Wednesday, July 31, 2019

We're almost up to Summer Under the Stars!

I mentioned briefly in my morning post that tomorrow is the start of Summer Under the Stars, which is why tonight's prime time lineup has to have a pretty hard ending at 6:00 AM. As you'll recall, Summer Under the Stars means 24 hours of movies from a different star each day in the month.

This first day of August will have the movies of Henry Fonda, which is actually somewhat relevant since I mentioned he had an early career at Fox that probably should have been recognized in the TCM spotlight on Fox. And wouldn't you know it, The Grapes of Wrath is among the movies TCM is running for Henry Fonda day. It will be on overnight at 2:00 AM.

A couple of other movies are worth mentioning. First is The Mad Miss Manton, which I blogged about all the way back in November 2013. It's a fun little comedy with Barbara Stanwyck as Manton, a socialite who turns detective when she finds a dead body and then it goes missing. Fonda plays the newspaper editor who winds up becoming her boyfriend.

The Long Night is on at 12:15 PM. This one is a remake of the early French Noir Daybreak (aka Le jour se lève), starring Fonda as a man who starts off the movie holed up in an apartment under siege from the police. He begins to ponder how it came to all this. Apparently the movie got a DVD release from Kino Video many years ago, but it's now out of print.

One that seems to be in print, or at least Amazon says it'll be in stock in a week's time, is Yours, Mine, and Ours, which TCM will be running at midnight. This one, at least, is also available on Amazon's streaming service.

TCM's Salute to Fox, Part 2

Last Wednesday, TCM began a two-night salute to 20th Century Fox studios. With only 11 movies, there's a lot that has to be skipped over, but even with that, there are some things that could have been done differently. At any rate, the second half of the salute is on tonight, with just five movies since they absolutely have to be done by 6:00 AM for the start of Summer Under the Stars.

Kicking off the night at 8:00 PM is the second showing of Star Wars, that being the 1977 original. It's definitely a movie that has a huge place in movie history, although I have to admit I don't really associate it with Fox. I've always thought of Lucasfilm, and was surprised when I realized the movie was distributed by Fox. Of course, Disney had the rights to the franchise for several years before buying up Fox.

Then at 10:15 PM there's Young Frankenstein. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder made quite a few worthwhile movies at Fox from the 70s into the early 80s, and some of Brooks' work remains a large part of the culture. With that in mind, I think I would have picked Blazing Saddles instead of Young Frankenstein, but that's really just my personal preference. Or, there's Gene Wilder in Silver Streak but with only 11 movies, that wasn't going to get selected.

Third up, at 12:30 AM is The French Connection. An excellent choice; it's another of Fox's Best Picture winners and is one of the earliest movies to present the grittier New York City as opposed to the sanitized New York that had been in most mainstream Hollywood movies before this.

Next, at 2:15 AM, is Niagara. Marilyn Monroe was probably Fox's biggest star in the 1950s, and considering what a cultural icon she remains 57 years after her death, you absolutely have to program one of her movies. Although I like Niagara, I think for a limited size retrospective like this I would have picked her in How to Marry a Millionaire. The reason for this is that it was the first movie to be filmed in Cinemascope (although it was released after The Robe), which brought about a major change to the movies as all the studios eventually switched to making movies in one wide-screen process or another. Fox started it, and that is worthy of mentioning.

The last selection is the one that I would delete, that being The Fly at 4:00 AM. As I said last week, there's no Bette Grable in the salute. There's also no Henry Fonda, who was an important dramatic star for Fox before leaving to fight in World War II (granted, Fonda didn't like most of the movies Fox put him in, even if I think he was being too harsh on them). The Grapes of Wrath would have been a good one to include.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Back Street (1961)

Douglas Sirk left Hollywood after making Imitation of Life. Thankfully, producer Ross Hunter stayed, giving us overheated movies like the 1961 version of Back Street.

Susan Hayward stars as Rae Smith, a woman living with her widowed sister Janey (Virginia Grey) in a house in Omaha, NE, working as a buyer of some sort for the family's old department store which is all hers now. One night while she's going to see a client in a hotel, the client tries to accost her. Thankfully, US Marine Paul Saxon (John Gavin), just back in the States after World War II, had met Rae in the lobby and is in the room next door, so he comes to her rescue.

The two start a relationshp while Paul is waiting to get back home (you may remember demobbed military having to wait for transit planes in the opening of The Best Years of Our Lives). There's one catch, which is that Paul already has another woman, so trying to keep the relationship going is going to be difficult, and Rae isn't certain she wants to do it. Finally, Paul buys Rae a plane ticket to go with him, and she ultimately accepts, but just too late to get to the airport on time.

So Rae moves to New York and starts working in the garment district, having dreams like Mahogany of becoming a designer. Her boss Dalian (Reginald Gardiner) is less than sanguine about the prospect, but Rae is so forward about getting what she wants that she eventually becomes Dalian's partner. Meanwhile, one day, what should happen but she runs into Paul again?

Fast forward a few more years, and Rae is transferred to Rome, running a glamorous European operation there. Eventually, Paul shows up to handle the European operations of his family's department store. It's here that we finally see the other woman, Mrs. Liz Saxon (Vera Miles). And boy is she nasty. She's an inveterate drunk, and they have two children, but she vows she's never going to leave him or let him have any happiness. Paul doesn't care, and starts seeing Rae again.

Somehow, both Rae and the Saxons wind up moving to Paris, and the same exact pattern that had gone on in Rome continues here, except that it's gone even further in Paul's having bought Rae a place out in the country. Liz, for her part, finally comes up with a way to get back at Rae....

Back Street is overheated, and the whole time I was watching it, I couldn't help but feel like there was something terribly wrong with the movie. Like all the Douglas Sirk movies (some of which Hunter produced), this one is funny, but not intentionally. The dialog is overripe, and a lot in the movie made me think of other movies. I mentioned Mahogany; there's also Vera Miles' over the top alcoholism that made me think of Deborah Kerr in Edward, My Son. As for the fashion, I couldn't help but think this was the sort of movie being parodied in What a Way to Go! when Shirley MacLaine talks about one of her marriages being like a "Lush Budgett" production.

So sit back, watch with amazement, and laugh and talk back at the screen as you watch Back Street.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Glass Key (1942)

TCM ran the 1942 version of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key not too long ago. I had seen the movie quite a few years back but never did a blog post on it, so with the recent airing, I DVRed it to watch again and do a post here.

Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is a "boss" in one of those medium-sized cities that has an underworld problem, and a political establishment that's looking the other way because they're getting paid off by the underworld folks. And in fact, Madvig has been allied with the folks getting paid off. That's about to change, because Paul has met Janet Henry (Veronica Lake). She's lovely to look at, so it's no surprise that Paul has fallen in love with her. She's also the daughter of Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), who is the mayoral candidate of the reform coalition. So to get in Janet's good graces, Paul decides that his organization is going to support the reformers.

The family situation for both of them is complicated, however. Ralph has a son Taylor (Richard Denning) who is an inveterate gambler and heavily in debt to underworld boss Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) as a result. Worse for Paul, Taylor is in love with Paul's much younger sister Opal (Bonita Granville). So there are quite a few people who have good reason to have issue with Taylor. Eventually, he winds up murdered with a lot of people being potential suspects.

Paul has a fixer of his own in the form of right-hand man Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd). Ed didn't particularly care for the idea of Paul throwing in with the reformers, but he's the boss. And now Paul has Ed investigate to try to figure out who really killed Taylor (and of course it may actually have been Paul after all). As Ed investigates, Janet begins to fall in love with him. She's never really been in love with Paul, only being polite to him for the sake of her father's political fortunes. Ed rebuffs Janet, if only because he doesn't want to hurt his boss.

Ed faces a lot of other danger, in the form of Nick and his henchman Jeff (William Bendix). Nick would be more than happy to see Paul be the guilty one, since that would doom Henry's candidacy, leaving the city wide open for the underworld bosses like Nick.

The Glass Key is a movie that has a pretty convoluted plot, one which requires a lot of careful attention to watching it. But it's not a bad movie at all. Ladd and Lake were rushed into making this after the success of their first pairing This Gun for Hire, and they have similar chemistry here. Bendix doesn't have the looks or the range to be anything but a supporting character, but given a role that fit, he's able to run away with it as he does here with the brutal enforcer for Nick.

While The Glass Key may be a bit too complicated to be truly great (although that doesn't stop people from overrating the Bogart/Bacall The Big Sleep), it's still a pretty darn entertaining movie. It's available on DVD both in a Universal noir box set, and a standalone.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Cold Turkey

Norman Lear, who turned 97 yesterday, is well-remembered for his television sitcoms that are considered groundbreaking, such as All in the Family. Lear and his partner Bud Yorkin made a couple of movies before All in the Family but were never quite successful. Cold Turkey is a good example of this.

