Thursday, January 31, 2019

Briefs for January 31-February 1, 2019

So I won't be participating in this week's Thursday Movie Picks, because I don't watch much episodic TV and this one is about TV shows that premiered in 2018. The only new in 2018 show I could think of was The Ten, one of those idiotic snarky list shows, this one appearing on Tennis Channel. They already had a snarkly list show some years back with Best of Five, which at least makes sense on Tennis Channel since certain of the men's matches are the best three out of five sets. Other things that premiered in 2018? I'm not certain, and I don't know that I watched episodes of any of them.

Last month in the Thursday Movie Picks on the movies of 2018, I mentioned the 1937 version of A Star Is Born. It's going to be on TCM tonight at 9:45 PM. It will be preceded, at 8:00 PM, by the 1932 What Price Hollywood?, which as I think I mentioned in the comments is much the same story as A Star Is Born. Both are well worth watching if you haven't seen them before.

James Ingram died on Tuesday at the age of 66. Although he's best known as a singer, I mention him here because he co-wrote two Oscar-nominated songs, "The Day I Fall in Love" from Beethoven's 2nd in 1993 and "Look What Love Has Done" from Junior in 1984. I don't remember either song since they weren't hits. He did sing "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail with Linda Ronstadt, although he didn't write it so he didn't get the nomination.

Tomorrow being February 1, it's the start of the annual 31 Days of Oscar on TCM. It looks as though tomorrow's daytime theme is literary adaptations, although I'm not that big a fan of most of the movies on the daytime schedule. The 31 Days of Oscar site lists what every day and night feature is, which is nice.

And apropos of nothing in particular, I had reason to look for a certain image and found this:

Old, bloated Peter Lorre and the back of Joan Fontaine, in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Manxman (1929)

Some months back I DVRed Pandora's Box when TCM ran it in Silent Sunday Nights. I was surprised to see that it's out of print on DVD, so when it came time to do a post on a silent movie, I couldn't do that one. Instead, I pulled out my cheap Mill Creek box set of Alfred Hitchcock movies to watch The Manxman.

Carl Brisson plays Pete Quilliam, a fisherman on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland. He's in love with Kate (Anny Ondra), the daughter of the local innkeeper (Randle Ayrton), but Dad thinks that Pete is of too low a social class for his daughter, so when Pete asks for Kate's hand in marriage, her dad says no

Pete has a best friend in Philip (Malcolm Keen), son of a long line of Deemsters (Isle of Man judges), which seems a bit surprising since you'd think their class differences would be bigger than the one between Pete and Kate. But apparently Philip's father married a woman who wasn't of a high enough class, which ruined his career, so Philip's mom doesn't want her son to make the same mistake.

Pete tells Philip that he's going to get a job as a sailor, go out in the world, and make enough money so that when he comes home, he'll be able to take care of Kate. (And by that time her father could die, one supposes.) Pete would like Philip to keep an eye out on Kate to make certain she stays OK. Of course, more than that happens as Philip and Kate start to spend time together.

Things get more intense when news comes from abroad by telegram that Pete has been lost at sea. This would leave Kate open to marry Philip, if only it wouldn't screw up his career as Deemster. Further complicating matters is that Pete didn't die, and he's eventually coming back with the money to marry Kate and set her up right.

The big problem, of course, is that Kate no longer loves Pete, but still loves Philip, although telling Pete this truth would probably crush him. So she suffers until she can suffer no longer....

I found The Manxman to be very well done. It's certainly not the sort of movie you'd expect from Alfred Hitchcock, but then again, the "master of suspense" style generally dates to the first The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps, even if several earlier movies were precursors. There's also not much of the distinctive camera work that Hitchock would become known for, although there's really nothing wrong with the cinematography here. (Well, a better print would be nice.)

The Manxman is a nice change of pace for Hitchcock fans, and a nice silent movie for silent fans. Amazon lists a DVD-R version available, although the box artwork they show frankly makes it look a bit sketchy to me. The TCM Shop lists a version from Reel Vault, although it's about a half hour shorter than the one on my box set.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

11 years and counting

I notice that today is the 11th anniversary of the blog, with a post almost every day. I think I missed only one day where I plain forgot to post, although there were a couple of days when I couldn't post because my Internet was out, or because a hurricane knocked out power.

The Blogger sidebar says that this is going to be post #4754, which means I should hit #5000 sometime in mid-August at the rate I've been going. I don't know how many of those posts are full-length reviews, although I've had a feeling that's slowed down a bit in the past few years since I've started working the early shift.

Is anything going to change around here? No, mostly because I tend toward laziness an inertia. I'd like to be able to watch more movies to do full-length posts on, althought that's not likely. So there will be four or five movie reviews, and two or three other things, like the Thursday Movie Picks. I do have to say, however, that I'm probably be going to sitting out a few weeks, especially some of the TV editions, since there are a few themes I'll have difficulty coming up with movies for.

Here's to 11 more years!

Michel Legrand and the TCM schedule

French movie composer Michel Legrand died on Saturday at the age of 86. He was a three-time Oscar winner and wrote scores for a whole bunch of movies, both in his native France and in Hollywood.

However, none of his Oscar-winning works is going to be on during 31 Days of Oscar, as far as I can tell: Legrand wrote the IMO terrible song "Windmills of Your Mind" from The Thomas Crown Affair that won in the best Original Song category, and the Oscar-winning scores from Summer of '42 and Yentl. None of those show up in this year's 31 Days of Oscar.

I did a text search of the TCM schedule for February, and also couldn't see his Hollywood work like Le Mans or Ice Station Zebra on the schedule. A lot of other stuff he's done has been on TCM infrequently, but not in the near future: Sweet November, the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers, and F For Fake all come to mind.

The one movie that will be on during 31 Days of Oscar is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which is going to be on TCM at 7:00 AM Sunday.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Plainsman (1936)

During one of the free preivew weekends of the Starz/Encore package some months back, I was able to DVR The Plainsman. Over this past weekend I finally, got around to watching it.

The movie starts of in 1865, just after Lee surrendered to end the Civil War. President Lincoln states the need to develop the west and secure the frontier, just before he gets shot. (Seriously: Mrs. Lincoln interrupts a Cabinet meeting to remind Abe they're going to Ford's theater that night.) Among those going west is Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper), along with Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) and Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison). They first set out for Hays City (which I assume is supposed to be Hays, KS in the northwest part of the state; Wikipedia says all three of our main characters were in Hays in the early days of the town along with Gen. George Custer), although their paths are going to cross up in Montana and again in South Dakota.

Also continually popping up is John Lattimer (Charles Bickford). He's the representative of the gun manufacturers, who made a killing during the Civil War supplying arms to the government. With the end of the war, business is going to dry up, so Lattimer has gotten the brilliant idea of running guns to the Indians, which results in a whole bunch of solders getting killed.

Hickok and Calamity Jane investigate, and get captured and tortured by the Indians, while Cody is serving with Custer (John Miljan). Cody has the great good luck of leaving Custer to search for Hickok just before Little Big Horn, saving him from the massacre, but also causing difficulty for Cody in that he left in order to bring Hickok to justice. Hickok ends up in Deadwood, SD, in time for that fateful card game with Lattimer's gun runners.

The Plainsman is a pastiche of history at best, with famous names set against the backdrop of it. Cecil B. Demille directed, and it seems he was always more concerned with spectacle than complete accuracy, or even partial accuracy. Strangely enough, however, The Plainsman is one of DeMille's more muted movies, with little of the bigness and over-the-top scenes of most of his other movies.

Cooper does as well as can be expected; he was good in a lot of genres and well-suited to the western. Jean Arthur, on the other hand, is horrendously miscast as Calamity Jane and it's interesting to watch her flounder. Ellison is a relative non-entity, and Bickford isn't bad as the bad guy.

There are a lot of other Cecil B. DeMille movies I'd recommend before The Plainsman, although I'm certainly glad I saw it.

Sunday, January 27, 2019


I wasn't expecting to do two British crime movies in close proximity after mentioning The League of Gentlemen the other day, but I wasn't thinking about that when I sat down to watch Villian.

Richard Burton plays Vic Dakin, a particularly brutal gangster. A croupier at a casino he gets protection money from has been getting ideas above his station, so Dakin and his men wait in the guy's apartment where Dakin slashes his throat to within an inch of his life and leaves the guy dangling off the balcony. Nice. Dakin goes home, where he's excessively devoted to his mother, like James Cagney in White Heat, except that Mom here (Cathleen Nesbitt) probably has no idea of what her son is doing.

