Saturday, August 31, 2019

Not part of Kirk Douglas day

This last day of TCM's Summer Under the Stars is dedicated to actor Kirk Douglas, still alive at 102 unless he's died very recently and the death hasn't been announced yet. I should mention that among the movies airing is Town Without Pity at 6:15 PM. It's one that I haven't seen in many years, and seems to be out of print on DVD. Douglas plays a lawyer for the US Army who gets the task of defending some soldiers stationed in Germany who are being brought up on rape charges, accused of having raped one of the locals. The thing I remember most about the movie was the way translation of German was handled, in a very heavy-handed voiceover that didn't work well.

Anyhow, not having looked far enough forward on the TCM schedule to see that Douglas was going to be honored today, a few weeks back I decided to pop in one of the DVDs from the Kirk Douglas box set I picked up a few months back and watch For Love or Money, a 1963 film which shares its title with several other movies. So that's the Douglas movie you're getting a post on today, even though it's not airing on TCM.

Douglas plays Deke Gentry, a San Francisco lawyer and best friend of wealthy playboy businessman Sonny Smith (Gig Young). They're out on their yacht one day when a helicopter shows up overhead, with the equally wealthy Chloe Brasher (Thelma Ritter) as the passenger. She needs to see Deke about an urgent matter involving her daughters.

Chloe is a widow, and provisions were made in her husband's will regarding the three daughters, who are all very headstrong and not about to follow their mother's advice. According to the will, they've got trust funds set up for them, but the daughters will be cut off from the trust funds if they don't get married to people Mom considers acceptable. So Mom wants Deke to convince the daughters to accept him as the new trustee on the fund, and to marry the husbands she's selected for them.

That's not going to be easy. Daughter Bonnie (Julie Newmar) is what nowadays would probably be a social media influencer, except that they didn't have social media back in 1963. She's a fitness/beauty geek who's got $1/month subscribers the accounting of which is bringing her into trouble with the IRS. Agent Harvey Wofford (Dick Sargent) is assigned to the case, and he just happens to be the man Mom has selected for her! Jan (Leslie Parrish) is into beatnik artist types, and Mom thinks she should marry old friend Sam (William Windom). The biggest hurdle, however, is with eldest daughter Kate (Mitzi Gaynor). Mom's pick for her is... Sonny Smith. Finally to make certain things go as planned, Mom has a private detective Joe (William Bendix) assigned to watch everything.

Unsurprisingly, things don't go as planned, and you can probbly guess how. Getting Sonny to meet Kate hits a bunch of snags, and Deke realizes he's beginning to fall in love with Kate. Meanwhile, Jan sees Sonny, and perhaps she's going to fall in love with him instead of Sam. Now, I'd think that Mom should OK with Kate marrying a nice staid lawyer. And if she picked out Sonny as a husband for one of the daughters, why is it a bad thing if it turns out that another of the daughters were to marry him. But that would ruin the premise of the movie.

For Love or Money is formulaic, but it's a formula that works well enough for undemanding entertainment. Kirk Douglas didn't make very many comedies in his career, but he handles the material just fine. The three daughters are nice to look at, and the older stars (Ritter, Young, and Bendix) all fit their roles like a hand in a glove. There's nothing special here, but also nothing wrong.

The Douglas centennial box set isn't overly expensive, and with as many movies as you get, spending a few bucks for a formulaic trifle like this is no waste.

Friday, August 30, 2019

House of the Damned

I've mentioned on quite a few occasions how Fox distributed a bunch of short B movies during the years that Cleopatra was in production. Many of them were directed by Maury Dexter, and those are generally interesting even if flawed. Another one that's been in the FXM rotation recently is House of the Damned.

Ron Foster plays architect Scott Campbell, who gets a call from his boss Joseph Schiller (Richard Crane). Apparently there's a castle-like home up the California coast that was owned by an old lady who went crazy and has been under lease for years. The lease is up, so would Scott go up to the place and do a survey on it to see if it's suitable for further use? So Scott and his wife Nancy (Merry Anders) jump in their car and go for a spin.

Things seem a bit odd even before they get to the place. They have trouble finding the place where they're supposed to get the keys, and when they're on what they think is the right road, there's a makeshift "dead end" roadblock. But it's the right road, so, having found the castle, they head back to the real estate agent to get the keys. The only thing is, they find that the roadblock they moved has been put back into place!

They get into the castle, and it's one of those big old empty houses where you just know things are going to happen to make the main characters wonder whether or not they're alone. Sure enough, that does happen as, when they're asleep, an unseen hand takes the keyring with all the keys. And when the couple wake up and find the keys, they realize that two of them are missing so there are two rooms they can't get into.

Then Joseph's wife Loy (Erika Peters) shows up. The couple was supposed to show up together, but she went on ahead, foreshadowing that something that never really gets fleshed out is wrong with their marriage. Joseph shows up, but nobody can find Loy. And her car is still out front. What's going on?

House of the Damned is a movie with a reasonably good premise that is ultimately undone somewhat by the fact that as a shortish B movie there's really not a whole lot going on. Some of the sets looked familiar, and when I looked it up on IMDb I found out that my suspicion was confirmed: Filming was done in part at the Greystone Mansion, which director Dexter also used in The Day Mars Invaded Earth.

House of the Damned is available on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme (although I should point out that with the purchase by Disney I have no idea if the MOD scheme will continue, or for how long). Unfortunately, those MOD DVDs always seem to be a bit pricey. This and some of the other Dexter movies really ought to be put in a box set together.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Briefs for August 29-30, 2019

So Paul Lukas was today's star in Summer Under the Stars. I saw that I Found Stella Parish was on the schedule, and thought about putting it on the DVR to watch and do a post on. But I made certain first to check whether I had done a post on it before. Sure enough, I had, back in July 2014. I wrote at the time that the movie didn't seem to be available on DVD. It has since received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, in August 2015. So if you want to watch it whenever, now you can.

Tomorrow's star is Susan Hayward, who appeared in any number of potboilers back in the late 50s and early 60s, as I mentioned when I blogged about Back Street back at the end of July. That one isn't on the TCM schedule, but among the schedule are Ada at 12:30 PM, which I mentioned not too awful long ago, and Stolen Hours at 10:30 AM. That one is a remake of the old Bette Davis vehicle Dark Victory. At 10:15 PM is House of Strangers, which may be a TCM premiere since the daily schedule doesn't have a plot synopsis.

For those of you with the Starz/Encore package, you've got two chances to watch the 1991 version of Cape Fear tomorrow on StarzEncore Classics. One is early, overnight tonight at 12:37 PM, so many of you will likely miss it by the time you read this post. The second airing is at 2:29 PM. I wouldn't normally mention it, except that TCM is running the original over the weekend, at 8:00 PM Sunday as part of a double feature of "Psychological Thrillers". Both versions are available on DVD.

Thursday Movie Picks #268: Reboots and Revivals (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Once again we're at the last Thursday of the month, meaning that there's another TV edition of the picks. This time out, the theme is revivals and reboots. In some ways that's easy for me in that I'm a game show fan and there are a whole lot of game shows that have been brought back to TV -- indeed, if you've been watching ABC over the summer you'll probably have seen one or another of them. The only problem is that I've used a whole bunch of the game shows already in other TV TMP editions, so I have to go a different direction. However, after a bit of thought, I was able to come up with three shows. One's been revived several times and I won't get surprised if other people pick the most recent version; the other two, well, I think there's a reason they're mostly forgotten:

The Twilight Zone (1985-1989). Rod Serling's classic anthology series was made into a TV movie in the early 1980s, followed by this TV revival. There was a second revival in the early 2000s and a third one this year.

Gilligan's Planet (1982). The castaways from the 1960s series Gilligan's Island get off the island thanks to the Professor's building a spaceship. Except that they get lost and wind up on an unknown planet. All of the actors from the TV show lent their voices to this one with the exception of Tina Louise (Ginger). Not to be confused with The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island:

The Brady Brides (1981). Marcia (it's always Marcia! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!) and Jan from The Brady Bunch got married in a double wedding that was supposed to be a TV movie, but the network suits decided to turn it into a series that was cancelled in short order. It wasn't the first revival or the last. There was a Christmas movie in the late 1980s that led to another short-lived series, and two movies in the 90s which deliberately played on putting the Bradys in a fish-out-of-water time warp, which makes the movies a lot of fun if you remember the original show (eg: George Glass finally shows up).

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

So I Married an Axe Murderer

DirecTV recently added the Epix package and included several weeks of a free trial, which allowed me to DVR some movies from the 1980s and 90s to do posts on. First up is the 1993 comedy So I Married an Axe Murderer.

