one of the Amazon reviewers claims that two of the movies are not in the proper aspect ratio. I noticed that The World in His Arms was not letterboxed and was worried at first, until I saw the copyright date of 1952, so of course it was in the Academy ratio. (I didn't check the other movies yet.) The box set is bare-bones, with two movies on each disc, although both movies on the same side and each disc gets its own spindle. No extras on the disc I popped in. But for the price, what can you expect.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Westerns have never been my favorite genre. It's not that I don't like them the way I tend not to like musicals; it's more that for me, westerns tend to blend into one another a lot more than other genres. A good example of that for me was the movie Warlock.

One day in the mining town of Warlock, a group of men come into town and shoot it up, intimidating the latest deputy sheriff. It seems that they have form in this matter, having gotten one lawman after another to quit because of the group's violence. Some of the townspeople want to send for the marshal, but he's too far away to be able to do any good, so a different group want to bring in the vigilante gunman Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda). Clay comes as part of a package with his good friend Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn).

Clay proceeds with trying to bring law and order to the town, even winning a gunfight with some of the group of violent men without having to resort to taking a shot. Not only that, but Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark) decides he's going to leave the group and join the forces of good. And Clay strikes up a relationship with local woman Jessie (Dolores Michaels). Meanwhile, Morgan's old flame Lily (Dorothy Malone) is coming to town. Lily, through another of her old boyfriends, has a past with Clay. But before Lily gets there, Gannon's old group holds up the stagecoach, killing a man in the process.

A lot of complications ensue before the final showdown. Or final showdowns, because there's one between Gannon and Clay, and another between Gannon and Morgan.

Warlock is one of those competently made movies that people who are already predisposed to being fans of westerns are probably going to like a lot. As I said at the top, I've never been as much of a fan of westerns, so I didn't have the love for it that many people will. This isn't to say anything bad about the movie. It just felt to me as though it was treading over a lot of the same ground that other westerns I've already seen have done. If I have one problem with it, it's that at just over two hours, it's a bit too long. But the acting is good, and the cinematography is good too.

If you like westerns, then I'm confident you're going to enjoy Warlock. It's available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sorry, no pancakes

One of the DVDs I picked up in my most recent set of DVD purchases was a 10-film W.C. Fields box set. Among the movies on it was the completely new-to-me International House.

In the Chinese city of Wuhu, Dr. Wong (Edmund Breese) has invented a "radioscope", a new type of television, or something to compete with the other television-like devices that were in their infancy at the time the movie was released in 1933. Wong wants to sell the rights to the device for western markets, so people from around the world are coming to visit. There's a Russian general (Bela Lugosi), and representing America is Tommy Nash (Stewart Erwin). Except that he's having trouble getting to Wuhu, having to carpool with Peggy Hopkins Joyce (playing herself more or less; the real Joyce was a chorus girl known for marrying rich men).

Into all of this comes the noted adventurer Quail (W.C. Fields). Quail is flying his autogyro somewhere, although where he's supposed to be flying it is part of the joke, as the map shows him going literally all over the place. Quail lands on top of the international hotel in Wuhu, and proceeds to make life difficult for people as he tries to get a room.

That's the plot, more or less. There's not much plot here, and that's part of the point of the movie. Instead, there are a series of sketches, most notably involving George Burns and Gracie Allen, whom I most recently mentioned in the Carole Lombard comedy We're Not Dressing. Allen was noted for playing the ditz and driving Burns nuts, something she does as well here as in everything else I've ever seen her in. The hotel also puts on a musical number involving among others, Sterling Holloway. The television serves a useful purpose here, as every time Dr. Wong tries to tune into the six-day bicycle race, he winds up tuning into another musical act. There's Baby Rose Marie, who by this time was nine years old, so not much of a baby any more. Rudy Vallee does a number, but for me, the highlight was Cab Calloway.

The result is a movie that really has no rights being very good. And yet despite the relative lack of a plot, I found myself laughing quite a bit, which I suppose is a sign that the movie was successful in entertaining. The box set is cheap, so even if you don't like International House, there's likely to be some other movie on the set you'll enjoy. Amazon also lists International House as being available on a standalone DVD as part of Universal's MOD scheme. I have no idea if the print is better; I didn't notice a particularly bad print on the box set.

The final night of Leslie Howard

TCM has been running the films of Leslie Howard every Monday night in prime time to honor him as Star of the Month. I mentioned at the beginning of the month that I would love to see TCM run From the Four Corners, a short he made with three real soldiers from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but that on isn't on the schedule. I'm assuming that they couldn't get the rights to it this time around or something. The movie was produced by the British Ministry of Information instead of any studio. And there's almost an hour between the end of the final movie, Five and Ten (starting at 3:30 AM and running just long enough to keep anything from starting at 5:00 AM) and the start of the "Mad About Musicals" spotlight at 6:00 AM Tuesday.

As for the features, there are airings of two movies that show up infrequently: 49th Parallel kicks off the night at 8:00 PM, and that will be followed at 10:15 PM by The First of the Few, AKA Spitfire.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


Some weeks back, TCM ran the early Andrzej Wajda film A Generation in the TCM Imports slot. The movie is available on DVD from a Criterion Collection box set of three World War II movies Wajda directed, so I sat down to watch A Generation and do a post about it here.

Stach (Tadeusz Łomnicki) is an idle youth in the slums outside of Warsaw in 1942. You'll note from the year that this is during the Nazi occupation, which is an everyday presence in the lives of everybody in Poland. Stach and his friends play teenage games, but do their bit for the resistance effort by trying to hop on coal transports and throw lumps of coal off the coal cars for the people to use instead of the German war machine. This time, however, it costs on of Stach's friends his life.

Stach is basically forced to find work, which he does as an apprentice in a woodworking shop making bed frames for Nazi barracks. Not that the boss wants to; when Stach goes into the storeroom to get some glue he accidentally knocks over one of the barrels of other stuff and finds that a pistol falls out. It's later revealed (not to Stach) that the boss is running weapons for part of the Polish resistance.

However, Stach isn't making much money, and one of his co-workers, Sekula, tells Stach that Marx pointed out how workers were exploited by their bosses in just the way that Stach and his co-workers are being exploited by their boss. (Sekula fails to include the cost of materials and overhead/capital in his example, of course.) Later, at school, Stach hears from a young woman named Dorota (Urszula Modrzyńska) mentioning the name of a Communist resistance group, and how people can learn more. It seems very dangerous to mention it so openly, but that's how it happens in the movie. Stach joins up, and falls in love with Dorota.

Of course, being in the resistance isn't easy. There's always the threat of being caught by the Nazis. And Stach is in a Communist group, which causes other problems since the Communists hate the non-Communist resistance groups probably as much as they hate the Nazis. Stach's old boss is part of one of those non-Communist groups, and when the boss finds that pistol missing, Stach's involvement in a Communist cell is going to be revealed.

A Generation is a pretty darn good movie about a part of World War II that gets little attention in Hollywood cinema, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that Poland wound up behind the Iron Curtain after the War. Wajda shows himself to be an excellent director of the camera in an opening tracking shot, and there are some other very striking scenes, such as one involving a spiral staircase in the Jewish ghetto when they revolted in 1943. The acting is acceptable but not memorable; I'd guess that had to do with not having a particularly big talent pool to draw from.

