Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Die eiserne Jungfrau

One of the movies that TCM ran earlier in July as part of their tribute to Tab Hunter was The Steel Lady

Tab Hunter plays Bill Larson, a young radio operator on an airplane crew exploring for oil in the Sahara, in an era when western companies had all the concessions to drill the oil and, if the places weren't still colonies, pay royalties for the drilling rights. The pilot is Mike (Rod Cameron), with two geologists along to do the actual exploration: Jim (Richard Erdman) hard-drinking Sid (John Dehner). Unfortunately, a sandstorm comes up, forcing them to crash-land, and leaving the plane irreparably damaged. Bill isn't certain whether the radio can be fixed well enough to give headquarters a fix on their position. Worse, when they're taking turns looking for the search plane, it's Bill who falls asleep during his watch when the plane is overhead. Oops.

So it's certain death for them. Or maybe not. The crew is lucky enough to find something buried in the sands of the Sahara, which turns out to be an abandoned Nazi tank from World War II, which is surprisingly rather far south from where the Germans were fighting. (And considering the date, I'd think rather far west too.) The German crew called it "Die eiserne Jungfrau", which one of the Americans translates as the "Steel Lady" although "Iron Maiden" or even "Iron Virgin" would be more accurate. Although it's been under the sand for a decade, the Sahara is dry enough that with the help of some of the parts they can salvage from the airplane, they might just be able to get the tank to work to get it far enough to an oasis from where they should be able to get help. So our crew is in business again!

Unfortunately, when looking through the tank, Sid discovers a compartment that contains a box full of gems, which he doesn't tell anybody else about. He's not the only one to know about it, though; the Bedouins at the oasis sure remember the Nazi tank that came through a decade earlier and they know what the Nazis did to them. Sure enough, they find the gems, and that means deep trouble for the crew.

The Steel Lady is one of those movies that, as I was watching it, I thought would be perfect for the Saturday matinee thing that TCM has been doing for the past several months. Sure enough, when I read the IMDb reviews, there were several reviewers who remember seeing the movie as a kid and loved it then. It's entertaining enough, although it's chock full of plot holes and poor production values. How did the tank wind up in the middle of the desert? How did the gems get cut and polished? Wouldn't the denizens of the oasis have radio by the 1950s to communicate with the outside world? It goes on like this. So just sit back, turn your mind off, and enjoy a fairly lightweight movie.

The Steel Lady has received a MOD release to DVD from the folks who own the rights to the United Artists stuff, which means that it's a bit pricey. As with the subjects of my previous two reviews, it's another of those movies that probably would be better off in a box set.

Monday, July 30, 2018

When did I last see these?

TCM's lineup tomorrow is a whole bunch of pre-Codes, many of which I've seen, and some of which I've even blogged about. But some of them, I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen them.

The morning kicks off at 6:00 AM with Downstairs, amovie that I mentioned three years ago during Summer Under the Stars, so that's definitely the most recent time I saw it. John Gilbert plays the amoral chauffeur who tries to climb the social ladder by sleeping with both the downstairs maids and the upstairs ladies of the house.

That's followed at 7:30 AM by Loose Ankles, which I watched in September 2014. Loretta Young tries to sabotage her money-grabbing aunts and uncle by creating controversy among the socialite set, helped out by her maid and professional escort Douglas Fairbanks Jr. This is one of those movies that defies belief and becomes totally fun by so doing.

Richard Dix plays a chain-gang prisoner in Hell's Highway at 11:30 AM, which would by a reasonably good movie if it weren't for the fact that I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang came out around the same time.

Over on FXM Retro, there's a movie that I can't remember the last time I saw A Bell For Adano, which is going to be on tomorow at 7:50 AM and then again Wednesday at 7:15 AM. John Hodiak leads the American army into occupying the Italian fishing village of Adano, which is where he meets local resident Gene Tierney, waiting for her POW boyfriend to return. As for the townsfolk, they need a new bell for their church tower, and Hodiak and the rest of the Americans actually try to make it happen. This one isn't available on DVD, or at least not in print.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

For those who like their Nazis to have impeccable British accents

Another movie I recently watched off my DVR that's available on DVD is The Night of the Generals.

After some very brief exposition, we get sent to the real action of the movie, in Warsaw in December 1942. A man gets back to his apartment building, and as he's walking up the stairs he hears a blood-curdling scream coming from a top-floor apartment. He can hear the steps of a presumptive murderer coming down the stairs, and not wanting to have to face the murderer, he ducks into the lavatory. He looks out a small hole in the door, and sees only the murderer's pants, which are unmistakeably the color and fabric of a Nazi uniform, this being 1942 when the Nazis were busy occupying the country. Even more alarming, there's a red stripe running down the side of the pants, which means that it's the uniform of a Nazi general.

The murder victim was an agent for the Nazis, and was rather brutally hacked to pieces. So German intelligence is called in to investigate, in the form of Major Grau (Omar Sharif). Grau is that rarest of birds, a man who cares about the pursuit of the truth, and doesn't seem to care that if the murderer is a general then there are all sorts of political landmines in investigating the murder. Anyhow, the first thing to do is discreetly investigate the whereabouts of every Nazi general in Warsaw that night. There are three who don't have ironclad alibis: Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasance); Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), who is usually referred to as just Gabler; and neat-freak Tanz (Peter O'Toole). Apparently the political muckety-mucks in Berlin don't want to deal with the fallout of having one of their generals being a murderer, so somebody kicks Grau upstairs, giving him a promotion and a transfer to Paris.

Fast forward to mid-July, 1944, in Paris. History buffs will know from the dates given that this is a few days before the failed assassination attempt on Hitler's life that resulted in Rommel's (Christopher Plummer in a needless cameo) suicide. Kahlenberge and Gabler are sympathetic to those generals who want to kill Hitler and negotiate an immediate surrender. Tanz gets transferred to Paris, much to the alarm of the other generals, since his presence is liable to scupper the assassination plot. For Grau, however, he's happy to have a chance to renew the investiation into that murder in Warsaw, which he does with the help of French police inspector Morand (Philippe Noiret). And then there's another murder, in the same exact fashion as the one in Warsaw....

The Night of the Generals is one of those movies that has an interesting idea, but one that the moviemakers decided to do too much with, with the result that it's too long, ponderous, and filled with plot twists that seem unnecessary. I haven't mentioned Tom Courtenay yet; he plays Gabler's adjutant who gets assigned to Tanz in Paris, and who is in love with Gabler's daughter Ulrike (Joanna Pettet). His presence in the first two-thirds of the movie comes together in a coda, but for the longest time you wonder what's the point in including this romance against the backdrop of a murder mystery.

I mentioned at the start that there's a brief exposition at the beginning, and that's also part of the problem. Well, not the actual beginning; a lot of movies have a plot device of starting at some point after much of the action in the movie and then telling the story in flashback. But The Night of the Generals makes the mistake of going back to the 1960s a couple of times in the Warsaw and Paris segments. The coda is also a problem in that we learn near the end of the Paris segment who the murderer is, if you didn't already know.

The acting isn't bad, except for the fact that it's very, very British. Granted, a lot of movies make the mistake of having the actors playing Nazis do bad German accents, and not being able to keep a consistent accent throughout. The Night of the Generals goes all the way to the other end, in that the characters are never anything but obviously British. My dad walked into the room halfway through and remarked that these characters aren't German at all.

The Night of the Generals is relatively entertaining despite its numerous flaws. The TCM shop lists it on a standalone DVD, as well as part of a couple of box sets.

Briefs for July 29-30, 2018

So the Disney and Fox merger is going to go ahead. The CNBC link above focuses on a lot of the streaming stuff, which is understandable, since some of the services would be duplicated as is, from what I can tell. The article says next to nothing about programming on any of the cable channels, so who knows what's going to happen to FXM and whether FXM Retro will still be around after the merger is finalized? I remember writing when the switch to FXM back at the start of 2012 that I would be surprised if the old movies lasted six months. I find it rather ironic that if the channel dies it's more likely to be because of a merger.

Tonight's TCM lineup includes what I believe is the TCM premiere of Phone Call From a Stranger, at 8:00 PM. I can't believe it's been over nine years since I blogged about it. It's well worth another watch. TCM seems to have had greater success in recent years getting Fox movies on the lineup, although I have no idea if that's going to change with the Disney/Fox merger.

TCM put up this year's Summer Under the Stars website. I like it, although I'm normally just looking for basic information presented in a minimalist design. I don't want clutter, pop-ups, auto-play video, and stuff like that, and the page as is doesn't do any of that.

