Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Now that I've seen Hell's Heroes

At the beginning of the month, I mentioned that Hell's Heroes, the first sound version of Three Godfathers, was going to be on TCM. I hadn't seen it before, so I was curious to see how it compared to the other versions.

To be honest, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The basic synopsis of the plot is here from when I blogged about the mid-1930s version of Three Godfathers, although there are some slight differences. The biggest one is that the woman was only about to give birth in Hell's Heroes, while she had already given birth in Three Godfathers. It led to some childcare stuff that I don't quite remember being in the later movie.

For the most part, though, it seemed to be fairly similar. I haven't read the Peter Kyne story, so I can't comment on how similar the movies are to the story, but the version used in the movies is good. Charles Bickford does a good job as the lead of Hell's Heroes, while everybody else is satisfactory if not particularly memorable. The Mojave Desert cinematography is also good. All in all, while Hell's Heroes is not an all-time classic, it's certainly a solid telling of a good story.

The Warner Archive released a double bill of Hell's Heroes and the 1936 Three Godfathers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The ghost may or may not go west

I recorded The Ghost Goes West last week when it was on TCM, and was planning to do a post on it in time for Halloween. Unfortunately, I failed to notice that the DVD is out of print, since it's a backorder at the TCM Shop and listed as unavailable at Amazon. Not having anything else to blog about, I'll break with my normal pattern and to a "please release me" post instead.

Robert Donat plays Murdoch Glourie, scion of a Scottish clan in the 18th century. The Scottish are planning to go off and fight the English, although Murdoch is rather more of a ladies' man than his ancestors ever were, something that irritates his father no end. Then there are the McLaggen clan, who make fun of Murdoch for his perceived cowardice. He does eventually go off with the intention to fight, but before he can get in the real fighting, he gets killed without having earned his honor. So he becomes a ghost, forever haunting the Glourie castle until he can bring a McLaggen to his knees.

Fast forward 200 years. Donald Glourie (also Robert Donat), the latest head of the Glourie clan, lives in the castle, although probably not for much longer as he's heavily in debt and the creditors are planning to sell off the castle to get the debts paid off. The only problem is the old Glourie ghost, who scares off potential buyers. That is, until an American family shows up. Lovely Peggy Martin (Jean Parker) is the daughter in the family, with Dad (Eugene Pallette) being a grocery magnate. Peggy likes the castle, although Mom doesn't want anything haunted. Peggy sees the ghost and falls in love with it, thinking it's Donald in costume since, after all, both characters are played by the same actor.

Eventually, Dad decides to buy the castle, but he's got an odd plan for it. As a nouveau riche American, his intention is to dismantle the castle, ship it to America, and rebuild it in Florida! Donald is going to go along to supervise the reconstruction, since he could use a job and he'll be near Peggy. Dad doesn't realize that if he does that, the ghost is going to go along for the ride. The ghost is supposed to come out at midnight every night, but where is he going to come out if the castle is dismantled? As it turns out, he shows up on a transatlantic liner, not knowing at first where he is. And the passengers are intrigued by the idea of a ghost, even if the ghost isn't intrigued by the passengers. Indeed, he doesn't like America at all.

Still, Mr. Martin sees the ghost as a great publicity ploy for business, with his chief grocery rival not believing in the existence of ghosts. And the ghost doesn't want to show up any more if it means showing up in America. How is everybody going to resolve the situation such that they can live happily ever after?

I have to admit that The Ghost Goes West took rather a long time to get where it was going, even though the movie is fairly short. (IMDb says 95 minutes; Amazon says 82; I thought the print I watched was a little under 80. So I have no idea what if anything might have been cut.) The portion of the movie in 18th century Scotland wasn't quite my cup of tea, but things really picked up once Eugene Pallette shows up. It's not that Donat is bad; it's just that I felt the script in the first half of the movie let him down a bit. Peters is OK, but pretty much any ingenue actress of the 1930s could have handled her role, which I felt was secondary to the men.

The Ghost Goes West was made in the UK by Alexander Korda producing and René Clair directing; this is probably the explanation for the lack of an in-print DVD release. Clair has an interesting resume when it comes to English-language movies; he also did I Married a Witch and It Happened Tomorrow, both of which are interesting fantasies. The Ghost Goes West is no less interesting. It really needs another DVD release.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Thoughts on Filmstruck

So it was announced at the end of last week that Filmstruck, the streaming service run in a partnership between TCM and the Criterion Collection, is shutting down at the end of November. I've been thinking about it, but don't really have anything expert to say since I don't do streaming video what with my lack of bandwidth and data.

Still, in many ways I'm not surprised. There have been a lot of streaming services to come and go and we are in many ways still in the early days of streaming all our TV instead of the traditional ways to watch. I've always argued that a la carte cable channel purchasing would be terrible for channels with a less general audience, and can't help but think the same is true for services like Filmstruck. I also happen to be a fan of niche sports (at least niche in the US) and know from talking to other fans that trying to get all of those sports that you want adds up quickly. Along the same lines, BeIN, a Qatari-owned sports channel that tried to break into the US market with non-UK soccer, motorcycle racing, and women's tennis, is probably on the verge of folding because they're getting bumped off most cable providers. Even NBC Sports, which has the most lucrative soccer league in the English Premier League, is moving more of those games to the pay streaming service, much to the chagrin of people who are fans of non-name teams.

With that in mind, it doesn't surprise me that a service that's specializing in foreign films and other stuff with an already lower interest is going to have trouble too. At the same time, however, I wonder exactly how much the service costs the providers to set up. I would assume that the rights are the biggest issue. With streaming being a new thing, I can imagine that the content holders in sports are just negotiating rates with the various sports channels that already hold the rights. I have no idea how it works for movies. It seems as though it should be a simple enough matter to put up (as an example) all of the movies in the old library that Ted Turner acquired back in the 80s, with the caveat that some of the movies probably still have to be converted to a digital format suitable for streaming. But how many people would pay to watch that, rather than pay one lump sum to a company like Amazon and then get a smaller selection of movies from various sources bundled with the membership.

The other problem I've always had with streaming is that apparently, in most cases you don't actually own a copy of the movie that you buy. Instead, you own a license to watch it whenever you want. At least, until the people you bought it from lose the right to feed it to you, as happened earlier this year with either Apple or Google's streaming service. People were understandably quite miffed about that one.

The one other thing that strikes me is the sense of entitlement that some of the TCM fans seemed to have. I've always gotten a sense that some people think a movie channel should just have the ability to pick this movie and that, and voila it's going to show up on the channel.And when their favorite channel doesn't do that, they raise holy hell. In the case of Filmstruck, it's all the fault of the big nameless corporation (well, it does have a name in AT&T) and it's somehow obvious but unstated that a product like Filmstruck should be raking in money hand over fist.

Ultimately, I wonder whether we'll ever get a good streaming service with a big selection, mostly because of the copyright issue. Disney pushed hard to get copyrights extended 20 years back when Steamboat Willie was nearing the end of its copyright, and they're probably going to try the same thing when the current term nears its end (which without looking it up is I think in 2048). As long as the stuff stays under copyright, there's the rights fees issues, which I'd think would lead to a relatively fragmented market. Especially for things like foreign films where there are even more rights holders involved.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


A couple of weeks back TCM ran a night of films devoted to Ed Begley (Sr.) and, since I hadn't bloged about Patterns before, I decided to DVR it and watch it.

The Ramsey Corporation is one of those big conglomerates of the last century that's headquartered in New York and seems to have its fingers in everything, run by Ramsey (Everett Sloane), son of the founder of the business. Ramsey just brought up a new man who was managing a factory in the Cleveland area to be the newest executive, and that's what all of the secretaries are talking about. The new man, Fred Staples (Van Heflin), is going to be working alongside one of the most senior executives, Bill Briggs (Ed Begley).

Fred has a sort of wide-eyed view of New York, feeling it's the big time, and impressed with the way the corporation has handled his transfer. They've gotten him a big how out in the suburbs, already furnished, so on his first day his wife Nancy (Beatrice Straight) is able to drive him into work in a New York that has surprisingly little traffic. But Fred is soon to find out that everything isn't as idyllic as it seems.

Two things give Fred that indication. He's brought into a board meeting on his very first morning at the place, and one of the items up for discussion is the purchase of a factory currently in receivership. Ramsey wants to close it down for retooling for a good six months, since to keep it open would be unproductive and unprofitable. Briggs, however, feels it should be kept open, since it's the main employer in the town where it's located, and closing it down that long could mean by the time they're ready to reopen it, there's not going to be a workforce to work there. But really, this factory is just a McGuffin for the interaction between Ramsey and Briggs. Ramsey more or less winds up screaming at Briggs, belittling him and browbeating him into being a yes-man. Not what Fred expected at all. Worse is when Fred finds out this his secretary is going to be the thoroughly competent Marge (Elizabeth Wilson), who has been Briggs' secretary for years, and is being permanently reassigned to Fred. Marge knows what that means.

