Thursday, February 28, 2019

André Previn, 1929-2019

Composer and conductor André Previn, who won four Oscars over the course of his career, has died at the age of 89.

Previn, who came to the US as a child to escape Nazi Germany, started his Hollywood career while still a teenager and wrote a whole bunch of movie scores until deciding to focus on other aspects of his musical career after the 1960s. Among the memorable movies he scored were Bad Day at Black Rock, The Catered Affair, and Elmer Gantry. IMDb also lists It's Always Fair Weather, which if I'm not mistaken is going to be part of TCM's tribute night to director Stanley Donen in a few weeks' time.

Previn's second marriage, to Dory (née Langan) produced this memorable song from Valley of the Dolls:

Previn was also married to actress Mia Farrow.

Thursday Movie Picks #242: Book to TV Adaptations (TV Edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday in February, it's time for another TV edition. This month, the theme is TV series adapted from books. It's a theme that we did in January 2018, and I mention that because one of my picks that time around is relevant. Jeraldine Saunders died on Monday at the age of 95 (some sources say 96). Among her careers was as a cruise director, and the book she wrote about it was the genesis for the long-running TV show The Love Boat. Anyhow, this time out I picked three TV shows that were first books, and then movies, before becoming TV shows:

Peyton Place (1964-1969). Grace Metalious wrote the book Peyton Place and published it in 1956, with it being a huge hit for its scandalous story lines. Fox turned it into a movie in 1957, starring Lana Turner, and did a sequel a few years later. ABC brought it to the small screen for five seaons.

Flamingo Road (1980-1982). Robert Wilder wrote the book about a seamy town in Florida back in the early 1940s, and at the end of the decade, it was turned into a movie at Warner Bros. as a vehicle for Joan Crawford. It's one of those delightfully over-the-top post Mildred Pierce star turns for Crawford. Anyhow, with the success of shows like Dallas at CBS, NBC wanted something to compete, and picked this property. It didn't last very long.

The New Land (1974). Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg wrote a series of novels under the series title The Emigrants in the late 1940s and early 1950s, about mid-19th century Swedish emigrants to the US. They were turned into two movies in the early 1970s, The Emigrants about the emigration to America, and The New Land (recently reviewed here) about the family's struggle to succeed in America. The basic idea from the latter movie was taken for this short-lived TV series starring a young Kurt Russell.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Black Girl

I've been slowly working my way through the movies I recorded during TCM's "Black Experience on Film" spotlight that ran last September, and I think I've gotten to the last of the movies I DVRed: Black Girl, which was part of a night of movies about non-American blacks.

Directed by the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene, the movie tells the story of Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), who at the start of the movie is getting off a plane in the south of France, having flown there from Dakar to take on her new job as maid to Monsieur (Robert Fontaine) who picked her up, and his wife Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek). Diouana is looking forward to improving her lot in life and perhaps getting to see some of the big wide world outside of the small section of Dakar that's been her universe all her life.

But it doesn't seem to be such a happy life for Diouana. She keeps wondering, in a series of voiceovers, where the children are and when she's going to start being a nursemaid instead of a housemaid. We learn in a series of flashbacks that Diouana had worked for this family when they were stationed in Dakar doing whatever it was the husband did for a living (that's not clearly explained). In Dakar, Diouana's job was to take the kids to and from school and look after them the rest of the time; obviously, that's what she's expecting to do now that she's in France. But the kids aren't there.

One of the things I wondered why there wasn't any sort of a contract, although part of that has to do with the fact that Diouana is illiterate as are most of the people in her world back in Dakar. There's a public letter writer who obviously wrote the letter that Diouana's mother sent. Mom is none too pleased, wondering why she hasn't heard from her daughter, and no small part of that is that Monsieur and Madame are treating her rather shabbily.

Diouana responds to that treatment by becoming increasingly listless and passive-aggressive, rebelling by basically going on strike without saying it. It eventually results in, well, I won't say since that would be giving away the whole point of the story.

I found Black Girl to be a generally interesting, if uneven movie. Diouana's voiceovers give it a sort of docudrama feel, which I think works well for the movie. The cinematography stands out, both in Senegal and France. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the look at the bathroom and kitchen in the apartment in France. I've begun to think that kitchens in contemporary movies are a good way of showing the prosperity (or lack thereof) of the times. The kitchen here is tiny, even for a seeming middle-class family, and the exposed pipes are something I can't imagine seeing in any American house today.

The movie did, for me at least, have some plot holes, such as why Diouana didn't send her salary back to Africa once she finally got it. The bigger one, though surrounds the children. I'd guess they were at boarding school or something, but when Diouana does finally get to look after them, there's only one of the three! What happened to the other too.

Black Girl is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, which means it's especially pricey for a movie this short (just under an hour). The print TCM ran was quite good, and I would guess that it's the same print on the DVD.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

To hell with Hitler

A couple of months back, TCM ran a night of movies starring a British entertainer I hadn't heard of before, George Formby. Formby was a ukulele-strumming singer/comic actor who was extremely popular during World War II, as can be seen in a movie like Let George Do It!. (One of the few Formby movies to get a release in the US, it was re-titled To Hell With Hitler on this side of the Atlantic.)

Formby plays George Hepplewhite, the ukulele player for a combo known as the Dinky Doos. His band has just arrived in Southampton, where they're informed that they've got a job up in Blackpool. However, as the war has recently begun, there's a blackout on and gettin to the train is going to be a bit of a pain. Meanwhile, there's a band in Bergen, Norway (Norway not yet having been occupied by the Nazis at the time the film was made) led by Mendez (Garry Marsh) which has just lost its ukulele player, who got shot. He's called for a replacement, too. As you can guess, George gets separated from his band and winds up on the ship to Bergen with the liaisons thinking George is the other ukulele player.

This is a bit of a problem: Mendez is actually working with the Nazis, somehow using his radio broadcasts to send coded messages to the U-boat commanders who then use that code to torpedo British shipping in the North Sea that would otherwise bring vital supplies to Britain. (Obviously, the filmmakers didn't know about the Enigma cipher.) When George gets to Bergen, he's met by hotel desk clerk Mary (Phyllis Calvert), who is going to be George's contact with British intelligence. George doesn't know, of course, that he was brought in with the thinking that he was the spy for Britain, but once he finds out what's going on wth Mendez, he accepts the assignment because, after all, everybody has to do their duty.

Of course, George foils the Nazi plot, singing a couple of songs along the way and having a lot of comedic mishaps. Probably the most interesting is a dream sequence in which he balloons into a Nazi party congress and socks Hitler in the face. I can imagine the reaction that engendered in British audiences of the day. Watch also for a young Bernard Lee playing a boat passenger who gets into it with George both on the boat and then later at the hotel.

How much you like Let George Do It! will probably depend on how much you like Formby's brand of comedy and his musical stylings. Neither are quite my thing, although that doesn't mean I'm saying I didn't like the movie. It's more that people who do like those aspects will like the movie even more. It's certainly an interesting look at an aspect of World War II that we in America don't get much of a look at, that being the contemporary view of the British home from from their own perspective. There's a lot of stuff from after the war, and some vintage Hollywood stuff, but the British stuff doesn't show up all that much here.

The DVD was released by Reel Vault, which as far as I can tell is putting out bare-bones DVDs that may be gray market, but aren't getting a release anywhere else in the US. (I've mentioned them before with It Always Rains on Sunday and a couple of others.) When I checked over the weekend it was available on the TCM Shop even though I could swear when I had checked some other times it wasn't. I did a search for Reel Vault and found some other places selling the DVD too, which had different cover art from what the TCM Shop shows. So take that as a precaution.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Bachelor Flat

So, over the weekend I watched Bachelor Flat, having taped it off of FXM. It's on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme should you want to watch it too.

