Sunday, June 30, 2019


Earlier this month, I think as part of the "Hollywood Hair Hall of Fame" spotlight on TCM, they ran Zouzou. Not having done a post on it before and seeing its availability on DVD, I decided to watch it and do a full-length post on it.

Zouzou and Jean are two orphans (presumably) who are being raised by foster father Papa Melé (Pierre Larquey) who uses them as part of the carnival show, bascially just showing them on stage at the beginning to get people to pay for the bigger show and claiming that the two are biological siblings from an exotic part of the world. Eventually they grow up, and Jean (Jean Gabin) joins the navy, while Zouzou (Josephine Baker) continues to live with Papa Melé. Zouzou has fallen in love with Jean, but he sees her strictly as a sister. A sister that he loves like a sister, but a sister nonetheless.

Fast forward a bit, and the family moves to Paris, where Jean becomes an electrician for a theater, while Zouzou becomes a laundress. It's here that she meets Claire (Yvette Lebon), another worker there and daughter of the owner. Zouzou also shows off her singing and dancing talents to her co-workers, having learned the songs of the stage from delivering laundry to the theater.

Those deliveries also bring Claire to the theater, and she meets Jean and the two fall in love with each other. Zouzou can't understand any of this, naïvely thinking that Jean should be in love with her. Meanwhile, back at the theater, the temperamental star Miss Barbara (Illa Meery) threatens to quit the show to run off to Rio De Janeiro with her Brazilian cellist boyfriend. Zouzou performs for the stagehands, and when the curtain gets lifted, the producer sees what a talent she is. But everything is threatened because everybody wants Zouzou. Jean doesn't want people throwing themselves at his sister, and when one of the guys he gets in a bar fight with is found murdered, he's an obvious suspect.

The plot of Zouzou is one that would fit in well with the Hollywood of the mid-1930s, although of course Hollywood would never have given a part like this to a black actress like Josephine Baker. She's suitable enough in the regular acting, although that's not the strong point of this movie. (I'm not suggesting she's bad by any means; it's more that the plot away from the theater wouldn't give anybody a chance to show just how good they could be.) Where she and the movie shines are in the stage numbers. The first one for the stage hands shows excellent use of lighting, while the later numbers in the actual show could just as likely have been staged in Hollywood by Busby Berkeley.

Zouzou is a nice addition to the genre, and also extremely nice for showcasing the talents of Baker for posterity. One note is that while IMDb and the DVD both list a running time of 92-93 minutes (the difference could have to do with rounding), the print TCM ran was only 88 minutes. I don't know if anything was cut out.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

I hadn't seen Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? before, and the one-sentence synopsis sounded interesting, so I recorded it. It's available on DVD, so I watched it to do a full-length post here.

Shelley Winters plays Mrs. Forrest, a woman living alone in a big house in 1920s England. She's alone because she's a widow and because her young daughter died, as we discover in a creepy opening scene. She still misses her daughter to the point that she routinely holds seances with medium Benton (Ralph Richardson) and her servant Albie (Michael Gothard).

Christmas is coming up, and Forrest has an annual tradition of inviting ten good little children from the local orphanage over to her stately house on Christmas Eve to enjoy a real Christmas and not whatever they'd get at the orphanage. Christopher (Mark Lester) wants to go with his kid sister Katy (Chloe Franks), but apparently he has a reputation for being less than well-behaved, as he and Katy aren't selected. No matter: they'll hide in the trunk of the car!

Christopher and Katy eventually show up at the party unannounced, with the head of the orphanage being irritated, but Mrs. Forrest is OK with it. First, she's got a big enough house that she can handle two extra children. More importantly, however, she sees Katy and has flashbacks to her dead daughter, specifically when Katy tries to slide down the banister: the dead daughter had died falling off the banister and bashing her head in.

Still, it gives Forrest an idea: she'll adopt Christopher and Katy. Christopher doesn't like the idea, since he has the strange belief that Forrest is like the wicked witch in "Hansel and Gretel" and is only adopting them with the intention of fattening them up and cooking them. One would think that's a bit extreme, but Forrest isn't doing anything to allay his fears, especially once she locks Katy up.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? is an immensely entertaining movie, even if it's not particularly great. Shelley Winters way overacts, but that's part of what makes her character fun. The movie isn't overly frightening, largely because it's based on something children can understand in "Hansel and Gretel". There's certainly some violence, but it's relatively cartoonish as befits what is at heart a children's story. I also liked the fact that the story is a bit ambiguous, as for a long time it's kept close to the vest whether Forrest is evil or just going insane. Christopher is also, like the children in The Innocents, somebody with more going on than it seems on the surface.

Despite the flaws, I can certainly recommend Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Briefs for June 29-30, 2019

Tonight's TCM Essential is Daughters of the Dust, at 8:00 PM. I recorded this one last September during the "Black Experience on Film" spotlight and when I blogged about it said that it's certainly worth a look. The Blu-ray and DVD aren't Criterion-level prices, but you may want to watch first before deciding whether to spring for it in your collection.

Overnight at 2:00 AM, TCM is running It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The schedule lists it as 159 minutes in a 165-minute slot, which implies it's not going to be the roadshow version with the overture and exit music, and will be missing the extended scene with Phil Silvers (if memory serves -- I haven't watched the movie in a while) floating down the river in his car. That version got a Criterion release.

Over on FXM, they're running multiple Shirley Temple movies tomorrow. I already mentioned Stand Up and Cheer! last week; that one is on 7:55 AM. I recorded Curly Top some weeks ago but haven't gotten around to watching it; that one will be on immediately following at 9:05 AM. Third up is Poor Little Rich Girl which I mentioned a few months back, at 10:25 AM. Finally at 11:45 AM is The Blue Bird.

I perhaps should have mentioned earlier the passing of Édith Scob, who died on Wednesday at the age of 81. It's a name that I wouldn't have recognized, but thankfully Wikipedia's obituaries page usually mentions a key work or two, which in this case was Eyes Without a Face:

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Ritz

A search of the blog claims I haven't blogged about The Ritz before. It's going to be on TCM tonight at 10:00 PM as part of a night of gay-themed movies marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Jack Weston plays Gaetano Proclo, a man from the midwest who married Vivian (Kaye Ballard), who is a daughter in the Proclo crime family in New York. Her dad is now on his deathbead, and for whatever reason he never liked Gaetano, probably because he wasn't really part of the family. So as Dad is dying, he tells his son Carmine (Jerry Stiller) to "get Proclo".

Gaetano knows he's in danger, so he flees the Vespucci house, hails a cab, and tells the driver to take him to the last place anybody would ever think of looking for him. The driver takes him to the Ritz, a place that looks like one of those old speakeasies where you need to know someone and and to know a password to get into. That, and it doesn't look anything like a hotel, not even those cheap places in movies decades older than this. That, and the guy in the front "room" doesn't seem to think Gaetano fits in.

There's a good reason for all this. Once Gaetano is finally admitted, we discover that the Ritz is actually a gay bathhouse that has rooms where people can spend the night. Apparently it has quite a repeat clientele, since all the patrons' rooms seem to be decorated by the people staying in them. If you haven't figured it out, Gaetano is most definitely not gay. And while having a brother-in-law who was told to get him is really bad, dealing with the people at the Ritz is not quite what he was hoping for, since he'd really rather just be left alone.

There's one nice guy trying to help out the newbie, in the form of Chris (F. Murray Abraham), who lets him in on the cultural norms and whatnot. Mildly irritating is that Gaetano has a "chubby chaser" with his eye on him. There's also Googie (Rita Moreno), a singer trying build her career -- and she thinks Gaetano might be able to help her. Gaetano, for his part, thinks she's a man in drag. The threat is Michael (Treat Williams), a private investigator who is trying to find Gaetano so that Carmine can come and get Gaetano to fulfill his Dad's wish.

This is all a comedy, and it's one I found quite funny. I suppose there will be some people out there who complain that this is playing to gay stereotypes and all that, but the screenwriter, Terrence McNally, is gay, so I doubt any offense was meant.