Although Fred has his misgivings, he's keeping a bit silent about them at work since he's made fast friends with Briggs, what with their working together on a big report. Nancy also realizes something's going on, and tries to get Fred to stand up for himself, even if that's going to cause some friction at work. If it's a dog-eat-dog world, you don't want to be the one being eaten. And it's not only causing friction at work, but at home, too.

Matters come to a head when the Staples hold a party for the various board members and their wives. Briggs can't make it, which should be another ominous sign. But Nancy engineers things so that Ramsey will get to read a copy of the report ahead of time, and Ramsey thinks that Fred should get all of the credit for it. Obviously, he's trying to push Briggs out, and since you can't really fire people this high up, you try to make their working life such a living hell that they'll give up and quit. Briggs, for his part, seems to have nothing in his life but his work, and isn't about to quit....

The plot of Patterns is a good one. The performances are uniformly excellent. The one problem I had, however, is with the script, which seemed a bit heavy-handed in places as it was trying to drive home its points. I was in many ways reminded of Executive Suite while watching Patterns, and I have to say that I'd give a slight edge to Executive Suite. That's not to say that Patterns isn't a darn good movie. Indeed, I can strongly recommend it.

Patterns is available on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Baby Peggy turns 100 tomorrow

Assuming she doesn't die in the next 24 hours, and yes, I know that sounds morbid. But since she was a child star in the silent era, TCM is celebrating the day tonight in its Silent Sunday Nights lineup.

The first selection isn't actually a silent movie, but the 2010 documentary Baby Peggy: The Element in the Room, at midnight tonight. I've mentioned this one several times in the past and it's an excellent look at what Hollywood and the parents did to these poor children, with Peggy being more or less washed up at the age of 7.

Of the two silent movies, The Family Secret at 1:15 AM is actually new to me, although I've seen (and enjoyed) Captain January which shows up at 2:30 AM.

TCM Imports is shunted to 4:00 AM instead of the usual time slot around 2:00 AM, although we get a good one this week in Diabolique.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Daughters of the Dust

I recorded quite a few movies during TCM's spotlight on the Black Experience in film back in September. Among the films I hadn't seen before was Daughters of the Dust.

The basic plot synopsis is interesting enough. It's 1902, and on the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, the extended Peazant family is preparing to leave for the mainland because of how little economic opportunity there is on the islands. The islanders are descended from slaves of various west African cultures, with their languages and English having become intermixed to become a creole known as Gullah; the islanders also wre among the last of the people to maintain many of the old African traditions.

A couple of cousins in the extended family have already gone to the mainland, and are now returning to help their cousins move. Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) has become more Americanized, having brought over a photographer to document the migration and get portraits of everybody, especially the matriarch Nana (Cora Lee Day) who knows her time has passed but for whom time is more or less a circle, so the next generation will share her story. There's also cousin Yellow Marry (Barbara-O), who was a wet-nurse on the mainland and brought over her friend Trula. Yellow Mary is intending to go to Canada.

While everybody is preparing for the migration, various cultural practices are engaged in, and some old family conflicts are gently brought up. Eli is married to Eula, but there are some serious issues regarding their unborn child who is also the narrator of the film. There's a Cherokee whose ancestors escaped the forced migration from Georgia during the Andrew Jackson administration and made their way to the Sea Islands, and he and Iola Peazant have a realtionship. There's a Muslim, since many of the cultures from which the slaves had been taken were Muslim; Viola on the other hand is a devout Christian and tries to instill that in the youngest generation of Peazants.

I found Daughters of the Dust to be interesting, but at the same time difficult. The difficulty is in the non-linear storytelling, which I found made things quite difficult to follow at times. Some scenes suddenly switched to a sort of slow motion, which as far as I could figure was supposed to be a sign that these were events that had happened at some time in the past.

One of the big pluses was the cinematography, which was mostly beautiful and not just because of the locations; having a backdrop like the Sea Islands certainly helps. The biggest positive about the movie is the fact that it got made at all, showing a dying cultural tradition that would probably be unknown to most people. (I knew about the Gullah language, but didn't know anything about the cultural traditions of the Sea Islanders.)

Overall, I'd definitely recommend Daughters of the Dust, with the one caveat that it helps to know going in that there's a non-traditional (from most Americans' point of view) narrative structure. The movie was restored a few years ago, and part of that resotration included a release to DVD and Blu-Ray.

There wasn't a Czech film museum before?

I'm always a day or two behind in listening to the programs from the various international broadcasters I listen to, so I just got around to looking up something that Radio Prague's English service ran on Wednesday

NaFilM: Czech film students’ National Film Museum project set to premiere

The Czech film tradition dates to the very beginnings of the medium itself, and the country’s film archive is among the world’s oldest. Yet the Czech Republic had no national museum dedicated to the art form. Five years ago, three film students set out to rectify that. Building on pop-up exhibitions, their NaFilM project now has a permanent home – though still undergoing reconstruction. NaFilM cofounder Terezie Křížkovská talks about how their dream to establish an innovative, hands-on, interactive National Film Museum became a reality.

As usual, the Radio Prague website has a transcript of the feature, as well as the opportunity either to stream the audio or download it directly as an MP3. The direct download is here, a 6.7MB MP3 that runs around 15 minutes. This time, however, I'd recommend also going to the pge, as the film students made a promotional ad for the museum to try to get funding, and that's embedded in the page. Watch for the shoutout to Closely Watched Trains at the end.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Lost Patrol (1934)

The latest viewing off my DVR that's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive is The Lost Patrol.

It's World War I in British Mesopotamia, and a group of British soldiers are on patrol out in a middle of nowhere part of the desert. Suddenly, the captain of the patrol falls off his horse, having been hit by an unseen sniper somewhere out in the dunes. The Sergeant (Victor McLaglen) forced into command faces a serious dilemma. He was never let in on the exact nature of this patrol, so he has no idea where he's supposed to be going or where the group even is. (You'd think they'd have a sextant or something to help navigate.) Making matters worse is that one of the men, Sanders (Boris Karloff) is a devout Christian who insists on holding a proper funeral for the fallen man, even thogh hanging around seems like a serious risk

So, having buried the captain as quickly as possible, the Sergeant leads his men north, and eventually they at least have a seeming bit of luck in finding an oasis. Now, I'd think the restive Arabs would know where all the oases are and that hiding out at one of them would be suicide for the British, but it's not as if they've got any better options. It's the least bad thing to hunker down there for a while and try to figure out what to do.

As you can guess, the Arabs find the British, as in the morning the night sentry has been shot dead, and the horses were released. Not having horses is certain to kill all of them, but still the Sergeant tries to figure a way out of the situation. The Arabs have time on their side, and are willing to wait and take whatever chance they can to know the British soldiers off one by one. Eventually, a British airplane flies overhead, which could mean rescue, but the pilot decides to land rather than going back to base and informing the commanders there. Little does he know he's landed somewhere surrounded by snipers. Sanders, meanwhile, is slowly reaching the breaking point as a Christian not cut out for war.

In some ways there's not much to The Lost Patrol, but what there is is quite good. It's a fairly simple story that could translate to almost any military anywhere, at least in the days before GPS made pinpointing location much easier. The movie is more about the performances and the impending sense of doom, both of which are pulled off well. Karloff doesn't get the credit he deserves as a serious actor thanks to his having played Frankenstein's monster, but he's quite good here. McLaglen doesn't do badly, and the supporting actors (including Alan Hale, Reginald Denny, and Wallace Ford) all do OK. The simplicity of the plot heightens the sense of doom as there's nothing to distract from it. The desert cinematography (the Sonoran Desert in southeast California and areas around Yuma substituting for Iraq) also stands out.

The Lost Patrol is a worthy watch if you haven't seen it before.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #224: The Weird (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition. And being the last Thursday in October, we get TV shows that are just plain weird. Well, I'm not too good at that, so I cheated slightly, as you'll see:

The Moneymaze (1975). Future AMC host Nick Clooney hosted this game show in which couples competed for the right to have one partner guide the other through a maze in which they could pick up a one and four zeroes at certain spots to win $10,000. Short-lived in part because premise and in part because of the expense: The crew had to be paid a lot to assemble that maze, and it cost a lot more studio time. I believe that in addition to the pilot, one other episode survives, thanks to Andy Warhol. One of his works of "art" had him record 24 hours of one TV station's broadcast on an early VCR, and The Moneymaze is one of the shows he recorded.

The $1.98 Beauty Show (1978-1980). From the warped mind of Chuck Barris, who gave us The Gong Show, is this spoof of beauty pageants, with rather plainer-looking entrants, and contestants winning the titular prize, and a bouquet of carrots.

Wilkins and Wontkins (c. 1960). Jim Henson produced a series of commercials for Wilkins Coffee in the late 1950s and early 1960s, creating a couple of proto-Muppets who had a rather stark warning on what might happen if you don't like Wilkins coffee. For anybody who got up in arms about that recent Muppet movie with the characters acting closer to an R rating, show them these commercials.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Demetrius and the Gladiators

We've got one more movie showing up on FXM Retro to recommend this week: Demetrius and the Gladiators, which will be on at 11:40 AM tomorrow.