There are some scenes that to me are cringeworthy, but those scenes kind of had to be put in the movie to get past the Communist censors. I already mentioned the reference to Marx; there's also the whole idea of the Communist resistance cells being somehow superior to the non-Communist cells. (In fact, when the 1944 Warsaw Uprising occurred, Stalin specifically ordered Soviet forces not to help because if the uprising had succeeded, it would have helped the government in exile in London remain the legitimate government after the war, and Stalin wanted a Communist puppet regime. Letting the Poles die was no big deal to him.) But I can't really blame Wajda for these problems; without Communist propaganda in the movie it never would have been released.

Still, A Generation is certainly worth watching. It's just too bad that foreign films usually get relegated to pricier DVD releases.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Reaching for the Moon

I get the New York City local channels as part of my DirecTV package, even though with the antenna I've got I can only get the Albany channels. Anyhow, the City itself has a TV channel and that channel runs lousy public-domain prints of movies that feature the city in some way. One of the recent selections was Reaching for the Moon. The movie is available on DVD from Alpha Video, but more on that later.

Bebe Daniels plays Vivien Benton, the leader of the Aero Girls, a group of aviatrices who are about to hop on a boat and go over to London. Or at least she's supposedly an aviatrix; why she couldn't just fly to London I don't know. This was early October, 1929, two years after Lindbergh, and she could have stopped in Iceland anyway. But the send-off party is women only, much to the chagrin of some of the women.

Holding a meeting at the same hotel where the party is is stockbroker Larry Day (Douglas Fairbanks Sr.), the sort of stockbroker who was a staple of those movies discussing high finance. Unsurprisingly, he and Vivien wind up meeting, and the two fall for each other, leading Larry to try to book passage on the same transatlantic liner as Vivien. And he wants her to fall for him, even though he doesn't really know the best way to go about it.

With that in mind, Larry's butler Roger (Edward Everett Horton) tells Larry that he has a love potion that will make people romantically amorous -- just stick it in a cocktail, which you can do out on the boat since it's in international waters and Prohibition no longer applies. Complications ensue, one in the form of Vivien having another man pursuing her, and another in the stock market crash -- note how I mentioned October 1929 above.

IMDb lists the movie as running 91 minutes, which made me a bit nervous when I noticed that the movie had been put in a 90-minute slot. As it turns out, there are a bunch of truncated prints available, and the one that ran on TV was about 72 minutes. (I don't know whether the 91-minute print exists.) Reviews on IMDb imply that there have been prints of other lengths available, including one cut down to 62 minutes and another at 74 minutes. As for Alpha Video, their website says the DVD they have is 68 minutes.

And it's the truncated print that presents a lot of problems with the movie. (It's also why my synopsis feels even more cursory than normal.) It feels as if the story is incoherent, which it probably is, and actions that would establish character motivations are missing. One thing that wasn't cut out of the print I saw what a musical number that featured what I think is Bing Crosby's earliest surviving film footage. His song is accompanied by a dance on ship where the passengers are doing a rather energetic ballroom dance, and it's the highlight of an otherwise lackluster film.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Murder in the Clouds

Some months back, I recorded Murder in the Clouds, not knowing whether it was on DVD or not. It turns out that Alpha Video has put out a bare-bones DVD of the movie, so I'm OK doing a full-length review of it.

Lyle Talbot plays "Three Star" Halsey, a pilot based out of Los Angeles and the best pilot the airline has. It's a good thing for him that he's that good, because as with Clark Gable's character in Test Pilot, he likes to live it up, to the mild annoyance of his co-pilot Tom (Robert Light) and Tom's sister Judy (Ann Dvorak), a stewardess who is the object of Three Star's attention. It's to the point that his boss is always worried that it's going to interfere with his work for the airline.

And, as it happens, the airline has a very good reason to worry about Three Star, because the government comes a-calling with an important job. Some scientist has developed a formula for a new explosive that's supposedly going to change the face of war. (I assume it's not a nuclear bomb. This was 1934.) The scientist is going to take it to Washington, and they need the best pilot money can buy to make certain the plane gets there safely. That means Three Star and Tom.

But we find out that there's a fifth columnist working for the airline. Two of them, in fact. The boss's executive assistant Taggart (Russell Hicks) and pilot Wexley (Gordon Westcott) are both in on a plan to sabotage the flight and then get the explosive and take it to Mexico. (The scientist assures everybody beforehand that the explosive is kept in a safe container that is presumably crash-proof.) When Three Star goes to the local bar to blow off some steam before the big flight, Taggart sends some men there to rough him up forcing him to miss the flight and Wexley to take his place.

The plane predictably gets blown out of the sky, and it's a desperate race for the good guys to find the explosive, giving Three Star a chance to redeem himself. Judy is worried about her brother, so she wants to go to the crash site. And the bad guys are preparing a way to get that container out of the country.

Murder in the Clouds isn't a great movie, but it's the sort of movie that shows why I tend to think Warner Bros. had the best B movies. It's fast, light, and endlessly entertaining in its 61 minutes despite all the plot holes that ought to strain credulity. Fans of old planes will also like the vintage aircraft.

If Murder in the Clouds were a Warner Archive release, I'd be bemoaning the high price of the DVD. But it's Alpha Video, so the price isn't bad either. I think that anybody who likes 1930s movies is going to enjoy this one.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #206: Juvenile Delinquents

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 juvenile delinquents, or at least movies about juvenile delinquents, not the actual child stars getting into trouble. As is usually the case, I reached well back into the mists of time to come up with this week's selections:

Untamed Youth (1957). Mamie Van Doren and Lori Nelson play sisters who get stopped for vagrancy on their way cross-country to California, so they get thrown in the town's juvenile hall for it. Only, it's not a hall, it's a slush fund for one of the local farmers to get cheap labor for his cotton fields and undercut all the other farmers. One of the girls gets knocked up, and the kids do some musical numbers out in the cotton fields. It sounds like it should be awful, but it's one of those movies that winds up being a whole lot of fun because of how dumb it is.

Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955). Another movie that winds up being fun for its stupidity. Good girl Sue England accidentally winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time with bad girl Molly McCart; both wind up in juvenile detention. Molly's boyfriend Tommy Cook breaks both out of the facility, and the boyfriend and girlfriend eventually hold a farm couple hostage with poor Sue in tow. The highlight of this one is a TV news bulletin showing the three escapees for people to identify. Molly and Tommy are shown in their booking shots, Sue is in a glamour picture in a swimsuit and her hands behind her head!

The Mayor of Hell (1933). The best of this week's lot stars James Cagney as a gangster trying to reform, who as part of that gets named to run a reform school where the likes of Frankie Darro are sent. What Cagney discovers is that the previous management have been treating the kids terribly and skimming money off the top -- and they want to keep Cagney from doing anything about it! It all results in a prison riot and fire. The movie was remade five years later as Crime School, which Humphrey Bogart taking the Cagney role.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Interesting scheduling for fans of remakes

Tonight's theme on TCM is "June Brides", which is really movies about weddings; I don't know that all of the movies claim to be set in June. But that's beside the oint of the night's lineup or the subject of this post. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with the 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story, a wonderful comedy that I'd highly recommend if you haven't seen it.