TCM's schedule page doesn't have the link to buy it on DVD, yet there it is at the TCM Shop. Amazon has it on streaming, but otherwise implies it's out of print, which is odd for an Archive Collection release.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #259: Gangsters (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. This time out, that theme is gangsters. I have to admit this one was a bit difficult for me. Especially because I had a feeling I had already used one of the things I'd thought of, the Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action:

As it turns out, I did use it for a TV edition on time travel, which I think is technically incorrect since they're not on 1920s Earth, but on a planet that imitated 1920s Earth. But in any case, I have used it so I had to come up with three other things. Eventually I did, with a bit of cheating regarding the word "gang":

Crime Story (1986-1988). Dennis Farina plays a cop investigating gangsters first in early 1960s Chicago, and then in Las Vegas. I didn't actually watch it, but remembered it for its opening theme which used the Del Shannon song "Runaway". I thought I wouldn't be able to find it on Youtube because of that, but the second season intro was there.

The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault (1986). When a Chicago Hotel that Al Capone had owned in the 1920s was renovated in the 1980s, construction crews disvocered some secret passageways that led people to think there might be more there. Geraldo Rivera hosted a live TV special to open what was guessed to be Capone's vault, but the "vault" turned out to have nothing but debris.

3-2-1 Contact (1980-1988). Science-oriented show for kids around 10-12 years old that included at the end of many episodes a dopey detective show called "The Bloodhound Gang" featuring a team of junior detectives solving cases that would make the Nancy Drew seem like high art. (Since they call themselves a gang, that technically makes them gangsters of a sort.) If you're around the age I am, you probably saw episodes of the show in school because of the educational content. Oh, and there's that terrible opening theme. I make no apologies for the earworm.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Bed Sitting Room

Some years back I watched The Bed Sitting Room and didn't do a full-length post on it. It was on TCM again recently and is also on DVD and Blu-ray, so I rewatched it.

There's not much of a plot here. The setting is the UK after a hypothetical World War III in which only a few dozen people have survived (or at least, that's what they all say). The survivors wander around in a series of bizarre sketches. Among the survivors are Lord Fortnum (Ralph Richardson), who fears that the radiation is slowly turning him into the titular room, something which eventually does happen although it doesn't take away his voice.

The other main characters are a family with daughter Penelope (Rita Tushingham) and her parents (Arthur Lowe and Mona Washbourne), who have been living on the Circle Line in the London Underground since the war but eventually leave for the outside world along with Penelope's boyfriend Alan (Richard Warwick). Dad tries to find a better husband for Penelope, while Mom turns into a cupboard that winds up in the bed-sitting room.

Watching over all the characters are the authorities, traveling around in a hot-air balloon with a junker car for a gondola, as a Sergeant and an Inspector (Dudley Moore and Peter Cook). They try to keep everybody moving, on the grounds that it they're not stationary targets, it will be more difficult for the enemy to kill him.

The first time I watched The Bed Sitting Room, I didn't particularly care for it, in no small part because I didn't know going in that it was going to be an absurdist comedy. That's why I wanted to watch it a second time when I saw it on the TCM schedule, to see if my opinion had changed. To be honest, I found that it still wasn't my cup of tea. It's absurd, but not nearly as funny as one would think considering much of the cast.

Still, this one even more than many of the movies that I didn't care for is one where you should judge for yourself, because the absurdism is something that's really going to divide people's opinions. Some people will probably really like it; others will find it tedious.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Treasures from the Disney Vault, June 2019

We've reached the point where it's time for the quarterly-or-so Treasures from the Disney Vault to show up on the TCM lineup. Tonight in prime time there are several live-action movies from the 1960s and 70s, as well as a few vintage cartoon shorts.

I have to admit I hadn't heard of The Moon Spinners, which kicks off the lineup at 8:00 PM before, although it sounds somewhat interesting. TCM's schedule page claims none of the night's movies are on DVD but Amazon has this one, so I'll probably DVR it since I think I have enough room.

I'm looking forward to Emil and the Detectives, overnight at 2:15 AM, as well. I think I've mentioned several times that my grandparents emigrated from Germany and I took German in high school, so the book by Erich Kästner is something we had to read as part of learning the language. This one doesn't seem to be in print on DVD, but does seem to be available on Amazon's streaming video.

I think I've briefly mentioned The North Avenue Irregulars (12:25 AM) before. That's because my memory of the movie has to do with being in line at a multiplex up in Albany where everybody else was in line for Ice Castles, while my parents were taking us to see The North Avenue Irregulars. Ice Castles is of course a laughable mess; I don't remember the Disney film at all. It does seem to be on DVD at Amazon.

Apologies for the poor posting

Unfortunately work and family obligations have been cropping up for the past couple of weeks, so I haven't been able to watch as many movies over the weekends in preparation of the coming week as I'd like. That, and when I get to the actual posts, I feel like they're not nearly as good as they used to be.

Thankfully, there's those Thursday blogathons to take the pressure off, while I've got a programming post later today. But I still don't know what I'm writing about on Friday. As long as nobody major dies before then.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The List of Adrian Messenger

When I was making my last set of DVD purchases, I noticed that the Kirk Douglas Centennial Collection had quite a few movies that I haven't blogged about before. Recently, I sat down to watch The List of Adrian Messenger (also available as a standalone DVD) off of it.

The movie starts off promisingly, with a man going into a bank building one evening after hours, when there's only an executive working late on the upper floors. The man sabotages the elevator so that when the executive gets into it, the elevator plunges nine floors, killing him. The mystery man crosses a name off a list, leaving only one: Adrian Messenger.

Messenger (John Merivale) is a writer of several books who is now writing about his experience in World War II. He too has a list of names, presumably people he wanted to interview, only to find out that a whole bunch of them have died accidental deaths over the past several years. Messenger's friend Gethryn (George C. Scott) worked for MI5, so could Gethryn investigate informally?

It's a good thing Messenger asked Gethryn for help, because he's about to go to Canada to do his own investigation, while the man who sabotaged the elevator knows about this. He poses as a vicar and puts a suitcase full of explosives aboard the plane, before going into a bathroom and removing his disguise, revealing that our murderer is played by Kirk Douglas. (This is more of a suspense movie than a mystery.

Gethryn continues to investigate with the help of Frenchman Le Borg (Jacques Roux), who had worked with Gethryn in the war and who was the one survivor on the plane with Messenger. Eventually, the roads lead to a wealthy family out in the English countryside, with the only heir being a young boy. Aha! As with Kind Hearts and Coronets, Kirk Douglas' character must be killing off heirs to a noble title. Not so fast.

The plot of The List of Adrian Messenger is reasonably interesting, but the movie also has a huge problem. If you watch the opening credits, you'll notice some big stars: Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, and Tony Curtis in addition to those whom I've already mentioned. (Dana Wynter and Herbert Marshall are among the supporting roles). And yet, those big names don't seem to show up. That's because the movie was made with a gimmick of putting these big starts under the same sort of heavy disguise that Kirk Douglas' character is under. After the end of the main action of the movie, there's a coda revealing which star had which cameo as they remove their masks Scooby Doo-style. I found it all distracting, not helped by the fact that apparently at least one of the stars only appeared for the unmasking at the end. (In Douglas' case, the makeup was necessary since his character was supposed to be in disguises so as not to be recognized by the people he's killing.) Also, some of the voices are dubbed.

The List of Adrian Messenger isn't a bad movie, but I think it could have been a lot better.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sit down, don't cheer

Another of the movies that got pulled out of the Fox vaults recently for showing on FXM is Stand Up and Cheer!. It's going to be on again over the coming weekend and again on July 5. It's also on DVD, so since I don't have that big a backlog of recently-watched movies to blog about, I'm going to do a post on it now.

The movie was released in 1934, and the first thing you notice is that this is likely a re-release print: the 20th Century Fox fanfare starts before we see that this is from the "Fox Film Corporation", the merger between Fox and 20th Century not having come until 1935. (IMDb suggests that the original ran about a dozen minutes longer than the 68-minute version FXM ran.) On to the threadbare plot, we see Broadway producer Lawrence Cromwell (Warner Baxter) going to meet president Roosevelt (only seen from the back). With a depression on, the president thinks America's spirits need to be raised, and the best way to do that is with a Department of Amusement. Cromwell, being an important Broadway producer, is just the man to do it.

Now, my immediate thought is that a department like this would be a money pit for propaganda of the sort that the Federal Theater Project was, churning out stuff like ... One Third of a Nation...; people of political interests would try to capture the bureaucracy if only to see that the people they oppose didn't capture it first. But Stand Up and Cheer is pretty obviously pro-New Deal propaganda, so it would never suggest anything was wrong with a program like this.