The action in the movie begins about where the action in The Robe left off. You may recall from that movie that the two main characters played by Richard Burton and Jean Simmons (Marcellus and Diana), were executed at the end for their Christian beliefs, with the titular robe referring to the garment that Jesus was wearing on the way to his crucifixion. The robe is given to an elderly Christian witness to the Marcellus/Diana crucifixon for safekeeping, until that guy can give it to "the fisherman", referring to Peter (Michael Rennie), the closest the earliest Christians had to a leader since he wasn't Pope yet.

Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) hears about the robe, and the rumore that it confers its owner life everlasting. It may, in the Christian sense of the afterlife, but not in the biological sense. But that's another story. Caligula wants that robe, and he'll stop at nothing to get it. Why can't he be more sensible, like his uncle Claudius (Barry Jones) and aunt Messalina (Susan Hayward)? Caligula sends a Roman legion out to the provinces to find that robe.

Demetrius (Victor Mature) and his girlfriend Lucia (Debra Paget) live in the town where the robe is temporarily secreted until Peter can get it. Demetrius was Marcellus' slave, but a free man now. Not for long, though, because the Romans come through looking for the robe and treat Lucia like dirt, so Demetrius defends her honor. Oh, you don't do that to a Roman legion. Demetrius is taken to Rome, where he'll be made a gladiator.

Although Demetrius as a Christian is supposed to be non-violent, there is some self-defense instinct when Caligula decides to send multiple tigers after Demetrius in the arena. Demetrius slays them all, leading the crowd to want to save him, even though Caligula would rather he died. Messalina in particular takes notice of Demetrius, and tries to tempt him with her love. But Demetrius is a good Christian.

At least until Lucia shows up. She wants to see Demetrius, but the other gladiators get to her first and the way they treat her results in her having a nervous breakdown, not that anybody in ancient Rome knew what that was at the time. Demetrius is powerless to stop it, and God certainly isn't going to do anything about it, so Demetrius abandons his faith and starts taking up with Messalina. At least, until Caligula sends him out to get that robe....

The biggest disappointment for me with the movie is that FXM's print was both letterboxed and pillarboxed. This wasn't the case with Thunder Island, which I mentioned yesterday. The story is OK; there's nothing particularly wrong with it but nothing particularly standing out either. If you like the sword and sandal movies of the 1950s, you'll probably enjoy Demetrius and the Gladiators. I just wish it were a bigger print.

Both the TCM Shop and Amazon claim to have the movie available on DVD, although it's on different box sets.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Thunder Island

Another movie that recently showed up in the FXM lineup and is getting multiple airings is Thunder Island. It's going to be on again October 24 at 7:55 AM and October 25 at 6:00 AM.

Gene Nelson plays Billy Poole, who at the beginning of the movie is arriving on some Caribbean island where he is met by Anita (Miriam Colon). Billy is a hired assassin, and Anita is part of a group from another Latin American country. That country's dictator fled some time back, and went into exile on an outlying island in this country that is now his own private island, that nobody comes or goes to without El Presidente's permission. Obviously he's not about to let strangers like a hired assassin onto his island!

Billy has an idea, though. He charters a boat to get the lay of the land, so to speak. The boat is owned by another American, Vincent Dodge (Brian Kelly), who has come down to the Caribbean in part to escape the rat race in America and in part in the hopes that a change of scenery will save his marriage to his estranged wife Helen (Fay Spain). The first time Vincent takes the boat out with his daughter on board, they get as far as the dock of El Presidente's private island. As luck would have it, the ex-dictator has a daughter who is about the same age as Vincent and Helen's daughter, and she tries to make fast friends with the American, even offering her a trip to the private zoo the ex-president keeps. So Billy is going to have a good chance to get onto the island.

Of course, there's a bigger problem, which is that Vincent is never going to accept being part of an assassination plot if he has any say in the matter. And Billy has just enough of a conscience that he doesn't want to get an innocent girl involved. But Anita and her compatriots insist that the plot go forward, so sure enough it does....

Thunder Island is another of those short (about 65 minutes) movies that Fox was distributing around the time the Burton and Taylor Cleopatra was sucking all of the money out of the studio. These movies aren't nearly as bad as that provenance might lead people to believe, and some of them are actually pretty good. Thunder Island is one of the better of them that I've seen, although I do have to say I'd consider it the sort of thing that a decade later would probably have been conceived as a TV movie of the week. The acting is the decided weak point; the story isn't bad and the scenery (much of the movie was filmed on Puerto Rico) is nice.

One thing that intrigued me was the openiong credits. Among the people given screenwriting credit was one named Jack Nicholson. I looked it up, and sure enough, it's the famous Jack Nicholson who would soon enough quit screenwriting for a much more prominent career as an actor.

Thunder Island is on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, although for a short B movie, that's rather pricey.

TCM heads-up for October 23-24, 2018

Tonight's the last night of Rita Hayworth's turn as Star of the Month, since TCM is running Halloween movies starting in prime time on October 30. This final week of the Hayworth tribute brings some of her later movies. I've recommended The Story on Page One before, but since that's a Fox movie, the recommendation was when it was on FXM. I think tonight's showing at 10:00 PM is a TCM premiere.

Wednesday morning and afternoon bring a bunch of World War I airplane movies to TCM. TCM had a double feature of such movies earlier in the year, which allowed me to record Hell's Angels (not on Wednesday's schedule) and The Eagle and the Hawk (tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM). I can't remember how many of the day's other films I've seen, although I have memories of getting bored with the Joan Crawford love triangle Today We Live (12:15 PM Wednesday). Not having to do with World War I or aviation is the short You, John Jones!, which is on at 5:45 PM Wednesday.

Monday, October 22, 2018

200+ years of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein novel was first published on January 1, 1818, so this year marked the 200th anniversary, even though that anniversary was back at the beginning of the year. Stil, with October being the month for horror it seems to make at least a little bit of sense to mark the anniversary in October as well, which is what TCM is doing tonight.

There are quite a few Frankenstein movies on in prime time tonight, although the 1931 Boris Karloff Frankenstein is not among them. If you've got the Encore premium channels, StarzEncore Classics will be airing that on Friday followed by the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein, at least if the listings services are accurate.

Tonight's prime-time lineup begins at 8:00 PM with a documentary called The Strange Life of Dr. Frankenstein that I know nothing about. I did a bit of searching on it, and the only thing I could find was this blurb from the distributor. I'd assume it's a foreign documentary that's been translated into English and that if IMDb has anything on it it might be under the original title. Still, it's only 52 minutes, so it might be worth a watch.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

At least it was better than Mister Buddwing

Looking through my DVDs to see what genre of movie I hadn't blogged about lately, I decided that I'd sit down and watch Mirage.

Gregory Peck plays David Stillwell, who at the start of the movie is working on the 27th floor of one of those corporate behemoth buildings in New York. The power has gone out, leaving everybody in the dark and David to walk down 27 flights of stairs to get out of the building. Just behind him is a mysterious woman Shela (Diane Baker); the two have a conversation along the way. They eventually go past the ground floor and through the sub-basements before Shela gets far enough ahead of David that she can just disappear.

When David gets out of the building, he hears an ambulance; it seems as if somebody fell, jumped, or was pushed out of a window in the building where David worked. And it was a 27th floor window. Eventually David goes back to his building to find Shela, and he's shocked to discover that there's no sub-basement! When he gets to his apartment, he finds that there's a man with a gun waiting for him in the hallway. Everybody is wanting him to go see "The Major", whoever that is. David tries to call his boss Josephson (Kevin McCarthy), but uses a number that's out of service. More and more things happen to David that lead him to believe that he's suffering from amnesia. The fact that he's got people chasing him trying to kill him doesn't help.

David tries to go to the police, but they're no help. More alarmingly, he goes to a psychiatrist who is extremely rude to him and doesn't want to help either. Is the pyschiatrist in on the conspiracy? Finally, David turns to a private detective, Ted Cassell (Walter Matthau), who reluctantly takes the case. When they go back to David's building, his old office isn't there, and in the basement that's not a sub-basement, the guy who was there before, Willard (George Kennedy), is there again threatening the two with a gun!

David goes around town trying to piece his past back together. The dead guy, Charles Calvin (Walter Abel) was apparently leading some sort of peace group, and David begins to realize that perhaps he knew Charles. But how? And what are all of David's flashbacks to a conversation on a grassy field about? Worse, David still has to deal with Willard chasing and trying to kill him....

The big problem I had with Mirage was the fact that nothing seemed to fit. Obviously, the movie was structured as it was to try to put the viewers in the predicament of a man who suddenly doesn't know who he was, which is the same conceit as Mister Buddwing a year later. I really disliked that one, and Mirage is only slightly less of a problem for me. I also had big issues with the whole conspiracy theory thing. You can't keep this much a secret, especially not in a big city. Granted, some of the things can probably be explained away by saying they were figures of David's amnesiac imagination. But things like the psychiatrist can't. The impression I got is that he was violating medical ethics treating David the way he did, and for no good reason. The ending also made me feel as though David's amnesia may have been resolved, but the viewers' issues weren't.

