Sunday, March 31, 2019

Poor Little Rich Girl (1936)

FXM took the Shirley Temple movie Poor Little Rich Girl out of the vaults recently. It was on this morning, and is going to be on again tomorrow morning at 7:55 AM, so I watched it to do a full-length post here.

Temple plays the title character, a young girl named Barbara Barry who is the daughter of widowed soap magnate Richard (Michael Whalen). She lives in the lap of luxury, except that she finds it extremely constraining -- she just wants to be a little girl and play and do other little girl things. Instead, she's got a bunch of servants who play a game of operator the minute she sneezes that results in people thinking she's seriously ill. Dad eventually decides that it wouldn't be so bad to send her off to boarding school, where she can be with other people her age.

As for Dad, he's in a business rivalry with another soap manufacturer, Simon Peck (Claude Gillingwater), with each of them thinking the other should be bought out. Complicating things is that Richard meets Peck's ad executive Margaret (Gloria Stuart) and falls in love with her until she realizes who he is. Another complicating factor is that the Barry soap company sponsors a popular radio show while Peck refuses, thinking the idea is old fashioned.

Back to poor little Barbara. At the train station, her nurse loses her purse and when she goes out to fetch it, she gets hit by a car, leaving poor Barbara alone. She walks out the station and follows an organ grinder, since one of her favorite children's stories involved an organ grinder. That man lives in the same apartment building as the Dolans (Alice Faye and Jack Haley), a pair of struggling vaudevillean dancers. Mr. Dolan practices his tap dancing steps, and little Barbara downstairs is just so damn good that's she's able to repeat the steps she heard from the floor above her. Mr. Dolan realizes he's got a hit on his hands, but Mrs. Dolan is worried about the legal problems of bringing this girl on as the third Dolan.

This being a Shirley Temple movie, it's not too hard to figure out where this is all going to go. The act of "Dolan, Dolan, and Dolan" is going to wow the producers enough that they try to pitch it to Peck. Little Barbara is so darn charming that she's going to melt Peck's heart, and he'll put the Dolans on his new radio show, making them a huge success. And then Dad is going to realize that his daughter is not at school, but a star on a radio show. (You'd think the school would have called the day Barbara didn't show up, and that the date would have been fixed before Barbara and her nurse got to the train station.) Oh, and the Dolans are going to have to worry about their potential legal problems, but those will all go away.

I think I've said with pretty much every 1930s Shirley Temple movie I've blogged about that it's so easy to see why she was such a big hit with Depression-era audiences. Poor Little Rich Girl is, on the face of it, nothing more than a formulaic movie of a seeming orphan charming everybody. But Shirley Temple is so charming that she makes the material work. It doesn't hurt when Fox paired her with good dancers like she has here. Michael Whalen is the weak part of the movie, but he's not around much so it doesn't matter.

All in all, Poor Little Rich Girl is another solid Shirley Temple entry that will probably please anybody in need of a good pick-me-up. It doesn't seem to be on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showings. (Well, it is on Amazon streaming if you can go that route.) And in that regard there was a problem either with my DVR (which is nearly full and getting old), or with the FXM print, in that a few spots near the end were turning green and purple. (I had problems with Bachelor Flat as well; it could just be a certain portion of the disk that's the problem.)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957)

For whatever reason, TCM shows the 1934 Fredric March version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street relatively regularly, while the 1957 remake shows up rather rarely. The TCM schedule lists the remake for tomorrow at noon, so now is your chance to watch.

Jennifer Jones plays Elizabeth Barrett, a name you probably recognize because of her marriage to Robert Browning and her sonnet beginning "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" which is used, along with several other poems, during the course of the movie. Anyhow, in this movie, Elizabeth has yet to marry Robert. She's still an invalid living at home with her widowed father Edward (John Gielgud), her passel of siblings, and her beloved dog Flush in a fashionable London home in 1845.

Dad, for whatever reason, seems to have it in for all his children, specifically doing everything he can to keep his daughters from marrying, which seems nuts because what are they going to do once he dies? Elizabeth's kid sister Henrietta (Virginia McKenna) has a lover in army captain Surtees Cook (Vernon Gray), but she can only see him in brief trysts whenever she's able to escape the house; Cook for his part stands around outside the house pining after Henrietta.

Elizabeth has been writing those poems, reading the poems of Robert Browning (Bill Travers), and even corresponding by letter with Browning. Eventually, Robert gets so curious that he goes to see Elizabeth. Fortunately, her father is away on business, because boy will he be pissed when he finds out! Indeed, Dad is so controlling that when he learns of both Elizabeth's and Henrietta's boyfriends, he buys a house out in the country so that he can move his daughters there and keep suitors and friends from seeing them.

This version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street is helped by its British provenance, using almost entirely a British cast aside from Jones. Gielgud is excellent as the father from hell, although I never quite figured out just why he became such an embittered, nasty man. He says Elizabeth was the only child born of love, but I wonder whether the other siblings weren't actually his and they couldn't say that because of the Production Code. Jones and Travers are a bit weak, with Jones overacting and Travers not having the heft for the part of Browning. Production values are uniformly lovely thanks especially with the color and widescreen cinematography.

I was surprised to see the MGM logo show up, since the movie isn't on DVD. I would have figured that an MGM movie would have gotten released courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, much as the 1934 version did. I'm guessing that being produced by MGM's British unit might have had something to do with this. So tomorrow's TCM showing will be your rare chance to see it.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The King of Jazz

A few weeks back, TCM ran the restored print of The King of Jazz as part of a night of movies with John Boles. I hadn't seen it before, so I DVRed it and watched it.

This is a difficult movie to review, because it's not a traditional movie with a plot, but instead a revue, with a few comedy numbers and a lot of songs, and the music for those songs provided by Paul Whiteman and his band. Whiteman had become known as the "King of Jazz", in what I'd have to guess was an act of self-promotion the way Eddie Muller calls himself the "King of Noir". In any case, Whiteman introduces several songs in styles popular at the time, and a couple that have stood the test of time.

The first in this latter group has to be "Rhapsody in Blue". I had forgotten that Whiteman commissioned this song from George Gershwin, and it became one of the Whitman band's signature tunes, so it's only natural that it should show up here. Among the spectacular parts of this number is the giant grand piano which , when the lid is opened, reveals several members of the orchestra. The camera angles rival Busby Berkeley, although this came a few years before 42nd Street.

The other is "Happy Feet". It opens with a pair of dancing shoes in stop-motion animation (at least, I think it's stop-motion), followed by some lavish dancing as well as the novelty dancing of Al Norman, who has to be one of the most frighteningly flexible dancers you'll ever see. There's also a dispute with Whiteman and the MC discussing whether it's the music or the dancing that puts a song over, resolved rather humorously.

Other highlights are the appearances of the Rhythm Boys, one of whose members was a very young Bing Crosby at the beginning of his career. There's also a skit about a boss being caught in flagrante delicto that has a great punchline. But most noteworthy of all would have to be the two-strip Technicolor. The restoration looks extrememly good, although there is a few minutes of footage missing, replaced by black and white stills, or photos moved like in a Ken Burns documentary. (Ugh.)

The King of Jazz is well worth a watch for anybody who's a fan of early color and early musicals (or this type of music in general).

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #246: Non-English TV Shows (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's once again time for a TV edition, with this month's theme being non-English language TV shows. I don't watch much episodic TV, and even less foreign TV, so this one was a bit difficult for me. Eventually I found some clips that I hope you'll all find interesting:

Vremya. Soviet-era nightly news show. I recall our local PBS station showing programs for a short time in the 1980s (I forget whether they were subtitled or dubbed) under some silly guise of "this is how Russian people see the world", or some such. I remember that 80s theme. I also found on Youtube on from May 9, 1975, which is an important day because it was Victory Day, the 30th anniversary of the surrender of the Nazis at the end of the European campaign in World War II.

Mainzelmännchen. These little animated figures were used for decades on German broadcaster ZDF as interestitials between advertisements.

Fort Boyard. French action game show that debuted in 1990 and has been exported to a whole lot of countries where it also had success -- except for the US.

Pirates of Tortuga

One of the movies currently in the FXM rotation that's going to be on again soon is Pirates of Tortuga. You'll have another chance to catch it at 10:10 AM Friday (March 29).