Terry-Thomas plays Prof. Patterson, an paleontology professor at a college in California. All the co-eds love him simply because he's British, and they're disappointed to find out that he's getting married to fashion designer Helen Bushmill (Celeste Holm). As for Patterson, he's currently renting his fiancée's beach house while she's away in Paris. Patterson has also let a law student, Mike Pulaski (Richard Beymer), live in a trailer on the property.

Trouble comes for the good professor when a young woman, Libby (Tuesday Weld) shows up at the house. She acts as if she knows the place, and she's obviously looking for Helen. So when she discovers there's a strange man in the house, she has no idea what's going on. Now, if both of them could just have told the truth, things would have been so much easier. But no.

It turns out that Libby is actually Helen's daughter, and that Helen never bothered to tell her fiancé that she was previously married and has a teenaged daughter. Helen also never bothered to tell her daughter that Mom was going to get remarried. Now, at least Libby has one slight reason to lie, which is that she's run away from boarding school. But still.... Meanwhile, Mike has been using the good professor as a way to attract girlfriends. Apparently, they'd all rather be around the professor than around Mike, so while Libby is there, another woman, Gladys (Francesca Bellini) shows up.

It goes on like this, with nobody being honest to each other, until Helen returns home from Paris. There's also a subplot about the professor's dinosaur bone, which Mike's dachshund wants, and a possible grant to go digging for bones, which the professor hopes to do on his honeymoon.

Frankly, I didn't care much for Bachelor Flat at all. It had the feel of one of those terrible "generation gap" movies, with Terry-Thomas and Holm trying to act hip around the young ones, with everybody lying their way through everything. I've mentioned on several occasions how I dislike what I refer to as the "comedy of lies", where characters tell one lie and them compound the problem by telling bigger and bigger lies. It rarely works, and then combine it with the older stars (especially Holm) being way out of their element. Beymer also has no charisma.

Some of you may like it, as there's some nice early 60s set design, and this genre may actually appeal to some people. It just doesn't appeal to me, but judge for yourself.

Sunday, February 24, 2019


With the recent news of the death of Stanley Donen, I decided that I would sit down and watch my DVD of Arabesque from the four-film Gregory Peck at Universal collection and do a fuller review than the one-paragraph mention I gave it some years back.

An opening scene involving an elderly professor getting killed at an eye doctor's office sets the scene that we're in for some sort of espionage. Cut to Prof. Pollock (Gregory Peck), a professor of Egyptology at a British university. The same eye doctor who killed the first professor approaches Pollock, offering him a job decoding some hieroglyphics, but Pollock wants more specifics.

One day after class he goes for his daily jog, which is where Pollock gets waylaid by a Rolls-Royce. That Rolls-Royce has as one of its passengers Prime Minister Jena (Carl Duering). He knows about the paper with the hieroglyphics on it, and that those must be some sort of code for what an opposition businessman, Beshraavi (Alan Badel), is doing. So the Prime Minister would like those hieroglyphics translated. (You'd think that Beshraavi already knows what he's going to do and thus wouldn't need the hieroglyphics translated, but I'm guessing that Beshraavi would have thought that hieroglyphics reveal what somebody else knows about him.)

Beshraavi is a ruthless businessman, keeping a peregrine falcon to go after anybody who is disloyal to him, so Pollock knows he's a sort of prisoner in Beshraavi's house. Also there is Yazmin (Sophia Loren), Beshraavi's lover and a mysterious woman. She realizes that Pollock is in over his head and in danger, suggesting that he try to get away with the piece of paper with the hieroglyphics. When he does, Beshraavi sends one of his men to try to kill Pollock and Yazmin.

They are able to flee to seeming safety, but it turns out there's another faction, led by Yussef Kasim (Kieron Moore) who also wants that paper. It all goes on like this until Pollock is able to determine the importance of this paper with the hieroglyphics, with a lot of twists and turns along the way.

The plot of Arabesque is in many ways a bit of a mess. The paper with the hieroglyphics, it turns out, is not a Macguffin, but otherwise figuring out how Beshraavi, Yazmin, and Yussef all fit into things will probably leave you confused. The fact that everybody's lying because of the espionage games doesn't help. Instead, watch for the various set pieces which come one after another, and are reasonably entertaining.

As for Stanley Donen, he has some rather stylish direction. The sets and cinematography are generally lovely, although there are any number of shots that some may not like, having been photographed through framing objects like chandeliers and various other odd perspectives. Arabesque is firmly dated in the 1960s, but it's a fun 1960s.

That awards show tonight

This being a movie blog, I should probably mention tonight being the night the Oscars are handed out. Not that I'm going to watch, and not only because I generally talk about old movies. I work the early shift and get up at 4:00, so I'm not staying up until past 11:00 (no, I don't believe the show will wrap up in three hours) to watch an awards show. The only prediction I'll make is that Roma wins at least one award and somebody (not necessarily the award winner) will use that to go on a screed about Donald Trump and immigration.. Shocking prediction, ain't it.

I've mentioned a bunch of times before that I listen to the old international broadcasters that used to be on short-wave a generation ago. Polish Radio's English service has been going on about Paweł Pawlikowski thanks to the nominations for Cold War, even having a brief conversation with the Mexican ambassador thanks to the nominations against each other for Cold War and Roma. One of their weekly programs (~30 min, 27.2 MB MP3 download) has a segment on Pawlikowski's Oscar hopes, but I couldn't find the segment by itself and that program has two other segments that may or may not be of interest.

Naked Gun 33-1/3: The Final Insult is going to be on Showtime Extreme tomorrow at noon for those who have the Showtime package. It's probably more appropriate for today considering the climax is Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) and company trying to stop a criminal from setting of a bomb at the Academy Awards.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Stanley Donen, 1924-2019

Director of movies like Singin' in the Rain dies at 94

Briefs I should have mentioned over the past week

I mentioned some time back that the movie theater in our dead mall closed down back in August. Apparently, the replacement is scheduled to open some time in the spring. Not that I was planning to go there to see the latest comic book blockbuster.

I'm always surprised at what's out of print on DVD. I recorded Two Gun Man from Harlem when TCM ran it at the end of January and was going to do a post on it, but apparently the DVD is out of print. I would have thought that with the greater emphasis on diversity and all things minority that's developed in recent years that there would be more interest in the old "race movies".

The grandchildren of old Hollywood stars are dying now. Frankly, my dear, I'd never heard of the show and it doesn't sound like something I'd watch, but that's beside the point. Thrity is much too young.

John Wayne's been dead for 40 years, but for some reason somebody decided to dredge up an old interview of his and start a controversy because... why exactly? I've been thinking more and more that the problem most people have with the Hollywood blacklist isn't that people were getting banned for political views unrelated to making movies, but because those political views are liked by the people who oppose the blacklist. Have different political views? Sure, you deserve to be wiped from Hollywood history.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Sheldon Leonard, 1907-1997

Sheldon Leonard about to make angels for James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Today marks the birthday of prominent TV figure Sheldon Leonard, who was born on this day in 1907. I grew up in the days when cable TV was really beginning to take off but when systems still only had a low number of channels, and a lot of people in the middle of nowhere like us only had broadcast TV with an antenna. So we saw a bunch of reruns, which is where I first saw the name Sheldon Leonard. He was one of the producers of two highly successful sitcoms of the 1960s, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show.

