Friday, May 31, 2019

Until They Sail

I recorded quite a few of the movies TCM ran during the salute to Star of the Month Paul Newman, so it's time to start getting through them. First up is Until They Sail.

Newman plays Capt. Jack Harding, a US Marine who at the start of the movie is testifying in a criminal trial in Christchurch, New Zealand, in November 1945. If you guessed that he was involved in World War II, you'd be right. The US stationed a lot of men in New Zealand as part of the staging to send them north to fight the Japanese, and many of them wanted to take on local women as wives, what with all the Kiwi men being away fighting the war. Harding's job was to investigate to make certain the women wouldn't be "undesirables" in America.

Flash back to the events that necessitated Harding's testimony. Well, actually, let's go back further than that. The Leslies are a family of four sisters -- both parents are deceased -- in Christchurch, with second-oldest sister Barbara (Jean Simmons) having a husband off fighting in North Africa. Eldest sister Anne (Joan Fontaine) seems to have something against men, while youngest sister Evelyn (Sandra Dee in her movie debut) is too young for that stuff yet.

Then there's third sister Delia (Piper Laurie). She seems desperate for any man. The only adult male of marriageable age is Phil, nicknamed Shiner (Wally Cassell). Anne and Barbara think he's terrible for Delia, but she doesn't care; she wants a man. So she marries him, and when he gets called to fight, she decamps to Wellington. Ostensibly, it's to do her part for the war effort; really, though, it's because there's a greater number of US soldiers stationed there.

Barbara goes up to Wellington to see Delia and learns the truth of what Delia is doing. But also there, she meets Harding. They strike up a bit of a friendship, but it's clearly nothing more than that because she's married and he's been through an emotionally difficult divorce that led to him taking up heavy drinking. But all sorts of events are going to turn Barbara against the Americans the way Anne seems to be.

I say seems, because eventually Anne meets a soldier of her own, Capt. Bates (Charles Drake), with whom she eventually falls in love and could get married if the authorities (with Harding investigating) approve. As you can see, in life things have a way of turning out differently than one might expect.

But back to the beginning of the movie, and Harding's appearance in court. Why is he testifying? Well, all that cavorting with American servicemen Delia did causes her to realize she made a dumb move in marrying Shiner. When he finally gets released from a POW camp after the war, she plans to tell him that she's going to get a divorce from him. He's going to contest it and never let her get it, which leads to... well, that's why Harding is testifying.

Until They Sail is a well-made drama, although if there's one flaw, it's that most of the characters' story lines are wrapped up a bit too neatly. Life isn't always so straightforward. But the road there is a bit twistier, like real life. And the performances are mostly quite good. It's an interesting look at a part of World War II that's probably not quite so well known to Americans.

Until They Sail is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #255: Spies (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 this time around being spies. I have to admit this one was a bit difficult for me, so I went with a couple of vintage classics:

The Prisoner (1967). Patrick McGoohan plays Number 6, a man who gets gassed and wakes up in a mysterious village where everybody refers to him as #6. Nobody will tell him who #1 is.

I Spy (1965-1968). Robert Culp and Bill Cosby play a pair of tennis pros who are actually spies. This would never work in real life, since the tennis tour didn't go where spies would have needed to go, but suspend your disbelief for a bit.

Get Smart (1965-1970). Don Adams stars as Maxwell Smart, also known as Agent 86, working for CONTROL against the opposing spy agence KAOS. Smart is assisted by the lovely Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) in this spoof of the spy genre.

Shorts report for May 30-31, 2019

I don't think I've mentioned shorts in some time, so I decided to do a write-up this morning. I see that TCM is running one of the Sidney Blackmer Teddy Roosevelt shorts, Teddy the Rough Rider, this afternoon at about 1:10 PM, in the slot with the Cary Grant Monkey Business (starts at 11:30 AM).

One of the monthly spotlights is on the homefront during World War II, and interestingly, TCM picked a couple of shorts to go with it. First up around 7:45 PM, just before the spotlight, is Seeing Hands, a Pete Smith short I've mentioned on a couple of previous occasions, about a blind man's contribution to the war effort.

In the slot following The Best Years of Our Lives, or just after 11:00 PM tonight, there's Of Pups and Puzzles, a John Nesbitt Passing Parade short about using animals in doing aptitude tests for providing labor in gearing up for the coming war.

And finally, a little after 5:15 AM, there's Marines in the Making, one that I haven't seen before, an MGM short on the physical training of Marines.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Juno and the Paycock

Over the weekend, I watched one of Alfred Hitchcock's lesser-known films, Juno and the Paycock.

This isn't a traditional Hitchcock movie, although to be fair, the Hitchcock "master of suspense" style that we usually think of didn't really kick off until the first The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps in the mid-1930s. Sure, there were some obvious thrillers earlier, but also things like Rich and Strange.

Juno and the Paycock is based on a stage play by Irish playwright Sean O'Casey. After a brief introduction from an "Orator" (Barry Fitzgerald) who isn't seen again, we get the main action, dealing with the Boyle family, scratching out a meager existence in Dublin, 1921, which is during the struggle against Britain if you remember Shake Hands With the Devil from a few weeks earlier.

Juno (Sara Allgood) is the mother, married to Capt. Boyle (Edward Chapman), whom she calls the "Paycock" (a mispronuciation of "peacock") because he struts his stuff but is othewrise useless. Even more useless os Capt. Boyle's friend Joxer (Sidney Morgan), who doesn't seem to have worked a day in his life. They have two adult children: Mary is involved in industrial action, while Johnny lost an arm by being in the wrong place at the wrong time during an IRA bombing. He's also named names, which could get him in serious trouble.

Into all of this comes the lawyer Charles Bentham. He wrote the will for a cousin of the Boyles, and the will leaves a substantial sum to the Boyles. It's enough for them to redecorate the apartment, as well as get a few luxuries. But there are problems with coming into such money all of a sudden. First, don't count your chickens before they hatch. Another problem is that Mary starts an involvement with Bentham which is going to end badly.

Whether you like the movie likely depends on whether you like the source material. It wasn't quite my thing, especially since I don't care for characters like Capt. Boyle and Joxer. Still, Sara Allgood does quite a good job playing Juno. The print that I watched, on the Mill Creek box set, was quite lousy, which I suppose didn't help; heads were chopped off in several scenes.

The movie is also available on a standalone DVD courtesy of Reel Vault. I have no idea if their print is any better.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Owl and the Pussycat

TCM has been running a spotlight on romantic comedies this month that they've been calling "meet cutes". Tonight is the last night of the series, including the movie The Owl and the Pussycat at 8:00 PM.

Barbra Streisand plays Doris, who we see at the beginning of the movie is having difficulty dealing with life in the New York City of 1970: stuck in the rain, missing her bus, and all that stuff. Having problems of his own, but in a different way, is Felix (George Segal). He's a struggling writer who gets one rejection notice after another, and works in a bookstore to make ends meet. He gets back to his apartment with multiple locks on it, because this was the crime-infested era of New York.

Their lives are soon to meet when Doris comes knocking on Felix's door begging to be let in. He shouldn't let her in, but he does. It turns out that she's been evicted right then, and she needs a place to spend the night, so she imposes on him thinking he's the one who got her evicted. And boy is she a bitch about it. She basically tries to take the place over, keeping Felix up half the night. Actually, it keeps everybody in the building up and gets Felix evicted in the middle of the night.

They go to one of Felix's friends' places, and Doris continues to be such an anoying bitch that the friend, who was sleeping with his girlfriend, gets up to get a hotel room or something. It goes on like this for 90 minutes and at least one more change of temporary residence. But amazingly, along the way, Felix finds himself falling in love with Doris.

Frankly, I hated The Owl and the Pussycat, down entirely to the shrillness of Streisand's character. Personally, I think the movie would have been more interesting if it went in an entirely different direction. Have Streisand's character be that shrill and more, only to have her dead body dumped in Central Park, making it a murder mystery with a whole bunch of suspects because nobody could put up with her.

Still, you should probably judge for yourself. Just don't complain if you want those 90 minutes back.

Monday, May 27, 2019

A day of anthology movies

I've always found anthology movies interesting, in part because there's a natural tendency to be uneven because of the nature of having several discrete stories. At any rate, TCM is running a morning and afternoon of them tomorrow.

The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with Invitation to the Dance, which deserves mention for being Gene Kelly's vanity project that wound up being a misfire. It tells three stories, but tells them in dance and pantomime, with no dialog. Kelly is the one name actor, with a bunch of dancers, and because of all that it's easy to see why this one was a commercial failure.