Ken Scott plays Bart Paxton, who is returning to port in late-17th century England. There's a delicate situation. Sir Henry Morgan (Robert Stephens), the ennobled former pirate, decided he didn't want to stop being a pirate. He's set up a base on the Spanish-owned island of Tortuga, and is organizing a blockade of Jamaica with he and his men keeping the booty. Unfortunately, the British can't send the Royal Navy to deal with Morgan, because attacking him on Tortuga would be seen as an attack against Spain, sending the two countries back to a war England thinks it can't win. So the English want Paxton and his crew to work as privateers, raiding Morgan and breaking the blockade.

But before they can set sail, Paxton runs across a gypsy actress/pickpocket calling herself Meg (Leticia Román). She steals a man's purse, and Bart catches up with her, saving her from the possibility of the gallows but only intending for her to be kept on his ship long enough for him to drop her off somewhere else. Meg has no intention of that, eventually stowing away on the boat beyond its venturing into the open Atlantic. Paxton and his men are forced to keep her on board.

Soon enough, Paxton's ship runs across one of Morgan's, and in the skirmish Paxton wins and is able to bring some goods into Jamaica. Meg gets a concussion, and uses that to pass herself off as Lady Margaret to the colonial governor Mollyford (Edgar Barrier). Paxton meets the governor and the two formulate a plan to take down Morgan....

Pirates of Tortuga is little more than a time-waster, the sort of movie I have a feeling was made cheaply for Fox to distribute during the years the studio was spending a ton of money on Cleopatra. It has nice color and Cinemascope cinematography, and the print FXM ran was letterboxed. The story, however, is formulaic, with neither of the leads being particularly interesting. It's the sort of movie you'll forget a couple of days after watching, but nice for a rainy day. Apparently it did once get a DVD release, but it's out of print.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Tender Trap

In trying to figure out what to watch, I realized I have to Frank Sinatra box sets, so I took out the DVD of The Tender Trap and watched it.

Sinatra plays theatrical agent Charlie Reader who, after we see him singing the title song before the opening credits, is shown on the couch in the middle of his New York apartment in the middle of a hot date (well, hot for the 50s) with Poppy (Lola Albright). It turns out that she's not his only girl, as popping into the room at various times are Jessica (Jarma Lewis), representative from a southern company; Helen (Carolyn Jones), who walks Charlie's dog; and Charlie's old friend Joe (David Wayne).

Oh wait; Joe's not a woman. It turns out that Joe telegraphed Charlie a few days earlier from Indianapolis that he'd be coming to visit for a few weeks to "take a vacation from his wife", which of course is a euphemism for the couple's marriage may be on the rocks. When David takes phone calls the next day while Charlie is working, it seems as though Charlie has dozens of women after him. There's one more we haven't mentioned; Sylvia (Celeste Holm), the lone lady violinist in the NBC orchestra. Sylvia is probably Charlie's closest girlfriend, except that she may not be so interested in marriage.

And then we meet a young woman who definitely is interested in marriage: Julie (Debbie Reynolds), who auditions for a play and winds up being Charlie's client. She gets the part, but has decided views that she's going to get married on a certain date, live in a certain town up in Westchester, and have three children. Oh, and the marriage date preculdes a standard run of the play contract. She's also flighty, in that she spends so much time at a furniture show the she misses one of the rehearsals. Who would want to marry a woman like that?

You can probably guess what happens next, which is that Charlie falls in love with Julie, and that eventually Julie is going to fall in love with Charlie, although that's going to take a little longer. And since Charlie is constantly stiffing Sylvia to deal with Julie, Joe starts standing in for Charlie and he falls in love with Sylvia, despite that marriage back in Indiana. And there are more complications ahead. Joe has been taking those phone messages from the dozens if not hundreds of women, and you just know Julie is going to find them, which clearly contradicts her conception of relationships.

In the end, though, The Tender Trap is light comedy, so once again you can probably figure out just how the Charlie/Julie relationship is going to be resolved, as well as the Joe/Sylvia relationship. The Tender Trap is moderately pleasant stuff, although not without its flaws, thanks to the way Charlie and Julie are depicted. The probably deserve each other, if only because nobody else deserves either of them.

One of the good things about the movie is the art direction, specifially in Charlie's apartment where much of the movie is set. It's a wonder of Mid-Century Modern, as it probably really was back in 1955. The above is only half of Charlie's palatial living room; I couldn't find a shot that has the whole thing as it's too big for wide screen. (I also wonder how a theatrical agent could afford an apartment like this.) To the left there's a fabulous minimalist gray couch as was the modern style. Julie's family's apartment, on the other hand, is much more old-fashioned:

All in all, The Tender Trap wasn't quite my favorite, but it's worth a watch.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Communist scifi

I think a fair number of people have heard of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 movie Solaris, which is probably the best-known science fiction movie to come from behind the Iron Curtain. Courtesy of last Friday's Radip Prague English-language broadcast, I heard about one that was entirely new to me, Ikarie XB 1:

The classic Czech sci-fi film Ikarie XB 1 looks set to find fresh audiences with a new Blu-ray release next week. A number of major figures in the history of Czech cinema were involved in the making of the black and white movie, which prefigured Western releases such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek.

Ikarie XB 1, based on a novel by Polish writer Stanislav Lem, tells the story of the large international crew of a spaceship headed for the outer reaches of our universe in the year 2163.

As you can read in the transcript that's at the link above, the DVD and Blu-ray are being released by Second Run, a UK company that I mentioned back in December 2015 as bringing lesser-known Czech films to an English-language market. The problem is that the company, being British, charges in pounds, which, combined with the shipping, makes the movies very pricey.

As always with Radio Prague, there's not just a transcript of the report, but a streaming audio player, and an MP3 download (~1.7 MB, ~3 and a half minutes).

Monday, March 25, 2019

Losing Ground

Another recent DVR watch was the 1982 film Losing Ground.

Seret Scott plays Sara a philosophy professor at a college in New York City. All of her students love her and tell her they really enjoyed taking her class. Interestingly, they also say that her husband must be lucky to have somebody like her for a wife. That's obviously a sign that things aren't going to be quite right at home for Sara.

Victor (Bill Gunn) is Sara's husband, and is an abstract artist by profession. They live in what looks like a combined apartment/art studio which frankly looks entirely too large for a professor/artist couple, but that's the movies for you. Victor, being an artist, is a bit of a free spirit, and while Sara isn't exactly strait-laced, she's definitely the more serious of the two, and you can tell it's the sort of thing that's led to a constant low-level tension between the two. Only now, it's bubbling up to the surface.

Victor gets the idea that it would be a change of pace to renew his creative juices if the two go upstate for the summer. Sara, however, wants to do academic research, and that's probably going to be difficult to do in a small-town library. Indeed, while doing that research, Sara has already met Duke (Duane Jones) an actor who has a past studying philosophy and is the uncle of one of Sara's former students George (Gary Boling). Anyhow, they compromise and go not that far north of New York to a town with a substantial Puerto Rican colony.

While there, Victor decides to start painting portraits, especially after running across Celia (Maritza Rivera) dancing to Puerto Rican music along the banks of the Hudson River. Meanwhile, Duke shows up here as well, and Sara gets a call from George asking if she would take a part in the student film he's making. She demurs at first, thinking that doing this sort of work for one of her former students might have some ethical problems, but eventually she accepts and finds that Duke is also in the movie. Tensions between Victor and Sara build.

Losing Ground is a movie that's notable mostly because of its provenance: its director, Kathleen Collins, was one of the first Black American women to direct a substantial feature film. That's both a blessing and a curse, I think. The movie probably wouldn't get any attention at all had it not been directed by a black woman, while I think it also has the effect of pigeonholing the movie as something of more a niche interest.

In fact, the themes in Losing Ground are universal and the idea of a couple trying to deal with the strains of being in a rut in their relationshp is well-explored movie fodder. Losing Ground fits in well and does a generally good job, although the limited budget does result in some flaws as Collins took on a bunch of roles besides director. Specifically, the movie could have used a few more sets of eyes to flesh out the script, which at times seems like it's leaving some empty spots.

One of the pluses is the location shooting. Although the couple talks about going "upstate", they really only go to Nyack, maybe 20 miles north of Manhattan and a good hour and a half south of me (and unlike people in New York City and much of America, I don't consider New York to be "upstate" until you get to the 518 area code). However, the Nyack of the movie looks so much like many of the other declining towns along the Hudson, like Newburgh or Kingston, or the Hudson that was used in Odds Against Tomorrow (the east side of the Hudson is gentrifying more than the west side, probably because New York City is on the east side of the river).