There are two senators opposed to it, and a shadowy cabal behind them, but the two senators are played by guys who had a slapstick vaudeville routine, "Mitchell and Durant". Their brand of humor is unfunny. We also get treated to Stepin Fetchit, and the humor that the screenwriters forced him to do is even more unfunny, especially in the later scene with a penguin doing a Jimmy Durante impression.

In between all this, we get several musical numbers that are unrelated to the plot of the movie, and a love interest in the form of Children's Section head Miss Adams (Madge Evans). One of the numbers involves a young Shirley Temple before Bright Eyes made her a real star; she dances with James Dunn playing characters named Shirley and James probably (I'm guessing) because Shirley was still young enough that this would make it easier to remember her lines. She shows up again in the retch-inducing finale, a song with large groups of people marching in formation looking like the old Soviet military parades going through Red Square as the Great Leaders watched from Lenin's mausoleum.

Stand Up and Cheer! is terrible, although at least Shirley Temple shows she already had talent at a young age. The two DVD listings at the TCM Shop both focus on Temple, although at least in one case it's fair because it's a box set with six Temple films. I might think about getting the box set for the other five films; I certainly wouldn't bother with the standalone.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Paris Blues

Continuing to make my way through the movies I recorded from Paul Newman's turn as Star of the Month on TCM, this time out I watched Paris Blues.

Newman stars a Ram Bowen, an American trombone player living in Paris and working at a jazz club with his friend Eddie (Sidney Poitier). The famed American jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong (who surprisingly although really playing himself is given a character name of Wild Man Moore) is coming to Paris for some performances, so Ram goes to the train station to meet him since apparently the jazz community is still small enough that everybody knows everybody.

At the station Ram also runs into Connie (Diahann Carroll), a young American who is on a two-week vacation to Paris along with her friend Lillian (Joanne Woodward). When she sees Ram, you can tell the sparks are going to fly between them. Meanwhile, you can probably guess that Connie is going to see Eddie at the club and those two are going to fall in love too. And of course you'd be right.

However, it's not going to be an easy relationship for either pair. Lillian is an independent woman who lives life her way, with two kids and a man out of the picture. (Nothing is said about how young the kids are and why she left them behind to go on a jaunt to Paris.) Ram, for his part, seems married to his music. As for Connie and Eddie, that's even more complicated. Eddie came to Paris to get out of America since he was tired of being a second-class citizen as a black American. Connie sees that a change is coming, if slowly (the movie ws made in 1961), and she doesn't understand how anybody can abandon their home the way Eddie has. Eddie, for his part, is sick and tired of the "race question".

While the two couples are trying to work things about between themselves, there are a couple of other subplots going on. I mentioned that Ram seems married to his music. That's because he's not just a trombonist, but a would-be composer. He thinks he's finally got a good song, and he even gets an interview with promoter/publisher René Bernard (André Luguet). The other subplot involves the guitarist at the jazz club, "Gypsy" (Serge Reggiani), who has a decided cocaine problem. Along the way, Louis Armstrong also comes to the club to do an improv session with Ram and his combo.

The plot of Paris Blues is nothing new, although there will certainly be some historical and cultural interest considering the movie's position at a time when the US civil rights movement was really beginning to gather steam. There's also the Paris location shooting with a paucity of shots of the Eiffel Tower. In some ways it would be nice if this were in color, although the color photography back then would probably make Paris look richer than suits a story like this, which is almost a starving artist story. The performances are good and do nothing to detract from the movie.

To be honest, however, the real reason to watch Paris Blues is for the music, which was written by Duke Ellington and is the star of the show here. If you like jazz, I have a feeling you'll really like this movie. (Now watch the jazz afficionados tell me the movie gets it all wrong. I'm not one of them, so I wouldn't notice.) The music is enjoyable, and Armstrong is as energetic as in any of his other movie performances I've seen.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Fanny and Alexander

Some months back TCM ran Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander in TCM Imports. Since it runs over three hours, I didn't get the time to sit and watch the whole thing until recently. But it's available on a pricey DVD from the Criterion Collection, so I can do a review on it here.

Alexander (Bertil Guve) and his kid sister Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) Ekdahl are children in a middle-class household in a Swedish city at the beginning of the 20th century (I don't think the exact year is given, but reference is made at the end to Strindberg's A Dream Play, which was written in 1901 but only first performed in 1907, so do the math). One year at Christmas, they attend a party given by their well-off grandmother, that seems as interminable as the wedding in The Deer Hunter.

At this party and its aftermath, we learn that things aren't as bright as they seem for everybody, asone of the uncles is carrying on a series of affairs, while another of the uncles is chronically in debt. Of course, none of this is going to matter in a little while as Fanny and Alexander's father Oscar (Allan Edwall) dies suddenly at the theater that's been in the family for generations and that he currently runs. Mom Emilie (Ewa Fröling) doesn't know what to do, so when the bishop Vergerus (Jan Malmsjö) who officiates at Oscar's wedding seems nice to her and the kids, she decides to marry him for security.

Mom couldn't have been more wrong, as the Bishop is extremely austere and expects everybody else to live the same way, and woe betide anybody who doesn't. Alexander, for one, can't live that way, as he has a vivid imagination which he has him believing he sees ghosts (I think; I didn't quite get what was going on until reading some reviews). Specifically, he claims that he saw the Bishop's first wife and children and that they told him a fantastic story of how badly the Bishop treated them, leading them to try to escape the house and winding up drowning in the nearby river. The Bishop punishes Alexander so badly that Emilie realizes she has to get the kids out of the house.

That's where Isak (Erland Josephson), a Jewish puppeteer who is also one of Grandma's lovers, comes in. He comes up with a ruse to get the kids out of the house and keep them at his place where the Bishop supposedly won't find them. Isak's house is odd, not just with the puppets but with mentally ill "son" Ismael (played by actress Stina Ekblad) having odd premonitions or something and understanding Alexander.

Frankly, I found Fanny and Alexander to be not my cup of tea at all. It's nicely photographed, but overlong and sprawling. I think a much better movie to be made out of the material would have ditched most of the Christmas party goings on and just used enough of it to establish Alexander's idyllic life before Dad dies and Mom remarries. It would also have been a reasonable length. However, since it's an Ingmar Bergman movie, there are a whole bunch of people who are going to praise it to high heaven. So watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #258: Period Dramas

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 period dramas. Now, the first thing I thought of was Jill Clayburgh's scene in An Unmarried Woman when she's telling her psychologist about the time she got her first period, which is about the point I bailed on the movie. But I assume that wasn't what was ment by the topic. Instead, we're looking for dramas set in the past, known for the lush production values. Think Merchant and Ivory, although I didn't pick any of their movies.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969). Geneviève Bujold plays Anne Boleyn, who caught the fancy of England's King Henry VIII (Richard Burton). He was already married to Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas), but she hadn't produced a male heir, so he tried to divorce her. This was a problem since Henry was supposed to be Catholic and Catherine most definitely was a devout Catholic. Henry gets his way by starting his own religion, but things don't go well for Anne when she fails to produce a son.

The Abdication (1974). Liv Ullmann plays Queen Christina of Sweden, the 17th century queen who abdicated her throne in order to convert to Catholicism. She moves to Rome, where a cardinal (Peter Finch) is assigned to determine whether her conversion is genuine. There's sexual tension between the two, which is a bit of a problem since the Catholic clergy is supposed to be celibate.

Valmont (1989). Colin Firth plays the title character, a playboy in the France of just before the Revolution who is approached by former lover Annette Bening to try to seduce the young fiancée of her current paramour as revenge. This leads to a bunch of complicated relationships, such as the young fiancée being in love with her music teacher, and Firth trying to be married woman Meg Tilly. It's based on the same source material as Dangerous Liaisons.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Down to the Sea in Ships

A good six years ago, I gave the old one-paragraph mention of the 1949 movie Down to the Sea in Ships. It's back out of the vault to run on FXM, tomorrow morning at 7:55 AM and again at 6:00 AM Friday.

Lionel Barrymore plays Bering Joy, captain of a whaling ship that's returning to New Beford MA in 1887 after a long voyage at see. Serving as cabin boy was Bering's grandson Jed (Dean Stockwell), who is getting to the age where he could become a full-fledged member of the crew, and is willing to move his stuff to the forecastle as a result. (Jed's parents are both dead, so Grandpa is his guardian.) But there's a problem, in that being at the age to join a crew means he's also at the age where he's subject to showing he's up to the educational standards the state has set, and if he can't show that, he's going to have to go to school. On land.