One thing I didn't mention when I blogged about East Side, West Side yesterday is that it's available in a box set as well as the standalone DVD from the Warner Archive. The other odd thing is that before this weekend, when I looked up East Side, West Side on the TCM Shop, the standalone DVD was supposedly on backorder. That doesn't make sense to me considering that it's part of the MOD scheme, but there you are.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

An MGM melodrama

I mentioned many years back when I blogged about Johnny Eager that there's something about the gloss that MGM pictures had that comes with a side effect of making certain pictures look not quite right. Another good example of this is East Side, West Side.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Jessie Bourne, who has lived in New York all her life and tells us in a prologue that the city isn't quite as glamorous as outsiders might think; after all, the people in New York have day-to-day lives, too. In Jessie's case, that means marriage to investment advisor Brandon (James Mason), and weekly trips to her parents' place every Thursday night for dinner. At one of those dinners, Brandon gets a call that his business colleague needs to see him before a board meeting the next day, so he's going to have to leave early while Jessie goes home to wait up for him.

Brandon doesn't get in until 4:00 AM. He's spent some time at a swanky nightclub after the meeting, which involved talking to a woman Rosa (Cyd Charisse). Rosa has other guys pursuing her, and one of them eventually took a slug at Brandon. Since Brandon is well-known in his field, and a playboy, and the fight happened outside, it made it into the paper, which ought to be much to Jessie's consternation. Except that she's seen this sort of thing before. She knows that Brandon has had difficulty staying faithful, especially in the case of a former flame Isabel (Ava Gardner).

Well, formerly former. Isabel has come back to town with the intention of taking Brandon away from Jessie! As for Jessie, she meets Rosa, whose boyfriend Mark (Van Heflin) is about to get back from Italy having done government business in the post-war transition. Except that for Mark, this is really only a relationship of friends; he likes Rosa as a friend but not as a girlfriend. But when he meets Jessie, he could fall in love with her if only she weren't already married to Brandon.

This love quadrangle results in Isabel getting murdered, Jessie and Brandon being considered suspects, and Mark (a policeman before going off to World War II and Italy) solving the crime, all in the space of one reel. Now that Isabel is out of the way, what will happen to Jessie and Brandon's relationship?

The problem I had with East Side, West Side is that it all seems too pat and sterile. There's a long lead-up to the murder which occurs less than a half hour before the end of the movie. And as I said, it's amazing that Mark is able to solve it so quickly. Brandon seems to be almost a cardboard cutout and not a real character, with James Mason practically sleepwalking his way through the role.

And yet, through all this the movie is very pretty to watch. It's photographed in nice black-and-white, with attention paid to the details of the Bournes' luxurious duplex apartment, as well as the nightclub and Brandon's office. Even the poor side of New York, where Mark and Jessie's characters grew up, looks too nice. Compare it to the place on the wrong side of the tracks when Dana Andrews' character returns home to his parents in The Best Years of Our Lives, which seems much more real. All of this sheen is hiding a by-the-numbers, pedestrian film.

East Side, West Side is available from the Warner Archive. But it's really one of those movies that would be better off in a box set.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Boy Friend (1971)

One of the musicals in TCM's Mad About Musicals spotlight the other month that I was interested in seeing was The Boy Friend. Thankfully it's on DVD, so after having watched it I can do a full-length review on it.

Polly Browne, played by Twiggy (yess, the model), is the assistant stage manager at a 1920s theater in one of those English summer resorts run by Mr. Max (Max Adrian). They're putting on a musical called The Boy Friend, which is an actual musical from the 1950s that was set in the 1920s. But as with Laurence Olivier's character in The Entertainer, being stuck in musical theater in England anywhere than London can't be very good for your career prospects. Worse for Max is that his leading lady Rita (an uncredited Glenda Jackson) sprains her ankle and can't go on. The assistant stage manager is the understudy of last resort for all the characters, so she's going to go on in today's matinee. Still worse is that this matinee is going to be attended by Mr. De Thrill (Vladek Sheybal), an obvious take-off on Cecil B. De Mille.

Now, while the musical is going on, there's all the backstage stuff going on. The basic plot of the musical is that Polly (the character in the musical has the same given name as the stage manager) is at a boarding school in the south of France, and makes up a boyfriend (not named George Glass) who she says is going to take her to the big masked ball. A delivery man from the department store shows up with student Polly's costume, and the two immediately fall in love, although they can't go to the ball together because of the whole social class difference thing. The delivery boy is played by Tony (Christopher Gable). Polly the stage manager is in love with him, but one of the actresses, Fay (Georgina Hale) seems to be too, and she and all the other actresses besides Rita have no respect for her. The only person who does is dancer Tommy (Tommy Tune), who has a mysterious past.

While all the backstage stuff is going on: Fay is trying to upstage Polly at every turn; an estranged wife is looking for her husband, and De Thrill is in the audience because talkies have just comed to Hollywood, and he's looking for new stars for his all-singing, all-dancing movie. So all of the cast members in the musical have dreams of making the big time, and the lousy musical numbers of the stage musical morph into Busby Berkeley-like numbers in the players' minds.

The Boy Friend is a movie that I found hard to judge. Parts of it are pretty good. I liked the back story (not a part of the 1950s musical on which this movie is based) about the goings-on behind the scenes. I don't know that Twiggy is a particularly good actress, but she was a hell of a lot better than Marianne Faithfull in Girl on a Motorcycle, and since part of the conceit of her character is that she's thrust into acting that she's unsuited for, whether Twiggy herself is a good actress doesn't necessarily matter. She's adequate in the musical numbers, and that's enough. As for those fantasy musical numbers, that's where the film really dragged to me. There are a lot of them, and they all seem to go on too long.

The Boy Friend isn't going to be everybody's cup of tea. But it's certainly an interesting cup of tea.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #211: Spies (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Since were at the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, with the subject for this month being spies. I was able to come up with two classics and one that's probably not so well-remembered today:

Mission: Impossible (1966-1973). A group of secret agents for a multinational spy agency fight evil foreign powers and crime lords. Peter Graves was the leader for the final six seasons, replacing Steven Hill, who left the show after the first season because they couldn't fit the production schedule around his being an observant Orthodox Jew who wouldn't work on Shabbat. The series spawned a TV reboot in the 80s and then a whole bunch of Tom Cruise movies, with another one coming out this summer. It's also known for its memorable theme by Lalo Schifrin.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983-1987). Mrs. King (Kate Jackson) got inadvertently involved with secret agent Scarecrow (Bruce Boxleitner) in one of those movie-type plot twists reminiscent of The Man Who Knew Too Much where a dying spy gives James Stewart a key piece of information. Except that Scarecrow doesn't die, and Mrs. King gets sucked up into the mystery so much that she winds up working for the agency.

MacGyver (1985-1992). Richard Dean Anderson plays Angus MacGyver, a spy known for his ingenuity at escaping from difficult situations by doing things like making an ultralite plane out of a roll of duct tape and some bubble gum. Well, I'm exaggerating, but the ingenuity was a big part of the series' appeal. MacGyver somehow wound up being a surprisingly big reference in later pop culture, notably with Marge Simpson's sisters Selma and Patty watching the show every day. Richard Dean Anderson would later go on to do a guest appearance on The Simpsons. This one also got a TV reboot.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Annie are you OK?

Some time back I purchased a cheap box set of Mae West movies. One of the movies in teh set I haven't blogged about yet is Klondike Annie, so I recently watched it to do a full-length post on it.

The scene is the Gay Nineties in San Francisco. Mae West plays Rose Carlton, the "Frisco Doll" who is the lover of Chan Lo (Harold Huber), and basically trapped in the relationship. One night Rose gets in a scuffle with Chan Lo, which results in her accidentally stabbing him to death. She could claim self-defense, although whether or not a jury would believe her is an open question. So she takes the easy way out by getting on a tramp steamer headed for Nome, AK, and the Klondike gold ruch.

Bull Brackett (Victor McLaglen) is the captain of the ship, who at first doesn't know anything about Rose's past. Along the way, another passenger comes aboard, Salvation Army missionary Annie Alden (Helen Jerome Eddy). Annie is nice to Rose, and gets Rose to begin thinking about leading a somewhat more virtuous life. But poor Annie has a bad heart, and dies at sea. Meanwhile, the police are still looking for the Frisco Doll, which gives Rose an idea. She'll take Annie's place and head up the mission in Nome! It gives her a chance to atone for her sins, as well as to stay one step ahead of the law.

But by this time Bull has fallen in love with Rose, and knows that she's the Frisco Doll wanted by the police back in San Francisco, a fact that he can hold over her head. Still, Rose goes to the mission and helps run it, even if her methods are sometimes unorthodox. Bull can't understand why she'd do this, but since he's in love with her, he puts up with it.

Joining this happy group is police inspector Forrest (Philip Reed). He's looking for the Frisco Doll not knowing she's right under his nose. He begins to fall for Rose-as-Annie, which brings about its own set of problems, because thanks to the Production Code, Rose is going to have to face the music at some point, even if she really is innocent. This isn't like Sylvia Sidney's character in Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage.

