Friday, November 30, 2018

Saturday matinee FXM style

After watching TCM's Saturday morning lineup tomorrow, you could switch over to FXM and watch another appropriate movie, Legions of the Nile, at noon.

Ettore Manni plays Coridius, a Roman legionnaire in Egypt. The name of the actor should give away that this is one of those European sword and sandal productions that Fox picked up the US distribution rights to. In this case, the movie is mostly Italian, with Spanish location shooting. Anyhow, after engaging in a brief battle, Coridius goes to Alexandria, then capital of Egypt. He's looking to see Marc Antony (Georges Marchal), carrying a message from Octavius (later Augustus) that Marc and his mistress Cleopatra (Linda Cristal), who rules Egypt, are going to get their asses kicked if they try to revolt against the power of Rome.

But the Egyptians have no desire to see a Roman legionnaire, so Coridius has to bide his time at an inn that hosts gladiators. There he meets Berenice and the two fall for each other. But there's a catch: Berenice is actually Cleopatra in disguise; the queen is going gout among her subjects so she can see what's really happening. Needless to say, she's going to be none too happy when Coridius shows up at the palace looking for Antony.

Along the way, Coridius has come into some slaves, and when his life is in some danger after getting into the palace, they're able to help him out. Or something like that.

One of the big problems with Legions of the Nile is that it's been panned and scanned, and dubbed into English for the American distribution. Or, the distribution that was delayed by several years because Fox didn't want anything to compete against the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra which was already in production at the time.

In its butchered state, Legions of the Nile comes across as a Saturday matinee version of history: perfunctory and younger people who like action movies may like it, but not particularly great. I haven't seen the original, so I don't know how that compares.

I don't think either version is on DVD as far as I could tell.

TCM's Saturday morning lineup in December

It doesn't seem like all that long ago I noticed that TCM had gotten through running the Tarzan movies in the 10:00 AM Saturday slot and had movied on to Saint movies. I don't recall how many of those there are, but TCM has already run through them, as tomorrow morning after the 10:00 AM Popeye short there's the first of the Hildegard Withers movies, The Penguin Pool Murder. Edna May Oliver and James Gleason are a hoot as the snoopy teacher/detective and the police detective respectively. But I think there are only six movies in the series, so we'll be done before 31 Days of Oscar. How long until we get another year and a half of Bowery Boys movies?

Starting off the morning, in the 8:00 AM cartoon block, is the short Peace on Earth. This one, made just before the start of World War II, is a surprisingly dark one set in a world after mankind has destroyed itself through war, and anthropomorphic baby squirrels ask their grandfather what the phrase "good will to men" means in the "Peace on Earth, good will to men". It's also quite good and well worth a watch if you haven't seen it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #229: Adapted from a non-English series

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 yet another TV edition, with the theme being shows adapted from a non-English series. This was a difficult one for me, until I hit upon the bright idea of thinking of game shows yet again. (How many times have I said I don't watch much episodic TV?) With that in mind, here are the three shows:

Countdown (1982-present). Original country: France. An institution in the UK and its native France, this game show asks contestants to take a series of randomly selected letters and come up with the longest word they can, as well as asking them to use the four basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) on numbers to reach the target number. Using only the six numbers provided, did you come up with 867? People who like Scrabble and math love this one; everybody else, probably not so much.

Ultra Quiz (early 1980s). Original country: Japan. In Japan in the days when globe-hopping wasn't quite so common, a popular series of quiz shows took contestants all over the world answering questions in pursuit of the grand prize. Of course, this being Japan, they had to add the twist of sending off losing contestants in humiliating ways. (I recall from the one American Ultra Quiz that they guillotined the luggage of the losing contestants in Paris.) One version of this was tried in the US and quickly forgotten.

1 vs. 100 (2000s). Original country: Netherlands. This show had a lone contestant answer multiple-choice questions against a "mob" of 100 questions that was whittled down by people getting the questions wrong. If the One got a question wrong, the remaining Mob members would split the pot. In the non-US versions, the next contestant would be the person in the Mob who had answered the questions in the shortest amount of time, but the US insisted on gimmicking up yet another show so they could have casting with archetypes, and then adding further gimmicks to try to get jackpot winners.

For the Countdown Numbers Game: 6 * 6 = 36; 36 - 1 = 35; 35 * 25 = 875; 875 - 8 = 867. Get it in 30 seconds?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Shanty Where Santy Clause Lives

Back in September, I mentioned that the short The Shanty Where Santy Clause Lives was on the Lady Killer DVD and that, since it was a Christmas movie, I'd be doing a post on it during the Christmas season. We'll we're between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so now is as good a time as any to do that post.

There's not all that much in this short. An orphan is trudging home through the snow on Christmas Eve despairing at all the people celebrating Christmas while he has nothing but an empty stocking. Of course, in cartoon Hollywood Santa Clause is real, so of course the sleigh shows up outside the orphan's window.

Santa takes the kid to his workshop, where you have all the standard-issue 1930s windup toys, and dolls. These toys are then used for the usual sight gags, until one of them accidentally sets the Christmas tree on fire, forcing the kid to put it out and save the day.

It's not a bad cartoon, although there's not all that much original here, certainly not by the standards of looking back 85 years. I was intrigued by the songs, as I had forgotten that "Get Happy" was originally from 1930 which is why it's showing up here well before Judy Garland ever sang it. There was also a Kate Smith joke.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a glitch in the DVD that's not allowing me to go back and forth through that short and stop at a precise point to get a screenshot. Well, I could start from the beginning and wait for the point, but that's too time consuming. So no screenshot with this one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Siege of Sidney Street

Several weeks back, I mentioned having picked up this box set of British B movies and doing a post on one of the films. Over the weekend, I watched another, The Siege of Sidney Street.

The movie deals with a real-life incident, the January 1911 Sidney Street siege in which a group of Russian émigré anarchists had committed some robberies and then holed up in a house on Sidney Street to escape the police. The movie version uses a framing device of a woman (Nicole Berger) who knew the men.

It's an incident I have to admit that I, not being British, knew nothing about. The makes for an interesting idea for a movie, and one that I would probably be predisposed to like, which makes it all the more surprising that I had a lot of problems with it. To be fair to the moviemakers, however, the biggest problem is that the print is panned-and-scanned down to 4:3 from the original "Dyaliscope" (a wide-screen process I don't think I'd heard of) aspect ratio which IMDb claims is 2.35:1. It's extremely obvious as half the opening and closing credits are cut off! That and the camera is moving defensively, as the people in the old TCM letterboxing promo talk about. I guess this is what you get with a low budget box set.

But there were other problems with the movie. The actual siege only takes up the climax of the movie; much of it takes up the gang planning the robberies that led up to it, as well as the police investigation of those robberies. Those investigations are slow and drag the movie's pace way down at times. The whole think also felt overly complicated to me.

One interesting thing (that did happen in real life) is the presence near the end of a young Winston Churchill; he was the Home Secretary (if memory serves, at the time roughly equivalent to a state Attorney-General in the US) so in charge of the police. Churchill is played by the movie's screenplay writer, Jimmy Sangster, who also wrote a bunch of movies for Hammer.

The Siege of Sidney Street deserves a restoration in the proper aspect ratio; I just wish it were a better movie.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Le notti bianche

Another movie I watched over the Thanksgiving weekend was Le notti bianche (White Nights), which is available on DVD courtesy of the Criterion collection.

Marcello Mastroianni plays Mario, who lives in a northern Italian city that has a canal, although the movie doesn't say that it's set in Venice. He gets home from a day out late one evening, and finds a woman standing on a bridge waiting. When some guys harass her, he steps in. He finds that the woman is named Natalia (Maria Schell), and she lives not too far away. Mario clearly is interested in Natalia, but the feeling may not be mutual.

Natalia has a sort of sob story to tell. She lives with her elderly and nearly blind grandmother. The family used to be wealthier, and her parents sold fine carpets. But her parents died, and all the family can aford to do now is repair carpets. They even have to take in a boarder in the spare room to make ends meet. Natalia fell in love with the previous boarder (Jean Marais), but she also knew her grandmother wouldn't permit a relationship. Still, just when she's getting up the courage to tell the boarder her feelings, he offers to take the family to the opera.

He has a reason for doing it, in that he has to leave town for a year for unstated reasons, and this is his gift to them. But he promises to see Natalia again. That year has passed, and Natalia is on the bridge every night waiting for the former boarder to show up. Obviously he hasn't shown up so far or Natalia wouldn't still have been at the bridge pining for her lost love.

Mario understandably reasons that the boarder either forgot or was otherwise unable to show up, so he starts putting the moves on Natalia. And then, just as it looks like he might be about to get somewhere, Natalia claims she's heard about the boarder's return and his address in town. The logical course of action is for her to go visit him, but for some reason she insists on writing and lets Mario hand deliver the letter, which frankly makes no sense

Will Natalia ever meet the boarder again? If Mario has his way, he'll convince her that he's the right guy for her and that she should love him, but you get the impression that no matter what anybody else does, Natalia is always going to love that boarder....

