Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Agnes of God

Another movie that I watched over the weekend to free up space on my DVR is Agnes of God.

The movie starts off rather shockingly, with the screaming of a young woman giving birth, followed by the baby being killed. That's bad enough, but this is all happening at a convent not far outside of Montreal, Quebec, and the young woman in question is a nun. Even if you're not Catholic, you probably know that nuns aren't supposed to be having sex, and in a cloistered place like this, where are the men coming from? The nun who gave birth, Agnes (Meg Tilly), is going to have to stand trial, but first it needs to be determined how she got pregnant and if she's even fit to stand trial.

To determine the latter question, the authorities send in psychologist Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda), a woman who has her own psychological baggage regarding the Catholic Church. she goes to the convent where she is met by the Mother Superior, Mother Miriam (Anne Bancroft). Miriam unsurprisingly has her own problems with outsiders, thinking they're out to destroy the reputation of the Church, never mind what you think about whether the Church is causing its own problems. But she's also defending Agnes who, as Dr. Livingston talks to her, it becomes clear is a woman who has serious problems above and beyond however she got pregnant. She seems to know nothing of the outside world, and talks elliptically about what happened to her.

Dr. Livingston takes it upon herself to investigate not only the question of whether Sr. Agnes is sane, but also what actually happened to her. Mother Miriam continues to be wary of her, and we get the feeling that the latter knows a lot more than she's letting on. But what actually did happen to Agnes?

Agnes of God is an interesting movie, and one that is certainly thought-provoking. I can imagine that both anti-clerical people and religious Catholics might have some probems with the movie at first, however. (I was born Catholic, but outside of weddings and funerals haven't been to a Mass in probably 20 years.) Fonda's character is drawn so one-dimensionally that I found myself wondering whether the script was trying to make a negative point about the Church, or about people with hangups about the Church. But Bancroft's character certainly isn't a saint either, and probably any institution in a situation like this would probably do some unethical things to try to save its repuatation.

Bancroft and Tilly are excellent; Fonda adequate although again I think that's more down to the script. The cinematography is also glorious, with director Norman Jewison having used rural Canaidan locations as well as Montreal for shooting. Georges Delerue's evocative score is also a nice touch.

Amazon lists Agnes of God as being on DVD, but it doesn't seem to be available at the TCM Shop. Amazon does also have it on streaming, as far as I could tell.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The QB detective

Another of the movies that I watched over the weekend was Tony Rome, off a cheap box set of Frank Sinatra movies I picked up.

Frank Sinatra plays Tony Rome, a detective with a gambling problem who lives on a boat at a marina in lovely Miami. One day, he's called up by his former partner Turpin (Robert Wilke), who tells him that there's a young lady passed out in a hotel, and the management would appreciate if Tony could discreetly return the girl to her parents, since they're rich and neither the hotel nor the parents want any negative publicity.

The girl, Diana Pines (Sue Lyon) is the daughter of construction magnate Rudy Kosterman (Simon Oakland) and has recently married. Dad remarried after Diana's mother died, and his second wife is Rita (Gena Rowlands). Visiting is Ann Archer (Jill St. John), whom you expect to have a fatal attraction on somebody. Dad hires Tony to keep an eye on Diana and see why she's doing things that might bring about bad publicity.

But he's not the only one in the family to hire Tony. Diana discovers that while she was passed out at the hotel, a diamond brooch has gone missing, and she and Rita hire Tony to find out what happened to that pin.

It's fairly obvious that people are being less than honest with him, when you consider that some heavies show up at the boat and rather nonchalantly ask Tony whether they can pistol-whip him or chloroform him so they can ransack his boat in peace to find that diamond. (Tony chooses the chloroform, but he has no idea where the brooch is.) The police get on the case when Turpin is murdered, and Tony is unsurprisingly a person of interest in the killing.

Tony Rome is a serviceable enough movie, but I couldn't help but feel watching it that Sinatra was just going through the motions. It's not that he's bad; it's more that the movie feels like any of a bunch of detective movies from that era. I found Sinatra's performance in The Detective to be much better. Still, for the price of the cheap box set, you can't really go wrong. The movie was also in the proper aspect ratio, and had a bunch of trailers as extras.

One final special for TCM's silver anniversary

TCM has been rearranging its programming this month in order to include a bunch of special programming for its 25th anniversary. We're almost at the end of the month, but there's time for one more special night tonight. TCM is re-airing several of the old interviews, notably some of the Private Screenings shows Robert Osborne did.

Well, not that much, unfortunately. There's a "best of" show which will be on at 8:00 PM with a repeat at midnight for the benefit of those on the west coast. And in between there's going to be the Private Screenings in which Osborne himself was the interviewee, interviewed by Alec Baldwin (9:30 PM), followed at 11:00 PM by the 20th anniversary interview from the TCM Film Festival which was hosted by Alex Trebek in the style of This Is Your Life.

The second half of the night is a couple of the more recent interviews from the TCM Film Festival. To be honest, I would like to have seen more of the old Private Screenings interviews, although with all the clips embedded in the interviews I sometimes wonder whether there's a rights issue with re-running some of them.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Concorde: Airport '79

I recently mentioned the death of Swedish actress Bibi Andersson, and that she had appeared in The Concorde: Airport '79, which I have on Blu-ray as part of the box set of all four Airport movies. So with that in mind, I sat down to watch it and do a full-length review here.

The basic plot involves one of the Concorde supersonic passenger airplanes, which has been bought by an American airline and is going to go on its first flight for that airline from Washington DC to Paris, and from there to Moscow as a goodwill gesture ahead of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Moscow. (This was obviously made before the US and many other western countries boycotted the games.) Among the passengers on that flight are going to be a team of Soviet gymnasts, coached by Mercedes McCambridge and Avery Schreiber, with American reporter Robert Palmer (John Davidson, not singing "Addicted to Love" here) following along because he's trying to bed one of the gymnasts, I assume in the name of detente and world peace or something.

Another passenger is Maggie Whalen (Susan Blakely), another television reporter having an affair with the head of the Harrison defense contracting company, run by Dr. Harrison (Robert Wagner). Somebody passes documents to her, documents that show that the Harrison company has been illegally arming various militias in a bunch of third-world countries that at the time would have been the sites of proxy wars that were going on because of the Cold War. She's apparently planning to release those documents once she gets to Moscow. We've already seen that people are willing to kill to get those documents back, so when we learn that the Harrison company is going to be doing some testing of drone planes for air-to-air combat, Harrison gets the brilliant idea of using that drone to try to take down the Concorde!

The French Concorde pilot Metrand (Alain Delon), a notorious womanizer who is carrying on with one of the stewardesses Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel), along with the co-pilot Patroni (George Kennedy, who apparently learned how to fly the damn Concorde after every other unrelated job he had in the previous three Airport movies), evade the missile over the Atlantic and, with some minor damage, get the plane to Paris. Amazingly, you'd think that after the suffering the passengers went through on the first leg of the journey, they'd make alternative arrangements to get to Moscow, but no, they stupidly get back on the plane! Harrison tries to take it down again.

Now, this being a disaster movie, we know there should be a bunch of stars each getting a cameo story line. Among them are Eddie Albert as Sands, the head of the airline; Cicely Tyson as Elaine, who is going to Paris to fetch an organ for transplantation into her son; Martha Raye as an incontinent woman who keeps needing to use the bathroom; Jimmie Walker as a pot-smoking jazz musician who plays his saxophone during the first leg of the flight and then, after it gets destroyed, pickes up a fresh sax for the second leg (!!); and Charo as a woman trying to smuggle her dog onto the flight -- she should have called it her service dog. As for Andersson, she plays a high-class "escort" that Metrand procures for Patroni during their layover in Paris.

The Concorde was the last of the Airport movies, and it's easy to see why. It's terrible in oh so many ways. But it's one of those movies that's delightfully awful; you'll be splitting your sides laughing at the thought of it all. There are too many to list, although I've already mentioned everybody getting back on for the second leg as well as Jimmie Walker's second sax. There's the terrible special effects looking like a very primitive Chroma-key, and Patroni firing flares out the cockpit window (!) to try to deflect the heat-seeking missiles from the drone. I think my favorite moment involved Avery Schreiber's character bringing his young daughter into the cockpit to talk to the pilot. Dad is translating in some sort of sign language for the daughter, while I was hoping Patroni would ask the girl if she likes gladiator movies.