Bering wants to go out for one more voyage, with his grandson, but in addition to the problem of Jed's schooling that Bering is thoroughly unfit to provide, there's also the issue of his age and infirmity. (Barrymore is not in his wheelchair here, but on crutches and presumably having a double do any number of long shots that have him standing without crutches.) The insurance company doesn't necessarily want Bering going out to sea, and whaling company boss Harris (Harry Davenport) is offering a generous retirement.

Bering is a force of nature, however, and he's able to convince the whaling company to let him go, as well as to get the headmaster of the school to fudge Jed's grades. Apparently, Bering had had the headmaster on the previous voyage and gave him the profoundly good advice that he wasn't suited to a seaman's life. But with times changing, Bering is going to get a new first mate in Dan Lunceford (Richard Widmark). Dan went to college, and learned modern ways of being a ship's captain much in the way that people went to ag schools to learn about scientific agricultural managment.

Bering isn't too happy to have this "scientific" college guy on board with him, but he realizes there's a silver lining. Jed still needs his education, and in Dan, there's a guy with an education, so Bering gets Dan to teach Jed basic education. Dan isn't so pleased with the arrangement at first, either, because Jed isn't a particularly apt people thinking he only needs to learn that which is necessary for working on a ship.

Eventually things work out between Dan and Jed. Perhaps they work out too well, because Jed, not having a living father, is in strong need of a positive, capable role model. He finds that in Dan for fairly obvious reasons, and when Bering realizes what's happening, he gets nervous about it. This is doubly so when one of the small boats with Jed on it gets lost for several hours and Dan defies Bering's orders to deal with the situation.

There are all sorts of other problems, of the sort you can expect on a boat as well, with the biggest one being that since they're going to the Antarctic to catch whales, they have to deal with icebergs, something which would destroy those old wooden ships even more surely than they destroyed the badly-designed metal Titanic.

Down to the Sea in Ships was filmed in California and the waters off the coast, but other than that and the lack of Technicolor, the movie is one that fits in well with the grand old tradition of the Hollywood adventure story. Barrymore is surprisingly good, since I wouldn't have expected a man confined to a wheelchair to be able to handle the role. Widmark is in an early starring and good-guy role, and already shows that he had a range greater than the criminal heavies that would mark his early career. The supporting cast is good, too, with Cecil Kellaway as the cook and Harry Morgan among the crew members.

Down to the Sea in Ships is available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme. There's an earlier silent movie by the same name with a different story that's on DVD, and also availalbe on Youtube since it's in the public domain. I'll be getting around to it at some point.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sammy Cahn, 1913-1993

I noticed that today is the birth anniversary of lyricist and four-time Oscar winner Sammy Cahn. So I looked him up on Youtube and found a couple of clips from Academy Awards shows:

"Three Coins in the Fountain", from the film of the same name, won Cahn his first Oscar. IMDb says the song was sung in the movie by Frank Sinatra; it's been rather a long time since I've seen the movie so I didn't remember that. The Academy doesn't seem to have put up the official clip of Cahn's winning and the acceptance speech, so I linked to this bit of Dean Martin singing the song to announce its nomination.

Doris Day announced that Cahn won another Oscar for "High Hopes" from the film A Hole in the Head, with Day being introduced by perpetual Oscar host Bob Hope.

Blame It on Rio

My last set of DVD purchases from Amazon included this four-film set which as of this writing is out of stock. I didn't realize it until very recently, after watching Blame It on Rio off the set. Thankfully, Amazon lists the movie as being available on its streaming (free through June 30 for those with Prime), while the TCM shop lists it as being available as a stand-alone DVD or Blu-ray neither of which seem to be on Amazon.

Michael Caine plays Matthew Hollis, a businessman working for a firm in São Paulo, Brazil, along with his long-time friend Victor Lyons (Joseph Bologna). Victor seems more concerned with the divorce he's going through with his wife back in America, but Victor's daughter Jennifer (Michelle Johnson) is coming down for a visit. So Matthew arranged for a a visit to the more pleasure-oriented Rio de Janeiro for the two Lyonses, as well as Matthew, his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) and their daughter Nicole (Demi Moore).

The only thing is, the vacation isn't going to get off to a good start. As Matthew is packing his luggage for Rio, Karen informs him that she booked a separate vacation for herself at a resort in the northeastern state of Bahia. Matthew gets the obvious sense that there's something wrong in his marriage, but he doesn't have any idea what that something is. Still, there's not much he can do about it, so she heads her way and the other four go to Rio.

The two young women want to experience the pleasures of Rio, while Victor is OK thinking about fully adult women since he's about to get divorced. Matthew isn't so sure. Things are about to change for him, though. Jennifer convinces him to go along with her to a traditional non-Catholic wedding reception which apparently contains elements of the old African religions, as well as a lot of fun on the beach. After dark, Jennifer seduces Matthew and the two wind up making love! Matthew feels guilty, but Jennifer seems much more up-front about her feelings for Matthew.

Victor, understandably, would be might pissed if he knew what was going on. and soon enough, Jennifer tells Victor that she's had sex with a guy old enough to be her father, although she doesn't tell Victor anything about who that man is. Victor is extremely unhappy, but comes to the brilliant solution that since Jennifer seems to trust "uncle" Matthew, perhaps he should try to disarm Jennifer and get her to reveal who the man in her new relationship is. Matthew isn't about to let on, since he's pretty certain Victor isn't going to like it when he finds out that it's he, Matthew, who had sex with Jennifer.

I have to admit that I found Blame It on Rio to be not quite as funny as I expected going in. That's less because of the material and more because of Michelle Johnson's portrayal of Jennifer as a young woman who knows what she wants and is going to get it regardless of how it might hurt either her father, her "uncle" Matthew, or the two men's friendship. The movie does ultimately resolve everything with an interesting twist that does save the movie. But it takes a long time in getting to that resolution.

For the price I paid for the four-movie set, I'd certainly recommend Blame It on Rio. If you've got an Amazon Prime membership and can watch it for free through the end of the month, that's also worthwhile. For the price of the standalone DVD, I'm not so certain.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Red Badge of Courage

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I took a look at the TCM schedule to see if there were movies available on DVD that I hadn't done a post about before. I noticed that among them was The Red Badge of Courage, so I recorded that, and sat down to watch.

This is based on the 1890s novella by Stephen Crane, who having been born in 1871 had no first-hand knowledge of the US Civil War. Henry Fleming (Audie Murphy) is a young soldier from the North who joined a regiment in the Civil War which is moving south to take on the Confederates. Fleming is worried about what's going to happen when they have to go into battle, as he doesn't want to die.

Probably Henry's best friend in the regiment is Tom (Bill Mauldin), with Jim (John Dierkes) being the voice of experience. For everybody, the war is very much a case of hurry up and wait, as none of the enlisted men seem to understand at first why they're going north to go south in a flanking action. Eventually, they get to engage the Confederates in battle. Henry makes it into the trenches with the rest of the men, but when the time comes for the charge -- he flees.

Henry considers himself a coward, and could probably be court-martialed for desertion if it weren't for the fact that the battlefield can be a very chaotic place. While dealing with some of the other Union regiments, he accidentally gets hit in the back of the head. It changes his outlook, as now he has a wound, even if a slight one. It's his "badge of courage".

On his way back to the regiment, he meets other soldiers who have been injured, such as a cheery soldier (Andy Devine), as well as a regiment mate known as "the tattered man" (Royal Dano). All of it gives Henry a renewed sense of courage the next time he has to go into battle.

There's really not all that much going on in The Red Badge of Courage. Part of that is because the movie was cut down. Director John Huston had considered himself to be making a war epic, but the studio bosses said there were terrible previews that necessitated edits. Huston by this time was in Africa to make The African Queen, so he was in no place to protest. The result is a B movie running just 69 minutes.

The movie that we have is nothing terrible, but it's nothing great either. Murphy was not yet a star, but he already shows he was going to be a more capable actor than people tend to give him credit for. Everybody else is pretty much just there, but does nothing to make the movie bad. For me The Red Badge of Courage was just one of those movies that comes and goes.