Still, this is another of those movies you should probably judge for yourself, and since it was on a cheap box set, it's not as if I wasted too much money on it.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

I mentioned Gloria Jean some weeks back when her death was announced, and how I had her performance in W.C. Fields' Never Give a Sucker an Even Break on DVD so I'd have to get around to watching it and doing a full-length review.

Fields is, of course, the star, nominally playing a screenwriter who is trying to option his script to Esoteric Pictures. It's up to producer Franklin Pangborn (Franklin Pangborn playing a character with the same name, which I presume is the joke) to decide on the script. But he's also looking at a new juvenile star Gloria (Gloria Jean) who happens to be Fields' niece.

Gloria gets an audition which allows her to showcase her operatic voice; one assumes that the real-life Gloria Jean being at universal was being groomed to replace Deanna Durbin should Durbin ever have gotten ideas above her station. After that audition and some vintage Fields routines, we get the bulk of the movie, which is a dramatization of some of the scenes in the Fields movie-within-a-movie screenplay. The first one has Fields jumping out of a plane to retive a bottle of liquor, only to land at the mountaintop estate of Mrs. Hemogloben (Margaret Dumont) and her daughter (Susan Miller). There's a second scene involving the "Russian" expat village near the Hemogloben place. But these are just hooks to hang more zany comic scenes.

After the screenplay is panned, there's a tacked on ending that has Fields trying to get a woman to a maternity hospital but getting stuck in traffic and then being pulled along by a fire truck ladder. Again, just another opportunity to have a scene that seemed more of an homage to silent movies than anything else.

I found Never Give a Sucker an Even Break a difficult movie to review, largely because it is in many ways plotless. The idea of pitching a movie script to a studio is certainly a reasonable idea and one that has been used in many movies. But it really only occupies the middle half of the movie here, and that and the two storylines bookending it have little to no relationship to each other. The movie-within-a-movie also has no plot whatsoever.

As for the acting, Fields is Fields; Margaret Dumont is doing the same stuff she did in the Marx Brothers movies; and Pangborn is also doing his usual routine, as well as ever. Gloria Jean is quite appealing too. Still, I have to think that Never Give a Sucker an even break would appeal more to Fields fans than a broader population, thanks to that lack of a plot.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Foxes of Harrow

FXM recently took The Foxes of Harrow out of the vault and has been running it into the ground. It's going to be on FXM again tomorrow morning at 9:20 AM and is available on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme.

Rex Harrison plays Stephen Fox who was born in Ireland in the late 1790s. The only thing is, he was born out of wedlock to one of the daughters of a wealthy landowner of an estate named Harrow, and there was no way the owner was going to let his daughter keep the child. Eventually, it's off to America for the orphan to make his way in the world. Fast forward to 1827 Louisiana. Stephen is being forcibly removed from a riverboat for cheating at gambling, and one of the lovely young ladies on the boat comments about his being left on a sandbar in the middle of the Mississippi. As if you couldn't tell their paths will cross again.

Stephen is rescued by pigboat captain Farrell (Victor McLaglen), who eventually becomes a working-class friend of the would-be wealthy Stephen, something which is going to cause friction later. Stephen, in New Orleans, helps out Andre (Richard Haydn), and Richard repays the kindness by letting Stephen stay at his house for a time. It's also what gives Stephen the idea to crash the charity ball being held by the D'Arceneaux family, father Henri (Gene Lockhart) and daughters Odalie (Maureen O'Hara) and Aurore (Vanessa Brown).

Stephen meets Odalie at the ball, and is shocked to discover that she's the woman he met when he was getting thrown off the boat. Actually, Odalie is even more shocked. Stphen vows to win Odalie's heart, while Odalie vows never to see Stephen again.

To try to win Odalie's heart, Stephen wins a run-down estate in a card game, and builds a new Harrow for Odalie. He's able to convince Odalie that he's changed, but he's so driven that in some ways it turns her off. It doesn't help that he's got a mistress on the side. They have sex once, though, because nine months after their wedding day a son is born unto them. But the son dies tragically amid the Panic of 1837, threatening Stephen and Harrow....

In addition to the Fox musicals of the 1940s, they were also making a lot of period piece literary adaptations. The Foxes of Harrow is to my mind one of the weaker of these, in part because I didn't care for either of the main characters. Stephen comes across as more of a self-centered jerk than somebody with an iron determination to rise up from difficult circumstances, the way Joan Crawford's Mildred Pierce for one did. It's easy to see why Odalie wouldn't like him, but then she turns on a dime at multiple points in the movie without good motivation. There's also no real antagonist. Finally, I found the score overbearing.

Still, I always like to point out when I pan a movie that one should judge for oneself.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #223: Technology

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 technology. Two of the movies I've selected this week are a bit sci-fi, with the third being a straight romantic comedy:

Westworld (1973). Richard Benjamin and James Brolin play a pair of friends who go to a futuristic amusement park that has extremely lifelike robots that the humans can interact with. However, something goes wrong with the programming, and the robots go awry killing their masters. One of the robots (Yul Brynner) tries going after our heroes.

Demon Seed (1977). Scientist Fritz Weaver has created what today we'd call a "smart house" that can be completely run by computer interface, as well as a supercomputer at a research facility. The supercomputer gets uppity, wants to experience the rest of the world, and infiltrates the smart house's computer system, holding Weaver's wife (Julie Christie) hostage. The supercomputer's ultimate plan is to impregnate Christie so the supercomputer can live on.

Desk Set (1957). Katharine Hepburn plays the head of the research library at a media conglomerate. Computer salesman Spencer Tracy will be in charge of installing the punch-card fed computer (this is 1957, after all) that will be part of the research department. Of course, all the research librarians think the point of the computer is to take their jobs, so they try to find out what it's really all about. Along the way, Hepburn and Tracy fall in love yet again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Not-quite-Disney Nazi hunters

Another recent movie viewing was Operation Eichmann, which aired a few weeks back on TCM and is another of the movies on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

The movie opens up before the credits with a spotlight on Adolf Eichmann (Werner Klemperer) saying that the Jews are going to go down and the Nazis will rise again staged so as to imply he was on trial for his crimes against humanity during the Nazi era. In fact, the movie was released after Eichmann was captured but before the trial began, which also explains why it ends the way it does with his getting captured, and ending that feels incomplete.

Flash back to Nazi Germany, where Eichmann is a higher-up in the SS. The Nazis' plan of genocide against the Jews is going slowly, largely because mass murder is really not an easy thing to do. With the war on there's no way to just deport the Jews even if the Nazis had wanted to engage in ethnic cleansing instead of genocide, and all those Jews are in the Nazis' eyes a drain on resources. So the "Final Solution" is thought up, leading to the Nazis starting to gas the Jews to death a whole bunch at a time and then cremate them to destroy the evidence.

The first roughly half of the film focuses on Nazi Germany up to the end of the war, introducing a younger version of one of the important characters in the second half, David (adult David played by Donald Buka). David is a Jew who survived Auschwitz and amazingly survives the chaotic forced transports in the closing days of the war, when Eichmann ultimately flees (at least in the movie version of events). David makes his way to Israel and eventually becomes a Nazi hunter and the conscience of the Israelis, insisting that Eichmann be captured alive so he can be put on trial and the Nazi evil be shown to the world. Just discreetly killing him in his exile won't do.

In real life, Eichmann spent a couple of years in Germany before finally making his way to Argentina in 1950. The movie, however, has him going first to Madrid with his money-hungry girlfriend Anna (Ruta Lee). (In fact, Eichmann had a wife and three kids when they went to Argentina, with a fourth kid being born in Argentina.) The Israelis find Eichmann living under an assumed identity in Spain, but both the operation to capture him, allowing the movie Eichmann to make it to Kuwait, which seems illogical since it was a British protectorate at the time.

Meanwhile, the movie Eichmann having been responsible for the "Final Solution", he thinks he should be the head of the Nazi remnants. Other exiled Nazis, however, think Eichmann is a bit of a loose cannon who's going to get the whole organization in trouble, so they try to thwart his plans, even attempting at one point to kill him the way exiles in Notorious arrange for a "car accident" to do away with one of their number who can no longer be trusted. Eventually, of course, the Israelis find where Eichmann is in Argentina, and it's a race against time as to whether they or the Nazis will get Eichmann first.

Operation Eichmann is an OK movie, although it takes a lot of liberty with history. Klemperer is surprisingly good as Eichmann, since it's easy to think of him as Col. Klink, the buffoonish POW camp commandant in Hogan's Heroes. Adult David is good, although the juvenile David at Auschwitz is the weak part of the movie. The script makes his character into a mawkish plot device of convenience, to whom all sorts of magical coincidences happen from seeing his parents get gassed to seeing Eichmann to surviving at the end of the war. The finale is actually not badly handled.

I'd recommend Operation Eichmann as a curiosity if it ever shows up on TCM again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


During Dean Martin's turn as Star of the Month last month, TCM ran Ada, which I actually hadn't seen before. So I DVRed it and watched it to do a full-length post here on it.