THe Philadelphia Story would be remade in 1956 as High Society, starring Bing Crosby in the Cary Grant role of first husband; Grace Kelly as the bride; and Frank Sinatra as the journalist. If you've watched enough TCM, you'll probably have seen the "Word of Mouth" piece with Celeste Holm (taking the Ruth Hussey role) talking about the diamond ring Grace Kelly came in with that was the engagement ring from Prince Rainier of Monaco. Anyhow, High Society will be on tomorrow at 1:30 PM as part of TCM's "Mad About Musicals" spotlight, which by this point has reached the 1950s.

But wait, there's more! Tomorrow's look at 1950s musicals also includes the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born, at 10:00 PM Thursday. I'm not a fan of Judy Garland's singing, but I mention the movie since, as you are probably aware, this is a remake of an earlier version of A Star Is Born, released in 1937 and starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. (There's also the obligatory mention of What Price Hollywood? from five years earlier, in 1932.) And wouldn't you know it, the 1937 A Star is Born is on the schedule for 6:00 AM Sunday.

Oh, there's also an upcoming remake that I might have mentioned briefly once before. No, not the Barbra Streisand version; but yet another remake staring Lady Gaga as the singer and Bradley Cooper as the alcoholic boyfriend. IMDb says that's scheduled to be released to theaters in October.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Clay Pigeon

TCM ran World War II movies over Memorial Day weekend. When you think of traditional war movies, you don't necessarily think of noir, which brings up the question of what sort of movie Noir Alley would run over the Memorial Day holiday. But there are some excellent noir movies with war themes, specifically the theme of the returning soldier in a jam. Act of Violence is probably the best such movie that I can think of, but this Memorial Day, Noir Alley decided to run The Clay Pigeon.

Bill Williams plays Jim Fletcher, who at the beginning of the movie is in the naval hospital in Long Beach, CA, coming out of a coma. Another patient, now blind, tries to strangle Jim, saying that he wants to know what a traitor looks like! Poor Jim. Considering the whispers of the doctors and nurses, it's pretty clear that the navy is going to court-martial Jim when he gets well. Jim doesn't know why he's going to be court-martialed, so he knows that he has to escape.

Jim gets out of the hospital and makes his way to San Diego, where he knows that Martha (Barbara Hale), the widow of his navy buddy, lives. However, she wants nothing to do with him, because her husband and Jim were POWs together, and the official story is that Jim's actions while they were POWs got the other guy executed for trying to steal food from the Japanese guards. Jim decides to call up the third member of his old clique, Ted Niles (future director Richard Quine) and seek out his help. Of course, Quine is back in Los Angeles, and if Jim leaves Martha in San Diego, she's immediately going to sic the police on him, so he takes her and her car hostage to drive to Los Angeles.

However, along the way, another car which is not a police car comes and tries to drive them off the road, after which Martha has the illogically sudden character development of deciding that Jim must be innocent, and dammit, she's going to help him. Ted's assistance eventually leads Jim to Chinatown and a web of people who want to seem to do away with Jim for more than just his alleged war crimes. But who, and why?

The Clay Pigeon is a good idea, but I couldn't help but think while watching it that it has some flaws. It only runs 63 minutes, which I think is the main reason behind those flaws. Characters, notably Martha, have sudden character developments that deem nonsensical. There's also the trope of Jim suddenly getting key points of his memory back, which I don't think would happen in real life. And if Jim didn't have his memory, would he even be fit to be court-martialed? The plot veers from scene to scene a bit too quickly, making things confusing at times. If you're going to write a 63-minute movie, the script had better be very tight. I think The Clay Pigeon would have been helped by being 15-20 minutes longer, which would have given it time to flesh things out a bit better.

Still, The Clay Pigeon is an interesting idea and a look back at a time that no longer exists. It's available on DVD, from Warner Bros. "Film Noir Archive Collection", which means that the movie is a bit pricey. But judge for yourself.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hanover Street

A few weeks back TCM had a night of movies starring 1970s British actress Lesley-Anne Down. I've already blogged about The Great Train Robbery; I hadn't blogged about Hanover Street before. So, I made it a point to DVR it and watch it so I could do a post here, since it's on DVD.

Harrison Ford plays David, a bomber pilot in the US military in World War II. Since he's going on raids over Europe, he and his crew are stationed in England, and he goes to London on his days off. On one of those days off, he gets caught in a Nazi bombing raid in the titular Hanover Street, which is where he meets Margaret (that's Lesley-Anne Down); the two had been waiting for the same bus. Anyhow David saves Margaret during the raid, and the two immediately strike up a relationship from that instant emotional bond.

There's only one problem: Margaret is already married and has a daughter. Her husband Paul (Christopher Plummer) works for military intelligence, although he works in the boring part of it back in the offices in London rather than doing the risky work. As such, Paul begins to feel that he's not his part in the war effort. Back to that later, however. Margaret, for whatever reason, just couldn't bring herself to tell David that she's already got a husband. Maybe she figured the relationship was going to end whenever David went back to the US and didn't want to hurt him, but for whatever reason she's stuck between two lovers, neither of whom is really guilty of anything.

Things take a dramatic turn, however, thanks to Paul's feelings of inadequacy. British intelligence needs to get a file out of Nazi headquarters in one of the French cities, and to do that they're going to have to parachute a man into France to pretend to be an SS agent and get that file. Paul's job is to train that man for his mission. It's a vital role, although you can see why Paul might feel he really isn't doing enough. So when the time comes for the mission to parachute the guy into France, Paul gets on the plane. And it's piloted by David and his crew.

Things get much more complicated when that plane then gets shot down by the Nazis, forcing David and Paul to bail out. David intends to go one way to get to that part of the Resistance that's going to get him out of the country, while Paul goes in the other direction toward his mission. But Paul badly sprained his ankle during the landing, to the point that there's no way he's going to be able to carry out his mission alone. The only problem is, David doesn't speak a word of German, which is a problem since they're going to have to deal with Nazis at the headquarters.

I won't say where it goes from here since I don't want to spoil the ending. I can say, however, that the movie does ultimately wind up being successfully entertaining. I have to admit that I didn't care as much for large portions of the first half, which include some love scenes from David and Margaret, as well as some scenes at the air base showing the crews' briefings; those scenes I felt went on too long. But the movie really picks up once the mission over France starts. All three actors are more than capable, and I found the set design really looked nice.

Hanover Street is available on a standalone DVD, while Amazon and the TCM shop each list as being available in a different box set too.

Leslie Howard: The Man who Gave a Damn

Leslie Howard is this month's Star of the Month on TCM, with his movies running every Monday in prime time. Two weeks ago, they ran the 2016 documentary Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn. That documentary is going to be on again, early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM. It's well worth watching.

Apparently the documentary took quite a few years to bring about, because the main interviewee is Leslie's daughter Leslie Ruth, who died in 2013. But it's pretty well researched. Narration is handled by Derek Partridge, a British TV presenter who had an interesting connection to Howard: he was supposed to be on a BOAC flight from Lisbon to London, but was pulled off of it because VIP passenger Leslie Howard needed a seat. That was the ill-fated flight that was shot down over the Bay of Biscay. The documentary then mentions Gone With the Wind, since that's probably the role for which Howard is best known -- even if it's one Howard really didn't like doing as he felt he was all wrong for the part of Ashley Wilkes.

From that point, the documentary goes into a standard birth-to-death narrative, interviewing film historians and, in archival footage, people who knew him. (Olivia de Havilland is the one notable person I could think of who was missing.) One interesting interviewee is an assistand director who worked with Howard, Norman Spencer, who is apparently still alive a couple of months shy of his 104th birthday.