The movie starts off with public relations man Merwin Wren (Bob Newhart) talking to a bunch of tobacco company executives headed by Hiram Grayson (Edward Everett Horton in his final film role; the movie was released posthumously) about an audacious scheme that will bring big publicity but can't possibly fail. They'll put up a prize of $25 million to any town that can get every one of its residents to stop smoking for 30 days. So many people smoke, and have such a habit, that there's no way any town can get every last resident to quit, is there?

Needless to say, one town is going to try. Rev. Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke) is the pastor of a generically Protestant church in the town of Eagle Rock, IA (the real Iowa town of Greenfield serving as Eagle Rock). The town is beginning to die, largely because the biggest employer has left. There's a chance that the military could open a new missile plant in town, but that would require investment in infrastructure that the town just doesn't have. That is, until the announcement of the tobacco company's $25 million prize.

Rev. Brooks and the town council decide to go ahead with the attempt to quit smoking. But even qualifying to try is going to be tough, as they have to get four thousand people (well, less since one presumes children too young to sign will be exempt) to sign up before a certain deadline. There are a lot of smokers in town, and some are more reluctant than others to sign up, with the most reluctant being town drunk Mr. Stopworth (Tom Poston). There's also the Christoper Mott Society, an obvious parody of the John Birch Society, who think it's authoritarian to sign up.

But eventually, the down does qualify for the 30-day trial. The first days should be the most difficult with all the people going through withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, to keep contraband tobacco from coming in, the Christopher Mott Society was brought on board with the promise of getting to set up blockades to check all vehicles coming into town.

Eventually, the town's participation becomes national news, to the point that all sorts of gawkers are coming to town to see what Eagle Rock is doing, and that brings in just as much revenue, and a whole lot more of a carnival, than the tobacco company's $25 million jackpot does. And it looks at though the town might succeed, too, so Wren heads to Eagle Rock with a plan to make certain at least one person takes up smoking again....

Cold Turkey is a movie that reminded me of my opinions of the other Lear movies that I saw, those being Divorce American Style and The Night They Raided Minsky's. All three movies have some really good ideas, but at the same time all three also wind up being less than the sum of the parts. In the case of Cold Turkey, I think there were two big issues for me. One is that the satire became increasingly heavy-handed, while the other was camera work that used too much rapid cutting without good effect. The actors -- a lot of people who would be remembered for their TV work including Jean Stapleton and Paul Benedict -- do well with the material they're given, but the material could be better.

Still, I think Cold Turkey is worth at least one viewing. You can get it on DVD if you want to see it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Beauty for the Asking

Many years back when Lucille Ball was TCM's Star of the Month, Carol Burnett did a piece for the channel talking about Ball. One of the things Burnett says is that Hollywood apparently just didn't know how to use Lucy (at least not until she took control over her career by going into TV). A good example of this is the RKO B movie Beauty for the Asking.

Patric Knowles plays Denny Williams, who at the start of the movie is about to propose to Flora Barton (Frieda Inescort), the heiress to a copper fortune and somebody who can leave Denny financially set for life. However, Denny has another woman in his life who thinks he's going to propose to her. That woman is Jean Russell (Lucille Ball), a beautician in a high-class salon. Jean, needless to say, is shocked when she finds that Denny is going to be marrying another woman.

Her shock causes her to screw up on the job and get her and her friend and roommate Gwen (Inez Courtney) fired. Fortunately for Jean, however, she's been doing a bit of amateur chemistry, trying to create a new type of cold cream in the kitchen of their apartment. And she thinks she's finally come up with the perfect formula. The only problem is going to be getting it on the market and getting people to notice it.

Jean, however, has chutzpah, and walks right in to the office of advertising guru Jeff Martin (Donald Woods). After some initial confusion since Jeff, not knowing Jane, expects her to be one of the models he's using for a photo shoot, Jeff learns the truth from Jean. Amazingly, he decides that advertising this untested cold cream is a good idea. They just need a bunch of money to set up shop.

Together, they come up with a plan that has Jean being portrayed as a countess, with free samples of the cream being given out to socialites who might be able to back the product. Eventually, one woman does decide to do it: Flora Barton-Williams. Now, Flora doesn't know Jean at all, and Jean really only knows Flora from the papers and having stopped outside the wedding. Poor Denny begins to realize that he's liable to get in even more trouble for raising suspicion that he only married for the money, since his previous job was selling some of the other products that Jean used.

Still, Jean is able to get the money and make a thriving business in part from selling that cold cream, but just as much from running a high-class salon of her own. At least, until Flora learns about Denny and Jean's prior relationship. Jean responds by trying to make Flora beautiful on the outside, giving up Denny so as not to be seen breaking up a marriage. Still, for much of the movie's running time you wonder whether Jean and Denny aren't supposed to wind up together at the end.

As I said at the beginning, Lucille Ball got put into a lot of movies that today would seem atypical for her, since most people probably first got to know Lucy from her various TV series that showed off her zany side. Beauty for the Asking is a drama with a few laughs. It's also one that suffers from a subpar script. Lucy is the lead here and certainly shows professionalism. I think she does also show that she could do drama, at least lighter drama. She gets about the most you could expect from the script.

Beauty for the Asking is the sort of movie that probably should have been released to DVD courtesy of those four-movie TCM-branded box sets that they used to release through Warner Home Video. Unfortunately, it only seems to be available in a more pricey standalone from the Warner Archive. That's a bit of a shame, because even the atypical Lucille Ball movies deserve to be seen.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Emil and the Detectives (1964)

Having studied German in high school and having a bunch of German relatives, I had read an edited (for the purpose of teaching language students) version of Erich Kästner's book Emil and the Detectives. I later learned that there were multiple movie adaptations of the book, and was always interested in seeing them if they showed up on TV. In the most recent installment of TCM's Treasures from the Disney Vault, they ran the 1964 version of Emil and the Detectives, so I DVRed it to watch.

Bryan Russell plays Emil Tischbein, a young boy traveling alone by bus from his home in Neustadt to visit his grandmother in Berlin. The first thing I noticed is that the movie updates the novel (written in the late 1920s so set in Weimar Germany) to the 1960s, which requires them to overlook the fact that Berlin was a divided city and the wall had gone up. But since the country is reunited it would be easy for today's kids to ignore that. Anyhow, on the bus a pickpocket named Grundeis (Heinz Schubert) sits next to Emil, and after Emil falls asleep, Grundeis robs him of DM 400 that Emil was taking to Grandma.

Emil wakes up just in time to see Grundeis getting off the bus, and gets off himself to give chase. Of course, he's unsuccessful, but during the chase he runs into (literally) Gustav (Roger Mobley). Gustav is a few years older than Emil, and is one of those kids playing at being an adult, by being a "detective", complete with business cards and a team of young boys who work for him at their "secret" headquarters, which is really the apartment of one of the co-workers. It's there that they learn the details of the case from Emil.

They set off to find they Grundeis, armed with the clue that he's to meet some other people at a hotel in the vicinity of where Grundeis picked Emil's pocket. Eventually they find the right hotel, and see but don't hear that Grundeis is talking to a "Baron" (Walter Slezak) and another criminal Müller (Peter Ehrlich). Their plan is to go to one of the bombed-out buildings that still hasn't been cleared up and rebuilt, since it's quite close to a bank. There the three can tunnel under and rob the bank's vault out of a substantial sum of money.

The detectives and Emil set off to find the guys, although there's also one other problem, which is that Emil didn't get off the bus at the main bus station where his grandmother went to pick up Emil. She went together with a granddaughter who is one of Emil's cousins, Pony (Cindy Cassell; called Pony Hütchen in the book because of the hat she wears). When one of the detectives has Emil write a cryptic note to tell Grandma he's OK, Pony intercepts it, follows the juvenile detective-courier, and finds the detectives staking out the ruined building they followed Grundeis to.

It's been ages since I read the book, so I don't remember exactly how much was changed from the plot of the book besides updating it in time; some of the IMDb reviews suggest there were a fair amount of changes. (I actually have a copy of the book in translation to Russian that I bought when I was studying in St. Petersburg ages ago, although I haven't read that in a long time either.) Whatever the changes were, they certainly work at least in the context of a Disney family movie. The movie was made in Germany with a lot of location shooting on the streets of (West) Berlin, which creates a really good atmosphere.

As for the story, this version is, I think, a pretty good entry in the genre of kids playing as adults. They're probably too precocious to be real, but having to deal with Pony (who more or less blackmails the guys by telling them she could let on what's really going on) is handled reasonably well. As I was watching, I was wondering why Grundeis would draw attention to himself by picking Emil's pocket, but even that plot hole is handled in the movie. There's danger, but also nothing that would be particularly frightening to kids. And while the criminals have to have some stupidity, certainly the Baron isn't cartoonish at all, while the other two aren't terribly bad.