Dakin's partner in crime is Wolfe (Ian McShane), a chancer who makes his living by providing all sorts of illicit services, whatever will pay the bills. That can be drugs to a nightclub, or young women for upper-class parties where the people are expecting sexual favors from the young ladies in return. Among the "respectable" people is MP Gerald Draycott (Donald Sinden), to whom Wolfe even offers his girlfriend Venetia (Fiona Lewis) at a party. Wolfe even provides services to Dakin, being a partner in more than just crime.

Anyhow, Dakin leaves Venetia at the country estate party because he's going to meet with Dakin and some other gangsters about a possible crime. A guy who's gotten into debt over a girl at a nightclub has offered information that would make a factory payroll robbery easier, earning a cool £60,000 or more. Dakin talks with Fletcher (T.P. McKenna) about it, since this is the sort of thing that's more Fletcher's area of expertise instead of Dakin's. However, the planning also brings in Fletcher's ulcerous brother-in-law Lowis (Joss Ackland), who really isn't physically up to this sort of crime any more.

Needless to say, the payroll heist doesn't quite go as expected, with Lowis ending up in bad shape and in need of hospital care, but with him also being the one who knows where the money is and unable to make the meetup with Dakin. The police, led by Inspector Matthews (Nigel Davenport) have collared Lowis, and use this to try to get at Dakin, especially after Dakin tries to blackmail Draycott into giving the police an ironclad alibi, because everybody back in 1971 would believe an MP, you see.

Villain is another of those movies that feels like it's plowing the same ground that's been done in a whole bunch of gangster movies, except that this one was done not too long after the disintegration of the Production Code. So there's a lot more violence than in earlier movies, as well as other adult situations, like Dakin's sexual relationship with Wolfe. It's finally revealed in an unintentionally hilarious scene when Venetia walks into Wolfe's apartment and realizes he's with somebody else. A few minutes later, out comes Dakin. Not what Venetia was expecting.

Even though there's relatively little new in terms of plotting, the movie is quite good thanks to the more permissively realistic 1970s atmosphere, and a daring performance from Richard Burton. The only real flaw I could find was at the very end, with Dakin getting to give some last lines I found somewhat unrealistic. But that's a minor quibble with an otherwise excellent movie.

Villain is available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Technically, The Leopard is on

FXM Retro is running The Leopard today, although by the time you read this post, you'll likely have missed it. However, the same showing is going to be on tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM.

Burt Lancaster plays Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, leader of a noble family in Sicily in 1860. If you don't remember your history, this was just before Italy became a unified nation again, and it was an era of war between the various constituent states and even civil war, which has come to Sicily as well. The prince's family pretty much supports the old order or at least wants their life of luxury to continue as it has without disruption, although his nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) supports unification, and the Prince more or less realizes his time is up.

The Prince and his family go to their summer residence , whereupon he gets involved with the local bigwig's daughter (Claudia Cardinale), whom the bigwig is trying to marry into high society. Tancredi is in love with her too, which is just one more piece of evidence for the Prince of how society is changing and he's not going to be a part of the new society. The movie goes on and on like this for over two and a half hours. It's an extremely slow movie.

I say two and a half hours vaguely because there are actually two versions of the movie. Italian director Luchino Visconti filmed it in Italy with the international cast, making an Italian-language version (with Lancaster's dialog dubbed) that ran a little over three hours. However, Fox had picked it up for distribution in America (I'm assuming for reasons having to do with the Cleopatra money sink), and released a version that was about 25 minutes shorter, and dubbed in English, with Lancaster providing his own dialogue here. As best I could tell Lancaster must have been delivering his dialog on set in English, as it looks as though his dialogue matches his lips. I'm not a very good lip reader, but everybody else's dialog was badly off.

In addition to the dubbing and the cuts, there was also the problem for me that the FXM print is both letterboxed and pillarboxed. I think it's in the proper aspect ratio, but if you have a small TV, beware that the image is going to look really tiny. That having been said, the image looks like it would be pretty darn good on the big screen

Criterion released this one to DVD and Blu-Ray, with their edition both Visconti's 185-minute version (there were earlier longer versions although Visconti supposedly preferred the 185-minute version) and the dubbed American release. Of course, being Criterion, it's quite pricey.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Eclipse Series

Four years ago, I did a post on The League of Gentlemen, and mentioned that it was available on a four-film box set. I'll assume I was referring this Eclipse Series set from Criterion, as it's the only one availalbe. I forgot I had done the review on the movie four years ago, and when I noticed that this box set was available, I picked it up.

I watched The League of Gentlemen with the intention of doing a full-length post on it, and when I realized I had already done that, I decided to revise and extend some of the comments I was thinking about making about the quality of the box set itself, something that I don't often do but is something I probably ought to do a bit more for box sets.

Most of Criterion's films are pricey, but the Eclipse series sets that I've bought (this one and one on 40s Kurosawa) are relatively much less expensive. The reason for that is presumably the almost complete lack of extras, certainly none on the disc of The League of Gentlemen; I haven't watched the other discs. Each disc comes in its own case, which is narrower than a normal case for a regular standalone DVD, although I think not as thin as the ones in the Carmen Miranda box set I bought some time back. The case inserts also have much more extensive liner notes than on most movies.

The "box" itself is just a carboard wrapper, open on both the top and bottom, although the discs seem to fit in fairly snugly so that there's no big risk of them falling out. Or, at least, no more risk than on most of the other box sets which are open to the spines of the cases. The card stock also feels a bit thinner than on other box sets. It could be a little better, but it could also be a lot worse.

I didn't note anything wrong with the print that would have stood out to me, the way I've seen with the prints from, say, Alpha Video. Those, of course, are public domain movies and for the price they're charging, you really ought to. Anyhow, I stuck the DVD in the player on my computer to take some screenshots to let you judge for yourself. The subtitles were on by default, although it wasn't that way on the DVD player hooked up to my TV. I assume that's the computer doing the subtitles; I didn't try the subtitles on my TV.

Jack Hawkins popping out of a manhole at the beginning of the movie

Jack Hawkins speaking to the assembled men

For the price and for the movies in the set, I'd certainly recommend the set. I haven't gotten around to watching any of the Kurosawa DVDs yet, and I'll have to see what other Eclipse Series sets are available.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #237: Movies You Walked Out Of

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 You Walked Out Of". For me, the theme is going to be slightly different, in that as I don't actually go to the theater very often to see movies, I don't actually walk out of movies. Instead, I'm picking three movies that I DVRed or watched on TV that I found so bad that I gave up the first time I tried to watch them:

The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969). Katharine Hepburn plays a woman living in Paris who finds that a group of wealthy men are trying to buy up the oil rights under the city. She tries to put a stop to it. Hepburn is playing the same obnoxious character she did in Bringing Up Baby, a selfish blankety-blank who doesn't care about anybody else, and the whole farce is so unfunny I gave up on it.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977). Diane Keaton plays a teacher of deaf children who had a very devout Catholic upbringing and, now that she's an adult, she wants to escape from that, which she does by going from bar to bar and engaging in a series of one-night stands. I didn't care about her character or what happened to her, and found the whole thing incredibly tedious. Well, I only found half of it tedious because I deleted it off the DVR and never watched the second half.

Being There (1979). Peter Sellers plays a mentally challenged gardener whose boss dies and who gets taken in by a big-time politico (Melvyn Douglas). Sellers' character watched a bunch of TV and speaks in idiotic platitudes that the political class thinks are genius. No, they're not; they're just plain dumb. So dumb that I shut this one off halfway through. I did eventually watch the whole thing. It didn't get any better.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Blaxploitation meets the melodramatic potboiler

Going through the movies that I put on the DVR during the Black Experience in Film spotlight from back in September, I finally got around to watching Cleopatra Jones.

Tamara Dobson plays Jones, who at the start of the movie is in Turkey with what look like members of a special Turkish military/police division tasked with fighting the war on drugs, as they're destroying a field of poppies. Cut to America, and Mommy (Shelley Winters). Apparently she had dibs on those poppies, with the obvious intention of turning them into heroin and making a kiling off the drugs. Mommy, who has a bunch of young beauties working for her and who has some odd sexual predilections, is pissed, and plans to get revenge on Cleopatra.