But Leonard was also one of those people who had a career in Hollywood before TV and for me one of those people who I was surprised by upon seeing his name in acting credits. (By the same token, I didn't know until many years later that Brady Bunch composer Frank DeVol had been nominated for Oscars four times.) His acting career started in the mid-1930s with a couple of shorts, but really became busy in the 1940s with a whole bunch of small parts. The one movie I'd mentioned him in earlier is an RKO B, Zombies on Broadway. But there were also roles in bigger movies, such as Stop, You're Killing Me, a remake of the great Edward G. Robinson comedy A Slight Case of Murder; or Somewhere in the Night.

His most memorable acting role, however, would probably be as Nick the bartender in It's a Wonderful Life, where George Bailey (James Stewart) returns to town never having been born. Upon telling Nick that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, Nick responds by opening and closing the cash register, telling everyone he's making angels.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #241: Starring real-life couples

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Last week was Valentine's Day, but this week we continue the love theme with movies featuring people who were real-life husband and wife. There have actually been quite a few very long marriages in Hollywood, despite all the gossip that's come and gone even since the early days about stars divorcing and remarrying. Among those who hit their golden anniversary were Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; Ronald and Nancy Reagan; Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis; and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. So there are a lot of couple to choose from. I didn't choose any of the preceding couples, although I once again went well back in movie history for my couples:

The Millionaire (1931). George Arliss plays a wealthy businessman forced to retire for health reasons. Bored to tears by retirement, he surreptitiously goes into business with service station owner David Manners, who doesn't know his partner's past. When rivals try to compete unfairly, Arliss shows Manners how to beat the rivals at their own game. Playing George's screen wife is his real-life wife Florence; the two were married for 47 years until his death.

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). Charles Laughton won an Oscar for playing English King Henry VIII, who was known for marrying six times, although the movie begins with the beheading of wife #2, Anne Boleyn. Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was played by Elsa Lanchester, Laughton's real-life wife, and is presented as a confidant of Henry who remained friends even after their divorce. Charles and Elsa were married for 33 years until his death.

The Clock (1945). Judy Garland plays a working girl in New York who runs into soldier on leave Robert Walker. They quickly fall in love and spend a night on the town. But will their love last beyond his furlough? Garland and Walker aren't the married couple here. In one of their adventures on their night out, they meet a milkman played by James Gleason, and help him complete his route. They return home with him, and the character of Gleason's wife is played by his real-life wife Lucile. The two were married 42 years until her death.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Airport '77

Some time back I bought the box set of the four Airport movies. Having done reviews of Airport and Airport '75, it's now time for the third movie in the series, Airport '77.

James Stewart plays Philip Stevens, an extremely wealthy businessman who is taking some of the fine art that he owns and has stored up north, and opening a museum down in Palm Beach, FL. Not only that, but he's inviting a galaxy of VIPs to the opening of the museum and flying both them and the artwork in on his lavishly appointed private 747. Christopher Lee plays businessman Martin Wallace, married to nasty Karen (Lee Grant); Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotten are a pair of elegant passengers who last met in London in 1936; Capt. Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) is the pilot; and Eve (Brenda Vaccare) is his girlfriend.

Anyhow, with all those rich folks and artwork on the plane, you know it's going to attract people who want to steal the stuff. This time, there's an inside plot involving to co-pilot Chambers (Robert Foxworth). They install some anesthetic gas that they'll be able to run through the ventilation system (they, of course, will be wearing gas masks), knocking the passengers out, and enabling Chambers and his men to fly the plane to a small abandoned airfield in the Bahamas where the paintings will be unloaded.

Or, at least, that's the plan, and it's one that doesn't quite go the way the bad guys had it figured out. After knocking the passengers out, they have to fly low in order to evade radar detection, and when they get into a fog bank, they find an oil platform sticking up out of the ocean at a height where they could run into it. Ultimately, they clip a wing, and are unable to correct out of this, resulting in the plane crashing into the ocean and sinking to the bottom.

Thankfully for the passengers, the bottom isn't so deep that the water pressure would crush the fuselage. That's the one piece of good news they have when they wake up. Well, the other one is that the hijackers are either dead or severely injured so they don't have to worry about that. However, they do have to worry about the panicking passengers; the ticking time bomb of being underwater; and the fact that they're off course so rescue crews don't know where to look. To save the plane, Capt. Gallagher and scuba diver Wallace are going to have to get a dinghy with a rescue beacon to the surface.

Airport '77 is a worthy entry in the disaster genre. It's entertaining, if not particularly great. Still, seeing all the grand old stars together with some then-new ones is always fun. Stewart is underused and given a boring role, almost as if he came in for one or two days to film all of his scenes. Lemmon is surprisingly interesting in a sort of role he never really essayed before. De Havilland and Cotten are nice throwbacks, and Lee Grant is a hoot.

As for the plot, sure it's full of holes and unrealistic, but a movie like this you watch for the stars and the disaster, and in that regard both of them come through. I can certainly recommend Airport '77.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


I can't believe it's been a year since I blogged about The Emigrants, the first film in Swedish director Jan Troell's two-movie story about a family of Swedes who, unable to make a living in Sweden, decide to emigrate to America circa 1850. I finally got around to watching the second film, The New Land, over the weekend.

The New Land begins pretty much where The Emigrants leaves off. Karl-Oskar Nilsson (Max von Sydow), patriarch of a family including his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann), their children, and Karl-Oskar's brother Robert (Eddie Axberg), has just reached Minnesota (still a territory and on the frontier at the time) and selected the plot of land that he and his family are going to settle. They don't even have a real house, and have to build one as well as do a bunch of other things before winter sets in. Also, since they're on the frontier, they have to worry about the Sioux in whose area the incoming immigrants are settling.

Robert, meanwhile, is chafing under his older brother's presence. Robert wanted to make his own fortune in America, which is why he and his friend Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt) eventually decide to leave and head west to California where, as far as they know, there's abundant gold. Also leaving, but not quite so far away, is Kristina's friend, the former prostitute Ulrika (Monika Zetterlund), who has married -- horror of horrors! -- a Baptist minister. (Recall from the first movie that part of the reason they all left was because they practiced a sect of Lutheranism that wasn't quite in step with the official Swedish Church. But still, it was a hell of a lot closer than the Baptists!)

Time passes, and eventually Robert returns from California, bringing a bunch of paper currency and saying that Arvid stayed behind. Karl-Oskar isn't so sure, since he feels Robert has always been a teller of tall tales. Robert relates a story that may or may not be real in what plays out as an extended dream sequence.

Life continues to be difficult as the Civil War comes, although Karl-Oskar is to Kristina's great relief declared unfit for duty; Kristina grows increasingly homesick and then learns she can no longer have children or else it will kill her; and the Sioux start raiding, presumably figuring that with the Civil War on, there won't be as many soldiers to fight the Sioux. Of course, we can look to the America of today to see what happened with all these events in the grand sweep of history, but as to exactly how it affects the individual dramas, that you'll have to watch.

When I blogged about the The Emigrants, I felt (although I see I didn't quite say it) that the material would have worked better as a TV miniseries: the movie develops at an extremely leisurely pace. This is even more so for The New Land. To be honest, I think I would have looked for a way to edit out Robert's gold rush sequence, or at least handle it much differently, since it doesn't quite work as a dream sequence. Other than that, there's really nothing wrong with the material other than the pacing. Where The Emigrants was shown in a version dubbed into English (which as I understand it was the way the movie was originally shown in the US), The New Land was shown mostly in Swedish (when the emigrant characters talk to each other), with some scenes in English when the Swedes are dealing with people born in America.