Emil and the Detectives seems to be out of print on DVD, but it is currently streaming on Amazon if you can do the streaming thing. In any case, it's a movie I can certainly recommend for the family.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #263: Crime (TV Edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is the last Thursday of the month, so it means that we get another TV show edition. This month, the theme is "crime", which I assume is supposed to be different than your standard issue police show, which also deals with crime. That also makes it a bit more difficult to come up with three interesting TV shows, other than making the argument that local TV news here in the US is just the police blotter, with them running the mug shots of everybody who's been arrested but not convicted, in an attempt to embarrass the accused. The process is the punishment. Ah, but that rant is not the point of the blogathon either. So without further ado, here are my three selections:

Partners in Crime (1984). Loni Anderson and Lynda Carter play a pair of ex-wives of a detective who got murdered, so they team up to take over the detective agency.

The Fugitive (1963-1967). David Janssen plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife. He claims he saw a one-armed man leaving the house just before he walked in to find his wife's dead body. On his way to the prison death house, an accident affords him the chance to escape and search for the one-armed man himself.

Murder She Wrote (1984-1995). Angela Lansbury plays Jessica Fletcher, a serial-killer turned mystery writer who uses her detective skills as a writer to get other people to confess to all the murders she committed. Everywhere she goes, somebody else gets bumped off, and her home town of Cabot Cove, ME, is the murder capital of America since there seems to be another murder there every week. OK, Jessica didn't actually kill anybody, although that would have been a great twist to end the series. And the idea has become somewhat of a meme:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Obituaries for July 24, 2018

David Hedison died last Wednesday at the age of 92, although the announcement only came out over the weekend. In my opinion, Hedison probably deserves to be remembered most for his role as the scientist who experiments with matter transporters, only for it to backfire, in The Fly (on TCM during the second half of the prime time salute to Fox overnight between July 31 and August 1). But some may remember him as the star of the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (which I've never seen), or his two turns as Felix Leiter, James Bond's CIA contact, in Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill.

A name that will be better remembered among fans of more recent movies is Rutger Hauer, the Dutch-born actor who came to Hollywood in the early 1980s and performed in a string of movies, most notably Blade Runner, which is one of my blind spots, never actually having seen it. He died on Friday aged 75, although news of his death only came out today. For some reason I thought Blade Runner might have been scheduled as part of the TCM salute to sci-fi, but it's not. A search of the listings shows the recent sequel, Blade Runner 2049, on quite a bit over the next week, but apparently not the original.

TCM's Salute to Fox

Tonight and next Wednesday, TCM is putting the spotlight on 20th Century Fox, which of course is now a part of the Disney conglomeration. I don't know that two nights is enough to do a retrospective for an entire studio, but it's what we're getting. Over the two nights, we're getting 11 movies that cover a 40 span from the 1930s to the 70s. There are 11 films in all, and I've got some brief thoughts on how they fit into a Fox spotlight. I'll spread it out over two parts partly for length, and partly to remind everybody of the movie airing on the 31st closer to the day.

Bright Eyes (8:00 PM tonight). The film that is generally considered to have made Shirley Temple a star, and she was one of the studio's biggest box office draws of the 1930s, so I think this is a worthy selection.

Laura (9:30 PM). Gene Tierney was one of the bigger female stars at Fox in the 40s, certainly when it came to the prestige movies. Laura, while not the first noir and not even the first one at Fox since I think I Wake Up Screaming pretty squarely fits into the noir genre. But I think Laura and Double Indemnity over at Paramount, both released in 1944, really jump-started the noir genre. It also re-introduced moviegoers to Clifton Webb, who was a bankable star for Fox for the next dozen years, so another worthy choice.

All About Eve (11:15 PM). One of Fox's Best Picture Oscar winners, and a landmark film that still stands the test of time. I think it's another Fox essential.

Gentlemen's Agreement (1:45 AM). Another of Fox's Best Picture winners, although if I'm limited to a dozen movies I don't know that this is one of the ones I pick. As we'll see with the next selection, there's a fair amount of legacy from the 40s that's getting glossed over because of the limited number of movies.

The Black Swan (4:15 AM). Tyrone Power was one of the more bankable stars at Fox for about a 15 year period (excluding World War II), but again, this isn't the Power movie I think I'd select. I think that's because the spotlight is overlooking Fox's history of musicals, which included another of the studio's big names of the 1940s, Betty Grable. There's also Don Ameche, which would lead me to pick something like Alexander's Ragtime Band since it has both Power and Ameche. (The female lead is Fox's musical star before Grable, that being Alice Faye.) The spotlight is also overlooking Linda Darnell, but again, if you're limited to 11 or 12 movies there's a lot you're going to have to overlook.

The Agony and the Ecstasy (5:45 AM). Definitely one I'd jettison in favor of something else. Since we're in the 60s now, I think I'd have to pick Cleopatra, which was bombastically large and iconic, and also had a pretty big effect on the studio since it was such a massive money hole. FXM has been running a whole bunch of B movies from the early 1960s that I always think of as the sort of movies they distributed to try to make a buck to help finance Cleopatra.

Next week, the final five movies.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Slap Shot

I still have a few movies to get through from Paul Newman's turn as TCM's Star of the Month back in May. This time around, it's Slap Shot.

Paul Newman, who's really much too old for the role but that's another story, plays Reggie Dunlop, the player-coach of the Charlestown Chiefs, a minor-league hockey team in one of those mill towns in Pennsylvania. (Johnstown, PA was the town standing in for Charlestown.) This is one of the lowest-level hockey leagues out there, and the team is terrible. The GM McGrath (Strother Martin) would probably be OK with trading players for a six-pack of beer; the Québecois goalkeeper (Yvon Barrette) is a head-case, and most of the players seem more interested in drinking and carousing, with the exception of Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean).

It's not bad enough that the team is bad. The company that owns the steelworks is planning on closing the factory down, which probably means the team will go under since the town wouldn't be able to support a team any longer. Reggie hopes that perhaps he can get the owner to sell the team to a syndicate in Florida that's building a rink down there, but who knows. In any case, he's also got an estranged wife Francine (Jennifer Warren) who is just as likely to leave him as to follow him to a new team.

Finally, to top it all off, McGrath has acquired a couple of new players, the Hanson brothers. They all wear thick Coke bottle glasses, and seem very immature, as they'd rather play with the toys they brought with them than do the more grown-up things the other guys on the team do. And to top it all off, the Hansons are utter goons, which is exactly the opposite of how Reggie thinks hockey should be played.

But, strangely enough, the Hansons' goon tactics work, and the team starts winning. Ned thinks it's terrible, and although Reggie would prefer to win by playing traditional hockey, he's got malleable enough ethics that he'll take these wins. Plus, it's an opportunity to gain the notice of folks in higher leagues. The other teams' fans all hate the Chiefs, but the Chiefs have also developed a cult following. If only he can convince the owner to go through with that sale....

I'm not a hockey player, so I don't know how far from realistic the off-ice scenes are. I do know enough about the sports that the Hansons' tactics are things that would have gotten so many penalties called that they'd never see the ice, at least if the referee sees them. With that said, however, Slap Shot is a largely funny dark comedy that plays out like what you might get if Paddy Chayefsky had decided to take what would become Network and write it about hockey instead. The only real problem I had was with Ned's actions in the climactic hockey game at the end. Even if his change of character was realistic, it still wasn't very funny.

All that having been said, however, the movie's is also extremely dirty. Bad languages and sexual themes abound, so the movie definitely isn't one for the kiddies. But not every movie needs to be a family film. I can highly recommend Slap Shot to any sports fan.

Monday, July 22, 2019


Another movie that TCM ran not too long ago that I hadn't blogged about before is Shaft, so I DVRed it and watched to do a full-length post on it.

Richard Roundtree plays John Shaft, a private detective going about his daily routine one day in New York City. He's known to the police, especially Lt. Androzzi (Charles Cioffi), who has a grudging respect for Shaft despite their racial differences at a time when there was still a lot of leftover racial tension from the 1960s. A couple of guys from the black organized crime community try to see Shaft, but it quickly turns into an attack and after one of the two falls through a window to his death, the other informs Shaft that crime boss Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) wants to see Shaft.

You'd think they could have done it with a phone call, but whatever. Shaft goes to meet Bumpy, and it turns out that there's a big problem. Bumpy's daughter has been kidnapped, and he wants Shaft to find her. The reason it's a big problem is that the police are pretty certain the kidnapping was committed by white mafiosi who are in it for territorial purposes, although everybody else is going to believe it was for racial reasons. This especially after Shaft meets with some black liberation types led by Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) which results in a shootout.