Anyhow, I didn't know that Howard's parents wanted him to go into banking, or the difficulties in his marriage: he apparently had an affair with Merle Oberon, and then another with his personal secretary, who died of meningitis about six months before Leslie, although he never got around to updating his will according to a bit on IMDb's "Trivia" section for Howard.

There was a lot of stuff I didn't know about Howard or his career in the documentary, and I think it's something that anybody who's a fan of old movies will enjoy. I don't know that it's available on DVD, because of all the rights issues surrounding the clips used. One of the IMDb reviews implies that's why it took so long for the documentary to see the light of day.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Two Father's Day downers

Happy Father's Day for those who celebrate it on the third Sunday in June, which according to Wikipedia is not quite as many places as I thought. They claim that Australia and New Zealand celebrate in September, while a surprising number of Catholic countries in southern Europe and Latin America celebrate on St. Joseph's Day which is March 19.

Anyhow, since the day is celebrated today here in the US, it's unsurprising that TCM is spending the day with a bunch of father-themed movies. As with Mother's Day a month earlier, there are any number of movies that are old chestnuts for the day. As I write this there's an Andy Hardy movie playing, and tonight at 10:15 PM there's going to be Life With Father.

But I was surprised to see a pair of movies that I was a bit surprised to see show up today. First, at 3:30 PM, is The Entertainer. It's a really good movie; it's just that I wouldn't have thought of it as a Father's Day movie. Laurence Olivier plays a father and husband who's still trying to make it in the British summer resort music hall scene because that's the only life he knew, and that's what his father (Roger Livesey) did.

The Entertainer is followed at 5:30 PM by a TV movie version of Death of a Salesman. It's certainly got a family in it, but is it a movie that I'd think of when I want to think fondly of Dad? Um, no. Apparently, TCM has never been able to get the rights to the Fredric March movie version from the early 1950s, either. What's next for Father's Day? Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Le salaire de la peur noire

Some months back TCM ran a night of movies featuring British actress Diana Dors. One that is currently available on DVD is The Long Haul.

Victor Mature plays Harry Miller, an American GI stationed in Germany who married an English woman Connie (Gene Anderson). His hitch is almost up, and he's got an offer from one of his best friends Art to go work at Art's company back in America. However, Connie doesn't want to uproot herself and son Butch to go to America, so it's back to Connie's old home of Liverpool. Harry doesn't exactly have much in the way of talent, but he's able to get a job as a truck driver since that apparently doesn't take too much work.

Harry starts driving on the Liverpool-Glasgow route, but he finds that he's unable to get a load to take back to Liverpool because Joe Easy (Patrick Allen), the transport man in Glasgow, only seems to want to give work to people he already trusts. Indeed, when Harry tries to press the issue, he's met with violence. This, to the horror of Joe's assistant Frank (Peter Reynolds) and Frank's sister (and also Joe's girlfriend) Lynn (Diana Dors).

Eventually, Harry gets a special job from his boss in Liverpool handling one of Joes's loads that's supposed to go to Glasgow; apparently, the trucker originally supposed to take it, the man Joe would have hand-picked, showed up late. There's a good reason Joe picked that particular trucker: Joe is engaging in insurance fraud, and is planning on robbing this particular shipment. So he's going to have to stop the shipment from going through, by hook or by crook.

It results in Harry meeting Lynn again, and this time the two beginning to fall in love as they wind up spending a night together in what passes for the British version of a motel. But that's also an opportunity for Joe to waylay Harry and steal the shipment. The police wind up investigating which puts some heat on Harry, and a whole lot of strain on Harry and Connie's marriage.

The result is that Harry wants to get back to America, but to do so he's ging to have to accompany a shipment of stolen furs first by trucking it to port through the middle of nowhere, and then on the ship. Joe is along for the ride, and is rather more willing to use force to make certain the shipment gets there, and to make sure Lynn doesn't do anything untoward.

I mentioned The Wages of Fear in the title to the post because the scenes of Harry, Joe, and Lynn having to transport the furs over a mountain really reminded me of that earlier trucking film. The rest of it isn't very alike, which isnot meant in either a good way or a bad way. As a whole, I found the movie a bit perfunctory, as if it was conceived as a second-tier production. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case, since it was filmed in the UK but used an American actor in Mature to have somebody relatively bankable for distribution to the US. Agood portion of the movie feels a bit rushed, and some threads could, I thought, have been handled better.

The overall result is that The Long Haul is moderately entertaining, and one I'm glad I saw. I don't feel as though I wasted my time having seen it. But I've seen better and would recommend other films in the genre first.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Decision at Sundown

Not too long ago I recorded a night of Randolph Scott westerns on TCM. There were three with director Budd Boetticher and Colt .45. I've blogged about two of the three Boetticher movies, and all three of them are on a box set I recently bought off of Amazon. The third Boetticher movie TCM ran was Decision at Sundown.

Scott plays Bart Allison, who at the start of the movie holds up a stagecoach he's riding on so that it will stop in the middle of nowhere. Eventually meeting him at the hold-up point is his old friend Sam (Noah Beery Jr.), and the two ride together into the town of Sundown. The arrive just in time to find out that town boss Tate Kimbrough (John Carroll) is about to marry lovely Lucy (Karen Steele), daughter of the largest landowner (John Litel). Everybody in town is going to be going to the wedding.

Indeed, that's why Bart came to town. He has some unfinished business to attend to at the wedding, which soon comes to light when the JP performing the ceremony does the "speak now or forever hold your peace" bit and tries much too fast to go on to the next part of the ceremony. Oh hell no, Bart isn't going to stand for that. Bart asks Tate if he remembers a woman named Mary at Sabine Pass. Ultimately, we learn that while Bart was off fighting the Civil War for the South, Tate met Mary, who was Bart's Mrs. Bart Allison. The encounter eventually led Mary to commit suicide, and Bart naturally blames Tate for what happened. Bart plans to get revenge, and since Lucy doesn't want to be a widow, she runs back home to Daddy to await further developments.

Tate is none too happy, forcing Bart and Sam to make a quick getaway back to the livery stable, where they are besieged by Tate and his men. In addition to being the town boss, Tate apparently controls half of the men in town and they're able to draw their guns on the stable although it's easy enough for Bart and Sam to barricade the one entrance. However, it turns out that the other half of the town that isn't controlled by Tate has always resented him, as he's an interloper who only came to Sundown after whatever happened with Mary all those years ago. They might be willing to find a way to try to stand up to Tate for once.

That's pretty much all there is to Decision at Sundown. Or, at least, that's all I got out of it. There is in many ways a lot less action here than in a lot of other westerns, even than in most of the psychological westerns. When there is action, it seems a bit illogical. Tate says he'll let the two men out of the stable if they leave town, and Sam is willing to leave the stable. But then he gets the idiotic idea that Tate is going to let him back in. Even if there were an important message to sent to Bart, it would be done through a neutral intermediary like the JP or maybe even Lucy's father. I also found there to be a lot of backstory that probably could have been fleshed out more.

Overall, of the Scott/Boetticher westerns I've seen, I'd consider Decision at Sundown to be the least of them. Fans of Randolph Scott will probably like it, although if I were introducing people to Scott's westerns it's not the first one I'd pick. I wouldn't say that I didn't like it -- there are some movies I've seen recently that I had much more severe problems with -- it's just that I found something bigger lacking than in a fair number of other movies. It's on a box set, though, so even if you have more problems with it that I did, you can consider it a bonus movie.