The two movies have been released together to DVD and Blu-Ray on a pricey Criterion Collection set.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Operation Crossbow

One of the movies I watched off my DVR over the weekend was Operation Crossbow.

By 1943, Nazi Germany was losing World War II after defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad. Without the ability to win with conventional forces, they were going to have to turn to something unconventional, which would eventually be the V1 and V2 rockets. At the start of the movie, they're doing research at their facillity at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, when British intelligence picks up aerial images of strange activity going on there.

British command back in London tries to figure out what's going on, but experts like Professor Lindemann (Trevor Howard) disagree with more political men like Duncan Sandys (Richard Johnson) who wants to bomb Peenemünde. Eventually, Sandys' views prevail, and the British divert some bombing runs toward the facility at Peenemünde. It causes damage, but also causes another problem for Britain when the Nazis decide they're going to move as much of their research underground, and make mobile launching platforms for the V1 and V2.

The only way the British are going to be able to figure out what the Nazis are doing is to get first-hand information out of the Nazi facility, which is going to be difficult, since it's not as if the British can get a hold of anyone there what with the war going on. Instead, they're going to have to send in spies who can play the role of engineers, which considering that they need people with real scientific experience (otherwise their lack of knowledge will be discovered even more quickly than Paul Newman's in Torn Curtain) as well as a damn good command of the German language. Eventually, the British assign three men: Lt. Curtis (George Peppard), Capt. Bradley (Jeremy Kemp), and Henshaw (Tom Courtenay) to parachute into Belgium and from there, get themselves hired at the the Nazis' underground facility.

Now, in order to do all this, they have to take on the identities of real people from occupied countries who have died but whose deaths won't be noticed by the Nazis what with all the confusion going on. Since these are real people, that poses its own set of problems, starting when a woman (Sophia Loren) shows up at the hotel where Lt. Curtis is, and claims to be the wife of the man Curtis is impersonating. Henshaw's man, meanwhile, is wanted for murder in Germany.

Two of the men do get into the underground Nazi facility for the climax, although even then it's not so straightforward since one of them has to work as a janitor since his academic credentials aren't quite clear. But they're able to discover that the Nazis are trying to come up with a weapon that can reach New York (I don't know if the Nazis ever seriously tried that), forcing the British and Americans to act quickly.

Operation Crossbow is surprisingly subdued for a 1960s World War II movie. A lot of the movies in the genre have a lot more action, but this one is rather slower developing until the climax. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that, just that it's different than what you might expect. Also, some of the characters have unexpected story arcs, which is actually a bit refreshing. There's a solid, if not great, movie lying beneath the surface of Operation Crossbow.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Guru (1969)

A movie FXM put in its rotation recently that I had never heard of is The Guru. It's going to be on FXM again tomorrow at 6:00 AM, and is on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme.

There's not all that much of a plot here. Michael York is Tom Pickle, a popular British singer who decides that he's going to go to India to study sitar under the great guru Ustal Khan (Utpal Dutt). Journalists in India aren't so sure that Tom gets the significance of the sitar to Indian traditional culture. And, to be honest, Tom seems to get the feeling that he's more there to learn how to play the sitar, and less for any sort of religious enlightenment.

Also there is Jenny (Rita Tushingham), who showed up in India and with guru Ustal specifically looking for enlightenment. She's taken with the guru, and he seems to be beginning to form an attachment with her. (One wonders how much these gurus ever took advantage of the people coming to "study" under them.) It's with that in mind that Ustal decides to take Jenny with him when Ustal goes to the holy city of Benares to visit his guru. Tom also goes along, and the experience changes both of them.

The Guru was an early film from the producer/director pairing of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, filmed on location in India; their frequent screenwriting collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is also the screenwriter on this one. It's those Indian settings that are the best thing about the movie, since the plot is badly dated and threadbare. I'd also say that it's at least moderately interesting for the look at the time and the era's odd idea that people would just go off to India to try to find enlightenment. The final point of interest is because it's early Merchant/Ivory.

FXM ran it in a 4:3 print which I would assume was panned and scanned, although I don't know what (if anything) it was panned and scanned from since I couldn't find the original aspect ratio on IMDb. I'd think that by the late 1960s, everything was in something wider than 4:3, but with low-budget movies in out of the way places (in cinema terms), one never knows.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Atlantic City is back on

Almost at the beginning of this blog, I watched the TCM premiere of Atlantic City, a movie that I wanted to do a full-length post on but didn't because it's out of print on DVD. It's still out of print, although you can apparently see it via Amazon's streaming service. Anyhow, it's also going to be on TCM again tonight, I think for the first time in 11 years, overnight at 2:00 AM.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen the movie since the last TCM showing, so you're only going to get a briefer synopsis here. It's 1980 Atlantic City, NJ, so the era when the city was in decline and they were trying to use the casinos to bring it back to life. Burt Lancaster plays Lou, a former low-level gangster who has fallen on hard times, earning extra money as a sort of gigolo to an older lady. Across the way in his apartment building he can see Sally (Susan Sarandon), who is trying to improve her lot in life by learning how to be a blackjack dealer.

Sally's estranged boyfriend shows up, and he's learned of a drug-running scheme; more specifically, he's learned where a stash is going to be dropped for somebody to pick up. So he picks up the drugs himself and figures he'll make a killing dealing them. As we saw in Stakeout on Dope Street or even Wait Until Dark, that's a really brilliant idea. The higher-up bad guys come after Sally's boyfriend, putting Sally in danger. Lou realizes he's got a chance to help Sally, and relive some of his old glory.

I remember really enjoying the movie, so I'm happy to see it back on for everybody else to get a chance to catch it.

I wonder what Hitler's reaction will be

Bruno Ganz dies at 77

And then there's this other parody:

(Although, you have to have a good command of German to get it's a parody since otherwise you won't notices that the subtitles don't match what Ganz is saying.)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Two years before The Spoilers

One of my recent DVD purchases at amazon was this two-disc Marlene Dietrich set. This past weekend, I decided to watch a new-to-me movie off it, Seven Sinners.

Dietrich stars as Bijou, a nightclub singer who's been plying her trade in the islands of Southeast Asia. Based on the language used being American English, one might guess it's pre-war Philippines (which was an American territory at the time), although a shot of a map early on suggests she might have done some work in Dutch Indonesia or British Malaya. (Most other synopses claim it's the South Seas, which would make more sense if it weren't for that map.) Anyhow, her beauty cosistently causes the sailors to go riotously mad, something that the the authorities don't like for understandable reasons. So she's about to be deported from yet another island. She leaves with her two friends, dishonorably discharged US sailor Ned (a young Broderick Crawford), and magician/pickpocket Sasha (Mischa Auer). They're going to an island that Bijou has been to before, but the island is getting a new governor in Henderson (Samuel S. Hinds), so she figures she can go back there and fly under the radar as they say nowadays but didn't then since radar wasn't a thing.

Henderson has a lovely daughter Dorothy (Anna Lee) who is the romantic interest for a young navy lieutenant, Dan Brent (John Wayne). When Bijou gets off the boat, she runs into Brent, who understandably find his interest piqued because who wouldn't. All the other navy guys are even more interested. As for Bijou, she goes to the Seven Sinners club, where she worked in her previous stint. The club owner Tony (Billy Gilbert) is none too pleased because he's seen Bijou's reputation first hand. That, and he's got a new patron in Antro (Oskar Homolka) who has a predilection for throwing knives and who thinks he can keep Bijou for himself.