The Production Code is, I think, the source of the problems I have with Klondike Annie. Mae West had a racy sense of humor with the double entendres flying, but the enforcement of the Code starting in 1934 forced her to tone it down quite a bit. The Code is also what forces this movie into the ending it has. But apparently it also resulted in a few edits that made the movie a bit more confusing than it needed to be. Supposedly there was a scene of Rose actually dressing the dead Annie up as a prostitute, aiding in Rose's getaway. But that was deleted thanks to the Code.

Overall, Klondike Annie is a good example of a 1930s programmer, and not a bad little movie. I'm really glad it was on the box set and at the price it's quite inexpensive. However, thanks to the Code it just isn't up to the standards of earlier West movies like She Done Him Wrong.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The granddaddy of all detective movies

A few weeks back TCM's Silent Sunday Nights ran the 1916 version of Sherlock Holmes. I hadn't heard of it (well, that particular version; of course I've heard of Sherlock Holmes!), so I decided to DVR it. It turns out there's a good reason I hadn't heard of it, which is that it was considered lost for decades, and only found around 2014.

Holmes is played by William Gillette, who was a prominent stage actor at the beginning of the 20th century. With the blessing of Sherlock Holmes, he wrote the play on which this movie is based, a play that was extremely popular even if it's not quite the Holmes we think of today. After a brief scene of Holmes working in a laboratory, we get into the real action of the movie. Some time in the past, the younger sister of Alice Faulkner (Marjorie Kay) wrote a bunch of letters to a crown prince in a European royal family. It resulted in a romance that was eventually broken off, and afterwards the sister committed suicide. Alice has the letters, which would make the crown prince look really bad. So he wants them.

The Larrabees are used as go-betweens to get the letters, and they decide to hold Alice hostage since she isn't telling them where the letters are. This is where Holmes comes in. Perhaps he can get the letters, and more importantly, perhaps he can spring Alice from cptivity. It's also where Moriarty (Ernest Maupain) comes in. He's been embarrassed by Holmes one too many times, so he wants to gain revenge, and this case would be a perfect opportunity to do it.

That's pretty much it. There's not much mystery here as we know who the bad guys are, so the movie is mostly suspense in the Hitchcock sense of the audience knowing something bad is scheduled to happen, and will it happen to the good guy? That's not a knock on the movie; I'm just saying that it's not quite what I'd think of when I think of a detective movie.

If there is a problem with the movie, it's with the pacing. This Sherlock Holmes is slow slow slow, clocking in at 116 minutes, although to be fair that's in part because of what seemed to me to be a relatively high amount of intertitles. The surviving print had been edited into a four-part serial, so in addition to the regular intertitles there are the chapter intertitles and some reminding us what happened in "last week's" episode. That having been said, the print seemed quite good to me.

The acting is typical for silent dramas, which I say matter-of-factly again rather than making a value judgment. One thing about the movie that I thought was really good was the tinting; the indoor scenes are all tinted orange while outdoor and night scenes are in blue. The orange-tinted scenes in particular look quite good.

The is available on Blu-ray, but it's a very pricey Blu-ray, probably in part to recoup the restoration costs. In theory it ought to be in the public domain, but with the new intertitles and the score, nobody else has a print they could sell. It's a shame, because the movie really isn't that bad and worth a watch.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The WWII movie; not the one with the puppets

FXM Retro is running Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air (often shortened to just Thunder Birds) tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM.

Steve Britt (Preston Foster) is a man who served as a pilot in World War II but is much too old to fly now that it's World War II. So he's made his way to Thunderbird Field out in Arizona, where the Americans are helping to train Chinese and British men to become pilots. His intention is to do his part in the war effort by becoming a flight instructor. Well, that's one of his intentions; the other one is to be closer to his girlfriend Kay (Gene Tierney).

One of the British trainees is Peter Stackhouse (John Sutton). Peter is a doctor from the upper crust of British society, and frankly was doing a good part in the war effort in the medical corps. But all the men in his family had played a much more "obvious" part in the war efforts in this and the previous world war, so Peter feels the need to do so as well. In a flashback, we learn all of this with his grandmother (Dame May Whitty) finding out that another of her grandsons was killed in action.

As you can probably guess from the two paragraphs above, there are going to be two main plot themes throughout the rest of the movie. One is Stackhouse's attempt to become a pilot, which isn't going to go smoothly; in fact he's consistently in danger of washing out and getting sent back to medical work. Not that there should be anything wrong with this, and frankly, you'd think the military would never have let him go to flight school in the first place.

The other plot strain involves Gene Tierney's Kay character, who has to be in the movie for a reason. Kay thinks that Steve has been rather slow in romancing her, so when Stackhouse comes along, she's certainly willing to spend some time with him and suggest that there's going to be some romantic tension. But is her heart really with him?

Thunder Birds is another of those movies that treads over familiar ground, and does so competently. One of the big reasons for the movie was morale-boosting, what with it having been released in late 1942. There's nothing particularly wrong with Thunder Birds, but when it comes to wartime flight training, I preferred The Eagle and the Hawk which I reviewed here not too long ago. One thing that Thunder Birds has going for it, however, is the lovely Technicolor cinematography.

Thunder Birds is, as far as I know, not in print on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showing.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I keep noticing I'm not a big fan of 70s westerns

I've stated quite a few times in the past that westerns were never my favorite genre, although as I've watched more in the decade that I've been doing this blog I've found quite a few that I really like. I've also come to realize that the "revisionist" (I think I'd prefer to use the term "non-traditional") westerns of the 1970s really aren't my cup of tea. Another movie that helped clarify that for me is Jeremiah Johnson.

Robert Redford plays Johnson, a man who shows up in a small town at the edge of civilization in Colorado of the 1840s, looking for a way to get out of civilization entirely and live a subsistence life in the Rockies, hopefully making extra money from trapping. It's not an easy life, as he's going to learn first when a Flathead Indian comes up on him, and then when he meets veteran trapper Bear Claw (Will Geer). Johnson lives with Bear Claw for a while and realizes just how much there is to learn about this harsh existence.

There's another meeting with a woman who lost her husband to an attack from the Crow Indians, resulting in him taking custody of the kid, and then a meetin with Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch). Del Gue's friendship leads to Jeremiah being saddled with an Indian wife Swan (Delle Bolton), although perhaps the kid Caleb could use a mother. In any case, the three unlikely blended family members try to make a life for themselves.

Then the cavalry comes through. They're looking for a way to get at a group of settlers who need saving. The trip is going to go through sacred Crow burial grounds, which Johnson knows is something you absolutely detour around, but the idiot cavalry insist on saving time by going through. Sure enough, the Crow respond by killing Swan and Caleb. This leads Jeremiah to go on a revenge spree against the Crow.

I said at the beginning that I don't like the term "revisionist western", mostly because I can like a movie that has a different view of history or politics than I do if the story is good enough. The problem that I've found myself having with these 70s westerns that go off in a new direction from your traditional western is that the technical production is done in a way I generally find unappealing. Jeremiah Johnson is very slow. While I don't have a problem with episodic movies, Jeremiah Johnson comes a bit too close to plotless for me. And there's also the 1970s cinematography. Somewhere along the way better zoom lenses came along, and moviemakers in the 1960s and 1970s started zooming not because it served an artistic purpose but because they could. Or at least, it seems like that to me. These zooms always seem jarring to me, and pointless in terms of storytelling.

Still, a lot of people love Jeremiah Johnson, and it is generally technically well made, so this and other movies in the genre are definitely ones you should check out for yourself.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sissi II, or the 19th century Austrian version of Father's Little Dividend

Last October, TCM ran all three movies in the Sissi trilogy about Austro-Hungarian Empress Sissi and her marrige to Emperor Franz Josef. I've already done a post on the first movie, so today I'll post on the second film, Sissi: The Young Empress.

When we left our characters at the end of the last thrilling episode, Bavarian princess Elisabeth, nicknamed "Sissi (Romy Schneider) had just gotten married to Austrian Emperor Franz Josef (Karlheinz Böhm) after a whirlwind fairytale romance. Franz Josef's mother Sophia (Vilma Degischer) was none too happy about it, since she thinks Sissi is just a kid and too immarture to take on the duties of becoming an empress. Not only that, but Sissi violates all sorts of old protocol by doing things like going out in public! Imaging the chutzpah on that girl! But Sissi and Franz Josef are truly in love.

On the non-romantic side, there's been an uprising in the Hungarian part of the empire, and the Emperor's ministers want to deal rather harshly with the rebels, especially their leader, Count Andrassy. Sissi, however, wants everybody to live in harmony and have the happiness that she has for her husband. So she uses her influence to get Franz Josef to declare an amnesty, something the ministers, and especially Sophia, don't like. Sophia tries to sabotage the relationship with the Hungarians, while Sissi has to try to repair it, which she skillfully does at a court ball.