New to TCM Saturday Mornings

Back in March after the end of 31 Days of Oscar, TCM started a new programming block from 8:00 to noon on Saturday mornings that tries to imitate the old Saturday matinee experience of a feature, a serial, a bunch of shorts, and so on. The serial in question was Red Barry, and last Saturday was apparently the final chaper of that serial. (I wasn't watching, and the TCM monthly schedule doesn't say much in the way of a synopsis.)

That means it's time for a new serial, which is Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery: Wreck of the Dirigible, at 9:30 AM Saturday. This is actually the second Tailspin Tommy serial. I had never heard of it, but apparently Tailspin Tommy was a comic strip from 1928 to 1942, and the popularity led to one serial in 1934, the one that TCM will be showing in 1935, and then a couple of one-hour feature movies. There don't seem to be any other changes to the Saturday lineup, in that they aren't through with the Tarzan movies, while we still get another Popeye short. The John Wayne westerns ended some time back, I think, and we've had other B westerns for a while.

IMDb says that there are 12 chapters in the Tailspin Tommy serial, which means that including the break for Summer Under the Stars, the last episode should be airing on Saturday, Sept. 29: three chapters in June, four in July, none in August, and the last five in September. Indeed, a quick look at the schedule shows that the 9:30 AM slot on September 29 is taken by Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery: The Last Stand, which certainly sounds like the last chapter. (I believe the October schedule hasn't been announced yet, so who knows what the next serial will be.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #205: Myths and Legends

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 myths and legends. There's a fair bit about Greek mythology and it would probably be easy to do this using three movies on Greek myth. But I decided I'd go with three different traditions this week, that is, one Greek myth and two others:

Down to Earth (1947). Rita Hayworth plays Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance, who discovers that a Broadway producer (Larry Parks) is using the Muses in a completely bogus way for his show. So she insists on going down to earth and show him what the Muses were really about. Of course, Terpsichore falls in love with the producer along the way. Complicating matters is the fact that the audience doesn't want what Terpsichore claims the Muses are really about. This is a sort of follow-up to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and the idea of a Greek muse going down to earth would be used again 30 years later in Xanadu.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Based on the legends surrounding King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his search for the Holy Grail, the members of the Monty Python comedy troupe inject all sorts of zaniness into the search for the Grail, including a knight who describes having an arm cut off as "just a flesh wound", and a nunnery full of nuns who want to be spanked.

The Manitou (1977). Phony psychic Tony Curtis finds that his ex-girlfriend (Susan Strasberg) has a lump on her shoulder that might actually be a "Manitou", a Native American legend about a spirit that has supernatural powers. Unfortunately, this one is an evil Manitou, and all attempts to deal with it will be hazardous to the people trying to destroy it before it destroys a large part of civilization. This is one of those "so awful it's funny" movies from the era, and Tony Curtis gets to go way, way over the top.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Three Strangers

I've mentioned any number of anthology movies, and movies will all-star casts and intertwining stories. A movie that combines elements of the two is Three Strangers.

Geraldine Fitzgerald plays Crystal Shackleford, a woman living in London in 1938. (The film was released in 1946, but was presumably set before the war so as not to deal with it and its aftermath, and because the original story was conceived in the late 1930s.) It's Chinese New Year, and she goes out on the street looking for a stranger, which she finds in the form of Jerome Arbutny (Sydney Greenstreet). She takes him back to her flat, where it turns out there's another stranger, Johnny West (Peter Lorre). Crystal brought the two men there because of a superstition. She's got a statue of a Chinese idol, and legend has it that if three strangers all make the same wish in front of it at midnight on Chinese New Year's, that wish will come true. Johnny has an Irish Sweepstakes lottery ticket, so the other two buy a one-third share and then they wish for the ticket to win.

If the ticket does win, each of them will come into £2,000, which was quite the sum back in 1938. And each of them needs the money. Crystal's estranged husband David (Alan Napier) is in Canada, and if Crystal can show she's got some independent money of her own, she thinks she can win him back. Jerome is a solicitor who would like to become a barrister, but there's a character exam, and right now there's no way Jerome can pass it. He's been embezzling a client's money to speculate on the stock market, and the £2,000 would cover the money he embezzled. As for Johnny, he's got some legal issues.

And so the movie goes back and forth between the three stories. Johnny is trying to stay one step ahead of the law: he's been implicated in a murder committed while he was too drunk to remember what really happened, and he and another witness are in hiding. That money could get him out of the country. But the one who needs the money right now is Jerome, and he becomes increasingly desirous of selling off the ticket after it's picked but before the race.

Three Strangers is a movie with an interesting idea, but one that I found had a big flaw for me. An idea like this is something that could work well as a traditional anthology movie, along the lines of If I Had a Million. Having the movie be an anthology with discrete stories would also help since none of the main characters knows each other. In, say, Phone Call From a Stranger, the characters spend the first half of the movie getting to know each other, but the susperstition is expressly supposed to disallow that here. And the stories really don't intertwine the way the plots of Grand Hotel or Dinner at Eight do. Something like The VIPs had all the strangers be trapped (more or less) together for a night, like the later disaster movies, so a device like that can also make the disparate stories work.

Three Strangers, however, has nothing like that. It goes back and forth between plot lines the way that a Dinner at Eight does, except that none of the characters ever winds up becoming part of another character's story in a way that would make the movie come together as a coherent whole. Which is why, I think, the movie really needed to be written as a traditional anthology. Each of the three strangers could talk in flashback about what happened that makes them need the money now, although again the constriction on the strangers being supposed to not know each other makes that difficult, too.

All in all, there's a fair bit to recommend about Three Strangers, especially the performances from the three leads. But there was something about the script that left me wanting something different.

Three Strangers is available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Notes on box sets

So I reviewed Marriage on the Rocks yesterday and pointed out that I had picked it up as part of a five-film Frank Sinatra box set. I should also note that I haven't really reviewed the box sets themselves: are they packaged well, are there extras, and so on.

As for the Frank Sinatra set, I was mildly surprised that there were no extras on Marriage on the Rocks other than the trailer for the movie. Contrast this with some of the Warner Home Video sets of older movies, like the ones on the Gangster collection where I've been going through the shorts on an irregular basis. The other thing that was interesting is that the subtitles are in English, French, and... Portuguese. Not Spanish. I could understand English, Spanish, and Portuguese without French if the set were designed for the Latin American market, but Portuguese without Spanish? Not that I need those language subtitles when watching a movie; I just found it interesting. The packaging, however, is good, with each DVD in its own case.

Another box set I haven't talked about that I bought last year was this four-film set from Fox. One case, which isn't necessarily noteworthy since other box sets I've picked up have had that. However, there's only one hub, with all four DVDs on it, something I find irritating. I popped in the Leave Her to Heaven disc, and found subtitles in English and Spanish only (relatively reasonable), and some special features, including a commentary, trailers for several old movies, and a newsreel of stars attending the premier, which I found interesting. Here, for example, is Roddy McDowell (who had made several films at Fox) with Jane Powell?! She was at MGM, I think, I didn't know she and Roddy were a thing:

On the bright side, William Eythe attended, so I finally got the pronunciation of his name, which rhymes with "scythe" and not "lathe". There's also a comparison of the old print with a restoration print, although I don't know that I'd notice much of a difference if I didn't have the two side by side. I don't have a nice enough TV to notice the difference.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Rocks Under the Marriage

My last batch of DVDs purchased at Amazon included this Frank Sinatra box set, which is apparently not available over at the TCM Shop. I picked it up for The Man With the Golden Arm and Some Came Running and was willing to try the other three movies, one of which is Marriage on the Rocks. The movie is also available as a standalone DVD (but again, not at the TCM Shop for some reason) and via Amazon streaming.