The afternoon is taken up with all (I think) three of the Somerset Maugham anthology movies. It kicks off at noon with Quartet, which features Maugham himself introducing the four (you could probably guess that from the title) stories that he wrote. The movie was enough of a critical and commercial success that a second one, Trio (2:15 PM) was produced, followed by a third, Encore (4:00 PM).

Elsewhere during the day is It's a Big Country at 7:45 AM; and O. Henry's Full House with John Steinbeck introducing the stories, at 5:45 PM.

One anthology that I'd like to see again that hasn't been on the TCM schedule for ages -- I think a dozen years or more -- is the British Easy Money. Unfortunately, the last time it showed up I left after the first story, and it hasn't shown up since.

The Far Country

Not having done a post on a western for a couple of weeks, I decided to sit down with my box set of James Stewart westerns and watch The Far Country.

Stewart plays Jeff Webster, a man who in 1896 is leading a cattle drive to Seattle. It's the start of the Yukon gold rush, so his idea is to take the cattle from Seattle to Skagway, the disembarcation point for anybody going to Dawson in the Yukon, and then from there to Yukon to sell them and make a big profit with his partners Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) and Rube (Jay C. Flippen). Of course, it's not going to be so simple.

Just as the boat to Skagway is taking off, Jeff's two trail hands try to get the captain to stop it, claiming that Jeff is a murderer. The boat can't well turn around in harbor, so Jeff is able to hide in the cabin of lovely Ronda (Ruth Roman), who is going up to Dawson to start a saloon to serve the miners. So Jeff is safe for a while, at least.

In Skagway, the law catches up with him, mostly because his cattle accidentally disrupt a public hanging. When the law in town, "Judge" Gannon (John McIntire) arrests Jeff, he finds out about the murder accusation, which Jeff is able to get off of because he points out he killed to trail hands who were trying to rustle his cattle. But, there's still the disturbing the peace thing in Skagway, and the corrupt judge fines Jeff and his partners one herd of cattle.

With no money and no cattle, Jeff has to take on as a trail hand with Ronda and her crew, with one other member being young Renee (Corinne Calvet), a Quebecker making her way to Dawson, which after all is in Canada. But first Jeff has to liberate his cattle and get them to Canada before Gannon can stop him. After some difficulty, everybody makes it to Dawson.

Jeff sells his cattle, and with the money decides he's going to try panning for gold himself and getting a claim. That's all well and good, but who should show up but Gannon and his henchmen. They start jumping other people's claims and even shooting those who resist! It's up to Jeff to make things right....

The Far Country is another collaboration between Stewart and director Anthony Mann, who made a series of pretty darn good westerns in the early to mid 1950s. This one is more than entertaining enough, although some would probably say it bears no resemblance to the real gold rush. It has everything you could ask for in an action western, including the action, a bit of romance, redemption and some lovely vistas courtesy of Canada's Jasper National Park. Unfortunately, the print on the DVD looked a bit grainy at times. (For the price, that was probably to be expected.)

Still, if you want to sit back with a western that's going to entertain you, The Far Country will be a definite hit in that regard.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


TCM ran a bunch of religious-themed movies on Easter, and I recorded a couple that I hadn't done posts on yet. One of those was Barabbas.

Anthony Quinn stars as Barabbas, a name Christians will recognize from one key scene in the Gospels. Jesus is set to be crucified during Passover, and Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Arthur Kennedy) knows of the old Jewish tradition that during the Passover season, one of the condemned is to be set free. So he offers the Jews a choice: Jesus, or the thief and murderer Barabbas. The crowd chooses to pardon Barabbas, leaving Jesus to be crucified.

Barabbas goes home to his girlfriend Rachel (Silvana Mangano), and her mother Sara (Katy Jurado). They actually believe in Jesus and that he's going to rise again on the third day, something Barabbas thinks is nonsense. And yet, come the third day, Jesus has disappeared from his tomb! Barabbas doesn't know what to think or do.

Unfortunately for him, opinion among the early Christians is sharply divided on how to treat him. There's a lot of ostracism of both him and Rachel, and Rachel eventually gets stoned to death, while Barabbas gets arrested by the Romans. They can't execute him because of the prior pardon, so instead they send him to the sulfur mines in Sicily.

The sulfur mines are a brutal life, as the chemicals are blinding, and the lack of light in the mines will blind them anyway if they come back out to the light. Never mind the back-breaking labor. Somehow, Barabbas is able to survive for ages, much longer than any of the other slaves, and is eventually chained to Sahak (Vittorio Gassman). When he saves Sahak during a mine explosion, he gets his sentence commuted to less back-breaking work farming.

It's there that he meets Julia (Valentina Cortese) and her husband Rufio, the two procuring Barabbas and Sahak and making them gladiators in Rome. There, Barabbas meets many more Christians, who by now seem amazed to meet somebody who was actually in the presence of Jesus. But being a gladiator is tough, and dealing with Torvald (Jack Palance), the best gladiator of them all, isn't going to be easy.

Barabbas is an interesting movie that's not without its flaws. Quinn is quite good as the man who has a pretty severe crisis of faith, which frankly would be understandable if your life was spared so somebody else could be executed. He also has difficulty comprehending how the Christians can still have their faith especially in light of the way the Romans treat them. Palance is good as the villain, looking like he's having loads of fun. Everybody else is adequate, getting their scenes and then departing from the movie since this is all about Barabbas.

The big problem I had with the movie is in part due to its production. Dino de Laurentiis produced, with a multinational cast and filming locations around Italy. Valentina Cortese, when she was in Day for Night a dozen years later, had a line about how Fellini (not the director here, but this is I think indicative of Italian movies) let the actors speak numbers and then do their dialogue in post-production. All of the dialogue here had the distinct feeling of having been done in post, and as such feels really detached from the rest of the movie. For some reason more than a lot of other movies, I found it really jarring here.

Overall, though, Barabbas is certainly worth a watch. It's available on DVD too.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Chase a Crooked Shadow

My latest movie viewing was the 1958 thriller Chase a Crooked Shadow.

Produced by an international company headed by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and distributed by Warner Bros., the movie starts off with a couple of people watching film of a villa on the Spanish Mediterranean coast somewhere south of Barcelona. The villa is owned by Kimberley Prescott (Anne Baxter), who's returning there after a difficult period in her life, but more on that in a bit, especially because her life is about to get a whole lot more difficult.

Kimberley was at a party of some sort and returns home late one night. Following close behind is some strange man who worms his way into her house! She doesn't recognize the guy at all, so after having enough of it, she calls the local police chief, Vargas (Herbert Lom), who comes out to the house. After a shrill back-and-forth between Kimberley and the unknown man, he hands his documents to Vargas, which show that the man is... Ward Prescott (Richard Todd), Kimberley's brother! How can that possibly be, Kimberley asks. Quite rightly, too, since Ward died in a car crash back in their native South Africa and Kimberley had to identify the body. This, combined with the fact that the guy didn't just come out and say he was Ward leads any reasonable viewer to conclude he's an impostor.

Kimberley of course continues to insist that Ward is an impostor, even if Vargas doesn't believe her because all the evidence including a tattoo in the right location checks out. She gets the idea that Ward is trying to drive her crazy, Kind Lady style, and that would seem to be another obvious implication when you consider that Ward tries to do things like take away Kimberley's access to car keys and install new staff as well as his friend Whitman (Faith Brook).

As this Ward who probably isn't Ward continues putting the screws on Kimberley, we learn that the family had a rather complicated dynamic. Dad was the head of a business in South Africa but was old and frail. Fearing losing control of the business, combined with his son's death, caused him to commit suicide. Ward, meanwhile, had stolen a bunch of diamonds from the company safe and was absconding with them at the time of his death, so when Kimberley got Ward's effects she got the hidden diamonds -- and couldn't bring herself to put them back in the safe or otherwise inform the authorities! So now whe know why a fake Ward would show up, to get those diamonds.

Or is there more? Kimberley discovers that Ward is trying to force her to sign an amended will to get those diamonds, and has the brilliant insight that if she can get this guy's fingerprints, they won't match Ward's and she'll be safe. By the same token, Vargas has surely been doing some investigating and learned that this can't really be Ward. After all, a few short calls to the national authorities and getting in touch with the South African embassy would have to yield news stories about Ward's death, wouldn't it?

How it all winds up, I can't tell you, as you'll understand why once you get to the end credits. I have to admit that as I was watching it I found myself thinking of a louder, less appealing version of Kind Lady (hence my mentioning it above). Baxter is shrill and too many of Ward's actions should be something that could be seen through. However, the ending does wrap things up and answer questions in an interesting way. just about redeeming the movie and making it passable if not great.