Cleopatra's boyfriend Reuben (Bernie Casey) helps run a halfway house for recovering drug addicts, so Mommy comes up with the brilliant idea of planting some phony evidence that that will get Reuben arrested and thwart the work of the halfway house. Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few corrupt police officers, so Mommy has no problem doing it, although it only furthers Cleopatra's drive to bring down Mommy, as well as prevent all those drugs from flowing onto the streets of the ghetto.

Meanwhile, Mommy can't sell drugs in the ghetto herself, what with the kingpins appearing to keep their hands clean and besides, who's going to buy drugs from a 50-something white woman with big hair? So she's outsourced that part of the operation to Doodlebug (Antonio Fargas), but wants to rise above his station, which means that Mommy is going to be going up against Doodlebug as well as Cleopatra. Of course, in a movie like this the men are easier to deal with....

Having dispatched Doodlebug, Mommy proceeds to the final showdown with Cleopatra, at a car junkyard, where the crusher reminded me a lot of the James Bond movie Goldfinger. Cleopatra uses her wits, as well as her skill in martial arts, to take down all the bad guys and Mommy, but you knew she was always going to come out on top.

In the title of the post, I mentioned those melodramatic potboilers, which was only in part because of the presence of Shelley Winters, whose career had already turned a few years earlier when she made What's the Matter With Helen? (well, that and Bloody Mama). But I've also come to the realization the blaxploitation and those movies like What's the Matter With Helen, over the top and starring one or another of those aging Hollywood actresses, have something in common for me.

Going back to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, a lot of thse movies had serious pretentions, although for a lot of people, the main reason to watch is for those poor old actresses having to go way over the top -- think Bette Davis and Joan Crawford going at each other, and the rat on a silver platter, and the like. The blaxploitation movies -- certainly entries like Blacula and Shaft, were trying both to produce good art and make some commentary. But for a white guy like me who was born too late to see these movies when they originally came out, I tend to find myself glossing over that facet of the movies (both with blaxploitation and the older woman melodrama). One thing that I did find myself noting, though, was the dilemma of the War on Drugs where drug use is obviously destroying this community, but the police's fighting it might be causing even more damage.

As for Cleopatra Jones, I think I'd have to say that I slightly prefer Pam Grier's heroines in Coffy and Foxy Brown. (Weaponizing one's afro will do that, I suppose.) When Cleopatra Jones is over the top fun -- and there is quite a lot of that -- it's for me more when some of the other characters are on, Doodlebug and especially Mommy. I don't know why Shelley Winters decided to take her career in the direction she did, but boy am I thankful for it. There's a string of movies where she's loud, brassy, and fun, and she turns that up even more in Cleopatra Jones. Mommy and Cleopatra are good foils for each other. The rest of the movie seems slightly toned down: Cleopatra isn't quite as over the top as the Pam Grier characters as I already mentioned, and there were also times when I was wondering whether the movie would turn into one of those 60s spy spoofs, but it never quite goes there either.

My understanding is Warner Bros. produced Cleopatra Jones in part trying to appeal to a broader audience, and it certainly is a movie that deserves to be seen more broadly. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and offers something for almost everybody.

A centenary, and TCM advertising

Yesterday or the day before, I was on the main TCM page, and there was a banner ad for a Shout Factory DVD pertaining to Ernie Kovacs.

Wouldn't you know, today is the 100th anniversary of Kovac's birth, and TCM is running a night of programming related to Kovacs. There are four movies... and three episodes of his TV comedy show, which as far as I can tell have nothing to do with the movies. If I had to guess, there's some sort of promotion going on with Shout Factory, which I would presume is for this DVD set that was released back in November. The night's line-up does have what I believe is the TCM premiere of Wake Me When It's Over at 11:30 PM, so there's that.

There's more cross-promotion going on at the end of the week. When I looked up the TCM article for the Kovas centennial, in the sidebar was another article promoting the Sunday night lineup on TCM, which is two noirs set in Los Angeles. Apparently TNT is coming out with a short series that is also a noir set in the city, so TCM is doing cross-promotion, and this time are pretty blatant about it.

At least the Screen Actors Guild Awards spotlight is more movie-related.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Briefs for January 22-23, 2019

Singer and actress Kaye Ballard died yesterday at the age of 93. I happen to be a game show fan, so on the game show forum where I saw another mention of her death, it was mentioned that she did a whole host of game shows back in the 70s. Movies were rather less frequent, although I really enjoyed The Ritz where she plays the wife of Jack Weston, who gets away from his murderous brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) by escaping to a gay bathhouse.

The Oscar nominations were announced today. I didn't pay attention because I haven't seen any of the movies and am not planning to watch the awards ceremony. I've also always wondered why they release the announcements so early in the morning Los Angeles time. I'd guess it's to be the right time in some time zone, but I don't know which one.

Hangover Square is going to be on FXM tomorrow morning at 4:35 AM. This one, Laird Cregar's final film before his untimely death, is a pretty good movie about a composer who has blackouts and does things he can't remember during them. The movie got a Blu-ray at the end of 2017, and isn't that much more expensive than the MOD DVD. If you haven't seen it before, it's well worth a watch.

I actually have a couple of movies queued up that I've watched and am going to be doing full-length reviews on, but with working the early shift and consistently waking up way early, it's thrown my whole schedule out of whack. I'm hoping to get the two done tomorrow and Friday, with Thursday being the Movie Picks blogathon.

It's been available for six years?

Yesterday I got yet another email from Amazon promoting stuff they think I might be interested in based on my previous purchases. Since I buy a lot of DVDs at Amazon, it should be unsurprising that a lot of what what I get is hawking various DVDs.

Anyhow, the most recent email included a bunch of shorts collections, with the one that jumped out at me being the Crime Does Not Pay collection. The cover art says 50 shorts on a six-disc set, although IMDb only has 48 shorts given the "Crime Does Not Pay series" keyword. I wouldn't be surprised it the people who include the keywords on IMDb overlooked two of the shorts, but I couldn't find a listing of the shorts on the DVD either at Amazon or the TCM Shop to see which two are missing from the IMDb list.

Anyhow, one of the things that surprised me is that the release date for the set was July 2012, which means that it's been available for six and a half years. How did I ever miss this one for so long?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Rooster Cogburn

Over the Thanksgiving free preview of the premium movie channels, StarzEncore Westerns ran Rooster Cogburn, so I DVRed it and recently sat down to watch it.

John Wayne reprises the Rooster Cogburn character he played six years earlier in True Grit. By this time, his violent ways have caught up with him, as the judge in Fort Smith, AR (John McIntire), which serves is the administrative center for the Indian Territory that would become what is now Oklahoma, strips Rooster of his marshal's power. But, of course, you know that he's going to get a chance to make things right, and that comes fairly quickly. The Army is shipping a wagon full of explosives, and that gets waylaid by a gang led by Hawk (Richard Jordan). Rooster gets to go into Indian Territory to find that wagon.

The trail leads quickly to Fort Ruby, which is home to a small number of Indians and a couple of missionaries, Rev. Goodnight and his daughter Eula (Katharine Hepburn). Hawk and his men overrun the place and when Rev. Goodnight tries to stop it, he gets shot for his trouble. So when Rooster shows up, Eula is insistnt that she's going to go along with him to find the men who killed her father. Rooster understandably objects, but when you're dealing with somebody like any of Katharine Hepburn's characters, good luck with that. Also along for the journey is Wolf (Richard Romancito), one of Eula's students.

They eventually get control of the wagon with the explosives, which also has a useful Gatling gun, but Hawk and his men get away. Rooster has to get the explosives back to their rightful owners, while Hawk wants to get the wagon back, and kill Rooster in revenge. Eventually, Rooster transfers the contents of the wagon to a raft for transport by river, but that winds up putting him, Eula, and Wolf more squarely in danger when you consider Hawk can take the high ground.

The fact that Rooster and Eula wind up going down a river, combined with Eula being a missionary played by Katharine Hepburn, lead a lot of people to make comparisons to The African Queen. Those comparisons are obvious, and while The African Queen is the better movie, Rooster Cogburn is by no means a bad movie. Wayne and Hepburn have great chemistry together and it's obvious that despite their differences, they wind up developing a great deal of respect for one another. The script (written by actress Martha Hyer under a pseudonym) breaks no new ground, but serves as amiable entertainment. The scenery is lovely, although there's a caveat. The movie is supposed to take place in Oklahoma, but the film was filmed largely in Oregon. It looks great on screen, but Oklahoma never had mountains like that.