Shaft is able to obtain the location where Bumpy's daughter is being held with a bit of help from the police, who let him question a couple of mafiosi who was surveilling him, but the first attempt to get the daughter goes wrong, with another shootout ensuing. Eventually, Shaft is going to have to team up with Ben and his subordinates to get the daughter's new location and perform a daring rescue.

As I was watching Shaft I couldn't help but think of any number of the white detective films -- both private eyes and police detectives -- that proceeded Shaft by a few years. Although Shaft is generally recognized as one of the earliest blaxploitation movies, I found myself reaching the conclusion that it really fits in well with films like Harper or Coogan's Bluff, or even Point Blank although I'm not certain it's ever really revealed what Lee Marvin's character does. Shaft is a well-crafted movie that has one foot in the blaxploitation genre, and the other in the detective genre, and could almost as easily be seen as a detective film that just happens to have a black protagonist.

Of course, I'm looking at Shaft nearly half a century after it was released. I'm sure audiences -- especially black audiences -- would have had a much different view of the movie back in 1971. And there are some things that separate it from the other movies, since it does deal pretty openly with issues of race. But the character portrayals and the violence are much more grounded in reality than the more fantastical depictions in later blaxploitation films, especially the ones with female protagonists.

Pluses in Shaft go to Roundtree's confident performance as the title character; the cinematography of early 1970s New York City, and the superb score from Isaac Hayes. If there is one minus, it would be the finale, which does strain credulity, with the movie also ending abruptly. But overall, Shaft is quite an entertaining little movie.

Shaft spawned sequels as well as multiple remakes including one earlier this year. If you want to see the original, it's on DVD, but just make certain you don't get one of the remakes.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

To Hell and Back

During the June TCM spotlight on World War II movies, they ran To Hell and Back, which I had seen once quite a few years back but hadn't blogged about. So I put it on the DVR to watch and do a full-length post on now.

It's fairly well known that Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier in World War II, and the fame garnered from all of this is one of the things that resulted in his becoming an actor. He wrote an autobiography of his experiences in the war, titled To Hell and Back, and that was later turned into the movie we see here, with Murphy playing himself.

He isn't playing himself at first since the movie begins when Murphy is 12 years old, the eldest son in a family of sharecroppers in east Texas with only a single mother, Dad having abandoned them. Young Audie realizes that the only way the family is going to survive is if he drops out of school to get a full-time job, which Mom ultimately lets him do with great reluctance.

Fast forward a couple of years to December, 1941. As you can guess from the date, Audie is about to be affected by the US entry into World War II. First he sees his boss' son realize he's going to be called back into service. As for Audie, he isn't going to be serving just yet, since he's underage. (I've seen his date of birth listed as 1924, 1925, and 1926, but in any of these cases he wouldn't have been 18 yet.) That, and he's helping take care of Mom, who dies in fairly short order. (Wikipedia suggests she died before the US entered the war.)

With Mom dead and the younger kids sent to an orphanage, Audie decides he's going to enlist, but none of the services want him because he's too small and too young. But eventually he is accepted by the Army and sent to the North African theater. The US Army marches on, eventually kicking the Nazis out of Africa and enabling the invasion of Sicily. It's here the Murphy really starts learning about the horrors of war, as the Germans are better dug in. Murphy begins to lose his friends and learn that you really shouldn't make friends in the military since they're going to die. But he also starts getting field promotions.

Murphy's plan at the time, at least as implied in the movie, was to make a career for himself in the military. Having dropped out of school, he wasn't a suitable officer candidate, but he was taking all the extra courses the Army offered and sending as much money as he could back to his siblings, both of which earn the notice of his superiors, as does his unexpected heroism, everybody having felt he was too small and mentally weak to be a truly good soldier.

The Americans continue to advance fitfully, facing fierce resistance from the Axis powers first in southern Italy, then in southern France and finally in Alsace. It was in Alsace that Murphy would earn his Medal of Honor, standing atop a burning tank and single-handedly stopping an advance of German soldiers. But he also suffers an injury that would prevent him from staying in the military after the war.

To Hell and Back is about as well-made as you can expect a military movie from the mid-1950s to be. Washington state substitutes for Italy and France, with Universal's soundstages being used for the interiors. However, there's also a fair amount of stock footage from World War II interspersed. Since the movie is in wide-screen with Cinemascope having been introduced two years earlier, and the World War II footage is all originally in roughly 4:3 and cropped for this movie, the difference between the two sets of footage is quite noticeable.

Audie Murphy disliked this movie in part because he thought it really sanitized his experiences, but to be fair to the filmmakers, there probably isn't any way to show the true horrors of war without being able to film an actual war and the concomitant death and destruction. And even if it had been, audiences of the time probably wouldn't have wanted to see it. Still, Murphy's thoughts are understandable. As for his performance, he does a reasonably good job one the action shifts to Europe; the American scenes of Murphy's juvenile life are maudlin and something a lot of actors wouldn't be able to rise above.

All in all, To Hell and Back is a worthy movie in the World War II cycle. It's available on DVD in multiple releases should you wish to watch it.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Shadow on the Wall

Another recent watch off the DVR was the Noir Alley entry Shadow on the Wall.

Zachary Scott plays David Starrling, a businessman who returns home a bit unexpectedly one afternoon from a business trip to his loving daughter Susan (Gigi Perreau) and second wife Celia (Kristine Miller). You'll note that I didn't use the word "loving" to describe the wife, which is because we find out that she might not be quite so loving. Celia, we learn, is seeing Crane (Tom Helmore), who is the fiancé of Celia's sister Dell (Ann Sothern)! David figures it out because when Crane brings Celia home, he parks to close to the apartment building and David seems the two of them making time.

Things get more complicated when David and Celia have guests over for dinner, who just happen to be... Crane and Dell! Celia had unsurprisingly lied to David about what she had been doing that afternoon, and David decides that he's going to ask questions over dinner that show he knows what Celia is really doing. Nobody in the room is very happy about it, and the first thing that results from is is Celia and David getting in an argument with him showing off his gun and Celia hitting him over the head with a mirror and concussing him. But then Dell enters Celia's bedroom and picks up the gun. During their argument, Dell shoots Celia dead with the gun she put in the pocket of her coat.

Little Susan walks in and sees her dead stepmother as well as a shadow with a feather that to her looks like an Indian toy that she has. Susan screams and becomes catatonic, reminiscent of the little girl in Them!. For fairly obvious reasons, David is the one arrested by the police, since it was his gun and nobody knew Dell was still there -- and Dell of course is not about to let on what she knows. David is put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Susan is sent to a children's psychiatric hospital, where Dr. Canford (Nancy Davis, since she hadn't yet married Ronald Reagan) tries to draw out the memories from Susan's deeply scarred mind. Dell figures out what Dr. Canford is up to, and what it will mean for her once Susan regains those memories, and sets out trying to silence Susan for good.

Shadow on the Wall is a nice little film, one of those MGM programmers they started making around 1950 that are often more interesting than the big-budget prestige movies the studio was putting out. Although it's ostensibly a suspense movie, there's really not that much suspense since the constraints of the Production Code mean Dell isn't going to get away with murder. Still, Sothern actually does quite well with a rare villain part for her. Davis has yet another part where she comes across as a bit stern and matter-of-fact at first, but is really a kind-hearted character. This is a character type that she's always seemed to me to be quite good at playing. But it's really Gigi Perreau's movie, and she comes off as surprisingly natural for a child actress.

Shadow on the Wall is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Heads up on Losing Ground

Back in March, I blogged about the movie Losing Ground, which I mostly liked, although thanks to its low budget it's not without its flaws. Anyhow, it's one of the movies Ava DuVernay selected for this year's edition of The Essentials. That selection is going to be on tonight at 8:00 PM (and I assume one more time before 31 Days of Oscar, although I haven't looked up the enter Essentials schedule in a while).

The movie that follows is one I have to admit I hadn't heard of before, a Dirk Bogarde movie called Accident, at 9:45 PM.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Curly Top

FXM has a couple of Shirley Temple movies in their current rotation that, at the time they were put in, I hadn't seen. So I recorded some of them, including Curly Top, which I finally got around to watching.

Shirley plays Elizabeth Blair, who at the start of the movie is one of a whole bunch of girls at a private charity orphanage looked after by matrons Higgins (Rafaela Ottiano) and Denham (Jane Darwell). It's not mentioned where the money came from to get it, but Elizabeth has a pet pony that she brings in to the main building late one night! She is, it turns out, a rather mischievous little girl, although as is usually the case with Shirley Temple movies, she'll also melt your heart.