I'm glad I picked up this box set, because all four of the movies are worth watching, even if only the original is really good. The other three reach varying levels of disaster in the figurative sense, and are all the more fun for it.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

As the screw turns

For those of you who have FXM, they will be showing The Innocents tomorrow, at 3:00 AM and again at 10:15 AM.

Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, who at the beginning of the movie is meeting with her new boss, the uncle (Michael Redgrave, whose character is only referred to as "The Uncle") of two siblings to whom she is going to be governess. Uncle is a bachelor who prefers an active life and doesn't want kids impinging on it. Their parents died, and they're living off the inheritance in an estate out in the country. Or, at least, Flora (Pamela Franklin) is; her older brother Miles (Martin Stephens) is currently off at boarding school.

Miss Giddens gets to the estate where she thinks she hears a voice that must be Flora, but Flora insists it isn't her. Giddens also meets the cook, Miss Grose (Megs Jenkins), who seems to know that this place had a bit of a dark history, although she doesn't want to let on what that dark history is. Eventually we learn that a former governess, Miss Jessel, and another servant, Quint, were in love with each other and died, and it might just be the case that their ghosts haunt the place, if you really believe in ghosts.

Flora, like all children, can be a bit mischievous and willful at times, and she too seems to have a bit of the dark history as she just knows Miles is going to be coming home soon even though he's off at boarding school. Sure enough, word arrives that Miles is being expelled from the school because he's a bad influence on the other boys. And boy does he seem to be bad when he gets back, in a Bad Seed male equivalent sort of way. Miles lies through his teeth but also acts at times like a perfectly innocent gentleman.

Giddens continues to investigate, and eventually reaches a disturbing conclusion: Quint and Jessel are still around in spirit form, showing up to possess the bodies of Miles and Flora respectively! This would certainly explain their naughty, overly grown-up behavior. But such behavior also seems to be a threat to the people around them, and Giddens decides that she's goin gto have to expel the trespassing souls from her young charges, in a manner of speaking. Of course, to do so may just drive the little brats insane, especially if they're not actually possessed by anything....

The Innocents is based on the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I haven't read the original but do recall seeing one other TV adaptation of it back when I was in high school. (I think it was this 1974 version which is technically American although I always thought it was British thanks to the cast featuring Lynn Redgrave.) The story is a good one if you like that sort of story, which I have to admit isn't necessarily my first choice. Kerr does well in her role, and the photography is excellent, as should be expected considering the movie was directed by former cinematographer Jack Clayton. To me, the movie seems a bit ambiguous on whether the kids were really possessed or whether Giddens was just going insane, but that works for the movie.

The Innocents got a Criterion Collection DVD release some years back, but that seems to be out of print, so you're either going to have to pay through the nose or watch on FXM.

Don't forget they remade M

Tonight's entry in TCM's Noir Alley is the 1951 version of M, overnight at 12:45 AM and then tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. This is more of a heads-up than a full-length review because I've got something else to post about today that's not on DVD (although last I checked this version of M wasn't on DVD either), and because you probably know the story.

David Wayne plays the main character, a man named Martin who has a complusion to kill little girls and take their shoes although, this being a movie under the Production Code, they can't really talk about it being a sexual fetish. Anyhow, the public is terrified, and the police crackdown causes problems for the traditional crime world, so they decide to take matters into their own hands.

I enjoyed this version of M, even if it isn't as good as the Fritz Lang/Peter Lorre version. It would probably have a better reputation if the movie had been an original, but in that case it also probably wouldn't have been made -- the folks in the Code office only passed this one on the grounds that it was a remake of a true classic.

One other thing that will interest many people is the location shooting of places in the Los Angeles area that are no longer there. I'm not a big-city person, but when movies like this use locations in Los Angeles or New York or wherever, I always enjoy the vintage look of the place as it was back then.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Local Hero

At the end of 2017, TCM ran a night of movies set in Scotland, including Local Hero. It got a DVD release as part of a TCM Burt Lancaster box set, although that seems to be out of print. You can do the Amazon (and other places) streaming thing, though, and since I need to free up space on my DVR, I'm going to break with my normal rule and review a movie not coming up on TV and not easily available on DVD.

Lancaster plays Happer, the CEO of Knox Industries, an oil company headquartered in Houston. As with most energy conglomerates, they do exploration all over the world, and have gotten involved enough in the North Sea/North Atlantic oil deposits that they need a new refinery in Scotland. After careful consideration, they've found the perfect location in an isolated cove.

Well, it's almost the perfect location. There's a small village where the company wants to put the refinery, and they're going to have to buy out every property in the village. You can probably guess that at least one person is going to be uncomfortable about selling, because in every situation like this you've either got one person who wants to hold out for more money, or because some people are so emotionally tied to where they currently live that they don't want to break those ties. To deal with the acquisition, Happer sends McIntyre (Peter Riegert), a middle-level executive whose biggest qualification seems to be having a Scottish surname.

McIntyre is picked up by Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), and when he meets Gordon Urquhart (Dennis Lawson) at the local hotel, McIntyre finds that a Scottish village is something radically different from Houston and the go-go world of big business that he's been used to before this. Happer, for his part, has a surprisingly laid back attitude. He inherited his position within the company, and seems perhaps more interested in amateur astronomy than actually running Knox, telling McIntyre to watch the skies and call Happer if he sees a comet.

The village is not without its charms, as the local minister, an import from Africa named MacPherson, tells McIntyre. And sure enough, as McIntyre gets held up in the village because negotiating takes longer than expected, he finds that he begins to like the place and isn't so sure if he'd want to sell if he were one of the locals. This feeling becomes stronger when it turns out that the beach is held separately, and he still has to negotiate with Ben (Fulton Mackay) to buy that last little bit of land.

Local Hero is a movie that follows a well-known formula, that of an outsider (usually a sophisticate) meeting a simpler culture, and having his or her life changed by it. Off the top of my head, as I was watching the movie I found myself thinking of Remember the Night, I Know Where I'm Going!, and even The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. It's a tried and true formula, and there are a lot of surprisingly good films following it.

Local Hero is most definitely one of those surprisingly good movies. Not to say that I thought it wasn't going to be good; it's more the sort of movie that grows on you as it goes along. Lancaster is good in his smallish role; the locals in the Scottish village are quite good, and the location shooting in the northeast of Scotland is wonderful. If you're looking for action, you're not going to find it here, but if you want an intelligent little movie, you could do far worse.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #250: Music/Musicals (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, with the theme being music or musicals. I've stated on a bunch of occasions that I watch very little episodic TV any more, so this wasn't the easiest one for me, until I hit on the idea of vintage game shows:

Face the Music (1980-1981). Musical cues were clues to famous faces; lather, rinse, repeat.

Name That Tune (multiple incarnations, with the most recent in the US being 1984-1985). Another song identification show with various themes. Probably the best-known is "Bid-a-Note", in which contestants were given a clue about a song, and contestants said, "I can name that tune in [diminishing number of] notes", until either one contestant challenged the other to name that tune, or could name it in no notes at all.

Puttin' on the Hits (1984-1988). Contestants lip-synched songs doing sometimes elaborate acts; celebrity musicians judged them. I don't get it either, or how it ran four seasons. I couldn't find a full episode on Youtube the way I could for the other two, so I used a commercial instead. A Youtube search reveals a plethora of clips.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The End

I hope nobody was thinking it was the end of this blog. When I was watching Dollar the other day, I noticed the card at the end of the movie was the following:

Now, I speak German, so I fairly quickly recognized the word as cognate to the German Schluß, meaning the end, never mind the fact that it came at the end of the movie. Obviously, for English-speakers, that Swedish end card is ripe for abuse. But it also got me to thinking of some other ending cards.

Fox cards from after 1953 would helpfully remind you that you had just watched a movie in Cinemascope. I seem to recall that a lot of the cards were not over footage of the film, but on a blue background, just like the opening cards that mentioned you were about to watch a Cinemascope movie. (I don't remember which movies did which, and thanks to some issues with my computer's DVD player having trouble recognizing multiple DVDs, I'm not about to look.) MGM's cards from around 1950 on had a lot of empty space like this, which would get filled up by the name of the movie, as if you don't remember what you just watched.