If you're looking for a nice movie for a rainy or snowy day that you can sit back with a bowl of popcorn and be entertained by, Rooster Cogburn fits the bill in spades. And if you wanted to introduce people to westerns or the films of John Wayne, this one isn't a bad place to start, either. Despite the similarities to The African Queen, I can highly recommend it.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Kings Go Forth

One of my recent DVD purchases was a cheap Frank Sinatra box set, which included the movie Kings Go Forth.

Sinatra plays Lt. Sam Loggins, who is serving in the US Army late in World War II in one of the lesser-mentioned campaigns of that war, that being the one in southern France. The French Riviera has already been liberated, as the soldiers are able to go there when they get passes, but the front isn't too far away since the soldiers have to be able to drive back and forth between the front and the coast. As for the war itself, Loggins' forward unit is in need of a new radio man, and among the new soldier arrivals, Cpl. Britt Harris (Tony Curtis) announces that he knows how to operate a field radio.

Harris has a past back in the States, which is that he was a spoiled rich boy who didn't have to do real work, and wound up with no real character, which is why he decided to join the enlisted ranks instead of the officers' corps: he's trying to run away from that past and somehow make things right. But that past also causes some friction with Lt. Sam.

When Sam goes to the coast on one of his passes, he meets a nice young woman Monique (Natalie Wood) who seems to be teaching a boy English. He's surprised that she can speak English, so they strike up a conversation and have dinner together. Sam is obviously smitten with Monique, but Monique is kind of guarded about pursuing a relationship. So when Sam says she's welcome to meet him next week, He winds up being met by Monique's mother (Leora Dana). She takes him back to their palatial home, where he learns about their past, which is that Monique's mom was born in America. Eventually, though, Monique reveals a secret, which is that both of her parents were born in America and that her now-deceased father was black, which of course makes Monique mixed-race, although she looks even less mixed-race than Susan Kohner in Imitation of Life. This is supposedly why she and Sam can never have a real relationship.

Not that Britt cares. He runs into Sam and Monique one night at a jazz club, and he too is taken with Monique's beauty and, once Sam is out of the picture, he starts putting the moves on her. However, Britt having been spoiled rotten back in the States, decides that he can never marry her, although not because of her mixed-race heritage since he's broken off engagements to a whole bunch of monoracial white women back in the States. Sam, and especially Monique, react predictably very badly to Britt's selfishness.

There's still a war on, though, and the Germans haven't been dislodged, so a mission is going to have to go behind enemy lines to get a better fix on their position. As you can guess, it's Sam and Britt who get selected for the mission, even though the two of them are at each other's throats over Monique. Can they resolve their differences, and can Britt finally redeem himself?

Kings Go Forth is a movie that I found a bit of a mess, thanks mostly to a script that doesn't quite know what it wants to do. If Monique's mom could love a black man, there's no logical reason why Sam couldn't love a mixed-race woman; it's also not as if he's going back to the South after the war. And when the revelation is made about Monique's father, her mom consistently refers to him as her husband, and not by his first name, which really struck me. The ending is forced and, again, something that for me strained credulity. All three of the leads try hard, and Curtis probably comes out best, but they're all hamstrung by the script.

Still, you should always judge for yourself. Some of you may enjoy Kings Go Forth more than I did, and the box set isn't terribly expensive for the number of movies you're getting.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Last Train from Madrid

Another recent movie watch was The Last Train from Madrid.

It's Madrid sometime during the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Madrid is almost under siege (the city was occupied by the Republicans, although which side is which is not mentioned), with there only being time for one more train to get out of town before the city is sealed off. Capt. Alvarez (Anthony Quinn) is going to be responsible for getting passes for people to board the train, under the command of Col. Vigo (Lionel Atwill). Meanwhile, the military authorities, desperate for men to fight the other side, are going to let non-political prisoners fight.

This is a bit of good news for Alvarez, as one of the prisoners, de Soto (Gilbert Roland) had served with him in Spanish Morocco back in the day. So when the prisoners are being transported, Alvarez is going to get de Soto sprung and a pass on the train for him. Meanwhile, de Soto has an old girlfriend in Carmelita (Dorothy Lamour) whose house he stays at and who is also trying to escape Madrid.

Then there's the American journalist Bill Dexter (Lew Ayres) who doesn't know it, but he's going to be forced onto that trian because somebody higher up doesn't like his writing. On his way back to Madrid, he runs into Maria (Olympe Bradna), whom he drives back to Madrid but who has a past she's hiding. Two other couples get involved: young soldier Juan Ramos (Robert Cummings) who deserts because he knows he's about to be sent to his death, who meets Lola (Helen Mack); and the Baroness Helene (Karen Morley), who is involved with Michael (Lee Bowman).

The titular train doesn't show up until nearly three quarters of the way through, but that ought to leave more time for the various characters' stories to be developed. The big problem for me is that the stories didn't seem so well fleshed out. That's partly because of the short running time. IMDb claims 85 minutes; Wikipedia says 78 and that was the length of the print TCM ran. With as many stories as there are, that's not really enough time for most of them to have full story arcs. It's not that The Last Train from Madrid is bad; it just needed to be treated as a 100-minute project instead of an 80-minute programmer. Quinn, in fact, is quite good this early in his career.

The Last Train From Madrid is one of those Paramount movies that Universal got the rights to back in the 1950s, which resulted in the TCM print having an odd color "Universal pay TV" screne before the Paramount titles. It also means that the movie's DVD release cam courtesy of Universal's MOD scheme. That DVD is available at Amazon, but for some reason notat the TCM Shop, even though other Universal MOD movies like the recently mentioned Lady on a Train are.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Love-Tails of Morocco

One of the movies I watched off the DVR recently had enough time left over at the end for a short, so TCM ran the Dogville short Love Tails of Morocco.

I hadn't seen this one before, but since it's a Dogville short, you know what to expect. This one is a parody of the foreign legion movies that were popular at the beginning of the sound era. A group of dogs have run off to join the legion, all because of women. (Well, I suppose you could technically get away with calling them bitches, since they are female dogs....) Four brief stories follow of how a female dog got them in trouble and how they had to join the Foreign Legion to get away from the trouble. They all foreswear women, but of course that's not going to happen.

Personally, I've preferred some of the other entries in the series, especially The Dogway Melody and Trader Hound. Love-Tails of Morocco isn't exactly bad; it's just that putting four vignettes into a short doesn't really work here since you've already got the gimmick of having the dogs play human roles.

MGM has released all of the Dogville shorts on their own set.

Bits and pieces

When news of Carol Channing's death hit the other day, somebody mentioned that she had been a celebrity player on multiple versions of both Password and The Hollywood Squares. The Hollywood Squares clips I found look to be in relatively poor condition, but I found this episode of Channing on Password, with a celebrity you wouldn't necessarily think of as doing game shows:

I recall reading that Joan Crawford also did Password at some point early in its run, and unsurprisingly, that episode is also on Youtube:

The thumbnail unwittingly captures such a great expression to go with the password.

And not Youtube but unfortunately GIFs substituting for video (which I hate because they don't work for me on Twitter and because most of them are wastes of bandwidth that are never as funny as the people creating them think they are), somebody came up with the idea of a compliation of old movie clips of women ogling men. Things haven't changed in 80 years, have they?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #236: 2018 movies

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 movies of 2018, which should be difficult for me since I didn't actually go to the movie theater once in 2018, in part because I'm a cheapskate who's interested in old movies, and in part because the local sixtyplex shut down over the summer. So I took a slightly different tack:

A Star Is Born (1937). Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) goes to Hollywood, meets actor Norman Maine (Fredric March) and marries him, and becomes a success. At the same time, Norman becomes an alcoholic whose career goes down the tubes. Remade multiple times, most recently in 2018 with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

Mary Poppins (1964). Julie Andrews becomes umbrella-wielding governess to an Edwardian couple's (David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns) children who captivates the kids through crappy songs; Dick Van Dyke plays her best friend as well as Tomlinson's boss in a dual role. Remade/rebooted in 2018 as Mary Poppins Returns.

Overboard (1987). Handyman Kurt Russell goes to work for nasty Goldie Hawn on her yacht. She suffers an accident and becomes an amnesiac, changing her personality as the two fall in love. Remade in 2018 with the genders switched (ie. a woman employee and a spoiled brat rich guy who gets amnesia). I didn't even know there was a remake until one of the cast members (Fernando Luján, who plays the patriarch from what I understand), died last week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Made for Each Other (1939)

A few weeks back I mentioned the 1971 movie Made for Each Other, and how it shares a title with, but is unrelated to, the 1939 movie Made for Each Other. TCM ran the 1939 movie not long after, and it's available on DVD and Blu-ray, so I DVRed it and watched it.