Sinatra plays Dan Edwards, a Los Angeles ad executive with a wife Valerie (Deborah Kerr) and two kids (Nancy Sinatra and Michel Petit) and a nice 60s house. He's devoted to his work though, as the movie opens up on his 19th wedding anniversary which he's more or less forgotten about. Dan's business partner Ernie (Dean Martin) is a very good friend of the Edwardses, to the point that he can pick out gifts for Valerie because he knows her tastes as well as, if not better than, Dan does. In fact, there's been a running joke that perhaps Valerie married the wrong man.

At home, Dan has a lot of problems. His daughter is 18 and wants to move in with one of her friends (female, platonic), but Dad is firmly in the old camp that a girl that age shouldn't move away from home unless she's getting married. But she's got a nearly fiancé in Jim (Tony Bill). The son is hearing from all his friends, whose parents are getting divorced, and is trying to guilt his parents into giving him things. And then there's the mother-in-law from hell (Hermione Baddeley).

Anyhow, Dan has been neglecting his marriage to the point that Valerie winds up making him sleep on the couch on their anniversary night! Dan and Ernie were planning to go on a guys' fishing trip together to Mexico, but Ernie insists that Dan take Valerie instead and treat it as a second honeymoon.

Dan and Valerie get to Mexico and find out that the village they're staying in is one that caters to Americans looking for either a quickie wedding, or a quickie divorce. Local poobah Miguel (Cesar Romero) is willing to provide either for them, and after a comedy of errors, Dan and Valerie wind up getting divorced! This, even though that's not really their intention. However, it gives them a good reason to have a real marriage all over again and fix the problems in their marriage. Business delays Dan and when Ernie goes down to Mexico to tell Valerie that the wedding will have to be delayed a day or two, another comedy of errors leads to Ernie and Valerie getting married -- the ceremony planned for Valerie and Dan goes ahead, only with Valerie and Ernie. Dan realizes that he can finally teach everybody a lesson.

The plot of Marriage on the Rocks is the sort of stuff that could have made for a fun little B movie at Warners in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the movie was made in 1965. With stars like Sinatra, Kerr, and Martin, we get a sort of generation gap comedy where they're trying to be hip to the changing times, only to fall flat on their faces doing it. Kerr dancing at a nightclub where Trini Lopez is performing and Nancy Sinatra's friend dances on an elevated platform is particularly cringeworthy.

On the other hand, the movie has some spectacular set design. I've stated quite a few times that I enjoy looking at 60s houses as they were actually conceived back in the day (and not so much today's look back at the era). Sinatra's house is nice, but Dean's swinging bachelor pad on the beach is spectacular:

It's just too bad it's in service of a dud of a movie. Having said that, there's always the "judge for yourself" caveat that I like to give. And the box set isn't that expensive, so for the price you're paying for Some Came Running and The Man With the Golden Arm, you're getting three other movies as a bonus.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Briefs for June 10-11, 2018

Eunice Gayson, one of the original Bond girls from Dr. No and From Russia With Love, died on Friday at the age of 90. I have to admit that I don't remember her, but then it looks like she didn't get much screen time in her role. Ursula Andress (still alive at 82), is probably better remembered from Dr. No, which should be unsurprising considering that she had the bigger role by far.

Speaking of Andress, she's going to be in one of this week's TCM Imports, Up to His Ears, overnight tonight at 2:00 AM. It's a movie that's new to me so I can't comment on it otherwise.

Prime time is a look at 50s suburbia, with movies actually made in the 1950s so it's not Hollywood's view looking back. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with No Down Payment, a movie I blogged about back in July 2013, although I thought it was longer ago than that. Tonight's airing, however, is one that I think is a TCM premiere. Since I don't think as many people have FXM, now is a good chance to catch No Down Payment.

Finally, Criterion changed the design of their website. It looks like the sort of thing they designed to be optimized for touch-screen devices. I personally find the new search, which is an overlay covering the screen instead of a box (like the one at the top left if you're on the non-mobile version of this blog), to be annoying. Worse is that it doesn't seem to be working on my mobile devices. I type in one letter and that's it. It won't let me type a second letter. How are you supposed to search for anything like that?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Fighting Kentuckian

The last time the Starz/Encore channels were offered in a free preview I had the chance to record The Fighting Kentuckian off of StarzEncore Westners. I wouldn't quite call it a western, but to be honest that's beside the point.

The movie has its genesis in a little-known part of American history. After the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, the US Congress offered a bunch of French who had supported Napoleon a land grant in southwestern Alabama that became the city of Demopolis. At the start of the movie, an army regiment that had fought with Andrew Jackson in New Orleans is in Mobile, about to begin the journey back to Kentucky after serving for five years. Among them is John Breen (John Wayne), who meets the lovely Fleurette (Vera Ralston). He falls in love with her, even though she's engaged to another man and he's going to have to leave to join his regiment commanded by Willie (Oliver Hardy, without Stan Laurel anywhere).

For whatever reason the Kentuckians can't go by river to get to Kentucky -- you'd think starting from New Orleans and going up the Mississippi would have made more sense, but whatever. So Breen makes certain they're going to go through Demopolis, so that he can meet Fleurette again. Her father is the former General De Marchand (Hugo Hass), while her fiancé is an American Blake (John Howard). Breen wants to stay to be near Fleurette, but a lot of people want him to leave, and have various reasons for wanting him out.

Part of it is that there's been a plot afoot to trick the poor French. Somebody moved the original surveying stakes, so where the French settled is in fact not on their land grant and, when that's discovered, they're going to have to move and pretty much start all over. Blake, for his part, sees that he's got a romantic rival and wants any rivals out of the picture. The General is at heart a good guy who would like his daughter to marry somebody she loves. But he also realizes he has to do what's best for the French colonists he's leading, and part of that is marrying his daughter off into well-to-do Americans who can help secure the colonists' future. Eventually Breen and Willie discover the surveying ruse, and vow to help the French defend their land.

There's a lot going on in The Fighting Kentuckian, and I have to admit that for me it added up to a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. It's not bad by any means; I just felt that it was a run of the mill John Wayne movie, the sort of thing that he could have churned out on an assembly line. Other movies followed the same formula and did it better, I thought. I also felt that the second-rate cast didn't help. Oliver Hardy is decidedly miscast, and his attempts at comic relief fell flat. There's also Marie Windsor as the other woman; while she could be a femme fatale, it doesn't work in a costume drama. Interestingly, Ralston and Haas were both Czechs playing French.

The Fighting Kentuckian is available on DVD at the TCM Shop, while all of the entries at Amazon claim there's only a limited number of copies available. However, they do seem to have it on streaming video. So watch and judge for yourself.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Bombsight Stolen

Another of those old British movies that I bought of Amazon from one of the gray-market distributors is Cottage to Let. It was apparently released in the US back in the day under the title Bomsight Stolen, but the DVD calls it by its original British title.