For some reason I was thinking the end of the Traveltalks shorts was more colorful. And that it said the end. My memory on this was obviously wrong. There are some other interesting ones out there such as William Castle's Strait-Jacket, which, being about an axe-murderer, has an appropriate one:

I remember the first time I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur noticing that it had a card reading "Finis". And then there were the Universal cards of the early 1930s (the era with the airplane going around the globe), telling us "A good cast is worth repeating". Unfortunately I couldn't find those either.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Recently, I picked up another Criterion Eclipse Series set, this time of six films Ingrid Bergman made in Sweden at the beginning of her career. I had seen Dollar quite a few years ago when Bergman was TCM's Star of the Month and they ran a night of her Swedish movies. A look at the IMDb user reviews suggests that was June 2005. So I decided to make that one the first of the films from the set to watch and post about here.

Ingrid plays Julia Balzar, wife of businessman Kurt (Georg Rydeberg), who seems more in love with his business Sveaverken than he is with his wife. That's OK, though, since Julia seems to be just as much in love with Louis Brenner (Kotti Chave), who is already married to another woman, Sussi (Tutta Rolf). Sussi, for her part, is in love with Ludvig, who is married to Katja.

Love isn't the only thing interfering in their lives; there's also money. Louis is an inveterate gambler, much to the annoyance of his wife. He's told her he's going to stop gambling, but sure enough, he keeps it up and loses 50,000 kronor playing poker at the club. He writes a post-dated check but he could theoretically go to jail if he can't make it good. So Julia decides that she's going to help Louis out by selling some of her shares in Sveaverken. She doesn't know, because her husband can't be bothered to tell her, that he's been trying to float a bond issue for Sveaverken, and these mysterious shares being sold is depressing the share price. Ludvig offers to buy Julia's remaining shares in a private sale.

As for Kurt, he's got another chance to get the money needed for his bond issuance. Apparently one of their number has an elderly cousin in Chicago, Miss Jonston, who has decided she's going to visit her family in the old country, and she's absolutely loaded. So the three couples head up to the ski resort at Åre, where Miss Jonston is going to be. Sussi decides she's had enough of Louis' dalliance with Julia, and she goes off cross-country skiing. She falls down the mountain, and her injury has an effect on all the couples as well as the brash Miss Jonston's relationship with the doctor -- when everbody meets her they're surprised to find out she's relatively young.

Dollar is an interesting movie that's a bit difficult to classify. The liner notes on the DVD refer to it as a screwball comedy, but I wouldn't quite call the comedy screwball. That, and there's a reasonable amount of drama. One thing that struck me is that although Miss Jonston is supposed to be American, she was about as American as the characters in the French Purple Noon -- another good movie, but with characters who aren't American at all. Then again, I imagine Hollywood's look at Europeans, especially back in the 1930s, isn't very accurate either. As for Miss Jonston, she's most like an Edna May Oliver character, except a bit younger. Ingrid Bergman does well; she's nominally the star on the back of some earlier successes but this is really an ensemble cast.

All in all, I think I'd compare Dollar to the Hollywood programmers with upper-class dalliances, after such comedies left the drawing room. It's good, but it's also the sort of thing that blends in with any of the hundred or more programmers in that category. That's not a bad thing, of course; it's thoroughly serviceable and there's nothing really wrong with it, but it in some ways only gets the mention it does because of Ingrid Bergman's presence.

I'm looking forward to the other five movies in the set.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Fort Apache

TCM is running a morning and afternoon of Shirley Temple movies tomorrow in honor of her birth anniversary. Among them is Fort Apache, at 2:15 PM.

Temple plays Philadelphia "Phil" Thursday, who is traveling out west to Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, with her father, Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda), who is going to be the new commander of the fort. The stagecoach gets lost and drops them off at a way station where Phil runs into Lt. Michael O'Rourke (John Agar) who is in the middle of washing up. The lieutenant colonel sees him this way and is none too pleased, even though it's not really O'Rourke's fault. As for Phil, she's already taken a shining to O'Rourke, although Dad is eventually going to forbid her to see young O'Rourke.

Young O'Rourke is fresh out of West Point and also going to Fort Apache, where his father, a sergeant major (Ward Bond) is stationed. So Thursday requisitions O'Rourke's trael and they get to the fort together, where Thursday finds Capt. Youk (John Wayne) in temporary command and an atmosphere that's certainly more casule than what you'd find back east. Thursday is none too pleased at this, too.

In fact, Thursday seems none too pleased by anything. He's a by-the-book martinet who has seemingly never been west, and certainly not in territory where there have recently been Indian uprisings, with the Apache under Cochise (Miguel Inclan) being the most dangerous. In fact, there are rumblings that Cochise might be leading his Apaches back into Arizona since the Mexicans don't really want them in Mexico, either.

Lt. Col. Thursday sends York to meek Cochise along with Sgt. Beaufort (Pedro Armendariz), since Beaufort and Cochise both speak Spanish. Not that Thursday wants it this way, but York has been out west longer and knows how things work with Cochise as the two have had dealings before. Still, Thursday eventually decides that he's going to do things his way, regardless of what reality dictates, and decides he's going to launch a ridiculously ill-fated attack on the Apache who badly outnumber the Cavalry.

Fort Apache is well-made, although not particularly my favorite film, in part because this is the sort of western that's not my favorite genre, and in part because of the direction of John Ford. It doesn't help that Fonda's character is such an asshole that you want somebody to bring up Nuremberg and not having to follow illegal orders, even though the action takes plays 70 years before World War II. Fonda does a good job; it's just that his character is so hateable.

I'm certain, however, that people who like westerns will love Fort Apache. In addition to being on tomorrow, you can also find it easily on DVD.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Murder She Said

TCM's monthly spotlight for April was amateur detective, so I took the chance to record Murder She Said, not having done a post on it here before.

Margaret Rutherford plays Miss Jane Marple, Agatha Christie's spinster sleuth and probably one of the best known of all the amateur detectives out there. Marple is taking a train home when an express train going in the same direction comes up. Marple is looking out the window and into the other train, when she sees two gloved hands strangling a woman! Marple tells the conductor, who tells the police even though he doesn't believe her since she was reading a mystery novel.

The police don't believe Marple either, so with the help of her friend, village librarian Mr. Stringer (Rutherford's real life husband Stringer Davis), she starts investigating the train schedule to find out where the body was dumped -- even though the police claim they searched the entire line. The two don't find a body, but eventually, they do find some trampled grass and a bit of fur at the bottom of a hill that implies the dead woman's body rolled down a hill, eventually coming to a stop at a wall.

On the other side of that wall is Ackenthorpe Hall, the home of formerly wealthy but now invalid Ackenthorpe (James Robertson Justice), so Marple decides she's going to get a job there as a maid to further her investigation! Also living there are Ackenthorpe's daughter Emma (Muriel Pavlow) and her adolescent nephew Alexander, son of one of Emma's deceased siblings. Showing up from time to time to attend to the patriarch is American doctor Quimper (Arthur Kennedy). Emma has several other siblings, one a pilot killed in the war, and a couple of living siblings who were all at the house on the day Marple saw the killing and who can't corroborate their alibis if it came to that.

Eventually, they do find the dead body, in the old coach house. She appears to be French, and it eventually comes out that Emma's dead pilot brother had a relationship with their old French servant Martine before the war leading to her departure. Everybody thought at the time that he didn't have time to marry her before his untimely death, but then Emma gets a letter from Martine saying she had gotten married and was coming to visit. She'd be in line to receive a portion of the estate when Dad dies, so the obvious assumption is that one of the siblings killed her to keep her from inheriting. This assumption is strengthened when another of the inheritants gets poisoned....

Murder She Said is a fine example of a movie that would have been one of the old B movie series back in the 1930s, only made better by the fact that MGM's British branch had more modern production values and location shooting. Christie wasn't so sure about the casting of Rutherford at first, but warmed to it so much she dediated The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to Rutherford. Rutherford is charming, while the rest of the cast does quite well. Kennedy seems slightly out of place as an American, but it's not as if he does anything wrong. The story, based on Christie's 4:50 from Paddington, has enough twists and turns to entertain and keep viewers guessing.

Murder She Said is availalbe on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter programming

As I type this, ABC is in the middle of its annual Easter Saturday showing of The Ten Commandments, one of the few classic movies shown on network television in the States any more. It reminded me that I should have posted earlier today about the Easter programming on the cable movie channels.

TCM is unsurprisingly spending most of the day with religious-themed stuff. The big exception is the Noir Alley selection Woman on the Run at 10:00 AM. I suppose there's not much noir with religious themes, with perhaps Red Light being the one that sticks out. Then again, there are biblical stories that could be argued to have noir themes like Samson and Delilah. And Eve was certainly the first femme fatale.