James Stewart plays John Mason, a lawyer for a big New York firm. He had to go to Boston to get a deposition, and while there, he met Jane (Carole Lombard). It was love at first sight, as they got married during his business trip and John returns to the office to everybody's surprised well wishes. Not everybody is so certain the marriage is going to work however, among them John's boss Judge Doolittle (Charles Coburn) and John's mother (Lucile Watson).

Still, the newlyweds try to make a go of it despite the obstacles and hardships they're going to face. A lot of them center on money, as John is only earning enough for the couple to scrape by rather than to live in the upper-middle class lifestyle Jane thinks a New York lawyer should be living. They have a dinner party that goes wrong; John loses out on a promotion to partner at the firm; and Jane keeps pestering John to put the marriage ahead of work by getting a continuance so that they can take a honeymoon.

And then the two have a kid, which puts even more of a financial strain on the marriage. If that's not bad enough, the movie veers way off into melodrama when the kid gets sick....

By the time the infant child got sick, I found myself thinking of two other movies, Penny Serenade and Mildred Pierce, the latter because the kid has pneumonia and is in an oxygen tent. When they showed that, I was actually hoping the kid would die (as in Mildred Pierce) so that we'd get the same obstacles for the married couple as in Penny Serenade. Instead, we get a climax of trying to get serum across the country through a snowstorm, which frankly left my eyes rolling.

Carole Lombard is best known for all those screwball comedies she made, but in Made for Each Other she shows that she really was a talented actress who could do more than just comedy, as there is very little comedy here. The supporting cast also does a good job, including Louise Beavers in yet another maid role. The problem is that they're all saddled with a sappy script.

Overall, I think I'd marginally recommend Made for Each Other for people to see Lombard's against-type performance. But in that case, I'd also recommend Penny Serenade more heartily for Cary Grant's against-type performance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Carol Channing, 1921-2019

Carol Channing romantically paired with a young Clint Eastwood in The First Traveling Saleslady (1956)

Channing trying to woo Frankie Avalon in Skidoo (1968)

Of course, Channing, who died today aged 97, is better known for her roles on Broadway and her singing, so I'll include a couple of musical numbers. First, from the aforementioned The First Traveling Saleslady, there's "A Corset Can Do a Lot for a Lady":

She also sang the title song from Skidoo in a bizarre finale:

Monday, January 14, 2019

James Stewart vs. Robert Mitchum

Tonight at 8:00 PM, TCM is running a documentary that I hadn't heard of before: James Stewart, Robert Mitchum: The Two Faces of America.

James Stewart and Robert Mitchum died one day apart in July 1997, and they made one movie together, the 1970s version of The Big Sleep. According to the synopses of the documentary I've read, the man who made it claims that the different images of the two actors: Stewart as the all-American good guy and Mitchum as the bad-boy image of traditional masculinity (at least, those are my impressions of the two actors' images; I of course haven't seen the documentary) are a metaphor for the two faces of America.

I was wondering if the documentary was being distributed by the same people who distributed the Frankenstein documentary that TCM ran back in October. A brief internet search brings up this site distributing it; a search doesn't bring up the Frankenstein documentary from last October.

The rest of the night's TCM lineup is a mix of Stewart and Mitchum films, not including The Big Sleep.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


A movie that FXM pulled out of its vault to show for the first time in years is Hombre. It's going to be on FXM tomorrow at 11:15 AM, again on Tuesday, and a couple more times next week.

The movie starts off in the mountains of Arizona, where some Apache who aren't living on the reservation are making a living rounding up horses for the stage company to use. Except that the stage line, run by Mendez (Martin Balsam), is going to be shutting down since the railroad is coming to town. Mendez wanted to see one of the Apache, too, except that this is actually a white man who was raised by the Apache. John Russell (Paul Newman) had a foster father in town, and Mendez informs him that Dad died and left him an inheritance. Perhaps this would be a good time to rejoin white society.

Russell learns that he's inherited a boarding house managed by Jessie (Diane Cilento) who lives there with her lover, the town sheriff Braden (Cameron Mitchell). It's not anything you'll get rich off of, but it'll provide a living. Except that Russell doesn't want to be burdened by it, so he plans to sell, and since the will made no provisions for Jessie, she's out of luck too.

Meanwhile, the Favors (Fredric March and Barbara Rush) show up at the stage line, looking for the next stage to Bisbee. Mendez informs them that the stage is closed, and nothing is available, but Mrs. Favor keeps insisting that she'll go to great lengths to make certain they get a stage and they're on it, even buying it and the horses if necessary. Eventually, Mendez relents. He and his assistant Billy are on the stage, along with Billy's wife, Russell, Jessie, the Favors, and Cicero Grimes (Richard Boone), who has wangled his way onto the coach by being a complete jerk.

Of course, Grimes has good reason for wanting to be on that stage, which is that he plans to rob it with the help of some men on the outside. He knows that Favor has a bunch of money on him. Favor, it turns out, is the Interior Department Indian agent who administered the Apache reservation, and has a whole bunch of money that he embezzled from underdelivering on the Apache's meat rations. He's planning to abscond to Mexico with that money. Russell, having been raised by the Apache and having seen what federal mismanagement did to the Apache, really doesn't like Favor.

But once the stage has been held up and the passengers are left there stranded, Russell is pretty much the only one who has any competence in getting everybody out of the situation alive. He's willing to set off alone, but the others at least have the sense to realize they need his help and thus follow him.

There's really nothing wrong with Hombre, although because of my predisposition against westerns, I'm sure that other people will rate it even higher than I would. I find it good, if not great, with a relatively slow build up: it runs 110 minutes and probably could have been done in 90. Newman is quite good, even if he in now way could pass as anything but white. Cilento also does well as a woman whose life experiences have inured her to the hardship of life in the old west: it's just the way things are that you're going to have to scratch and claw to make your way in life. Balsam is even more miscast as a Mexican but does the best he can, and Boone is thoroughly slimy and nasty.

Hombre is out of print on DVD as far as I can tell, so you're going to have to catch the cable showings. I recorded it off of StarzEncore Westerns, and their print had an oddity. The credits were in something close to the Cinemascope aspect ratio, although this one was filmed in Panavision. After the credits, however, the print is slightly less rectangular, but with an aspect ratio greater than the 16:9 (about 1.78:1) of today's TVs, since the print is still letterboxed. It just that the top and bottom bars are narrower than during the credits. The picture looked slightly less crisp on my TV, but I've also got a 10-year-old TV. I have no idea what the print FXM is using will look like.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Winter Light

I've mentioned before that there are people who reflexively mark down foreign films on the grounds that they tend to be pretentious. I don't think that's necessarily the case as much as the fact that the foreign films we get are a small portion of other countries' output, and the critics and arthouse owners whose opinions drive what foreign films get screened tend to have a rather different point of vew from the average viewer. A good example of this is Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light.

Gunnar Björndtstand plays Tomas Ericsson, a Lutheran paster in a small rural parish in western Sweden. He's got a small and dwindling congregation, and for the most part he seems to be going through the motions. After the current Sunday service, he talks about celebrating the liturgy at the other church in the parish. But first he has to deal with a couple of people coming to see him.

One is Märta (Ingrid Thulin). She's a teacher at the local school, and ever since Tomas' wife died some years back, she's had the hots for him, somehow thinking he needs a woman to take care of him and love him. The other is a couple, fisherman Jonas (Max von Sydow) and his wife Karin (Gunnel Lindblom). Karin is worried about her husband because he's become discouraged after seeing what the modern world has become, specifically with China's push to acquire nuclear weapons.

Tomas tries to comfort Jonas, but he realizes that God is silent and that he doesn't have the words to comfort anybody any more. It's a distressing fact for Tomas, and it certainly doesn't help Jonas and Karin. So Jonas responds by shooting himself in the head. Märta now feels more than ever that Tomas needs her smothering love.

I hope you can tell by my synopsis that I didn't particularly care for this movie. The big thing is that I found all of the characters to be people whom I at best didn't care about, and at worse actively hated, and not in the hissable way a good movie villain can be hated. Winter Light is the sort of movie that doesn't have any villains. Märta is the worst, though, in that I found her clingy and controlling to the point that I wanted Tomas to push her aside.