Mike Myers plays Charlie Mackenzie, a man who lives in San Francisco and makes a living somehow, but don't ask how since his primary passion seems to be beatnik-type performance poetry with a jazz combo behind him and projected images. One day, he stops at a new butcher shop to buy some haggis for his parents, and meets female butcher Harriet (Nancy Travis). He goes back to the shop some time later to buy more haggis. Only, this time, the store is much busier, to the point that Charlie volunteers to help, since his own father (also played by Myers) had worked as a butcher.

It eventually leads to a relationship, and some time later he's going to take Harriet to meet his parents. Dad is ultra-Scottish, while mom May (Brenda Fricker), is a bit odd herself, reading the Weekly World News and thinking everything in it is dead-on accurate. When Charlie sees Mom this time, she's going on about a story in the rag about a Mrs. X who married three times in different parts of the country only for the husbands to disappear shortly thereafter.

Still, Charlie's parents and Harriet seem to have a mutual liking for each other, so the relationship deepens. But when Charlie visits Harriet's apartment, there's a poster of Atlantic City on the wall. That's where the first of Mrs. X's husbands went missing. Harriet also studied some sort of martial arts under a Russian instructor, and actually speaks some Russian. That describes Mrs. X's second husband to a tee. There's also coincidences about the third Mr. X, so Charlie begins to get paranoid about Harriet.

Charlie asks his best friend Tony (Anthony LaPaglia) for help, since Tony is a San Francisco cop and might be able to learn more about the Mrs. X case and whether there's anything to it. The coincidences keep piling up, leading Charlie to make the mistake of breaking up the relationship -- until Tony learns that somebody's confessed to one of the Mrs. X murders.

Amazingly, Harriet takes Charlie back and she agrees to marry him. But on their wedding day, Tony learns that Harriet is closer to all the Mrs. X murders than either of them could ever have thought. Can Tony save Charlie while he's on his honeymoon?

I really liked the premise of So I Married an Axe Murderer, although it's certainly a movie not without its problems. The climax goes on much too long and is much too manic, while I didn't care for the "poetry" at all. Many of the scenes that are more tangential to the plot actually work better, which I suppose shouldn't be surprising coming from a man who got his start in sketch comedy. Myers' Saturday Night Live co-star Phil Hartman has a good scene as a tour guide at Alcatraz, while Michael Richard plays an employee in the newspaper obituary section with a very dark sense of humor.

If you like sketch humor and/or quirky 1990s comedies, I think you'll really like So I Married an Axe Murderer. It's available on DVD if you want to watch it yourself.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Advance to the Rear

Among the movies I recorded during Glenn Ford's turn as Star of the Month back in July was Advance to the Rear. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so now you get your review of the movie here.

Glenn Ford plays Capt. Heath, who's serving on an obscure front of the Civil War for the North, under Col. Brackenbury (Melvyn Douglas). It's obscure enough that it doesn't seem to matter who wins. Each side shoots 30 rounds of artillery at a set time each morning, and that's it for the day. No trying to take land or anything like that. That is, until Heath shows some initiative, and on a patrol actually captures a couple of Confederate soldiers. Brackenbury is ticked, because he knows this means the other side will retaliate.

Sure enough, the Confederate commander does, more or less routing the Union. It leads to an inquiry to figure out what went wrong. When General Willoughby (Jim Backus), who is put in charge of the inquiry, finds out what's been going on, boy is he angry. Something has to be done to make certain these soldiers can't do anything to screw up the war effort. So a plan is hatched to find all of the most incompetent soldiers and transfer them into one company under Brackenbury and Heath, with the intention to send that company to an isolated outpost out west where they'll basically sit out the war.

Meanwhile, the Confederates learn what's happening, so they send a spy, the lovely Martha Lou (Stella Stevens) onto the riverboat the Union company is taking (presumably up either the Missouri or Mississippi) and figure out what they're up to. With a little help from madame Easy Jenny (Joan Blondell), it's determined that Martha Lou's back story is a fraud. But she's so good looking that Heath plans to woo her as if that's going to keep her from her mission. Not that there should be much of a mission of course since the company is being kept out of action.

Except that a snafu happens. When the company arrives at their destination, there's another company there that thinks it's getting relieved. And that other company was part of orders to guard a shipment of Union gold, so now it's up to our company of incompetents to do the guarding. The Confederates might be able to score a victory in at least one part of the war after all.

Advance to the Rear is a fairly light comedy, and I saw reading the IMDb reviews that I wasn't the first person to think of the sitcom F Troop, which came out a few years later than this movie. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking with the movie, but it's a pleasant enough way to spend 100 minutes, and everybody looks as though they were enjoying themselves making the movie. Ford was better at comedy than his list of movies might have you think, and Douglas takes his role and runs with it for all it's worth.

If you want a movie you can just sit back with a bowl of popcorn and have fun watching, rather than a "prestige" movie, you could do far worse than Advance to the Rear.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Two-Gun Man from Harlem

Quite some time back I recorded Two-Gun Man from Harlem when it ran on TCM. I had gotten different results when I searched for it on DVD, but as of now it's at least available from the TCM Shop, so I'll do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a combo led by a singing cowboy, Bob Blake (played by Herb Jeffries). After finishing the song, Bob's brother Bill (Mantan Moreland, a relationship you'd say only Hollywood could come up with if this wasn't an all-black film) takes the bass and tries to sing a song. That's all just a prologue for the real action, however.

Bob runs into Sally Thompson (Margaret Whitten), an apparent widow who is walking with her son Jimmy ("Stymie" from the Our Gang shorts) to her brother's ranch. Bob helps her negotiate a barbed-wire fence, and the two immediately fall in love.

But there's problems for Bob back at the ranch where he works. His boss' wife, Mrs. Steel is having an affair with a gangster who's trying to get control of the ranches in the area, and the guy eventually shoots Mr. Steel. When Bob walks in, Mrs. Steel switches guns so that the one in Bob's holster will be the one that was the murder weapon.

With the police about to take him in, Bob makes a quick escape, winding up in Harlem, where he meets the "Deacon", a gangster who look amazingly like Bob, mostly because the Deacon is also played by Herb Jeffries. Bob notices the similarity and decides to impersonate the Deacon and go back west to uncover the real murderer of Mr. Steel. Along the way, Bob helps Sally pay off the mortgage on her brother's ranch, so you know they'll live happily ever after.

When I think of the race films, I always try to compare them to Hollywood's B movies. I think that's a much easier comparison to try to make in the case of Two-Gun Man from Harlem, since the Poverty Row studios were churning out a huge number of B westerns back in those days. Compared to those other westerns, Two-Gun Man from Harlem fits in reasonably well. The plot is familiar, the acting is variable, and it entertains. It's no great shakes, especially not compared to what happened once Stagecoach came along. But with a budget like this, who could expect a Stagecoach?

There are certainly bright spots, especially from Mantan Moreland and his skillet in the climactic fight. Stymie also gets the chance to be a hoot. All in all, if you want an introduction to the race film genre, Two-Gun Man from Harlem isn't a bad place to start.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Cléo de 5 à 7

A few months back TCM ran the movie Cleo from 5 to 7 as part of a tribute to director Agnès Varda. Not having done a post on it here before, I decided to DVR it and sit down to watch it.

Florence, nicknamed Cléo (Corinne Marchand), is a young singer living in Paris whose career is just taking off. However, her career might be over before it started. She's been having some sort of stomach pains, and having gone to a specialist to see what's wrong, is worried that it might be cancer. It's the first day of summer, and this evening is when the results of her tests are supposed to come back. The film is set entirely in the period between 5:00 and 7:00 PM.

After a visit to a tarot card reader, Cléo meets her maid Angèle, first going to a café and then buying a hat before returning home, where she's going to rehearse a new song with her friends Bob (Michel Legrand) and Marcel. But Cléo is getting moody, and she eventually runs off to see her friend Dorothée, who works as a model for art students. Dorothée takes Cléo to see Raoul, a projectionist who is Dorothée's boyfriend. A the movie theatre, they watch a short which is an absurdist comedy.

After Cléo takes Dorothée home, she goes to a park, where she meets Antoine, a soldier on leave from the war in Algeria (remember that Algeria was still a part of France at the time and fighting for its independence). They strike up a fast friendship, and he eventually accompanies her to the hospital where she is to learn the results of her test.

There's not much going on in the movie, at least not on the surface. Certainly, there's a lot less going on than in One Wonderful Sunday. It's the sort of movie that shouldn't be my cup of tea, but I found that it did work reasonably well. I think the big reason why I normally might not like the movie is that Cléo is a character type that I normally find it difficult to have any sympathy for. The big reason that the movie does work, at least for me, is the filming style, which really feels spontaneous and shows a look at Paris at it probably was in the early 60s, a lot more than something like Paris Blues which does have quite a Hollywood feel to it.