Le notti bianche is one of those movies that a certain type of film fan is going to love and praise to high heaven, as you can see by the reviews on IMDb. That having been said, it's also the kind of movie that tends to appeal less to me. I found myself thinking that both characters come across as a bit selfish, and shaking my head at the plot holes. It's not that the movie is bad by any means; there's a lot of nice cinematography. It's just that I fould myself having trouble caring about these characters.

Le notti bianche is not to be confused with the 1980s Hollywood movie called White Nights:

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Affair in Trinidad

I mentioned earlier today that there are movies available on DVD from Sony/Columbia's MOD scheme at the TCM Shop that don't seem to be available at Amazon. Such is the case with Affair in Trinidad, which you can buy here.

The movie starts off with a brief blurb about Trinidad's location, and its being a British colony back at the time the movie was made. We then see the authorities bring in a boat with a dead man aboard. The man in question was Neal Emery, a struggling artist who was married to the lovely Chris Emery (Rita Hayworth). Chris works in the local nightclub where she charms all the men because, well, she's Rita Hayworth.

Neal had a brother in Steve (Glenn Ford), and just before Neal died, he wrote Steve with the possibility of a job offer. So Steve makes his way down to the island, only to find out that his brother is dead. The authorities rule it accidental at first, but Steve isn't so sure. He also isn't so sure of his sister-in-law.

Apparently among the people Chris has charmed is local rich guy Max Fabian (Alexander Scourby), as she goes to soirees at his house and presumably used her influence to get Max to commission a painting from Neal. Steve, however, wonders if there was more between Chris and Max than just that. But just as interesting is that Steve spots a coincidence. The letter Neal wrote him was on paper with a letterhead that had a coat of arms, and when he's drinking at Max's house, the drinking glasses have the same coat of arms! Further, Steve knows just enough about one of Max's guests to make Max nervous.

Now, if you're beginning to sense a love triangle that sounds as though it could have come straight out of Gilda, you're not alone. This was Rita Hayworth's first movie after her marriage to Aly Khan broke up, and Columbia put her in something with their big male star Glenn Ford in the hopes that the audiences would love the re-teaming, which they did. But getting back to Affair in Trinidad, we learn through exposition that Max, like George Macready's character in Gilda is involved with the enemies of America.

There are differences between Affair in Trinidad and Gilda, however, the big one being that Hayworth has a character with a different sort of complexity, as we see when she tries to get into Max's guest house because, well, you'll see why. And Max's retinue is more important than anything George Macready had in Gilda, notable Max's drunken sister, who provides the comic relief. There's a murder at the airport which leads Steve to investigate further and learn the truth about his brother, although whether he can save his sister-in-law in time remains to be seen.

For better or worse, people are probably always going to make comparisons between Affair in Trinidad and Gilda. That's a shame, because while Gilda is definitely a better movie, there's really nothing wrong with Affair in Trinidad. It's another piece of solid, if undemanding entertainment, produced as a vehicle to get people another chance to see Rita Hayworth. She does a more than adequate job with her part, as do Ford and Scourby. It just doesn't rise to the level of exceptional.

Still, if you want to pay MOD prices, or if the movie shows up on TV, I can heartily recommend Affair in Trindad.

Briefs for November 25-26, 2018

Tonight for whatever reason there are two Silent Sunday Nights features, wth the TCM Import not coming on until 3:00 AM. The first silent, at midnight tonight, is the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz, a movie I think I've mentioned in passing a couple of times. Remember that Frank Baum wrote a whole series of books about the kingdom of Oz, so the stories aren't all going to be the Judy Garland Dorothy that everybody knows.

I don't know what the deal with TCM's having movies available at the TCM Shop is. I mentioned recently about The Threat being on backorder there but available at Amazon. Meanwhile, I recorded the one George Formby movie a couple of Friday nights ago that the TCM schedule page had a "Buy the DVD" link to, only to find that there doesn't seem to be any DVD for the movie. That's one more movie I was going to a post on that's going to have to wait. On the other hand, Sony/Columbia's MOD scheme seems to be available at the TCM Shop but not Amazon, as the subject for my next movie review (Affair in Trinidad) shows.

I've been remiss in mentioning a couple of obituaries from last weekend on, but note that director Nicolas Roeg died on Friday aged 90. Roeg started as a cinematographer, turning to directing in 1970 with the interesting if flawed Performance which I blogged about a few months back. The Roeg movie I remember best is Walkabout, with Jenny Agutter and her kid brother getting lost in the Australian outback, getting helped out by an Aboriginal (David Gulpilil).

Saturday, November 24, 2018


Now that we're past Thanksgiving, we can start on the Christmas movies, with the first selection being the 1988 Scrooged. If you have the Starz package, it's supposed to be on Starz Comedy twice tomorrow, but it's also on DVD.

The movie starts off with a camera panning over a winter scene that we eventually learn is Santa's workshop at the North Pole. Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves are busy working, until some commandos try to take out Santa! Who should come to the rescue but Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors. It turns out we're watching a promo for a Christmas special on the IBC network. This year's jewel in the crown in IBC's Christmas lineup is a live version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with Buddy Hackett as Ebeneezer Scrooge and, showing off the 80s provenance of the movie, Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim and the Solid Gold Dancers!

IBC executive Frank Cross (Bill Murray) doesn't like what he sees as an anodyne promo for the Christmas specials, so he's come up with a much harsher promo based on the idea that they want to put the fear of God over missing the specials into people (there were VCRs back then, but no DVRs of course). One of Frank's underlings, Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) doesn't like the promo, so Frank responds by firing him!

Frank, as it turns out, is a driven man who has absolutely no sympathy for anybody around him. As you can guess from the title of the movie, Scrooged, there's shades of Dickens' A Christmas Carol in the presentation of Frank's life, and not just that TV special that's going on. Ebenezer fired an employee right at Christmas, and Frank has his own Tiny Tim in his life in the form of his secretary Grace's (Alfre Woodard) kid, who hasn't spoken a word since he saw his own father die five years ago.

And then Frank is visited by a spirit, not that of Jacob Marley but that of his former boss Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), who died of a heart attack on the golf course some years back. Lew tells Frank that Frank is going to be visited by three more ghosts, starting with the Ghost of Christmas Past tomorrow at noon.

Frank, of course, knows all about the Dickens story, so when the ghosts start coming he has an idea of what's up, and tries to think of ways to stop it, which is of course futile. Part of Frank's past involves a girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen) whom he lost because he was too focused on his career; his lack of sympathy makes it questionable whether he's going to be able to win her back without the same change Ebenezer Scrooge went through. One big change from the Dickens story is that Frank has a boss of his own in the form of network head Preston (Robert Mitchum).

Pretty much everybody knows the Dickens story, so everybody should know more or less where this story is going to end up. But this time it's been turned into an over-the-top comedy, as we see right from the beginning with the ridiculous Christmas specials (Robert Goulet's Cajun Christmas, for example). Eliot doesn't just get fired; he loses his wife and home and responds by preparing to go on a spree killing. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) is a version of Billie Burke's Glinda from The Wizard of Oz, except with a huge dose of cartoon violence added.

Then there are the cameos. John Houseman is in one of his last roles (he died a month before the film's release) as the narrator of the TV version of A Christmas Carol. Anne Ramsey also died before the film's release; she plays alongside her husband as two homeless people in the shelter run by Claire. And then there's the great song over the closing credits, sadly mostly cut off by the Starz/Encore version I DVRed some time back:

(The song is heard, although we don't see that video in the closing credits.)

Some of the IMDb reviewers didn't seem to get that Scrooged is supposed to be an over-the-top comedy, and didn't like it as a result. I, on the other hand, loved it, both for its slightly warped take on the Dickens story and for its reminder 30 years on of the 80s. (Younger viewers, if you show it to them what with the film's language, probably won't know many of the cameos and certainly won't remember the Solid Gold Dancers.) Since I was a teenager when the movie came out, the movie fits squarely in the nostalgia era for me.

If you want a good laugh with a Christmas movie, you could do far worse than to watch Scrooged.

Friday, November 23, 2018

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka

Working through the backlog of movies on my DVR, last night I watched I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, because, well, doesn't every family look like the one in this movie on Thanksgiving?

It's late 1980s Los Angeles, and a young black man dies of OG -- "over gold", or wearing too much in the way of gold chain jewelry. In a photo of the young man, we see somebody way overloaded with jold chains to the point of parody, so even if you couldn't figure it out from the names in the cast, you can tell this is going to be a parody. Anyhow, the young man left behind a widow Cheryl (Dawnn Lewis) and a mother, Ma Bell (Ja'net DuBois). The bad news for them is not only have they lost their relative; they've got two guys visiting their house saying that they owe $5,000 because that's apparently what the dead man owed on all his gold jewelry! Thankfully Ma is one tough woman and is able to give the two debt collectors a thoroughly deserved beat down.