Still, Winter Light is the sort of movie that all the people who write reviews for IMDB and other places just love. It's available on a pricey Criterion Collection DVD (actually, I think part of a box set), so if you want to judge for yourself, you can.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Brass Target

On December 21, 1945, General George Patton died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash. The 1970s were a period when conspiracy theory books and movies were a big thing, so it is perhaps not surprising that somebody would revisit Patton's death and suggest that it was not a car accident, but an assassination. After all, Patton did have quite a few political opponents. Anyhow, that novel was adapted into the movie Brass Target.

George Kennedy plays General Patton, who at the beginning of the movie is dealing with a pretty substantial problem. A train of Reichsbank gold that was being transported for safekeeping to Frankfurt was waylaid in a tunnel, and the $250 million in gold (quite a sum for 1945) stolen. Worse, the US Army soldiers guarding the train were all killed. So you can see why Patton would want to find out who did it. Plus, the Soviets aren't happy with him.

The first suspect is Maj. Joe De Lucca (John Cassavetes). De Lucca was a former member of US military intelligence, and he came up with the plan for stealing Nazi gold from the Nazis that was used by somebody else to steal the Nazi gold from the Americans. Since military justice doesn't work quite like the innocent until proven guilty of the American system, especially in an occupation zone, De Lucca decides that he'd better investigate the case himself and figure out who did it in order to prove that he didn't.

We learn fairly early that it's an inside job, as a group of OSS men led by Col. Rogers (Robert Vaughn) is behind the heist. Worse, when Maj. De Lucca meets his old girlfriend Mara (Sophia Loren). She discovers that another former boyfriend, Shelley Webber (Max von Sydow), now of a refugee resettlement organization in Switzerland, is really a professional assassin and is being hired by Rogers to kill Patton! Now she and De Lucca have to stop that.

Of course, we know from history that they don't prevent Patton's death, although whether or not he was assassinated is a different question. But Webber leaves a lot of carnage in his wake before the end of the movie.

Brass Target is an interesting idea, but one that doesn't quite succeed in the execution. It's slow, and has a difficult plot to follow. Kennedy has the difficult task of playing Patton when George C. Scott's bravura portrayal of the general was still fresh in the moviegoing public's memory. Kennedy does the best he can, and thankfully it's not the biggest role in the movie. Everybody else tries, but it hamstrung by the poor script.

Brass Target is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, if you want to watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #235: The Cold

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 Cold, which is appropriate since I'm trying to get over a particularly irritating cold. But I'm assuming that's not what was meant by the theme, and besides, I found it a lot easier to think of movies set in cold places than movies where characters are suffering from the sniffles. As is usually the case, this week's selections are pretty old:

Trail of '98 (1928). Silent about the Klondike gold rush and the people who try to make their fortune in gold. Ralph Forbes plays the main prospector; Dolores Del Rio is his love interest. Some of the scenes of the characters trying to get to the Klondike from where they disembark from the boats are surprisingly harrowing.

Island in the Sky (1953). John Wayne plays the pilot of a cargo transport plane which is forced to land in the cold of northern Labador. Search planes are sent out to try to find the plane, but it's a big and cold wilderness, a fact that both the men on the ground and the pilots searching for them know all too well. Will they be able to find the crew before the crew freeze to death? The movie also has a disturbing scene of Andy Devine doing a cannonball into a swimming pool.

Ice Station Zebra (1968). Rock Hudson plays the commander of a submarine who is given the orders to take a crew to the North Pole and rescue the crew of an Arctic weather station. The Soviets are going there too, and Hudson realizes there's more to the mission, although he doesn't quite know what that more is. Meanwhile, he's got a disparate bunch in his submarine crew, and fears one of them could be a double agent.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Train under a lady

One of my recent DVR watches was Lady on a Train, which is available on DVD courtesy of Universal's MOD scheme.

Deanna Durbin plays Nikki Collins, a young lady traveling from San Francisco to New York by train to visit an aunt for Christmas. Just as she's getting into New York, she looks out the window of the train when it stops briefly, into the windows of a building near the tracks. She sees... an old guy getting hit over the head with a crowbar and killed! Unfortunately, the guy doing the hitting has his back to the train, so she wouldn't be able to identify the killer. She can't even identify where it took place.

Still, she wants to do her civic duty, so she goes to the police (William Frawley in a bit part), but since she's not able to explain herself and because she's carrying a murder mystery book, the desk sergeant thinks she's nuts. At that point, Nikki gets the brilliant idea of looking up the author of the murder mystery, Wayne Morgan (David Bruce)! He lives in New York and since he writes mysteries, surely he'd be interested in trying to solve one.

Now this is absolutely ridiculous, but it's also a movie, so you know that Morgan is eventually going to get involved actively. However, his first involvement is more passive, as Nikki keeps pestering him for attention, much to his chagrin since he's got a fiancée in Joyce (Patricia Morison). But Nikki's following Wayne and Joyce around is going to bring a clue. When they all go to the movies, Nikki sees a newsreel talking about the sudden death of reclusive industrialist Josiah Waring (Thurston Hall), who died in a freak accident falling off a ladder while decorating his Christmas tree at his Long Island estate. Nikki realizes that Waring is the man she saw getting murdered!

So Nikki goes off to Waring's estate, as if she's ever going to get in. This being a Hollywood movie, she does, helped by one of Waring's nephews, Arnold (Dan Duryea). Arnold figures that Nikki must be Margo Martin, a nightclub attraction whom the dead Waring was in love with, and whom a lot of the rest of the family had serious problems with despite never having met her. Arnold is there for the reading of the will, and figures that Margo is too. Also there is Aunt Charlotte (Elizabeth Patterson), and Arnold's cousin Jonathan (Ralph Bellamy). Nikki uses the will reading as an opportunity to snoop around the mansion, which is how she gets vital clues that the elder Waring was indeed murdered.

Nikki also overhears stuff involving somebody's henchman Danny (Allen Jenkins) and Danny's boss, so it begins to get pretty clear that Waring was murdered by somebody fairly close to him, either a relative or somebody in his employ. Nikki goes around New York, notably to Margo's club the Circus Club, trying to put all the clues together and figure out who did it, while also figuring out which of the people in the Waring coterie are trying to help or hinder her.

I found Lady on a Train to be a reasonably interesting and fun mystery, although also nothing particularly outstanding. Nobody is really stretching their acting chops here, instead just focusing on professional entertainment, which they deliver. There were a few plot holes, and I don't care much for Durbin's singing, although I know audiences of the day would have gone to her movies specifically to see her sing at least one song (she gets "Silent Night" and "Night and Day" here).

If you want a new-to-you mystery, you could do far worse than to watch Lady on a Train.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Over the Counter

On one of the movies I DVRed recently, TCM had a fair amount of time left in the time slot, so they ran the two-reeler Over the Counter. As far as I can tell, it's available as one of the shorts on the first volume of Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory.

This one has a silly premise that's just an excues for a bunch of musical numbers. Mr. Drake (Sidney Toler) is a department store owner who is told by his assistant (Franklin Pangborn) that Drake's son (Emerson Treacy) has come up with an idea to boost business. He's going to replace the regular shop assistants with chorus girls in skimpy outfits, the idea being that wives can drop off their husbands at the "check your husband" station the way people would check their hats or coats at a nightclub. This will allow the wives to spend more, while the husbands are thrilled by those pretty ladies! Apparently wives overspending has been a thing for going on 90 years now.

Another idea has the store setting up "sporting" events of women trying to buy sale items, which I suppose is a precursor of the current free-for-all on Black Friday and even Thanksgiving night now that stores are getting a head start on the Christmas season. Cue some more musical numbers. Eventually Dad, perving on all those lovely ladies, decides that his son's idea has quite some merit, surprise surprise.

The songs are forgettable, but there are some interesting things about Over the Counter. One is the presence of Toler and Pangborn. The other one is that the short was done in two-strip Technicolor. I suppose it was cheaper to experiment with color on the shorts rather than the features, and since the idea o department store chorus girls is so unreal, having colors that aren't quite real isn't nearly as distracting. Besides, the pinks work well for the neon sign of the "Check Your Husband" counter.

Even if it's nothing particularly great, I'm glad I saw this one, just for how wacky and pre-Code it is.