Losing Ground did get a DVD release, although it's pricey, probably because of the whole "first black woman director" thing. Still, I would definitely recommend the movie.

Treasures from the Disney Vault, March 2019

We've reached the time once again when the roughly quarterly programming feature Treasures from the Disney Vault shows up on TCM. Leonard Maltin hosts as usual, and the films show up tonight in prime time. This time around, I'm not so certain is use the word "treasures", since I don't think I've heard of any of the night's selections. There are two cartoon shorts, although neither of them stars the more traditional Disney characters. Elmer Elephant (8:00 PM), not Dumbo, is the cartoon elephant, while Country Cousin (midnight) has mice not named Mickey or Minnie).

The whole night's theme is animal movies, with perhaps the most human-centered being The Wild Country at 12:15 AM. At least, that's as much as one can glean from the brief synopses, not having seen the movies. It's got Ron Howard from the period between Andy Griffith and Happy Days. I've heard of Benji, but not the particular Benji movie that will be airing at 3:30 AM.

If you want to see the whole schedule, TCM created a sub-domain that has its own style distinct from the rest of the pages for TCM programming articles.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


Some time back, I DVRed the 1950 British film Madeleine. It's going to be on TCM again at 6:00 AM tomorrow.

Ann Tood plays Madeleine Smith, the adult daughter in a family in Glasgow in the early part of the Victorian era. The family is getting a new house in a fashionable part of the city, and Madeleine decides that she likes the basement bedroom, for reasons we'll discover presently. One day, a man approaches, running his walking stick along the bars of the basement bedroom window, which is obviously a sign to Madeleine. He passes her a note, which reads, "10 o'clock".

The Smiths are entertaining Minnoch (Norman Wooland), a nice gentlemen who is rather older than Madeleine, except that this was an era when it was relatively common for young women to marry gentlemen quite a few years older. Obviously, it's Mr. Smith's (Leslie Banks) hopes that he can marry off Madeleine to Minnoch. Minnoch, for his part, eventually asks Mr. Smith if he can start seeing Madeleine. Dad, who is of rather stern Scottish stock, lets Madeleine know in no uncertain terms that she should agree to this, and is rather peeved that she doesn't seem to share Minnoch's interest in her.

That, of course, has to to with the note she got. At 10:00 PM on the night she gets it, she goes out of the basement door to see the man who delievered it, L'Anglier (Ivan Desny). She's in love with him, but he's not of the proper social class for Mr. Smith to approve, so she's been seeing him illicitly and sending love letters. L'Anglier follows the Smiths around so he can keep seeing Madeleine, and he gets Madeleine to imply that she'd be married to him by now if only Mr. Smith wouldn't approve.

Things change, however, when Madeleine learns during one of the meetings that L'Anglier really seems less interested in Madeleine herself and more in the family's money. She wants to break off the relationship, but she finds that it won't be so easy. L'Anglier has those love letters, and probably wouldn't be above trying to blackmail her and her family by letting her father know about those love letters and the informal engagement.

Madeleine responds by buying arsenic, which she claims is part of a beauty treatment (apparently, there really were some bizarre theories about arsenic back in the 1850s). L'Anglier falls ill and dies shortly after, and when it's determined at autopsy that he died of arsenic poisoning, it's not very difficult for the police to put two and two together and determine that Madeleine must have poisoned him.

So she's put on trial in what is the trial of the era. (The movie is based on a real case, as the narrator mentions at the beginning of the movie.) The prosecution has a whole lot of evidence, in the form of the letters, Madeleine's arsenic, and the motive. But the defense also has very good evidence. Apparently L'Anglier had had a similar illness to what ultimately killed him at a time that categorically excludes Madeleine's involvement; the arsenic that killed L'Anglier appears to be a different color than what Madeleine bought; and L'Anglier was also known to take all sorts of wacky quack medicines, some of which contained arsenic.

David Lean directed early in his career, and the result is a very good movie. The performances are good, but the cinematography is even better. The movie is also helped by being based on a true story in which the truth may sometimes be stranger than fiction.

Unfortunately, the movie seems to be out of print on DVD. The print TCM ran has a Criterion title animation before the movie, but Criterion's site doesn't list the movie as being available for purchase, or even as being out of print. So you're going to have to watch the rare TCM showing.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Not as magnificent as legend has it

Another recent watch off my DVR was The Magnificent Ambersons, the 1942 movie that is probably best remembered for the fact that the studio edited it over the objections of its director, Orson Welles.

Dolores Costello plays Isabel Amberson, daughter in a wealthy family in Indiana in the late 19th century. She's being pursued romantically by Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten), but Cotten makes the mistake of getting drunk while serenading her, which cases her father to break off the engagement. Instead, Isabel marries Minafer (Don Dillaway), while Eugnee goes off to become a success in life.

Roughly two dozen years pass, to around 1900. Isabel has an adult son George (Tim Holt), and they live in the old Amberson mansion together with Isabel's sister-in-law Fanny (Agnes Moorehead). Eugene, for his part, has become relatively successful as a manufacture of the new-fangled automobile. He's a widower with a daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter) who is about George's age. George has been spoiled rotten, and thinks that automobiles are an idiotic idea. Worse, he gets it in his head that Eugene has only returned for two reasons, both having to do with Isabel: one is that Eugene might still love Isabel; the other is that George thinks Eugene is fishing for an infusion of capital, specifically, Isabel's inheritance.

Idiotic George, for his part, announces that there's no way in hell he's going to do real work, either taking a profession like the law or doing manual labor. Instead, he's going to be a yachtsman or something; how the hell he ever thought he was going to make ends meet living like this is a mystery. General scuttlebutt is that George and Lucy would make a good couple, and they do go riding together, but Lucy wants a stable future, not a flake with no idea what he wants to do in life. George's father dies, revealing that there's not much to inherit, and to keep Isabel from Eugene, since the two really did remain friends, George takes her on a long trip which effectively kills her and depletes the family fortune.

The Magnificent Ambersons isn't a bad movie, but it's not without its flaws, and those aren't necessarily due to the editing. Welles insisted on using all sorts of camera tricks, and most of them not only add little to the movie, they detract by making the camera tricks the focus of the movie and not the plot. The story and acting are good, although George is an irritating enough character that at times when he's on the screen I found the movie a bit tougher to watch.

Supposedly, the original cut of the movie flopped badly in previews, which is why RKO edited it down by chopping about 50 minutes and leaving us with an 88-minute movie. Would Welles' original vision be better? I wouldn't be surprised if it would. But I also don't think it would be the masterpiece a lot of people believe it would have been. My guess, since none of the cut footage is known to survive, is that the original cut probably did need some editing since it came in at nearly two and a half hours, but that it wouldn't have needed to be cut down to 90 minutes. Also, the studio did have the impetus of that disastrous preview showing, Welles' going over budget, and changing tastes thanks to the American entry into World War II. And as I said above, The Magnificent Ambersons is still pretty good.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Soldier of Fortune

A movie that's been in the FXM rotation for the last little while is Soldier of Fortune. It's on again tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM, and a couple of times next week.

After some establishing footage showing that our story is going to be set in Hong Kong, we see the arrival of one of those rare things for back in the early 1950s: a woman traveling alone. That woman is Jane Hoyt (Susan Hayward), and she obviously must have a good reason for traveling alone. In fact, her husband Louis (Gene Barry) is a photojournalist, who "officially" crossed the border illicitly to do a story on daily life in Communist China. He's never returned, and Jane wants to find him.

The Americans can't really help her since her husband crossed the border illegally (and one wonders whether he was really on a mission for the government) and because they don't run the place. The British still owned Hong Kong at the time, and they can't do anything either because Louis did after all break the law, and he's not a UK subject. Jane asks around, and it's eventually suggested she contact Hank Lee (Clark Gable).

Hank is officially working in the import/export business, but that's really a euphemism for smuggling stuff between Hong Kong, mainland China, and Macao, which at the time was still a Portuguese colony. Hank is eventually willing to help out Jane, but it's less because she's got a lot of money and more because he loves her. Frankly, he'd love to just run off with her and let Louis die in China, but that's a big no-no for Jane, even though she's beginning to find that Hank might be a more interesting partner for her than Louis. Hank can only get Jane if he actually appeals more than Louis when he's with Jane, so he has to reunite them first.