The deam man also had a brother Jack (Keenen Ivory Wayans) who served in the military and is just returning home from a stint, sadly too late to save his brother. But having heard what happened, he's going to make certain the same thing doesn't happen to anybody else. He finds John Slade (Bernie Casey), who was a hero in the community back in the 1970s, and tells Spade what happened, leading to the two of them to team up with some other 1970s fixtures to try to take down Mr. Big (John Vernon), who is apparently responsible for all the misery going on in the neighborhood. Mr. Big, for his part, wants to kidnap Cheryl to ransom in order to get that debt paid off, and one can guess to discourage others from trying to stand up to his reign of terror.

As you can guess, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka is a parody of 1970s blaxploitation movies. I have to admit that I haven't seen enough of them to get all the references in the movie, although I think there was enough going on in the movie that you can get a lot of enjoyment out of it without recognizing the specific things being parodied. For example, there's a running plot point that Ma has always been helping John out of a jam and for once he wants to be able to solve his problems himself. Also there was the scene introducing John, who had organized a very unique sporting event for the young men in the neighborhood. It's shockingly funny, although I thought that if any white director had tried this scene, people would have been screaming racism.

Then there are the cameos. Mr. Big makes a reference to it in his climactic scene, while an earlier scene has Eve Plumb (Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch), whom I didn't recognize but probably should have when the Brady Bunch theme was playing in the background. Not everything worked for me, and there are some lulls, but overall, the movie had a lot more hits than misses.

Those who are bigger fans of the 1970s blaxploitation genre will probably get more of the references, and would probably enjoy the movie even more as a result. Then again, those people have probably seen I'm Gonna Git You Sucka already. The movie is available on DVD for anyone who wants to watch.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #228: Non-linear storytelling

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is movies with non-linear storytelling, which I have to admit was a bit of a toughie. The first movie came immediately, and I won't be surprised to see several other people select it, but the other two took a bit longer. And amazingly, there's nothing before 1960:

Two for the Road (1967). Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney play a married couple whose marriage is on the rocks after ten years. On a car trip from England to the south of France, we learn what's gone wrong in their marriage. The story is linear in terms of going from London to the Riviera, but along that journey the movie jumps back and forth between various points in the marriage, qualifying it for this week's theme.

Before the Rain (1994). Three vignettes tell the story of that part of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia as it affected what is now (Northern) Macedonia. (The country has long been in a dispute with Greece which thinks Macedonia is only Greek, with the resolution being that the country is bein renamed the Republic of Northern Macedonia.) Dialogue early in the first vignette tells us a bit about the nature of time ("Time never dies. The circle is never round."), and to be honest my using the movie in this theme gives away a bit about the movie. Anyhow, the first vignette involves a monk with a vow of silence who's taken in an ethnic Albanian child, not quite by choice; the second story is about a magazine in London that's published photographs from the war; finally, in the third story, one of those photojournalists goes home to Macedonia.

La jetée (1962). A man in post-World War III Paris has a very distinct memory of being at Orly airport and seeing somebody murdered, and the scientists use that in their experiments to send the guy backwards in time for their own purposes. The man eventually falls in love with a woman he meets there, complicating things. The story is told almost exclusively in photographs. Terry Gilliam has stated that this movie was the basis for his 12 Monkeys.

The sound of the furries wouldn't have been as bad

I mentioned yesterday that I was going to be watching the 1959 Fox version of The Sound and the Fury since it's going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, and it doesn't seem to be in print on DVD. Let's just say I'll be freeing up some space on my DVR soon.

The movie starts off with jarring jazz music over the opening credits, before switching from the proper Cinemascope aspect ration to being panned-and-scanned to 16:9 in the print FXM ran, but that was the least of the problems. Ethel Waters plays the maid in some run-down Southern mansion, worried that the daughter of the family is going to be coming home. Sure enough, we cut to a shot of Quentin Compson (Joanne Woodward), on a bus pulling into their small hometown in Mississippi.

Everybody in the house is one of her uncles: alcoholic Howard (John Beal), dimwit mute Ben (Jack Warden), and responsible step-uncle Jason (Yul Brynner, sporting a ridiculous wig). Well, there's also the grandma (Françoise Rosay), but neither of Quentin's parents are around. Mom sends Quentin money from somewhere, but the letters go to Jason and Quentin thinks Jason is stealing from her. Jason, for his part, works at the local store that the Compson family used to own in a previous generation before they wound up as this dissolute mess.

Quentin, for example, is a willful young woman who's skipping school (yes, you've got 30-year-old Woodward playing about 16 here). And then when the traveling carnival comes to town, Quention sees carny Charlie (Stewart Whitman) fixing a ride with his shirt off, and she's immediately attracted to Charlie. Charlie insists he's not right for Quentin, and Jason is trying to stop the relationship too, but stupid Quentin doesn't care. She wants what she wants, and dammit if it screws up everybody else's lives even more than they're already screwed up.

And then Quentin's mom Caddy (Margaret Leighton) returns home. What she wants out of the return, who knows? And who cares? By the time Caddy shows up the movie has already descended into the swamp of "let's turn the family nuttiness up to 11 just because". All of these characters are deeply screwed up, and acting at cross purposes.

As you can tell, I didn't care one bit for The Sound and the Fury. It's based on the novel by William Faulkner, although from the reviews of the movie I've read it's a fairly loose adaptation. I'm not a fan of Faulkner, having had to read As I Lay Dying in high school English, and have never had any plans to read Faulkner's book The Sound and the Fury, so I can't judge the movie on its fidelity or lack thereof to the book. All I can say is that as a movie, it doesn't stand on its own. It's a cheap, tawdry mess that could be forgiven if it had been conceived as a parody of either the Southern Gothic of a Faulkner or (even better) Tennessee Williams; or if it were a parody moved south of Douglas Sirk. But the movie seems to be taking itself seriously.

And then there's the casting. Woodward at least was a southerner, although she's much too old for the part; it's even worse than Julie Harris in Member of the Wedding, another movie that made me feel bad for Ethel Waters for having to put up with this crap. Yul Brynner is thoroughly out of place, in no way southern and burdened by that terrible wig. Why does he stay with these whack-jobs he clearly dislikes. Jack Warden as a mute doesn't have a line of dialog, so who knows his motivations? I suppose you can understand why Beal's Howard Compson would drink himself to get out of this family and this movie.

Of course, I always suggest that you're free to judge for yourself when it comes to a movie that I deeply dislike. So watch tomorrow if you have FXM. Because it's not on DVD, and even if it were, I wouldn't be spending my money on it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A family-"friendly" Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for those of us in the US. With the holiday, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that there's a fair amount of lighter stuff to watch that parents shouldn't be uncomfortable if their kids join in. TCM is running such family films all day, starting at 6:00 AM with Captains Courageous.

There's also stuff that's more traditionally girl-friendly, with the 1949 (ie. Elizabeth Taylor and June Allyson) version of Little Women coming on TCM at 3:45 PM tomorrow.

If you have the Encore package of channels (or, if you have DirecTV, you should be getting the free preview), StarzEncore Classics is scheduled to air Roman Holiday against the end of Little Women, or starting at 5:09 PM tomorrow. I tend to think of it as OK for older kids to watch (younger ones might find it boring), which makes it family-friendly even if it's not about a family.

FXM isn't doing much particularly notable in terms of families, although you'll have another chance to watch The Silent Call tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. And if you're in one of those families where having to deal with everyone is a chore, then you might enjoy The Sound and the Fury as your post-Thanksgiving movie. But that's a subject for tomorrow's post, since I aired it the last time it ran with the intention of doing a full-length post on it.

And if you want something that's decidedly not family-friendly, Showtime will be showing the 1980s version of Scarface early Friday morning at 3:05 AM Friday.

Happy Thanksgiving, especially to our Canadian readers. ;-)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


A movie that's been back on FXM Retro for a little while now is Fatso. It's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

The movie opens with a montage of a couple of cousins, Sal and Dominic, in a large Italian-American family in New York. As the two cousins grow up together, we see that they both have a great affection for food; way to confirm that stereotype about the Italian mother constantly feeding her children. At any rate, the love affair continues up until Sal is 39, when he rather abruptly dies of a heart attack, devastating Sal's extended family. Not that it stops adult Dominic (Dom DeLuise) from his epicurean desires during the wake.

This being a close-knit Italian family, Dominic and his kid brother Frankie (Ron Carey) live upstairs from their sister Antoinette (Anne Bancroft) and her family. Indeed, Antoinette and Dominic run a greeting-card store together, so they spend a lot of time together. And Antoinette having been close to Sal as well and seeing what happened to him, she starts worrying about her brother. Is Dominic going to die an early death too from obesity? She urges him to see a diet doctor, but understandably, Dominic doesn't want to.

Eventually he does, and he's frankly horrified at all the diet advice he's given, which contradicts every instinct related to food that he's had growing up. Two things make Dominic reach a breaking point. One is that he eats a piece of his nephew's birthday cake -- before he gets home with it. But more important is something that happens at work.