Martin plays Bo Gillis, who at the start of the movie is running for Governor of one of those Southern states in the mid-1930s (there's a theater marquee with the 1935 MGM movie Escapade; you do the math). Bo is a backwater guy who would probably be happier just singing, and leaves the political stuff to the muckety-mucks, Steve (Martin Balsam), and the big power, Sylvester (Wilfrid Hyde-White). But Bo also has an independent streak. One night at a hotel he's made the acquaintance of Ada (Susan Hayward) who has a past of ill-repute and possibly a present of ill-repute as well. So what does Bo do? He marries Ada!

Since Sylvester is running a well-oiled political machine, Bo wins the governorship, and Ada becomes First Lady, although all the other political wives have no respect for her and her lower-class background. The other wives married into families that used their political influence to enrich themselves, and that sort of corruption is still going on throughout the state. Indeed, the whole point of putting Bo in office was to have a governor who would just sign what Sylvester wants him to sign without reading it. (There's one scene that shows just how shockingly uncaring Bo is about reading the things to which he's putting his signature.)

Ada finds out what's going on, and she's shocked! She thinks her husband should actually do his job and when she finds out what's going on, she tries to deal with the political machine herself. Her first attempt gets the machine to threaten the Lieutenant Governor, who resigns with the establishment appointing Ada to be the acting Lieutenant Governor, which makes no sense whatsoever. But it happens. Then, she gets Bo to stand up for himself, for which just hours later somebody obviously from Sylvester's poitical machine bombs Bo's car!

With Bo incapacitated, Ada becomes acting governor, although it's not easy in a bunch of ways. Bo thinks (wrongly) that Ada was conniving against him to get the governorship for herself, while she decides to go on a cruside by amending all those laws that the old political families used to enrich themselves. They don't like having their gravy train removed, so they start looking into her past. And if Ada was smart enough to get herself to the governor's office, you'd be surprised at how stupid she is in falling for somebody having a wire on them to record her.

When I was watching Ada, one of the movies I was reminded of was East Side, West Side, which I blogged about a few months back. They're both MGM potboilers about a dozen years apart, and I found myself having the same issue with both. Even though by the early 1960s MGM was beginning the long, slow descent that led to the backlot being sold off and the studio as we know it being finished, the studio still had a fair amount of gloss that really doesn't befit a movie like Ada. Also, the sort of material in Ada has been done a bunch of times, so it was going to be hard to do it as well here.

Still, everybody tries hard and gives at least a satisfactory performance, although sometimes you'd think Martin would rather spend the entire movie singing. Hyde-White is probably best as the machine boss. There's nothing notably wrong with Ada per se; it's more that there's nothing notably right with it. It's the sort of movie that you watch once and there's no need to watch it a second time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Treasures from the Disney Vault, Autumn 2018

Roughly once every quarter, TCM has been running the Treasures from the Disney Vault series of stuff that Disney is letting TCM show. They actually have vintage shorts with the recognizable characters, but the better-known animated features have generally been off limits presumably because Disney wants to keep those for themselves.

Anyhow, there probably should have been another installment of Disney films in September, but that didn't happen. Instead, we get that tonight. This time around, the lineup seems to be mostly movies with a taste for the fantastic, with probably the best-known of them being The Black Hole at 12:15 AM. Second would probably be Bedknobs and Broomsticks just after 8:00 PM, which actually got a couple of airings many years back when TCM had greater access to Disney live-action movies than the current Treasures from the Disney Vault thing. I have vague memories of the promoting of The Cat From Outer Space which is in the 2:00 AM slot after a Pluto short.

Delaying Treasures from the Disney Vault by a month is probably just a one-time thing, as a look at the December schedule shows a night of Disney movies on December 18.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Outlaw

TCM ran The Outlaw last month. Not having blogged about it before, I DVRed it so that I could re-watch to do a post. The movie has a reputation that precedes itself, but as for the actual movie? Well, that's as interesting as its reputation, but for different reasons.

The movie opens with Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) showing up in the town of Lincoln in the New Mexico Territory. His horse has been stolen, as he tells his old friend who's now the sheriff, Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell). Who should show up with a horse that looks suspiciously like Holliday's? Why, it's William Bonney (Jack Beutel), better known as Billy the Kid. He claims to have bought the horse legitimately, although Doc isn't so sure.

Billy the Kid is known around the Southwest for being a gunfighter, which makes the sheriff none too happy, and he'd like to get Billy out of town immediately, even though there's no stage until the next morning. And sure enough, Billy gets involved in gunfights, first with one other guy and then with a bunch of men the sheriff sends to deal with Billy. Since somebody ultimately dies, Billy and Doc have to head out.

Doc has a lady friend in young Rio (Jane Russell), who lives with Guadalupe (Mimi Aguglia). So Doc takes the wonded Billy there in hopes that he can recover. Guadalupe isn't thrilled to have Billy around, and is frankly hoping he'll die, but Rio finds this young man hot in spite of his near-death situation. However, Doc seems to think she should be his girlfriend, so he's not very pleased with her treatment of Billy.

Eventually, Billy recovers, and he and Doc have to head out to safety so that the sheriff and his men won't chase. But there's the unresolved issue of Rio, as well as the dispute over the horse. Further complicating matters is that some of the Indians decide to attack, leaving all the white folk running for their lives....

The Outlaw is a bizarre little movie that has no bearing in reality. Although the three male characters are all based on real people, as far as I could tell none of them had relationships like the ones depicted in the movie. Indeed, there's an undercurrent throughout the movie that could easily lead you to believe that Doc and Billy are gay lovers like Bert and Ernie. But, at the same time, it's made fairly clear that Rio has been sleeping with Billy. It's a really strange plot.

Then there's the direction, which was handled by Howard Hughes after Howard Hawks left the project. I found the direction risibly bad, looking like a bad Saturday matinee western with characters standing around declaiming their lines. Hughes obviously intended the movie as a vehicle for his two new stars, particularly Russell, whose ample assets are on as full display as the production code would permit. And then there was the score. Large portions of it were lifted straight from Tchaikovsky, and didn't fit the action on screen at all. Other portions were bad derivatives of B movie cues. I usually only tend to notice a score if it's jarringly bad, and this one certainly fits that description.

The Outlaw is a movie that should be seen for its place in Hollywood history. But it's really not very good.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Princess Comes Across

I didn't have time for a long movie last night, so I popped in one of the DVDs from the Carole Lombard collection I bought some time back and watched The Princess Runs Across with its brief running time of just under 77 minutes.

The princess, such as she is, as Princess Olga of Sweden (Carole Lombard, doing a Garbo impersonation), traveling with her lady-in-waiting Gertrude (Alison Skipworth). They're boarding a ship to America, as Olga has signed a contract to become an actress in Hollywood films. Also boarding is King Martell (Fred MacMurray), a concertina player traveling with his manager Benton (William Frawley). He was accidentally given Olga's stateroom, but he gives it up because he's obviously smitten with her and wants to keep her happy so that she'll fall in love with him.

Another person who is on the ship is Darcy (Porter Hall). He's a blackmail artist, and he has information on both Martell and Olga. What he knows about Olga is that she's really not Olga, but a Brooklyn-born chorus girl named Wanda, who has obviously come up with a fake identity to become the latest European discovery. (You'd think the Swedish government would hve noticed that somebody was claiming to be a fake Swedish princess, but that never happens.) Darcy also knows about one of Martell's indiscretions, and tells Martell that he also has information on a third passenger. Perhaps it's the alleged murderer who was on the passenger manifest but may or may not have boarded.

If people aren't willing to pay Darcy, he's in luck in that there are a bunch of detectives from various countries on board going to an international conference in America. Darcy goes to one of those to reveal his information, but soon after that, we find Darcy's body in Olga's stateroom. Martell takes the body back to Darcy's own cabin, and when the body is eventually found, the detectives set about trying to solve the murder mystery. Martell does too, if only to save his own hide.

I went into The Princess Comes Across expecting a light comedy, and that's not what you get here. It's a lot lighter than a standard mystery, but the comedy isn't quite as glaring as in something like The Thin Man and all the imitators that followed it. In that regard it's an odd mish-mash at times, but it all comes together reasonably well in the end. There's nothing wrong with the movie, but at the same time Lombard and MacMurray will both be remembered more for other things they did. It you want entertainment that's not particularly challenging, The Princess Comes Across is certainly not a bad place to look.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Soldier's Story

Continuing to get through the backlog of movies on my DVR, another recent viewing was A Soldier's Story, which TCM ran as part of the Black Experience in Film spotlight in September.

Tynin, Louisiana, 1944. Sgt. Waters (Adolph Caesar) is stationed at the army base there. It's the height of World War II, but Waters is black, and the military wouldn't be desegregated until a few years after the war ended. In fact, Waters' men would like to go over to Europe to fight Hitler but feel the Army isn't letting them. Anyhow, Waters is getting drunk at one of the bars in town befor staggering back to base. Except that he doesn't make it there, as somebody with a gun accosts him, ultimately shooting him dead.