I would admit, however, that there are going to be people who have a difficult time with the relative paucity of plot in Cléo from 5 to 7. It also only seems to be available as part of a pricey box set of Varda's movies, so if you want to watch it, you're either going to have to wait for another TV showing, or spend a pretty penny.

Saturday, August 24, 2019


A search of the blog suggests that I haven't posted about Dragonwyck before. It's going to be on FXM tomorrow morning at 8:05 AM, and it doesn't seem to be in print on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showing.

Gene Tierney plays Miranda Wells, eldest daughter in a family working a tiny farm in Connecticut in 1844. One day, the family gets a letter from a distant cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn. Van Ryn is what was known as a patroon, that is, a Dutch-descended landowner in New York who held large tracts of land farmed by tenant farmers. Nicholas has a wife and daughter, and wants Miranda to be a governess to the daughter. Miranda wants to escape her life in Connecticut, but her ultra-religious father Ephraim (Walter Huston) has a very dim view of the outside world, especially people like Van Ryn who are rich enough to be wasteful.

Still, Dad ultimately relents and lets Miranda do the Van Ryn's estate of Dragonwyck on the Hudson River. At first it's a sort of big adventure for Miranda, but it's not going to be a bed of roses for her. On her very first night, the maid gives off some very bad vibes that lead the viewer to understand things aren't right. The other members of high society look down on Miranda for not knowing anybody or anything, and there's trouble brewing with the tenant farmers, led by Bleecker (Harry Morgan) who doesn't want to pay the annual rent. The only adult who seems to have Miranda's best interests at heart is Dr. Turner (Glenn Langan), who is Mrs. Van Ryn's personal physician.

Mrs. Van Ryn seems a bit sickly, and one night she gets a sudden attack of something and dies right then. Dr. Turner is worried because he can't figure out what killed her, while for Miranda, it means the end of her time at Dragonwyck, or so she thinks as she goes back to Connecticut. Nicholas comes calling with unrevealed sinister intentions. The first Mrs. Van Ryn had not been able to bear Nicholas a son to take over as the patroon, and Nicholas, desperately wanting a son, asks Miranda to marry him. She doesn't realize how much danger she's about to be in....

Dragonwyck is a good enough gothic drama, although not quite what I had remembered it as being from my previous viewing many years ago. Tierney is as lovely to look at as always, and Price is suitably sinister. I do, however, prefer their pairing in Laura and their work together in Leave Her to Heaven. Dragonwyck is, by comparison, lesser stuff.

This is not to say that Dragonwyck is bad. If you like the actors, or historical drama released in back of those days, you'll definitely enjoy it. It's more that if I were going to introduce people to either these actors or the genre, there are other movies that I would start off with, and leave this one until later for people who are more receptive.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2019

Welcome to my entry in this year's edition of the Against the Crowd blogathon, hosted by the estimable Wendell from Dell on Movies. The rules are simple. Pick two movies. One should be a movie that is widely loved, at least going by the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, but that you hate. Conversely, the other movie is one that is widely hated but you like. As usual, I found it easy to come up with a "so bad that's good" movie for one that qualifies for the "everybody" hates it but me half of the blogathon. Coming up with the other one is always a bit more difficult, but I came up with one this year.

Vertigo (1958). I'm cheating a bit in that I don't hate it quite as much as I hate some of my previous selections. But I'm an Alfred Hitchcock fan, and this is a movie I really don't care for and don't get why it has the ridiculously high reputation it does. James Stewart plays a detective who's on disability leave after his vertigo resulted in his partner being killed. A rich man wants him to look after the man's wife (Kim Novak), who seems to be crazy. The wife gets thrown off a bell tower, and then Stewart meets Novak again. It's tediously overlong; the obsession angle doesn't really work here; and there's a massive plot hole about how Novak and the husband escape from the bell tower. There's a second plot how regarding why Novak would humor Stewart after he finds her the second time (that is, after the wife gets killed). Oh, and the special effect used to show Stewart's vertigo is nothing special.

The Concorde: Airport '79 (1979). The final of the four entries in the Airport cycle of disaster movies of the 1970s, this is a terrible movie, but one of those that's so bad it's enormously entertaining to watch. George Kennedy returns, this time flying the Concorde (how he ever moved up from airport maintenance, I'll never know). They're going from Washington to Moscow, but one of the passengers has dirt on a weapons manufacturer (Robert Wagner), so he tries to shoot the Concorde down with one of his company's new missiles. This results in some terrible special effects, before the plane lands safely in Paris. After the layover, the passengers for some reason get back in the plane that they just had a disaster in for the second leg! The cast is as much a mix of big names slumming and people who never quite made it, spouting ridiculous dialog. I think my favorite is when Soviet gymnastics coach Avery Schreiber takes his daughter into the cockpit for a tour. He's doing some sort of bizarre hand gestures to translate what George Kennedy is saying, and as it went on I was hoping Kennedy would ask the little girl if she liked gladiator movies.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

5,000 posts

It's hard to believe, but I've been blogging almost every single day for 11 and a half years, missing a few for internet outages but that's about it. And now I'm up to my 5000th post. One of the obvious things I thought of was The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, the interesting movie based on the Dr. Seuss story. I blogged about it all the way back in October of 2008, so quite some time ago. I really should have gotten a color image to illustrate the movie, however. Looking around, here's one from somebody else on Blogger:

It's not the only movie I can think of with "5000" in the title, as I recall the mid-80s comedy Transylvania 6-5000, which I never saw, but remember from being home over the summer and watching Teresa Ganzel (and probably Ed Begley Jr. too) on The 25,000 Pyramid promoting the movie on one of her appearances. And wouldn't you know, the trailer is available on Youtube:

Here's to 5,000 more posts!

Thursday Movie Picks #267: Actors in Multiple Roles

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 "actors in multiple roles", which is something I thought had been done before. But when I searched the blog for some of the movies I wanted to use, it turns out that my selections hadn't been in the Thursday Movie Picks before. Perhaps I'm thinking of the Doppelgangers theme from quite some time back. So with that in mind, here are my three selections:

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Dennis Price plays Louis, a distant heir to the D'Ascoyne family whose line was kicked out by an ancestor's indiscretions. So he decides that the way to become the Duke of D'Ascoyne is to kill off all the heirs ahead of them, all of whom are played by Alec Guinness. Including the heir who is a woman. A great black comedy.

The Whole Town's Talking (1935). Edward G. Robinson plays a meek clerk in a small town whose life is turned upside down when a notorious gangster who looks amazingly like him (because the gangster is also played by Robinson) makes the news. Eventually the gangster shows up and tries to take the clerk's ID at night, with all sorts of complications ensuing. Frank Capra was as I understand it supposed to direct but he was in a dispute with the studio, so they turned it over to John Ford who cranked out what sure looks like a Capra film.

Plaza Suite (1971). A series of three one-act plays, all set in the same suite of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Walter Matthau plays the lead in all three stories, first opposite Maureen Stapleton as a couple whose marriage is in a rut; then opposite Barbara Harris with him looking for an old flame; finally opposite Lee Grant as their daughter locks herself in the suite's bathroom on what is supposed to be her wedding day.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The People Against O'Hara

Some weeks back, Noir Alley ran the movie The People Against O'Hara. I hadn't done a review of it before, so I decided to DVR it and watch it to do that review.

The movie starts off with a couple of people coming out of a diner one night, and on the steps of a house across the way they see a murder being committed! Police run the plates on the car, which belongs to one Johnny O'Har (James Arness), so he's the natural person to ask his whereabouts. The other is Johnny's erstwhile friend Frank Korvac (William Campbell), whose prints are found in the car. Johnny says the car was stolen, but Frank is willing to take a plea deal in exchange for putting the finger on Johnny.

The O'Haras only know one lawyer, James Curtayne (Spencer Tracy). He used to be a big-time lawyer, but he turned to drink, and had to give up showy defense law in exchange for the sort of cheap transactional law that pays the bills. They turn to him for help, and he's reluctant because he doesn't think he's up to the stress any more, having given up alcohol. His adult daughter Ginny (Diana Lynn) also doesn't want him to take the case, because she knows he'll turn to drink if he does. As it is, she's put her life on hold for him, not marrying her fiancé (Richard Anderson), who is even more resentful of Dad than she is.

Still, Curtayne eventually does decide to take the case, realizing that perhaps he shouldn't have. He's got a particularly unhelpful client. Johnny claims that at the time of the alleged murder, he was checking up on some of the fish tanks at the fish market where he works for Knuckles (Eduardo Ciannelli), the Mob boss who runs the entire fish market. But a cursory inspection shows this to be complete balderdash. Obviously, Johnny is lying to protect somebody, but who?