It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, so you can always judge for yourself.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Darkest Hour

The last time DirecTV ran a free preview weekend, various channels in the Cinemax package were running Darkest Hour quite often, so I DVRed it. It looks like it's still in the Cinemax rotation, as well as being available on DVD, so I decided to watch it and do a post on it here.

It's May, 1940, at a period in World War II when the Sitzkrieg was just being ended by the Germans and their invasion of the Benelux countries. The British plans to defend against the Nazi invasion of Norway had failed, leaving Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) with an untenable situation in Parliament. Ultimately, he decides to resign as PM but stay on as head of the Conservative Party while a coalition government is formed.

There was some discussion as to who should lead the new coalition. Chamberlain originally wanted Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), but in real life Halifax felt he was unsuitable as a member of the House of Lords and not the Commons. It was eventually suggested to have Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), civilian head of the Navy, take on the role. This despite the fact that there were serious questions from Chamberlain and others in the Commons for Churchill's past failures; also King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) was less than thrilled with the prospect.

But, there was nobody else who could be agreed on, so Churchill became head of a five-member War Cabinet. Chamberlain and especially Halifax were still opposed to him and working behind the scenes to bring down the coalition government. They felt that suing Hitler for peace was the right course of action, while Churchill, who had spent much of the 1930s railing against Hitler, believed that if they sued for peace, Hitler would eventually come after Britain eventually.

Churchill, meanwhile, is facing problems from without as well as within. Germany has by this time invaded France, and the UK has a large number of soldiers stationed in France who are being forced into retreat, eventually to be surrounded at Calais and Dunkirk, from which there is no further retreat thanks to the fact that they've got the sea at their backs. This explains in part why Chamberlain and Halifax want a truce: they're worried about losing an entire generation of soldiers, which would make defense of Britain even more untenable.

Churchill, of course, eventually comes up with the idea of requisitioning as many civilian boats as possible and having them assist the Royal Navy in evacuating soldiers from Dunkirk, an operation portrayed in the movie Dunkirk which came out the same year as Darkest Hour. All of this is history, and so I don't think I'm giving very much away by detailing Churchill's success and the political defeat of Chamberlain. (The movie does reference the fact that Chamberlain also had terminal cancer, although apparently he didn't realize this in May 1940.)

Darkest Hour is an interesting movie going into more detail about a period of history that I think people in America know vaguely about but not to this level. Thanks to Churchill's ultimate success in leading Britain through the war, it overshadows the fact that there was some serious political pressure on him in the early days of his term as Prime Minister. That makes the movie well worth watching.

It's also worth a watch for Oldman's bravura performance as Churchill, which won him an Academy Award. He understandably dominates the movie, although Mendelsohn does well in his scenes as George VI. He and pretty much everybody else in the movie, however, are in support of Oldman.

I did, however, have some big problems with the movie, mostly on the technical side. The direction was extremely intrusive, right from the opening scene which I felt misused overhead shots, something which continued throughout the film. Director Joe Wright has a tendency to move the camera in ways which very much distract from the action. The lighting seemed wrong, too, which Churchill and other characters often in shadows when they shouldn't be, and other scenes (particularly in Parliament) too washed out. There's also a score which wells up inappropriately on many occasions.

That's a big shame, since I think it's hugely interefers with the excellent story and acting, but it doesn't make me not recommend Darkest Hour.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Franco Zeffirelli, 1923-2019

Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli, who came to prominence by directing Elizabeth Teylor and Richard Burton in the 1967 adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, has died at the age of 96.

Most people of a certain age (myself included) will probably remember Zeffirelli better for introducing Olivia Hussey to a generation of horny pubescent boys when he cast her in another Shakespearean adaptation, Romeo and Juliet:

I know that when we did Romeo and Juliet in whichever English class it was (10th grade, I think), this is the movie version we watched to accompany the reading, and I know my school wasn't the only one.

I remember watching Endless Love a few years back not having realized at the time that it was another Zeffirelli film:

The movie even got an Oscar nomination, although that was for the song (Lionel Richie lost, but would later get one for "Say You, Say Me" from White Nights).

TCM programming heads-up for June 15-16, 2019

It's been a good two years since I blogged about La pointe courte. It's on again tonight at 8:00 PM as this week's Essential. That will be followed at 9:45 PM by Cleo from 5 to 7. They're both on the same pricey Criterion box set, so I'm going to have to record the latter to do a review on it.

Tomorrow is Father's Day, and it should be no surprise that TCM is running a bunch of movies suitable for the day. I was kind of surprised to see the number of movies where the sons have either difficult or less than the stereotypically happy stuff you see in Father's Day cards. Oh, some of the usual suspects show up in the lineup, such as Life With Father at 8:00 PM Sunday, or the first Andy Hardy movie at 11:45 AM. There's even The Courtship of Eddie's Father, which also seems to get shown every Father's Day, at 3:45 PM. But there are the others, like Edward, My Son at 8:00 AM, as well as East of Eden at 1:15 PM.

Friday, June 14, 2019

That Uncertain Feeling

In trying to get through the backlog of movies on my DVR, I watched That Uncertain Feeling.

Merle Oberon plays Jill Baker, a woman who has been happily married to her husband Larry (Melvyn Douglas) for six years, but has one problem: she has an intractable case of the hiccups that appear every time she gets nervous. So one of her friends suggests that she see the eminent psychoanalyst Dr. Vengard (Alan Mowbray). One wonders how much the doctor can do for her, but in the waiting room one day she meets a concert pianist, Alex Sebastian (played not by Claude Rains but by Burgess Meredith).

Alexander is a strange guy, as he seems to have backwards opinions about everything just for the sake of being contrarian. But Jill finds him interesting, so the meet each other from time to time at places such as art galleries. (This is actually a chance to show Alexander's character, as there's a Daliesque painting of a clock that's supposedly a portrait of Alexander.) Jill invites Alexander over for a dinner party her husband is holding for some Hungarian-American businessmen who might be buying his insurance.

It's there that Larry realizes he's got a problem on his hands. Jill seems to have an infatuation with Alexander, while she also realizes that Larry is as much married to his business as he is with her. So Larry sets about casually suggesting that perhaps he should grant Jill a divorce, as that will get her to focus her opinion and realize she really wants to stay with Larry.

It eventually does happen, as you can guess from this sort of light comedy, but not without some complications along the way, involving Larry's lawyer Mr. Jones (Harry Davenport) and Jones' secretary Sally (Eve Arden).

That Uncertain Feeling was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, but somehow the famed "Lubitsch touch" that shows up in many of his other movies isn't quite here. I think it's mostly down to the script. The movie is based on a French play from the late 1800s, when this sort of material was probably more daring. The movie was made four years after The Awful Truth, and after any number of glittering Lubitsch movies, so it feels old hat. It also doesn't help that I didn't have much sympathy for the Alexander character. He's not really a bad guy, but he's not somebody you'd want to get close to, either. I also really didn't care for the dinner party scene, which just seemed tedious.

Still, all the actors try their best, and the movie's problems are not any of there faults. This is particularly true for Meredith, with his difficult character. It's not a terrible movie by any means; it's just rather blah. It's also available on DVD, so you're always welcome to judge for yourself.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #257: Undercover

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 "undercover", so immediately the first thing I thought of was this:

Of course, that's not a movie, so I had to come up with some movies instead. After a bit of thinking, I was able to come up with three interesting movies:

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938). Edward G. Robinson plays the title character, a psychologist investigating the causes of crime who comes up with a brilliant idea: he'll pass himself off as a gangster to allow him to get initiated into a gang so that he can do his research from the inside. The gang is headed by Claire Trevor and Humphrey Bogart, and things get complicated with Dr. Clitterhouse tries to get out of the gang.

Smashing the Money Ring (1939). Ronald Reagan returns to play Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft once again in the third of four movies in the series. This time, there's a counterfeiting ring being run in a prison, and Brass' job is to get himself sent to that prison and find out who's doing the counterfeiting. Reagan is by far the best thing about the Brass Bancroft movies, which got weaker as the series went on.