The story in Soldier of Fortune is one where there's not really a whole lot of "there" there. It's a bit slow and talky, and the exciting part that is implied by a title like Soldier of Fortune doesn't come until about the last 20 minutes and even then isn't all that exciting. It's not terrible; it's just not a highlight of either Gable's or Hayward's careers. (You'll note that I haven't even bothered to mention the presence of Michael Rennie as a British police officer.) What does make the movie worth watching is the footage of Hong Kong. There's establishing footage, and a lot of rear-projection photography, and the Color by Deluxe makes it look lovely. It's just too bad the movie has been panned and scanned down to 16:9 except for the credits.

Soldier of Fortune doesn't seem to be on DVD, either, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showings.

A few random notes

So Disney's purchase of Fox is complete. I have no idea what it's going to mean for FXM, or for the movies that were in Fox's vault. Disney has already closed one of Fox's smaller studio divisons, so it's natural to worry about the other niche divisions.

A factoid I would have thought I mentioned before but according to a search of the blog haven't. Somebody over on the TCM boards recently mentioned watching an old movie starring British comic actor Norman Wisdom, who in my opinion is part Jerry Lewis, part Mr. Bean, and part George Formby without the ukulele. Anyhow, his well-meaning but bumbling character who always seems to be getting it over on his boss at the end was noticed in, of all places, Communist Albania. They apparently thought Wisdom's movies were making trenchant commentary about capitalism's exploitation of the worker, so this was one of the few forms of western entertainment allowed in the country during the Communist era. Audiences saw it for what it was, and when the wall fell and Wisdom was able to visit Albania, he was beloved. When Wisdom died in 2010, the BBC interviewed the Albanian ambassador to the UK about Wisdom's legacy:

I mentioned watching Edward, My Son recently. When TCM ran it, they included extra time in the schedule, which was used to show the Oscar-nominated short Main Street Today. This one is from 1944 and credits John Nesbitt with the narration, but there's no Passing Parade title card or music. The short was a propaganda piece about trying to add a third shift at a factory in Anytown, Midwest to make a certain weapon for the military. It was supposed to get people to do more of their part, but watching it 75 years on, what I noticed was just how much control over every aspect of our lives the Roosevelt administration took during World War II. I couldn't find Main Street Today as an extra anywhere, and a search also suggests that while various batches of shorts from MGM have been put on box sets, the Passing Parade series is one that hasn't yet.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #245: Private Eye

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 private eyes. [clap]. They're watching you. [clap clap] They see your every move. OK, well not those private eyes. Just plain old detectives. Detective movies were very popular back in the 30s and 40s, so I picked a trio from the 30s:

After the Thin Man (1936). William Powell returns for a second go-round as Nick Charles, this time out in San Francisco visiting Nora's family. Nora's cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) is worried that her fiancé is missing, and when Nick investigates, murder ensues. I always have to recommend Elissa Landi movies since she's got a street named after her in my home town, and this one also has James Stewart before he was a star.

Private Detective 62 (1933). William Powell plays a disgraced diplomat who goes to work for a detective (Arthur Hohl) who gets the job from a casino owner (Gordon Westcott) to frame a beautiful lady (Margaret Lindsay) who's winning too much money. Powell gets the actual dirty work, but when he starts to do it, he finds himself falling in love with Lindsay. Double-crosses and murder ensue.

The Kennel Murder Case (1932). William Powell plays detective Philo Vance, who this time gets to investigate a locked-room murder (of Robert Barrat) among the dog-show set. The police, in the form of Eugene Pallette, consider it suicide, but Philo knows better, and investigates. More murders ensue.

Why do all these murders ensue when William Powell shows up, anyway?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Edward, My Son

Another movie that I watched over the weekend was Edward, My Son.

Spencer Tracy plays Lord Arnold Boult, a Canadian-born Brit who tells us at the beginning that he badly screwed up his family's lives and that now his son Edward is dead. You can probably guess from this that we're about to have a flashback to how Arnold did all this. Flash back to Edward's first birthday, which Arnold and his wife Evelyn (Deborah Kerr) are celebrating along with Dr. Larry Woodhope (Ian Hunter), the family doctor who helped deliver Edward. The Boults aren't particularly well-to-do, but Arnold is ambitious, about to go into the banking industry with his friend Harry (Mervyn Johns) lending small amounts to people looking to buy things on the installment plan.

Fast forward to when Edward is five. He's in need of an operation that's going to cost a lot of money, and frankly he doesn't have that money since the business isn't going all that well. However, he has inventory that's insured, and he realizes if something happens to that inventory he'd have the money for Edward's operation. So naturally, Arnold decides to commit arson to get that insurance money.

It's just the first of many nasty things Arnold is going to go do "help" out his son, who ultimately grows up into a spoiled brat. Arnold blackmails the headmaster (Felix Aylmer) of Edward's boarding school, drives Harry to suicide, has an affair with his secretary, drives his wife to drink and threatens to claim she and Larry had an affair if she tries to file for divorce, and tries to get a woman Edward knocked up to have an abortion! Talk about nasty!

The one interesting thing about My Son, Edward is that we never actually see Edward. It's Spencer Tracy's movie all the way, and even though Kerr was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, she's really a supporting character here.

As for the movie, I can't help think it could have been better than it turned out to be. Lord Boult was made Canadian-born for the movie so that MGM could give the role to Tracy without his having to essay a British accent. The movie was based on a play co-written by actor Robert Morley who also played the Arnold role in the original stage version. Tracy had too many good-guy roles behind him to be truly convincing as the piece of work Arnold is. Deborah Kerr is also a surprising problem in that she goes way over the top once Evelyn starts drinking. I'd guess she was directed this way, since she's normally much better than this.

Edward, My Son is an interesting but flawed movie that's probably worth one viewing. But it's not one I'm going to rush out and buy the Warner Archive DVD of.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Foxes not of Harrow

One of tonight's Fredric March movies is Another Part of the Forest (11:00 PM), based on the play by Lillian Hellman. The family in this story is the same one in Hellman's earlier play The Little Foxes which was also turned into a movie, so I'm doing today's post on The Little Foxes.

Bette Davis plays Regina Giddens, married sister in an Alabama family from the turn of the 20th century which includes the Hubbard brothers: married Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) and unmarried Ben (Charles Dingle). Regina married the town banker Horace (Herbert Marshall), but he's been sick with a heart issue and seeing specialists up north in Baltimore. Regina wants Horace to return home, so she's gong to send their daughter Alexandra (Teresa Wright), nicknamed "Xan", up to Baltimore.

Regina has good reason to want her husband home. The Hubbards have been negotiating a business deal with Marshall, an industrialist from Chicago. He wants to open a mill down south to handle the cotton, but he needs a deal with the people who have the cotton, which means the Hubbards. The problem is that the Hubbards have to put up money, and it's going to come one-third from each sibling, more or less. The "more or less" is because Regina being a woman doesn't have the control over the family money that her brothers have. She needs Horace to approve of investing.

When Horace returns, we learn that he has no intention of investing the Giddens money. More alarmingly, we learn that he's going to die because his heart condition is untreatable. He's relatively OK with dying, too, because he and Regina have been at each other's throats for years thanks to a whole bunch of issues. Among them is the question of whom Alexandra should marry. Alexandra has been seeing, in an oh-so late 19th century way, David (Richard Carlson), who works at the local newspaper and is a nice young man but not of the Hubbard's financial class. Horace worries that the rest of the family is going to try to marry Xan off to her cousin (Oscar's son) Leo (Dan Duryea), who is in Horace's mind a nasty piece of work.

Horace is right to fear Leo. Leo works in Horace's bank, probably because he wasn't able to get any other job. Leo has been thoroughly unethical, to the point of rummaging through Uncle Horace's safety deposit box. He's found that Horace has $90,000 in bonds convertible as cash, which would be more than enough to cover that one-third of the investment in the cotton mill. Leo knows that Horace only looks at his safe deposit box twice a year or so, and isn't going to look at it again until the autumn, so Leo could "borrow" those bonds for five months, which would be enough time to raise the money to replace them. Leo, however, tells his father so much about them that we just know Horace is going to discover that his bonds are missing....

The Little Foxes is a really fun little movie, a sort of light version of Tennessee Williams' southern Gothic. I think not going all the way to Williams' level makes it better, since I tend to find Williams to go way over the top. Davis is ruthless but actually also tones it down from some of her other movies, again to the benefit of the movie. Wright is good as the young woman who has to grow up; Reid and Dingle are more than passable in supporting roles. Duryea nearly steals the show as a thoroughly nasty man in his first real role (IMDb claims he had an uncredited role in one movie before this). It's an obvious precursor to those noir heavies he'd play. The one weak link is Patricia Collinge as the crazy aunt. She's more obnoxious than possibly insane.