Chase a Crooked Shadow is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Christmas in May

Tonight's TCM Underground lineup is two Christmas movies with a reputation for being a bit odd. First up is an import from Mexico by way of an American producer, Santa Claus at 2:00 AM. That will be followed at 4:00 AM by Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I had recorded the former the last time it ran in TCM Underground, and as far as I could tell at the time it was out of print on DVD, so I decided to watch it now since it's on the schedule.

The first thing you have to understand is that the movie was originally made in Mexico for domestic audiences, and as such it takes a Mexican look at jolly old St. Nick (who was, after all, a Catholic saint), one which is rather different at times from the American image of Santa. The American rights to the movie were bought by American producer K. Gordon Murray, who had previously brought an edited version of The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy to America.

This version of Santa lives not at the north pole, but above it in a castle on a cloud, and has child "helpers" instead of elves, although I wondered where he got the helpers from. Santa being a Catholic saint is opposed by Satan, who sends one of his minions Pitch to try to turn all the good little boys and girls naughty. And if that doesn't work, he'll try to prevent Santa from delivering all those gifts. Now, Santa has a lot of tools at his disposal courtesy of the wizard Merlin (seriously), such as a magic key that opens all locks, and a flower that makes him disappear so people don't see him.

The main story revolves around a couple of children, a poor girl who wants only a doll for Christmas, but her parents can't afford even that. There's also a middle-class boy who only wants his parents to be there to spend more time with him. They even dress up to go out on Christmas Eve, and I figured they were going to a midnight Mass, but actually they were going to a restaurant! Late on Christmas Eve, no less. Wouldn't everything be closed down?

The climax of the movie comes when Pitch cuts the pouch containing Santa's flower of invisibility and his sleeping dust, rendering him helpless from being spotted. Pitch sends a mad dog after Santa, treeing him, and then whispers in people's ears to get them to call the cops on an intruder who is of course Santa.

I had heard of the movie and its reputation for being spectacularly strange and bad. In fact, the movie's main sin is being incredibly bland. The idea of Santa vs. Satan, which apparently does have a tradition in Mexico, is actually not a bad one. But the color is washed out, the acting is bad and not helped by the dubbing, and the plot is threadbare and glacial. It's a shame the movie isn't more interesting, either in a good or a bad way.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #254: Movies adapted from movies in a different language

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is movies adapted from movies in a different language, which I'm going to assume means English-language movies that are remakes of a foreign film. Otherwise, I could mention how in the early days of sound, Hollywood would often make multiple versions of a film in different languages for various markets. Greta Garbo, for example, appeared in both an English and German-language version of Anna Christie. Garbo spricht! Anyway, I still picked three relatively old movies, with all three foreign films having been made in the 1930s:

The Long Night (1947). A remake of one of the seminal French noirs, 1939's Daybreak (or Le jour se lève), this movie stars Henry Fonda as a man who, at the start of the movie, is holed up in an apartment surrounded by the police. It turns out he's wanted for murder, and he spends the long night thinking back on how he wound up here, a story that involves his girlfriend Barbara Bel Geddes; the woman who leads him astray (Ann Dvorak); and the man controlling her (Vincent Price).

M (1951). This remake of Fritz Lang's 1951 classic is moved from Berlin to Los Angeles and starts David Wayne as the man with a compulsion for little girls and their shoes, and a compulstion to kidnap and kill them. The resulting police investigation (led by Howard da Silva) puts a crimp on organized crime (led by Martin Gabel), so they try to find the murderer before the police and administer their own justice.

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939). Ingrid Bergman came to Hollywood to remake her earlier Swedish film Intermezzo. Bergman plays a pianist who is selected by a prominent violinist (Leslie Howard) to be his accompanist on his next tour. The two fall in love, but Howard is already married, so any thought of them winding up together is questionable. Ingrid continues to pine for Leslie, however. I actually have the Swedish version on DVD as part of the Criterion box set of Bergman's early Swedish films, so I'll have to get around to doing a review on it some day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Brief notes on Lady Street Fighter

Some time back, TCM ran Lady Street Fighter as part of TCM Underground. I wasn't aware of the film's provenance, but recorded it to do a post here.

There's not much of a plot. It starts off with a woman getting tortured to death being asked about the location of a Macguffin. More specifically, it's a stuffed dog that contains a list (I'd guess on microfilm) of hired killers for Assassins, Inc. The dead woman's sister, Linda Allen (Renee Harmon), flies in from Amsterdam to investigate and gain revenge. Any number of baddies are trying to kill her.

Also in on the case is the FBI, who have put their agent Pollitt (Jody Mcrea) on it. What the FBI doesn't know is that he's one of the hired killers, and is out to kill Linda. Meanwhile, they find out that a man who organizes bizarre sex parties might know something about the whereabouts of the dog, so Linda wangles her way into that party.

Or that's roughly the plot, if you can follow it. I found the plot a mess, and reading the IMDb reviews, I'm not alone. But the bad plot isn't the only problem. The dialogue was added in in post, and sounds terrible for it. The lighting is awful. Some of the scenes are obviously supposed to be shot day-for-night, which in and of itself isn't a big deal because lots of movies did that and even François Truffaut knew what he was doing. But these scenes shift between looking dark and looking like daylight!

Lady Street Fighter was apparently made in the late 1970s, but couldn't get a cinematic release, so it went straight to video in 1981, hence IMDb's listing of it that way. (Indeed, the image quality made me think it was done on the sort of videotape that professional TV programs of the time used.) I wouldn't normally think about doing posts on videos, well, not counting movie clips and trailers posted to Youtube. But when I watched it, I didn't know it could be considered straight-to-video.

In any case, Lady Street Fighter is an absolute mess, but one I'm glad I watched once. It has since gotten a DVD release, but it seems rather pricey if you ask me.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tony Rome extras

A few weeks back when I did a post on Tony Rome, I mentioned that the cheap box set DVD I got it on has a bunch of trailers to other movies included. Not having anything else to write about today, I decided to pop in the DVD and take some screeshots to see the quality of the trailers.

I think I've stated before that a lot of the old trailers that TCM runs when they're promoing a movie coming up look relatively poor compared to the original movie. With that in mind, I was refreshingly pleased to see that the trailers I selected didn't look too bad.

Here's one from the beginning of the trailer to Lady in Cement, the sequel to Tony Rome. The trailer also had underwater shots that looked surprisingly good on my computer monitor. This one is also in the box set so someday I'll get around to it.

Next up is One Million Years B.C.. You thought I was going to select a screenshot of a scantily clad Raquel Welch, didn't you? Instead, I decided to go with a wide shot of a giant turtle courtesy of Ray Harryhausen (who else?).

Finally is the grainiest of the shots, from Bandolero!. This trailer had some shots that looked surprisingly good, and some that looked this sort of grainy that I would have expected. In all of the trailers I watched I didn't notice the sort of washed-out color that I see in a lot of other trailers or featurettes, which again I thought was unexpected.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Shake Hands With the Devil

Another recent movie watch for me was the 1959 drama Shake Hands With the Devil.

Don Murray plays Kerry O'Shea, an American medical student in Dublin in 1921. This is the era when the IRA was still fighting for independence from the UK, so even when Kerry is at his parents' grave, he runs into a contretemps between the two sides, as the IRA tries to smuggle weapons through the cemetery. Kerry, for his part, is neutral in the conflict, having served in World War I and gotten his fill of fighting in France. He's in Ireland strictly to repatriate his late mother's body, and stayed to study medicine under professor Sean Lenihan (James Cagney).

Of course, events are going to come for Kerry regardless of what he wants. One night when he and his roommate are walking home from the pub, they encounter another skirmish between the IRA and the British forces, known as the "Black and Tans". Gunshots are fired, and Kerry, being a medical student, tries to help while the shooting is still going on. Admirable, but also kind of stupid. Kerry's roommate gets shot, and in the resulting confusion Kerry drops one of his textbooks that has his name on it. The British are going to be able to find him.

So it's either join with the IRA or try to get himself smuggled out of Ireland, and Kerry opts for the latter. He's taken to a safe house on the coast somewhere south of Dublin, an action organized by Lenihan, who is apparently in cahoots with the IRA. Kerry's about to find out it's only the tip of the iceberg. The safe house is on a farm and populated by a bunch of fugitives, helped out by go-between and provider of other comforts Kitty Brady (Glynis Johns).