High School Confidential! (1958). Russ Tamblyn plays a narcotics officer sent to infiltrate a high school to find out who's the mastermind behind the heroin distribution going on there. As it turns out, that's Jackie Coogan. Jan Sterling plays one of the teachers, and Mamie Van Doren plays his "aunt" who gets to flaunt her assets in a bullet bra, as do some of the other female characters, as in this fabulous bit of beatnik poetry:

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Jane Powell, Part 2

Tonight being the second Wednesday of the month, we get another installment of Star of the month Jane Powell on TCM. This time, we're into the early 1950s, starting off at 8:00 with Royal Wedding, in which she and Fred Astaire travel to London for the wedding of then Princess Elizabeth to Philip. (It's amazing that the two are still married and Elizabeth is still Queen.) This is the one with Astaire's famous dance on the ceiling:

That's followed at 10:00 PM by Two Weeks With Love, a movie that might be more famous for a young Debbie Reynolds singing this terrible song:

The rest of the night's lineup is:

Nancy Goes to Rio at midnight;
Small Town Girl at 2:00 AM; and
Rich, Young, and Pretty at 4:00 AM

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Rack

I mentioned earlier that I recorded quite a few of the movies that aired during TCM's tribute to May 2019 Star of the Month Paul Newman, so I'm getting through them slowly. The most recent watch was The Rack.

A bunch of people are waiting at an airport for a military plane bringing a group of POWs from the Korean War home. Among them is Capt. Edward Hall, Jr. (Paul Newman). He's the son of army colonel Edward Hall Sr. (Walter Pidgeon), and also had a brother who died in the war, leaving behind a widow in Aggie Hall (Anne Francis).

Before the POWs can go home, they have to spend some time at the military hospital to be debriefed by army psychologists and the like. While Ed Jr. is watching a movie, another soldier comes up to him, and puts a noose around his neck with a placard reading "TRAITOR". Oh dear, somebody has something against poor Ed. It's not just this one man, either. Ed is uncomfortable being back home, and feels like his father isn't making things any easier for him. Just wait until Dad finds out about what happened over in Korea.

Apparently during the debriefings, enough evidence was obtained to lead military authorities to believe that Ed Jr. collaborated with the Chinese who were holding them prisoner, and this is a really serious offense. Dad can't believe this, as he raised his two sons to be perfect little soldiers. Surely when they hold the trial, the truth is going to come out and Ed Jr. is going to be exonerated.

The trial begins, with Lt. Col. Wasnick (Edmnod O'Brien) defending Capt. Hall, and Maj. Moulton (Wendell Corey) prosecuting the case. It's a difficult defense, as Capt. Hall has admitted that he did the things he's accused of, although he says that he felt it was the only thing he could do to help the men in his command. Wasnick obviously doesn't believe any of this, and he's going to do everything he can to debunk Hall's defense when he takes the stand.

The Rack is another of those movies that's well-made, but which kept striking me as having something not quite right about them. One of the big things for me was the scene resolving the relationship between father and son, which came across as really artificial.. Something also felt off about the trial, although that's probably because it was a military trial, which does have different rules from civilian justice. But where did they get all the evidence that the Chinese would certainly have kept?

However, Newman gives a very good performance and his clearly on his way to becoming a star in the early picture. The supporting cast is also pretty good, even Pidgeon who is normally a bit too stolid for my tastes. There's a nice early supporting role from Lee Marvin, and James Best (Roscoe P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazard) and Cloris Leachman have bit parts.

The Rack is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, and isn't a bad little movie.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pale Flower

I've got a fair number of foreign films that I haven't reviewed either on DVD or on my DVR. It's been over a year since I reviewed a Japanese-language film (or, if it was more recent, I forgot to include the "Foreign" tag). So I decided that since I recorded Pale Flower when it showed up recently and would like to free up some space on my DVR, I'd watch that one first.

Ryō Ikebe plays Mutaki, a member of the yakuza (the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia) who has just gotten out of jail for the murder of a member of a rival gang in Tokyo. He goes to a gambling hall, which is where he meets mysterious Saeko (Mariko Kaga). She's the only woman in the entire room, playing some sort of game with traditional Japanese playing cards that would probably be known to Japanese and as such is never explained to the viewer. Mutaki is immediately smitten with Saeko.

Mutaki has other women in his life, however, as well as other problems. While Mutaki was away in prison, the two main gangs in Tokyo found that their territory was getting muscled in on by a gang from Osaka, to the point that the two gang leaders called a truce. Mutaki doesn't know that at first, and there are people who want to settle scores with Mutaki, including a young man who attacks Mutaki in a bowling alley and, failing, cuts off one of his fingers in the yakuza tradition.

Saeko, for her part, likes the gambling, as well as other thrills. But the current gambling isn't enough for her, so she wants Mutaki to find her a gambling place that has higher stakes. He does, but this place will pose a problem for Mutaki and Saeko. That's Yoh, a man who sits by the far wall and watches, never saying anything. Nobody quite knows Yoh's full background, except that he's half-Chinese, from Hong Kong, and spends time doing dope, which is an even more serious cultural issue in Japan than in the US.

There's also the day-to-day business of being a gangster, as Mutaki is given the task of getting a nightclub owner providing entertainment to use the Tokyo gang for protection instead of the Osaka gang. And, with the Osaka gang continue to tread on the turf of the Tokyo gangs, Mutaki is going to be asked to go back to his old hitman ways and bump off a member of the Osaka gang.

There's a lot to like in Pale Flower, most notable the cinematography and composition, as well as the depiction of Tokyo as it was in the early 1960s, just before the Olympics came and really started to change the place. It fell down for me slightly in terms of the plot which seemed to me to be missing something that I can't quite put my finger on. It doesn't help that not being Japanese, I didn't get exactly what it was they were gambling on and how the game worked. I don't gamble, but if I were going to do so, I'd want to do something like poker or backgammon where I could feel like there's at least some element of skill. These games looked like pure luck. But those are minor flaws.

Pale Flower is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, and is one I'd quite recommend.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Red Hot Tires

I've mentioned on a number of occasions how much I enjoy the Warner Bros. B movies and programmers, which always have something really zippy about them. A good example of a movie that's more fun than it has any right being is Red Hot Tires.

Lyle Talbot plays Wallace "Wally" Storm, chief mechanic for Sanford Motors, a company that makes race cars led by dad Martin (Henry Kolker) and his daughter Patricia (Mary Astor), who has a surpisingly big part in the racing business for a woman of those days. Wally carries on a platonic relationship with Patricia, and also dreams of becoming a driver in the big league himself. But the Sanfords' current driver Bob (Gavin Gordon) also has the hots for Patricia and is none too pleased that Wally is getting ideas above his station. Eventually, Bob gets Wally fired, much to the consternation of Wally's mechanic Bud (Roscoe Karns) and protege Johnny (Frankie Darro).

Wally gets to ride in a big race against Bob, but Bob has a trick up his sleeve involving something in the tires that is supposed to doom anybody who gets too close to his tires, apparently a common tactic in racing in those days. Sure enough, Wally gets too close to Bob's tires, but it backfires, as Bob is the one who goes off the track and down a ravine, killing him. Based on vague threats Wally had spoken about, he's put on trial for the murder of Bob, and convicted!

Johnny saw but couldn't hear Bob's plan to get Wally, and when he and Patricia investigate they're able to get a pardon for Wally. (Really, at most a new trial would be in order.) But on the evening that the pardon is to be delivered, Bud springs Wally from prison! The two friends go down to South America to escape extradition, and Wally becomes the famous American race car driver Bulldog. Patricia puts two and two togehter....

Red Hot Tires has all sorts of continuity problems and veers from one part of the plot to another overly quickly, getting everything done in a little over an hour. And yet, all along the way it's a lot of fun, thanks to professional performances from all the main stars. There's nothing great here, but you'll be entertained for an hour.

Red Hot Tires has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

TCM's Doris Day Tribute

Doris Day and James Garner; Move Over, Darling will be on at midnight between Sunday and Monday

Doris Day died back in May, and TCM is finally getting around to its programming tribute to Day. As befits a star of her stature, TCM is airing an entire 24 hours of Day's movies, starting at 6:00 AM Sunday, along with her appearance on The Tonight Show:

6:00 AM Romance on the High Seas
8:00 AM My Dream Is Yours
10:00 AM Tea For Two
11:45 AM On Moonlight Bay
1:30 PM Carson on TCM: Doris Day
1:45 PM Love Me or Leave Me
6:00 PM Please Don't Eat the Daisies
8:00 PM Pillow Talk
10:00 PM Lover Come Back
Midnight Move Over, Darling
2:00 AM The Glass Bottom Boat
4:00 AM Julie

They Met in Bombay

One of the movies TCM ran in the "meet cutes" romantic comedy spotlight last month was They Met in Bombay. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I decided to DVR it and watch later to do a post on it.