Just down the street, an antiques-themed gift shop opens, run by Lydia (Candice Azzara). Dominic sees her, and it's love at first sight. That might just give him the impetus to start eating better and lose weight. So he joins a group called the Chubby Checkers since apparently the filmmakers couldn't use the names of any of the 12-step groups. But it's still a huge struggle for Dominic to try to lose that weight, as all he can think about is food....

Fatso is a movie with an interesting premise, even if the ideas and execution seem a bit conventional. DeLuise is entertaining as the basically decent man who just has a problem with food. The old adage from The Narrow Margin that nobody likes a fat man except his grocer and his tailor isn't quite true. But the movie also has some problems, thanks to Anne Bancroft surprisingly enough. She wrote and directed in addition to starring, and it's there that the problems show up. Her character as written is to obnoxiously shrill. It's easy to understand that she loves her brother and doesn't want to see him die young the way their cousin did, but still you want to reach out and smack her to shut her up at times. And some of the scenes (not involving her character) come across as a little to zany and again loud.

Still, Fatso is an entertaining look at a New York of its era. Diet advice has advanced a bit since then, thankfully. And the 70s and 80s New York is always interesting to see. The movie is out of print on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showing if you want to see it.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Threat

I've long failed to understand why some movies that got releases on the Warner Archive are listed as being on backorder at the TCM Shop, even when there's no mention at Amazon that there's a limited number of copies left. An example of this would be the recent Noir Alley selection The Threat.

The movie starts off before the opening credits with an implied prison break. It turns out that prisoner is the dangerous Arnold Kluger (Charles McGraw), nicknamed "Red". Red was put in jail by prosecutor MacDonald (Frank Conroy) on evidence from police detective Ray Williams (Michael O'Shea). Williams is currently on injury leave, having broken some ribs, which gives him time to spend at home with his pregnant wife Ann (Julie Bishop). But Ray gets a call from headquarters that Red has escaped and that Ray should be careful. Ray decides to do exactly the opposite, and go to headquarters to help in the investigation.

What a stupid move. Red is hell-bent on getting revenge on the people who who put him behind bars. This means Williams, the DA, and even Red's old girlfriend Carol (Virginia Grey). So when Williams leaves his house, there are two guys in the car waiting for him to take him to Red. Red, for his part, is picking up Carol at the nightclub where she works. And the DA can be picked up in the morning.

Red's plan involves the one guy whom he still trusts implicitly. That guy, Tony, fled to Mexico, and the supposed agreement is that when Red gets out and Tony gets news of the escape, Tony's goin to fly to an abandoned air strip where he had smuggled alcohol back in the day, and pick up Red to take him to Mexico. So Red and his hostages have to get there, which involves hiring a moving van, since they've somehow absconded with a police car in order to have access to police radio, which is how they can stay a step ahead of the police.

Williams and the DA try to figure out a way to foil the plan while they're on the way to a shack by the airstrip out in the direction of Palm Springs. Carol, meanwhile, has been protesting her innocence, although Red clearly doesn't believe her. Eventually, they get to the shack, and in the morning when the plane is supposed to come....

The Threat is one of those B crime movies that I don't know if I would quite call a noir myself, but that's beside the point. Whether or not it's a noir, it's a darn entertaining movie. Director Felix Feist obviously knew how to make a good story on a limited budget, and that ability shows in spades here. Sure, there are a few plot holes if you pay close enough attentions, but there are also some key plot points that are cleverly worked in.

Charles McGraw is excellent as the brutal criminal, and Virginia Grey does well as the woman who wants out. O'Shea does as well as he can with the material he's given, although he wasn't given the best role despite his ostensibly being the lead actor. Poor guy has to be the perfect virtuous cop. How boring. There's nothing wrong with his performance, it's just that Red is so much more interesting a character.

For anybody who likes B movies, I can highly recommend The Threat.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


Another movie coming up on TCM that seems to be out of print on DVD is Conrack, which is going to be on TCM tonight at 6:00 PM.

John Voight plays Pat Conroy, who gets up early one spring morning in 1969. Pat lives in Beaufort, SC, and takes the boat over to one of the barrier islands that are part of the same archipelago as the islands in the recently blogged about Daughters of the Dust. When he gets to the island, he asks where the school is, pointing out that he's the new teacher. If he's the teacher, he should be able to read the signs that point the way to the school.

Conroy gets to the school, and finds it's a one-room schoolhouse that frankly looks like it should have collapsed by now. The students are all black, dirt poor, and profoundly ignorant (in the neutral sense of the word simply meaning that they don't know). It's as though, in spite of there being electricity, modernity never came to the island. Where do you begin with people who probably can't read, and can barely count to ten? The black woman principal, Mrs. Scott (Madge Sinclair), refers to the children as her babies and that they need tough love.

Conroy loves to teach, however, and he's going to try to show these children a little something of the world, in much the same way that Sidney Poitier did as a teacher dropped into a completely different culture in To Sir With Love. To reach the children, none of whom bother to even get his name right (hence the title of the movie), Conroy has to resort to some unorthodox methods, such as taking the kids out of class to teach them to swim when he finds out the extent of the drowning problem on the island. And when the local moonshiner Billy (Paul Winfield) confesses that he wants to learn to read and write, Conroy teaches him in exchange for liquor.

Meanwhile, the superintendent of schools, Mr. Skeffington (Hume Cronyn) comes across from the mainland from time to time to check in on Conroy. He's old-fashioned, having been teaching for 40 years, and isn't so certain about Conroy's methods. That, and he has to deal with the other people in town, who have an even less accepting attitude towards black people, this being 1960s South Carolina. The students, however, grow to respect and even like their teacher.

Conrack is based on the true story of author Pat Conroy's own time teaching on one of the barrier islands, turned into the book The Water Is Wide (which I haven't read). I really liked it, although I have to admit that as I was watching it I found myself wondering how much the students really would have learned. Those students have no need of knowing yet about Humphrey Bogart or Sidney Poitier; they have much more basic needs as we see in the swimming scene. And yet the cultural enrichment scenes of listening to Beethoven struck me as similar to the scenes from To Sir With Love when Poitier takes the students to the museum.

All of the actors give good performances, with the students being authentic because they weren't actors. IMDb says that they were Conroy's real students from a few years earlier, and that a couple of them went on to become teachers themselves, so apparently Conroy's teaching had quite the effect on them. This is really Voight and the students' movie, with the other professional actors being very much supporting characters. And it's in those intimate scenes with Voight and the kids that the movie is at its best, be they in the one-room schoolhouse which lends itself to intimate shooting, or outside. The ending seemed a bit odd, although that may have happened in real life since Conroy comes across as nuts enough to do what he did in the movie.

It's a huge shame that Conrack isn't available on DVD because it's a very good movie that deserves to be much better known.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Never had it, never will

Overnight tonight at 2:00 AM (so still on Saturday night in the Pacific time zone), TCM is run in The Seven-Ups.

Roy Scheider plays Buddy, who at the start of the movie goes into a tony Manhattan antiques store and asks about some of the items there. A guy delivering bottled water comes in, and he and Buddy have an accident that results in a huge dispute, but enough to bring in the cops. At this point, Buddy hands the cops a box that's been retrieved from the office upstairs. Buddy and the guy with the water bottle, it turns out, are both plainclothes police detectives. Buddy is the head of the group, known as the Seven-Ups because they investigate serious crimes that generally carry sentences of at least seven years, hence the title. But the group is also disliked for their methods which can be violent and are probably not quite legal.

Next up is Kalish, a mobster running a local racket who is meeting at a hotel to collect the money from one of his underlings. That night at home, the doorbell rings, and it's another plainclothes cop with a badge, to take him to headquarters. Only it's not really a cop, and they don't go to headquarters; it's a kidnapping for ransom. And since the victim is a mobster, they can't really go to the cops. After the ransom is paid, a second mobster gets kidnapped in the same way, except that this time the fake cops pull the guy off the street in broad daylight. Buddy witnesses the commotion, and realizes he's got a serious case on his hands.

The mobsters meet at a funeral home to discuss the case, but Buddy has his men be the chauffeurs (you'd think mobsters would have their own drivers), with one of them wired to get evidence. Unfortunately, the mobsters figure out what's going on, and find the guy with the wire. But they decide to turn this to their advantage by putting him in the trunk of the car where the ransom money is supposed to be. However, when the kidnappers find out it leads to a shootout with a dead cop and Buddy wanting answers.

The Seven-Ups has a lot going for it. It was filmed in New York in the era just after it was beginning to come to light who much cops are corrupt bastards and not saints at all. This was also an era of decline for New York City, and the movie captures that atmosphere quite well. It's a much different New York from the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies, and boy does it show. Schneider is quite good in his role, and the story moves along at a fair clip. There's also a memorable car chase. When it comes to New York crime of that era, I think I slightly prefer The French Connection and The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three. But The Seven-Ups isn't far behind.

Sadly The Seven-Ups does not seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch tonight's TCM showing.