Young George Cole plays Ronald, one of a group of British youths that has been sent north from London because it's about 1940 and the Germans are busy bombing London. Children were brought north, or even to Canada, to escape the bombing, and this group is going to be billeted in a small Scottish town. Mrs. Barrington (Jeanne De Casalis) signed up to put two of them in an outbuilding of their large home, but it turns out that Mrs. Barrington is a bit flighty. She's already offered use of the cottage as an infirmary for a Spitfire pilot, Flt. Lt. Perry (John Mills) who has crash-landed and is recovering, while it also had a "cottage to let" sign (hence the British title of the movie), with Charles Dimble (Alastair Sim) having shown up insistent that he has a contract to take the cottage for the summer. It's going to be an interesting time at the Barrington house.

Which brings us to the other title of the movie. John Barrington (Leslie Banks) is an inventor who has been holing himself up at this place here in Scotland because he's a bit of an eccentric who doesn't want to deal with the government authorities if he can avoid it. That, and it turns out that the Nazis have already stolen a previous of his inventions that he came up with as part of the war effort. He thinks that being more secluded makes it more likely that he won't be found out, while military intelligence thinks that it would be better for him to come down to London and work there. If need be, they'll send somebody up to keep an eye on Barrington.

As you can probably guess, that somebody is going to be necessary because there's already almost certainly a Nazi plant on the estate trying to get those valuable military secrets. Pretty much anybody there could be working for either side. We do find out about two-thirds of the way through the movie just who is working for the Nazis and who is working to stop the Nazis, leading to a reasonably exciting climax.

Cottage to Let is one of those little movies that I found quite entertaining. Well, I should say that I'll probably find it really entertaining if I get around to watching it a second time. I wasn't paying quite as much attention as I should have been during the first half of the movie, with the result that I found it a bit hard to keep track of all the twists and turns. Part of that, however, is deliberate on that part of the writers.

Alastair Sim is quite good as always, with the surprise being newcomer Cole. Cole was actually a sort of foster son to Sim, which might explain how he got the role. (Sim was also training him in acting.) At any rate, it led to a 60-year career in movies and TV for Cole. Mills has a smaller role but does well, as do the rest of the cast.

If you'd like to see a British movie that may well be new to you, I can strongly recommend Cottage to Let.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #204: Speeches/Monologues/Soliloquies

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 speeches, monologues, and soliloquies. This would be a perfect place to use the Jack Benny/Carole Lombard version of To Be Or Not to Be, except that I already used it last February for a TMP on Shakespeare. So I had to come up with three different movies, which wasn't all that difficult.

You, John Jones! (1943). James Cagney plays a local air warden doing his part for the domestic air warden. He's married to Ann Sheridan and has a daughter in Margaret O'Brien. Dad learns just why his job is important, and O'Brien wraps things up by doing a creepy recitation of the Gettysburg Address. The link includes an embedded Youtube video of the short; I'm surprised it hasn't been taken down.

The Fountainhead (1948). Gary Cooper plays Ayn Rand's architect Howard Roark, who wants to design buildings in his way, which is not the way that "polite society" wants. It results in him bombing a housing project where his design was warped, and then giving a long impasioned speech in the court case. Patricia Neal plays his girlfriend, Kent Smith his rival, Raymond Massey a populist publisher who champions Roark, and Robert Douglas the snooty elitist behind the scenes. The movie is a mess not because of Rand's political and philosophical views, but because she either didn't know or wasn't willing to write a tight screenplay.

Elmer Gantry (1960). "And when I'm old -- and gray -- and toothless -- and bootless -- I'll gum it, 'til I go to heaven, and booze goes to hell!" Burt Lancaster joins preacher Jean Simmons as a charismatic preacher in the 1920s, but his past with Shirley Jones may come back to haunt him. Burt and Shirley won Oscars for their roles.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Treasures from the Disney Vault, June 2018

My how the time flies. We've reached another quarterly installment in TCM's Treasures from the Disney Vault series, in which TCM runs the crumbs that Disney deigns to let it run. (I have no idea how the on-again, off-again Disney/Fox deal will affect the series.) This quarter's entries air tonight, and look particularly dire to me.

The opening one-reeler A Trip Through the Walt Disney Studios, at 8:00 PM, sounds like it could be interesting, in the way that the 1925 MGM Studio Tour is. But after that it's a bunch of animal stuff that's so low-grade that I've basically never heard of any of the movies. There's a 1980s Benji movie in the 3:00 AM slot, although TCM's on-line schedule claims that there's a short airing first. Now, I've heard of Benji the dog, but I don't remember this movie at all.

Before that we've got a dog, and elder Walter Pidgeon, in Big Red (not the chewing gum, but another movie I'd never heard of) at 1:15 AM and The Legend of Lobo which as far as I know does not have a dog named Boo (or a dog named Beau) at 10:00 PM.

And they call these "treasures"?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Brood

One of the movies I watched over the weekend was The Brood.

The movie starts off with what looks like a theater performance, of a man going through a difficult psychotherapy session with a doctor. But apparently, this is not a play but a real session at the Somafree Pyschoplasmic Institute run by Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed). One of Dr. Raglan's patients is Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), who has an estranged husband Frank (Art Hindle) and a young daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds). Nola is seriously thinking about getting a divorce and full custody of the daughter, since his wife is crazy. Further, when giving his daughter a bath, he finds welts on her that could only have been dished out by Nola -- Frank would have seen them had they occurred some other time.

Frank asks his mother to look after Candice for a bit, and a funny thing happens. Grandma hears something in the kitchen, and when she goes to investigate there's a little guy who looks like Chucky from Child's Play, wearing the same sort of winter snowsuite that Candice wears. And that little guy beats Grandma to death, with Candice knowing nothing about what's going on!

It's only the first of several murders. When Grandma's ex-husband (Frank's dad) comes to find out what happened, another of those little people comes and murders Grandpa! But this time Frank shows up very shortly after the killing, and the little guy rather strangely doesn't seem to show any interest in going after Frank. (This will be explained later in the movie, in a way that does logically make sense.) He's able to subdue it, and when the police investigate, they find out that this creature doesn't have a navel, a fact which has all sorts of implications.

Frank suspects it has something to do with the "psychoplasmic" training Nora is getting, but any attempt to see Dr. Raglan is met with stonewalling, suggesting that Dr. Raglan knows something that he's not letting on. Sure enough it does, and as the murders pile up, Frank feels the need to investigate further. After all, it's possible his daughter could be at risk. By now you've probably figured out that yes, Nora and her therapy have something to do with the killings, even though she has an alibi in that she's been cooped up at the damned institute during all the killings.

The Brood is entertaining, although as horror movies go, I didn't find it particularly horrifying. I was laughing at the little people and their over the top violence. It's not that it's bad by any means; it's just that there seemed to be something so incongruous about it all. It certainly makes for a fun viewing experience. Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar are listed as the two leads and get top billing. While the two have the showier roles -- especially Eggar -- it's really Hindle who has the biggest role, along with the kid playing the girl.

Ultimately, The Brood is another of those movies that would be better served by being on a cheaper DVD to make it more available to the masses. Thankfully, for those of you who do the streaming stuff, you can watch it that way for the price of the monthly subscription to whatever service you use, or perhaps a modest fee. The Criterion Collection, DVD, however, is very pricey.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A couple of obituaries I probably ought to have mentioned

Production designers don't get the love they deserve, and so it was that the death last Thursday of two-time Oscar winner Michael Ford went relatively unnoticed. His Oscars came of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the 1997 Titanic, but he also did a couple of the post-Roger Moore James Bond movies as well as two of the Star Wars movies.