One day, the thoroughly neutral and virtuous Lady Fitzhugh (Sybil Thorndike) goes to Dublin for the flower show. Of course, it turns out that she's not nearly so neutral, as she's being given the task of smuggling a prominent IRA leader out of Dublin in the trunk of her Rolls-Royce. However, the Black and Tans stop every car, including hers, and when they search, they find the IRA guy, so of course it's off to prison for Lady Fitzhugh. The local IRA cell retaliates by taking Miss Curtis (Dana Wynter), daughter of a prominent British official, hostage. Kerry starts to fall in love with her while she's in captivity.

Lenihan is having none of it, as he finds everybody around him is getting increasingly disloyal. Or at least, in his eyes, not as if it's actually going on. As for Kerry, he's trapped in the safe house with no real way to get out of Ireland, and finds himself getting drawn further into the conflict....

Shake Hands With the Devil is a well-made drama with mostly good performances. Cagney is quite good as the increasingly nasty IRA man. Murray is a bit bland, although there's enough going on around him that it doesn't matter. Glynis Johns is really good too, in a much less wholesome role than anything else I've ever seen her do. There are a lot of other people I haven't mentioned, such as Michael Redgrave as the head of the IRA, or a young Richard Harris as one of the men at the safe house.

I have to admit that I'm not too terribly interested in that period of Irish history, but even I liked Shake Hands With the Devil. I think you will too.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sweet and Low-Down

A movie that FXM too out of the vault a few months back and still has in its rotation is Sweet and Low-Down, which is going to be on FXM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Benny Goodman plays Benny Goodman, which is a good thing because he couldn't play anybody else. This movie gives him the back story of having grown up around a settlement house and learning there how to play the clarinet. Now that he's a successful bandleader, he wants to give back to the house by giving a free concert there whenever he's in town. One of the kids in attendance has an older brother who he thinks is an excellent trombone player, but who has never gotten a chance to show off his ability since he works at a factory all day. So the kid steals Goodman's clarinet, with the obvious idea of staying just far enough ahead of Goodman so that they'll all wind up meeting the older brother.

That brother, Johnny Birch (James Cardwell), turns out to be an excellent trombonist, and Goodman offers him a place in the band right then and there because of his fondness of people who came through the settlement house. Not only that, but Goodman plans to start building Birch up. (One wonders what the other musicians really think.) Their first gig is at a military school, where Birch meets Trudy (Linda Darnell), who is there passing herself off as a teenager for her nephew who is one of the cadets. Johnny thinks she's too young for him and too forward, but you know they're going to meet again in New York. The other woman is the band's singer Pat (Lynn Bari).

Eventually the band does get to New York, where Trudy is able to patch things up with Johnny. But Pat is jealous. She's got an agent who is constantly trying to wheedle more out of Goodman, so the two of them get the idea to drive a wedge between Johnny and Trudy, as well as between Johnny and Benny. Johnny's going to have to learn some lessons before he can truly become successful....

Sweet and Low-Down is the sort of feel-good movie that studios were churning out during World War II, relatively light and undemanding with a happy ending and a lot of good music. In fact, the music is the best part of the movie. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that the two male leads are both incredibly wooden when they're not playing music. Johnny is also too stupid if he thinks he's going to get success right away, but that's what the plot requires. The running sub-plot about Jack Oakie's character wanting to make it into the band is supposed to provide comic relief but really doesn't.

If you want nice music, you'll get that here. If you want a great movie, you won't.

I believe Sweet and Low-Down is available on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The cities around Alice

Continuing my futile quest to free up space on my DVR, I decided to watch Alice in the Cities to do a post on it here.

Rüdifer Vogler plays Philip, a German journalist who is doing a feature story on America and as part of that story driving through the country, seeing the parts that tourists don't see. He seems bored by it all, not doing much writing but taking a whole bunch of Polaroid shots. (Did anybody ever get Polaroids to come out looking this good?) Philip gets to New York with a whole bunch of photos but no story, pissing his boss off to no end. Philip wants to go back to Germany to write the actual story.

Unfortunately, Philip is going to have to take a detour to get back to Germany, since the air traffic controllers are on strike, effectively closing off German airspace. He'll have to fly to someplace like Amsterdam and get to Germany from there. At the airport, he meets Lisa (Elisabeth Kreuzer), a woman who's obviously got a complicated life with a huge back story that's never fully revealed. She's got a daughter Alice (Yella Rotländer) and no husband, instead having lived in various places with various men, and deciding she needs to get out of her current situation in New York.

Philip helps them get their tickets since their English is very limited, and in exchange Lisa eventually lets Philip spend the night in their hotel room since he's quite short on money. Philip takes Alice to the Empire State Building, while Lisa goes presumably to break off the relationship with her current partner. But the result is that Lisa doesn't show up for the flight, saying instead that she'll meet up with Philip and Alice a day later in Amsterdam.

Philip and Alice have a day to spend in Amsterdam, and on the next day, he waits for the incoming passengers... and Lisa is not among them. What to do with Alice? She supposedly remembers having grandparents somewhere in Germany, but she's not quite certain which city, or what her grandparents' surname is, these being Mom's parents. The two set off for Germany to find the grandparents.

Eventually Philip gets the right idea and takes Alice to a police station to let them handle things, but Alice decides to run away and join up with Philip again in her quest for her grandparents. Frankly, at this point I would have taken her right back to the police, but Philip decides he'd rather help Alice and ignore the fact that the police might get the wrong idea and arrest him.

To be honest, Alice in the Cities was not my kind of movie. It's talky, slow, and frankly, I found myself not liking any of the characters, which is a big problem when there are only two main characters. There's some interesting cinematography, such as places in the US that probably aren't there any more, and also the Wuppertal monorail. But that was about it for me. Other people praise the movie, however, for whatever message they perceive it as trying to put across.

Alice in the Cities is available on DVD as part of a Criterion box set of movies from its director, Wim Wenders. That means it's pricey and not something I'd drop money on. But as always, judge for yourself, especially if you can do the streaming thing and it should show up on the Criterion Channel.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Alias French Gertie

Not too long ago, TCM ran a new-to-me early talkie, Alias French Gertie. It's been released to DVD by Grapevine Video, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Bebe Daniels plays the title role, a woman who at the start of the movie is a maid for a wealthy couple, speaking French and with apparently limited English. This is of course a ruse; this maid is actually "French Gertie" Jones, a known jewel thief. She's planning to take her boss's necklace, but she's stopped when another crook comes into the picture. This is safe-cracker Jimmy Hartigan (Ben Lyon), and he stops her from taking the necklace. However, the cops, led by Detective Kelcey (Robert Emmett O'Connor) show up. Jimmy takes the fall for Gertie.

It's love at first sight, but second sight is going to take a while because Jimmy has to go to prison. He gets out and Gertie decides she's going to try to make Jimmy go straight. And it looks like she may be able to succeed. The young lovers meet an older couple, the Matsons (John Ince and Daisy Belmore). Mr. Matson is a stockbroker, and needs a new partner who has money to invest. Supposedly Jimmy has some money saved up from his past life of crime or something, so he does have the money to invest.

And things actually go well -- at least until it turns out that Mr. Matson is a criminal himself, fleecing Jimmy out of all his life savings. It's almost enough to make Jimmy turn back to crime. But dammit, Gertie doesn't want that at all.

In some ways, Alias French Gertie is a typically creaky early talkie. But it's also reasonably entertaining. Daniels and Lyon work well together, and would wind up getting married and staying together for 40 years until Daniels' death. For people not used to early sound, I'd recommend other stuff first, but for people who already like movies of the period, Alias French Gertie is a worthwhile watch.

Schedule notes for May 18, 2019

A couple of weeks back, I blogged about the 1935 version of Les Misérables and mentioned that it seems to be out of print on DVD. I hadn't noticed at the time I watched that it was going to be on FXM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. If I had, I probably would have held off watching it so that I could do the full-length post on it today for tomorrow's airing.

Last Saturday morning on TCM saw the final chapter of the 1940 Flash Gordon serial, which means there's going to be a new serial starting this Saturday, that being 1946's Lost City of the Jungle. There are 13 chapters which I think means that due to Summer Under the Stars, the last chapter should be airing on September 14. This was also the last film for Lionel Atwill, who died during filming.