Friday, November 16, 2018

George Formby night

No, not the boxer with the grill, but British actor George Formby, who, I have to say, is a blind spot in my knowledge of cinema. TCM is running several movies tonight starring British entertainer George Formby.

I'm always up for a night of movies like this, but reading a bit about Formby, I worry a bit. The biographies say he was not just an actor, but a singer who played his own songs on the ukulele. Not quite my genre of music.

Meanwhile, only one of the four movies is available on DVD, at least according to TCM's schedule. I'm running out of room on my DVR, and I've got two movies that I absolutely have to get to this weekend since they're coming up on TCM and are both out of print on DVD, so they'll be the subjects of tomorrow's and Sunday's posts.

I thought I'd get ahead of the game with Thanksgiving coming up, but apparently not. So many movies, so little time.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #227: Museums

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is museums. As usual, I went back a good ways to get my three choices for the week:

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). A search of the blog claims I haven't used this one in a Thursday Movie Picks before, so hear goes. Lionel Atwill plays the sculptor who makes waxworks for a failing London museum before the creditors come in, leading to the burning of the museum. Fast forward a dozen years, and he's got a new museum opening in New York, with statues that look extremely lifelike. Of course, there's a good reason for that. Meanwhile, bodies are disappearing from the morgue, and it's up to intrepid reporter Glenda Farrell to figure out why. Farrell's roommate Fay Wray has a boyfriend who works for Atwill, so Atwill sees her and wants her to model for his next sculpture....

How to Steal a Million (1966). Audrey Hepburn plays the daughter of an art forger who comes from a family of forgers. Dad decides he's going to lend a statue to a Paris museum for an exhibition, although the sculpture is a forgery. The problem is that the museum needs to insure the sculpture, so they're going to bring in an appraiser who's certain to discover the fraud. Hepburn met intruder Peter O'Toole, and she gets him to help steal the forgery from the museum before the fraud can be discovered; she doesn't know that he's really investigating her father for forgery.

On the Town (1949). Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Jules Munshin play three sailors with 24 hours' leave in New York, who want to see the town, and wind up doing with with three young ladies (Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, and Vera-Ellen). Among the sights they see is New York's Museum of Natural History, where Miller has a dance number to "Prehistoric Man".

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

An update on Dawson City

Back in September, TCM ran the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time, which was new to me. Well, the movie itself, not the subject material, since I had a passing familiarity with the fact that a bunch of old movie reels were found there.

The movie is on DVD, but I recorded TCM's airing and finally sat down to watch it. I'm sorry to say that it's a movie about an interesting subject that has terrible presentation. It starts off well enough with footage of how they found the reels, and then some vintage footage of the first time they were presented after being found. From there, it goes into a history of Dawson City, which should also be interesting, having been founded in a gold rush and having gone through a boom and a bust.

But the filmmakers decided that since the movie was about the finding of a bunch of silent movies, the movie itself should be more or less silent, using subtitles instead of narration. And the titles are small, making them difficult to read.

The other problem is that, in order to use more of the found footage, the movie talks about news of the day that doesn't really refer to Dawson City The footage itself is interesting, but the presentation doesn't really fit with the rest of the story. Notable for me was the 1919 World Series (the "Black Sox" series thrown by players from the Chicago White Sox), which the director tries to handwave away by suggesting the players weren't paid enough and the first Commissioner of baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, was evil for not supporting organized labor enough.

The found footage that does get shown is interesting. There are a lot of clips of the little bit of surviving footage from each movie; as I understand it there weren't any features found fully intact. There are also a lot of newsreels, which are equally as interesting.

The other interesting thing was learning just how many famous people had a relationship to the early days of the gold rush: Sid Grauman of Chinese Theater fame; Donald Trump's grandfather Fred; Fatty Arbuckle who performed in the area; and others.

It's too bad the material is all presented in such a mish-mash. It deserves a better documentary than Dawson City: Frozen Time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


I don't like blogging about movies that are out-of-print on DVD and not coming up on TV. But over the weekend I made the mistake of watching Dreamscape thinking it was available on DVD, but apparently it's out of print. If you have Amazon you can apparently do the streaming thing, however.

Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) and Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw) are a pair of scientists doing research into dreams, and the rather esoteric idea of whether it would be possible to get somebody else into the dreams of a person suffering from nightmares, with the idea of helping the person with the nightmares. Novotny realizes they need somebody with psychic skills, and there's one man he researched quite a few years back before the guy ran away when he hit adulthood.

Cut to Alex (Dennis Quaid). He's at a racetrack, betting on the horses. He also has psychic abilities, which implies that he knows ahead of time who's going to win the races and can bet appropriately to win money. The other touts at the track are none too pleased with this, since they want him to share the wealth. After coming home from the track, Alex is met by two men, who make him an offer he can't refuse.

Alex is taken to the university where Novotny and DeVries are doing their research and is slowly let in on what they're doing. Alex has no desire to do it, but the government people funding the program know about Alex's winnings at the racetrack and would be more than happy to sic the IRS on Alex. Gotta love government blackmail.

Alex is an apt pupil, although it's going to take a lot of practice to get as good as the star psychic, Tommy (David Patrick Kelly). However, there's one case that's been giving everybody particular problems, that of young Buddy (Cory Yothers, kid brother of Tina from Family Ties which is why the name probably looks familiar). Buddy is almost catatonic at times from his nightmares, sullen and withdrawn. Nobody's been able to help, but Alex offers to try. It's a difficult case, but Alex helps Buddy overcome the fears that manifest themselves in Buddy's nightmares.

Tommy is pissed, and he and the minder with the government funding, Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) get about to what Blair thinks the real point of the research should be. An older lady seeking help for her nightmares suffers a massive coronary during her nightmare, and Alex figures out that what really happened is that Tommy killed her in her nightmare. There are obvious uses for this if the government should become aware of such things.

Unsurprisingly, Blair knows what he wants to do. The President (Eddie Albert) has been having nightmares about the possibility of nuclear war, and is going to be entering the critical phase of negotations on a disarmament treaty (remember, this is the 1980s when the Cold War was still going on). Blair and his shady government agency think the treaty would be a disaster for America. You can guess what Blair wants Tommy to do. Alex guesses it too, which is why Blair has sent his minions to try to bump off Alex. Not that anybody would believe him, of course.

Dreamscape is a pretty fun movie, although it's definitely a product of its time. The special effects are obvious, although that's not a bad thing since it also serves as an effect device to point out that this bit of the movie is one of the dream sequences. The thing that struck me while watching the movie was the whole government conspiracy thing. This sort of conspiracy was a staple of movies in the 70s and 80s, but now in real life we've got an outsider President who suggests that there's a "deep state" that would be OK with sabotaging his presidency. The same sort of people who would accept as gospel truth the sort of "deep state" conspiracy in Dreamscape or other movies suddenly turn around and react with horror if you suggest there's any sort of "deep state" in real life. Principals, not principles.

As for me, I have to admit I rolled my eyes a bit when I realized where the movie was going. Another movie I thought of was Brainstorm, which did have some government types trying to get their hands on the technology, but which also has a humorous scene in which the executives think about how lucrative it would be if their virtual reality device were marketed as a virtual sex device. I can only imagine people wanting to use the Dreamscape technology in the same way.

Political and business ideas aside, Dreamscape is definitely worth a watch if you can do the streaming thing.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A couple of obituaries I should have mentioned

Two lesser-known names whose work you'd recognize even if you didn't know their names or faces died last week, and both of them deserve mention:

First is Francis Lai, who died last Wednesday at the age of 86. Lai was a composer, which is why you wouldn't recognize the face and might not remember the name. But he composed a couple of very famous movie themes, notably A Man and a Woman in 1966, and his Oscar-winning theme for Love Story in 1970.

Then there's Douglas Rain, who died on Sunday aged 90. He was mostly a stage actor, who founded the famous Stratford festival in Canada, but the role he'll be most remembered for is far from Shakespeare. In the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rain provided the voice for the HAL 9000 computer that ran the ship the astronauts were taking to Jupiter, only to try to kill the astronauts after they thought the computer was malfunctioning. "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." The movie goes seriously downhill after HAL leaves the scene.

A brief mention of Hi, Nellie!

TCM is running all the Glenda Farell Torchy Blane movies tonight in prime time. (I thought of using Torchy Runs for Mayor in last Thursday's TMP blogathon.) But before we get to see Farrell a that crusading lady reporter, there's an earlier movie with her as a reporter, Hi, Nellie! at 6:30 PM.

Farrell plays Gerry, who at the start of movie is writing the "advice for the lovelorn" column and wants to do serious journalism. She gets her chance when the editor (Paul Muni) won't run a piece on a banker accused of embezzlement, and the publisher demotes the editor to the lonely-hearts column. But he gets a letter that might just allow him to break the case open....