Clark Gable plays Gerald Meldrick, whom we see right off the bat is a less-than-honest man. He's having a replica of a famous jewel, the Star of India, made for him. That jewel is owned by the Duchess of Beltravers (Jessie Ralph) who is going to be in Bombay for Empire Day and wearing that jewel. Meldrick passes himself off as an agent of Lloyd's of London who have insured the Star of India, and presents himself at the Duchess' hotel, which is obviously all part of a plot to replace the original jewel with the fake.

Also showing up at the hotel is Anya Von Duren (Rosalind Russell), whom we see reading a book about the Beltravers nobility and trying to memorize it. This is a sign that she's a con artist who is going to use that knowledge to get into the Duchess' confidence and then steal the Star of India. You can probably guess that Anya and Meldrick wind up meeting and have a friendly rivalry over the jewel that lasts for the rest of the movie.

You'd be half right. They steal the Star of India about a third of the way into the movie and are about to get on a boat out of India when the authorities discover what has happened and start going after Meldrick and Anya, who have to team up out of necessity only since they're both implicated in the heist. But they can't get on a regular ocean liner because they'll be caught, so they have to beg passage with cargo ship captain Chang (Peter Lorre). He's going to Hong Kong.

Of course, Chang cares more about money than anything else. He wouldn't care whether he's got two jewel thieves on board if they pay him enough for the passage. But the authorities are offering a much bigger reward, and the venal Chang is more than willing to turn them over for that reward. Meldrick and Anya, under fake names, have to beat a hasty escape into a dinghy and hope they won't get noticed in Hong Kong.

Meldrick has a good plan to get the two of them out of Hong Kong, too. Posing as a Captain Houston, a Canadian soldier in the British Army, he plans to commandeer some men on leave to steal the contents of a safe at a company under criminal investigation by the authorities: evidence, don't you know. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it were for those meddling... Japanese? Well, this is a 1941 movie, and the Japanese had already invaded China proper and were ready to take Hong Kong. All military officers are pressed into emergency duty, including "Captain Houston".

They Met in Bombay is three movies in one, and an odd little mix at that. The jewel heist plot does get resolved, but other than that, the parts of the movie don't quite mesh. Still, the movie was professionally made, another example of the way studios churned out movies at the time. Gable and Russell are appealing individually and as a pair. The supporting cast is generally good too, and the production values are quite good as befits an MGM movie. There's nothing spectacularly memorable here, however, unless you count the odd mixture of story lines.

If you just want to sit back and be entertained, you could do worse than to watch They Met in Bombay.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Blood and Steel

A movie that showed up in the FXM rotation in May is Blood and Steel. I don't know how long it's going to stay in the FXM rotation, but it seems to be available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme. Since I hadn't heard of the movie before, I decided to DVR it and watch to do a review here.

The setting is Gizo Island, somewhere in the South Pacific. A small rubber boat pulls up to the island, and four men get out. This is the 1940s, so it's obviously World War II, and the men are obviously Americans surreptitously landing on a Japanese-held island. Lt. Jenson (John Lupton) is the leader of the four, a group of Seabees on a mission to determine whether the island will make a useful air base once the Americans capture it. Along with Jenson are Jim (Brett Halsey), Cip (John Brinkley), and George (James Edwards).

Of course, the island is still Japanese held, so the men have to stay in hiding to try to avoid the Japanese. Soon enough, the Japanese find them and a fire fight ensues, with George getting shot and having to be left behind because doing anything else will jeopardize the mission.

So the three remaining men soldier on, and George is eventually approached by a native (non-Japanese) of the island (Ziva Rodann, who was born in British Palestine and nowhere near Polynesia). She's frightened, but doesn't reveal the secret to the Japanese, who have set up a headquarters nearby.

The other men wind up engaging in more firefights with the Japanese, who are presented more as bored than inept, which is why they don't seem to be as diligent as they could in killing these four Americans, what with their massive numeric superiority. Amazingly enough, the Americans complete their mission in time. And nothing else happens.

Blood and Steel was (or at least looks like it was) and ultra-low budget B movie. It only runs a little over an hour, and as I was watching I kept thinking that it was playing out more like a TV episode of some World War II-themed TV show. Sure enough, one of the commenters on IMDb had the same thought, and the director, Bernard L. Kowalski, did most of his work in TV.

There's very little going on in Blood and Steel, and its biggets sin is that it's just boring. It's not horrendously bad, but it's the epitome of a movie that's not very good, either. I noticed it was available from Fox's MOD scheme, but at those prices, I'd wait for the next FXM showing.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #256: Nannies or Baby-Sitters

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time, the theme is nannies and/or baby-sitters. I was able to come up with any number of movies relatively quickly; I just had to figure out whether I'd used them before. In the end, here are three that a search of the blog claims I haven't used:

Sitting Pretty (1948). Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara play a married couple with three sons, and a desperate need of somebody to keep them in line. Answering the ad for a live-in baby-sitter is Clifton Webb, playing Lynn Belvedere. His unorthodox methods produce a remarkable change in the kids, but gossip threatens to break up that relationship. The movie, based on a book, was popular enough that two sequels were made, and the book was later adapted into the 1980s sitcom Mr. Belvedere with Christopher Hewitt in the lead role.

The Innocents (1961). Deborah Kerr gets the job of being nanny/governess to a pair of orphaned children living in one of those English manor houses in the late 19th century. Strange things start happening, and Kerr begins to believe that perhaps the kids are possessed by the ghosts of a pair of lovers who died tragically on the grounds. This one is based on Henry James' story "The Turn of the Screw".

The Nanny (1965). Bette Davis is the nanny of an emotionally disturbed English boy who just got out of an institution for behavior including causing the drowning of his younger sister. Things start happening, and when Mom gets poisoned, the boy starts accusing the nanny of being the one who did it! You have to love later-era Bette Davis.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

TCM Star of the Month June 2019: Jane Powell

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 Jane Powell, who made a bunch of light musical comedies at MGM in the 1940s and 1950s. Powell turned 90 this year, but because her birthday was in April, and TCM celebrated its 25th anniversary that month, they have her tribute now. Powell's movies will be airing every Wednesday in prime time in June.

This first night sees some of her early movies starting with Holiday in Mexico at 8:00 PM, seeing Powell play the daughter of the US Ambassador to Mexico (Walter Pidgeon) who falls in love with a Mexican pianist (Jose Iturbi, who for some reason I thought was Brazilian but was in fact Spanish).

Having run one movie with Powell and Iturbi, it shouldn't be surprising that there's another one. That one, Three Daring Daughters, follows at 10:15 PM.

I have to admit that Jane Powell isn't my favorite, but that's more because the type of movie she was cast in.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Untamed Frontier

For those of you who have the StarzEncore pagkage of movies, you have a chance to catch Untamed Frontier tomorrow morning at 6:19 AM.

Joseph Cotten plays Kirk Denbow, one member of a family who owns a whole bunch of land in the Arizona territory. However, there's also a bunch of land owned by the federal government, and under the Homestead Act they intend to parcel that land out to settlers. The problem is, the land is surrounded on all American sides by the Denbows' land. They use their own land and the Federal land to graze their cattle, and they're not about to give any settlers right-of-way across the Denbow land to settle since it would ultimately mean the loss of free grazing land that the Denbows are using.

Kirk is the most pragmatic member of the family. He's got a cousin in Glenn (Scott Brady) who is much more of a hothead. Indeed, he's currently in town raising a ruckus as well as seeing his girlfriend Jane (Shelley Winters), who, while she loves him, also has sympathy for the settlers. Eventually, Glenn gets in a gunfight with somebody who, it turns out, is not armed, so the legal system is going to come after him, and by association the Denbows.

Matt Denbow (Minor Watson), patriarch of the family, comes up with the idea to spirit Jane away to Texas since she's the one witness who could convict Glenn. She's too honest to do that. So Matt and Glenn come up with another idea, which is to have Glenn marry Jane! That way she'll be his wife and can't be forced to testify against Glenn. (Couldn't she choose to testify?) Since she does like Glenn, she marries him and starts living at the ranch.

She soon realizes the mistake she made. Glenn has another girlfriend in Lottie (Suzan Ball), and Jane starts becoming friends with Kirk. Meanwhile, the settlers are massing for an invasion of the strip of land they'd have to cross to get to the federal land....