TCM Star of the Month January 2019: Kathryn Grayson

Kathryn Grayson (r.) with Bud Abbott (l.), Lou Costello (front) and John Carroll in a still from Rio Rita (1942)

We're in the first full week of a new month, which means that it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM. This time out it's Kathryn Grayson, the oh-so-exciting operatic actress at MGM in the 1940s and 1950s. Her movies will be airing on the rest of the Tuesdays this month, four movies a night so note that they don't go all the way through to 6AM Wednesday, and to be honest those bloated MGM musicals just aren't my thing.

Tonight's lineup isn't quite so bad, since it focuses on her earlier movies from before MGM put her in starring roles in those musicals. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Andy Hardy's Private Secretary, which Grasyon as the secretary since you wouldn't expect her to play Andy Hardy now, would you. Then at 10:00 comes Rio Rita, pictured above, which has her opposite Abbott and Costello. There's interesting casting.

The other two movies are Seven Sweethearts at 11:45 PM and The Vanishing Virginian at 1:30 AM.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Stan and Ollie

I haven't seen the recent release Stan & Ollie, about the relationship between Laurel and Hardy at the end of their careers when they were doing a stage tour of the UK. I've mentioned that the local theater in my town is still closed, and besides, I doubt the movie would have made it here yet in the limited release to get in before the awards-show deadlines.

I bring it up because it's the genesis for tonight's TCM lineup. Just as TCM used the late 2017 film Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool to run a night of Grahame movies, they're using Stan & Ollie as an excuse to run a night of Laurel and Hardy's movies. I'm not certain if there is going to be anybody related to the movie sitting down with whichever TCM presenter gets tonight's hosting duties, or whether it's just going to be the TCM presenter -- I think Monday is Dave or Alicia.

Anyhow, the night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The Music Box, a half-hour short about the duo's attemt to deliver a piano up a flight of stairs. There are several shorts and features. Some people might consider Sons of the Desert (10:30) PM the best; others might pick something like Way Out West (9:15).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

You like me; you really like me

Another recent movie viewing off of my DVR was Places in the Heart.

Title cards tell us that we're in Waxahachie, TX, in 1935. (The movie was, in fact, shot in and around Waxahachie, southeast of Dallas.) Cut to the Spalding family, about to sit down to lunch. Edna (Sally Field) is the mother with two kids, son Frank and daughter Possum; she's married to Royce (Ray Baker), who's the county sheriff. Being sheriff means you get called at all sorts of odd times to deal with crime in progress, including during a family lunch. In this case, it's a drunk black guy with a gun down by the railroad tracks. The drunk shoots in the air, and then turns his gun on the sheriff, shooting him dead.

Edna is left a widow with two kids and a mortgage, and no job during the Depression. She's got a sister in Margaret (Lindsay Crouse) who is married to Wayne (Ed Harris) and making extra money using her parlor as a beauty shop. But there's not enough business for one person let alone two. The bank manager Denby (Lane Smith) suggests selling the house to pay off the mortgage and moving in with Margaret, but that's a non-starter. Eventually, Denby shows who's got the financial power by using Edna's spare room to house Denby's brother-in-law Mr. Will (John Malkovich), who is blind and has nowhere else to go except the state home for the infirm.

Also whoing up is Moze (Danny Glover), a former sharecropper's kid who, with the Depression on, is going around looking for odd jobs in exchange for a little bit of money, or room and board. Of course, he's not above stealing from Edna to make ends meet, but when the police catch Moze, Edna and Moze come up with an idea that will help both of them: they'll grow cotton on the 30 acres of land that Royce left her, and make ends meet that way. Not that Edna has any experience in agriculture, and not that the bank is thrilled about the idea; in their defense they already had a bunch of foreclosures on failed farms.

Still, Edna and Moze set out to farm the land, with Will helping out around the house in whatever way they can. It's a difficult life, and if you've watched movies like The Southerner or Cabin in the Cotton, you can imagine all the hardships that these people face. One particular difficulty comes when a tornado hits town. A lot of houses are destroyed, although at least Edna doesn't suffer as much as a lot of people.

Places in the Heart is excellent, filled with great performances. If the movie has one flaw it's that the movie is formulaic in that you can see a whole bunch of the problems Edna is going to face in her quest to become a farmer. There's also the blind guy in one key sequence seeing more than everybody else, at least insofar as he uses his hearing to infer things other people don't realize are coming. But those are minor flaws as the story, and even moreso the acting is for the most part so good as to overcome any minor flaws.

Amazon and the TCM shop both have one cheap box set with Places in the Heart on it, so I don't know how good the quality of the print is. But I'm glad the movie is at least available, as it really deserves to be seen.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Sparkle (1976)

I've been working my way through the movies that TCM ran during the Black Experience on Film back in September, and this time around, I'm up to Sparkle.

Irene Cara plays Sparkle, a young woman living in Harlem in 1958 with her two sisters Sister (Lonette McKee) and Delores (Dwan Smith), and her mother Effie (Mary Alice), who works as a maid for a rich white family out on Long Island. Sparkle and her sisters sing in the choir at the local church.

They get the chance to perform on a more commercial level when a talent show comes up, and Sparkle's friend Stix (Philip Michael Thomas) puts together a band including the three sisters and a couple of guys. They do OK, but people don't really want yet another mixed group. Stix gets the brilliant idea that an all-girl group would be together, and sets up the three sisters as Sister and the Sisters.

They're a success, but success comes with a price. Sister gets a crappy boyfriend named Satin (Tony King) who beats her and gets her into using cocaine. It more or less splits the band, especially when Stix decides he's going to get a job in construction upstate because it pays better.

But then Sister dies as a result of her cocaine use, and Stix comes home and gets the idea that he could make Sparkle a star. But he's going to need money to cut a record, and the only person he knows who could get that kind of money is Effie's boss, who gets it from some rather unsavory characters....

Sparkle isn't a bad movie, but damn if it isn't formulaic. The performances, especially young Irene Cara, are good, and the music (by Curtis Mayfield) is a big plus, even if most of it sounds like it's firmly in the 1970s instead of late-50s Harlem.

Sparkle had enough cultural resonance that some of the songs would be recorded and become hits in the 90s, while the movie itself was remade in 2012. I haven't seen the later version, so I can't compare the two.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Pin Up Girl

I've mentioned before that I'm beginning to warm up to some of the Fox musicals of the 40s, even though musicals aren't my favorite genre. So with that in mind, I DVRed Pin Up Girl when it was on FXM recently.

Betty Grable, unsurprisingly, plays the pin-up girl, here a woman named Lorry Jones. She volunteers at a USO club in Missoula, MO (yes, not Montana), what with the war on. She puts on overlong dance numbers for the solgers about to depart fro the front, gives them signed photos, and gets "engaged" to them even though she understandably doesn't mean it.

Her job is about to change, however, as she and her friend Kay (Dorothea Kent) have taken jobs in the secretarial pool at the Department of the Navy in Washington. Their schedule gives them one free day, so they take a detour to New York. As they're getting off the train, the cross paths with a returning war hero, Tommy Dooley (John Harvey). So Lorry spins a whole bunch of lies to get into the nightclub where Tommy is going to show up. That nightclub is owned by one of Tommy's old friends, Eddie (Joe E. Brown), and the current headliner is Molly (Martha Raye). Lorry, with more lies, wangles her way into performing a song by passing herself off as a broadway performer Laura Lorrain. She thinks this is all harmless because she's only going to be in town for one night and nobody is ever going to see her again.

She doesn't realize how wrong she is. Whom she she and Kay espy on their first day working in Washington DC? Why, it's Tommy Dooley! Lorry is able to fool Tommy by donning Kay's glasses. Tommy wants to meet Lorry's alter ego again, not knowing that his secretary Lorry is the same Laura he met in New York. Tommy's CO, Barney (Eugene Pallette), doesn't want Tommy cavorting with Broadway actresses.

Anyhow, Eddie opens up a new club in Washington, bringing Molly with him. And Tommy, having met "Laura" through Lorry's machinations, tries to get Laura to the club to perform. Molly doesn't like it, so she schemes against Laura. And one of the soldiers from Missoula shows up....

Pin Up Girl is, unfortunately, one of the lesser Fox musicals I've seen. Grable's character is an inveterate liar, and the nature of the lie upon lie is irritating. This isn't like Dick Powell not wanting his relatives to know he's a songwriter; Lorry is just a vindictive liar. The plot is full of holes (nobody in New York figured "Laura" was an imposter?), and worse, the musical numbers are interminable, with the songs being subpar too. Still, fluff like this is probably what audiences of the day wanted.