However, Sissi faints at the ball, and the doctor who is called in determines that there's really nothing wrong with her. She's just pregnant, that's all. Imagine the joyous news. Now Sissi can bear Franz Josef the son he needs to have an emperor heir, because in those old monarchies that didn't have queens/empresses regnant, siring a crown prince was the main duty of a queen consort. Thankfully for Sissi, however, this isn't Anne of the Thousand Days, where Anne Boleyn is absolutely beside herself when she bears Henry VIII yet another daughter. Franz Josef loves Sissi so much that he doesn't care if it's a daughter. (Besides, Austria had had a powerful Empress 100 years earlier in Maria Theresia.)

Nasty meddling Sophie, however, wants to make certain that the girl is raised "properly", by which she means in the ways of palace protocol. It's an understandable desire, since the demands on the daughter of an emperor are going to be much greater than the demands on the daughter of a backwater Bavarian prince. But Sophie and the other ladies-in-waiting could have handled the issue with tact and compromise. No; they just up and one day move the baby's nursery from next to the Empress' rooms to a place closer in the palace to Sophie, and they do it without telling Sissi. Sissi is understandably pissed, but she's so immature she just goes off and runs back to her parents.

It's an issue that could tear apart the marriage, or at least it would lead to divorce in a country like England where their church was specifically founded on the grounds that divorce must be allowed at least for the King. In addition to the marital strife, which really isn't that much since Franz Josef and Sissi really love each other. But there's the whole political problem. The Hungarians have a lot of the loyalty for the dual monarchy that they do because of the actions of Sissi. If word gets out that she and Franz Josef are no longer an item, it's going to cause a serious political rift between Austria and Hungary. But Sissi doesn't want to do her political duties if she can't raise her baby her way.

In watching Sissi: The Young Empress, I found myself having a lot of the same opinions on it that I did on the earlier Sissi. The story is in many ways impossibly romantic, not just in Franz Josef's love for Sissi, but in the way the Hungarians love Sissi. But the storyline is at least a bit better here in that there are some more realistic issues dealing with the whole political crisis and the questions of raising the kid.

None of the actors does anything wrong, although some people may not like the character of Major Böckl, who is brought in to provide comic relief. He gets annoying after a while. The movie, like the first one, also has excellent color cinematography and costume design, which is a huge plus. Overall, the movie is quite good, with the simple and heavy-handed story bringing it down only a bit, and not by any means enough to keep me from highly recommending the movie.

All three movies in the trilogy are in a box set along with a pared down and dubbed into English movie that was released in the early 1960s, and a fifth movie in which Sissi plays English Queen Victoria.

Friday, July 20, 2018

No, this isn't the 74th sequel

Part of my last batch of DVD and Blu-ray purchases at Amazon was a four-disc set of the Airport movies. I'd already seen the first of the Airport movies, so last night I popped in the disc of the second, Airport '75 (which actually premiered in theaters in October 1974).

The movie starts off with a lengthy list of stars in the opening credits, some near the top of their career, some who were old enough to retire if they had wanted to, and a few names who became famous later. As for the actual action of the movie, flight attendant Nancy (Karen Black) meeting her boyfriend, pilot instructor Alan (Charlton Heston), at Dulles International Airport just outside Washington DC. Nancy apparently has some Big Issue she wants to discuss with Alan, but he has to get the next plane out to LAX in Los Angeles while Nancy is on the red-eye several hours later.

This being a disaster movie, we then get to see the famous names you should already be watching out for if you paid close attention to the opening credits. In no particular order, there's Mrs. Patroni (Susan Clark), wife of George Kennedy's character from the first Airport movie, a role Kennedy reprises here. There's older nun Martha Scott traveling with more modern nun Helen Reddy(!); little old lady Myrna Loy getting harassed at the airport bar by Jerry Stiller, Norman Fell, and Conrad Janis; Sid Caesar is a bit-part actor who hits on Loy during the flight; and Linda Blair as a kidney transplant patient traveling with her mother (Nancy Olson). Oh, and there's Gloria Swanson playing herself. As for the crew, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is the pilot, Roy Thinnes the co-pilot, and a young Erik Estrada(!) the navigator.

Now for the disaster. There's thunderstorms and fog all up and west coast meaning that our jet is going to have to land in Salt Lake City while the weather clears. Meanwhile, traveling in a small plane from Albuquerque to his home in Boise is Dana Andrews, who's actually a veteran of air disaster movies, having made Zero Hour! and The Crowded Sky many years earlier. He's desperate to get home because he's got a huge business deal to conclude in Boise the next day, one that's going to fall through if he doesn't get home. He's never going to get home. He suffers a hilariously overacted heart attack, causing him to lose control of his plane and crash into the cockpit of the 747. That crash sucks out Thinnes and Estrada, and leaves Zimbalist with cuts that because of the bleeding, temporarily blind him. Poor Karen Black is going to have to land the plane with help from her boyfriend telling her over the radio what to do. And when that doesn't work, they're going to have to rappel a pilot through that hole into the cockpit to land the plane himself!

To be honest, I find Airport '75 to be a difficult film to give any sort of a grade to. The plot strains credulity to the point that I found myself laughing at the idiocy of it. Most of the characters' story lines don't get any fleshing out because there are just way too many of them. And the characters are pretty much archetypes from all the all-star disaster movies that had preceded it.

Yet I found Airport '75 immensely entertaining. A lot of the characters get terrible dialog, but it's hilariously funny, and not even in a "so bad it's good" way. I suppose Dana Andrews' heart attack isn't dialogue, but that's one good example. The elder nun's distaste of Gloria Swanson, along with Swanson's constant name-dropping about old Hollywood, are another. And then there's Helen Reddy's having to sing an awful song about how you are your own best friend to Linda Blair. Myrna Loy by comparison doesn't acquit herself any worse than her character in From the Terrace, with the exception that this one likes to drink boilermakers, only she doesn't call it that.

Airport '75 may not be as good as the original Airport, but it's a hell of a lot better than things like The Swarm or Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

Stuff white boomers like

Apparently, we're reaching the centenary of composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein. TCM is marking the occasion, as is much of the classical music world. In and of itself, that's no big deal. I've marked the birth anniversaries of multiple film composers before, and Bernstein did work on multiple movies, as did a fair number of other composers who are generally more remembered for their non-film work: Aaron Copland did The Red Pony, and Ralph Vaughan Williams did 49th Parallel, just off the top of my head. Also, some of the composers generally known as movie composers wrote "serious", non-film classical music too.

With that in mind, TCM is running three movies tonight with scores by Bernstein: West Side Story at 8:00 PM; On the Town (music by Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) at 10:45 PM, and On the Waterfront at 12:30 AM. It's a worthy tribute and three really good movies.

But that's not what prompted the title of my post. What rubs me the wrong way is that TCM is wasting the Saturday and Sunday prime time lineups with a bunch of "Young People's Concerts" TV Specials. There are five on Saturday night, and thankfully, they're programmed around Noir Alley. But there are seven on Sunday night, which go all the way up to 4:00 AM. So there's no Silent Sunday Nights selection or TCM Import this weekend.

This is classical music, not movies. Ah, but the shows aired in the 1961s, when the Baby Boomers were growing up. I don't know the demographics of the TCM programmers, but for a long time, even before I started this blog, I've noticed what seems to be the idea that things that were cultural touchstones for the boomers ought to be touchstones for the rest of us. I've also stated before that I have no particular problem with movies from the 1960s, and that I even enjoy the set design since it was created by people contemporaneous with the era they were depicting. (See my post on Marriage on the Rocks for example.)

But the doe-eyed look back at the 1960s has always bothered me. It's a theme I've also mentioned several times in the past, especially when it comes to movies that whine about suburbia. I'm glad that TCM recently aired No Down Payment, for example, even if the fim has serious flaws. I just hate the whole vibe of "the movie is making critical comments about the suburbs; therefore it's great" that I read from quite a few viewers. And somewhat unrelated, but to bring it back to classical music, a few years back during one of the local classical music station's begathons (er, "pledge drives"), they aired a special on... Tom Lehrer. Not classical music, but you can guess who it appeals to.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #210: Bad Parents

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is bad parents, and while my first thought was to include one movie each from Bing Crosby, Joan Crawford, and Loretta Young, I decided to go in a more conventional route and pick three movies in which the characters are bad parents. (I suppose I still could have used Mildred Pierce here, since Mildred obviously must have done something terribly wrong for Veda to turn out the way she did.)