The higher-ups in Washington send Capt. Davenport (Howard E. Rollins) down to Louisiana to do more than the cursory investigation the locals have done. He's not just black, but an officer to boot, being equl in rank to the whites commanding the base. Capt. Taylor (Dennis Lipscomb) is very reluctant to let Davenport investigate, not so much because of whatever racist views he personally espouses, but because he knows the white locals are never going to accept a black guy trying to make an arrest in the case, and everybody knows it just had to be a racist white who shot Waters.

Undaunted, Davenport starts his investigation by interviewing the men who served under him. He quickly begins to discover that Waters was a difficult man, to put it politely, and that a lot of people had a good reason to hate him. Pvt. Wilkie (Art Evans) was formerly a sergeant like Waters, but busted in rank for a minor violation, giving him a grudge against Waters. PFC Peterson (Denzel Washington) is, like the rest of the men on in the platoon, on the all-black baseball team, and his questioning of Waters' discipline ultimately leads Waters to pick a fight with him. (All of these incidents are depicted as flashbacks, making Caesar as much the star as Rollins.)

Waters' issues stem from the fact that he served with distinction in World War I, but for all that service only received racism in reply. People like Oscar Micheaux who made race films in the era just after World War I were very active in the discussion on the best way forward for blacks to try to achieve full equality, and Waters is thoroughly on the side of the debate that blacks had better be the most morally upright, perfect people possible. Indeed, he's gone so far that he's developed quite the animus towards those southern blacks who seem to take a more gradualist approach. He's especially irritated with what he sees as the lazy blacks of the sort represented by Memphis (Larry Riley) who, in addition to serving under Waters is a talented musician -- but of the wrong kind of music.

As I was watching A Soldier's Story, I couldn't help but think of two other films: I Want to Live! and 10 Rillington Place. I've mentioned both of them on several occasions since they're both clearly making strong anti-death penalty points. But I Want to Live! is a stellar example of how not to do it, being heavy-handed and propagandistic, while 10 Rillington Place is not only more subtle, but also focused on the story and does a darn good job of doing it.

In that regard, A Soldier's Story comes off even better than 10 Rillington Place: at its heart is a good mystery that doesn't have a cop-out resolution and is extremely well-acted in addition to being well-written. And even though the racial issues are unavoidable and always on the surface, the complex issues are presented extremely thoughtfully and fairly. Everybody here is deeply human and understandable in their motivations, and the difficult question of who is right in his views is left for the viewer to ponder and come to their own decision.

A Soldier's Story is an outstanding movie that deserves to be better-known than it is.

Godfrey Tearle, 1884-1953

Godfrey Tearle (l.) and Robert Donat in The 39 Steps (1935)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Godfrey Tearle, who was in quite a few movies, although many of them are British movies that I have to admit to not having even heard of let alone seen. Perhaps his best known appearance is as the bad guy who can be recognized because he's missing a finger in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. He's also in One of Our Aircraft is Missing, a Michael Powell movie that I think I've got on DVD, so I'm going to have to watch that one sometime, right after everything else I've got in my backlog of movies to get to.

Tearle was also the half-brother of silent star Conway Tearle whose career extended into the 1930s with his final role being in MGM's extravagant production of Romeo and Juliet. Godfrey was also a Shakespearean stage actor who was, from what I read, acclaimed, but of course none of those appearances survive for any of us to judge. Apparently a portion of Romeo and Juliet was filmed, although as far as I can tell it's a lost film.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #222: The Dark/Night

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 "The Dark/Night". I had been thinking it was just "Darkness", which would have allowed me to use a lineup of very dark comedies, but alas. I had to think about three more conventional movies with major scenes set at night, that I haven't already used before. As it turns out, I used both Wait Until Dark and Night of the Hunter last October for a TMP week on dolls, so they're out this time. Instead, I came up with:

Night and the City (1950). Richard Widmark plays a small-time hustler who gets ideas above his station about promoting wrestling matches, except that he doesn't have the money for it, which leads him to go to his girlfriend (Gene Tierney) and his boss's wife (Googie Withers) for it. The boss figures out what's going on, and tries to stop Widmark. Notable for its London location shooting, and rises far above a plot that's been done before.

Night on Earth (1991). Jim Jarmusch anthology of five stories, all of which take place simultaneously although each story is presented as its own individual story. That means the Los Angeles story (starring Gena Rowlands) takes place as night falls, while the last story, an extremely sad story in Helsinki that's mostly just a cabbie talking, takes place near daybreak. In between, there's Rosie Perez and an East German clown in New York, a blind woman in Paris, and Roberto Benigni and a dead priest in Rome.

Night Train to Paris (1964). Leslie Nielsen plays a PR man for an airline's office in London who gets approached by an old spy friend from their Korean War days about getting to Paris on New Year's Eve because they just have to get a tape to some guy there. They end up taking the train because all the planes are booked solid, and all sorts of hijinks ensue as the spies working for the bad guys try to get a hold of that tape. To be honest, I only picked this one because it was a third movie with a title beginning with "Night", and because I watched it not too long ago when it was in the rotation on FXM Retro. It's an OK enough time-passer, but nothing special. Fun to watch young Leslie Nielsen, however.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

La Strada: Another movie I disagree with the general opinion

Some years ago I was finally going to watch La Strada when it aired on TCM, but we had a thunderstorm blow through and knowck out power, so I only got to see about the first half hour. It finally aired again in Summer Under the Stars on Anthony Quinn's day, and I DVRed it and now watched it. I have to say I was underwhelmed.

Anthony Quinn plays Zampano, an itinerant strongman who sometimes joins the traveling circus and sometimes works alone. His last assistant died, so he takes Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), a slow woman who's probably slightly retarded, off of her mother's hands by making her his new assistant. But Zampano is generally difficult towards Gelsomina, being a brute of a man. Early on, Zampano spends a day with another woman and basically makes Gelsomina wait for him by the side of the road! And heaven forfend she should ever meet somebody.

Indeed, she does eventually meet a nice man in the form of a tightrope walker nicknamed "The Fool" (Richard Basehart). He's friendly to her, and would even be willing to use her in his act, but Zampano wants no part of that. They continue to travel around the country, until another meeting with The Fool gives the movie its climax.

For me, La Strada was a whole lot of nothing happening. I didn't care much about the characters. Zampano was a jerk, Gelsomina was stupid (although to be fair, her character was probably retarded and couldn't have adult maturity), and Richard Basehart's fool sounded like he was badly dubbed. (Quinn is dubbed, too, but his voice doesn't sound that bad.) When the movie ended, I found myself wondering, "Why?"

And yet, most reviews of La Strada are extremely positive. It's one of those movies I just don't get, so judge for yourself.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Run for Your Money

Another of those cheap DVDs of vintage British movies I picked up was of the early Ealing (and Alec Guinness) comedy A Run for Your Money

Dai (Donald Houston) and Twm (Meredith Edwards) are a pair of coal miner brothers in the sort of small town in Wales that probably hasn't changed much since a couple of generations before the action in How Green Was My Valley. One day, however, their lives are about to change when they get word that they won a contest run by one of the big London newspapers, for which the prize was tickets to a England v. Wales rugby match in London, as well as the princely sum of £200 (this was the late 40s, so it was still a pretty good amount). They're going to have to hurry to catch the train to London.

You'd think the newspaper would have run the contest better, in that they would have known exactly which station and platform the two brothers would be getting into London on. This especially because they want to do a story on the two brothers -- in that case, I'd have thought the prize would include train tickets to London. Somehow, however, the reporter and photographer from the newspaper miss the two brothers like ships passing in the night.

It's just the first of a series of adventures the two brothers are going to have. One of their hats is an identifying feature and they nearly lose it in a cafe, along with some of the money they came to London with. That latter leads them to be met by Jo (Moira Lister). ny normal person would think that she's out to scam somebody who's just come into a bunch of money, but Dai is too much of a naïf to know better. The only saving grace for him is that Jo is able to lead him to the paper, and the reporter who was assigned the story on the brothers, Whimple (Alec Guinness). The only thing is, he writes the gardening column and has no particular desire to do this tory.

As for Twm, he runs into an old acquaintance, Huw (Hugh Griffith). Think every stereotype of the lovable drunk ethnic type, and that's Huw. Huw leads Twm on a wild goose chase around London, with the two of them never getting to the rugby match, and only meeting up with Dai in the last act. Still, everybody has a day to spend in London....

A Run for Your Money has one of those premises that sounds like it should be a lot better than it is. I think part of the problem for me was that the filmmakers really laid on the stereotypes. There's Welsh choral singing (not my thing), the preternaturally stupid country boy, and as I mentioned, the "lovable" drunk who is actually irritating. Couldn't Twm smack Huw and get to the newspaper?

I really wanted to like A Run for Your Money more than I did. But may some of you will like it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Briefs for October 8-9, 2018

I probably should have mentioned the death of actor Scott Willson earlier, as he died over the weekend at the age of 76. I shouldn't be surprised that the obituary headline mentions the zombie TV series The Walking Dead, especially since that's just begun its new season. For movie fans, I'd recommend a young Wilson opposite Robert Blake in In Cold Blood, the story of two young men who commit a particularly gruesome murder in Kansas.