The rest of the plot is predictable. Brent falls fully in love with Bijou and intends to put his navy career in jeopardy in order to marry her, while she winds up in danger from Bijou, as does Brent, leading to the climactic fight scene. (You'd think the Navy would just declaer the Seven Sinners Club off-limits, as they did to various places in Sayonara, which would solve much of the navy's problems.)

Dietrich and Wayne have good chemistry in what was their first film together, and the film is moderately entertaining. But as I watched, I couldn't help but think of The Spoilers which they would make two years later. The characters and plot of Seven Sinners don't feel as fully fleshed out as in The Spoilers. Antro seems like he must have had more of a past with Bijou that isn't fully explained. That, and why he didn't get deported from the island for his criminal activities, since he seems to have an entire gang.

Still, I'd definitely recommend Seven Sinners. Especially on a moderately-priced box set. As for that set, it's got two movies on each disc, with no extras, but you get what you pay for. The image quality seemed OK, but I don't have a TV with high-enough resolution to notice mildly bad images. (It's nowhere near The Walls of Malapaga in terms of image quality, looking like it could air on TCM and not seem out of place.)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #240: Romantic Comedies

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Today happens to be Valentine's Day, so our fearless blogathon organizer came up with the brilliant idea of making this Thursday's theme be romantic comedies. There are a lot of those, so I decided to see if I could come up with a theme within a theme. After a bit of thought, I came up with three movies in which marriages are broken up, which doesn't seem like it's funny, but in these cases it is:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). Not to be confused with the spy versus spy movie from early this century, this one is a screwball comedy (more or less) directed by... Alfred Hitchcock? Apparently, he wanted to try something different, and took on the movie as a favor to Carole Lombard, who plays Mrs. Smith. Mr. Smith is Robert Montgomery. The couple learns that their marriage is in fact not valid due to a mix-up and Mr. Smith, having told his wife he'd do it all over again faced with the chance, in fact has to woo Mrs. Smith all over again. The second time around, it isn't as easy as the first.

We're Not Married! (1952). Yet another anthology movie from Fox, this one is about five different couples who got married by a justice of the peace (Victor Moore) who jumped the gun by performing marriages before his license went into effect on January 1. The idea that their marriages are not valid (as if nobody had ever heard of a common law marriage) does different things to the couples depending on how well their marriages are going. Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Mitzi Gaynor, and Zsa Zsa Gabor play the wives; their husbands are played by (in order) David Wayne, Fred Allen, Paul Douglas, Eddie Bracken, and Louis Calhern.

Let's Do It Again (1953). A remake of 1937's The Awful Truth (which I think I already used before which is why I didn't pick it this time), this one stars Ray Milland as a bandleader who's been lying to his wife (Jane Wyman) about performing gigs. She tries to get back at him but goes too far and a mix-up ensues that results in the couple deciding to get divorced even though they really still love each other. Other people then try to hook the newly-single people before the divorce becomes final.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stir Crazy

I'm still working my way through the bunch of movies I recorded during the Black Experience in Film series that TCM ran back in September. This time, I've gotten up to Stir Crazy.

Richard Pryor plays Harry, who at the start of the movie is working as a server in a catering firm, catering a hoity-toity luncheon in Manhattan. However, he's been dumb enough to bring his stash of marijuana with him, this being 1980 and long before even medical marijuana was legalized. (Why he didn't just leave it at home, I don't know.) But of course it gets noticed and mistaken by his chef boss for oregano (she wouldn't bring her own ingredients?), and uses it in the food she's cooking for the guests. It gets Harry fired.

Gene Wilder plays Skip, a struggling playwright who is making ends meet by working department store security. He makes the mistake of accusing the wrong person of shoplifting, and this gets him fired too. Now, Harry and Skip are best friends, and when they discuss their having lost their jobs, Skip comes up with the brilliant idea of going west to California to make it out there, this again being the time when white people looking to improve their lives were still going to California instead leaving to go to other states.

Anyhow, the two friends are short of money while they're traveling west, so Skip gets them a job "in banking". What they really are are actors doing promotional work for the local bank in Glenboro (Tucson, AZ is used for the growing Glenboro), dressing up as woodpeckers and singing a jingle to entice customers or something. (Why they're doing it inside the bank, I don't get.) But they're an easy mark for bad guys who decide to rob the bank dressed up in identical woodpecker costumes, which obviously makes Skip and Harry the prime suspects. Sure enough, Skip and Harry are arrested and put in prison.

Neither of them knows the first thing about prison, although Skip is obviously far worse off as he's Woody Allen-level neurotic. Harry tries his best to deal with a bad situation and also make things easier for his best friend, but there's not much that can be done as a prisoner.

That is, until the warden (Barry Corbin) tests all the new prisoners on the mechanical bull to see if any of them would be useful in the prison rodeo. Somehow, Skip is perfect for it. Taking part in the rodeo could bring Skip privileges, but it could also get Skip seen as a brown-noser by the other prisoners. But there's one other possibility, which is escaping from the arena where the rodeo is going to be held.

There's a lot to like about Stir Crazy, although in the final analysis I'd also have to say that I preferred their earlier pairing in Silver Streak to this one. Wilder is just a bit too manic here, and I found a few too many plot holes. Also, I really liked the supporting cast of Silver Streak who actually had a lot to do, to the nondescript supporting actors in Stir Crazy.

It's not that Stir Crazy is a bad movie by any means. There are a lot of laughs to be had, and it's always good to see Pryor and Wilder together. It's just that I preferred Silver Streak. Sadly, Silver Streak seems to have fallen out of print on DVD, so if you want to judge between the two, you'll have to go the streaming route. Stir Crazy is available in multiple releases.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Silents apparently still not on DVD

TCM's daytime theme in 31 Days of Oscar tomorrow (Feb. 13) is silents, so they'd all be from the first Academy Awards, I think. Silents had actually gotten quite good as an art form, and I know silent fans lament what was lost when the advent of sound meant that the actors had to focus on where the microphone was.

Anyhow, several of the silents in tomorrow morning's lineup are not available on DVD, so you're going to have to watch or DVR them tomorrow morning:

First, at 6:00 AM, there's The Racket, which was remade in the early 1950s. Louis Wolheim plays the gangster who loves his kid brother, and when the kid brother gets in legal trouble, it gives an upright cop (Thomas Meighan) the chance to take down Wolheim.

Second is Two Arabian Knights at 7:30 AM. Wolheim returns as an American POW in World War I who escapes with his buddy William Boyd, and meets an Arabian princess (Mary Astor) along the way. I'm not surprised this one isn't on DVD, since it was considered lost for a long time, and the surviving print was found in Howard Hughes' archives. Since it's not in the public domain, I wouldn't be surprised if the poor condition combined with rights questions kept it off DVD.

Finally, at 9:15 AM there's a Greta Garbo/John Gilbert movie I haven't seen, A Woman of Affairs. This one surprises me by its lack of availability on DVD, since it's an MGM movie. But it turns out that the book it's based on was published in 1924, so it's possible that rights issues over that -- the book would, I think become public domain next January -- might have something to do with it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

All That Heaven Allows

Douglas Sirk was one of the great comedy directors of the 1950s. Recently, I had the chance to rewatch his 1955 movie All That Heaven Allows.

Jane Wyman plays Cary Scott, a widow with two college-aged children who was obviously left financially secure when her husband died, as she's still able to live in their big house, and have her best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) invite her out to the country club for parties. That, and have the landscaper her husband always hired, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) show up unannounced to prune the trees. One day when Sara can't stay for lunch, Cary asks Ron if he'd like anything.