Autumn Sonata (1978). Ingird Bergman plays a concert pianist who decides after becoming a widow for the second time, to visit one of her daughters (Liv Ullmann), who lives in a country parish in Norway with a Lutheran minister (Halvar Björk). The two haven't seen each other in years, and as the movie goes on, we learn why they haven't. Among Mom's sins are leaving her other daughter (Lena Nyman) in a facility with a debilitating neurological disorder, with the fit daughter ultimately having to be her caregiver. It goes on from there. It's a very well-made movie, but one that's difficult to watch.

Ordinary People (1980). Timothy Hutton plays the son in the family, who one day went for a boating excursion with his older brother; an accident left the brother dead and Hutton with a severe case of survivor's guilt to the point that he attempted suicide. He's back in school now, but things are still going wrong, so he sees a psychologist (Judd Hirsch). Ultimately, it turns out that Mom (Mary Tyler Moore) is extremely emotionally cold, and worse, loved the older son more than the younger one to the point that she pretty much can't forgive him for what's happened. Poor Donald Sutherland plays Dad, stuck between these two personalities trying to keep the family together.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). Stefanie Powers plays a young woman who is engaged for a second time to be married; sadly, her first fiancé died in a car crash. But she still feels an obligation to tell the mother of her first fiancé (Tallulah Bankhead) about the impending nuptials. Bankhead responds by holding Powers hostage and torturing her for supposedly causing her son's death; Bankhead's character also became a raging Jesus freak in the meantime. Powers knows what really happened to the son, however. Tallulah Bankhead is such a force that she all by herself makes this a fun, if over-the-top, movie.

TCM's Tab Hunter tribute

Actor Tab Hunter died on July 8, a few days before what would have been his 87th birthday. TCM is honoring Hunter tomorrow (July 20) morning and afternoon with eight of his movies:

6:00AM The Steel Lady (1953)
7:30AM Return to Treasure Island (1954)
9:00AM Lafayette Escadrille (1958)
10:45AM Operation Bikini (1963)
12:15PM The Golden Arrow (1964)
2:00PM The Girl He Left Behind (1956)
4:00PM The Burning Hills (1956)
5:45PM The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

Track of the Cat, which I used for the illustration here only because I don't have stills from any of the other movies and I used the still above in the obituary post on Hunter, is not on the schedule. It's one of the movies John Wayne's Batjac Productions produced, although it was before the company was named that. I don't know who has the TV rights to those, although looking at the list, quite a few ran on TCM ages ago and I did articles (I didn't realize Man in the Vault was a Batjac movie), but most haven't shown up recently.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Frankly, my defiant....

A few weeks back, TCM ran a night of movies set in the British navy of the Napoleonic war era. One that was new to me was Damn the Defiant! It's available on DVD, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts on shore in Spithead, England in 1797. There's a scene reminiscent of the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty, with a press gang going around to all the local hangouts to get able-bodied men to serve aboard the British navy ships. Right away, you can understand why nobody would want to serve in a navy like that. But beyond that, we hear some of the people in a cellar already talking about a mutiny that's being planned for all the British ships in the Channel fleet.

One of those British ships is the HMS Defiant, captained by Capt. Crawford (Alec Guinness). He's got orders from the Admiralty, which involve going to the Mediterranean and meeting up with some ships there. His second-in-command, Lt. Scott-Padget (played by Dirk Bogarde and always referred to as Mr. Scott-Padget) is angling for a command of his own, not knowing that the men under his command are planning to take that away from both him and Crawford. Scott-Padget treats all the men terribly, with dozens of lashes for even minor offenses. Not only that, but Crawford's young son is serving in a junior capacity, and Scott-Padget treats him badly, too.

Meanwhile, there's a problem with the mission. Apparently, Napoleon's power in the Mediterranean has grown to the point that most of the British ships have left for the Atlantic, which means that Crawford's mission to rendezvous with a particular ship at a particular point isn't going to succeed: the ship has already left. Scott-Padget wants to change the mission, which could be a problem if the original mission turns out still to be feasible. But in the late 18th century with its limited communication, who knows?

Further complicating matters is that in the first skirmish with the French, the Defiant captures a French officer who claims that Napoleon is planning an invasion of England. (Bloody likely that is.) Will the involuntary sailors want to go on a mutiny if it makes it more likely that such an invasion will go ahead, hurting their families back home?

Damn the Defiant! is a movie that seem to me to cover a lot of the same ground as any of the other movies I've seen about that era of the British navy. And yet, the whole time it seemed to be doing what it did very well. I also found something interesting in the inversion from Mutiny on the Bounty of having the first officer be the martinet instead of the commander. Guinness and Bogarde are quite good, and the technical aspects are well-done too, with the possible minor quibble that I highly doubt British ships of that era were that well-lit. (But that's probably a problem with movies in general considering how much light they needed to shoot scenes.)

For anybody looking for a lesser-known movie about the navy in that era, I can highly recommend Damn the Defiant!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Donald Sutherland turns 83

Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in Klute (1971)

Today is the 83rd birthday of Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, who has appeared in a whole bunch of excellent movies without actually getting nominated for a competitive Oscar himself. Sutherland's career started in television, with one of his earliest movies being a role I don't remember in a really fun movie, Die! Die! My Darling!. (One of the IMDb commenters says he's the handyman.) There are also roles in things like The Dirty Dozen, before he finally hit it big in 1970 with MASH and Kelly's Heroes.

Sutherland acted opposite Oscar-winner Jane Fonda in Klute (pictured above), and in 1980 Best picture Ordinary People, as the husband of Mary Tyler Moore (Oscar-nominated) and father of Timothy Hutton (won the Oscar). I think Sutherland had the most difficult role in the movie, but still he didn't get an Oscar nomination.

Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, and Donald Sutherland in Ordinary People (1980)

In fact, he's never been Oscar-nominated, although to be fair there are a lot of roles that, although fun, aren't exactly Oscar bait. The Great Train Robbery comes to mind, as does the 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Eagle Has Landed. Sutherland did finally get a lifetime achievement Oscar this past year.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Nickel and dime

A movie that aired during Leslie Howard's turn as TCM Star of the Month that I don't think I'd seen before is Five and Ten. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive, so I DVRed it and finally got around to watching it to do a post on it here.

John Rarick (Richard Bennett) is the owner of a chain of five-and-ten-cent stores based in Kansas City. He married into the business when he married Jenny (Irene Rich), but he's really the one who made the business what it is today (well, 1931 when the movie was released). It's become big enough and nearly national enough that Rarick has decided it's best that the company be headquartered in New York. So he's taken his wife and adult kids -- daughter Jennifer (Marion Davies) and son Avery (Douglass Montgomery credited as Kent Douglass) to New York. Avery is apparently supposed to take over the business at some point.

Needless to say, the family isn't entirely thrilled at the movie from Kansas City to New York. Avery isn't so certain he wants to take over the business, while Jenny and Jennifer have all their old friends and social circle back in Kansas City. Further, the snooty New York social set isn't about to let new money into their circle. Maybe in three generations from now. Jenny claims she's working with women's social groups, when in reality she's having a tryst with Ramon (who is barely seen; we just need to know she's taken a lover in the afternoon). Young Jennifer, for her part, tries harder, even taking a booth at a charity event, although all of the other rich people make fun of her for apparently trying to buy her way into their set.

It's at that charitable event, however, that Jennifer meets Bertram "Berry" Rhodes (Leslie Howard). He's engaged to Muriel (Mary Duncan), but almost immediately after meeting Jennifer, Berry and Jennifer fall for each other. To be fair, Berry has supposedly had a number of lovers, but Muriel plans to keep him. Berry is an aspiring architect, and Jennifer thinks that he would be just the man to design Dad's new corporate headquarters. It might also help the Raricks get into the old money set.

Of course, nothing will help, and Dad for his part doesn't even seem to care. All he does is care about the business. Mom keeps seeing Ramon; Avery starts drinking (despite Prohibition), and Jennifer continues to see Berry while crashing the rest of the social set, including Berry's wedding to Muriel, at which Berry and Jennifer have one last moment alone together. Well, they think it's going to be their last; Jennifer still thinks she can get Berry.

I think I've said before that the Susan Kane character in Citizen Kane is generally believed to be based on Marion Davies since she was William Randolph Hearst's mistress. That's colored the popular perception of Davies, rather unfairly in my opinion. Unfortunately, I don't know that Five and Ten would help raise that opinion much. It's not Davies' fault, or the fault of anybody else in the cast. It's really that there's something wrong with the script, which is slow before ending abruptly, and just makes the father character such a self-centered jerk that he doesn't see what he's doing to his family. (It's been a while since I've seen it, but if memory serves Sweepings handles the conflict between the generations in a family business rather better.) Even Howard doesn't come off well here.