Also in the Saturday matinee block, have fun with the Three Stooges in an early one as they appear with Ted Healy, at 11:30 AM. You may recall Healy showing up with "his" stooges in the 1933 movie Dancing Lady starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #253: Letters

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 letters, which I'm assuming is intended in the sense of mail and not letters of the alphabet. With that in mind, I didn't have too much difficulty coming up with three old movies:

The Letter (1929). Bette Davis made this story famous with her 1940 version, but I'm going to pick the 1929 version, starring Jeanne Eagels as a woman living in Malaya with her husband who takes up a lover (Herbert Marshall), only to shoot him dead in self-defense. Or so she claims; there's a letter from her to him that's fallen into the wrong hands that might throw some shade on her self-defense claim, and she has to get it back. Eagels would die not long after the movie was released due to complications from her heroin addiction, and the "heroin chic" really shows. Eagels, however, is spectacular in this one.

Cause for Alarm! (1951). Barry Sullivan plays a slightly paranoid man with some health issues married to Loretta Young. When he realizes that the doctor treating him is an old boyfriend of hers, he writes a letter to a prosecutor friend saying he's worried that the wife and doctor are trying to kill him. Just as the letter is getting sent, Sullivan actually drops dead, so Loretta realizes that dammit, she absolutely has to get that letter back. Of course, you're not supposed to interfere with the post office....

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Louis Jourdan plays a concert pianist in 1900 Vienna who has been challenged to a duel the next morning, a challenge he has no intention of accepting. But then he gets a letter from someone in his past. That woman (Joan Fontaine) knew him when she was an adolescent and he was a struggling pianist and military cadet, and they met on several occasions, with she having a much greater love for him than the other way around. The relationship led to a tragic life for Fontaine, causing Jourdan to ponder his own situation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fate is the Hunter

The second of the two new-to-me movies that showed up on FXM at the beginning of May is Fate Is the Hunter. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:20 AM, as well as twice over the Memorial Day weekend.

The movie starts off rather spectacularly. Rod Taylor plays Capt. Jack Savage, who is a pilot for Consolidated Airlines Flight 22, from Los Angeles to Seattle. 49 passengers board, along with a rookie stewardess and more experienced stewardess Martha Webster (a very young Suzanne Pleshette). The plane takes off, and shortly into the flight, one of the two jet engines blows out, forcing the plane to head back to Los Angeles for an emergency landing that should be routine since the planes were designed to land with just one engine. But they'll be delayed a bit by three planes coming in for a landing that are going to have to move out of the flight path. And then the alarm comes on for the other engine being out, and the radio goes dead. They're going to have to do a crash landing. And it would have worked too, if it weren't for that goddamn pier on the beach. Everybody but Martha dies.

Glenn Ford plays Sam McBane, the director of flight operations for Consolidated and up for an executive position. He used to be a pilot, having served during part of World War II alongside Savage, so this crash has hit him personally. It's about to get a lot more personal, though, as the vulturous media are circling. They want answers so that the lawyers can start suing somebody. Sabotage is quickly dismissed, as is mechanical error. More worrying, during the recovery process it's determined that the second engine did not in fact blow out, despite Martha having reported it. The only explanation left is pilot error.

Sam starts doing his own investigation before the Civil Aeronautics Board can crucify Savage, and finds that his old friend's reputation precedes him. Savage was a Jack Carson-like manipulator during the war, taking a cavalier attitude and taking other people's women, as with Sam's date with Jane Russell (playing herself). It's continued, with Savage having broken off an engagement with Lisa (Dorothy Malone in an uncredited role) to take up with ichthyologist Sally (Nancy Kwan). Savage was also seen cruising a series of bars with friend Mickey, whom Sam does not know.

The first day of the hearing into the crash doesn't go well (or realistically) at all, which gives Sam the ridiculous idea of taking another identical plane up into the air to determine what might have happened. (They didn't have nearly the quality of simulators then that they do now.) Will this reveal whether Savage was not in fact at fault?

Fate Is the Hunter isn't a bad movie, but I have to admit that as I was watching it, I found myself thinking that the material might have been better-suited to a TV Movie of the Week. There's a lot of talk going on, and much of the movie seems designed to give each of several names one big cameo scene. Still, it's entertaining enough if nothing spectacularly good.

As far as I'm aware, Fate Is the Hunter is not available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showings.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Strong Enough for a Man, But Made for a Woman

FXM brought a couple of movies out of the vault at the beginning of the month, so I DVRed them to do posts on when they air again. One of those movies, The Third Secret, will be showing on FXM tomorrow at 11:25 AM (and again Thursday at 9:35 AM).

The movie starts off in a townhouse in London. A maid comes in to do her morning routine, and when she steps in to her boss' office, she sees the man dying, with a gunshot wound to the head. With the gun close by and the man talking as though it's a suicide, everything certainly points to suicide.

Cut to a TV studio in London. American commentator Alex Stedman (Stephen Boyd) is finishing up his TV show on the comments of an American expat. He hears news of the man's death: noted psychicatrist Dr. Leo Whitset, who worked for the British Analysis Institute. But Dr. Whitset also had some private patients, and Stedman was one of them, so he's quite unhappy with the good doctor's death.

Stedman is even more unhappy when the official inquest determines the doctor killed himself. Stedman knows the doctor wouldn't have done it, and figures somebody must have murdered him. But who, and how? After all, the signs point to suicide, and there wasn't any break-in. Perhaps it could have been one of the other patients, since after all Whitset was treating people with some pretty severe psychological problems. The authorities quite rightly won't give Stedman a list of Whitset's patients. But then he meets Whitset's adolecsent daughter Catherine (Pamela Franklin), who remembers the names and addresses of the patients from Dad's outgoing mail.

Stedman sets out to see each of the other patients, although he has to be coy about it as he can't let on why he's seeing them. Would you want to be accused of murder? And would you want some stranger to know that you were seeing a psychiatrist for some pretty severe problems? But Stedman still has to see them. There's art dealer and very frustrated artist Alfred Price-Gorham (Richard Attenborough; watch for a very young Judi Dench as his assistant); secretary Anne Tanner (Diane Cilento); and very honorable judge Sir Frederick (Jack Hawkins).

After seeing each of the other patients, Stedman realizes he's no closer to figuring out who killed Whitset, even though he's still certain it was murder and not suicide. This even though one of the other patients does something the point the finger at a potential murderer....

The Third Secret is an interesting little movie, with a slew of good performances as you'd probably expect considering the cast. The movie isn't perfect, as I found some of Stedman's scenes with his fellow patients to be a bit cold and straining credulity. That, and Stedman seems to be so much more stable mentally than the other patients, so why was he seeing this doctor who could pick and choose his patients.

Overall, though, The Third Secret is definitely a worthy movie. It doesn't seem to be on DVD, however, so you're going to have to catch it on FXM before it goes back in the vault.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A new(ish) Orson Welles documentary

TCM's programming for tonight is a night of Orson Welles movies, although the night is kicking off with a documentary called The Eyes of Orson Welles at 8:00 PM.

I haven't seen the documentary, as it was only released last year, and this is the first TCM showing. I notice, however, that it's directed by Mark Cousins, which gives me a bit of pause. Cousins directed the multipart series The Story of Film that ran on TCM several years back. TCM programmed a bunch of great stuff in conjunction with the series, but the series itself wasn't very good, with a lot of images that didn't seem to fit, such as a running joke on the TCM boards about whether the guy caught his bus in reference to reference to a guy, well, trying to get his morning bus. That and the coffee.

The IMDb reviews on this new documentary are sharply divided, and the synopsis also makes me wonder, as it's described as an open letter to Welles using Welles' sketchbooks. I can see why this would cause such a difference of opinion.

As always, watch for yourself. I don't know if it's on DVD.

Doris Day, 1922-2019

Doris Day in a publicity still with James Garner

The death has been announced of actress Doris Day, who died this morning at the age of 97. (I think I might have mentioned once that some sources listed she was born in 1924, but her actual year of birth was cleared up a couple of years back.) In a 20-year movie career she acted in quite a few comedies and musicals, although she made the western Calamity Jane and a couple of straight dramas:

Here she is, second from left in the underrated Julie. There's also The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she sang the Oscar-winning song "Que Sera Sera", which she'd go on to sing in a couple of other movies.

I was also able to find a clip from the Warner Archive's Youtube channel of her singing the title song to The Glass Bottom Boat, so I'll include that here:

TCM has already put out a TCM Remembers piece for Day, as well as a section on their website. I didn't see offhand any mention of when TCM would be running their programming tribute to her, but I'm sure that will be announced in due time.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Body Heat

The last time DirecTV had a free preview of some of the premium movie channels, I took the chance to record Body Heat.