Also dying recently is prodcuer Arnold Kopelson, who won an Oscar for producing Platoon, as it's the producer who picks up the Best Picture Oscar nowadays.

TCM's prime-time lineup tonight is a pair of double features in which the second movie is a remake of the first, with one of the key roles being given to a woman where there was a man in the original. The first pair is The Front Page (8:00 PM) followed by His Girl Friday at 10:00 PM, the latter having Rosalind Russell as the lady reporter having to cover an execution. That's followed by a movie I didn't realize got a remake, Strangers on a Train at midnight. From the brief synopsis I read, Once You Kiss a Stranger (overnight at 2:00 AM) has Carol Lynley taking on the role originally done by Robert Walker.

Tuesday's morning and afternoon lineup on TCM is a bunch of documentaries, more or less. The first film of the morning is Resisting Enemy Interrogation a 6:00 AM, which really isn't a documentary, but a training film that was never meant for public consumption. A bomber crew gets shot down over Italy in World War II, and the Nazis use subtle techniques instead of torture to try to get information from them. It's got some names you'd recognize, like Arthur Kennedy, although no credits since those weren't necessary for its intended use. Later tomorrow, at 12:30 PM, there's The Secret Land, which I mentioned once or twice before, about the US military's post-World War II expedition to Antarctica. It's narrated by a couple of MGM's contract players and in Technicolor.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Honky Tonk

Another movie I recorded during Summer Under the Stars that's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive is Honky Tonk.

A prologue of sorts introduces us to "Candy" Johnson (Clark Gable). He's a con man working the old west with his best friend "Sniper" (Chill Wills). The latest town has finally cottoned on to their schemes, and are about to tar and feather the two men and run them out of town on a rail. Somehow, however, they're still stupid enough to let Candy talk his way out of the situation. So Candy and Sniper head off to the next town, with Candy claiming he's going to go straight. Yeah right.

On the train to their next destination, Candy meets the lovely Elizabeth Cotton (Lana Turner). She's grown up in Boston, and is coming out west to the town of Yellow Creek, NV, to meet her father the Judge (Frank Morgan) who is a justice of the peace in the town. Candy, liking her, decides that this is probably a good place to settle down. When they get off the train, he meets the judge, and realizes that this guy is an old friend of his, a fellow con artist who is taking kickbacks. But the judge wants better for his daughter. He knows that Candy is no good for her, even though the judge is still willing to consider Candy a friend.

Sure enough, Candy isn't able to stay on the straight and narrow, winning a casino pretty much right away by committing a con in a game of Russian Roulette. This leads to bigger and better things, with Candy basically becoming boss of a booming town, with Brazos (Albert Dekker) as his sheriff enforcer. Meanwhile, an old flame of Candy's, "Gold Dust" (Claire Trevor) shows up to warn Elizabeth about marrying Candy, but Elizabeth wants a good life, so she tricks Candy into marrying her.

Eventually, the Judge has pangs of conscience, and he starts dealing with the good government types, led by the widow of the former town preacher, Mrs. Varner (Marjorie Main) to turn the tables on Candy and the rest of the corruption going on in Yellow Creek. But Brazos and his men in particular aren't about to let that happen.

Honky Tonk is a movie that came across to me as something more than a programmer, but not quite a prestige movie. It felt to me much as though there was no new ground being broken here, but just MGM putting a movie into production to give audiences something from their stars that would entertain the audience. There's nothing wrong with that as not every movie can be a masterpiece. And certainly, Honky Tonk entertains. It's just that as I was watching I couldn't help but feel like I'd seen all these plot lines before, even though I'd never actually seen Honky Tonk.

So, if you want undemanding, solid entertainment, I can certainly recommend Honky Tonk. The studios certainly knew how to produce such entertainment back in the day.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Abdication

When Peter Finch was honored in Summer Under the Stars back in August, one of the movies that I recorded was one totally new to me, The Abdication. It's available on DVD thanks to the Warner Archive.

The abdication in question is that of Christina, Queen of Sweden. Viewers who probably know about her more from watching the Greta Garbo movie Queen Christina will find that this movie picks up more or less where the earlier movie ends; the Garbo movie having dealt mostly with her time as queen. Christina (played here by Liv Ullmann), was very interested in Catholic theology, despite the fact that Sweden was one of the countries that had become Lutheran due to the Reformation. That, and there was also the religion-tinged Thirty Years' War going on for a good portion of Christina's time on the throne. Sweden needed an heir to the throne, and Christina was an only child who refused to marry, so she eventually abdicated in favor of her cousin Charles and left the country, ultimately converting to Catholicism and making her way to Rome to be accepted inot the Church by the Pope.

However, when she arrived in Rome in 1655 she met a Catholic Church in a difficult political situation. The Popes of that era were always Italian, but France and Spain had a lot of influence on the cardinals who would elect each new pope, and France and Spain each had significant influence on a substantial percentage of the College of Cardinals, since Italy was still a series of principalities. Accepting a prominent ex-Lutheran like Christina into the fold was a problem, and the power structure in the Vatican assigned Cardinal Azzolino (Peter Finch) to Christina to see if she was truly sincere in her new Catholic beliefs. (I'd have thought she could have converted along the way to Rome, and while Wikipedia says she technically did, there were political reasons on her part why she couldn't go public with this.) Further complicating matters is that the pope who sponsored Christina into coming to the Vatican is in a parlous state of health. This is another factual issue where I don't know how much the movie got right and wrong: Christina abdicated in 1654, and the then-Pope, Urban VIII, died early in 1655 with a contentious conclave to elect a successor. But Christina didn't arrive in Rome until a couple of months after the new Pope, Alexander VII (no Pope is ever seen in the movie) had been installed.

At any rate, Christina is forced into a waiting game, while all the office politics trying to figure out whether Christina is for real goes on around her. Christina insists on seeing Cardinal Azzolino over and over, and she doesn't care what anybody says about their meetings that have the appearance of impropriety, especially on his part considering that Catholic clergy are supposed to celibate and not even imply they could have a romantic interest in anybody. But those meetings continue and perhaps go too far. In between, Christina has flashbacks about her past and what led her to abdicate.

The Abdication is an interesting idea, although it's one of those movies that's not going to be to everybody's taste. It was based on a stage play, and even though it's been opened up a lot from a stage play by having settings in a bunch of parts of the Vatican as well as those flashbacks, it still looks like it came from a play even if you didn't know it did. There's nothing wrong with that, but it might be worthwhile to know ahead of time that the movie is going to have a lot of scenes of two characters just talking. I think it also assumes that the viewer will have a fairly good grasp of world history, and those who don't might find parts of the movie a bit baffling.

I'm glad I watched The Abdication, but at the same time I can certainly understand why others might not like it.

Friday, October 5, 2018


When Keith Carradine was TCM Guest Programmer last month, one of his selections sounded interesting, Performance. So I DVRed it and watched it since it's available on DVD.

James Fox plays Chas, a gangster in London at the end of the 1960s. He's particularly brutal, and we get to see it since this is just after the end of the Production Code. In addition to violence against people who need being enforced against for running afoul of the gang "protection", there's a scene of Chas and his underlings taking acid to a Rolls Royce (the acid that eats away at paint and metal, not acid the drug, which other people will drop later in the movie).

For whatever reason, Chas' violence bothers his bosses, who try to get him to tone it down, and when he doesn't take the hint, they send a couple of guys to his house to beat him up. Not only that, but they try to get him to admit to being gay, which he isn't, but that's part of humiliating him. Chas has a gun hidden in his apartment, and it leads to a struggle for the gun that winds up with one of the gangsters getting shot to death. So now Chas is really a marked man.

In trying to escape, Chas overhear a musician who had a buddy who had to vacate a basement room owing back rent. Chas gets the address and goes there, since it's the last place the gangsters would think to look, essentially being a random address. Chas goes there and the woman who answers the door is at first reluctant to let him have the rom, but eventually does, for one night at least. That's not enough time for Chas to get the fake passport he needs, but once in, he can always try to convince his landlord to let him stay longer.

Of course, Chas has a rather odd landlord, in the form of rock star Turner (Mick Jagger), who has dropped out of performing and is now secluded in his decaying London mansion. Turner has a pair of girlfriends in Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michèle Breton). As Turner gets to know Chas, the two form an uneasy relationship, with Turner seemingly not quite wanting Chas around, and knowing fully well Chas is being less than honest about his background.

Turner has a further twist up his sleeve. As you might expect of a secluded rock star dropping out of life in the late 60s, he's into drugs, especially in the form of magic mushrooms. And he slips some of the drug to Chas, which makes things really get strange....

When I saw the cast and read the synopsis, I thought Performance looked like it would be interesting. It certainly was, although it's also definitely not without its flaws. The gang violence of the first section of the movie was well-done, although it reminded me of A Clockwork Orange in the sense that it was portrayed in a way that really left me cold. The second half of the movie at Turner's mansion, especially once Chas takes some of the mushrooms, bends reality, which also makes the movie hard to follow at times. There's also a lot of sex in the movie, intercut in a way that, as with the violence, left me cold.