If only he could find a witness. Ah, there is that witness mentioned at the beginning, who turns out to be a Swedish sailor, Sven Norson (Jay C. Flippen). Curtayne, in a profoundly stupid move, decides to bribe the guy to say he didn't see Johnny! Not only is it a bribe, but Curtayne leaves a paper trail by writing a check to a foreigner who probably doesn't even have a bank account in the States.

After some more investigation, Curtayne finally finds an angle to break the case open, and possibly redeem himself. But it's also going to put him at some personal danger....

Even though I know The People Against O'Hara wasn't the first noir the studio released -- and they actually did release a couple of good ones in Act of Violence and the slightly less noirish The Bribe and The Asphalt Jungle, this one plays out like you'd expect if MGM used all its glitz to make a noir. The idea is good, but everything seems a bit too neat and tidy. Tracy gives a very good performance as always; Pat O'Brien is underused as a police detective; and Arness and Campbell both show promise early in their careers. But the script feels a bit perfunctory and flat.

Overall, The People Against O'Hara isn't a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that compared to other noirs, and other stuff Spencer Tracy did in his career, there's so much out that that's better. The People Against O'Hara is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive should you wish to watch it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Moon-Spinners

Back in June when TCM ran the latest installment of Treasures from the Disney Vault, one of the movies they ran was The Moon-Spinners. Not having seen it before, I decided to record it to do a post on it here.

Hayley Mills plays Nikky Ferris, who's visiting Crete with her aunt Francis (Joan Greenwood), the aunt having come to record the local folk songs because she's a musicologist. When they get to one of the small towns, there's a big party for a wedding, and the local hotelier, running a hotel called the "Moon-Spinner" is reluctant to put up any foreigners. Eventually they relent and let out a room to Nikky and Francis.

It turns out that there's already one other foreigner at the hotel, and he too is an Englishman, Mark Camford (Peter McEnery). He's taking the boat out on the bay and doing skin diving, and when Nikky meets him he's willing to take her skin diving too. But we see right away there's something else up because Mark realizes he's being watched by Stratos (Eli Wallach), brother of the hotel's owner, while Mark is going out diving.

Mark decides to go out again at night, when he hears Stratos go out on the bay, and it's now that we learn just why Stratos doesn't want him or any other foreigner around. He's looking for something out on the bay, and views Mark as a threat, to the point that he and his henchmen are willing to shoot at Mark! Mark takes refuge in an abandoned church, and when Nikky can't find him the next morning, she goes looking for him.

Mark doesn't want to get Nikky involved, but it's not as if he's got much choice. And of course that involvement is going to get Nikky in danger. Eventually Mark lets on to Nikky that Mark was a bank worker who one day, instead of letting a customer open the safety deposit box themselves, couriered a bunch of jewels to the customer. It was here that he was hit over the head by a stranger, and the jewels went missing. Mark's detective work has led him to believe the jewels are here, and probably in that bay.

The Moon-Spinners is a fairly light thriller. I'd guess that girls of the right age to look up to the Hayley Mills character (Mills was 18 at the time she made it, so probably the 10-13 age range, maybe a little older) will really enjoy it. It's got just enough danger to keep younger people excited, but is never really threatening. Boys will probably be bored, and parents will probably like the non-threatening part. It's competently made, and the parts that were filmed on location in Greece are lovely to look at. But it's also a rather slight movie, never to be remembered as much more than a pleasant diversion.

Still, I think you could do far worse than The Moon-Spinners.

Monday, August 19, 2019

She didn't turn into a gentleman

One of TCM's spotlights in July was on "Dynamic Dames", which gave me the opportunity to record Bette Davis in Ex-Lady.

Davis plays Helen Bauer, an artist who does illustrations for advertising and magazines. She hosts parties in New York for the hoity-toity set, which includes fellow adman Don Peterson (Gene Raymond). In fact, the two of them are more or less living together, except that they're not married. It's a fact that causes some friction between the two, as Don loves Helen and thinks that this sort of love should wind up in marriage. Helen loves Don too, but her belief is that women should be just as free as men, and nobody has a "right" to her.

Eventually, the two do get married and start working together in the ad business, more or less. Helen suggests that the two of them should have a honeymoon, and with Don making certain all his affairs are tied up neatly for the time they'll be away -- apparently he's a one-man business or something -- the two go off to Havana for a time. Of course they shouldn't have, since Don loses two important clients during that time, and Helen helps make ends meet by working for one of Don's competitors.

Don responds by working more, at least until Mrs. Peggy Smith (Kay Strozzi) shows up. She's the bored wife of one of Don's tedious clients, Mr. Herbert Smith (Ferdinand Gottschalk). Don eventually decides he's going to spend an evening going out with Peggy instead of working late. He doesn't realize that Helen sees them leave the building together. Helen, knowing what's going on, decides that she's going to spend time with another man either as revenge or to make him jealous. Of course, the man she picks, Nick (Monroe Owsley), is a jerk that Helen doesn't really like.

Helen and Don decide to get a divorce, but they both realize that they still have strong feelings for each other. Don's good friend Hugo Van Hugh (Frank McHugh), has to bring the two back together, even though he has some feelings of his own for Helen.

Ex-Lady is a competent little pre-Code that's full of surprises even for people who have seen a bunch of pre-Codes. It starts off right at the beginning when it's made obvious that Don has a key to Helen's apartment even though they're not yet married. Helen's parents, especially her father (Alphonse Ethier) are incensed that Helen is having these relationships and not getting married, and Don is very sympathetic to Helen. (I couldn't help but think of Ethier that same year telling Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face to "use men to get the things you want!") There's a scene of Don and Helen in bed together, and one in Havana that strongly implies they're doing something kinky in public.

In some ways there's not much plot here, or at least not something that could have just as easily fit into a two-reeler. Not that it's just padding per se, but a very basic plot. Still, the performers all carry it well, especially Davis and McHugh. Ex-Lady is more than worth a watch.

Ex-Lady seems to be on DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood set, volume 7, but not as a standalone.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Inside Story

A year or so ago, TCM ran a night of little-known movies from Republic Pictures. I recorded a couple of them, but held off on doing a blog post on The Inside Story because it's only available on streaming video. However, since I've been running out of space on my DVR, I finally decided to watch it to do a post on it.

The movie starts off with a couple of guys going through their safety deposit boxes in a bank in small-town Vermont. Horace Taylor (Gene Lockhart), who ones the local inn, and "Uncle" Ed (Charles Winninger), who works for Taylor, talk about how keeping stuff in the safety deposit box keeps stuff out of circulation, which reminds them of an incident that happened in their town back in 1933....

Not long after being inaugurated US President, Franklin Roosevelt instituted a "Bank Holiday" that closed all the banks so that people would stop causing bank runs by removing all the money that's been deposited. (You may recall from It's a Wonderful Life when James Stewart talks about the money being invested in the houses of the neighbors of people taking out their money.) Since there were no credit cards back then and people used checks less often, the resulting lack of cash created all sorts of problems, and a whole bunch of people in their town had their own personal money problems back in 1933.

One day, Eustace Peabody (Roscoe Karns), who works for a collections agency in New York, comes with ten $100 bills for a local farmer. However, the farmer can't come into town because his wife is giving birth, so Peabody has to keep the cash in the hotel safe. Uncle Ed puts the money in the safe and gives Peabody a recieipt.

Some time later, grocery store owner J.J. Johnson comes looking for Taylor to pay off his grocery tab. Taylor doesn't have the money to do it, and swears that there's no money in the safe. But he opens it and finds the envelope, with the bills, which is addressed to Waldo Williams (William Lundigan), a struggling artist in love with Taylor's daughter Francine (Marsha Hunt). Waldo owes Taylor money, so he assumes this is the payment for his debt, and pays the cash to Johnson.

Meanwhile, Peabody grows impation that the farmer isn't showing up, and plans to go back to New York. Except that he needs to take the money with him if he can't pay the farmer. Taylor, for the obviously understandable reason that the money isn't in the safe, tries to stall Peabody while he gets the money back from Johnson. Except that Johnson doesn't have it, because he paid off his debt to landlady Mrs. Atherton (Florence Bates). She's hired an attorney, who gives the cash to his daughter to do some purchases. Further complicating things is that there are a couple of bootleggers who want the cash for themselves.

While watching The Inside Story, I couldn't help but think of an older Pete Smith short, The Grand Bounce which has much a similar plot except that it involves a check that's going to bounce if the writer can't get it back. I thought the short worked better, largely because the movie takes a long time to get to the main action of the cash going into circulation. That, and the movie came across as an endorsement of Roosevelt's anti-hoarding assault on private property (which notably included confiscating gold). Once the movie finally does start dealing with the search for the cash, it gets a lot better.