If I were going to recommend Marion Davies to people, I'd recommend something lighter; either a silent like Show People, or a comedy like Page Miss Glory. It's not that Five and Ten is bad; it's more that it could be so much better.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Where the River Bends

Another of my recent DVD purchases was a six-DVD James Stewart western collection. First up out of that set is Bend of the River.

James Stewart plays Glyn McLyntock, who is leading a group of settlers west to new farmland in the Oregon side of the Columbia River. While looking for the trail ahead, Glyn comes across a group of vigilantes hanging a man for stealing a horse, and is able to prevent them from carrying out the hanging. The man whose life was saved, Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy), is grateful, and as the two head back to the settlers, it's revealed that both of them had pasts as border raiders somwhere along the Missouri/Kansas border. (The movie implies that the action was taking place before statehood, which would place it before 1859. I would have thought the border raiders were from the "Bloody Kansas" slavery dispute in the mid-to-late 1850s, but the plot implies both McLyntock and Cole were both real criminals escaping west.)

After some more difficulties with the Shoshone Indians, the settlers make it to Portland, from where they're going to go upriver to get to the land they're homesteading. While in Portland, McLyntock and the leader of the settlers, Jeremy Baile (Jay C. Flippen), contract to have a bunch of supplies delivered to the settlement in early September. This is important because winter comes early, and while they're building the houses and clearing the land, they're going to need foor for the first winter. The settlers head on up the Columbia, while Cole stays behind along with Jeremy's daughter Laura (Julie Adams), who had to stay in Portland to recuperate from getting an arrow near the collarbone in that Indian attack.

Time passes at the settlement, and no supplies come. Eventually it's October, and the womenfolk point out that they're almost out of the stuff they brought west with them, so they damn well better get those supplies soon. McLyntock and Jeremy head out to Portland to see what happened. What happened is that there's been a gold rush, and with all the miners wanting supplies, the man who was provisioning them, Hendricks (Howard Petrie), was able to bump up the price. This even though the settlers had a contract. The law has obviously broken down, what with no statehood. The settlers' supplies are on the dock in Portland, unshipped because Hendricks won't let anybody ship them anywhere. Also in Portland, they run into Laura, who's working as a gold assayer and engaged to Cole.

Jeremy and McLyntock decide that they're going to take the supplies that they already paid for and load them on the boat. In the ensuing scuffle, Cole and Laura also have to flee, along with professional gambler Trey (Rock Hudson). They're on the steamboat, pursued by Hendricks and his men, which means that McLyntock is going to have to disembark everybody well before the normal point and then go overland the rest of the way. McLyntock also has a couple of town drunks on board whom he hired to load the goods, and they given a choice would be just as happy to see the stuff go to the gold camp since they'd rather be miners themselves. And whose side is Cole on, anyway. As Cole reminds McLyntock, once Jeremy finds out about their pasts, he and the settlers are going to reject both of them.

Bend of the River is a very well-made western, one of a bunch that Stewart made with director Anthony Mann. These were from the more "adult" era of westerns when there wasn't just the preternaturally good guy and the over-the-top villain, but men who had rather murkier psychological motivations doing what they did. Stewart is excellent as a man trying to go straight; that time he spent in World War II gave him a much darker edge in his post-war movies. Kennedy was an antagonist in a whole bunch of movies, pulling it off well enough to get multiple Supporting Actor Oscar nominations. Bend of the River isn't one of the nominated roles, but he still does a great job. Rock Hudson has little to do, and Flippen gets a much bigger role than anything else I've seen him in. The cinematography is lovely.

Curiously, the DVD says that the movie has been formatted to fit the TV screen. I was pretty certain before watching that this was made before the advent of Cinemascope in 1953, and sure enough, the copyright says 1951 (although the actual release was in January 1952). At any rate, the movie was pillarboxed on my aging HDTV, which is as it should be. Each movie is on its own DVD in a slim case; the slim cases don't bother me but may bother some others. The only extra on this DVD was the theatrical trailer, but for the low price what can one expect? Overall, I can highly recommend both Bend of the River. Sadly the box set I got it on is out of stuck, but the TCM Shop has the same six movies available on a box set that has two movies per disc.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Belles of St. Trinian's

A few weeks back TCM ran a night of Alastair Sim movies. One that was new to me was The Belles of St. Trinian's. It's available on DVD, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a bit of a prologue about a sheik from one of those oil-producing kingdoms wanting to send one of his daughters off to school in the UK. Apparnetly, the sheik has a bunch of race horses in Britain, and British firms have the extraction contract for the oil, hence the desire to send the girl to the UK. Anyhow, a member of staff from St. Trinian's School for Young Ladies is there to convince him of the benefits of the school, and off she goes.

One wonders what those benefits would be. The school is in a parlous financial state, with headmistress Millicent Fritton (Alastair Sim in drag) constantly post-dating checks, and demanding cash on the barrelhead from the parents of students for tuition. One of those parents is Millicent's brother Clarence (also played by Sim in a dual role), a horse-racing bookie whose kid is probably there because of family reasons. It's discovered that the princess has £100 in spending money in cash, so everybody tries to get at that cash for their own purposes.

We can already see why Millicent would want that cash. As for the students, well that's another matter. The girls are little hell-raisers, but when they discover that the princess' father has a horse running the the Gold Cup (apparently a pretty big race in Britain), they and Clarence want to see how the horse is doing to see whether he should be bet on. This leads to some complications when the horse goes missing (although why the horse wouldn't simply be scratched and the wagers returned is an unanswered question).

The other big plotline involves the people investigating the school's finances. There's the Ministry of Education, who have already seen two of their bureaucrats go missing while investigating the school. Those bureaucrats have gone native, living in an outbuilding on campus. There's also the local police, who have gotten a policewoman Sgt. Gates (Joyce Grenfell) a job on campus to see what exactly is going on at the school.

Sadly, I have to admit that there are a lot of British comedies from the era that I preferred to The Belles of St. Trinian's. Granted Ealing was probably the best in the genre, but some of them, like Sim's earlier Laughter in Paradise, were made at studios (Associated British-Pathé) other than Ealing. As for The Belles of St. Trinian's, it fell a bit flat for me, with Sim not being particularly interesting in drag and the humor consistently being a bit off key. The movie, however, was a big success, engendering several sequels, so obviously a lot of people do like it. Judge for yourself.

As I said before, the movie is available on DVD and you can even get it at the TCM Shop (but this time, not in an in-print Region 1 DVD at Amazon). But the DVD is put out by Reel Vault, a company I've mentioned before as they put out a lot of obscure British stuff that looks like it's all in copyright limbo. The other DVDs I've obtained from them are all bare-bones; I don't have this one so I can't judge.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Her name is neither Eileen nor Walter

Last week TCM ran a quartet of little-seen movies from Republic Pictures. They were all new to me, so I recorded three of them, not having enough room on my DVR to be interested in Trigger Jr. One of them that's available on DVD is That Brennan Girl.

Mona Freeman plays Ziggy Brennan, who at the start of the movie is a twentysomething woman in San Francisco on Mothers' Day, 1946. She passes by a flower shop, sees a young child buy one flower for Mom, and then thinks back to Mother's Day, 1938. On that day Ziggy went into the same florist's shop and bought one flower for her mother Natalie (June Duprez).

However, it didn't turn out to be a fortuitous gift. When Ziggy gets home to give the flower to Mom, Mom has a male visitor in the apartment. And Mom is none too pleased when Ziggy calls her Mom; apparently she's been trying to pass Ziggy off as her kid sister. Mom, you see, is a small-time con artist, grifting men for whatever she can get out of them. And Mom hopes to teach her daughter the tricks of the trade. Some mother.

One of Mom's friends and partners in crime is Denny Regan (James Dunn), an Irish-American with a stereotypical Irish mother with a heart of gold (Dorothy Vaughan), who gets a lot of scenes with her son that are really just a set up for her big scene with Ziggy late in the movie. Anyhow, Denny and Natalie teach Ziggy about the con game, and Denny takes a bit of on older brother attitude toward Ziggy, it seems.

Time passes, and World War II comes. One night, the gang makes the acquaintance of a navy man on leave, Martin Neilson (William Marshall). He's from the small-town Midwest and this is his first chance to be in a big city, so he's taking it. Denny notices Martin's watch with an interesting band, and as the night goes on, Ziggy gets Martin drunk enough to steal the watch with Martin being too drunk to remember. But Ziggy has a conscience, unlike her mother and Denny. Ziggy feels bad about what she did, and besides, she thinks she might be falling in love with Martin. So she goes looking for him to give him back the watch.

It must have been some whirlwind romance, because Ziggy and Martin get married before Martin can go back to the war in the Pacific. We see a brief shot of Martin being killed in action, drowning when his ship is hit. (That watch is a dead giveaway.) But wouldn't you know it, in the one night that Ziggy and Martin were married before he went back to war, that was enough to get her knocked up.