I mention the movie because it's a story that Warner Bros. wound up revisiting over and over. This was the first of four different movies of the same basic story that Warner Bros. made in the 30s and 40s, before TV took over and the studios weren't making B movies any more. The second version, Love Is on the Air, moved the story to radio, and if it's notable for anything it's that it's the movie debut of actor Ronald Reagan. (Reagan is as good as he is in his B movies, which means better than he generally gets credit for.)

In the 40s, there was You Can't Escape Forever, which TCM actually ran a few weeks back and which I thought I mentioned at the time for the same reason I bring up Hi, Nellie! today. George Brent must have done something after The Great Lie to tick off the studio bosses because he got put in this decided B movie. Finally, at the end of the 40s there's The House Across the Street which I don't think I've seen on the TCM schedule in quite some time. The first time I saw it my reaction was that this looks awfully familiar, and then I learned that it was a remake.

Hi, Nellie! was on one of those "Forbidden Hollywood" sets the Warner Archive put out a few years back, but it seems to be out of print.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Mr. Ricco

I recorded a couple of movies from when Dean Martin was Star of the Month on TCM, and I finally got around to watching the last of the movies that I recorded, Mr. Ricco.

Martin plays Joe Ricco, a defense attorney who at the start of the movie is getting his client, Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala) off a murder rap. It seems as though the police tampered with the evidence, and although Ricco can't prove Steele's innocence, he doesn't have to: he just has to show that the prosecution hasn't proved its case, and evidence tampering will do that in spades. Ricco goes back to his San Francisco apartment, as well as playing poker with his friends at an Italian restaurant owned by his aunt and uncle.

And then somebody lures two cops into an ambush-style murder. The murderer is running down a fire escape, and a young boy sees the murderer, who is pretty clearly Frankie. The poor boy. If he's got one thing going for him, it's that the boy's mother knows Joe Ricco, so she's able to go to him for advice. The kid goes to the police, at which point there's going to be problems for everybody. First is that two cops are dead, and the cops care about murdered cops more than they care about murdered non-cops. Second is that people are going to make the obvious assumption that Ricco got a cop-killer off on a technicality. And then there are the racial issues of a black guy having been framed by the cops only to turn around and kill them.

Further mucking things up is that Frankie was a self-styled community activist, who blew through the grant money he got from Washington with nothing to show for it. He's still got some sort of organizational headquarters and when the cops find it, Frankie is able to make a quick escape, while the racist cop Tanner (Michael Gregory), who tampered with the evidence that put Steele in the first place, happily shoots an unarmed man. A third man there is arrested to try to divulge Steele's new hiding place. So that man's sister Irene (Denise Nicholas), approaches Rico for help. Ricco takes the defense of Irene's brother Purvis (Philip Michael Thomas).

And then things get even more complicated when somebody tries to bump off Rico on multiple occasions, and once again all the evidence leads to Frankie. But why on earth would Frankie be trying to kill the lawyer who got him off a murder rap? It would make sense that Frankie would want to kill those cops, not only for racial reasons, but even if they had been black for trying to frame him. Trying to kill Rico, however, defies logic. Ricco also begins to change his attitude toward Frankie when he meets Frankie in his new hiding place of a condemned church and Frankie admits that he killed the woman in the case where Ricco got him off, although Frankie claims it was an accident. So maybe Frankie has some weird reason for wanting to kill Ricco after all.

Is this the end of Ricco? Well, not quite. There's a climax at an art exhibit in one of those awful brutalist 1970s buildings where Ricco becomes a hero by killing the murderer, whose identity you should be able to figure out if you watch the movie a good ways before the movie ends.

Mr. Ricco isn't a great movie by any means, but it's reasonably good entertainment, and the 1970s location shooting in San Francisco is more than worth a watch. Martin was playing straight drama, which is something he didn't do all that often in his career, and does reasonably well. Rasulala is probably the brightest spot as a character who's screwed up badly in his life, but since this is Dean Martin's movie, Rasulala doesn't get enough scenes. The big problem is with the story, which in some ways is unfair to the viewer because the ending is one you can't guess until a specific piece of evidence is introduced, way late into the proceedings.

Mr. Ricco is availalbe on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, and is as I write this available via Amazon's streaming service for people who can do that.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Foreign Intrigue

Another of my recent DVD purchases was a cheap two-movie set (on one disc with no extras) of which one of the movies was Foreign Intrigue. It's a movie I hadn't heard of until somebody over on the TCM boards mentioned it, and after watching it, it's easy to see why I hadn't heard of it.

Victor Danemore lives in a big house on the French Riviera. He comes in from outside, goes into the library, one of those old rich person's home libraries with shelves so high you need a ladder to get the books from the top shelf. While up on the ladder, he sufferes a heart attack that's eventually going to be fatal.

Dave Bishop (Robert Mitchum) is Danemore's agent, and we first see him at the airport picking up tickets for Danemore and talking to another man. Bishop goes back to Danemore's house, to find the stricken boss who's still alive, but not for long. Danemore has a wife in another part of the house who didn't hear anything, and when Bishop tells Mrs. Danemore (Geneviève Page), she seems strangely distant, wondering more if her husband said any final words to Bishop. Press and other people with connections to Danemore come, and all of them ask Bishop the same question of whether Danemore had any last words for him. It's to the point where you expect the question to come and laugh when it does.

But this is no laughing matter. There's a lawyer in Vienna who had a document that he was keeping safe for Danemore. And it seems that Danemore was going to Vienna several times a year. So Bishop goes in order to find out what Danemore was doing in Vienna. That, and after Danemore's death it seems as though he shouldn't have had enough money to live the way he did. In Vienna, he finds that Dannemore when to a hole-in-the-wall with a blind landlady while the lawyer ultimately gets murdered, and where's that document?

From the few pieces of information Bishop was able to glean, it seems as though Stockholm should be the next stop, which is where he meets the Lindquists, mother and daughter Brita. Brita is played by Ingrid Thulin at the beginning of her international career; her surname is spelled Tulean in the credits with my guess being that the producer thought American audiences would be more likely to pronounce Tulean correctly than Thulin. Anyhow, Bishop wanted to see Brita's father, who as it turns out has been dead for a couple of years. Brita then learns the truth about her father, which is that he would have been a traitor in World War II if Sweden hadn't stayed relatively neutral. Danemore was blackmailing Lindquist.

Meanwhile, there's another man Spring (Frederic O'Brady) who knows something about Danemore, and has been following Bishop across Europe. Whether Spring is truly a bad guy or just opportunistic is something that Bishop isn't sure of, but as the movie goes on he seems increasingly dangerous to Bishop....

I said at the beginning that Foreign Intrigue languishes in relative obscurity, and I think there are multiple reasons for this. One is the more matter-of-fact reason of its production. It looks like another of those European productions that has an American star (in this case Mitchum) in the cast presumably to make it easier to get distribution in America. Surprisingly, despite the European filming and production values, the writer/producer/director Sheldon Reynolds was an American and the sources all call this an American movie.

As for the product we see on the screen, I found it to be a whole lot of gloss covering up the fact that there's not much going on beneath the surface. The characters remained blank slates to me for the most part, and key plot twists seem to come out of the blue. The movie is something that's nice to look at, but after watching it you may wonder if you really just watched a movie.

Still, for the low price of the DVD, you can't go wrong, so you may want to pick up the DVD and judge for yourself.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Just plain "Cowboy"

TCM ran a couple of movies with cattle drive themes in prime time recently. One that was new to me was Cowboy. It's available on DVD, so I recorded it and watched it to do a post on it here.

Jack Lemmon plays Frank Harris, who at the start of the movie is an assistant manager at a hotel in Chicago. He's fallen in love with one of the guests, young Mexican Maria Vidal (Anna Kashfi), who is there with her father and aunt. He writes poetry to her and is winning to ask her hand in marriage, but also knows that her father wouldn't approve, Frank not being of the right social status.

Noy, you may be asking yourself why this is at the start of a movie with the title Cowboy. Soon enough, a cowboy comes into the hotel in the form of Tom Reese (Glenn Ford). Ah, there's a cowboy! He's got a bunch of cattle to sell, and then he's going to relax for a few weeks in Chicago before heading back to pick up some more cattle to drive to the meat market. Part of that relaxation involves playing poker after selling the old herd, and he loses enough money that he's going to have problems getting a new herd.

Thankfully, there's somebody with a little extra money, in the form of Frank, who's been saving up, probably to start of household if he could marry Maria. But she's abruptly gone back to Mexico since Dad knows about Frank's intended relationship. And when Frank learns that Tom is going to be going to the town where Maria's family is from to get a new herd of cattle, Frank has the brilliant idea of offering Tom money to become a partner in business, with the intention of also going down to Mexico to see Maria again.

Frank, of course, has never done anything remotely like being a cowboy, something which is naturally going to cause problems out on the trail at some point. And Tom really doesn't want a partner if he can avoid it. Still, Tom needs the money. So Frank joins the crew. Once he gets to Mexico, he finds that Maria has been married off to another man, and that's that for that subplot. But there's still the matter of getting a whole herd of cattle back to America, with Tom and Frank not particularly liking each other....