The two run into each other a few more times on a professional basis, until one day when Ron lets on that he's looking to sell the old family business and go into tree farming that supplies nurseries like his with their trees. So the two go out to his place in the country, and meet some other similarly bohemian people who have decided to drop out of the rat race and take on jobs they have a passion for. As you can probably guess, Cary and Ron begin to fall in love.

However, Cary was from a nice upper-middle-class family, while Ron's background is decidedly working class. What are people going to say about this? And God knows people are going to say something about it, because there's a notorious gossip in town in the form of Mona (Jacqueline de Wit. She sees Ron and Cary return after one of their trysts in the country, and starts spreading rumors. When Cary decides to introduce Ron to the country club set, everybody treats him like dirt, almost one-upping each other to see who can treat him the worst. And Cary's kids can't understand why she'd be in love with a working-class guy. It goes on like this.

All That Heaven Allows was conceived as a melodrama and social commentary, but as with a lot of Douglas Sirk's works, it works better if you look at it as a comedy. Everything is over the top, starting with the aforementioned reactions of Cary's friends. Then there's the score, which swells up constantly, using over-obvious cues to try to elicit certain emotions. And then there's the foreshadowing, notably involving a Wedgwood teapot and talk about a television set, which is handled in a heavy-handed manner. Finally, there's the set design, which is noticeable in the form of Cary's daughter's bedroom which has an impractical round window that lets in a spectrum of light rather than the practical white light that you'd need to actually do anything in the room.

Wyman and Hudson try hard but are brought low by the script. Poor Rock Hudson in particular, when you start thinking about some of the lines in terms of the fact that he'd come out at the end of his life as a homosexual. At one point, he tells Cary that his bohemian friend had to learn to be a man, to which Cary replies, "And you want me to be a man?"

It's funny to read the reviews which praise All That Heaven Allows pretty much solely for having the virtuous views of criticizing 1950s middle-class America. Almost as funny as the movie itself. But watch and judge for yourself.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Another recent watch off my DVR was the late western Catlow.

Richard Crenna plays Cowan, a marshal who served in the Civil War, but is now out west chasing Catlow (Yul Brynner). They had served together in the war, but after the war Catlow turned to a life of crime and is now rustling cattle. However, before Cowan can arrest Catlow, two groups show up. One are the Apache, who hit Cowan in the leg with an arrow; the other is led by Miller (Leonard Nimoy). Miller is a hired gunman, this time having been hired by the man whose cattle Catlow has been stealing. Miller's arrival also means that Catlow is going to be brought back to justice, although he shows his friendship to Cowan by helping remove the arrow from Cowan.

Catlow isn't about to be brought to justice, of course, and on the coach back to federal justice, he has it ambushed so that he and his men get away. He then heads for Mexico, where he's heard about a shipment of gold that had belonged to the Confederacy, but which the US wants back. That, and Catlow's girlfriend Rosita (Daliah Lavi) is down there waiting for him. Unsurprisingly, Cowan and Miller follow Catlow to Mexico, and Catlow and Miller get involved in a fight.

Eventually, Catlow leads his band of outlaws across the desert, having to deal with a lack of water, Cowan still following him despite not having jurisdiction, the Mexican military, and the Indians. There might also be traitors in his midst....

Catlow was one of those westerns that wasn't quite my cup of tea, although will probably appeal more to those who are bigger fans of the genre. I found it a bit muddled and meandering, with the characters needing a little more fleshing out. That, and the direction being uninspired, looking like any other western from the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Catlow is available on DVD as part of a three-movie set of adaptations of Louis L'Amour westerns, so you can watch and judge for yourself.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Rio Rita (1942)

When Kathryn Grayson was Star of the Month back in January, TCM started off with some of her smaller, earlier roles, such as in the 1942 version of Rio Rita.

The star here isn't Grayson, but the comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, hired from Universal for a three-movie deal at MGM. They play Doc and Wishy respectively, and at the beginning of the movie are finding themselves getting fired from their jobs at a pet store. So they stow away in the car of singer Ricardo Montera (John Carroll), who is going off to perform a special live radio show at a resort ranch owned by Rita (Grayson).

Rita is too young to have experience in the business, so she's handed managing duties over to Maurice Craindall (Tom Conway). What Rita doesn't know is that Maurice is actually the head of a cell of Nazi fifth columnists, and has hired a bunch of his fellow cell members in jobs at the resort. Ricardo's broadcast is going to be the opportunity for them to send out their coded message.

Ricardo gets to the ranch with Doc and Wishy in tow, although he only finds out when the trunk is opened. Rita takes pity on the two jobless, homeless men, and gives them some workfare, as the house detectives, even though neither of the two men knows the first thing about being a detective. But they're going to have to hurry up and learn how to do the job fast, what with those Nazis about to wreak whatever havoc they have planned.

Whether you like Rio Rita is going to come down entirely to how much you like Abbott and Costello. I tend to prefer Laurel and Hardy, and would rather take Abbott and Costello in smaller doses. Costello is particularly irritating here, and a couple of the bits had me rolling my eyes over the plot holes. The first is a service station next to a cliff, and later there's an explosive that's acid enough to dissolve glass, but only gives hallucinations for somebody who drinks the stuff.

As for Grayson, I don't care for either her singing or that of John Carroll, but at least Grayson doesn't do all that much singing here since her career was still being built up. Again, those who do like that type of singing will Rio Rita a lot more than I did.

Both the Abbott and Costello Rio Rita, and the 1929 version starring Wheeler and Woolsey, are on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Heads-up for things I talked about in previous TMPs

We're well into another year of 31 Days of Oscar, and when I saw the TCM schedule for the next day or so, a couple of things stood out to me. First was that one of the double-features tonight is a look at the Best Original Song of 1980. Last year, one of the Thursday Movie Picks was of movies that should have won the Oscar, and I did a fair bit on the 1980 Best Song, since it was a very strong field that year. The title song to Fame won, memorably sung by Irene Cara, although she didn't get an Oscar as that only goes to the songwriters. (She would win one three years later for co-writing the theme song to Flashdance.) Anyhow, two of the losing movies were 9 to 5, which is a TCM premiere, on at midnight, followed by Honeysuckle Rose at 2:00 AM, which introduced the classic song "On the Road Again".

Tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM, you can watch the wonderful late-era Laurence Olivier movie A Little Romance, which I also used last February in a Thursday Movie Picks theme on romance. I thought that theme was more recent, but it was just about a year ago. At any rate, the movie is well worth a watch if you haven't seen it before -- and I know from my TMP lists that a lot of people haven't seen the movies I recommend. This is your chance.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Albert Finney, 1936-2019

Albert Finney in Tom Jones (1963)

The death has been announced of actor Albert Finney, a multiple Oscar nominee and stage actor whose career spanned over a half century.

Finney's first movie was an auspicious debut, opposite Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer, and it was followed by a noticeable starring role in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as the caddish man who thinks only about himself until he knocks up his girlfriend.

Finney (r.) and Rachel Roberts in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

It was only a few more years until his first Oscar nomination, for playing the title role in the delightful adaptation of Tom Jones. (Sadly, that movie was literally just on TCM, like half an hour after I found out Finney had died.) Elsewhere in the 60s there was a remake of Night Must Fall, as well as starring opposite Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road.

Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Finney's second Oscar nomination came for playing Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot in the all-star 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. (You didn't think he'd play Miss Marple, did you?) Further nominations came for The Dresser, which I have to admit I have not seen, and the difficult Under the Volcano, in which Finney plays an alcoholic British diplomat in 1930s Mexico. His final nomination came as a supporting actor, in 2000's Erin Brockovich.