There's also the non-religious Easter Parade at 8:00 PM, but with that title it's obviously appropriate for the holiday. Another relatively contemporary movie with more openly religious themes is One Foot in Heaven at 8:00 AM.

Biblical-era movies tomorrow include Barabbas at 2:30 PM, with Anthony Quinn playing the thief who is removed from his cross in order to make room for Jesus's crucifixion.

Over on FXM, there are two Biblical movies, although only one is Jesus-related, that being Demetrius and the Gladiators at 8:00 AM; it's a sequel to The Robe. The other film is David and Bathsheba at 6:00 AM.

Midnight Express

Another movie I had never blogged about before is Midnight Express, so when it was on TCM during 31 Days of Oscar I recorded it in order to be able to do a full-length post on it.

This is another one where most people probably already know the barebones plot outline. Brad Davis stars as Billy Hayes, an American who has been vacationing in Istanbul, Turkey in 1970 with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle); the two are about to go home. But before they do we see Billy wrapping up a bunch of stuff in tin foil and taping it to his body. Obviously it's drugs (specifically, hashish), and Billy is trying to smuggle them out of Turkey for reasons that are never fully mentioned.

Billy is understandably nervous, and he has good reason to be: smuggling drugs carries a heavy penalty in the Turkish legal system (whether or not it should is beside the point for the purposes of this review), and there's probably always been a trope about the horrors of third world prisons, as if American prisons weren't bad enough. Sure enough, Billy gets caught just as he's about to board the plane. Tex (Bo Hopkins) claims to be from the consulate and trying to get Billy to finger the guy who sold him the hash in exchange for a lighter sentence, but Billy for whatever reason doesn't belive this and tries to flee.

Pretrial detention is bad enough, but Billy has a lot going against him. He tried to flee, he's a tourist and the Turks want to make a point about tourists not being drug mules. And, this is apparently a period during which the US and Turkey didn't have the best of relations, so the Turks decide they're going to make an example out of Billy. At trial, he gets four years, and that's only for possession, not smuggling.

If the original detention was bad, prison is worse. Billy meets a couple of westerners who will be about the only people he can trust, if he can even trust them. Jimmy (Randy Quaid) is an American bent on escaping; Max (John Hurt) is an Englishman who seems to have some pull; and Erich (Norbert Weisser) is a Swede. They're harassed by Rifki (Paolo Bonacelli), as well as by the discipline of the Turkish guards, which can be even more severe.

Billy does his time, but the Turkish legal system works in mysterious ways, and less than two months before he's set to be released he's told that the authorities have appealed the sentence all the way to the constitutional court and that the judges there have decreed Billy receive a much harsher sentence. He's not going to be let out of prison any time soon.

Supposedly, escape would be easier from the sanatorium than the regular prison, except that this would put Billy and the rest in with the criminally insane, which might be an even less appealing prospect than being in the general population. Still, if that's the way to escape....

Midnight Express states at the beginning that it's based on a real case, and the real-life Billy Hayes gets a screenwriting credit for having written the book from which the movie is taken. (The main screenwriting credit goes to a young Oliver Stone.) I haven't read the book, although reading about the movie suggests that there are several differences between the book and movie. I'm also not certain how much of either is totally accurate.

The movie is brutal, understandably so, and having it set in Turkey has resulted in quite a few critics whining about racial stereotypes. (Indeed, filming had to be done in Malta because Turkish authorities unsurprisingly wouldn't let them film in Turkey.) However, with the movie being about a prisoner's brutal prison experiences, it has to be set somewhere. Were the producers supposed to create a fictitious country so as not to upset everybody's sensibilities? Since the actual events happened in Turkey, everybody would have known the fictional country was a stand-in for Turkey anyway.

Midnight Express isn't perfect, in that it feels at times as if there's not enough of a plot. Again, however, the real-life Billy Hayes was trying to survive, and that's a pretty basic plot. If you haven't seen Midnight Express before, I can certainly recommend it.

TCM lists it as being part of a box set with a bunch of other 70s movies, while Amazon doesn't seem to have that set, but a standalone DVD and streaming available.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Czech That Film

Radio Prague's English-language program alerted me the other day to Czech That Film, a traveling festival I apparently had never heard of before, which is surprising since this is its eighth year and I would have thought Radio Prague would have mentioned it at least once in the previous seven iterations.

The festival is bringing a program of recent Czech films to two dozen cities around the US and Canada, although the nearest city to me is New York, two hours away. I have to admit as well to not knowing very much about any of the movies, but that shouldn't be a surprise.

The first link above has the transcript of the Radio Prague report as always, as well as an embedded player to play the audio, and an MP3 link (~1.6 MB, 3:30 minutes) if you want to download and listen elsewhere than in your browser.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #249: Interview

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 interviews, and I have to admit that it's one I had to stop and think about for a while. But, after some thinking, I was able to come up with three movies that are all quite different from one another:

Citizen Kane (1941). People used this one for last week's "Let's start at the end" theme, but it also fits here since the three segments are set up as a newsreall reporter interviewing three different people who knew Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles).

ABBA: The Movie (1977). A document of the Swedish supergroup's 1977 concert tour to Australia, the framing story has a country radio DJ being given the task of getting an interview with ABBA for a special his radio station is doing, but always either getting blocked or being just one step behind the Swedes. There are also man on the street style interviews with what seem to be mostly non-actors, notably a bunch of little girls at a ballet studio

The King of Comedy (1982). Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) has an unhealthy obsession with Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), host of the #1 late-night talk show. When he saves Jerry from a groupie, he think's it's his way in to a tryout to do stand-up on Jerry's show. Rupert has been practicing for quite some time, doing interviews with cardboard cutouts in his basement. When Rupert gets rebuffed, he resorts to some rather extreme measures.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Rising of the Moon

TCM ran a bunch of movies set in Ireland back on St. Patrick's Day, and one that's on DVD that I actually hadn't seen before is The Rising of the Moon.

John Ford directed the movie, which is an anthology of three stories about different aspects of Ireland. Tyrone Power, an Irish-American, introduces the stories standing at the front door of one of those lovely townhouses that you'd see not only in Dublin, but in vintage London movies such as The Wrong Box (at least, the type of house looked quite similar to me). The cast is mostly Irish actors who, as far as I know, didn't go on to have big careers in the movies.

The closest exception to that would probably by Cyril Cusack, who appears in the first story, "The Majesty of the Law". He plays a policeman who is looking for a moonshiner, but gets mixed up in trying to arrest an old man who committed assault and doesn't want to pay the £5 fine, a fairly substantial sum back then. Eventually most of the other locals come to support the old man and his stubbornness.

The second story, "A Minute's Wait", is set at a railway station in a small village in the middle of nowhere. The train is supposed to stop for one minute to let passengers on and off, but this is a part of the world where time has no meaning, much to the chagrin of an English couple. The train is delayed repeatedly for stuff to go to a celebration for the bishop, a hurling team, and lots of other things.

Finally, there's "1921", based on a play called "The Rising of the Moon" which itself took its name from an old Irish folk tune from around 1800. This one deals with the Irish revolution and a man Sean Curran (Donal Donnelly) who is sentenced to hang for treason, but who has a lot of support among regular Dubliners. Two actresses dressed as nuns help him escape, and a policeman has to make the decision whether to turn him in for the £500 reward or go with his wife, who is on Curran's side.

The stories are all reasonably well done, although people who take the more doe-eyed American view of olde Ireland will probably enjoy them most. I found some of the characters to be almost stereotypes of the quirky rural old-fashioned person that are supposed to be charming, but often come across on film as irritating. (This isn't just about Ireland; I mentioned the same thing in my review of Antonia's Line.) It's too bad the movie wasn't in color, as the rural Ireland of the first two stories probably would have looked great, especially with Ford directing.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Blonde Crazy

A few weeks back Blonde Crazy was on TCM. I was going to do a post on it then as I thought I had it on DVD courtesy of that Warner Gangsters collection I've mentioned several times. It's not in that box set, but it is in one of the Warner Bros.' Forbidden Hollywood pre-code sets, so I DVRed it and watched it to do a post now.