I found Cowboy to be another of those movies that I'd use words like "professional" and "pedestrian" to describe. I'm not the biggest fan of westerns, although they are growing on me. There's nothing particularly wrong with Cowboy, but to me it also felt like another movie where there's nothing particularly noteworthy, besides there being Jack Lemmon in a western. The difficult at times relationship between the two business partners by necessity, as well as the standard issue problems they face on the cattle drive, made it seem like the sort of plot I'd seen any number of times before. That having been said, everybody does a workmanlike job, and I can't find anything in the movie to pan it, either. Cowboy is a solid little movie that probably never had any expectations of rising to greatness, but which also does its job of entertaining. Those who enjoy westerns will probably enjoy sitting with a bowl of popcorn and watching Cowboy.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #226: Political Comedy

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 political comedies, which I'll assume was scheduled for this week because the electoral season in the US finally ended. Despite the argument that can be made about our having had an uninterrupted series of jokes in the White House for the past quarter century, our politicians are really more a cause for distress than a laughing matter, as I tend to think of them as sick, twisted perverts who get their rocks off using the power of the state to boss other people around. They like to call themselves public servants, but I can only imagine the outrage if the people started treating them the way the hired help gets treated in old movies.

With that in mind, however, I was able to come up with a pair of movies in which the characters running for office were actually hired help. I'm sure there's a third out there, but I can't think of a third offhand, so I had to go in a different direction rather than having a full theme within a theme.

The Baroness and the Butler (1938). William Powell plays the butler, working for the Hungarian Prime Minister (Henry Stephenson), who runs for parliament for the opposition party, and continues to work for his old boss even after getting elected and becoming opposition leader. The Baroness (Arabella) is the Prime Minister's married daughter, and our butler's falling in love with her causes all sorts of problems.

The Farmer's Daughter (1947). Loretta Young puts on a phony accent to play a farm girl who winds up first being a maid in the house of Ethel Barrymore and her son Joseph Cotten. The son is in Congress, and he and the farmer's daughter begin to form a relationship until she gets involved at a political rally, and it propels her to a political career that ultimately has her running against her boss' political machine.

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). Eddie Bracken plays a small-town boy who goes off to fight in World War II, only for him to fall at the first hurdle when his hay fever makes him unfit for duty. He's been lying about what he's doing, but when he meets a Marine commander (William Demarest) and the commander's platoon, the commander insists that he's going to take Eddie back home and make a hero out of him. The way to do that involves putting Eddie up for mayor against the corupt local machine. How Preston Sturges got this subversive comedy made during World War II, I'll never know.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Silent Call

Another movie that's been running on FXM Retro a bunch recently that's on again is The Silent Call. It's going to get yet another airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

The movie starts off with young Guy (Roger Mobley) trying to stuff his dog into the trunk of a car, removing luggage and hiding it! The poor dog; who would do a thing like that to a dog? As it turns out, Guy is doing it because he feels he doesn't have much choice. His father Joe (David McLean) gut a good job that's going to require moving the family from Elko, NV to Los Angeles. Apparently they couldn't afford a U-Haul, because they only have their little compact car and there's not nearly enough room in the car to bring the dog along with all the other stuff they need to bring.

It's not as if they're abandoning the dog, though. Dad just plans to leave it with a neighbor until the family can get settled in in Los Angeles and Dad can get enough money to have the dog shipped out to Los Angeles, which should take a month maximum. Not that the boy cares; he thinks Dad really doesn't like the dog. (Of course, all this is a quarter century before My Life as a Dog.) More worrisome is that the neighbor they're leaving the dog with really doesn't like the dog -- didn't the family have any other friends? Sure enough, as soon as the family sets out on the road, the dog breaks through the screen door and runs off behind the family, falling behind because cars are faster than dogs.

The dog proceeds to have a series of adventures, first with a couple of hobos, and then with an old guy who's all alone in a house now that everybody else has died, and he's going to die soon, too. Guy hates his father more and more, with mom Flore (Gail Russell, in her final film before dying of her alcoholism) trying to patch things up between father and son. But Guy insists on being over the top in hating Dad. And it's about to get worse when the family learns the dog escaped. Guy decides that once the dog gets to LA -- and he just knows that's going to happen -- he's going to run away with the dog.

The dog continues to have more adventures, somehow apparently knowing which way is the right direction to Los Angeles, all the while getting helped by some humans and threatened by others. Still he's going to keep searching for his family....

I found The Silent Call to be a laughable Saturday matinee movie from a time when the whole Saturday matinee thing was on the way out thanks to the rise of television. The plot strains credulity; the movie looks like it was done on a shoestring budget; and the score was definitely sub-par. The less said about the acting, the better. Young children might enjoy this movie; most other people will probably be happy it's over after 63 minutes.

Amazingly, The Silent Call is available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, when you consider all the better movies that aren't available.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


After the introduction of the Code in 1934, certain topics just couldn't be talked about. An interesting movie that tries to broach one of those untouchable subjects is Outrage, which will be on TCM tomorrow (November 7) at 2:45 PM.

Mala Powers plays nice working girl Ann Walton who, being single, still lives with her loving parents. However, she's not going to be single much longer, as she's got a boyfriend in Jim (Robert Clarke). Unfortunately, at work she has to deal with a creep who mans the food stand at the facility where Ann works. He seems interested in her, but she's not interested in him. Things go well for Ann until one night when she works late. On her way home, that guy from the stand starts following her until he traps her in a corner and....

Well, you can probably guess that Ann was raped, although of course movies of that time couldn't talk about it. Johnny Belinda was probably slightly more open, but only because she ended up pregnant. Everybody tries to be supportive of Ann, but she doesn't want to be around a man so she thinks there's no way she can marry Jim. And she just knows that everybody's looking at her as though there's something fundamentally and irrevocably flawed with her.

So Ann decides to run away by hopping on a bus for the big city. However, at one of the stops, Ann hears a radio report that her parents are looking for her, a report that goes into too much detail about what happened to her. Now everybody is going to know the dirty truth about her. So she flees the bus and just starts walking, until she collapses from exhaustion.

She's found in that state by the kindly Reverend Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews), who obviously knows that there's something wrong with her, but takes an interest in her well-being. Or is he possibly interested in her -- he's not Catholic, so he could have a girlfriend if he wanted. The good reverend helps Ann get a job in the local agribusiness, and even gets Ann a place to stay. Ann, for her part, seems to be doing her best to make herself a part of the community.

Until, that is, the big local party when one of the partygoers shows a decided interest in her. Nobody in this little town knows Ann's true past, and while this guy is probably sincere, he's also way too forward for Ann, who knowing nothing better to do, clubs the guy with a wrench in self-defense! Of course, she's going to have to stand trial for that, and the whole sordid past may come out....

Outrage isn't a bad movie, although the dirty little fingers of the Production Code cause some serious problems. Everything is way too guarded, and the ending is a bit too pat even if it isn't a straightforward happy Hollywood ending. The whole movie felt to me like it was better suited to be a TV movie of the week. Not that anybody's bad in it, but everything feels ever so slightly off.

Direction was handled by Ida Lupino, one of the rare women directors at that time. She shows some interesting ideas with camera movement, and also handles the material (which she co-wrote) about as well as one can considering the constraints of the Production Code.

The movie doesn't seem to be available at all on DVD, which I'd guess is because it was independently produced with distribution handled by RKO. If it were a full RKO movie, it probably would have gotten a Warner Archive release by now.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Avenging Conscience redux

About two years ago, I mentioned that somebody over at the TCM boards had watched the 1914 D.W. Griffith movie The Avenging Conscience or: Thou Shalt Not Kill, a silent I had never heard of. There are several prints on Youtube, and I downloaded one what with the movie being in the public domain. I finally got around to watching it recently.

Henry B. Walthall plays a man whose mother died in childbirth and who was raised by his uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken). The Nephew grows up and is set to inherit his uncle's modest estate at some point. But the Nephew falls in love with The Girl (Blanche Sweet), a girl of modest means whom the uncle either doesn't like or just doesn't think is of an appropriate class for his nephew.

At this point things turn weird, as D.W. Griffith seems to be taking multiple pages from Edgar Allen Poe. The movie uses title cards containing lines from Poe's poem "Annabel Lee", which are clearly meant to refer to The Girl. Meanwhile, The Nephew has been reading Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart", which gives him ideas of how to deal with his uncle. Of course, if you know the Poe story, you know that the beating of that heart is going to play on The Nephew's conscience....

I found The Avenging Conscience to be quite the strange movie, as it seemed to include a whole mish-mash of things that didn't always fit together. There was a brief story line about a maid and a grocery delivery boy who were in love that didn't seem to go anywhere, and an epilogue that looked like it was a preview for Mickey Rooney's Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. And the resolution of the main plot doesn't quite follow "The Tell-Tale Heart" either.

The Avenging Conscience isn't the greatest movie I've ever seen, but it's certainly worth a watch.