Although you just missed his performance in Tom Jones, if you have any of the premium channels you'll have an opportunity to watch some of his other performances. Annie, in which he played not the orphan but Daddy Warbucks, is going to be on StarzEncore Family at 8:15 AM Sunday, while Erin Brockovich is going to be on the regular Starz channel a bunch of times, starting at 6:45 PM tonight, or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #239: Revenge

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. I took last Thursday off because it was a TV edition where I couldn't think of three recent TV shows that fit the theme. But we're back to movies, so I'm up for the challenge. This week's theme is revenge, which as I was thinking about it is a theme in quite a few westerns. However, I didn't actually select any westerns this week. Indeed, the only issue I had was checking to make certain I hadn't used my choices recently, and a search of the blog says I haven't:

The Bad Sleep Well (1960). Akira Kurosawa's modern-day reworking of Shakespeare's Hamlet, this one has a man (Toshiro Mifune) marrying the boss' daughter in one of those large faceless Japanese conglomerates, in order that he can figure out who in the company drove his father to suicide. The movie starts off with a bang in a big wedding scene where the cake comes out to reveal... a model of corporate headquarters with the window where Mifune's father "jumped" to his death prominently marked. Talk about speaking now or forever holding your peace.

The Bride Wore Black (1968). I didn't intend to do a wedding-related theme, and the last movie doesn't fit anyway. This film, François Truffaut's homage to Alfred Hitchcock, stars Jeanne Moreau as a woman who in the film's opening, goes to a party where nobody knows her, and then pushes a man to his death! She then precedes to kill another, before with the third we find out why she's doing what she's doing. Apparently, on her wedding day, her huband was accidentally shot and killed, and she's getting back at the five men in the shooting party. Will she find them all?

Get Carter (1971). Michael Caine plays Jack Carter, a small-time gangster now in London who learns that his brother died in their home town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne under mysterious circumstances. Jack goes north to investigate and if possible get revenge on the people who killed his brother, and finds that the underworld up there really doesn't want him investigating. Why not? Caine is once again excellent in the title role, and the movie is interestingly violent.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Smokey and the Bandit

When TCM did its memorial tribute to Burt Reynolds at the end of last year, one of the movies they ran was Smokey and the Bandit. I hadn't done a review on it here before, so I DVRed it to sit down and rewatch it so it would be fresh in my memory.

Burt Reynolds plays the Bandit, who has as a best friend truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed). Cledus has been taking part in the truck driver games at a fairgrounds in the Atlanta area, and it's there that they meet the Enoses: Big Enos (Pat McCormick) and Little Enos (Paul Williams). Big Enos proposes a dare for Cledus and the Bandit: bring me 400 cases of Coors beer within 28 hours.

Now that sounds odd to modern viewers, but you have to remember that Coors, based in Colorado, didn't have national distribution until the mid-1980s and at the time the furthest east distribution went was Texas. Cledus and the Bandit are going to have to drive to Texarkana, TX to pick up the Coors and then turn right around and bring it back to Atlanta. And since Coors didn't have a license to distribute back in those days (remember that one of the provisions of the 21st Amendment's repeal of Prohibition was to make controlling alcohol specifically a matter for the individual states regardless of what the rest of the Constitution says about interstate commerce), for somebody to bring back that much beer obviously not for personal use would be a crime.

But Big Enos is offering $80,000 if they can bring it back in the requisite time, and if you think that's a tidy sum today, it was worth a lot more back in 1977. So Cledus sets off in his truck, with Bandit in his Trans Am as a blocker, which is basically the same function he served in White Lightning, a blocker being a decoy to throw off the cops.

With all that speeding going on, of course they're going to run afoul of the police. Sure enough, they raise the hackles of one Texas sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). It's bad enough that you've got a guy speeding, but Buford has more reason to go after the Bandit: the Bandit picks up a hitchhiker, Carrie, in a bridal gown (Sally Field). Carrie was supposed to get married to Buford's son Junior (Mike Henry). So for Buford it's personal, and a reason to cross state lines in his pursuit of the Bandit.

That's pretty much all there is to the movie, which in some ways isn't very much. And yet Smokey and the Bandit is so much fun. It's more or less one long, entertaining chase scene that works despite the ridiculous number of plot flaws. I'm obsessive enough that I looked up how far it is from Atlanta to Texarkana, and where the movie said 900 miles, it's more like 700. (I don't know how much of the interstate was in place back in the 70s, although part of the trip back through Alabama is definitely on an interstate highway.) That would make it around 12-1/2 hours at the speed limit, if you had two drivers to split shifts, and make the 28-hour turnaround relatively doable. (At the very end there's a bet to go to Boston and back in 18 hours, which is utterly impossible.)

There were also no scenes at night that I could find, which is at least one thing that Vanishing Point got right. Unless most of the nighttime travel was on the way to Texarkana, but then they would have gotten to the distributorship when it was dark.

Still, as I said, Smokey and the Bandit is enormously entertaining, in no small part thanks to Jackie Gleason's performance. His irascible, bumbling sheriff is a high point of the movie whenever Gleason is on screen. The stuntwork is also quite good, which is no surprise considering the movie was directed by stunt legend Hal Needham.

If you want to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and relax, Smokey and the Bandit is a great movie to do it with.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

My name is not Patrick

When I recorded The Walls of Malapaga last year, it was a 90-minute movie put in a two-hour time slot. This left time for a two reeler, and TCM ran the French short All the Boys Are Called Patrick.

The plot is simple. Charlotte (Anne Colette) and Véronique (Nicole Berger) are roommates in a small apartment and fellow students. One day they each go out on their own, and each of them meets a nice young man. Charlotte meets one called Patrick (Jean-Claude Brialy) and after chatting with him, decides she'll go out on a date with him the next day. Véronique meets a man who is also named Patrick, which isn't surprising since it's the same Patrick! She too takes up the offer to go on a date the next day.

Did Patrick forget he's setting up multiple dates, or is he cleverly setting them up at different times? Anyhow, back at the apartment, Charlotte and Véronique talk about the guy they met, and each of them makes fun of the other's taste in men because the two are describing what sounds like rather different personalities. Of course, they don't know they're talking to the same guy. So what's going to happen when they go to their date and find out they'll be dating the same guy?

All the Boys Are Called Patrick was a fun little short, without too much of what I tend to find to be the more artsy pretension of its director, Jean-Luc Godard. It did get a DVD release as an extra on Criterion's edition of Godard's later A Woman Is a Woman, although that DVD is apparently out of print. However, there is a MOD DVD of A Woman Is a Woman, which I would presume does not have any extras on it.

Julie Adams, 1926-2019

Julie Adams (l.) and James Stewart in a still from Bend of the River (1952)

Julie Adams, who started her career in Hollywood in th end of the 1940s before doing a whole bunch of TV from the laste 1950s on, died on Sunday at the age of 93. Among her movie roles is as the young lady in Bend of the River, alongside James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy. She had already worked with Kennedy in Bright Victory, which is another movie worth watching.

A lot of the headlines, however, are mentioning her role in Creature from the Black Lagoon, a movie I have to admit is one of my "blind spots", so I can't comment further on it.

In the late 1950s Adams started to work in TV and did a ton of guest star roles. IMDb lists several on Perry Mason and one on The Rifleman; I wonder if MeTV will be running any of those in the near future.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Walls of Malapaga

Tomorrow morning and afternoon's section of TCM's 31 Days of Oscar looks at foreign films. Among them is The Walls of Malapaga, at 7:00 AM.