James Cagney plays Bert Harris, who at the start of the movie is a bellhop in a hotel in a smaller city somewhere. Anne (Joan Blondell) comes in looking for a job as a maid, and Bert is so smitten by her beauty that he tries to get her that job despite another bellhop already having put in a good word for his girlfriend. Anne doesn't particularly care for Bert at first, as seen by the fact that she slaps him on multiple occasions! But she gets the job.

Bert is a smooth operator, conning dishonest people and keeping a scrapbook of various con jobs. After conning dirty old traveling salesman Rupert (Guy Kibbee), and getting help from Anne, they move to the bigger time, where they meet Dapper Dan (Louis Calhern). Dan is much more worldly than Bert, and is able to fleece Bert with little difficulty. As a result, Anne leaves Bert when she meets nice stockbroker Joe (Ray Milland), this being the era when stockbrokers were part of high finance.

Bert plots revenge on Dan, and eventually gets it, while Anne learns that Joe isn't as nice as he seemed, having embezzled a large sum of money from the firm's safe. Anne convinces Bert to rob the rest of the items in the safe, the theory being that if everything is missing, then nobody will figure that there were two heists and Joe stole that money. Things don't quite work out as planned....

Blonde Crazy is a lot of fun, although it does begin to lose steam in the second half. The first half has, as I already mentioned, Blondell slapping Cagney. But it's also got a scene of Cagney asking Blondell where her half of the money they've "earned", and her, in the bathtub(!) telling him it's in her brassiere. Cagney then proceeds to examine Blondell's underwear!

If you want to have fun with a pre-Code, you could do a lot worse than James Cagney and Joan Blondell. I prefer some of their other work, but Blonde Crazy isn't bad at all.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Random notes for April 15-16, 2019

Another of the special programming features on TCM this month thanks to the 25th anniversary is the 25 fan dedications. TCM selected 25 fans to present one film each with Ben Mankiewicz, and those presentations are going to be in prime time every weeknight for the next two weeks, so either two or three each night, I'm assuming depending on the length of the movies. Tonight is the first night.

A couple of movies worth mentioning are coming up on FXM Retro. First, at 6:00 AM tomorrow, is White Witch Doctor, which I blogged about almost exactly five years ago. Somehow when I blogged about it, I missed the Fox MOD disc of it, which is available on Amazon. I blogged about Rapture more recently, and that's going to be on FXM tomorrow afternoon at 1:15 PM.

When I was looking on Amazon today to see if White Witch Doctor had been released to DVD, one of the Amazon recommendations was this 9-film noir collection, which is going to be released next Tuesday. Looks interesting, and some of the films on it I haven't seen before.

I should also mention the death of Bibi Andersson, the Swedish actress who appeared in a bunch of Ingmar Bergman films, but also in some Hollywood productions. I've got the last of the Airport movies on DVD, and Andersson is in that one, so I should probably get around to watching that one.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Where Eagles Dare

I need to free up more room on my DVR, so I made the point of watching a longer movie, Where Eagles Dare.

The movie starts off with a plane being shot down in the winter of 1943/4, and then getting very quickly to the real action. That plane was carrying Carnaby (Robert Beatty), an American general on the way to a conference with the Soviets on the "second front", which of course nowadays means D-Day. The plane was shot in the high Alps, and the general is being held at a mountaintop fortress accessible only by cable car that has been commandeered for use by the SS. So British intelligence gives Maj. Smith the task of leading the team to find Carnaby and bring him back. Smith's team includes several Brits, and one American, Schaffer (Clint Eastwood).

Now, my first thought would have been why they didn't fly over the Atlantic to north Africa and from there to wherever the meeting would be held, but that's not Schaffer's first inkling that something isn't quite right. For Schaffer, that comes just after they all parachute in to the mountains, and the radioman is found dead of a broken neck, with a bruise that implies it didn't happen during the fall. Apparently, as with 13 Rue Madeleine, they've got a traitor in their midst, but who is it?

We begin to suspect something is up with Maj. Smith fairly quickly when he says that he forgot to get the codebook off the radio operator, but it's really a ruse to go meet Mary (Mary Ure), who was segregated from the rest of the team during the parachuting so that apparently Smith is the only one who knows she's part of the group.

The group makes it to the town at the base of the mountain where the castle is, at which point another of them gets murdered. The Nazis, for their part, realize they've got some British officers in their midst, and Maj. Smith gives them up, on the grounds that they'll be safer getting out of the Gasthaus where they're stuck with the Nazis looking for them. It works, at least for Smith and Schaffer, and eventually they're able to make their way up to the castle.

It turns out that this is only in part a rescue operation. Oh, there is an American being held hostage; it's just an actor who looks amazingly like the American general. They have to free him not to keep the Nazis from finding out about the second front, but to keep the Nazis from discovering the guy is an impostor who knows nothing about it. But more than a rescue operation, it was an intelligence operation to determine who are traitors in British intelligence.

Yet with all that, they actually still have to get out of the castle and back to territory held by the Allies, and it's here that we get the real climax with the action and explosions. The movie takes a darn long time in getting there, but when it does it's more than entertaining enough.

Having said that, there are some problems with the movie, starting off with the length, at about 155 minutes. Boy is it slow at times. There's also the trope of there being lots and lots of Nazis, but about the worst damage they do is to shoot Smith in the hand. Every time the plucky Allies fire their guns, they take down multiple Nazis. Yeah right. Much of the rest of the escape strains credulity too. Still, as I said, Where Eagles Dare is certainly entertaining. If you want to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and just watch something fun, you could do far worse.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

On with the Show!

Another movie I watched recently is the early musical On with the Show!, which is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

There's a title card at the beginning telling us that tonight is a key night for the musical The Phantom Sweetheart, which has been playing test showings in various small towns on the way to a possible run on Broadway. Except, of course, that the production is financially strapped, with things being so bad that they may not even be able to get the show off tonight: it's Broadway or Bust.

As for the actual show, we only see bits and pieces of it so that we don't quite get a true sense of what it's about, much like the movie-within-a-movie Meet Pamela from François Truffaut's Day for Night. There's something about the lead actor, Harold (Arthur Lake) on an estate in the south falling in love with the lead actress Nita (Betty Compson), who goes around in a veil. There's also comic support from the second man Joe (Joe E. Brown looking the same as he would in Some Like It Hot 30 years later), and musical interludes (more on those later).

More of the movie deals with the back story. The production has been struggling to the point that the backer who provided the funds for the sets wants his money, or he's going to take the backdrops. Nita wants her back pay, and at a key point refuses to go on with the show if she doesn't get paid. Meanwhile, the usher Jimmy (William Bakewell) is in love with the coat-check girl Kitty (Sally O'Neil). She's convinced she'll be a big star if only she can get her break. (Too bad Nita can't twist an ankle like Bebe Daniels in 42nd Street.) And then somebody holds up the box office, with the police suspecting Jimmy.

The movie is interesting and energetic, if also wildly uneven. I wonder if this movie had the original stock footage of an audience clapping, which it intersperesed at several points. It was originally filmed in two-strip Technicolor, but as far as is known all the Technicolor prints have been lost. As for the print remaining, it looks like a later print from after Warner Bros. abandoned Vitaphone's sound-on-disc system. Post-Vitaphone movies had the sound on a track on the film, and here part of the left-hand side of the print has clearly been cut off: it's most obvious in credits that have a few letters missing, but a lot of scenes look off center.

The large musical numbers are all filmed in the pre-42nd Street stile, mostly from the back of the theatre although you get some closeups of the leads. More interesting are the interlude songs, specifically the premiere of "Am I Blue". This one is sung by Ethel Waters, who here and in one other song with a very leggy dancer, John Bubbles, provide the highlights. The two songs seem to serve no purpose in advancing the plot of either The Phantom Sweetheart or the movie On with the Show!, however, as Ethel doesn't get any other scenes.

On with the Show! is definitely worth a watch for historical reasons, but don't expect a movie that will set the world on fire.

With TCM's 25th anniversary coming up

Tomorrow, April 14 is the 25th anniversary of the day TCM went on the air, and the channel has been celebrating with a month full of special features. That's part of why Star of the Month Greta Garbo got all her films on five weeknights in the first week of the month.

Anyhow, with the actual anniversary tomorrow, there are a few things worth mentioning. I should have mentioned the Saturday night lineup last week, as TCM has been running old Essentials spots. So it's a chance to see Robert Osborne again, at least for one film a week as they've also been running the Alec Baldwin-hosted spots from 2017. (Robert and Alec's opening for the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty is not on the schedule.) Tonight sees Robert Osborne and Molly Haskell presenting Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at 10:00 PM. I can't remember how many years ago it was that Haskell was the co-presenter.