William Hurt plays Ned Racine, a mediocre lawyer in a sweltering small town on Florida's east coast. When he's not helping little old ladies or small-time crooks with their legal issues, he spends his time in bed with whatever good-looking woman is available, and drinking copious amounts of liquor. It's not as if there's much else to do.

One day, he meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). She's married to wealthy real-estate magnate Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna), who is away on whatever sort of business he does, which is probably mildly shady. Anyhow, hubby's being away all the time during the week allows Matty the time to go to various places and meet people like Ned, who quickly falls for the beautiful Matty and comes up with some scheme to get back to her house in a swanky nearby town.

The two have sex a couple of times, and Matty finds herself falling for Ned, which is a problem in that she's already married. She can't get a divorce (well, she could) because she wasn't wealthy before marrying Edmund and he made her sign a pre-nuptual agreement, a very sensible think for him to do. The two had obviously seen Double Indemnity, since they come up with the brilliant idea of killing Edmund and making it look like a botched arson. That, and come up with a very slight change to their wills that will have a slight legal problem that winds up giving everything to Matty. Ned's former client Teddy (Mickey Rourke) hears about the arson part, being an expert in incendiary devices, and advises Ned that this is a terrible idea.

Ned's not thinking with the head at the top of his body, so he doesn't heed Teddy's advice, instead going ahead with the murder, which doesn't quite go off as planned. And then after they actually kill him and move the body to where the botched arson is supposed to happen, they make another mistake that the investigators -- police detective Oscar (J.A. Preston) and prosecutor Peter (Ted Danson with a ridiculous set of glasses) discover. Meanwhile, Ned is looking for the mysterious Mary Ann (Kim Zimmer), who witnessed the changes to Edmund's will and who could provide a crucial alibi for the two....

For the most part, I greatly enjoyed Body Heat, although I did have a few problems with it. The atmosphere is quite good, as are the performances. (I was particularly impressed with Danson, who was a good fit for Cheers but whom I wouldn't have thought of as good casting here.) One problem I had was that the movie seemed at times as though it was a bit sterile and too much a simulacrum of the 1940s noir style, trying to be stylish for its own sake. The plot also winds up being a bit too twisty and turny.

Overall, however, anybody who's interested in a more grown-up take on the noir than we could get during the Production Code era should enjoy Body Heat. It is available on DVD if you want to pick it up and watch whenever you want.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Angel and the Badman

A search of the blog claims that I hadn't done a post on Angel and the Badman before, so when it showed up on TCM a few weeks back, I DVRed it and sat down to watch.

John Wayne plays a man who is riding his horse at breakneck speed to get away from something, eventually winding up on the farm owned by the Worth family, where he collapses, but not before insisting they take him to the telegraph office. When he sends his telegram, he informs the operator his name is Quirt Evans, which obviously means something to the operator and other people in town, if not the Evanses.

Quirt is an outlaw, and that's something the Evanses figure out when they see that -- horror of horrors -- he's got a gun! Well, of course you have a gun in the Old West, even if all you ever use it for is shooting a rattlesnake to keep it from biting you. But the Evanses are Quakers, a religion known for its anti-violence stance and known in Hollywood for not being able to grasp the difference between "thou" (subject of a sentence) and "thee" (object). Not that Quirt's outlawry matters to the family's daughter Penelope (Gail Russell). She nurses Quirt and sees him with his shirt off, which obviously gets her turned on. Eventually Quirt recovers and begins to assess his situation.

He's still got people coming after him, with one particular case coming in the form of Quirt's enemy Laredo (Bruce Cabot). The Evanses have rather stupidly taken the ammunition out of Quirt's gun, so he has to bluff his way out of his situation. But Quirt finds that these are well-meaning people, and that that Penelope is just so damn gorgeous that he's beginning to fall in love with her too. He could begin to like this place, settling in and helping out the Evanses.

But there's still work to be done, in he form of a land claim Quirt has made, and when he spots Laredo trying to rustle some cattle, Quirt stops it in a way that you just know is going to bring more violence. In fact, the Marshal (Harry Carey) is expecting to be hanging Quirt at some point in the future for somebody's killing, it doesn't matter whose.

Quirt goes back to the Evanses again, and finds that the attraction is so strong that he's not certain what he's going to do. He can see himself settling down with Penelope, except that there's the problem of Laredo which isn't going to go away until one of them dies. And if Quirt shoots Laredo, that would cost him Penelope's love and possibly his own life what with the marshal waiting. How is Quirt going to solve his dilemma and stay within the constraints of the Production Code? Well, I'm not going to give that one away.

Angel and the Badman is a pretty good movie, although there were a few problems for me. One I already alluded to above, which is the script's misuse of "thee" and "thou", which is something that I find terribly grating. The extended scene of going to the saloon after dealing with Laredo's cattle rustling went on too long with a fight that didn't add much to the movie for my taste. One other thing had to do with the print. Angel and the Badman is available on a newish DVD from Film Detective, and I wonder if a newer print was used for TCM's showing because there were a couple of scenes that looked as though they were taken from a slightly different-quality print.

People who are already fans of westerns have probably already seen Angel and the Badman; for people who aren't or aren't the biggest fans of John Wayne, it's not a bad place to start.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Dimitri Tiomkin, 1894-1979

Four-time Oscar-winning composer Dimitri Tiomkin

Today marks the birth anniversary of film composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who was born on this day in 1894, making him a young 125. Tiomkin's Hollywood career started in the mid-1930s, relatively quickly leading to an Oscar nomination for the score of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. His first actual Oscar, however, wouldn't come until a dozen years later, for High Noon. Actually, that movie earned him two Oscars, one for the score and one for the title song:

Tiomkin's original scores are too many to mention; The High and the Mighty which won him another Oscar might be the best-known. But you could also mention Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Sundowners, or The Guns of Navarone. One that I like is his adaptation of Debussy's music for Portrait of Jennie.

I'm not certain if Tiomkin wrote any "traditional" (ie. non movie-related) classical music the way other film composers did. Wikipedia doesn't mention any and Youtube doesn't yield any hits.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #252: Movies I had a different opinion of after a second viewing

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 a different one, and one that's more personal: Movies you have a different opinion of after rewatching it. Much more than, say, movies about teachers or any other concrete theme, this is one that's liable to get a wide range of responses. In my case, I had two easy selections of movies I was too young to get fully the first time around, but coming up with a third made me think:

Ikiru (1952). Akira Kurosawa's film about a civil servant who discovers that he's got terminal stomach cancer. The dying man wants to leave a legacy, but finds that taking on the bureaucracy he's been a part of his whole life isn't as easy as you'd think. The local PBS channel ran this one back when I was a teenager and they had a late-night classic movie block on Saturday nights. As a teenager, I was clearly too young for the material. Watching it as an adult, however, it's much more poignang

Fat City (1972). Stacy Keach plays a failed boxer living in the dying town of Stockton, CA, who meets young Jeff Bridges one day at the gym. Bridges plays a young guy who thinks he can make it in boxing. Together, the two new friends live out a bleak existence. The first time I saw it, I saw the opening scene, of Keach in his tighty-whities, and though, I don't want to stay up until 1:00 in the morning to see where this is going. I'm glad I ultimately rewatched it, because it's a really good movie. It's just not one for teenagers, who won't get it.

Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows! (1968). A sequel to The Trouble With Angels, this movie has a group of Catholic girls' school students taking a cross-country bus trip with their nun teachers to a religious retreat in the years just after Vatican II. Rosalind Russell reprises her role as Mother Superior with Binnie Barnes and Mary Wickes also returning; among those they interact with as they go across country are Van Johnson as the head of a Catholic boys' school and Robert Taylor as owner of a summer camp. When I saw this one as a kid, I thought it was absolutely terrible. As an adult, I realize it's a mediocre generation-gap movie, but not nearly as bad as I thought it was when I was a kid.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Young Philadelphians

I probably should have written this last night and scheduled to go this morning, but as part of TCM's Star of the Month Salute to Paul Newman, they're running The Young Philadelphians tonight at 8:00 PM.

Newman plays Anthony Judson Lawrence, but the story begins back in 1924, nine months before Tony's birth. Kate Judson (Diane Brewster) gets married to wealthy "Main Line" Philadelphian Bill Lawrence (Adam West), much to the chagrin of policeman's son Mike Flanagan (Brian Keith), who loved Kate -- and the feeling was mutual, as Kate married up for socioeconomic reasons. However, it turns out that Bill can never love any woman. (This being the 50s, the movie can't call him gay.) So she runs off to see Mike and get knocked up, while Bill drives off and kills himself in a car crash. The Lawrences effectively disowns Kate.