Jean Gabin plays Pierre, whom we first see in the part of a ship's hold that has the anchor and the chain that it's on. It's obvious he's hiding from something, and in fact he's escaping from France. The ship is approaching Genoa, and although Pierre would rather not get off, he has to: he's got an impacted molar that needs treatment. It's dangerous, since he's wanted back in France, and if anything happens to him, he'll have nobody to turn to for legal protection.

Sure enough, he gets his wallet stolen, and the money he exchanged is counterfeit lire notes. But at least he was able to find a nice young girl, Cecchina, who was able to take him to a dentist and then a place to eat afterwards. That restaurant is where Cecchina's mother Marta (Isa Miranda) works as a waitress. When she discovers Pierre needs a place to stay, she does the best she can to give him one. But she, like a lot of the people, are poor, living in a bombed-out convent what with World War II only having ended a few years earlier.

Of course, all of this is because Marta has a past of her own. The reason she can speak French to Pierre is that she used to live in France, with her husband Giuseppe (Andrea Checchi). However, he treated her badly, so she fled with their daughter to Genoa, and would be more than happy to get an annulment if she could. Giuseppe, meanwhile, has been searching for Marta and has traced her to Genoa, so he shows up to harass her and try to get the kid back.

The Walls of Malapaga isn't a bad little movie, but unfortunately there is one problem with it. When TCM last ran it a year or so ago, the print they ran was absolutely terrible, a print that had the original subtitles since the opening credits make it a point to credit the writer of the subtitles. The print is washed out, making it almost impossible to read the opening credits. After the credits, it's not quite as bad, but in many places the subtitles are still difficult to read, being white on washed-out backgrounds.

The Walls of Malapaga is also, as far as I know, not available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM if you want to watch it. That's what makes it such a huge sham that there doesn't seem to be a good print available.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Night Passage

Looking for something to blog about that I hadn't before, I took out my James Stewart westerns box set and put on Night Passage. It turns out that I mentioned it briefly in the blog's early days, although not in a full-length post, and got a plot detail wrong, which suggests that I had seen it quite some time before writing that post. So it had probably been a good dozen years since I saw it.

The movie starts of in a railroad work camp where nobody is actually working, and everybody seems to ahve their wives around for some reason. Anyhow, part of the reason nobody is working is that it's been quite some time since they've been paid, what with the outlaw gang led by Whitey (Dan Duryea) having held up three trains carrying payrolls.

Into all of this comes Grant McLaine (James Stewart), who used to work for the railroad but got fired, and is now eking out a living as an itinerant busker, singing and playing his accordion. (Back in 2008 I wrote that he sang and played the harmonica, but it's only the accordion. At least they're both reed instruments.) Some think he should go back to working for the railroad as a troubleshooter, but he's not so certain.

Still, he needs the money, so when railroad boss Kimball (Jay C. Flippen) comes up with the idea that Grant should carry the payroll money on his person instead of putting it in the train's safe, Grant reluctantly agrees to the job. Along the way, he picks up a young boy Joey (Brandon De Wilde), who was being mistreated by another outlaw, Concho.

As you can guess, the bad guys stop the train. One of Whitey's gang is the Utica Kid (Audie Murphy), who it turns out is also Grant's brother. Grant bailed him out of a jam once, which is what cost Grant his job. Whitey and his gang take Kimball's wife (Elaine Stewart) hostage to a mining camp, which is where we eventually get the climactic shootout.

Night Passage was originally set to be directed by Anthony Mann, who had directed Stewart on several previous occasions, but Mann pulled out for whatever reason. A lot of people suggest that the resulting movie is not quite as good as what Mann might have done, and I think I'd have to agree. It's not that I have all that much of a problem with the movie; it's more that it's one of those movies that's just there. Solid enough entertainment, but the sort of thing that won't be as memorable as the great movies.

But there's also a lot going for Night Passage, including a nice cast of supporting actors, and some really lovely color cinematography of the Rockies in the Durango, CO area.

I can certainly recommend Night Passage, although people who are bigger fans of westerns than I am will probably consider it a lesser western.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The usual movie

I recently re-watched The Usual Suspects so that I could do a full-length post on it here, not having done so before. (Hard as it may be to believe, next year will see the movie's silver anniversary.)

The movie starts off in San Pedro, CA, at a ship docked there. (Technically, it's the port of Los Angeles; San Pedro is the part of the city where the port is located.), Something's gone wrong, as gasoline is set alight, a man gets shot by somebody on the ship's bridge, and then there's a giant explosion. It turns out that these two weren't the only ones killed; in fact, there were a whole bunch of dead people in the explosion. One of the only survivors was a man named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey).

Kint has a past and is already known to the police, who for fairly obvious reasons want to bring him in for questioning. Indeed, it's not just the local police who want Verbal; coming from US Customs is investigator Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), who leads the interrogation. One other survivor is a badly-burned member of the Hungarian mafia, who gives investigators at the hospital a name, Keyser Söze.

Flash back six weeks, to New York. Kint was brought in to a police lineup on some bogus charge along with four other people: gunman McManus (Stephen Baldwin); Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), the man we saw getting shot at the beginning; Fenster (Benicio Del Toro); and Hockney (Kevin Pollak). They all do their duty for the lineup but before they get released, they get stuck together, which gives them time to discuss how the police have nothing on them, as well as plans to form a gang of their own.

The gang quickly rises through the ranks, but also comes to the attention of the mysterious, unseen Keyser Söze, a putative Turkish gangster whose backstory is that he had been done wrong by a bunch of Hungarian gangsters, resulting in the death of his family. That is, if Söze is even real. Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), a lawyer representing Söze, asks the gang to do a job for Söze. Or more realistically, telling them to do it and blackmailing them if they won't, pointing out that he has information on them.

So our gang has to go on that boat and scupper a cocaine deal between the Hungarians and the Argentines worth a cool $91 million. Of course, with that much money on the line, there are going to be a lot of people with guns trying to prevent anything from going wrong, and it's going to be a suicide mission for the gang, most likely.

The Usual Suspects is a good movie, although I have to admit I'm a bit nonplussed as to how it's made its way high up on to the list of greatest movies ever made. The plot is complex by design, since it ultimately deals with the question of whether Keyser Söze really exists and, if so, who he is. If you're not paying close enough attention, it's going to be quite hard to follow at times.

The acting is good, although I have to admit that I didn't particularly care for most of the characters. They're violent, selfish, and given to vulgar language. To be honest, however, any dislike is because the characters aren't supposed to be sympathetic; after all they're amoral gangsters playing against every other side. In that regard the screenplay probably got the characters right.

Overall I'd certainly recommend The Usual Suspects; just don't pay attention to the massive praise it's received or worry about whether it's one of the all-time greats.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Stuart Whitman, still alive at 91!

Stuart Whitman (second from right) along with (from left) Janet Leigh, DeForest Kelley, and Rory Calhoun in Night of the Lepus (1972)

For some reason, I thought that actor Stuart Whitman had died several years ago. Perhaps I was thinking of James Whitmore, but in any case Wikipedia and IMDb both claim that Whitman is still alive, and that today is his 91th birthday.

Whitman is one of those actors who worked steadily, but for the most part never quite made the A list with good starring roles in quality movies. The starring roles were mostly in lesser movies, and the prestige movies saw supporting parts. There was also a lot of TV work. Probably his best role was in The Mark, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, one that was deserved except that he had the bad luck to be up against some really good performances.

Whitman (l.) in The Mark (1961)

Other roles were opposite Lauren Bacall in Shock Treatment; The Sound and the Fury which I mentioned not al that long ago; and the pictured Night of the Lepus which is frankly terrible but in a really fun way. Oh, I forgot he was in The Girl in Black Stockings, another fun one.