I was very favorably impressed by The Little Foxes, and I think you'll be, too.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Briefs for March 18-19, 2019 character actor Richard Erdman died over the weekend at the age of 93. Among Erdman's many roles was as Hoffman, one of the POWs in Stalag 17 (he's third from the right in the photo). I forgot that he was in You're in the Navy Now, which I blogged about ages ago and I don't think has shown up on TV much since. Erdman also did quite a bit of TV, with one of his most recent appearances being a recurring character on Community.

Tomorrow morning and afternoon, TCM is marking the birth anniversary of silent and early talkie actress Betty Compson. It's been a good four years since I mentioned Street Girl (still not on DVD as far as I can tell), so your rare chance to catch it is going to be tomorrow at 12:45 PM, immediately following Weary River (11:00 AM) which I've mentioned a couple of times, too.

It's been eight years since I blogged about David and Bathsheba. It returned to the FXM rotation recently, with scattered showings. Another of those showings is going to be tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I've actually got a new-to-the-blog FXM movie coming up later in the week, and have a day off work at the end of the week so that I can (at least I hope) watch more movies than normal.

TCM's Stanley Donen tribute

Director Stanley Donen died last month, and with TCM being in the middle of 31 Days of Oscar they couldn't do a programming tribute at the time. Now that we're in March, TCM have found a night of the schedule to pre-empt and are running Donen's tribute tonight in prime time.

For better or worse, it's only a bunch of musicals. Nothing like Charade (Universal) or Two for the Road (Fox). On the other hand, you can argue that Donen's career was made by those earlier musicals he made at MGM, and how could you do a tribute to him without those musicals? And some people are going to be unhappy if there were any pre-emptions of the Monday or Tuesday daytime lineups to make for an expanded Donen tribute.

Anyhow, tonight's lineup is:

8:00 PM Private Screenings: Stanley Donen
9:00 PM Singin' in the Rain
11:00 PM On the Town
1:00 AM Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
3:00 AM Royal Wedding
5:00 AM It's Always Fair Weather

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Henry V (1944)

TCM ran Laurence Olivier's version of Henry V during 31 Days of Oscar last month and I, never having blogged about it before, recorded it so that I could watch it again and do a post on it.

There's a title card announcing the fuller title of the play, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France [sic] being performed at the Globe Theater on May 1, 1600. After an overhead shot of a model of 1600 London, we pan into the Globe, somewhat reminiscent of the opening to The Crowd. Leslie Banks plays a "chorus" (one person) who announces upcoming action at the beginning of each act, and then we see a couple of the King's advisors discussing the big issue, which is France.

The English monarchy had of course come from France 350 years earlier and the English had had any number of claims on French territory so, after being insulted by the French king, Henry decides that he's going to go on a little expedition to show the French who was boss. We leave the Globe as the action moves outside, either to soundstages or for the big battle scenes later outside.

Henry goes to Southampton to go across the English Channel, and has to deal with a murder plot, and then goes to France itself, laying siege to the town of Harfleur before continuing on. Plans were apparently to head for Paris but weather intervened, so Henry continued east, winding up getting intercepted by the French near the village of Agincourt, which was the location for the famous battle in October 1415. Henry rallies the troops in disguise so that they don't know who he is, and then wins the battle.

Of course, that wasn't the end of the war, and there was much diplomacy that ensued which ultimately concluded with the marriage of Henry to French princess Catherine (Renee Asherson) despite each of them having a rather poor command of the other's language. I'd say that they all lived happily ever after, but in real life Henry died two years after marrying, with just an infant son which caused all sorts of political turmoil.

Shakesperean language can be tough, so you really have to pay a lot of attention. I also think that the histories are a bit more difficult than the comedies or tragedies, so Olivier had two strikes against him going into this one. Olivier, who not only starred but directed and adapted Shakespeare's play, does well even though I have to say that the movie may not be everybody's cup of tea.

Even though Britain was in the midst of World War II -- and the movie was made in part to rally British morale for the invasion of Normandy which actually preceded the film's release -- no expense was spared. The British government wanted this one to be made. Technicolor was used (interestingly, this is one of the few Technicolor movies not to have Natalie Kalmus' name on it), and supposedly an extremely low amount of footage was left on the cutting-room floor: I'd guess that the supply of Technicolor film stock was severely limited thanks to the war. The sets are well executed, with an obvious stylistic decision made to have backdrops that would have looked like what was used in the Globe in 1600 even once the action leaves the Globe. One thing that I noticed was that the bright Technicolor of the day made the battle scenes look almost unreal, reminding me of the shots that Sergei Eisenstein used some years earlier in Aleksandr Nevsky or Dreyer used in The Passion of Joan of Arc.

If I were going to recommend Shakespeare to people, I'd probably start with Zeffirelli's 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet and then the 1935 Midsummer Night's Dream. But Henry V is an extremely worthy watch.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

I'm only suggesting

I decided to continue making my way through the W.C. Fields box set I picked up some time back, and this time out watched You're Telling Me! (the exclamation point is in the title, as you can see).

Fields plays Sam Bisbee, an inventor who doesn't have the best of home lives, as he's got a wife (Louise Carter) who is hen-pecking him to death. He's also got an adult daughter Pauline (Joan Marsh) who is in love with young Bob Murchison (Buster Crabbe, who as you can see is billed with his real name and nickname). The only problem is that the Murchisons are rich and the Bisbees are from the "other side of the tracks" (the tracks joke is literally made several times), and Mrs. Murchison (Kathleen Howard) doesn't approve of the wedding at all, even threatening to disinherit Bob.

Bisbee sees his chance to make good with one of his inventions, a puncture-proof tire, a pretty big thing in those less technically advanced days. He gets an offer to demonstrate the tire, but he parks in a no-parking zone and the car gets moved, so when he goes to do the demonstration, he does it on the wrong car, sedans apparently all looking alike in the mid 1930s. He's lost his car and his hopes at his daughter's happiness, so on the train home, he contemplates suicide.

However, he eventually decided against it and while walking back to his seat, he walks into a compartment that the Princess Lescaboura (Adrienne Ames) is using with her entourage, she being on a goodwill tour of America. She's deeply unhappy that she wasn't able to marry the man she wanted, so she's not certain what to do with her life. Bisbee, not knowing she's a princess, talks her out of any thoughts of suicide, and suggests that the only thing that could help his daughter is a fairy princess. Lescaboura being a princess, you can put two and two together....

It might be a surprise, but I'd consider You're Telling Me one of the better Fields movies I've seen, which I think has to with its having a pretty coherent plot. That, and the plot is surprisingly dark for Fields; the idea of a Fields character legitimately contemplating suicide was something I certainly hadn't expected. Fields and Ames do legitimately well in their scene together in the train compartment. Of course, there's a lot of comedy, too. The two big sequences bookended the film and to me were the weakest part of the movie, largely because they didn't drive the plot. In between, there's some of the oddball inventions, and Fields with an ostrich on a leash.

My copy of You're Telling Me! is on a cheap box set Universal put out, and even if the movie was medicore you couldn't beat it for the price.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Verree Teasdale, 1903-1987

Verree Teasdale in a publicity still from A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Verree Teasdale, who played mostly supporting roles in about two dozen movies in the 1930s. Probably her most famous role would be as Hippolyta, who is supposed to get married to Theseus (Ian Hunter) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, before Puck (Mickey Rooney) bollixes everything up.

Among the other movies that air from time to time on TCM that you can see Teasdale in are Skyscraper Souls, in which she plays Warren William's mistress; or the Harold Lloyd movie The Milky Way, in which Teasdale plays the girlfriend of Lloyd's manager, who is played by Adolphe Menjou. In fact, I could have used this movie in the Thursday Movie Picks from three weeks ago about real-life couples in movies together. Well, except that I didn't know that Teasdale was married to Menjou at the time, and would remain married to Menjou until his death in 1963.