As I said, The Inside Story is as far as I can tell not available on DVD, although you can watch it if you can do the Amazon streaming thing. I couldn't find whether The Grand Bounce is an extra on any DVD.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Not-so-delightful idiots

In July's TCM spotlight of movies from the year 1939, one of the movies they ran that I hadn't blogged about before is Idiot's Delight. So I decided to DVR it and sat down to watch it so I could do a post on it here.

The movie starts off with the end of World War I and soldiers returning home. Among those soldiers is Harry Van (Clark Gable), who had been working in vaudeville before the war. The war has changed things, and he's constantly bouncing from gig to gig, eventually winding up as the straight guy to phony psychic Madame Zuleika (Laura Hope Crews). One night in Omaha she gets drunk and the show goes south. Irene Fellara (Norma Shearer), an acrobat with a different act, figures out what's going on and after the show tells Harry that she wants to learn the secret of the act and be the psychic. Harry says no, and the two eventually go their separate ways.

Fast forward to 1939. Harry has continued to work a series of gigs, with his current one being the front man for a group of chorus girls called Les Blondes. They've been performing all over the place, and are now in the Balkans, returning back to western Europe. But the political situation in Europe is unstable; as we know World War II in Europe would begin in September of 1939. (The movie was actually released in 1939 and is based on a play that hit Broadway back in 1936.) So when the train gets to what would be roughly Slovenia in modern geography if it had been an independent country at the time, they're forced to stop because the borders are temporarily closed.

Harry, Les Blondes, and a bunch of other passengers are forced to wait in an Alpine resort hotel while the uncertain situation resolves itself. Among the passengers are the scientist Dr. Waldersee (Charles Coburn), who is doing cancer research on his rats; the newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Cherry; pacifist Quillery (Burgess Meredith) who used to work in the arms industry; and Achille Weber (Edward Arnold), a titan of the armaments industry who has as his companion Russian exile Princess Irene [sic -- in Russian it would be spelled Irina]. Harry sees Irene, a platinum blonde, and realizes she's a dead ringer for the Irene he knew back in Omaha.

Harry tries to figure out whether Princess Irene is the same woman he had met all those years ago, while some of the other people have their own dramas of greater or lesser importance played out. Weber tries to send a bunch of telegrams, while Quillery eventually goes nuts and breaks up a performance of Les Blondes screaming about the upcoming war, not caring what the authorities are going to do to him.

Eventually, the border is reopened -- but Irene's passport is not in order. She had what was probably a Nansen passport, since her real birth location wasn't known and even if she were Russian she would likely not have been able to bring her passport with her when she escaped and it would have expired anyway. The problem with being forced to remain is that at the bottom of the hill where the hotel is, there's an air base where some of this country's air force has its planes. And they might well have started the war by carrying out an air raid.

I have to admit that I found Idiot's Delight to be a curious misfire. There's a whole lot of nothing going on for much of the movie, and frankly there's not much reason to care about any of the characters besides Harry and Irene. Irene in particular is irritating in the second half of the movie.

But there's also quite a bit interesting. One thing is that the fictional country where everybody is stranded uses Esperanto. (Apparently the original play used Italian and Italy objected when the movie was being made. And since they were still a market for Hollywood movies....) Another interesting thing was that Les Blondes (and Harry) perform Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz", which still has the original lyrics about the hired help going back to Harlem on their night off and voguing. I was surprised to see an Irving Berlin song used like this, since I thought by this point he wanted complete control over how his music was being used, hence the whole creation of the movie Alexander's Ragtime Band.

The final thing of note is that MGM created two endings, one for Europe and one for the US. When TCM ran it, they showed the European ending. But after the closing titles, the print has a card pointing out there were two endings, and proceeds to show the American ending.

Idiot's Delight is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, if you want to watch it and judge for yourself.

Peter Fonda, 1940-2019

Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (1969)

I suppose I should mention the passing of actor Peter Fonda. Son of Henry and sister of Jane, Peter became famous in his own right for his work on the 1969 movie Easy Rider. I have to admit that Easy Rider is not a movie that particularly interests me, since I was born in 1972 and the whole Boomer counterculture thing hasn't been very appealing.

Fonda received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the script to Easy Rider, but his career didn't quite take off the way his sister's had. He got a second act, though, when he took the leading role in Ulee's Gold, the movie that got him an acting Oscar nomination, although he didn't win.

Peter is the father of actress Bridget Fonda, which makes me want to watch Scandal (the movie about the Profumo scandal in which Bridget plays Mandy Rice-Davies) again, although it doesn't seem to have gotten a US DVD release.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Drowning Pool

Among the movies I recorded back when Paul Newman was TCM's Star of the Month, there's The Drowning Pool.

Newman plays private detective Lew Harper, reprising a role he'd done about a decade earlier. This time, the action is moved from California to Louisiana, with the premise being that one of Harper's old flames out in California is Iris Deveraux (Joanne Woodward), who married into a wealthy family in Louisiana, and who needs a private investigator who's not known in these parts.

Except that his arrival is known, because somebody sends along a piece of jailbait to get in Harper's motel room and try to get him arrested. The police, in the form of Broussard (Tony Franciosa) and his nasty deputy Franks (Richard Jaeckel), do indeed bring Harper in, but let him go in part because he's more useful to them on the outside.

When Harper visits Iris to find out why she wanted him, he discovers there's a lot more than meets the eye. Ostensibly, the family's former chauffeur, Reavis, is sending blackmail letters about Iris having cheated on her husband. But the family's land sits on a whole bunch of oil, which local oil magnate Kilbourne (Murray Hamilton) wants. And when Harper sees Iris' teeange daughter Schuyler, he immediately recognizes her as the jailbait from his motel!

Kilbourne wants Harper to get the Deveraux matriarch to agree to sell the rights to drill oil on that land, which Harper doesn't have any particular desire to do. It's not too long before said matriarch winds up murdered, and the obvious suspect is Reavis.

Oh, there's blackmail going on, but it's much bigger than supposed letters about Iris and any paramour she may or may not have. Harper is getting deeper into the case, to the point that there are lots of people willing to kill him, ultimately leading to the movie's climax, the scene that gives rise to the movie's title when Harper and Kilbourne's wife are locked in the hydrotherapy room of an abandoned mental institution and Harper decides the way to escape is to flood the room and break out a skylight.

There's a lot going on in The Drowning Pool that you're going to have to concentrate to put all the pieces together. And even then, I don't think the pieces really do come together. There are a lot of scenes that are all OK as individual scenes, but the resolution is muddled and fairly sudden. Location shooting was nice, and Newman is reasonably appealing as the cynical and dry-witted detective.

Some people will probably like The Drowning Pool a lot more than I did. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you can watch it any time you like.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #266: Witness

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week the them is "Witness", which I think is a fairly straightforward one.

Just doing an IMDb search on the word "witness" in the title yields a whole bunch of selections, and two of my three selections actually do have the word "witness" in the title, although I wasn't trying to pick or avoid movies like that. As always, my selections skew just a bit older than the 1985 Witness (which by the way is a pretty darn good movie):

The Star Witness (1931). Grant Mitchell gets about as close to a starring role as he'd have in his career, as a man who witnesses a gangland murder, and is understandably fairly reluctant to testify about what he saw because he knows that he gang members are going to come after his kids (including a very young Dickie Moore) if he testifies. The prosecutor (Walter Huston) tries to put pressure on him. Ultimately it's up to Grandpa (Chic Sale), a Civil War veteran, to save the day.

Shadow on the Wall (1950). I recommended this one recently. Zachary Scott plays a husband who finds his wife is cheating on him with her sister's (Ann Sothern) boyfriend. The two sisters get in an argument about it, and Sothern shoots her sister, with Scott's daughter (Gigi Perreau) witnessing it. She's so traumatized by it she represses the memory, and child psychologist Nancy Davis has to bring the memory back out. When Sothern realizes what's going to happen, she tries to off the little girl.

Witness to Murder (1954). The other 1954 movie about somebody witnessing a killing through their apartment window. She reports the murder to the police, and detective Gary Merrill comes to investigate, but the murderer (George Sanders) realizes what's up and is able to make it look as though there was no murder at all and that Stanwyck must be going crazy. Can she convince the police in time?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

One Wonderful Sunday

I've briefly mentioned One Wonderful Sunday once or twice before, and I finally got around to re-watching it off of Criterion's Eclipse Series box set of early Akira Kurosawa movies.

Yuzo (Isao Numasaki) is a young man who at the start of the movie is waiting for somebody. He's clearly in poor financial circumstances, as he sees a half-smoked cigarette on the ground and thinks seriously about picking it up to smoke. The person he's waiting for is his girlfriend Masako (Chieko Nakakita), and her arrival shames him into not picking up the cigarette even though, as he tells her, he hasn't had a smoke in three days.