At this point, the movie becomes a melodrama of whether Ziggy will be able to take care of her child -- it's not as if Mom wants anything to do with her, because having a baby this young will only crimp the con game. You could always hire a baby-sitter, but what happens if you hire one who's negligent? That's exactly what happens to poor Ziggy....

That Brennan Girl isn't a bad movie, but it's another one that I wouldn't consider something special. If you're a fan of movies like Barbara Stanwyck's Stella Dallas, then That Brennan Girl is one I think you'll really like. For people who aren't necessarily fans of older movies, I'd start with a lot of other things first.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #209: Characters magically aging up or down

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is characters magically aging up (or down). I have to admit that this one was difficult for me, trying to think of three movies that fit the theme well. In the end, I don't quite think I succeeded, because it's not all magic and some of the characters didn't necessarily change in age at all. But I'm putting these three movies out there:

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Hurd Hatfield plays the Oscar Wilde character, who keeps a portrait in his attic that does his aging for him, while he gets to live a dissolute life and look none the worse for it. Angela Lansbury plays the East End actress Dorian meets, and George Sanders the man who gives Dorian the suggestion to live a life of pleasure.

Monkey Business (1952). Absent-minded chemist Cary Grant is doing research with chimpanzees, when one of them accidentally knocks one vial into another. The resulting mixture creates a fountain of youth, and when Cary tries it, he starts acting 18 again. His wife (Ginger Rogers) tries it too, and she also acts like a teenager again. Charles Coburn plays Grant's boss, and Marilyn Monroe Coburn's secretary.

Planet of the Apes (1968). Charlton Heston plays the leader of a group of scientists who put themselves in stasis for 18 months, while they hurtle at near-light speed while the rest of the universe ages around them, as per Einstein's theory of relativity. So technically it's science, not magic, although mankind can't get to the sort of speed necessary to make a noticeable difference in time.

I told you I was having trouble coming up with three movies to fit the theme.

Another overnight train

For those of you with FXM, you'll have a chance to catch Night Train to Paris, tomorrow (July 13) at 4:50 AM.

The movie starts of with a prologue that's standard-issue B spy movie stuff. A nervous older guy transfers a small package, and then stupidly gets into a phone booth to call his boss to tell said boss that he's delivered the package. Another older guy chases down the first guy and garrottes him!

But to an office somewhere in London. This is the office of an airline back in those days when air traffic was heavily regulated, and Alan Holiday (Leslie Nielsen) is manning the office as a public relations man. It's New Year's Eve, so everybody and his brother is trying to get out of England over to the Continent to try to celebrate the holiday. This also means that everything is booked solid and there isn't a ticket to be had. Until Catherine Carrel (Alizia Gur) comes in. She hands Alan an old coin that he's supposed to recognize....

Alan may be doing PR now, but back during the Korean War he had a past in military intelligence. There, he worked with Lemoine (Hugh Latimer), who is still working as a spy. Apparently, he's in charge of getting the package from the prologue out of the country. It's a tape containing information about western defense plans or something. (Really, it's a macguffin; it could be almost anything small enough and nontoxic.) After a bit of wangling, the plan is to get some tickets on the overnight boat train with a group of models going to the French Alps for a photo shoot. But that second older guy who garrotted the first older guy is still around killing people, up to getting Lemoine, in Alan's apartment! Poor Alan has to continue Lemoine's scheme, if only to avoid the murder rap.

So Alan and Catherine get on that train, Alan impersonating a photographer, with a bunch of models; the group running the shoot has the word "bear" in its name, so with that and the holiday the guy running the shoot is dressed in a bear costume, head and all so that normally nobody can see his head. The old strangler also gets on the train, and it's a race against time as everybody tries to get that tape and stay alive. Oh, and there are the authorities, too.

I mentioned at the beginning that the prologue is standard-issue B spy movei stuff, and the rest of the movie proceeds along those lines. There's nothing particularly wrong with the material, but there's nothing particularly memorable either, above and beyond the fact that it's Leslie Nielsen as the male lead. Audiences of tody will remember him from Airplane! and the following spoofs, but before that he actually had a serious acting career. It's fun to watch him play things straight. The other worthwhile thing Night Train to Paris is the look at vintage London.

In the end, Night Train to Paris is one of those movies that will entertain you for the hour or so that it's on, and then fade into obscurity. But at least it does entertain.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Hawk and/or the Eagle

Some time back I DVRed a double feature of World War I airplane movies off of TCM. I already blogged about Hell's Angels; the other movie was The Eagle and the Hawk.

Jerry (Fredric March) and Henry (Cary Grant) are a pair of trainees in the British air corps, or whatever it was called before the RAF. On one of their training flights together, Henry crash-lands their plane, much to Jerry's consternation. The result is that when the rota is prepared for the next round of reconnaissance flights, Jerry is one of the pilots, but Henry's name is nowhere to be found. Henry blames Jerry for this. Anyhow, Jerry flies his first mission, and it's successful, except that as part of the dogfighting with a German airplane, Jerry's observer (the man with his eyes to the ground doing the actual reconnaissance work) gets hit and during a loop-de-loop, falls out of the plane to his death. Jerry is none too pleased about it.

Jerry keeps flying missions, and he keeps having the terrible luck of losing observers, to the point that he loses five in two months. Attrition among the air corps is so high that pretty much any available hand is brought it, and that eventually means that Henry is back with the reconnaissance team. And he gets paired with Jerry, something which makes neither of them happy.

To be honest, I found The Eagle and the Hawk to be less of an action movie and a bit closer to a character study of two men who are turned cynical by the violence of war. Fredric March, unsurprisingly, is excellent in his role, as he had had more than enough opportunities over the course of his career to play men with hardened hearts. Grant, on the other hand, is usually remembered for much lighter fare, so it's easy to forget that he had a couple of hard-boiled men like his Henry. This is one of the movies that shows just how good of an actor Cary Grant was.

Adding to the cast is Jack Oakie as another pilot whose role in the movie is to provide the lighter moments. Carole Lombard gets fourth billing although she only has a few scenes when Jerry has leave in London. Even thouse scenes are well-handled, as Jerry has to face a kid who wants to see one of those pilots that people back home are putting on a pedestal. Jerry knows he's no hero.

The Eagle and the Hawk is available at the TCM shop both as a standalone, and in a couple of box sets.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Two things that got me thinking

This is Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon at the end of Some Like it Hot, right after Jack has taken off the wig and revealed that he is in fact a man. This time, however, after seeing the still, I immediately thought, where are Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe? The got in the boat along with Brown and Lemmon and should be in the back seat. And yet, there's nothing. So I went to Youtube and looked for the clip, which has been posted multiple times. Just before Brown and Lemmon start talking, there's an exchange between Curtis and Monroe that ends up with them kissing and going down, cutting to Lemmon looking back. Presumably, Curtis and Lemmon are all the way down on the floor of the back seat or something. But in a boat that size, I can't think there's any way they could both fit there without still being seen in the normal shot we get of Brown and Lemmon.

Somebody over on the TCM boards mentioned just having watched Lullaby of Broadway in a review thread, and posted this lobby card. I saw the card, and my immediate thought was, what's up with Gene Nelson's left foot? It looks as though he's kicking it across his right leg, although you can't see any shoe. The guy who posted the poster said he thinks that Nelson was actually doing a kick out, and that this would likely explain why the perspective looks all off. However, there's also the question of the pants leg. Shouldn't it flare out like the right leg?

Things like this are why you don't want to watch movies with me....

Monday, July 9, 2018

Tab Hunter, 1931-2018

Tab Hunter kissing Diana Lynn in Track of the Cat (1954)

The death has been announced of actor Tab Hunter, three days before what would have been his 87th birthday. Hunter's career in Hollywood began in the 1950s with quite a few westerns. Hunter worked steadily, if not as a lead in the most notable films, for a good 30 years.

However, Hunter became an icon above the status of the movies he was in. Despite his handsome looks that made him a natural for romantic comedies, Tab was gay and it was a fairly open secret in Hollywood. The execs had him go out with Natalie Wood and, as the joke went, "Natalie Wood and Tab wouldn't."

Hunter didn't actually reveal any of this publicly until much later in life, when he found out that somebody else was going to write an unauthorized biography of him, outing all this stuff and distorting it. So Tab decided he'd better put it all out first, in the book and later documentary film Tab Hunter Confidential. Apparently, that included a relationship with Anthony Perkins, which is currently the subject of a movie in development.

As far as I know, TCM hasn't announced whether they're going to do anything to honor Hunter.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

70 years before the Japanese horror movie

Yesterday I decided to watch Alfred Hitchcock's The Ring off the cheap Mill Creek box set I got some time back.