Tomorrow being the actual anniversary, TCM is unsurprisingly showing Gone With the Wind at 8:00 PM, this being the first movie the channel ran back in 1994. I would guess that they're also going to use Robert Osborne's introduction from then (I'd also guess that there's going to be another introduction circa 2019 introducing Osborne) before the movie.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Victor Victoria

Victor Victoria ran on TCM during 31 Days of Oscar, and never having done a blog post on it, I decided to DVR it so I could watch and do a post.

It's a movie where most people probably already know the story, or at least the basic hook of Julie Andrews dresses as a man to play a female impersonator. It's a little bit more complicated than that, but not much. Andrews plays Victoria, a struggling opera singer in 1934 Paris who can't pay the rent, or even the restaurant tab. One evening, she meets Carole Todd (Robert Preston), a gay cabaret singer who has recently lost his job, so he's in much the same boat as Victoria. But Carole has an idea: since female impersonators are a thing in the gay cabaret scene, Victoria would be great as a woman. Of course, she already is a woman, so she's going to have to be the gay Polish Count Victor Grazinski, a heretofore unknown impersonator who was disowned by his Polish family for being gay.

Carole then manages Grazinski (I'll use "Grazinski" for when Victoria is passing herself off as a man), and gets him an audition with one of the swankiest cabarets in all of Paris to play Victoria. Of course Victoria is great being a natural woman, and the Grazinski act becomes the hit of Paris. Visiting Paris is American gangster King Marchand (James Garner), together with his underling Squash (Alex Karras) and girlfriend Norma (Lesley Ann Warren). King falls in love with the stage Victoria, although when he finds out that it's Grazinski doing an act he's not so sure what to do, since he's not gay. But he also suspects that Grazinski might not be what he's claiming.

King isn't the only one who suspects, as a waiter at the club turns out to have seen Victoria and Carole together at the restaurant where the two first met, and reports this to the owner. This sets the club owner to investigating. Meanwhile, King figures out that Grazinski really is a woman, and wants her to give up the act and be with him. The problem is that it's a very lucrative act, and what's that going to do to Carole?

The idea behind Victor Victoria is one that is a fertile ground for comedy, and unsurprisingly, the movie takes all those opportunities. All of the leads give good performances, with one possible exception. Julie Andrews is completely unconvincing as a man. It's easy to see why King wouldn't believe Grazinski, but why everybody else apparently does is mystifying. However, I have a feeling it was intenional to have Andrews' original Victoria be unconvincing as Grazinski.

The other problem I had is that the musical numbers bordered on the interminable. Obviously, Andrews has to perform a few at least, first in order to get the job and then to wow King, while the final musical number also needs to be in the movie. But the movie was directed by Blake Edwards, also Mr. Julie Andrews, so I couldn't help but wonder whether he was adding musical numbers to showcase his wife.

Still, Victor Victoria is a lot of fun, and well worth a watch. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #248: Let's Start at the End

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 "Let's Start at the End". I almost did this theme some time back when the theme was "Origin Stories": I was thinking of movies, especially noirs, that start more or less at the end of the story and then tell us the lead character's origin and how he or she got there. Leave Her to Heaven would be an excellent example of this, with Cornel Wilde returning to Jeanne Crain. But I decided to go with a different theme-within-a-theme this time:

Mildred Pierce (1945). The movie opens with Zachary Scott getting shot, and uttering his final words, "Mildred". Mildred (Joan Crawford) was married to the dead man, and when police find the body they bring her in for questioning. Cue the flashback, in which we learn what -- especially Mildred's relationship with her spoiled daughter (Ann Blyth) -- led to Scott being shot.

Death of a Soundrel (1956). In the opening scene, George Sanders is found dead on his bed in his apartment, obviously a victim of murder. His secretary (Yvonne de Carlo) is brought in for questioning, and explains, largely in flashback, why her boss was such a scoundrel and why there are a whole bunch of people who would have been OK with his getting killed. Zsa Zsa Gabor is OK in the movie, and also in the movie is Sanders' real-life brother Tom Conway.

The Quiet American (1952). On Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, in 1952, a dead body is floating in a river in Saigon. It's the body of Audie Murphy, the titular American, and since Indochina was still a French colony at the time, the French police bring in British journalist Michael Redgrave for questioning. Once again with flashbacks, Redgrave explains his relationship with the American, and the American's murky relationship with the Communists agitating for independence.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Peyton Place premiere

Not having anything to write about today, and not yet having looked at the obituaries to see if there's any famous person I need to mention, I decided to put in the extras from Peyton Place. I picked up the movie as part of a box set with three other Fox classics, mentioning it some time back when I talked about extras on another disk. The other bad news about the Peyton Place disk is that, due to the length of the movie, the feature is on one side and the extras on the other.

Anyhow, as with Leave Her to Heaven, there's a Fox Movietone News blurb about the premiere of the movie and the people who showed up to it:

One couple is Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, who were by this time a couple. I'm not certain if Wood was under contract to Fox at this time, but she gets mentioned before Wagner, probably because of her looks and fame. I would have thought Wagner was still under contract at Fox, and the Fox people would want to mention their contract player first. But then, there's:

Don Murray and Hope Lange. This time, they mentioned Murray first. I think he was under contract to Fox at the time, and this would have been right around the time of A Hatful of Rain, another Fox feature. However, Lange is one of the stars of Peyton Place! Surely she deserves a mention first!

Ah, the life of a promoter.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Last Picture Show

Another of the movies I wastched over the weekend was The Last Picture Show.

Anarene, Texas, November 1951. It's a town about a half hour southwest of Wichita Falls, in the dusty oil-producing part of the state. Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) show up one Saturday morning at the pool hall and cafe run by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson). They also have to deal with the insults from the locals, since last night they were playing on the high school's woeful football team. In fact, the town itself seems woeful, with there not being much but Sam's businesses, which also include the local movie theater.

Sonny has a girlfriend in Charlene, but she's offended that he didn't remember the anniversary of their going steady, and he's to the point where he's bored with her. Duane has a girlfriend in Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), a much more exciting young woman since her parents were among those who struck it rich in the oil boom. Jacy's mom Lucy (Ellen Burstyn) doesn't want Jacy going with Duane, if only because Mom thinks her daughter can snag a much wealthier husband.

Since there's basically nothing to do in town, Sonny isn't just on the football team but on the basketball team too. One day, Coach asks a favor of Sonny. Since Coach is way too busy with his work, and his wife Ruth (Cloris Leachman) has a doctor's appointment tomorrow, could Sonny drive her there? It's a half-day off school apparently and getting in good with Coach, so Sonny agrees. He finds something he doesn't expect, which is a lonely woman who isn't sick but who cries after leaving the doctor anyway, and wants affection from somebody. For her, Sonny would be as good as anybody.

Over the course of the year, the adolescents all grow up, more or less. Sonny starts an affair with Coach's wife; Jacy explores her sexuality too by going to a nude swim party and convincing Duane to try to have sex with her; Duane finally loses his virginity and tries to escape town. Jacy's wealthy boyfriend up in Wichita Falls gets married, so after Duane leaves to get a job in the oil fields, Jacy starts an affair with Sonny, who doesn't seem to care about Ruth any more.

Although there is a narrative to The Last Picture Show, I really found the movie to be more a snapshot of a particular place and time. I found it easy to identify with, if only because my hometown (Kingston, NY) has, although much bigger than the fictional Anarene (portrayed by Archer City, TX, population about 2,000), followed much the same trajectory ever since an IBM facility in town shut down for good in the mid-1990s. Anarene is even bleaker and more deathly, however, and the question of whether to resign onself to this life or how to escape looms over everybody.

I briefly alluded to the movie at the end of yesterday's post on I Vitelloni, but I think this one is much the better movie. The bleakness is better portrayed, the characters seem much more realistic, and really none of them are people you want to smack some sense into the way you do with the five men in I Vitelloni. The acting is also quite good. Leachman and Johnson both won Oscars, but pretty much everybody is good. I haven't mentioned Eileen Brennan as the proprietess of the cafe, or Clu Gulager as Abilene, the owner of the oil wells that made the Farrows well-to-do. The cinematography is also excellent.

I can strongly recommend The Last Picture Show.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The loafers

Another recent watch off my DVR was the early Federico movie I Vitelloni.