This is Sunday, presumably their one day off during the week as it's postwar Japan and I think it wasn't uncommon to work 5-1/2 day weeks. The two plan to spend the day together... but there's one problem. Between the two of them, they only have ¥35 between them, which is a paltry sum. Yuzo clearly feels like he's not enough of a man for not being able to do right by Masako financially.

They start spending their day together, and immediately money -- or more accurately the lock of it -- crops up, as it's going to do again and again throughout the day. They see an open house for a new type of house construction. They'd love to have a place of their own, but even this sort of lower-quality build costs ¥100,000, or far beyond their means. They can't even afford to live on their own, Yuzo living with a friend and Masako living with her sister.

Still, the two try to have fun, but after a series of disappointments, they realize they've got just enough money to get tickets to the concert that includes Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. But just before they get to the ticket window, somebody buys up all the ¥10 tickets and decides to start scalping them for ¥15, right in front of the box office! And, having spent a bit of that ¥35 the couple started off with, they can't afford the higher price for the tickets.

One Wonderful Sunday is one wonderful movie, even though most people talk about it being one of Kurosawa's "lesser" movies. In some ways that's true, if only because on the face of it the movie isn't particularly big in scope. There's also one scene near the end where Masako breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience that a lot of reviewers have some difficulty with. (I didn't.) However, beneath the surface there's really a lot of subtle messages about love and hardship and what money can do to people even though we all need it. The movie is also a nice look at a Tokyo that probably doesn't exist any more.

I don't think that One Wonderful Sunday is available as a standalone DVD, but the Eclipse box set is in my opinion certainly worth it.

August 14, 2019: Liv Ullmann Day

Autumn Sonata (1978); tonight at 9:45 PM

Today's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Norwegian actress (actually born in Japan) Liv Ullmann. I'm mentioning her in part because TCM's schedule suggests a lot of what is showing today is not on DVD. I don't always trust that, however, since the schedule includes Zandy's Bride at noon, and Amazon lists it as being available from the Warner Archive collection.

Just before Zandy's Bride, at 10:15 AM, is The Abdication, which I just mentioned back in June in one of the Thursday Movie Picks posts. So now is your chance to catch it.

There's a documentary at 8:00 PM that I haven't seen before, about Ullmann's work with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and those collaborations take up the rest of the prime time lineup, starting at 9:45 PM with Autumn Sonata, as mentioned above.

Now to see what if I can make any room on the DVR.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Alice in Movieland

I had a few things in my queue to blog about, but not having finished up something off the DVR, I decided to watch a short off the Sea Hawk DVD: Alice in Movieland.

Now, the first think I noticed was the copyright date: 1947, which seemed odd considering that Joan Leslie was the star and Jean Negulesco the director. However, it turns out that the short was re-released at the turn of 1946/7, and was originally released in 1940 (see the IMDb page), which makes more sense since by 1946 Leslie and Negulesco had become big enough not to be doing shorts like this.

Anyhow, the story is a fairly trite one that reminded me a lot of A Star is Born. Leslie plays Alice Purdee, a girl from Anytown, USA who wins a beauty contest with the prize of a trip to Hollywood for a screen test. However, she finds that actually becoming a star isn't as easy as she thought. There's even character actress Clara Blandick as her grandmother back in her small town, reminiscent of the May Robson character in A Star Is Born.

One thing that made me wonder whether the release date was correct was a scene where Alice goes to a talent show at a nightclub, and a bunch of Hollywood stars (all Warners stars, of course, since this was made at Warner Bros.!) are out in the audience. They mention Alexis Smith, who I thought wasn't a star yet, although she had made some shorts. I'm guessing they might have redone the audio. Ditto for Craig Stevens. Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman are shown together, which made me look up exactly when they got married. That turned out to be about two months before the short was originally released. (They were still married at the time of the re-release.)

Alice in Movieland isn't great but it isn't bad. But The Sea Hawk is worth it, so getting the extras is just a bonus.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Tab Hunter Confidential

TCM ran a night of Tab Hunter's movies back in July on what would have been his 88th birthday, and kicked the night off with the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential.

The movie was introduced by Eddie Muller and Allan Glaser. Glaser was the producer of the movie and Hunter's partner for the last 30-plus years of Hunter's life, while Muller actually co-wrote Hunter's autobiography, also called Tab Hunter Confidential, which is the basis for this documentary movie, so it was quite nice to hear the two of them talking about Hunter before and after the movie.

Nowadays, of course, everybody knows a good portion of the Tab Hunter story. He became an actor in the early 1950s, and a teen idol who even sang a Billboard #1 hit. But he was also homosexual in a time when the fear of losing one's livelihood should such a secret came out was a big deal; that's why other Hollywood gays like Rock Hudson or Anthony Perkins weren't known to be gay until much later in their lives. Perkins and Hunter actually did have a relationship.

As for Hunter, he was protected while he was under contract at Warner Bros., as it was the thing at the time for the studios to protect their stars by keeping bad publicity from coming out. But Hunter wanted to more more serious work, so he bought out his contract, after which all that bad publicity came out. Hunter, of course, would have a Hollywood comeback of sorts with John Waters in the 1980s.

But the movie also focuses on Hunter's pursuits outside of Hollywood. I didn't know that he was a fairly accomplished figure skater, at least accomplished enough to get to regional qualifying and be the partner of a contender for the world championship. He was also an accomplished equestrian, and the movie covers that stuff in a fair amount of detail, since it was clearly Hunter's passion after leaving Hollywood.

There are a whole bunch of interiews with people who worked with Hunter, including a few who are no longer with us (notably Debbie Reynolds, and Hunter himself), as well as a great deal of archive footage, all of which combines for a fascinating story and one that's well worth watching. I think anybody interested in Hollywood's past will thoroughly enjoy Tab Hunter Confidential.

Ann Sothern Day on TCM

August 12 on TCM's Summer Under the Stars is given over to the films of Ann Sothern. When it somes to Sothern and TCM, I'd guess the most common thing to see are the Maisie movies since there was a whole slew of them made at MGM and TCM can get the library that Ted Turner bought (the MGM/WB/RKO movies) more easily than the stuff other conglomerates own.

As such, it should be unsurprising that today's lineup includes five of the Maisie movies, running from 9:00 AM through to 5:00 PM. But I'd like to mention some of the dramatic work that follows later in the day. First at 5:00 is another chance to see the recent Noir Alley selection Shadow on the Wall that I blogged about not too long ago.

At 8:00 PM, there's the excellent A Letter to Three Wives, in which Sothern is one of the wives who is informed by an unseen fourth woman that she (the fourth woman) is going to run off with one of the husbands. Sothern actually gets to play the wife of Kirk Douglas, which is an interesting pairing.

Then at midnight, there's The Whales of August, with Sothern playing the neighbor to summer visitors Bette Davis and Lillian Gish. Sothern is the one who got the Oscar nomination, although Gish really deserved one too.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Every Little Crook and Nanny

Another of my recent movie viewings to try to clear some space off the DVR was Every Little Crook and Nanny.

Lynn Redgrave plays Miss Poole, who runs a school that teaches children to be good little ladies and gentlemen, teaching them dance especially, but also comportment and other sundry stuff. One day in the middle of class, a bunch of goons walk in and start dismantling the place! They're from the Ganucci organization, which a Mafia family, but don't you dare say that the Mafia exists. The head of the family, Carmine Ganucci (Victor Mature), has bought the buiding to use for running local numbers games, and poor Miss Poole is out of luck even though she has a lease.

Carmine is planning on going back to the old country with his wife to do some business, and he wants to leave his son Lewis (Phillip Graves) behind since he's been raising Lewis not to know that his dad is part of the Mafia that we all know doesn't exist anyway (this is a running joke throughout the movie). His lawyers Azzecca (Dom DeLuise) and Garbugli (John Astin) are helping him find a nanny. So far, none of the nannies are to Carmine's liking.

That is, until Miss Poole comes storming into the office. She's not a nanny, mind you. It's just that she's pissed about what Ganucci did, ruining her office and injuring her pianist Luther (Austin Pendleton). She wants to be compensated for this, and is out for blood. Carmine sees Miss Poole and, in a case of mistaken identity, immediately thinks she'd make a great nanny for Lewis.

Miss Poole takes the job, if only because it allows her to come up with a ridiculous plan. She'll stage a kidnapping of Lewis, and set a ransom high enough to cover her losses from the school and to be able to start a new life. Of course, she knows nothing about kidnapping, but that's beside the point. She and Luther plan it, and after it goes off seemingly without a hitch, Poole turns to one of Ganucci's low-level gangsters, Barry Napkins (Paul Sand), to help get the ransom.

It's here that problems begin to show up. Benny isn't particularly competent, while nobody else wants Carmine to know what really happened, so they -- especially Garbugli and Azzecca -- try to get the money in a roundabout way. Carmine wants a money transfer for his business deal in Italy and Benny is engaging in petty larceny to raise the money, so there are multiple sets of money in the amount of the ransom going around. Luther is the one holding Lewis, and his wife Ida decides she'd really like a kid.