Pin Up Girl is on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme. It probably would do better in a box set, as I know I wouldn't pay single DVD prices for this one. Still, some of you may want to judge for yourself the next time it shows up on FXM.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

There was a crooked man...

Quite some time ago I recorded There Was a Crooked Man off of TCM, but I never did a post on it since it turns out that the movie is out of print on DVD. It's going to be on TCM tomorrow morning at 9:45 AM, so now is your chance to catch it.

Kirk Douglas plays Paris Pitman, whom we see at the beginning of the movie leading a gang that robs a wealthy rancher's house. Although he's ruthless, killing other members of his gang who survive the heist so that he'll be the only one with the money, he's also charming in that he suggests his victims just let him be done quickly so they can get back to their hot dinner before it cools. Anyhow, Pitman winds up with a whole bunch of money that he hides in a rattlesnake pit out in the mountains. He's the only one who knows where it is, and even if anybody else got the idea that it was there, they probably wouldn't know about the rattlesnakes. However, he gets caught back in town.

Cut to scenes of other criminals getting caught. Coy (Michael Blodgett) is a young man who accidentally kills his girlfriend's father. Cyrus (John Randolph) is a phony preacher with has assistant Dudley (Hume Cronyn). There's Chinese killer Ah-Ping (C.K. Yang), and Floyd (Warren Oates), who shoots the sheriff Lopeman (Henry Fonda). All of them get transported to a prison in the middle of nowhere in the Arizona territory, where they're put in the same room as veteran bank robber the Missouri Kid (Burgess Meredith).

Pitman, of course, thinks only of breaking out so that he can get to all that money he's got stashed away. The Missouri Kid, however, points out that it's going to be nearly impossible to escape. Not that it's going to stop Pitman from plotting. Of course, prison is a violent place, so there's a melee in which the warden, Le Goff (Martin Gabel), gets killed.

The new warden is... Lopeman, who takes a decided interest in Pitman. Lopeman seems to take an interest in actually reforming these prisoners (good luck with that), and he also wants to know where all that stolen loot is. Not that Pitman is going to tell him. But Lopeman sees Pitman's charisma, and sets Pitman to helping build a new mess hall for the men. Pitman sees that as his opportunity to organize a breakout....

Westerns have never been my favorite genre, and the more I watch, the more I find that I have a difficult time with a lot of the westerns from the beginning of the post-Code era. With that in mind, I had a good deal of problems with There Was a Crooked Man. It started off with the terrible and irritating title song, sung by Trini Lopez over the opening credits. The movie tries to be a comic western, but I found that for me most of the humor missed its mark. And it's also a terribly slow buildup to the climax.

Still, I always like to suggest that other people judge for themselves when I don't much like a movie. People who like westerns, especially 70s westerns, may enjoy this one.

Thursday Movie Picks #234: Place Name in Title

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is movies with a place name in the title, which isn't all that difficult. So I decided to go with a theme within a theme in picking my three movies this week:

The Man from Laramie (1955). James Stewart plays a man who shows in a small town in Apache territory, where everything is owned by cattle baron Donald Crisp, his evil son Alex Nicol, and adopted son Arthur Kennedy. He doesn't let on that he's looking for the people who sold guns to the Apaches, guns that were used to kill his brother. Along the way, he gets involved in the family disputes within Crisp's family and gets the people in town who are afraid of Crisp to change their ways.

The Man from Snowy River (1982). Tom Burlinson plays a young man in the Australian outback in the 1880s who has to take a job on a ranch owned by Kirk Douglas after his father is killed in an accident and their horses are lost. Burlinson falls in love with Douglas' daughter which causes all sorts of problems. The other problem is that Douglas' ranch owner character has a brother he hasn't seen in years (Douglas in a dual role) living up in the mountains where Burlinson and his dad lived. The young man can redeem himself by rescuing a bunch of horses.

That Man from Rio (1964). Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a French soldier on leave whose girlfriend (Françoise Dorléac) gets involved in international intrigue when she's kidnapped by people looking for the location of a statuette her archaeologist father dug up. He follows her from Paris to Rio de Janeiro, and then around Brazil. The original French title, L'homme de Rio, probably ought to be translated at The Man from Rio, fitting it into the theme-within-a-theme, but as it is it's close enough.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Velvet of color

Another of my recent movie viewings was Blue Velvet.

The movie starts off with some artificial-looking scenes of a small town, Lumberton, NC, being idyllic. (The movie was filmed in Lumberton and Wilmington, about an hour and a half away.) Suddenly, an older man watering his lawn suffers a heart attack, causing the man's son Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) to return home from college to visit the stricken man.

Jeffrey can't be at his father's side the whole time, so he goes for walks around, and it's on one of those walks that he finds something shocking that's going to change his life: a severed human ear! He takes it to the police, as ke knows detective John Williams (George Dickerson) through Williams' daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). Williams suggests that Jeffrey not discuss the case with anyone, while a trip to the morgue reveals that there haven't been any dead bodies coming in missing an ear.

Jeffrey isn't really satisfied, so he enlists Sandy's help. A little bit of researching suggests that a lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosselini) might have something to do with the case, so Jeffrey comes up with a ruse to get into Dorothy's apartment and get a copy of the key. However, when he comes back that night he misses Sandy's signal that Dorothy is on her way up, and Jeffrey gets trapped in Dorothy's apartment, hiding in her closet.

Unsurprisingly, Dorothy finds Jeffrey, but before they can finish hashing out why Jeffrey is there, Dorothy gets a visit from Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Dennis is a psychopath who huffs ether and is using Dorothy for his own sexual plaything, even though she's married. Jeffrey pieces things together and gets the impression that Dorothy's husband and son have been kidnapped by Frank and his men for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Jeffrey investigates further.

Blue Velvet was directed by David Lynch, which is a sign that you're in for something out of the ordinary. The story is mostly good and, although it has a few logic holes, would mostly work as a standard-issue mystery. Lynch, of course, turns it into something else, a trip into a strange, depraved world. Dorothy doesn't want to have sex with Frank, but she seems perfectly willing to get it on with Jeffrey, something which would destroy Sandy if she found out.

There's also the trip into Frank's psychopathic world, which involves a bizarre visit to a man Ben (Dean Stockwell) who sings a demented version of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams". Why anybody would want to be one of Frank's henchmen is, however, left unexplained. I was also beginning to wonder whether Mr. Williams was a corrupt cop in with Frank.

The story would stand on its own, and I didn't really have much of a problem with the extremely adult sexual themes or even Frank's depravity. The one thing that really bothered me, however, was Lynch's direction, which at times comes across as deliberately stilted and distracting from the story. The opening scenes (reprised at the end) are one example, as is the finding of the ear. This, however, is Lynch's style, which may not be to everybody's taste.

My first experience with David Lynch was back in the early 1990s when Twin Peaks was all the rage. I was in college at the time, and large groups of students would gather together and watch together in the dorm lounges, since TVs in individual rooms weren't much of a thing. I could never get what people saw in Twin Peaks. I've never seen the movie that wrapped up the story lines from the show, and reading some reviews of Blue Velvet, I see I'm by far not the only person who didn't get Twin Peaks.

Blue Velvet stands on its own, however, as a visually and narratively interesting mystery. It may not be for everybody, but it will certainly interest a lot of people.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

I haven't done a birthday post in a while

So TCM is doing one for me. I looked through the archives, and it looks as though the last time I did a post to mark somebody's birthday for reasons other than there being a programming salute to it was for Alice Brady back at the beginning of November.

Anyhow, today marks the centenary of Carole Landis, the beauty of the 1940s whose career faded even before her early death at the age of 29. Her big break came when she was cast opposite Victor Mature in the prehistoric One Million B.C., which TCM is running tonight at 11:15 PM. So, as you've probably guessed by now, TCM is spending the entire evening with Landis' movies.

I'll assume they couldn't get I Wake Up Screaming from Fox, since that one isn't on. Either that, or they actually chose to get It Happened in Flatbush (8:00 PM) instead to kick off the night. Another Fox movie I wouldn't have minded seeing them get is Four Jills in a Jeep.

They also gott A Scandal in Paris (overnight at 3:45 AM), a biopic more or less of Eugène Vidocq (George Sanders), who founded modern detective practices in early 19th century France. It's actually a pretty good movie thanks in no small part to the presence of Sanders.

The rest of tonight's lineup includes Turnabout at 9:30 PM; Topper Returns at 12:45 AM; and Having Wonderful Crime at 2:30 AM.