Universal made a whole bunch of programmer westerns in the 1950s, of which this is one. They're short (Untamed Frontier clocks in at 78 minutes) and capably produced if nothing spectacular. Untamed Frontier fits in perfectly in that mold. Everybody does an adequate job, but the story feels as though it could be interchangeable with the cast of whatever other western was being produced at the time. You'll likely be entertained, but it won't linger in your memory like the great westerns.

Untamed Frontier does not seem ever to have gotten a DVD release in the US, so you're going to have to catch the rare cable showing.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Die Büchse der Pandora

One of TCM's spotlights this month is on interesting hair in the movies, or as they call it, the Hollywood Hair Hall of Fame. It'll be on every Monday night in June, starting tonight at 8:00 with Pandora's Box.

Louise Brooks plays Lulu, a former dancer who at the start of the movie is now the kept lover of newspaper publisher Dr. Schön (Fritz Kortner) in a fashionable apartment in Berlin. One day after Schön heads off to work, another man shows up, Schigolch (Carl Goetz), who is presumably a former lover, but one who could never give her the comforts that Schön can. When Schön finds Schigolch in the apartment, she points out that he used to be her "patron".

Meanwhile, it seems almost every man wants Lulu romantically, with the exception of Schön's adult son Alwa (Franz Lederer, who was born in Bohemia with the name František and would later flee Germany for Hollywood, taking the name Francis and appearing in a bunch of films, most notably Confessions of a Nazi Spy), a composer. Although he doesn't seem to want love from her, he's writing material that would be perfect for her to go back to the stage.

Eventually, she takes him and a promoter Schigolch introduces her to up on that offer. But she's also driven to it by the fact that Dr. Schön has decided to turn her out and marry a respectable woman of his class -- he could never marry her because everybody's been talking about their relationship.

Lulu gets pissed off when she meets Schön's fiancée at the theater where she's performing, and refuses to go on, eventually using her feminine ways to get Dr. Schön to agree to marry her! But on their wedding night he realizes (or thinks he does) what sort of woman he's married, and tries to force Lulu to commit suicide. In the struggle, Lulu winds up shooting Schön to death. If only there were witnesses she could get off on a self-defense argument, but there aren't, so the court sentences her to five years in prison.

She still has a bunch of people lusting after her, and when the verdict is handed down, they decide to set off the fire alarm, giving her a chance to escape! Unfortunately, she's going to be found out in Germany, so she, Alwa, and Schigolch have to flee the country, eventually winding up in London and a much crappier existence than Lulu ever had as a kept woman.

Pandora's Box is an interesting movie, with a lot of wonderful cinematography courtesy of director G. W. Pabst. It's a silent, coming at the very end of the silent era after Hollywood had nearly completed its conversion to sound film, so that meant the audiences weren't as big as the German filmmakers had hoped. This also led to Brooks eventually growing tired of the movie business and retiring fairly young. It's a bit of a shame, since she gives quite a good performance.

The one problem I had with the movie, however, is that I felt it slowed down quite a bit in the second half. I also had a problem with the idea that they were going to be completely unable to find work in London. Surely a performer like Lulu at least could have gotten work as a chorus girl. But then that wouldn't fit in with the story, I suppose. Even with the movie having problems, it's still well worth watching for the visuals.

Pandora's Box got a DVD release courtesy of the Criterion Collection many years ago, but that release seems to be out of print, so you're going to have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Prince and the Showgirl

I haven't done a post on The Prince and the Showgirl before, so when it showed up on the TCM schedule recently I made a point of DVRing it to watch and do a post here.

The scene is London, 1911. Edward VII had died the previous year, leaving George V to become the new monarch. But the official coronation with all the pageantry isn't held right when the old monarch dies, as it takes time to bring in all the other crowned heads of state to attend the coronation. Among them is the royal family of Carpathia (not of course a real state, but part of modern-day Romania and Hungary in the northern part of the Balkans). They have a king in Nicholas VIII (Jeremy Spenser), but he's still only 16 so he won't ascend to the throne until he's 18, with his father the Grand Duke (Laurence Olivier) being regent, not being king himself because he only married into the family. The British Foreign Office sends envoy Northbrook (Richard Wattis) to make certain the Regent's stay in London is pleasant, because there's a dicey political situation in Carpathia.

The Regent having been in a marriage of convenience and now being a widower is perfectly comfortable seeing women, at least insofar as royal protocal will let him. In London, he plans to meet the star of an American revue, The Coconut Girl. But when he meets the cast, it's actually one of the chorus girls he winds up desiring, young Elsie from Milwaukee (Marilyn Monroe). He invites her back to the embassy for dinner, and Northbrook reluctantly goes along despite Elsie being American (the European disdain for American bluntness being on display here) and her not knowing anything about royal protocol.

The Regent plans to have dinner alone with Elsie, which is not what she expected at all. While the two are alone, the Regent starts discussing the Carpathian political situation on the phone, not realizing Elsie is really smarter than you'd think at first site. The Regent is of Hungarian descent, so not much of a fan of the Kaiser. Nicholas, however, is of German descent, and is thinking seriously of moving Carpathia closer to Germany politically when he takes the throne. He also cavorts with reformers whom his father doesn't like and even imprisons. To secure his hold, Dad has told the switchboard operator at the embassy not to let Nicholas receive or make any phone calls.

None of this should really matter to Elsie, but she winds up getting more involved in the Carpathian situation mainly because everybody in the royal family seems to like her. The Queen Dowager (Sybil Thorndike) lets her stay as a temporary lady-in-waiting, allowing her to attend the coronation and events surrounding it. It also lets her get involved in the spat between father and son, and she decides to try to patch things up as a family affair as much as a political matter.

The Prince and the Showgirl wasn't an easy production, as documented in the film My Week With Marilyn from the beginning of this decade. Olivier directed as well as starred, and he was none too happy with Monroe. To be fair, she did have a reputation for being difficult. But to be fair, a bigger problem is with Olivier's performance, making the Regent look like a man you'd wonder what anybody would see in him. Instead of trying to rein in Marilyn, he should have been rening himself in.

The movie certainly looks nice in terms of sets and costumes, with the mockup of Westminster Abbey looking particularly good. However, that scene looks out of place with the action of the rest of the movie.

All in all, The Prince and the Showgirl isn't a bad movie, but it's also not the first thing I'd suggest to introduce people to either Olivier or Monroe. It's available on DVD too.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Blondie Johnson

My latest movie viewing was the pre-code Blondie Johnson.

Joan Blondell plays the title role, a woman who at the beginning of the movie is suffering from the effects of the Depression having hit her in just about every way possible. She's at a relief agency looking for help because she hasn't worked in four months; her sister died tragically; and her mom is deathly ill with the owner of the building possibly about to evict them because Mom might be contagious. But because she wasn't fired, instead having quit her job because her boss was trying to use her for sexual favors, the guy at the relief agency says no help for you.

When Mom dies, Blondie realizes she has to make money in a different way. With the help of very small-time grifter Red (Sterling Holloway), a cabbie when he's making money honestly. The two combine in a scam that has richer guys paying for an emergency taxi ride across town; he only takes her around the block and pocket the difference. They shouldn't keep trying it in the same area, because when she's in a diner at the end of the meeting, one of the guys she scammed runs into her.

That man is Danny (Chester Morris), a middle-level gangster, and he tries to convince her to go in with him. She wants to take down the bigger bosses, and do it on her own terms, so although she likes Danny, she has no intentions of being subordinate to him. Eventually she does make it to something resembling the top, but her group has some indiscretions in the past that threaten to bring her down.

Blondie Johnson feels likes a slew of the other pre-Code Joan Blondell and gangster movies that Warner Bros. was churning out like an assembly line in the early 1930s. In many regards, it's not bad at all. But it also feels as though something is missing, as you might have inferred from my perfunctory synopsis.

It didn't take me too long to realize that the something that was missing is James Cagney. Morris is adequate as a guy who is really a second banana, but in all those Cagney/Blondell movies, the two had a zest that just jumped off the screen. There's very little of that in Blondie Johnson, which is why the whole thing feels routine and just not quite right.

Blondie Johnson is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, but it's really one of those movies that should have been put on those old four-film TCM-branded box sets that Warner Home Video was putting out. As a standalone, I'd look for a lot of other things first.