Every Little Crook and Nanny is a movie that sounds like it has a really good premis, but which winds up not quite working. I'm assuming Redgrave wanted to do a comedy, and she looks like she's having a lot of fun doing it. But the movie is supposed to be a relatively light comedy, at least light for the sort of material it's covering, so something like The Trouble With Harry or Too Many Crooks; not something heavy like a Paddy Chayefsky satire. Every Little Crook and Nanny, however, descends into a much too complex plot to save it as a light comedy.

Every Little Crook and Nanny is available on DVD if you want to judge for yourself.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Melody Cruise

I've mentioned before that I tend to find musicals before 42nd Street to be pretty dire affairs. At RKO, it was really Flying Down to Rio at the end of 1933, with the pairing of Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire, that revived the genre for that studio. Earlier musicals were either not very good, or else an absolute curiosity like Melody Cruise.

Phil Harris, who would go on to be a voice actor in Disney movies, plays playboy and confirmed bachleor Alan Chandler. He's going on a cruise in the dead of winter from New York to Los Angeles, through the Panama Canal. There are of course going to be a lot of eligible, good-looking young bachelorettes on the cruise, so Alan blackmails his traveling companion Pete Wells (Charlie Ruggles) into keeping him on the straight and narrow. Alan writes a letter detailing some of the married Pete's alleged dalliances, and sends that letter to Mrs. Wells (Marjorie Gateson) with a note saying that the letter is to be opened only in the event that Alan gets married.

So of course you know that he's going to get involved with some of the pretty ladies on board the ship. German Elsa (Greta Nissen) love him while he only liks her; Laurie (Helen Mack) is a little more the sort of woman Alan finally decides he's going to settle down with. It's enough to make Pete extremely worried.

Pete, for his part, has his own problems not involving Alan. You've probably seen any number of movies about cruises where the ship has somebody announcing in town-crier style, "All ashore who's going ashore!" Well, two young women at the bon voyage party get drunk enough that they pass out in Pete's stateroom and miss going ashore. So they have no cabin of their own and Pete has a wife. This results in his trying to pass the two young ladies off as his nieces, although when the ship gets to Los Angeles and Mrs. Wells shows up, she's going to know.

I said at the beginning that this is a musical, and that's the curious thing about it. The plot to Melody Cruise is pretty threadbare and not particularly well handled. The songs are one of the things that make the movie more interesting, being with one exception handled in a style pretty close to Rex Harrison's Sprechgesang that you can see in My Fair Lady or Dr. Doolittle. The people's voices, and other sound effects, are carefully edited to sound musical even if they aren't really. It starts off right at the beginning when there's a montage of people trying to avoid the winter, and really continues in the song "He's Not the Marrying Kind". The wipes used for scene transitions are also much better handled than the plain horizontal or vertical wipes used in most early 1930s movies.

Melody Cruise is worth one watch for its interesting use of film techniques much more than for the plot or acting. It would be nicer if it showed up on TV more instaed of having to watch a pricier Warner Archive DVD, since this is the sort of movie I don't have any real desire to watch multiple times.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Joe Kidd

Recently I picked up a box set of seven Clint Eastwood films, divided into three westerns and four other movies; I believe the two haves are available for purchase separately. Anyhow, I recently sat down to watch Joe Kidd off the set.

Eastwood plays Joe Kidd, a man who at the start of the movie is being brought into jail in the Arizona Territory sometime in the early 1890s. Joe is apparently a bit (OK, a lot) of a hell-raiser, and this isn't the first time he's been in jail. But it's only poaching on Indian land, nothing terribly serious.

Joe's perfunctory trial coincides with another event, that of the entry into town of Luis Chama (John Saxon). Luis is the leader of the Mexican-American community, the descendants of the people who were in the region before the Mexican-American War when the US won the land from Mexico. If you recall from The Baron of Arizona, the US was supposed to respect the land claims of the people who lived in the region at the time the treaty was signed. But Chama believes his people have been shafted by the incoming ranchers, especially somebody like Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall). So Chama burns the property deeds and creates a huge stir at the courthouse.

Word of all this obviously gets to Harlan, who shows up in town wanting to find Chama, who Harlan feels is trespassing on his land. To be fair, considering what Chama did in town, the regular authorities want Chama and are offering a substantial reward for him. The only think is that you get the impression Harlan wants him for his own reasons. Joe Kidd is a tracker and bounty hunter, so Harlan would like him to lead Harlan's private posse to find Chama.

Joe reluctantly agrees, and doesn't really trust Harlan. Frankly, he's got good reason not to trust the man. After getting in one skirmish, Harlan and his men finally get to the village that serves as Chama's home base, high up in the mountains. Chama orders all of the locals into the church, where he plans to shoot them in small groups until Chama surrenders. Worse, Harlan takes Joe's gun and makes him stay in the the church with the locals!

I've stated any number of times that I tend to prefer genres other than westers, although I have to admit I've been warming up to them the more of them that I watch. Joe Kidd is another of those competently made westerns that doesn't really have anything wrong with it, but which also won't stand out as anything spectacular compared to all the other westerns out there. Eastwood and Duvall both do well, while the story works and the cinematography is very nice to look at.

I'd guess that most Eastwood fans would probably pick a bunch of other movies as more memorable than this one, but anybody who's a fan of either westerns or Eastwood should probably like Joe Kidd.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #265: The Mrs. Robinsons

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "The Mrs. Robinsons", which I'm guessing is a callback to Anne Bancroft's character in The Graduate:

I decided that that was a bit difficult of a topic for me to come up with three movies, so I decided to go in a different direction, with three suitable movies from the 1940s:

A Dispatch From Reuters (1940). Edna Best plays the wife of Edward G. Robinson, who stars as Baron Julius Reuter. Reuter founded the news organization that bears his name, first using carrier pigeons and then other means to get accurate news out before anybody else could. Sure, it's typical Hollywood biopic stuff, but with Edward G. Robinson you can't really go wrong.

Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944). Ruth Warrick plays the wife of Edward G. Robinson, who stars as Mr. Winkle. Winkle is a 40-something bank clerk whom the whole town sees as meek and not particularly deserving of much respect. He somehow gets drafted during World War II and winds up becoming a war hero, which changes how everybody in town looks at him.

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945). Agnes Moorehead plays the wife of Edward G. Robinson, who this time is a Norwegian immigrant father raising his daughter (Margaret O'Brien) in World War II-era rural Wisconsin. A lot of the movie is about O'Brien's adventures, while there's a subplot involving the town teacher (Frances Gifford) and newspaper editor (James Craig).

Now to see what everybody else has selected.

The Angel Wore Red

Today is Ava Gardner's day in Summer Under the Stars. There's a documentary at 8:00, as well as a movie that aired just last month, The Angel Wore Red. It's going to be on overnight, or early tomorrow, at 4:00 AM.

The setting is an unnamed Spanish city in 1936; if you know your history, that means the start of the Spanish Civil War. This is a city run by the Republican side. Working in the city is American radio correspondent Hawthorne (Joseph Cotten), who wishes that he could get a human interest story to report on. And boy is he about to get one, with the city about to be besieged and a human drama about to break about among all the chaos.

Arturo Carrero (Dirk Bogarde) is a priest in the city, but one disillusioned with the Church taking the wrong side in Spanish politics, since there are lots of poor people that the Church is doing nothing to help. He leaves the priesthood, although nobody outside the bishop (Finlay Currie) and one or two other priests know. This presents a serious problem because the new local administration is seriously anti-clerical, planning to arrest all the priests and destroy the cathedral. The cathedral holds a religious relic, the blood of a local saint, and the bishop gives it to another priest, Canon Rota (Aldo Fabrizi), to store for safekeeping.

Arturo tries to escape in civilian clothes, but the government is spending all its resources on finding the two priests who escaped the government roundup. You'd think they would have more important stuff to deal with. But apparently, that relic is very important, as the locals believe that whoever has it can't be defeated. That may be nonsense, of course, but the fact that the locals believe it is a powerful motivator, which is why the Republicans want it.

Arturo eventually meets Soledad (Ava Gardner), who works in a local cabaret that is still going as though there's no civil war on. She shelters Arturo, at least until the noose become so tight that there's no hope of escape. Arturo gives himself up and Soledad, having sheltered him, is going to be in trouble too.

The authorities at first want Arturo to come up with the goods as to where that relic is, not believing that he had oh-so conveniently left the priesthood and has no idea. Ultimately, with not just Arturo in custody, but a lot others as well, and the Nationalists closing in, the local administration under military commander General Clave (Vittorio De Sica), comes up with an idea: use the prisoners as cannon fodder!