Elizabeth's hijinks get her in trouble when the trustees come for a visit. Wyckoff (Etienne Girardot) is the closest thing to a bad guy the movie has, the mean old trustee who doesn't want to spend money on anything since spartan living was fine for him in the old days. Fortunately for her, there's a much younger and nicer trustee in the form of Edward Morgan (John Boles), a Park Avenue lawyer worth millions. He offers to adopt Elizabeth, although because of some bizarre notion that Elizabeth can't accept kindness without being beholden to people, he plans to do it in the name of a nonexistent friend, and just look after Elizabeth until the friend gets back from Europe.

Complicating things is the fact that Elizabeth has an older sister Mary (Rochelle Hudson). She, like Edward, is an amateur musician, writing songs for Elizabeth to sing. And when their parents died, Mary was still young enough to be in the orphanage, and made a promise to the parents that Mary would never let herself and Elizabeth be split up. So if Elizabeth gets adopted, Mary has to go, too.

Of course, Edward finds himself falling in love with Mary even though in real life John Boles was 20 years older than Rochelle Hudson. A pilot Jimmie (Maurice Murphy) also falls in love with Mary at Morgan's Long Island summer house, and that makes for the one other conflict in the movie. Jimmie isn't a bad guy by any means; it's just that Mary doesn't really love him.

Curly Top is a movie that has a fairly threadbare plot, filled out by a whole bunch of songs. Shirley is charming here, but because of the lack of real dramatic tension the movie winds up being little more than a pleasant diversion. It's not bad, and to be fair there are some good points, perhaps most notably in a scene where Temple's Elizabeth parodies Mr. Wyckoff. Seeing Shirley do "old man" is a hoot. Darwell is good although she, like everybody else from the orphanage disappears from the movie once Shirley is adopted. Also providing good flavor is Arthur Treacher as yet another butler.

Curly Top is available on DVD both as a standalone, and as part of at least one box set.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #262: Blockbuster Flops

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 "blockbuster flops":

Er, not that Blockbuster, although thanks to streaming they flopped. No, these are movies that were supposedly going to be blockbusters at the time of release, but failed badly at the box office. This one was a bit difficult for me in that I had two movies that came to mind right away. But I don't watch summer blockbusters for the most part, so I don't know much about which ones are remembered to be epic flops. A search at Wikipedia quickly revealead a good third candidate. So, without further ado, here are my three selections:

Heaven's Gate (1980). Michael Cimino, having had a critical success after The Deer Hunter, was given wide latitude on his next film, which turned out to be an epic western about a land war in Wyoming. Epic in scope at three and a half hours, it was also an epic flop at the box office, effectively bankrupting United Artists and destroying Cimino's career.

Ishtar (1987). Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman try their hand at a Crosby and Hope "road" movie, this one having the two leads as a pair of songwriters who try to make a go of singing and wind up in a middle eastern country and a whole lot of political intrigue. Despite two name stars and a talented writer-director in Elaine May, the movie was a disaster when it was released thanks in part to the stories about its difficult production.

Hudson Hawk (1991). I remember the hype over the movie, but it wasn't until I saw the name in the Wikipedia list of all-time flops that I realized I could use it here. A heist film starring Bruce Willis as a recently released burglar who is being blackmailed into doing all sorts of jobs, it for whatever reason doesn't have quite the reputation as a flop that my first two selections do.

Now to see what everybody else has selected.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Lady in Question

With Glenn Ford being the current Star of the Month on TCM, I've been taking the opportunity to record some of his movies that I haven't done blog posts on before. First up is The Lady in Question.

This is an early Ford film, so he's not the star here. That honor goes to Brian Aherne, playing Andre Morestan, that father in a Parisian family that runs a bicycle shop together with wife Michele (Irene Rich). Andre has been called for jury duty, a prospect that fills him with excitement. He's very much looking forward to doing his civic duty, unlike most people.

The trial he winds up sitting on is the murder trial of Natalie Roguin (Rita Hayworth). She had been seeing a rich guy and supposedly been looking to get more money out of him, with the guy eventually winding up being killed. Despite the fact that the evidence against her is fairly flimsy, the thinking is that she's going to be convicted. But Andre is apparently taken by her, interrupting the trial to ask questions and fighing for a not guilty verdict in the jury room.

Eventually he wins out, but another of the jurors remains convinced that Nathalie is guilty. As for Natalie herself, she became so notorious that nobody wants to give her a job. In need of money, she approaches Andre, he having given her his address after the trial in what seems like a reality-defying move. The result of the meeting is that Andre offers Nathalie a job at the bicycle shop, and a place to stay.

With Natalie at the shop, she meets Andre's son Pierre (Glenn Ford), and the two wind up falling in love although there are are a whole bunch of complications along the way. Mom wonders what's going on between her husband and Natalie, and one of the jurors keeps showing up insisting Natalie was actually guilty. It gets to the point that Dad might actually believe he voted the wrong way at trial.

I had a fair amount of problems with The Lady in Question, mostly having to do with the fact that the movie seemed so detached from reality. The trial in particular was supposed to be funny, but something I found grating. Aherne has to then keep engaging in a comedy of lies to keep people from finding out the truth, even though we know Pierre knows the truth since we saw him at the trial in one scene. Still, Hayworth and Ford do well together, and it's easy to see why they would be reunited a half dozen years later for Gilda. It's just too bad this first pairing wasn't in service of a better story.

The Lady in Question is available on DVD from Columbia's MOD scheme, so you can watch and judge for yourself should you like.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Porky's Poor Fish

Having watched The Sea Hawk recently, I noticed that among the extras on it is a Porky Pig short that I hadn't heard of before, Porky's Poor Fish.

There's not much to this short, or at least not much Porky Pig. The movie starts off with with a bad pun about being an adaptation of "Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Ceiling", and then a cat chasing a mouse. (This short was released about two months after the first Tom and Jerry short; I don't know if those influenced it.) The mouse escapes.

Cut to Porky's fish pet shop, a shop selling nothing but fish and being so empty that I wonder how Porky could make a living. He goes out to lunch, and the cat that had been chasing the fish sees he's got a chance for a lunch of his own. When one of the fish is caught, the other fish gang up on the cat.

As I said, there's not much of a plot here. The emphasis is more on bad word-play, and some sight gags, of which the best was a curtain rising partially to show what looks like a chours line. Eventually, it's raised all the way to reveal... an octopus! All the others are things you can see coming a mile away. The short, as you can also see from the screenshot, is in black and white, which surprised me as I thought all of Warner's cartoons were in color by this point.

Porky's Poor Fish isn't particularly good, but of course if you're getting the DVD you're getting it for the feature film The Sea Hawk and not this short.

Another mention of Destination Moon

TCM's "Out of this World" spotlight on science fiction movies this month was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. With today being the actual anniversary, it's not a surprise that TCM's spotlight lineup for tonight is focused on moon movies.

This includes another chance to watch Georges Meliès' A Trip to the Moon which aired two weeks ago; that will be on tomorrow at 5:30 AM. But I want to make a brief mention of the movie that kicks off the night, Destination Moon, at 8:00 PM.

Destination Moon was released in 1950, so well before even the first Sputnik was launched. Obviously, nobody had any idea what going to the moon was going to be like, so you can forgive them for whatever they get wrong. But at least there was an attempt at verisimilitude.

The movie was produced by George Pal so is mostly noteworthy for its effects. That, and Pal hiring is friend Walter Lantz to do a Woody Woodpecker short used in the plot as training material to teach astronauts (I don't think they use that word, but can't recall since the movie is out of print on DVD) about the physics of microgravity.

I just noticed that Pal's later When Worlds Collide got a re-release to DVD a couple years back; Destination Moon deserves one too.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Born Reckless (1958)

Mamie Van Doren starred in quite a few movies that are such a mess that they're fun because of it. A movie that has her in an odd (for her) role is one that's really not such a mess: Born Reckless.

Van Doren plays Jackie Adams, a trick rider in rodeos and a singer in the bar/nightclub after hours. She sings one of her songs one night, and all the guys are taken with her because, well, she has those assets. One of them tries to proposition her much father than she's willing to go, so a fight breaks out among all the rodeo guys in the bar.

Gratuitous shot of Mamie Van Doren from 'High School Confidential'Jackie escapes by hiding in the back seat of a car owned by rodeo rider Kelly Cobb (Jeff Richards), who travels the circuit along with his companion and mentor, "Cool Man" (Arthur Hunnicutt). Cobb isn't exactly happy to have this stowaway, although he's also protective of her. And, of course, you know that by the end of the movie, the two are going to fall in love.

Jackie falls in love with Kelly first. He's got more on his mind, particularly trying to save up enough money to buy a ranch that he can work with his friend, Papa Gomez (Nacho Galindo), a Mexican-American with a large family whose relationship to Kelly isn't quite clear. The rodeo is just a means to an end. But Jackie and the Gomezes find each other plain good folks. Getting back to Kelly, he gets fleeced at one rodeo and is too blind to see Jackie's love for him, deciding to spend an evening with another woman. It all goes on like this for 80 minutes, with a lot of songs both from Mamie and from various cowboy like groups doing rock versions of their songs, since this was released in 1958.