There's also Payment Deferred, in which Teasdale tries to seduce Charles Laughton after he's gone and killed Ray Milland.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #244: Movies I thought I'd hate, but ended up enjoying

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 officially "Movies You Thought You'd Hate, But Ended Up Enjoying", but for me it's going to be slightly different. I generally don't sit down to watch a movie if I think I'm liable to hate it, although to be fair there arent that many movies I think I'm going to hate. Movies I'm not certain I'd care for, sure. Movies that I had no idea what I'd think of them, but ended up hating? Women in Love, I'm looking at you. But there are a couple of movies that, either during one of the TCM hosts' introductions or a couple of minutes in, I wasn't certain I would like, but by the end I did. So I picked three of those:

We're Rich Again (1934). Grant Mitchell plays a man in heavy debt trying to marry off his daughter (Joan Marsh) to a rich guy (Reginald Denny), but there are complications in the form of a debt collector, a distant cousin (Marian Nixon), and a rich guy (Buster Crabbe, going through the movie wearing nothing but swimming trunks and saying nothing until the final scene). Grant Mitchell's character goes through lie after lie to keep the debt collector at bay, and that sort of "comedy of lies" is something I've stated quite a few times is something I don't particularly care for. But this one winds up being so bizarre that I enojyed it. Billie Burke is playing yet another ditzy wife, and Edna May Oliver plays a polo-playing granny to add to the confusion.

For Pete's Sake (1974). Another movie that's a bit of a comedy of lies, and it has Barbra Streisand, not my favorite actress, to boot. She plays a housewife to Michael Sarrazin who loses a bunch of money during the early 70s recession in a stock deal gone wrong, and borrows from loan sharks to keep her husband from finding out. Of course, when she can't pay back the loan sharks, complications ensue. This one played out more like a 30s programmer, only with 70s stars and a bigger budget, and wound up being fairly good.

Antonia's Line (1995). When this one showed up in 31 Days of Oscar last year, the host (I think it was Dave Karger, but I don't remember) commented that this was often referred to as a "feminist" movie by a feminist director (Marleen Gorris). That immediately made me worry that we'd get something didactic and/or preachy, but that didn't happen. The movie tells (in flashback) the story of a woman who returns to her home village in the Netherlands after World War II and then raises her daughter and, ultimately, extended family. t's got a few characters who I found a bit too quirky, but for the most part it was just a really nice slice-of-life movie that just happened to be about a widow who tries to make it through life without a man for the most part.

More journalism movies

Kirk Douglas in Ace in the Hole, tonight at 8:00 PM

The March spotlight on journalism and the movies continues with a night of what TCM is calling "Newspaper Noir". It kicks off at 8:00 PM with Ace in the Hole, in which Kirk Douglas plays an unethical reporter who gets a big story and decides to draw it out. It's a great movie, although I'm not certain I'd call it noir. I'd call The Blue Gardenia (overnight at 1:30 AM) the most noirish of the movies airing tonight.

To be honest, though, I'm really mentioning Ace in the Hole because I knew I had that photo of Kirk Douglas. I had posted it many years ago back when I was hosting all of the blog's photos at Photobucket. Of course, they went and got rid of hotlinking, trying to charge a ridiculous sum to allow it, and then changed to have a watermark when you hotlink your photos. So every time I think of a movie where I'm pretty certain I posted a photo, I look to repost it, hosting the photo on Blogger/Google. I haven't gotten around to editing the old posts, and frankly don't know that I will. I haven't been using quite so many photos recently, but still there are a lot of them to go through.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

More fun with newsreels

Not having any idea of what to post today, I decided to look through which of my DVDs had extras on them that I hadn't commented on yet. So I put in the DVD of Lady Killer from the Warner Bros. Gangsters set that I've mentioned several times. I'd blogged about the regular shorts, so decided to watch the newsreel, which was about how Alcatraz was going to be opening, not having done so yet. Alcatraz was only used as a federal prison for about 30 years; before that it was a military prison.

The newsreel is of then-US Attorney General Homer Cummings announcing the forthcoming opening of the prison, followed by a bit of propaganda about how it's going to help solve the gangster problem. I included that link to Cummings for a couple of reasons, one of which I think I mentioned before. Cummings was the prosecutor in the real case that inspired the Fox docudrama Boomerang!, with Dana Andrews playing the prosecutor who comes to believe that one of his defendants is, in fact, not guilty. The real-life Cummings would also go on to show up at the beginning of a 1939 MGM B-movie, They All Come Out, about the federal prison system and basically carrying water for the government about how prisons could rehabilitate people. They All Come Out is also the first feature film directed by Jacques Tourneur. As far as I know it's not on DVD, so you'll have to wait for the full-length post (I already have the draft done so you'll definitely get it) when next it airs.

There's also an extended aerial view of Alcatraz taken from an airplane, as you can obviously see.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

FXM Retro as an afterthought

The old Fox Movie Channel went to a half-and-half format of old movies in the morning, commercial-free, and newer movies with commercial breaks in the afternoon and evening, at the beginning of 2012. I said back then that I would be surprised if the format lasted six months. Seven years and change in, and here we are with the same format, except with a name change to FXM Retro. I must say I'm still surprised.

I wonder what the bean counters over at Fox -- or did Disney get the cable channel? -- think about FXM Retro, if they think about it at all. There's relatively little thought put into the programming other than arbitrarily pulling movies out of the vault, as far as I can tell. And then there's tonight.

TCM made Fredric March its Star of the month this month, and tonight at 11:30 PM, they're running the 1935 version of Les Misérables, in which March plays Jean Valjean. I'll assume you know the plot, since that's not why I'm mentioning the film. It was released by 20th Century Pictures, just before they merged with the Fox Film Company to become Twentieth Century Fox. Back in the day the movie was distributed by United Artists, but Fox got 20th Century's library, as they've released this one to DVD and even distributed it on re-release in the 1940s.

TCM seems to be having slightly better luck getting access to Fox's movies to run on the channel, monetary constraints aside. But I specifically mention Les Misérables, because I notice that it's getting another airing... at 6:00 AM Thursday on FXM Retro. Which is why I bring it up. I just find it mildly odd that a relatively obscure property would show up on two completely unrelated channels in quick succession.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Longest Yard (1974)

At the end of December, TCM ran a tribute to Burt Reynolds, who had died earlier in the year. I that I wanted to record and watch again since I hadn't blogged about it before is The Longest Yard.

Reynolds plays Paul "Wrecking" Crew, a former professional quarterback who got drummed out of the league thanks to a point-shaving scandal. He's living with his girlfriend Melissa, and when they get in an argument that involves her throwing a vase at him, he drives off in her sports car. So she calls the police, and eventually, they catch up with Crew, leading to his getting sent to prison.

For some odd reason, the prison warden, Hazen (Eddie Albert), has a semi-pro football team consisting of the prison guards, led by the head of the guards, Capt. Knauer (Ed Lauter). They're not bad, as far as semi-pro teams go, but they could be better. And now that Hazen has an ex-pro in his prison, he figures that he can call on the pro's knowledge to produce a better prison guard team. Of course, Knauer doesn't like this idea, as he absolutely hates Crew.

Crew is unwilling to help at first, which gets him sent to the worst prison work, cleaning out swamps. But he meets some useful people such as "Caretaker" (Jim Hampton), who can help people get anything on the inside. The swamp work is bad enough that Crew finally decides to make a suggestion to Hazen: find a crappy team, and use that as a pre-season warm-up game to get the prison guard team into shape.

So Hazen comes up with a brilliant idea, which is to have the guards play a team of prisoners. The prisoners will be so out of shape that they can't win, and the guards can get away with basically torturing the prisoners during the game. Crew doesn't want to play or coach, but he's blackmailed by being told his parole will be denied if he doesn't play.

Crew organizes a team, with most of them dumb enough to have no idea that they're supposedly going to have no chance to win. But they figure that they'll have the chance to get in a few licks on the guards, legally. (Well, not quite legally; much of what eventually goes on in the game should have gotten more penalty flags than it did.) The big day comes, and the prisoners are actually competitive. At least until Hazen tells Crew to throw the game....

The Longest Yard is pretty good, although I don't know quite how realistic it is. Reynolds had played college football so he's well-suited to playing a washed up player, and making the football look at least halfway authentic. There are still a lot of Hollywood touches, such as some irritating split screens, and a final play that reminded me of the staircase scene at the climax of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious: Hitchcock needed to draw that scene out, so if you watch carefully you can see they're going down the same steps repeatedly. By the same token, the final play of The Longest Yard's football game looks like the same footage is looped in slow motion.

It's all minor quibbles, however. Reynolds is amiable, and the supporting cast is quite good, making for an enjoyable sports movie for those who like sports movies.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Marriage Italian Style

A couple of months back, Ben Mankiewicz sat down with Sophia Loren's son Edoardo to show a night of Sophia's movies. Among them was Marriage Italian Style.