The Angel Wore Red is a perfectly reasonable premise, but one that becomes a bit muddled in the second half, largely because it's trying to do too much. There's the war story, the love story, and Arturo's personal struggles with his faith versus the Church hierarchy. I found it all fell a bit short. Part of that is due to Cotten's character. Cotten himself isn't the problem; it's the fact that this character is too convenient to have and be in places where a real correspondent wouldn't have been allowed. In fact, I think the script as a whole lets everybody down.

But judge for yourself. It's going to be on tonight, and it's avalilable on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Rory Calhoun, 1922-1999

Rory Calhoun and Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return (1954)

Tomorrow (August 8) marks the birth anniversary of Rory Calhoun, an actor who showed up in one western after another in the 1950s. (I entered the wrong date to look up birthdays for a post today, which is why you're getting this a day early. Tomorrow has the Thursday Movie Picks and a movie coming up on TCM for Ava Gardner's day.) Quite a few of those westerns show up on StarzEncore Westerns if you have the Starz Package. The photo above is from one of Calhoun's better-known westerns, River of No Return, which will in fact be on StarzEncore Westners overnight between Thursday and Friday at 12:03 AM, and again later Friday at 8:27 AM.

Before that, however, there are three other Calhoun westerns on the channel -- I thold you he was in a lot of B westerns! Those are Red Sundown at 2:54 AM; The Saga of Hemp Brown at 5:29 AM and Raw Edge at 11:20 AM.

I had forgotten that Calhoun was in How to Marry a Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe. He was in some other early 50s Fox films in a supporting role, such as I'd Climb the Highest Mountain which has been back in the FXM rotation lately, and With a Song in My Heart, which hasn't. Oh, and who could forget Night of the Lepus?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Imitation General

I recorded a couple of films during Glenn Ford's turn as Star of the Month last month. One that I hadn't blogged about before but is on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive is Imitation General.

The title, as you'll see, is actually fairly descriptive. The scene is France in August 1944, a time when the Allies were busy pushing the Nazis out of the country fur, not having fully done so, still faced stiff resistance. Some pockets of troops got too far ahead of the rest and got cut off and surrounded by the Germans. Glenn Ford stars as Master Sergeant Murphy Savage, driver to Brigadier General Lane (Kent Smith). They meet straggling US Army soldiers, and try to get them to round out as many other officers and soldiers in the area as they can.

Savage and Lane, and the third man in their unit, Cpl. Derby (Red Buttons), eventually come upon a farmhouse, and they check to see if it's safe to enter. Surprisingly, it's occupied not by the Nazis, but by a woman who seems to have been abandoned by events, Simone (Taina Elg), acting almost as if there's been no war in the area. Simone only speaks French, and Gen. Lane is the only one who speaks it.

While doing a bit of scouting just outside the farmhouse, Gen. Lane gets shot by a Nazi sniper and killed. That threatens to destroy the entire unit, until Savage comes up with an idea. Gen. Lane had talked about the importance for moral of having a real general out in the field with the enlisted men, as if that's the only way these separated soldiers would be able to fight their way out of the mess they're in. So Savage decides that he'd better play the part of the general so that the men will hvae a real leader.

There are a couple of problems with this idea, the first being that it's quite contrary to army regulations, to the point that if Savage is found out, he'll be court-martialed. And there are already a couple of people in the area who saw the general; surely they'll notice. More worrisome is that Savage discovers an old rival, Pvt. Hutchmeyer (Tige Andrews) is among the soldiers in the area. Savage was apparently involved in getting Hutchmeyer busted back down to private, so the guy would definitely like some revenge.

Gen. Lane's suggestion that the men seeing a general fighting out in the field would be good for morale actually turns out to be right. Showing up at the farmhouse is Cpl. Sellers (Dean Jones), a man suffering from battle fatigue. Savage as the general is able to whip him back into some semblance of shape and get him out to fight the Nazis. Still, it's going to be tough to break out.

Imitation General is a movie that was billed as a comedy, but one that I found to be more of a light drama. The comedy bits, especially with Hutchmeyer at the end, didn't really work, although the story as a whole does work reasonably well. This is nothing particularly great, but also nothing particularly terrible. It's something that I'd watch once, and have no strong desire to watch again. But judge for yourself.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Tattooed Stranger

Another movie that I watched off my DVR recently was the Noir Alley entry The Tattooed Stranger. To be honest, I don't know that I'd consider it a noir, as it's more of a straight police procedural, but I'm glad that Eddie Muller introduced it since he goes into so much detail about the movies he presents.

The movie starts off with a man walking his dog in Central Park, New York City, one morning. The dog starts scratching at a car door and getting quite agitated. The man goes up to the car and sees a woman inside, and tries to get her attention. Good luck with that one, since the woman is really quite dead.

The police come to investigate, and they can't find anything to tell them who this woman is, and certainly not how she ended up dead in Central Park. The only clue they have to go on is that she's got a tattoo. (Well, they can run the plates, but they'll find the car was stolen so that's not much help.) The case is given over to veteran detective Corrigan (Walter Kinsella) and his partner for whom this is his first case as a detective, Tobin (John Miles).

The case is going to involve a whole lot of legwork. One of the clues from the autopsy leads the detectives to believe the victim might have worked at a greasy spoon, so let's call all the greasy spoons and detective agencies to see who's looking for a new employee. Meanwhile, they'd like to find who did the tattoo, to see if he knows his client. Also, somebody else knows about the death, because a crazy drunk tries to gut off the tattoo so nobody can identify it.

One other clue is some grass, which Tobin takes to the botanical gardens. There he meets Mary Mahan (Patricia Barry, credited as Patricia White), who helps identify the grass, which is not native to New York City, although there have been reports of it being a weed in a few places up in the Bronx. That's a clue. And since there's a lady botanist, you know that Tobin is going to start to develop a romantic attraction to here that's pointless to the plot, but doesn't really take away from the movie.

Eventually, they're able to find from the woman's tattoo, which was modified to look like the Marine Corps logo, that she had a series of boyfriends and husbands all in World War II, from whom she was getting the allotment checks. So perhaps she has a disgruntled ex-boyfriend?

As a police procedural, The Tattooed Stranger would be a fairly pedestrian (but not bad) movie. But what makes it work is the ultra-low budget. This was made by RKO's documentary unit in New York, and with the low budget they resorted to lots of location shooting, in places of New York that no longer exist as they were in 1950. It's an invaluable look at the seedy side of New York. That makes The Tattooed Stranger well worth a watch.

The Tattooed Stranger is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Gunga Din

Last month TCM did a retrospective of the movies of 1939 since this year is the 80th anniversary of what is often considered Hollywood's greatest year. I hadn't blogged about Gunga Din before, so since that was part of the spotlight, I decided to DVR it and watch it.

Based on a character created by Rudyard Kipling, the movie is set in India under the British Raj late in the Victorian era. Parts of the subcontinent, especially those in the northwest near what is now the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are still a fraction region, and there is all sorts of anti-British activity going on.

Cutter (Cary Grant), Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), and MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) are three friends who are serving together in this part of India and also getting in a few scrapes. Apparently, Cutter tried to buy what is purported to be a map leading to a large stash of gold which would leave Cutter set for life, and that's gotten the three in a spot of trouble. But up to this point they've always been able to fight their way out of it in cartoonish fashion.

Currently, a group known as the Thuggees (from which we get the word "thug") is rebelling, specifically downing telegraph lines but also attacking towns where the telegraph offices were. The three friends are given the task of dealing with it. It might just be their last mission together, since Ballantine is planning to get married to Emmy (Joan Fontaine) and leave the service.

Meanwhile, the three soldiers have a friend in their water carrier, the titular Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe). He also has his ear to the ground so knows a bit about what's going on, and also has a strong desire to be more British, specifically to be a British soldier. He helps Cutter escape from the brig after Cutter is put their to prevent going looking for that gold.

What they find is a temple which they ultimately realize has gold-plated (if not solid gold) sculptures, so Cutter would be engaging in a form of looting even worse than just leaving the Elgin Marbles to rot in the elements. But this being a 1939 movie, nobody thought of those things. Instead, this is also the temple where the Thuggees are planning their big rebellion. After Cutter is waylaid by the Thuggees, Ballantine and MacChesney follow to find him. The four eventually realize that when the British army as a whole comes, they'll be walking right into a trap. They have to figure out a way to escape and warn the British.

Gunga Din is a rousing action picture well suited to younger boys who want their action dished out with obvious heroes and villains; anybody looking for cultural subtlety isn't going to find it here. If you know that going in -- and you should probably expect it considering that the movie is from 1939 -- it works. I'll admit that I personally prefer the Errol Flynn swashbucklers for their action to Gunga Din, but this one isn't too bad.

Gunga Din is available on DVD.