Carl Brisson plays "One-Round" Jack Sander, a boxer who gets his nickname because he works at the carnival taking on all comers, one round at a time. Basically, you pay your entry fee, and if you can last a full round with him, you get a cash prize. (This is the same thing that was a major plot point in the John Garfield film They Made Me a Criminal a dozen years later.) Jack is in love with The Girl, Mabel (Lillian Hall-Davis), who handles the tickets for the attraction.

One day, a man comes to the attraction, buys a ticket, and beats the crap out of Jack! It turns out that the man is Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), a rising professional boxer who could have a shot at the title. So of course Bob was going to have a good shot of beating Jack. It looks like the end of Jack's career, except that Bob's promoter (Forrester Harvey) offers Jack a job as Bob's sparring partner. Meanwhile, Bob is trying to put the moves on Jack's girl, and Jack is none too pleased about it.

Eventually, Jack starts rising up the ladder of success in the boxing world, going from the bottom of the card to the top, although it's a strain for Mabel, who is increasingly torn between Jack and Bob. You can probably guess that the plot is ultimately going to require Jack to go up against Bob in the ring in the big fight, with Jack fighting for Mabel's love (although we find out during the big fight that she has made her decision in favor of... well, did you think I was going to say who?).

The Ring is not the sort of movie that one thinks of when one thinks of Alfred Hitchcock, although the whole "master of suspense" thing really didn't kick into high gear until the mid 1930s with The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps. The Ring isn't bad, although I personally prefer The Lodger when it comes to Hitchcock's silent movies.. But The Ring is certainly more than worth a watch, and not just because it's one of Alfred Hitchcock's early movies. It would still stand favorably on its own if you didn't know who the director was.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A movie about malt liquor?

Not the original movie posterA few months back TCM ran a night of Randolph Scott westerns. The one I haven't blogged about yet is Colt .45.

Scott plays Steve Farrell who is selling Colt .45 six-shooters to law enforcement in the western territories in the 1840s. His current sales pitch is as a sheriff's office where the sheriff has a wanted man, Jason Brett, in one of the cells. The sheriff is an idiot because he lets Brett out of the cell before the guns have been secured. The predictable result is that Brett steals the guns nd shoots the sheriff. When the rest of the town comes running in, Brett makes a point of saying things that will make the men believe Farrell is part of Brett's gang.

Eventually, Farrell is able to get himself released from custody, and realizes that the way to clear his name is to find Brett himself. Although Farrell isn't part of Brett's gang we find a man who is: PUl Donovan (a young Lloyd Bridges). He's been lying to his wife about what he's been doing, and when his wife Beth (Ruth Roman) finds out the truth, she's none too pleased. Farrell, for his part doesn't realize why the new sheriff Harris (Alan Hale Sr.) has let him out. In fact, Harris is in cahoots with Brett's gang!

Colt .45 is a Technicolor western from Warner Bros., but it feels a lot more like the sort of Saturday matinee stuff you would get from a low-budget studio. What that means is nothing particularly special. You know what you're going to get with cookie-cutter good and bad guys and a fairly standard plot. It's not terrible, but it's not terribly good, either. In fact, it's the sort of movie that ought to be an afterthought on a box set. And that's exactly how the TCM Shop is offering it.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Breakfast after love

I mentioned some time back that one of my DVD purchases was a Carole Lombard box set. One of the movies on it I hadn't heard of when I bought the movie was Love Before Breakfast.

Lombard gets top billing as Kay Colby, a New York socialite who is engaged to Bill Wadsworth (Cesar Romero), a middle manager in a petroleum company. HOwever, the engagement it about to hit a snag, as Bill is to be sent to Japan for two years in an executive capacity that would mean more money and a better position, except that he's going to be away from his fiancée for those two years. Now, if you watch the opening credits you'll note that Romero is billed third, behind Lombard and Preston Foster, which should perhaps give you an inkling that there's something about the relationship that's just not meant to be.

As for Foster, he plays Scott Miller, the head of the petroleum company who has transferred Bill to Japan. On the night that Bill is to get on the boat (you'd think he'd take a train across country and then the boat from San Francisco to Japan), Scott runs into Bill and Kay, helps Bill get on the boat, and then invites Kay to dinner! Not only that, but Scott starts putting the moves on Kay! Wow what an operator.

Eventually Scott reveals that he bought the company just so he could transfer Bill and try to pursue Kay without interference from Bill. Kay, for her part, is understandably pissed about it, and the discussion in the restaurant eventually leads to a fight between Scott and some college football players that leaves Kay with the black eye you see in the poster. Kay still wants Bill, although that opinion is about to soften when Bill telegraphs Kay that he likes his position in Japan and is going to stay the two years.

At that point, Kay thinks Bill is giving up on her, so she reluctantly turns to Scott, agreeing to marry him even though she's open that she doesn't love him. One can guess that she's going to try to turn the tables on Scott. Scott relents slightly: he's willing to bring Bill back to the States so that Scott can prove that he's really the right one for Kay.

It goes on like this, up until the fairly sudden resolution. Love Before Breakfast is a reasonably good idea, but I found that it's one of the lesser Lombard movies I've seen. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that none of the characters are particularly sympathetic. Scott is obviously a jerk if he's willing to buy a company just so he can screw another man out of his girl. But when Kay says she's willing to marry Scott, she too changes and becomes rather less likable. Bill, for his part, is too much of a weakling in the final scenes after he comes back to the States.

It's nice, though, that a movie like Love Before Breakfast is available on a box set with a bunch of other movies, even if it is a bare-bones set. The TCM Shop also says that Universal's MOD scheme has released the disk as a standalone, although that's rather more expensive.

A salute to Republic Pictures

TCM is spending this evening with four movies from lower-budget studio Republic Pictures. It looks like an interesting lineup, as I've never even heard of any of the movies. In fact, three of the movies are listed on the TCM schedule page as having the genre "TCM Presents", which is usually the sign of a TCM premiere.

The schedule is:
That Brennan Girl at 8:00 PM;
The Inside Story, about a small town during the Bank Holiday of the depression (when all the banks were closed) that suddenly comes into a bunch of cash at 9:45 PM;
The City That Never Sleeps, with Gig Young as a cop, at 11:30 PM; and
Trigger Jr., a Roy Rogers western, at 1:15 AM.

The TCM Shop lists the first and third movies as being available on DVD.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #208: Long-Awaited Sequels

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "long-awaited sequels".

It took me a little while to come up with three movies that fit the topic, largely because I'm not into the modern day movie series. But eventually, I was able to come up with three movies that fit the theme, more or less: some of these movies may not have been particularly awaited.

The Thin Man Goes Home (1944). Actually, this one wasn't as long-awaited as I would have thought. William Powell and Myrna Loy made The Thin Man in 1934, and the movie was popular enough that MGM decided to pair the two as Nick and Nora Charles again. And again. The fourth movie in the series was released in 1941, and then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, sending the US into World War II. What does that have to do with this movie? Myrna Loy took a break from her Hollywood career to go on tours to raise support of war bonds for the war effort, and this movies, the fifth in the Thin Man series, was the first movie she made after that three-year hiatus.

Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958). The Andy Hardy movies had been extremely successful for MGM for a decade up until 1946, but after Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, and with the end of World War II, MGM must have seen the writing on the wall and ended the series. A dozen years later, they brought the Hardy family back, with the exception of Judge Hardy since Lewis Stone had died in the meantime. Mickey Rooney returns for one final film as Andy Hardy, trying to sell his old hometown on the idea of building an factory for an aviation company there. Of course you can't really go back to your old home again, and there were no further Andy Hardy movies made.

Psycho II (1983). Twenty-three years after the original Psycho, and three years after the death of Alfred Hitchcock, somebody got the idea to make a sequel. Norman bates is supposedly cured (I thought at the end of the original Psycho the mother personality had taken over and there was no more Norman) and let out of the insane asylum. He returns to the old Bates Motel, which you'd think would have been razed to the ground. Of course, once back at the Bates Motel, Norman finds that perhaps he might not have been so cured.

TCM Star of the Month 2018: Steve McQueen

We're in the first full week of a new month, so it's time for a new Star of the Month. This time around, it's Steve McQueen, and his movies are going to be airing every Thursday night in prime time. Not quite all night, though, as TCM only has 16 movies, which means about four a night which won't take us all the way to 6:00 AM.

Tonight, for example, TCM is running The Swarm at 4:15 AM after four McQueen movies. The link above to TCM's bio of McQueen also mentions several movies of his that TCM won't be running this month, presumably because they couldn't get the rights to those. I don't recall how many years it's been since they ran The Towering Inferno, for example.

At least we get another airing of The Blob tonight at 8:00 PM, where 28-year-old McQueen plays a high school student who can't get the authorities to realize that there's a dangerous blob from outer space on the loose. Oh, the authorities will figure it out soon enough.