Kate raises Tony to be ambitious, and Tony winds up going to Princeton and becoming a top student, while working summers for Mike's construction company, not knowing Mike is actually his father. One day, socialite Joan Dickinson (Barbara Rush) gets in a fender-bender with one of the construction trucks, and when Tony helps out, it's love at first sight. Especially when they meet again at a swanky soirée where he finds she's technically engaged. Meanwhile, we meet Tony's best friend from Princeton, Chester Gwynn (Robert Vaughn), one of the idle rich who is viewed by his parents as untrustworthy. Tony plans to elope with Joan, but their parents convince Tony to delay the wedding until after graduation. This give's Joan's fiancé a chance to marry her, leaving Tony in the lurch.

Tony realizes that the only way he's going to make it in life is to become a relentless bitch, stepping on anybody who dares try to get in his way. First up is Donetti (Paul Picerni), a fellow law student whom Tony cheats out of a plum research assistant job. Tony goes on to try to have an affair with the boss' wife (Alexis Smith in a small role despite being third-billed), while Donetti eventually becomes a prosecuting attorney. Tony also goes in with a different law firm than the one Joan's father runs, and steals one of his oldest clients (Billie Burke).

But his past is going to come back to haunt him. He and Chester both went off to fight in Korea, and Chet lost an arm. It caused him so start drinking even more heavily than before, resulting in a call one night from the drunk tank, begging Tony to defend him in the trial for murdering his father. The shocking secrets of Main Line society are going to come out, as well as the secrets of Tony's own life....

The Young Philadelphians is a potboiler that's moderately interesting, but a movie where it's also understandable why it's not one of Newman's best-remembered films. Newman doesn't do anything notably wrong here, but the script borders on silly at times, consistently threatening to careen into melodrama. The one thing that really doesn't help either is that the movie is in black and white and really screams for lush color. It's up there with things like Ada in the "I've seen it once now, and have no great desire to see it again" category.

The Young Philadelphians has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Great Man Votes

Another recent movie watch for me was one of John Barrymore's final films, The Great Man Votes.

Set in "An American City, 1923", the movie stars Barrymore as Gregory Vance, who has a job as a night watchman at a factory of some sort. He's also got a drinking problem (surprise, surprise), as Manos (a man with a Greek surname, called Macedonian, and played by Catalonian-born actor Luis Alberni; gotta love Hollywood!), a milkman, is able to supply him with booze, this being Prohibition. Vance gets home to his two children, Joan (Virginia Weidler) and Donald (Peter Holden) who are clearly quite independent since they can take care of themselves overnight, their mother having died.

Before sending the kids off to a public school for which Vance has no respect, he asks his kids about Caesar's adventures in England. Apparently Vance was a professor at Harvard back in the day, and presumably lost his job because of the drinking problem, although I don't think that was mentioned. The other kids at school don't like Joan and Donald, especially Davy McCarthy (Benny Bartlett), who is the son of the local ward-heeler Iron Hat McCarthy (Donald McBride).

Davy tells Dad about what Vance's kids did to him, so Iron Hat responds by getting Vance fired. The kids, meanwhile, worried about getting in trouble, go looking for their mother's family the Ainslees out in the country. They find a well-to-do family that provides the milk for the city, and the Ainslees (Brandon Tynan and Elisabeth Risdon) decide that Vance should give up custody of the kids.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is Election Day. The political bosses have this bizarre belief that the 13th precinct is a bellwether, and if they can deliver that precinct to their candidate, the rest of the city will follow. However, in recent years, the growth of factories has led to the loss of residents from the precinct, to the point that there's only one registered voter left in the precinct -- Gregory Vance. Iron Hat has to go hat in hand to Vance to try to get him to vote for Iron Hat's preferred candidate.

The Great Man Votes is a mish-mash that goes all over the place in terms of plot, with the result being a movie that goes all over the place in terms of quality. Barrymore does quite good, with his overacting being put to good use when he's called on to recite stuff. You get the impression of a slightly pompous man who still means well. But there are plot holes galore. Why the bosses didn't know about the 13th precinct until the night before the election, for example, makes no sense. Vance's character engages in shamless influence peddling for which he should probably go to prison. And on, and on.

I'd seen The Great Man Votes show up on the TCM schedule several times, and always thought it was going to be one of those MGM B movies, which are always competently made if boring because they're just too neat. But it's an RKO, and an interesting if very uneven movie. It's availalbe on DVD from the Warner Archive, although I wish it were a little less expensive.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Lawless Street

Some time back I picked up a box set of Randolph Scott Westerns, on which one of the movies was A Lawless Street.

Scott plays Calem Ware, Marshal of Medicine Bend, his latest stop in a career that's taken him from town to town as he's more or lest led a wandering career for his own safety. Not only that, but it cost him the girl he loves. Little does he know all of this is going to catch up to him.

The west is slowly becoming civilized, but the business bigwigs of Medicine Bend want to keep it an open town, so they hire a gunman to kill Ware while he's at the barbershop, but it doesn't quite work. Meanwhile, Hamer Thorne (Warner Anderson), one of the men who hired the killer, is also bringing a troupe of actors to town. One of them is Tally (Angela Lansbury), who just happens to be the woman who left Ware because he refused to settle down, or who just really couldn't settle down, take your pick.

Now Ware has good reason to settle down, thinking perhaps he can finally win Tally back, but he's going to have to deal with one more hired killer, Harley (Michael Pate).

To be honest, A Lawless Street feels a lot like a programmer, a movie that has a competent plot but could be easily substituted for any of a hundred different 1950s westerns. I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of westerns, which is probably why although I didn't exactly find anything wrong with this, I also found it to be not particularly memorable. It's the sort of movie that's perfect for watching as a Saturday matinee if you want to be entertained, but if you want to watch something truly great, you'll need to watch something else.

At the price I paid, however, the box set is more than worth it, and will definitely be worth it to anybody who likes westerns in general, and Randolph Scott in particular.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The miserables of 1935

One of my recent movie watches was the 1935 movie version of Victor Hugo's classic sprawling novel Les Misérables. It's available to watch on Amazon's streaming service but apparently out of print on DVD. But, since I need to free up more space on my DVR, I'm doing a post on it now.

Thanks to the 1980s musical and the movie adaptation of the musical, you probably know the basic story. Jean Valjean (Fredric March) is arrested during the French Revolution of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, for which he's punished with a long sentence as a galley slave. When he gets out, the only person who will give him lodging is the Bishop of Digne (Cedric Hardwicke), who is the first person to treat him well by not turning him in to the authorities for committing a crime.

Valjean goes to a town in the north of France where he comes up with a good way to make colored glass, making money for himself but more importantly making the whole town prosperous. They make him mayor, but this brings him to the attention of Émile Javert (Charles Laughton), a dogged police inspector who had seen Valjean once before during Valjean's incarceration. He suspects the mayor, and this ultimately causes Valjean to flee.

By this time, Valjean has come into the possession of a foster daughter Cosette (played as an adult by Rochelle Hudson), daughter of Fantine (Florence Eldridge) who had been fired from Valjean's factory because of rumors about her past. Valjean and Cosette go to Paris and when Cosette grows up it's time for the revolutions of 1830. This is how she meets Marius (John Beal). Javert is still on Valjean's trail, however.

This version of Les Misérables is not bad for what is essentially a Cliffs Notes version of the book, although to be fair with the original novel clocking in at well over a thousand pages, it's going to be tough to come up with any movie that doesn't cut a lot out, or else come up with something close to four hours as was done for Gone With the Wind. March is good as Valjean; Laughton is excellent as Javert. Beal is the weak link, wooden as Marius but then it would probably explain why Beal never made it to the top in Hollywood. This version also looks like it came straight out of 1930s Hollywood; nowadays the production values would at least look much more better.. On the plus side, this movie doesn't have the obnoxious shithead Gavroche.

I can certainly recommend the 1935 Les Misérables, although I wish it were on DVD too.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Yield to the Night

Some time back TCM ran a night of the movies of British bombshell Diana Dors. They included some movies in which Dors wanted to show she could be a truly serious actress, such as Yield to the Night (released in the US as Blonde Sinner).

The movie starts off with an interestingly-shot sequence of a woman going through London, shot mostly from below so we never really see her face clearly. She inserts a key into a door, but decides not to go in. Another woman gets out of a car, and the first woman pulls out a gun, shooting her dead and making no attempt to escape.