I suppose you could say Born Reckless is a mess, like I implied about a bunch of the other Van Doren movies, but this one is a mess in a different way. It's a movie that doesn't really know what it wants to be. In theory you could think of it as a movie about the rodeo, but that's belied by the poor cinematography using bad angles of Richards riding the broncos and bulls, with other rodeo scenes being obvious stock footage from somewhere else since the picture quality looks much different. At other times, it seems to want to be a musical, considering how many songs there are. The movie isn't helped by the fact that everybody's performance is pretty much bland.

Born Reckless is an intersting idea, and a daring step for Mamie Van Doren, but one that doesn't really add up to much of anything. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you can watch and judge for yourself.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Sundowners

Another of my recent movie watches was The Sundowners.

Robert Mitchum plays Paddy Carmody, an Irish-Australian sheep drover (a driver of sheep the same way cowboys drove cattle on cattle drives), going around the various sheep ranches of rural Australia in the 1920s together with his wife Ida (Deborah Kerr) and son Sean (Michael Anderson Jr.). It's a lifestyle that Paddy loves, although his wife wouldn't mind settlin down, especially because with an adolescent son they probably should have settled down some time back. So when the next sheep drive starts in Bulinga and Ida sees a farm for sale there, she suggests buying it.

Paddy says no and in any case they have a job lined up and currently not enough money to put a down payment on the farm, so they head out on the next job. The only thing they need is one more assistant drover, which they find in the form of British-born adventurer and raconteur Rupert Venneker (Peter Ustinov). They set out for their destination, Cawndilla, with a good 1200 sheep. They all make it to Cawndilla without that much incident besides a dingo, and Ida gets the brilliant idea of getting jobs for all of them, forcing them to stay a while and hopefully save enough money for that down payment.

The Carmodys and Venneker have various incidents relating to work on a sheep ranch, and often involving money, something which Paddy is singularly irresponsible with. Local innkeeper Mrs. Firth (Glynis Johns) meets Rupert and falls in love with him, while, surprisingly, there's no love interest for Sean. Money remains an issue until Paddy wins a racing horse which could be the family's meal ticket to earning the money for the down payment on that farm back in Bulinga.

The Sundowners is an extremely well-made movie, if you're interested in the subject material. It doesn't help that I'm not a particular fan of Peter Ustinov, even though he's relatively muted here. Mitchum and Kerr are both excellent as the married couple who clearly still love each other despite having a big disagreement on what they want out of life. The cinematography is quite good, since they used a fair amount of location shooting in Australia. The movie is a bit long at 133 minutes and could probaby have been edited down to under two hours.

The Sundowners is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Nine and ten-tenths

One of the movies that TCM ran in the "Hollywood Hair Hall of Fame" spotlight that I hadn't done a post on before is 10. It's available on DVD, so I recorded it to do a post here on the movie.

People think they know the movie, but if they haven't seen it they probably don't know the movie like they think they do. Dudley Moore stars as George Webber, a composer of "popular" music, at least for the Burt Bacharach/Great American Songbook style of music that was going out of style by the time the movie was released in 1979. Not that this change in taste is part of the plot even though it would make some sense for what's about to happen. George has just turned 42, and at a surprise birthday party in his honor he begins to have the first stages of a mid-life crisis.

Not that George has much of a support system. He's got a girlfriend in the divorcée Samantha Taylor (Julie Andrews), but their relationship is always a bit strained because of some of George's behaviors. He and his neighbor, for example, both have telescopes they use to peep through each other's windows, with the neighbor being especially pervy. And he seems to spend a lot of time at the beach house of his lyricist Hugh (Robert Webber), a gay man in a rather difficult relationship.

Leaving Hugh's beach house one morning, George is at a stop sign when another fancy car stops in the next lane, this one carrying the most beautiful woman George has ever seen. So naturally even though he's got a girlfriend, he changes lanes and starts following this car. It turns out that the woman is a bride on the way to her wedding, one Jenny Hanley (née Miles; played by Bo Derek). George crashes into a police car and creates a scene at the wedding.

But he's still interested in Jenny, so when he finds that her dad is a Beverly Hills dentist, he claims a dental emergency to get an appointment with Dr. Miles (James Noble; you may recall him as Governor Gatling on Benson) in an attempt to find out where Jenny and her husband are honeymooning. The painkillers George gets at the dentist screw him up as much as getting drunk would, and Samantha thinks it's just another case of George's immaturity.

George flies down to Mexico to find Jenny, and finds more than he bargained for. There's a lonely somewhat older woman, Mary (Dee Wallace), and even though George fantasizes about Jenny, the actual meeting with her isn't going to go quite as planned. George rents a boat to go out on the ocean, and winds up rescuing Jenny's husband David, who had fallen asleep on a surfboard and is threatened with being swept away by the current. So it's for saving David's life that George really gets to meet Jenny. She's gorgeous and freaky, but it might just be too much for George.

I think when people think of the movie 10, the first thought is of the iconic image of Bo Derek on the beach in that swimsuit and with that hair, running toward Dudley Moore. However, in the movie, the point of that shot is that it's one of George's fantasies, and not something that actually happens. The movie is also generally portrayed as a comedy, and although there is a fair amount of comedy as befits a Dudley Moore movie, there's really quite a bit more drama. The comedy is really toned down once Moore gets down to Mexico.

As I was watching 10, which was directed by Blake Edwards, I found myself thinking of another of Edwards' films, S.O.B. That's because I was expecting 10 to be a straight-up comedy. Because it isn't, my first impression was to think that 10 is rather a pretty slow-developing movie that doesn't seem like it's going anywhere. The turn to drama actually works in the film's favor, as the movie makes much more interesting points for it.

Moore and Andrews are quite good, while all Bo Derek has to do is look good and not screw things up too much. She succeeds in that regard. There are also some quite good supporting performances. Robert Webber mentioned above is one; another is Brian Dennehy in a role that's different for him as a bartender at the Mexican resort.

If you go into 10 knowing that it's not a wild comedy, I think you'll really like it.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Briefs for July 12-13, 2019

First off, a couple of people died this week worth mentioning, and thanks to having a bunch of other things to post about, I didn't get to mention them yet. So I'll mention them now.

First up is Valentina Cortese, the Italian actress who had a long career including Hollywood in the late 40s and early 50s, her native Italy, and France. It was working for François Truffaut on Day for Night that she earned an Academy Award nomination:

Due to vagaries in the Academy's rules, the movie won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for 1973, but Cortese wasn't nominated until the next year. So, she ended up losing to Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express; Bergman gave an incredibly classy acceptance speech:

Cortese died on Wednesday at the age of 96.

Rip Torn, who earned an Oscar nomination for Cross Creek, died on Tuesday aged 88. Torn had a rather varied range of acting roles, earning a Tony nomination for the stage version of Sweet Bird of Youth, going on to reprise his role in the movie; doing comedy on the small screen in The Larry Sanders Show; and later movies like Men in Black. Torn was once married to Geraldine Page, and was the cousin of Sissy Spacek.

Finally, I'll mention Denise Nickerson. Best known for playing Violet, the girl who turns purple in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, died on Wednesday at the age of 62. She had apparently suffered a stroke last year and her health had deteriorated.

Clicking on a bunch of links led me to the blog Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, where I noticed that she's announced a blogathon for the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II in Europe. I just so happen to have a post all prepared for a World War II movie that I've kept in draft form because at various times when I've checked, it's either been available on DVD or sold out. So since I have the post more or less ready, I decided to save it or September 1.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #261: Muses

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 "Muses", which I have to admit was a rather difficult theme for me. My first thought was the Rita Hayworth movie Down to Earth, but it turns out I used that one about a year ago. After some thought, I decided to bend the rules to come up with three movies:

Xanadu (1980). OK, this one isn't really cheating. Olivia Newton-John plays an ancient Greek muse (or is she?) who comes down to earth to help Michael Beck fulfill his dream, which is to build a roller disco. Too bad disco was dying by this point. Beck's friend and mentor is an aging Gene Kelly. The movie has become a cult classic, and deservedly so. Music is provided by Newton-John and ELO.

Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960). David Niven plays a theater critic married to Doris Day; the couple and their four kids move from New York City to Connecticut. While Doris struggles with suburban life, Niven's job keeps him in Manhattan enough that it puts a strain on the marriage. This one barely fits in with the theme because the production company was Euterpe, named after the Greek muse of music and lyric poetry.