It's the end of summer in a small Italian seaside city (presumably based on Fellini's home town of Rimini), where they're celebrating by selecting "Miss Mermaid". That winner is Sandra (Leonora Ruffo), sister of Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) and reluctant entrant. She faints after winning, and the doctor determines that the reason for it is... she's pregnant!

Fausto (Franco Fabrizi) is the one who knocked him up, and he doesn't have the maturity to be a father, so he plans on skipping town until his father basically threatens to beat the crap out of him. It's time for a shotgun wedding. But even with that, Fausto insists on cavorting with other women, which is going to cause Sandra no end of heartbreak.

Also in the circle of friends of Fausto and Moraldo are the playwright Leopoldo, who is at least trying to do something with his life even if it's a pipe dream, and the layabouts Alberto and Riccardo. Fausto, with a baby on the way, is given a job with an antiques dealer, but eventually loses it. So he steals a statue that supposedly has been discarded by his boss, and tries to sell it off....

It goes on like this for an hour and 45 minutes, and frankly, I had nowhere near the love for it that most other reviewers seem to do. The on-screen guide's synopsis referred to the men as "adolescents", so I was expecting a coming-of-age story instead of a bunch of adult loafers (the Italian word "vitelloni" has "loafers" as one of its meanings). As such, I found myself not caring for these men-children and just wanted all of them to grow up already.

But since everybody else rates this one so highly, it's definitely one you should watch and judge for yourself. It's on DVD, although it's courtesy of the Criterion Collection, which means it pricey. And thankfully, tomorrow's movie is the coming-of-age film I thought I was going to get in I Vitelloni.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Crimes at the Dark House

Not knowing what to watch yesterday, I decided to pull out one of the DVDs from the cheapie box sets of British B movies I bought, and watched a movie I had never heard of, Crimes at the Dark House.

Tod Slaughter stars as a man who at the start of the movie is part of the gold rush in Australia in 1850. One of his fellow gold miners, Percival Glyde, receives a letter stating that his father has died back in England and Glyde needs to return to take charge of the estate and the assume the noble title (well, just Sir). So Tod Slaughter's character comes up with the brilliant idea of killing Percival and taking his place! After all, Percival has been away from England so long that nobody is going to recognize him. (Since 90% of the movie has Slaughter's character impersonating Percival, that's how I'll refer to him for the rest of the post.)

Needless to say, it's a daft plan, even for 1850. Apparently the real Percival had a mole on a part of the body normally hidden, but that's the least of the imposter Percival's problems. He thought he was going to be inheriting a big estate, but apparently everything's been mortgaged to the hilt and there's a five-figure (in 1850s sterling, mind you) debt. There's a second problem in that a Dr. Fosco (Hay Petrie) shows up with Mrs. Catherick (Elsie Wagstaff) claiming that 20 years ago, before Percival left for Australia, the two had a torrid affair that resulted in Catherick's getting pregnant. The daughter, consumed with hatred for her father, wound up in Fosco's insane asylum, and not Fosco and the elder Catherick are blackmailing Percival.

Percival is reminded that his father wanted him to marry the wealthy Laurie Fairlie (Sylvia Marriott), even though neither of them has any desire to marry for love (Percival has already started an affair with one of the maids), they both know that they have a supposed duty. And in Percival's case, Laurie's money would go a long way to paying off all those debts, if only he can get control of it. Laurie's no dummy, and she has no intention of signing any document whose terms she isn't allowed to read. Her sister Marian (Hilary) isn't a fool either, and knows something is way, way wrong.

Catherick's daughter escapes from the asylum, starts showing up around the Glyde estate, and looks amazingly like Laurie. So Percival gets another brilliant idea, which is to switch the daughter with Laurie, and let the daughter get fatally ill, such that everybody will assume the daughter is Laurie and Percival can inherit Laurie's estate. But Marian and Laurie's boyfriend she would have married if she could have married for love are on the case....

Crimes at the Dark House is a movie that should be terrible in so many ways. The characters are one-dimensional, and the writing doesn't help them, with characters being forced to go into long expository soliloquies that are in the script for the sole purpose of allowing other characters to overhear them. Yet with all that, the movie is really worth watching if you know a bit about Slaughter going into it. Apparently, he was the star of a string of B movies produced to fill Britain's movie exhibition quota system in the years just before World War II. He plays it extrememly broadly, and slathers on the over-the-top villainy. Crimes at the Dark House ultimately played out to me as something like a summer stock production where the detailed plot is less important than the character types, and Slaughter fills his perfectly.

The other movie on this DVD is another Slaughter movie, (Sexton Blake and) The Hooded Terror (apparently, in the US, only the second half of the title was used, when it was distributed to TV late late shows and whatnot). Now that I know about Slaughter, I'm going to be looking forward to this one whever I finally get around to watching it.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

King Rat

I notice that King Rat is coming back on the TCM schedule this afternoon at 3:00 PM (for some reason, I thought it was on tomorrow), so I hastily watched it last night to do a full-length post on it.

The time is early 1945 in the Changi POW camp in Malaya, which at the time was still held by Japan. Obviously, we know that the war is going to be over in a few months, but there's no way anybody in the movie could have known that. The Japanese are stereotypically harsh in their treatment of the prisoners, leading to all sorts of illnesses and near-starvation. The men have to survive any way they know how.

For American Corporal King (George Segal), that means becoming a hustler in the business sense, running all sorts of schemes to make money and influence and use that with the camp guards in exchange for the goods necessary to survive. Other people raise chickens (where they get the feed from is left unmentioned), and one guy even has a dog. Meanwhile, since Malaya had been a British colony before the Japanese invasion, much of the camp's population is either British or Australian. Much like the Alec Guinness character in Bridge on the River Kwai, they try to keep stiff British discipline, under provost (roughly a chief of military police) Grey (Tom Courtenay).

The two sides come into constant conflict along with a bunch of other smaller conflicts; King is able to win British soldier Marlowe (James Fox) to his side as Marlowe can speak Malay and translate. But Marlowe suffers an accident that leaves him with a gangrenous arm and dangerous surgery that might kill him.

King Rat is an interesting movie with good performances, although I have to admit I found myself not giving it quite as high a rating as many of the IMDb reviewers give it. Not that it's a bad movie by any means; it's more that I felt it dragged at times and that there was a whole lot of nothing going on at certain points. I also felt the main conflict wasn't resolved all that well.

Still, King Rat is definitely worth a watch. It's sadly out of print on DVD, although for those who can do streaming it's currently on Amazon streaming.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Briefs for April 5, 2019

I mentioned that Carnival in Flanders was going to be on TCM the other day, and that it doesn't seem to be on DVD in North America. For those of you who have the Watch TCM app, it is there if you want to watch it, at least for a couple more days. I didn't check to see when it expires, just to see if it was there.

Some days don't have a lot of birth anniversaries of famous people; others do. Today is one of the latter days. TCM has been honoring Spencer Tracy today; he's #6 on TCM's popularity list behind Bette Davis and Gregory Peck, and three relatively current people. Further down the list are James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli and Oscar-winning supporting actors Melvyn Douglas and Walter Huston. Director Roger Corman, too, but I don't think he ever won an Oscar. ;-)

I don't know what the deal is with the Justice Department's anti-trust letter to the Academy. I think I might have mentioned in the run-up to the Oscars that there was a kerfuffle over the Academy's rules for how long a movie had to show in theaters before going to other platforms if it wanted to be Oscar-eligible. Frankly, I don't get why anybody would think the Academy can't set its own rules and if people don't want to follow them, that's their business. I'll admit that I tend to favor far less intervention in business than even people would accuse Republicans of, but even as the current laws stand I don't see how it's anti-trust.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #247: Unrecognizable Actor Transformation

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 "Unrecognizable Actor Transformations", which I assume is intended to discuss make-up jobs such that the viewer won't recognize the actor on screen. If that was the intent, then it's a tough theme for me to think of three movies. So I went a different way and came up with three movies in which characters transformed themselves such that the other people in the movie don't recognize them:

Tension (1949). Richard Basehart plays a bespectacled pharmacist whose ingrateful wife (Audrey Totter) is cheating on him. So he comes up with the idea of killing her lover, and has a brilliant disguise: he gets contact lenses! And nobody recognizes him! Basehart can't go through with the killing, but somebody else does, causing complications for poor Basehart.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Tyrone Power plays a man accused of murdering a little old lady for her money; ailing barrister Charles Laughton defends Power at trial. Marlene Dietrich plays Power's wife with a past (not the murder victim), and helps Power be found not guilty, although including this movie in the theme gives away an important plot point.