The woman who committed the shooting is, as you can probably guess, played by Dors, a woman named Mary Hilton. After the opening sequence, we fast-forward to a couple of weeks before Hilton's scheduled execution. She's housed in a surprisingly big cell in the women's prison, with two warders watching her at all time. There's not much to do, so Mary is alone with her thoughts, leading her to think about how she wound up in the situation she's in.

Flash back some time. Mary is a woman in a failing marrriage, working as a perfume-counter saleslady at a posh shop in London. One day, nightclub pianist and giver of private lessons Jim Lancaster (Michael Craig) somes in, looking for a particular perfume to which he doesn't know the name, only the smell. Mary is able to find it for him,

Mary begins to fall in love with Jim, although the feeling is only partly mutual. Jim is the sort of man who for whatever reason simply can't be faithful to one woman. He eventually meets Lucy, who can give Jim something Mary cant, which is money. So he starts a relationship with her, basically trying to separate her from her money, all the while stringing naïve Mary along.

In between the flashbacks, we get a lot of looks at Mary's daily life in prison, an unchanging ritual of meeting the governor, the various warders, the doctor, and the chaplain. She gets a few visitors in the form of her family and the philanthropic Mrs. Bligh (Athene Seyler), but it does nothing to lessen Mary's feelng of impending doom.

I found Yield to the Night to be quite good, although of course there is a bit of a problem in that the characters aren't the nicest people. Mary shot an innocent woman in cold blood, and Jim was a nasty little chancer. But the prison scenes are quite good, even if a bit disturbing at times. Death row is handled as a very mundane experience of waiting for one of two things, either a stay or the actual execution.

Yield to the Night did get a DVD release in the UK, but that's a Region 2 DVD and won't play in the US unless you have a region-free player (sadly, I don't). These movies really need a release in the US.

The return of The Essentials

Last month, for TCM's 25th anniversary, TCM ran a bunch vintage intros to The Essentials on Saturdays. The programming block itself is being relaunched, with the new presentations starting tonight.

Ben Mankiewicz sat down with director Ava DuVernay to discuss several films; the intros will be running every Saturday (except August, when they're taking a break for Summer Under the Stars) at 8:00 PM. This first night sees Marty, with a double feature of Ernest Borgnine in The Catered Affair at 10:00 PM.

If you want to see the full schedule, you can find it here.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Woman on the Run

I don't think I've done a full-length post on a noir in a while; the one Noir Alley selection I've mentioned recently is the remake of M. With that in mind, I watched Woman on the Run recently.

We don't see the woman at first; instead wee see her husband, Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott). He's out in San Francisco one evening walking their dog, when he sees a car pull up in a public park, and the passenger get shot! Unfortunately, the driver, who was apparently the shooter, saw Frank, and took a shot at him before driving off. The police, led by Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith), ask Frank if he can identify the shooter, telling Frank that this was a gangland hit. Frank understandably fears for his life, so he flees when he gets the first opportunity.

It's at this point that the police interview the man's wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan). To say that she's less than cooperative is an understatement. Apparently she's estranged from him because he's an unsuccesful artist, or at least one that doesn't have the ambition to sell his work even if it wins prizes. Eleanor doesn't like the police, either, so when the police wants to use her as bait to try to bring in her husband, she too takes the opportunity to flee, by going up to the roof.

She's not the first person to have that idea, as when she opens the window to the roof, she's met by intrepid reporter Dan Legget (Dennis O'Keefe), who wants a scoop on the story. He's willing to keep her one step ahead of the police, and is also willing to help her find her husband. As he helps her, however, we learn that he's got ulterior motives.

As for Eleanor, she meets a variety of people who tell her a lot more about her husband than she knew, and it causes her to start thinking about whether she should make another go of her marriage to him. It goes on until a climax at a beachfront amusement park, and... well, I'm not going to give the story away.

Woman on the Run is a fine entry in the noir cycle, with a good performance from Ann Sheridan, who at this point was trying unsuccessfully to resurrect her career. O'Keefe does well, and the supporting cast has a bunch of people who get pretty much just the one scene, but take it for all it's worth; among those are Steven Geray and John Qualen. The other big plus is all the San Francisco location shooting.

Woman on the Run was in danger of being lost for years, as Eddie Muller mentioned in his Noir Alley synopsis. His Noir Foundation helped restore the film, and they've put out a DVD of it with extras that's rather pricey for a short (77-minute) film. The TCM Shop also lists a cheaper DVD, and reading the IMDb reviews, that sounds like a copy of the lower-quality older print.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #251: True Crime

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 True Crime:

OK, not that sort of twoo. At any rate, I thought of quite a few movies before deciding on a theme-within-a-theme of defendants who don't get the benefit of the doubt because they're considered icky:

And to be honest, I didn't even have to use A Man for All Seasons, even though the quote above is extremely relevant to the theme and relevant today. I was able to come up with three other movies:

The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). Warner Baxter plays Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Marylander known to have some sympathies to the Confederate cause. So, when John Wilkes Booth broke his leg jumping from the balcony after shooting Abraham Lincoln, he was taken to Dr. Mudd to treat the injury, Mudd presumably knowing nothing about the assassination. For this, Mudd was sentenced to a long spell in the federal prison in the Dry Tortugas off the Florida Keys, a truly hellish prison.

A Cry in the Dark (1988). Meryl Streep and Sam Neill play the Chamberlains, a pair of Australian Seventh-Day Adventists who take their family to a popular vacation spot in the outback, where their baby disappears, presumably dragged off by a dingo. The coroner's inquest backs them up, but then a new prosecution decides to prosecute Mrs. Chamberlain for murder, with the public whipped into a frenzy because of the couple's non-traditional religious views. The movie also spawed the famous line:

Reversal of Fortune (1990). Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for playing wealthy but tough to get along with Claus von Bülow, in an estranged marriage to Sunny (Glenn Close, in flashbacks). When one of her medical injections results in her overdosing and winding up in a persistent vegetative state, Claus is tried for the case. Fearing his wealthy wife's side of the family is perverting the course of justice, he approaches the prominent media-savvy lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) to take his case. When Dershowitz tells his students at Harvard Law he's taking the case, some of his students, notably a young Felicity Huffman, are less than impressed, but Dershowitz tells his class something that's still relevant today:

Gang Boy

One of the movies I watched off the DVR recently was programmed in a longer block that allowed time for a longer short, which is how I got to see Gang Boy.

The premise is that the otherwise nice town of Pomona, CA, has a problem with juvenile delinquency, just like all the Anytowns, USA that can bee seen in the RKO Screenliner Teenagers on Trial that I've mentioned. In Pomona, however, it's reached a crisis point, with rumblings that there's going to be a big rumble between the two main gangs, one white Anglo and one Mexican-American. The police approach the head of the Mexican gang, Danny, and ask him for help, leading him to flash back to how he got into this situation....

A decade earlier, when he was about 10, Danny and the other Mexican kids his age were doing the sorts of things boys that age do, except that they had no direction from any good male role models, so they started taking more risks. It led some of them to form a more serious gang, as also happened with the white kids. Things escalated, and nobody knew a way out. Danny would like to change, but he doesn't know how, and even if he does, the white gang may not give the Mexicans a minute's peace.

Gang Boy is an earnest short that is trying to make points about a serious social issue, although I wonder how closely it resembled reality as it was at the time (the short was made in 1954). The production values are what you'd expect for something made on the cheap, with all the dialog done in post-production and a scene that's very obviously a dummy instead of a real person. The culture is also quite faded. Still, it's interesting and worth a look.

It looks like it's currently on Youtube here; I don't know if it's an extra on DVD anywhere.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Briefs for May 1-2, 2019

Now that we're into a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM, that being Paul Newman. His movies are going to be on TCM every Wednesday in prime time, starting tonight. I've got two of them that I haven't blogged about here before, The Rack and Until They Sail, set to record so that I can post about them at some point. Apparently, Somebody Up There Likes Me, which kicks the night off at 8:00 PM, is out of print on DVD. I was also surprised to see how few pictures I've used to illustrate Paul Newman movies, which is why I didn't do a standard post of posting several photos and saying when the movies would air.

I probably should have mentioned the death of Oscar-nominated director John Singleton earlier. I hadn't even heard that he'd suffered a stroke, but then I get the death notices from Wikipedia, rather than watching the celebrity "news" stuff.

Somebody spammed my blog, putting multiple comments on one post from the other day, and... one from almost a year ago. I'd think that if somebody were going to spam a low-traffic blog like this, they'd at least do one comment on several consecutive posts going back a week or so, not three on one and then three on one other post. Unless the point was for me to see all the spam links.