Loren plays Filumena, who at the start of the movie has suddenly fallen ill, much to the distress her long-time lover but not yet husband, Domenico (Marcello Mastroianni, Loren's frequent co-star), who owns a successful bakery in Naples. We then get a flashback to their life together and what led up to this day.

Many years back, during World War II, Filumena was a young woman barely of legal age trying to make a living any way she could, which meant working at a brothel in a capacity I'm sure you can figure out. Domenico shows up there and when the air-raid siren goes off, the two wind up alone together in a non-sexual capacity, and wind up falling in love.

The two begin a love affair that goes through a lot together. Domenico introduces Filumena to his elderly mother, although Filumena can't be seen at the funeral when Mom finally dies. Domenico goes abroad for business -- one assumes he has more business interests than just the bakery -- leaving Filumena to manage the place whenever he's away. Domenico, doesn't marry Filumena because he seems just as interested in having affairs with the various female cashiers. It's when Domenico announces his intention to marry one of the cashiers that Filumena suddenly falls ill.

Filumena is apparently dying, so she wants some respect as a final wish; respect that she can have by dying a married woman. Domenico accedes to this wish; after all, if she does die quickly he can get married to that cashier. Except that it turns out Filumena's illness was a ruse to get Domenico to marry him. She's not on her deathbed, and she's not even ill, getting up to tell Domenico he's been had. So of course he wants an annulment.

And Domenico is well in his legal rights to get that annulment. Filumena, for her part, has one more trick up her sleeve. She's been about as faithful as Domenico, revealing that she's got three sons that she placed with foster mothers, funding them from Domenico's gifts to her. She tells Domenico that one of the sons is his, but there's no way she's ever going to tell him which one. (Who knows whether just one of the sons is his, or if all of them or either none are?) Domenico tries to figure out which son is his, but....

I had actually not seen this one before, and went into it thinking it was a straight comedy since most of the synopses tend to mention it being a comedy. While there are certainly any number of humorous moments, Marriage Italian Style is much more of a drama than a comedy. I think because of that, I have a bit less positive view towards the movie than I would have had if it had been a straight-up comedy.

It's not that the movie is bad; Mastroianni is good and Loren is excellent. The color cinematography is good, deftly showing the poverty of post-war Italy. It's just that the movie came across to me as a bit heavy at times when a lighter touch was called for.

Marriage Italian Style is available on DVD if you wish to watch it.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Sorry, no Fab Five Freddy here

A movie that started showing up on FXM recently is Rapture. It's going to be on FXM again tomorrow morning at 7:05 AM.

Patricia Gozzi plays Agnès, a teenaged French girl living in Brittany with her widowed father Frederick (Melvyn Douglas). We first see that there might be something wrong with her when Dad brings her to a weding reception and she's not able to handle herself appropriately. Dad takes her back to their isolated place on the Breton coast, where the two live with housekeeper Karen (Gunnel Lindblom). Immature Agnès still likes to play with dolls, and wants to build a scarecrow out of some old clothes up in the attic, somethind Dad doesn't want at all.

This life continues until, one day, they witness a van overturn on the road on the hill below, with several people coming out running and some gendarmes chasing behind. Obviously these are escaped criminals. One of them, Joseph (Dean Stockwell), hides out on Frederick's property, and even uses the old clothes from the scarecrow to change into. This leads Agnès to believe that the scarecrow has come to life -- apparently her problems are more than they seem to be.

Dad turns out to be a retired judge, working on a book suggesting that the law needs to show more compassion, so with that in mind he might be willing to provide some sort of assistance to Joseph. Karen and Agnès are willing to show much more. Agnès especially begins to fall in love with Joseph, the first real man she's ever been close to apart from her father. But Joseph knows fully well he couldn't escape with Agnès in two, so he gets closer to Karen. Eventually, though, she leaves, and when Joseph just can't shake Agnès, he knows the two of them are going to have to run off together. Not that she can handle independent life, however....

Rapture was a movie I had never heard of before seeing it show up on FXM, even though I know I would have run across the title on Douglas' IMDb page. The big reason it's little known has to do with its production. This was an international co-production that Fox distributed in America. The opening title has a cheap-looking clip for "International Classics", whatever that was, and the copyright is to "Panoramic Productions". There's an international cast with the leads being two Americans, the French (despite the Italian-sounding surname) Gozzi, and Swedish Lindblom, with much of the shooting being on location in Brittany. I'd guess they had money that had to be used in France thanks to the old capital controls.

As for the movie itself, it's not bad, but I have to admit that it's the sort of people other people will probably like better. A lot of this has to do with my apathy toward the mentally unstable Agnès character. Still, the acting is generally good, the cinematography is nice even it would have been nice to see these locations in color, and Georges Delerue provides yet another lovely score. The movie isn't available on DVD, probably thanks to its origins as a little international co-production. So you'll have to catch the FXM showings before they put it back into the vault.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Briefs for March 8-9, 2019

TCM's Saturday morning block returns tomorrow morning after a six-week break first for the SAG Awards tribute, and then for 31 Days of Oscar. I didn't realize they had already finished up with the Hildegard Withers movies and were on to the Perry Mason movies. This week it's The Case of the Curious Bride, which is probably more notable for Errol Flynn's brief appearance as the murder victim.

IMDb says that March 9 is the 35th anniversary of the premiere of the movie Splash, with Daryl Hannah as the mermaid (don't try saying her real name) who falls in love on dry land with Tom Hanks. Of course, she has the same problem as every other mermaid in the mermaid/human romantic comedies. It's going to be on The Movie Channel Extra tomorrow at 2:10 PM. I don't think I've seen this one since sometime in the late 80s.

Radio Prague's English service ran an interview with member of the Czech Film Commission Pavlina Žipková about how she got into film and her work in getting foreign film productions to come film in the Czech Republic. As is always the case with Radio Prague, there's a transcript and the opportunity to listen to streaming audio, as well as a download (~6.5 MB MP3, 13 min) if you want to listen later.

Daylight Savings time starts for most of us in the US tomorrow night. As usual, TCM's lineup fits in terms of getting to Sunday morning, but the times are off because of the time change, at least on the east coast. They've got Coma beginning at 1:45 AM, so just before the clock goes ahead. That means that since the film is just under two hours, the short they've schedule should start at 4:42. Then there's a Live from the TCM Film Festival which begins at 5:00 AM ET (still 1:00 AM Pacific time since they haven't gone forward yet). Everything should be settled in all time zones for Dangerous When Wet at 6:15 AM Sunday. (Well, except Alaska.)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #243: Cold War

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 War, which is somewhat timely what with Pawel Pawlikowski's film of the same title having been nominated for several Oscars, even if it failed to win any. The Cold War began after the end of World War II, so I don't get to pick movies that are quite as old as the ones I would normally pick. But I didn't have much difficulty coming up with three movies:

The Prize (1963). Paul Newman plays the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in the run-up to the ceremony, he gets the distinct feeling that there's something wrong with the Physics laureate (Edward G. Robinson). It turns out that Robinson has been kidnapped and replaced by a lookalike, with the intention of taking the real one to the Communist bloc and force him to work on nuclear weapons research.

Torn Curtain (1966). Paul Newman, again, plays a nuclear scientist who announces his intention to defect to East Germany. However, it's a ruse: Newman knows an East German physicist has come up with some top secret formula, and Newman's intention is to get that formula and escape back to the West with it. Complicating things is the fact that his secretary (Julie Andrews) follows him to East Germany.

Spies Like Us (1985). Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd play a pair of civil servants who get fast-tracked through the spy program and sent on a mission against the Soviets, only to discover that they're supposed to be decoys for the Soviets to liquidate while the real mission goes ahead. However, the real mission doesn't go to plan, and our two bumbling "spies" have to save the day. The ending scene is very much a product of the 80s:

TCM March Spotlight: Journalism in the movies

Along with the Star of the Month, another of the returning themes to TCM now that 31 Days of Oscar is over is the monthly spotlight, this time focusing on journalism in the movies. It's a common theme in movies, and a spotlight that I have the distinct feeling TCM has done before, although not necessarily in the era since they put in the Spotlight graphics package and intro.

As the page mentions, Ben Mankiewicz will be hosting along with two guest hosts, Carl Bernstein for the first two Thursdays (because God knows we need to rehash Watergate again) and then Anderson Cooper for the last two Thursdays.