I think the fairest thing to say about Performance is that it's a movie that's really going to appeal to some people, and definitely be a huge turn-off to others. I'm not quite in the turn-off camp, but I'm also not the sort of person that the movie is geared to. If you're interested in something psychedleic and challenging, you may want to give Performance a try.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Illeana Douglas returns to TCM with Funny Ladies

The past two Octobers have seen Illeana co-host a "Pioneering Women" spotlight on TCM. There are only so many pioneers in any field, so I suppose it's only natural that this month's spotlight is a bit different, focusing on comediennes in the movies. For each of the four Thursday nights, Douglas will be sitting down with Carol Burnett, who herself shows up on TCM from time to time having narrated a Star of the Month piece on Lucille Ball that's one of the better Star of the Month Profiles TCM runs.

The movies are in rough chronological order, in that each Thursday moves forward in time from the previous week, although within each Thursday night the movies aren't in strict chronological order. This first Thursday sees films from the silent era through the 1930s.

A lot of the movies will be familiar to regular TCM watchers, although there are a few that rarely show up. Tonight, for example, kicks off at 8:00 PM with Mae West's I'm No Angel, which has certainly been shown a couple of times, but being a Paramount controlled by Universal, it doesn't show up thta often. At midnight, College Swing with Gracie Allen is apparently a TCM premiere.

Thursday Movie Picks #221: Home Invasion

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're in October, so it's time for Halloween, and the official title of the theme is "Halloween Edition: Home Invasion". Unfortunately, I'm not that into horror movies, and the classic horror movies I can think of don't really involve home invasions, so I had to come up with three movies that fit the theme in a more straightforward dramatic way, leading to the following:

He Ran All the Way (1951). John Garfield plays a man on the run after a botched robbery who escapes into a public swimming pool, where he meets Shelley Winters. The two strike up a conversation and she takes him back to the apartment she shares with her parents and kid brother. Garfield then proceeds to hold everybody hostage until he can make his getaway. Winters falls in love with him, and thinks about escaping with him.

Kind Lady (1951). Ethel Barrymore plays a spinster art collector living in a fashionable London townhouse who runs into a starving artist (Maurice Evans). He sees all the fine art in his house, and concocts a plan to take it over, involving his "sick wife" (Betsy Blair) needing a place to recuperate, which leads them to bring in Angela Lansbury and Keenan Wynn as "caretakers". In Gaslight style, they all try to drive Barrymore crazy while stealing the art. There's an earlier version from 1935 with Aline MacMahon and Basil Rathbone in the Barrymore and Evans roles respectively, but I prefer the 1951 version.

Suddenly (1954). The President of the United States is going to be going on a fishing trip, and his train is stopping in the small northern California town of Suddenly. Sterling Hayden is the town sheriff, in love with widowed mother Nancy Gates, who lives with her father-in-law James Gleason. Her house overlooks the train station, and offers a perfect vantage point for a sniper to try to shoot at the president. Surely enough, in walks a sniper in the form of Frank Sinatra, who takes the house over and waits for the President's train....

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hell's Heroes heads-up

Four years ago, I made mention of the 1936 version of Three Godfathers, and that it's a story that's been done several times. Briefly, in the old west, a group of bank robbers go off into the desert to escape, and in the desert, they cross paths with a dying mother and her infant child. The only way the child will survive is if the robbers bring it back to town, but that of course would mean their own doom since they're wanted for the robbery.

The first version was released in early 1930 with the title Hell's Heroes, and that version is going to be on tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM as part of a day of movies set in the desert. If you want to compare it and contrast it with the 1936 version, that one is going to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 PM. The John Wayne version from the late 1940s is supposed to be on twice in December, but not as part of tomorrow's lineup.

Amazon has all three versions available on DVD, with the John Wayne version also being available on streaming video for those who can do that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Madam Satan

Another movie that I watched over the weekend that's available on DVD from the Warner Archive is the early talkie Madam Satan.

Kay Johnson plays Angela Brooks, one of those wealthy housewives commonly found in early talkies who have husbands in the business of business or something; it usually seems as if the husbands are really more in the business of going to nightclubs and returning home at some hour of the morning. Indeed, Angela tells her maid that her husband Bob (Reginald Denny) is away on business, but she sees him come in with his best friend Jimmy (Roland Young) around breakfast time. The two are so drunk that they proceed to get in the shower with their clothes on.

Angela then reads in the paper that Mr. Brooks appeared in night court on a DWI charge along with Jimmy, and Mrs. Brooks. Of course, Angela knows she wasn't in any courtroom the night before, which obviously means there was a strange woman around, and that Bob probably has a mistress. She finds the woman's address, and when Jimmy claims it's his new wife (as if anybody would beleive that), she goes to the address (as if she didn't know where Jimmy lives already). Trixie (Lillian Roth) is a chorus girl, and she's none too pleased that Jimmy is trying to save her honor by passing her off as his wife instead of Bob's mistress. One of those painfully unfunny bedroom comedies of lies ensues.

Jimmy, meanwhile, is planning a charity costume ball on board the zeppelin that's going to be moored at the mooring station just outside the city. Bob and Trixie are going to be there, but somehow Angela never got invited, which of course makes no sense. But she decides she's going to go, and wears a mask, dressed as "Madam Satan", and drawing all the men's attention. Of course, her real plan is to seduce her own husband without him knowing who she is. (She puts on a French accent so that he won't recognize her voice; at least they got that bit of continuity correct.)

All goes well until a storm comes up and makes it too risky to be on the zeppelin. But the guests stay anyway, until it gets hit by lightning and starts to break up, forcing the guests to parachute off. But will everybody be able to get off safely?

Madam Satan is a bizarre little movie, thanks to its having been made at the dawn of the sound era. There were any number of movies at the time that tried to throw a lot of disparate things together, with one of the most memorable for me being Just Imagine. The first half of Madame Satan is a stage-bound play almost, with the second half being a musical disaster movie. It doesn't all work, notably the slow and terribly unfunny first half. The costumes and sets of the second half, however, are much more interesting.

Madam Satan ultimately ends up as a curiousity of its time that probably needs to be seen once, but isn't the sort of movie I'd want to watch a second time.

TCM Star of the Month October 2018: Rita Hayworth

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM, and this month it's the glamorous Rita Hayworth. Her movies are going to be running on the first four Tuesdays in October. (The last Tuesday, October 30, is given over to ghost movies for the start of a Halloween marathon.)

This first Tuesday in October includes another of those 1940s Fox musicals, My Gal Sal, at 11:30 PM. I have to admit that although I'm not the biggest fan of musicals for the most part, the 1940s Fox musicals have been growing on me, as they all seem like comfort foor for a population dealing with World War II and its aftermath. Granted, by the 1950s, they seem a bit old-fashioned, and I suppose you could argue even a lot of the ones from the 40s are considering the subject material that has them set some decades before the movie was released.

The night begins at 8:00 PM with You'll Never Get Rich with Hayworth opposite Fred Astaire, one of the movies I have to admit I haven't seen before. (I don't know that I've got enough room on the DVR to tape it, sadly.) And then, early tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, there's another airing of Strawberry Blonde, which I mentioned a few months back in one of the Thursday Movie Picks entries.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Ten Seconds to Hell

Continuing through the backlog of movies I've got on my DVR, over the weekend I watched Ten Seconds to Hell, which aired on TCM as part of a night of Jack Palance movies.

Set in Berlin just after World War II (and filmed on location), the story tells of six Germans returning home from the war to the occupied British sector of Berlin. All six had been put into bomb disposal units because they had had indiscretions in their lives which weren't enough to send them to concentration camps, but enough that the Nazis were willing to let them all die. Erich Koertner (Jack Palance) and Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler) are more or less the two leaders of the group, at least under a British commander.

Bomb disposal is difficult work, and all of the men worry that they're going to die, so they set up something similar to a tontine in that they put part of their salaries into a pot, with that pot to be distributed either to the last survivor or however many of them are left at the end of three months. And sure enough, at least one of them is going to die, starting with young Globke. Apparently they're facing a sort of British bomb unknown to them with a double fuse, and they (and their British commander) would like to get information from the Brits on the working of that bomb so they can safely dispose of them and not put the public at any greater risk.

Against the backdrop of all of this, Erich and Karl become boarders in a rooming house run by French woman Margot (Martine Carol). She's not part of the occupation; instead, she made the mistake of marrying a German man who was killed in the war, and with the war over and the Germans having been defeated, she knows people back in France are going to see her as having betrayed their country, so it's off to Berlin where she won't have to face that. What she will have to face is Erich and Karl both developing feelings for her. But that leads to a conflict that might threaten both of their lives when disposing of those pesky bombs.

Ten Seconds to Hell is a movie that has an interesting premise, since bomb disposal isn't seen all that often in the movies (Michael Powell's The Small Back Room as well as Juggernaut come to mind). But this one never really rises above the pedestrian, with a formulaic plot about conflict between the two man men both professionally and with a woman. And it doesn't seem like there's all that much variation from one bomb disposal to the next. They kind of run together and make the movie drag a bit.

Still, Ten Seconds to Hell is available on DVD, so you can judge for yourself.