Red Hot Tires (1935). OK, I'm really stretching it here. Lyle Talbot plays a race car driver who gets wrongly imprisoned when a rival dies during a race; his friend Roscoe Karns breaks him out and takes him to South America, where he becomes a racing star again. No, Karns isn't playing Talbot's muse. Instead, once Talbot goes off to prison Karns drives a truck servicing the prison, and in one of the scenes actor Clarence Muse (aha!) plays Karns' sidekick in the passenger seat.

Now to see what everybody else has picked.

Tab Hunter Confidential

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night honoring Tab Hunter, the 50s matinee idol whose homosexuality was kept a secret and who got an interesting second act with Divine in movies like Lust in the Dust in the 1980s.

Unsurprisingly, the movies on TCM are all 50s stuff, but the night also includes two airings of the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, which I'm really looking forward to seeing at some point when I can get through the backlog of stuff on my DVR. Hunter takes a look back at his life, with (at least according to the synopses I've seen) a lot of clips from other people who knew him back in the day.

The documentary kicks off the night's lineup at 8:00 PM, and will get a second airing for the benefit of the people on the west coast overnight at 1:30 AM.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

More Michael Shayne

I mentioned Fox's series of movies about private detective Michael Shayne several years back. Another one of the movies is in the FXM rotation, The Man Who Wouldn't Die, which will be on FXM tomorrow at 8:50 AM and again Friday at 6:00 AM.

It takes a bit before Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) shows up. The movie starts at a big house owned by businessman Dudley Wolff (Paul Harvey). He and a couple of people working at his house are involved in a burial, and then his daughter Catherine (Marjorie Weaver) unexpectedly shows up. She tells Dad and her stepmother Anna (Helene Reynolds), that she's suddenly gotten married, which might not be a bad thing for Dad since her new hubby is a lawyer in DC who might be able to help with the Senate investigation that's looking into Dad. However, the husband wasn't able to get out of Washington just yet.

Catherine goes to bed, waking up with a start when a shadowy figure with glowing eyes enters her room and then shoots at her. Catherine is frightened, but when Dad and the rest of the folks come in, there's no evidence of a bullet, so they think she just dreamed being shot at. While going for a walk the next day, she runs into Shayne, who's an old friend, and tells him her story. Would he both investigate and pretend to be her husband? Dad obviously doesn't want the authorities around, so Shayne can't present himself as a private investigator.

Meanwhile, it's been discovered that the the body that Dad and the other guys buried has gone missing, so apparently he isn't quite dead! That, and Shayne does find the bullet, telling Catherine not to let anybody else know, but she's such a dum-dum that she blabs anyway.

To be honest, the mystery in The Man Who Wouldn't Die is rather too complicated and solved by a bit of a deus ex machina. But that doesn't stop the movie from being a nice little entry in what is another of the many B mystery series that were being cranked out in the 1930s and 40s. Lloyd Nolan is good yet again as the wisecracking detective, and everybody else is adequate. The Man Who Wouldn't Die is the sort of film you should sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch when you want something that's not too demanding.

As far as I can tell, The Man Who Wouldn't Die hasn't gotten a DVD release yet, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showings.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Sea Hawk (1940)

Quite some time back, I purchased an Errol Flynn box set. I noticed I hadn't done a full-length post on The Sea Hawk before, so I watched it over the weekend.

It's the mid 1580s, and in an introductory scene we see Spain's King Philip II (Montagu Love) talking about his plans for world domination. Cut to Spain's ambassador to England Don José (Claude Rains) traveling to England with his niece Doña María (Brenda Marshal) and her personal servant (Una O'Connor). However, the Spanish galleon is waylaid by a ship of English privateers led by Captain Thorpe (Errol Flynn). The Spanish ship is destroyed and José and María are forced to travel to England with Thorpe. Thorpe immediately falls in love with the half-English Maria, and you know the feeling is eventually going to become mutual by a key point in the movie.

José's purpose in London is to keep the English from realizing that Philip is building an armada and its purpose. Thankfully, thanks to the privateers, he's also got a legitimate grievance to press before Queen Elizabeth (Flora Robson, who also played Elizabeth in Fire Over England; I think the picture at left is actually from that earlier movie and not The Sea Hawk). Her Majesty is publicly peeved with the privateers, but lets them continue their actions against Spain, as Thorpe proposes to take his men to the New World to seize more gold.

However, the queen has spies in her midst, and one of them, Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell) is able to find out where Thorpe is headed, such that when Thorpe and his men do try to get back to their boat to return to England, they find that their boat has been captured by the Spanish, who try them before the Inquisition and sentence them to a life sentence as galley slaves. A fellow galley slave knows about Philip's plan to build an Armada to invade England, but how can Thorpe or any of the rest of them get back to England to warn Elizabeth?

Errol Flynn was a perfect action film star (although they didn't call them action pictures back in those days) for Warner Bros., and it's no surprise that he would be cast as the lead in a movie like this. He fits the part perfectly. As for the rest of the movie, it has all of the professionalism you'd expect from the studio system, and is a rousing entertaining success. The battle scenes are sure to delight and more than make up for some of the land-bound scenes when we want to get back to the derring-do. (One scene involving Thorpe's mapmaker I found particularly irritating.)

Brenda Marshall is nominally the female lead as Flynn's love interest, but she's not given all that much to do since large portions of the movie are set outside England. She and the rest of the cast do well, with Robson and Alan Hale (Sr.) getting particular honors for second place behind Flynn.

I picked up the box set at a cheaper price than Amazon is currently selling it at, but considering the movies on it, it's still not a bad deal. And if you can do the streaming thing, Amazon has it available on streaming too. One caveat is that there was a 1924 silent also called The Sea Hawk, which is a completely different story. It's one worth watching, but just beware.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Moscow on the Hudson

Quite some time back I recorded Moscow on the Hudson. It seems to be out of print on DVD, but it is available at both Amazon streaming and Google Play if you can do either of those. And since I still need to free up space on my DVR, I decided to do a post on it even though I personally don't have the bandwidth to do streaming.

Robin Williams plays Vladimir Ivanoff, who at the start of the movie is sitting on a bus in New York. He's asked by a fellow passenger whether this is the right bus to get to a certain place, and this ultimately leads Vladimir to do some reflecting as to how he wound up where he is.

Flash back to Moscow. Vladimir is a saxophonist for the band that plays for a circus. He shows up late to practice one day because he spent a whole bunch of time standing in line to get shoes, even though they don't have any in his size. This being the Soviet Union of the end of the Brezhnev era, it's a very gray place, with Vladimir living in a cramped apartment with his parents and grandparents, with the KGB looking into his grandfather, who is probably going senile.

The one bright spot is that Vladimir and the rest of the circus have been invited to perform in the United States, a plum gig if you can get it. Of course, the KGB minder warns them of how terrible life in the States is, and people are so paranoid that perhaps their roommates might inform on them. Indeed, one of Vladimir's friends, trusting him, says that he's seriously thinking of defecting.

Ironically, that's not what happens. The circus performs, and on the last day of the tour before they're scheduled to fly back home, the performers are allowed half an hour to shop at Bloomingdale's. None of them ever having been in a Western-style department store, they don't know American shopping conventions and make life difficult for staff like the security guard Lionel (Cleavant Derricks). Just before their time at Bloomingdale's is up, it's Vladimir who decides he's going to defect.

This causes an international scene, and life is at first not easy for for Vladimir. Lionel takes pity on him and since Vladimir doesn't have a place to stay, lets him stay in his apartment, which like Vladimir's in Russia has an extended family. He can't get a job as a saxophonist, so he works a series of odd jobs. The woman at the perfume counter in Bloomingdale's whom he met just before defecting, is Lucia (Maria Conchita Alonso), herself an immigrant. The two start a tentative relationship.

I was always under the impression that Moscow on the Hudson was a comedy, but it's really more of a light drama. There's certainly a lot of comedic elements, but the main themes are definitely on the drama side of the line. Robin Williams really could do more than just be zany, and this is his opportunity to show it.

America being a country founded largely on the idea of immigration and being the land of opportunity, there's a lot here that will resonate with Americans, even though the idea of defecting from Russia is one that became dated overnight. Although America is that land of opportunity, the road there is one that's filled with bumps, and Vladimir encounters a lot of those bumps. Despite that, the movie is ultimately optimistic.

If there's a flaw, it was a likely unwitting mistake from director Paul Mazursky. He was a native New Yorker, and this movie, like his earlier Next Stop, Greenwich Village and even the opening portion of Harry and Tonto, show his love of the city, warts and all. Here, however, he almost seems to equate New York with all of America. In a diner, Vladimir gets in a debate with another Russian immigrant for whom the American dream hasn't quite panned out either. I kept thinking if they're getting beaten down by life in New York, there's a lot of America out there that won't beat them down in the same way. The scene ends up with them misquoting from the Declaration of Independence, crucially saying men are endowed with the right to life, liberty, and happiness -- just happiness, not the pursuit of happiness.