A lot of the movies are familiar, even though they're good ones. The final theme, late on the 28th/early on the 29th, does include the lesser-seen Park Row followed by Jack Webb's -30-, one that I saw TCM run several years ago, but I think that's it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

True Confession

I wanted to watch a relatively short movie the other night so that I could get to bed at a reasonable time, and decided to finish up the movies on the Carole Lombard box set I have by watching True Confession.

Lombard plays Helen Bartlett, a struggling writer married to equally struggling lawyer Kenneth (Fred MacMurray, with an odd mustache here). In the opening scene, we see that Helen is less than fully truthful, as she recommend her husband take up the defense of someone who is guilty as sin. Then she calls up her friend Daisy (Una Merkel) and gives her every lie in the book to blow off work and come visit her.

Helen decides to help make ends meet by taking a job as a secretary for the wealthy Krayler, even though she doesn't know how to take dictation and only hunts and pecks to type. It's obvious Krayler has other things in mind for her, but she takes the job anyway.

When she realizes what's up, she leaves and gets Daisy to go back to the apartment with her to get her purse and coat, but when they get back, they find that Krayler has been murdered! Even though we know Helen didn't do it, and she'd have an alibi in Daisy once the police and coroner determined Krayler's time of death, Helen decides she's going to confess to the crime so that her husband can defend her and get her off on a self-defense argument. (If the real truth came out, Helen could face perjury charges.) Once her husband wins the case, he'll be a successful lawyer and the money will come flowing in.

Sure enough, Helen is found not guilty, Kenneth becomes a successful lawyer, and Helen actually becomes a successful writer by writing about the case. But there's one small catch. A drunk turned self-styled "criminologist", Charley (John Barrymore), has a piece of evidence that would prove conclusively that Helen didn't kill Krayler. He's willing to blackmail the Bartletts to get a bunch of money so he can live high off the hog.

I found True Confession to be the weakest of the movies on the box set. The problem is in Lombard's character, who as one of those chronic liars who just keeps piling one lie on top of another, she's obnoxious and someone I wanted to see get her comeuppance. This is supposed to be a comedy, and that sort of obnoxiousness didn't really work here. Barrymore is also overacting shamelessly, and relatively irritating too. The deus ex machina that solves Helen and Kenneth's problems doesn't really work for me, either.

Still, I always like to suggest people just for themselves, and since this was on a very low-price box set, getting one dud in the set isn't that big a deal.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

TCM Star of the Month March 2019: Fredric March

Posting is going to be a little lighter than expected this week, but I note that now that 31 Days of Oscar has finished for another year, we get back to the regular themes on TCM, starting with a new Star of the Month. This time around, it's Fredric March, whose films will be showing every Tuesday in prime time, continuing into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The salute unsurprisingly kicks off with a lot of March's earlier works, such as his first Oscar for the 1932 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is going to be on tonight at 9:45 PM. Also on tonight is the 1934 version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, overnight at 1:30 AM. I've still got the 1950s version on my DVR, which I think ran for Ronald Colman's turn as Star of the Month or something. It's sitting unwatched because that version has, as far as I know, not received a DVD release.

Kicking off the March 12 prime time schedule is the 1937 version of A Star Is Born, at 8:00 PM

March won his second Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives, which will be on at 8:00 PM March 19

Seven Days in May will run at 2:30 AM, March 27, part of the Tuesday, March 26 prime time schedule since TCM's day goes from 6:00 AM to 6:00 AM; it'll still be March 26 out in the Pacific time zone when this one starts.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown

Some months back, I recorded The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown off of TCM when they ran it as part of a night of Jane Russell movies. I finally got around to watching it over the weekend.

Jane Russell plays Laurel Stevens, a Hollywood star who for some bizarre reason is given a blond wig that looks unflattering on her. Anyhow Laurel's latest film, The Kidnapped Bride, is premiering, and studio bosses Arthur and Barney (Adolphe Menjou surprisingly far down the credits and Robert Harris, respectively) are going to be sending a studio limo to pick her up.

Later that evening the doorbell rings, and chauffeur Dandy (Keenan Wynn) is there to pick up Laurel. The only thing is, when she gets in the car with Dandy and Mike (Ralph Meeker), they don't take her to the premiere. Instead, this is a kidnapping. Mike was wrongly convicted and just released for a crime he didn't commit, and this is apparently his form of revenge.

There's a small problem, however: everybody outide the studio and the actual kidnappers thinks that the disappearance of Laurel isn't a kidnapping per se, but a studio publicity stunt, because what better way to promote a movie called The Kidnapped Bride than to "kidnap" the star! Laurel would like to escape, although she understands that if this kidnapping is portrayed as a publicity stunt, it's bad for her career. On the other hand, she doesn't want Mike to throw his life away, especially after he starts giving off vibes that he's really just a guy who's made a really stupid mistake by kidnapping Laurel.

The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown is very slight stuff, reminiscent of later movies like Too Many Crooks, but with a less well-plotted script and done very much on the cheap. Everybody tries, but the material becomes increasingly grating as it winds toward its madcap ending.

The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown doesn't seem to be available on DVD. But it is currently on Amazon's streaming service, and I'm running out of room on my DVR. That, and the fact that streaming seems increasingly the way things are going, makes me wonder whether a movie like this is ever going to get a DVD release. So if you want to see it, streaming or waiting for the rare TCM showing are probably the only ways to go.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Another recent movie viewing was the 1957 western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

If you've seen enough westerns, you probably know most of the characters in the story and the basic events of the gunfight, at least as it gets portrayed in the movies. (The actual gunfight was only about 30 seconds and, for dramatic reasons, it's usually more drawn out.) The gunfight in this version comes almost at the end of the movie, which focuses mostly on the back story of Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) and his eventual friend of sorts Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas).

Wyatt, at the time the movie opens, was marshal in Dodge City, KS, having to deal with the cowboys who would come into town at the end of the cattle drive and consistently create a ruckus, not having had any way to have real fun while they were on the cattle drive for weeks at a time. While pursuing a criminal away from Dodge, Wyatt asks for information about Johnny Ringo (John Ireland) first from a lawman nearing retirement age, and then from Doc.

By this time, Doc already has his tuberculosis, a girlfriend Kate (Jo Van Fleet), and a reputation as a gunfighter that forces him to go from one town to the next. Eventually, he's going to wind up back in Dodge City, which makes Wyatt, not yet having Doc as a friend, thoroughly displeased. Things are going to become quite complicated, with the return of Johnny Ringo, and the entrance of lady gambler Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming).

Wyatt doesn't want women gambling in the "polite" side of town, but Laura is just so darn beautiful that Wyatt eventually relents, as long as she does it off to the side where most of the public won't see her. But Wyatt is also falling in love with Laura, taking the opportunity to do patrols where he knows Laura is going to be so he can run into her. Laura, for her part, isn't so certain she wants a lawman as her partner, not because she'd be expected to give up gambling, but because of the violent fate that's likely to befall lawmen.

Now, we all know that Wyatt Earp ends up at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, AZ, so he's going to be leaving Dodge. In this movie, it's presented as getting a telegram from his brothers, including Vernon (John Hudson) who is the marshal in Tombstone. Apparently the Clantons led by Ike (Lyle Bettger) has a ranch outside of town, and has bought a county sheriff who looks the other way when the Clantons are rustling Mexican cattle and trying to pass them through Tombstone on the way to getting them to the railroad. Laura just doesn't understand that Wyatt has to help his brothers....

Wyatt goes to Tombstone, and Doc makes it there as well. The Clantons, it seems are itching for a fight, while the townsfolk support the Earps but aren't necessarily willing to put the lives where their mouths are. Wyatt has to deal with Ike's drunken kid brother Billy (Dennis Hopper), while Ike concludes that the only way to get the fight is to make it personal, so he has Wyatt's kid brother Jimmy (Martin Milner) killed. It's enough to make anybody get in a shootout for vengeance....

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral felt to me as if it wasn't breaking any new ground, other than being in color and wide-screen which earlier versions hadn't. Still, the story is solid, and the acting uniformly quite good. Kirk Douglas is probably the best, followed by Jo Van Fleet. Burt Lancaster's Wyatt Earp comes across as having been written as not quite complex enough, so while there's nothing wrong with his acting, the script lets him down a bit. Among the supporting actors, Hopper is quite good, as are Earl Holliman as Wyatt's deputy in Dodge City, and in one scene, Olive Carey as the Clantons' mother.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a movie I can highly recommend.