TCM Star of the Month November 2018: Glenda Farrell

We're in the first full week of a new month, which means that it's time for a new Star of the Month. That star is Glenda Farrell, one of my favorites from the 1930s, what with all those brassy roles. TCM will be running Farrell's films every Monday night in prime time.

Actually, TCM's website says they're running 48 of her movies, so the films are going to extend past prime time, starting early this afternoon with one of Farrell's later movies, her turn as Elvis Presley's mother (well, the mother of one of the Elvis Presleys) in Kissin' Cousins today at 12:45 AM. The 1930s movies begin to show up later in the afternoon, with the really underrated Heat Lightning at 5:30 PM, although that one is really Aline MacMahon's movie.

As for all those Torchy Blane movies, you can catch them one after another next Monday in prime time.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

White Lightning

A few weeks ago TCM ran a night of movies on running moonshine. I hadn't seen White Lightning before, so I recorded it to watch and do a blog post on here.

The movie starts off with a prologue of two boats out on an isolated lake. One of the boats has two guys who are bound and gagged, and when the boat gets out far enough, somebody in the other boat shoots the first one, letting it sink with the two bound guys sinking along with it and drowning to their deaths.

Cut to a federal prison in Arkansas, where Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds) is one of the prisoners. He has a visitor, who informs him that one of those two people killed on the boat was his brother, and that the local sheriff of Bogan County, AR, was behind it. Gator wants to avenge his brother's death, but how can he do that when he's in prison?

Apparently, it's an open secret that the sheriff is behind all the moonshine business in Bogan County, but the feds have been unable to get any evidence. Gator offers to get that direct evidence that can be used in a court of law, in exchange for being paroled. The feds ultimately agree, setting up a mechanic named Dude Watson (Matt Clark) as his contact. Dude is facing the possiblity of going back to federal prison on tax charges, so of course he'll cooperate.

Gator quickly finds out that the local sheriff, J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty), is definitely behind the moonshine business here in exchange for kickbacks. To this point he's been very good about keeping his hands clean, but there's a slight problem in that he's hearing rumblings from one of Arkansas' US Senators that the feds may be sending somebody to Bogan County to investigate. Meanwhile, Gator is working his way into the local business, serving as a blocker for Roy Boone (Bo Hopkins).

Roy and Gator become friends, but Roy has a girlfriend in Lou (Jennifer Billingsley) who sees Gator and takes a liking to him, something that's definitely going to come between the two eventually. More worrisome for Gator is that Connors has figured out that Dude is in cahoot with the feds, so the sheriff is going to turn the screws on Dud, with force if necessary. It also implies that the noose will be tightening around Gator soon.

White Lightning is an entertaining little movie that I don't think was really intended as any sort of prestige movie. I thought it would be a bit more of a comedy, but it's pretty much a drama at least as far as action movies are concerned. What I really liked about the movie, though, was its depiction of the early 1970s south. With the slow demise of the studio system and movies moving away from the studio back lots, regular films (not just westerns) were going out on location a lot more, given them a rather more realistic feel. I've commented on several occasions about movies that were filmed in New York City around this time (referring to the era as the time just before Gerald Ford told the city to drop dead) and how I alwys find the look at the city interesting. The same holds true for White Lightning, just about a completely different region and culture. This was made only a dozen years after the recently blogged-about Ada, but to me the depiction of the South in the movies came a long way in those dozen years thanks to the location shooting and a more authentic script.

Both the TCM Shop and Amazon list White Lightning as being available on DVD, but some of the reviewers claim it's an edited version. I only saw the print TCM ran, which wasn't edited as far as I could tell, so I can't judge the DVD.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Das Leben der Anderen

One of my recent Blu-ray purchases was of the 2006 German film The Lives of Others.

Ulrich Mühe plays Gerd Wiesler, a captain in the East German Stasi, the secret police who spy on the citizenry with the help of a network of informants, in November of 1984. (We of course know what's going to happen to the country in five years' time; they have no clue.) Wiesler is seen interrogating a man, although we learn that what we're watching is a taped interrigation that's being reused at the Stasi training institute by Wiesler's boss, Lt. Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur).

Wiesler and Tukur are friends as well as co-workers, and when they go to the theater that night to be seen by Grubitz' boss, Minister Hempf, in order to curry favor. The playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), is seen as squeaky clean even though he as an artist has a whole lot of acquaintances who are to various degress in the bad graces of the Communist Party (technically, the Party was called the Socialist Unity Party, but everybody understands Communist). But Hempf is insistent that there has to be something wrong with Dreyman. So Grubitz has Dreyman's men bug Dreyman's apartment in preparation for Dreyman's 40th birthday party which is going to be held there.

Wiesler bugs the apartment scientifically and efficiently, setting up a listening post in the attic of the apartment building where he and an associate can monitor Dreyman in shifts around the clock. Dreyman lives with his girlfriend, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) and the two have a rather complicated relationship as Georg has a pretty good clue that she's popping illicit pills. That, and she's probably stepping out on him at night to see somebody (she claims she's meeting old classmates. Among the folks who show up for the birthday party is Dreyman's former theater director colleague Jerska, who has been blacklisted (but don't you dare use that word) and on whose behalf Dreyman has been trying to intercede with Hempf, albeit to no avail.

The birthday party didn't produce anything of note that the Stasi could use as evidence against Dreyman, but other events conspire against him. First is that one day the despondent Jerska finally commits suicide. It's not considered a suicide by the authorities, however, as they want to keep up the fiction that nobody would kill themselves in a socialist paradise, so they've stopped collecting statistics on suicide. Dreyman decides he's going to write an essay on the topic of suicide in East Germany and get it published in the West, which is clearly a politically dangerous thing to do. The other thing is that we learn Christa-Maria is indeed seeing another man -- and that man is Hempf. No wonder Hempf wanted Dreyman surveilled: he wanted Dreyman arrested so that Hempf could have Christa-Maria all to himself.

Wiesler discovers Hempf's true motivations, which is natural since he's leading the surveillance against Hempf's girlfriend and her other boyfriend. But he begins to wonder whether this isn't something he should be doing. At the same time, Dreyman's article on suicide has been published and set off a firestorm. Grubitz is certain Dreyman is involved somehow, and tells Wiesler that his career is on the line if he doesn't get answers. So Grubitz, having found out where Christa-Maria gets her pills, has her arrested and tries to turn her into an informant.

Wiesler leads the interrogation, and it ultimately leads to the inevitable denouement for Dreyman's surveillance by the Stasi, although it's not the one that you might expect. (I won't go any further in that regard in order not to give the story away.) Fast forward several years. First in November 1989, the Berlin Wall falls, the result of several months of various protests that would be the subject of a post elsewhere. (I was visiting my relatives in West Germany in the summer of 1989, and the situation was already a crisis that was the top story on the news every night.) In 1990, East and West Germany reunited as one country, and the government set up a commission to handle all those old Stasi files. Dreyman has a chance encounter with Hempf, leading him to go to the institute to read his file.

The Lives of Others is an outstanding movie, and the sort of movie I'd strongly recommend to people who hate the idea of having to read movies with subtitles and/or think that foreign film is somehow "pretentious". The acting is excellent, especially from Mühe and Koch, and from what I've read East Germans who lived through the era say the film's depiction of their country is highly accurate. I certainly found the set design gray and uninviting.

But The Lives of Others is also a story that's relevant a decade after it was made and 30 years after the events depicted, and not just in Germany, but pretty much anywhere. Consider the sort of surveillance-loving politician (and it's not limited to either of the two big parties) who spout platitudes like "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide." Everybody has done something that someone else could consider wrong, even if it's as mundane as having fallen in love with two men. And when you combine that with nonsense like "If you see something, say something", along with even "just" the NSA surveillance, you're setting up a situation that encourages people to rat out folks they don't like, even for minor infractions. Imagine making a dumb joke to somebody that they should make you a sandwich, and they suggest you should become unemployable. Now imagine them having the power of the state behind it.

I don't think I can come up with the words suitable to describe how strongly I recommend The Lives of Others. See it now if you haven't already done so. Amazon lists it as available, but for some reason the TCM Shop doesn't.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Alice Brady, 1892-1939

Alice Brady in a scene from My Man Godfrey (1936)

Today marks the birth anniversary of character actress Alice Brady, who was born on this day in 1892. Brady did some silent work back when they were making silents in New York, and then spent a decade concentrating on the stage before Hollywood called and her her in sound movies several years after the transition. Her first talkie was 1933's When Ladies Meet, and it kicked off a successful, if all too brief career in Hollywood.

Brady would have supporting roles in a bunch of fun movies, such as My Man Godfrey pictured above, where she plays flighty mother to Carole Lombard; or One Hundred Men and a Girl, where she plays a flighty matron who screws up Deanna Durbin's dreams. She also appeared with Durbin in Three Smart Girls. But it was for In Old Chicago that Brady won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Sadly, Brady was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, which in the 1930s was even more of a death sentence than it might be today. She died a few days before her 47th birthday.