Actor William Phipps died on Friday at the age of 96. I think the only time I ever mentioned him was when I blogged about the relatively obscure movie Five last September. I the the reason I didn't recognize his name is because his most famous role didn't see him on the screen at all. Instead, we only heard his voice as Prince Charming in Walt Disney's Cinderella.

TCM Star of the Month June 2018: Leslie Howard

Leslie Howard (c.) in The Petrified Forest (1936), on overnight tonight at 3:30 AM

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month: Leslie Howard, a successful British import in Hollywood in the 1930s who turned to the war effort and ultimately died for it. Probably Howard's most famous role is as Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) lusts after, in Gone With the Wind. That's airing at 9:45 PM this evening.

On this first night of the Star of the Month retrospective, we also get a new-to-me documentary: Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn. It kicks off the night at 8:00 PM, and as is often the case with TCM documentaries, there's a second airing for the benefit of people on the west coast, after Gone With the Wind at 1:45 AM. There's only one other Howard movie on this first Monday, the aforementioned The Petrified Forest. But we get rather more over the next three weeks.

One movie that doesn't seem to be on the schedule, however, is Intermezzo: A Love Story. I also don't see the short From the Four Corners, although that one may get added later since TCM tends to schedule shorts later.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Flim-Flam Man

A movie that's showing up on FXM Retro after a long absence is The Flim-Flam Man, which will be on this afternoon at 1:15 PM and again tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM. It's not available on DVD as far as I know, so you're going to have to catch the rare FXM showing before it goes back in the vault. (I actually DVRed it off of TCM which ran it in June 2016.)

In the opening scene, Curley (Michael Sarrazin) is trying to hop aboard a train somewhere in North Carolina as a hobo, for destinations unknown. However, he sees another guy getting thrown off the train along with his suitcase, and not by the conductor. Curley, being a decent person at heart, decides to jump off the train and see if they guy who got thrown off needs any help.

It turns out that the two are both on the run from various authorities. Curley was stationed at Ft. Bragg but busted an officer's jaw, so he needed to go AWOL instead of facing the court-martial. Of course, going AWOL is its own crime, so there's that complication. As for the old guy, it's Mordecai Jones "George C. Scott), nicknamed "The Flim-Flam Man" because he does pretty much every confidence game known to man. He's been going from town to town in the region conning greedy suckers out of their money, which is why the cops are after him. Mordecai decides that perhaps the two of them should go into business together, since they both need each other.

It works reasonably well at first, but since Curley is as I said basically a good man, isn't always certain he likes some of the schemes that Mordecai wants to run. One has Mordecai as a preacher and Curley as the victim of a traffic accident, approaching a well-to-do family the Packards (Jack Albertson and Alice Ghostley) with the upshot being that they'll steal one of the Packards' cars. But Curley sees the Packards' young adult daughter Bonnie Lee (Sue Lyon) and immediately falls for her. She begins to fall for him too, even though he's a con artist.

But it's that love that really begins to make Curley question whether he should be going around as a con artist. But the alternative is giving himself up to the authorities, which would probably also mean giving up Mordecai. And the latter is something he very much does not want to do.

Meanwhile, the cops are still after Mordecai, in the presence of Sheriff Slade (Harry Morgan). Of course, the movie just has to engage in the trope that he's an incompetent southern lawman, but the movie would lose much of its comedy and dramatic tension if the cops weren't slightly bumbling. They're also trying to catch a bigger fish in the form of a moonshiner and, early in the movie, the two con artists are flying a bit under the cops' radar.

Ultimately, however, The Flim-Flam Man is a fairly gentle movie that just has a lot of comic potential it has no qualms about mining. The performances are good and the movie is a whole lot of fun. It's a huge shame that it's not available on DVD at all.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Letter of Introduction

It's often said that honesty is the best policy. A movie in which following that policy would have save a lot of characters a lot of grief is Letter of Introduction.

Kay (Andrea Leeds) is a struggling actress who lives in the same apartment building as platonic friend struggling ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (yes, playing himself). They arrive home on New Year's Eve to find that their apartment building has caught fire. Edgar goes in to save Charlie; Kay wants to get a letter of introduction that supposedly means a lot to her. However, she's thwarted by the fire and helped by dancer Barry (George Murphy) who lives just across the street. The two fall in love with each other.

As for that letter of introduction, it's to prominent actor John Mannering (Adolphe Menjou) who left the stage for screen stardom and in the years since has gone through a series of wives, about to be married to the latest, Lydia (Ann Sheridan). Kay makes her way to John's apartment and is eventually able to give him that letter, which states that before John became a star he had fathered Kay by his first wife, since deceased. John and Kay divorced before John knew Kay was pregnant, so this is the first he's heard of having a daughter, while Kay only learned who her father really was when her mom died the previous year.

At this point, father and daughter ought to try a bit of honesty. Lydia unsurprisingly things Kay may be John's next girlfriend; after all, John has gone through a series of wives. If John could have just told Lydia how he's only just found out he's got a daughter by his first wife, it would be a shock to everybody but they'd all muddle through. He doesn't however, and that causes a couple of scenes of problems before Lydia up and dumps her fiancé.

As for Kay, she's got that boyfriend in Barry, and when Kay starts spending time with John, he understandably gets the impression that John is trying to horn in and make Kay his girlfriend. Barry, as you can expect, is none too happy about this. If Kay had told Barry that John is actually her father, he would have had a much easier time than even Lydia dealing with it. But Kay doesn't say anything either.

John is able to get Kay her big break on the stage, but at the cost that he's going to have to take the male lead, something he feels he's no longer equipped to do. He's planning to reveal the truth about Kay at the curtain call on opening night, but what if something intervenes?

Letter of Introduction is generally good, although I found the plot to be formulaic and the character motivations questionable. As I've been saying throughout this post, if everybody could just be honest, they wouldn't have had the problems they do and there would be a lot less heartache. The story is by no means bad; it's just that I wanted to shake these people and scream "You idiots!"

The supporting cast all does well. Edgar Bergen, of course, gets a lot of opportunity to do his routines with Charlie McCarthy, and these are one of the highlights of the movie. Eve Arden plays Cora, who also lives across the street from Kay and took Kay in after the fire. She winds up being the voice of common sense and best friend to Kay, getting some good one-liners along the way too.

Unfortunately, the print I saw was terrible and I think it had a few scenes cut out. Not that that was enough to make the straightforward storyline unintelligible. Letter of Introduction is available on DVD, although I have no idea about the quality of the print.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Richard Erdman turns 93

Richard Erdman (r.) with Regis Toomey (l.) and Dick Powell (c.) in Cry Danger (1951)

Today marks the birthday of character actor Richard Erdman, who is still alive at 93. Erdman started in the movies almost right out of high school, having a bit part in Mr. Skeffington in 1944, and having small roles in a lot of other movies. One of his better movie performances in the 50s came in Stalag 17 as Sgt. Hoffman.

The 50s also meant the coming of television in a big way, and Erdman did a lot of work in episodic television as well. Erdman's career continued the the current decade, being a recurring character on the sitcom Community (I'll admit I've never seen the show since I don't watch much episodic TV.)