Hare-Trimmed (1953). Yosemite Sam learns that Granny is in line for a substantial inheritance, so he makes a beeline to marry her. Bugs Bunny tries to stop Yosemite, engaging in a whole bunch of disguises including dressing as Granny and going through a phony wedding with Sam. Sam is too dumb to notice it's Bugs behind all those disguises.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

For Heaven's Sake

A movie that recently got taken out of the Fox vaults for running on FXM is For Heaven's Sake. It's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, although apparently not for some time after that.

Clifton Webb plays Charles, an angel who has a problem he has to deal with down on earth. Apparently one of the junior angels, "Item" (Gigi Perreau), has gotten it into her head that she wants to be born. And, she's found the perfect couple to be born to, the Boltons. Jeff (Robert Cummings) is a successful theater director, while his wife Lydia (Joan Bennett) is the female lead in all of their plays. They live in a deluxe duplex in Manhattan with enough servants that Item thinks they'd make great parents to her.

There's just one problem. Jeff is definitely married to his work, and Lydia is dedicated to the stage even if she's more than ready to take a vacation. Starting a family seems not in the cards, and if they can't resolve whether to do another play, who knows if the marriage will survive. Not that Item cares; she's insistent upon their being her parents, and she's not going to leave. Charles and his partner Arthur (Edmund Gwenn) are sent to fetch Item.

Eventually Charles comes up with an idea. Item knows that if the Boltons can just have one more successful play, that will satisfy them enough and bring back the spark to their lives such that they'll start a family and Item can be born. Charles is going to "materialize" in human form and use his powers to persuade Jeff and Lydia to do the new play and start a family. Not that it's going to be easy.

Charles shows up at the racetrack as a rancher channeling Gary Cooper, and has a "chance" meeting with Jeff and Lydia that convinces them to offer a new play written by their friend Daphne (Joan Blondell) for "Slim Charles" to back. Not that he has the money having just come down from heaven. But Charles goes down to the Bolton's farm for a weekend to discuss the play. Daphne is very clearly attracted to Charles, which presents all sorts of problems. Among them is her ex-boyfriend Tony who doesn't want anybody else to have Daphne. Charles wins a bet with another rancher that results in the other guy backing the play and getting the profits, and Charles winning a $10,000 consolation. Tony reports Charles to the IRS, threatening to scupper everything.

For Heaven's Sake is a pleasant enough diversion, although in terms of angel movies there are a lot of better movies, starting with The Bishop's Wife and Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Still, you could do worse than to waste 85 minutes with For Heaven's Sake. You know it's going to have a happy ending, but how it gets there is the fun part. Clifton Webb's attempt at playing a Texan, or some sort of rancher, has to be seen to be believed. Edmund Gwenn is good, as always, and I really liked the plot twist of bringing in the IRS. Perreau comes across as a bit too cloyingly precocious, but that's in part because the character is written that way.

For Heaven's Sake is available on DVD at Amazon courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, but for some reason doesn't show up at the TCM Shop, which is why I was thinking it might be out of print. To be honest, I'm not so sure I'd spend MOD prices on it, but I've also seen a lot worse.

Heads up on Carnival in Flanders

Almost two years ago, in a Thursday Movie Picks post on movies set in the Renaissance, I mentioned Carnival in Flanders, which is a really fun little comedy. I only noticed yesterday that it's going to be on overnight tonight at 3:30 AM after the Greta Garbo movies.

Unfortunately, it still doesn't seem to be in print or even have gotten a DVD release in North America, and since I didn't notice its presence until yesterday, I didn't have time to rewatch it and do a fuller length review on it. I also have another review coming up right after this one for a film on tomorrow morning that I thought wasn't on DVD but is, so I made it a point to watch that one.

I have no idea whether Carnival in Flanders is going to show up in the Watch TCM app.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Quiet American

I saw The Quiet American on the TCM schedule as part of the spotlight on reporters, and since I got it on DVD last year, I decided to watch the DVD to do a full-length post here.

The movie starts off at Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebrations, in Saigon circa 1952. This was when French Indochina was still a thing, divided into several provinces, but there was a war for independence going on that eventually drove the French out in 1954. Anyhow, during this particular celebration, a dead body washes up in the river. Apparently, the dead man was a westerner, the titular American, so a British journalist named Fowler (Michael Redgrave) who knew the American is brought in for questioning by the police.

Fowler flashes back to an early meeting with the American (whose name is never given, and is played by Audie Murphy). While Fowler and a lot of the other westerners in Saigon had grown cynical, our American is a fresh, unused mind who doesn't know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo. He works not for the US government, but for one of those organizations that is supposedly providing relief aid, but may in fact be doing something else. Meanwhile, the American meets a local woman Phuong (Girogia Moll) and falls in love with her. This is a problem in that Phuong is Fowler's mistress; further complicating things is that Fowler has an estranged wife back home who isn't going to grant him a divorce.

Fowler covers the Communist insurgency as a reporter -- and keeps bumping into the American, who somehow seems to be everywhere and knows everyone or something like that. It leads Fowler to investigate, helped by Mr. Heng (Richard Loo) who knows something of what is going on, but leaves it to Fowler to fill in the blanks. Apparently one of the shipments the American's organization had sent was opened, revealing barrels of a plastic used for injection molding, which means the American is doing something far more serious.

I have to admit that I didn't care for The Quiet American as much as many other reviewers seem to. I found it talky with a whole lot of nothing going on, and I found the expats to be largely as tiresome as the ones in Soldier of Fortune which I watched not too long ago. The love triangle didn't particularly interest me, either. Audie Murphy definitely has a different role here than he essayed in most of his movies, and he does about as well as I think he could have considering that I didn't feel the screenplay helped his enigmatic character. Redgrave is better, but that shouldn't come as a surprise.

Some of the shooting was done in Vietnam -- the movie was filmed in 1957 and released a year later, so this is when South Vietnam was solidly pro-Western. That shooting is definitely a plus, although it would have been nice to see it in color. The rest of the movie was shot in Italy, which is why you have an Italian actress playing a Vietnamese woman.

Considering everybody else's glowing reviews, this is probably one you should watch for yourself. The DVD I bought isn't very expensive, so even if you don't like it, you're not out much money.

Monday, April 1, 2019

TCM Star of the Month April 2019: Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo (l.) and Melvyn Douglas in Ninotchka (1939; airs Friday at 10:00 PM)

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM. This time out, it's Greta Garbo. However, this month is also a bit different. Since this month is the 25th anniversary of TCM, the channel is running a bunch of special programming features over the course of the month. That means instead of the usual one night a week every week for a month, we get Garbo's movies five straight nights in prime time over the course of one week, and this first week of April is it.

The Garbo movies will be running roughly chronologically, at least for four of the nights. (Thursday has three silents and Queen Christina.) So tonight is several silents, while Ninotchka, pictured above, doesn't show up until the final night.

Interestingly, I apparently hadn't ever used any photos to illustrate a post about a Garbo movie, according to a brief search of the blog, so I had to do another image search for the Ninotchka photo.

Agnès Varda and other obituaries

I probably should have mentioned the death of Agnès Varda earlier, but I've been busy. She died on Friday at the age of 90, and was one of the pioneers in the French New Wave. I guess it also has to do with my being a bit cold to the New Wave. I think I mentioned when I did my post on La point courte that I really loved the scenes of everyday life of the southern French fishing village, and didn't so much care for the relationship scenes of the couple returning from Paris. TCM did a TCM Remembers bit on her, too.

Shane Rimmer had small roles in a whole bunch of movies, and did TV work like the voice of Scott Tracy on Thunderbirds which extended into the two Thunderbirds movies of the late 1960s. He died on Friday aged 89. I'm sure he's one of those actors I've seen on the screen before -- indeed, a look at his filmography shows a bunch of movies I've blogged about -- but not a face I'd recognize.

Tania Mallet only had one film role: modeling made her much more money. But it was a memorable one, as Tilly Masterson in the James Bond movie Goldfinger. Tilly's the one who follows Bond and Goldfinger around Switzerland after her sister is killed from having all her pores painted. Mallet, who died Saturday at 77, was also the cousin of Helen Mirren, something I would never have guessed.