If you want an interesting film looking at a unique period in American history, Moscow on the Hudson is a good one to watch.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The King of Kings (1927)

Back on Easter, TCM ran a whole bunch of religious-themed movies. One that I made it a point to put on the DVR since I hadn't done a post on it before is the 1927 silent version of The King of Kings. It's available on a two-disc set from Criterion, so I finally got around to watching it to do a post on it.

The movie starts off with a two-strip Techniolor scene that isn't out of the Bible. Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan) is in the sinning portion of her life, living it up with a bunch of Romans at a party that has a feast and a leopard among other things. She's irritated, however, that her boyfriend Judas Iscariot (Joseph Schildkraut) isn't there. She's informed that Judas has taken up with this carpenter from Nazareth, whom some people are treating as a messiah. So she sets of to find Judas and win her away from the carpenter.

Of course, the carpenter is Jesus (H.B. Warner, who was past 50 when he made this even though Jesus is generally considered to have been in his early to mid 30s when he was crucified). And if you know your Bible stories you'll know that Mary Magdalene winds up falling in with Jesus rather than winning Judas back for herself. As for Judas, you'll recall that his fate is to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Anyhow, the Jesus in this movie performs various of the miracles that were depicted in the Bible, with director Cecil B. DeMille using intertitles containing verses from the Gospels, all meticulously cited. (The intertitles for establishing scenes use new material.) Among the miracles are the Lazarus story, healing the afflicted and making the blind see again. Other non-miracle portions of the Bible used are the famous stoning of the adulteress scene, as well as Jesus helping Peter (Ernest Torrence) pay his taxes by catching a fish with a coin in its mouth. DeMille strays from the Bible by having the Romans react by trying to catch fish themselves in the hopes that those fish will similarly have coins in their mouths!

Jesus ultimately makes it to Jerusalem, since that's where he's supposed to be crucified. He finds that the temple has been taken over by a corrupt group of rabbis led by Caiaphas (Joseph Schildkraut's real-life father Rudolph). The Romans, led by Pontious Pilate (Victor Varconi), want to find this meddlesome messiah, and finding him a threat to Roman authority, crucify him, only for Jesus to be resurrected on the third day.

The King of Kings is one of those movies that's a bit more difficult to judge, largely because it's based on material that would be very well-known anywhere in the western world. The movie is very well-made for the most part, although at times it gets close to going over the top. Jesus is presented using lighting that makes him almost glow -- we get the point already, although it's hard to avoid when you've got a character who as the son of God is supposed to be perfect.

The one flaw I found is that the movie really began to drag. There were actually two versions: a general release print that ran about 112 minutes, and a roadshow version that clocks in at about 156 minutes. TCM ran the latter, and I couldn't help but think the story could have been told in the shorter run time. (The Criterion release apparently contains both prints.)

For anybody who has in interest in Biblical movies, I can't see why they wouldn't find this an excellent addition to the genre.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The MacKintosh Man

I recorded several Paul Newman movies during his turn as TCM's Star of the Month, and I've been working my way through them. This time, we're up to The MacKintosh Man.

Newman plays Rearden, a secret agent of some sort. It's a bit tough to guess exactly what sort, since Newman himself was American, but the movie is set in the UK, and his UK spymaster has Rearden pass himself off as Australian at one point. But his boss MacKintosh (Harry Andrews) is most definitely British. MacKintosh tells Rearden about a new scheme by diamond smugglers that has them using the Royal Mail to send stolen diamonds to locations they only use once, picking up the diamonds somehow and absconding with them. Rearden gets the address of one of those locations, so obviously Rearden is out to break the ring.

No, not quite. Rearden lies in wait for the postman, and when he comes, punches the postman and takes the envelope full of diamonds! The British police are good at what they do, and fairly quickly put the finger on him, leading to arrest and a trial which gets him a long prison sentence.

It turns out that getting put in prison was the point, as Rearden has to go into prison to find out something, which will only become clear later. Among the people he meets in prison is Slade (Ian Bannen), a spy who had passed British secrets to the Communists and is serving a long sentence for that. There's a shady organization that plans prison breaks, and they see Slade as an important prisoner, but are also willing to free Rearden as a decoy.

Rearden is drugged before being taken to a safe house, and when he wakes up he has no idea where he is, trapped in a nice room in a house somewhere together with Slade. This is allegedly for the security of the escapees, but it would immediately raise my suspicions, and it does the same for Rearden. Meanwhile, the people who organized the escape have been doing their research on Rearden's false identity and realize he's not who he's been claiming to be which puts him in great danger.

Back in London, MP Sir George Wheeler (James Mason) is planning to raise holy hell, but his old friend MacKintosh warns him about doing so, which leads to a sudden change in plans for the folks holding Slade and Rearden. Rearden escapes and finds that the real point of the plot was to get Slade out of the country so that he could be shipped back to the Communists, a handoff that's supposed to happen in Malta.

The MacKintosh Man is a movie that's full of twists and turns, requiring a fairly close watch to see where the movie is going. That's not a bad thing by any means, but it nice to have a bit of advance warning. As with a lot of spy movies, you need a healthy suspension of disbelief, with certain plot points feeling as though they should fall apart.

But with that said, The MacKintosh Man isn't a bad little movie. There's nice location shooting in Ireland and Malta, and some parts of the plot that are handled surprisingly well. I particularly enjoyed the car chase along the rutted country tracks of western Ireland. While the movie never quite rises to great, it's more than entertaining and a solid addition to the genre.

The MacKintosh Man got a release to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Twelve of her men

Continuing to get movies off the DVR to make space for new movies I haven't blogged about for, one of my recent movie watches was Her Twelve Men.

Greer Garson plays Jan Stewart, who at the start of the movie is taking a plane to go to her new job, as a teacher at the all-boys Oaks boarding school. It turns out that one of the students is on the plane with her, and he's aghast at the thought of a woman teacher. (Really?)

Anyhow, Jan gets to the school, and finds that she'll be teaching a dozen boys. They live upstairs in a dormitory, and she gets an efficiency on the ground floor. So she's going to be spending a lot of time with them. At first, as seems to be a standard trope with a new teacher, they test her a lot.

One of the other teachers, Joe Hargrave (Robert Ryan), isn't so sure Jan is going to be up to the job, but he gives her some pointers along the way. The Oaks has strict rules, but part of being a good teacher is knowing when to bend those rules. These boys need a stable adult presence in their lives, since many of the wealthy parents are boarding them just to make their own lives easier.

Some of the boys need her more than others, such as the one whose parents are vacationing in Europe and can't even be bothered to send him letters. Jan writes fake letters, which should have been obvious fakes to the boy with the lack of foreign stamps and the photos cut out of magazines. Then there's the kid (Tim Considine, later of My Three Sons) who gets injured. When Jan takes him back home for convalescence, she begins to fall in love with the boy's father (Barry Sullivan).

But the other boys back at the Oaks need Jan too, and as we'll learn by the end of the movie, they'll even grow to love her. Her Twelve Men is a sentimental, episodic movie, reminiscent of The Trouble With Angels but not nearly as good. I think that's down in no small part to this being an MGM movie, with some of the same issues that brought to some other movies I've mentioned. MGM certainly had a professional gloss, but sometimes they needed to tone it down, and this is one of the movies.

It personally didn't help either that for some reason I thought this was a comedy, and was looking forward to seeing Robert Ryan do comedy. Although there are humorous scenes as befits an episodic movie, it's certainly not a straight-up comedy. But that's my fault for having a mistaken impression of the movie, not the filmmakers'.

Her Twelve Men is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Schedule notes for July 5-6, 2019

This being 2019, it's an odometer anniversary of 1939, which is often referred to as "Hollywood's Greatest Year". Back in 2009 for the 70th anniversary of the year, TCM ran a month-long spotlight, although I can't tell which month it was since the TCM article for that spotlight doesn't have a date.

At any rate, TCM is running another salute to 1939 for what is now the 80th, on Fridays in July. There will be 42 movies airing if I counted correctly; there's also a documentary that premiered back in 2009 that will be airing a couple of times this month, including at 10:00 tonight. The movies will be starting on Friday mornings and running through to the start of TCM Underground in the overnight.

One thing I find mildly interesting is that although both of the spotlights refer specifically to Hollywood, this year's spotlight includes a couple of British movies, starting with the very first selection in the spotlight, The Four Feathers at 6:00 AM today.

Last Saturday during the matinee block, specifically the 10:00 AM portion of that block, TCM ran the last of the Falcon movies they're running. That means that this week sees the start of a new series, and they're going back to... the Bowery Boys, with Live Wires just after the Popeye short, so around 10:07 AM. There's fifty-something movie in the series, so once you include Summer Under the Stars and 31 Days of Oscar, the Bowery Boys movies should theoretically be running until sometime in late 2020?