Monday, September 30, 2019

The Honey Pot

Another of the movies that I recently watched to get off of my DVR is The Honey Pot, which is available on DVD courtesy of MGM/UA's MOD scheme.

Rex Harrison plays Cecil Fox, a wealthy man living in Venice, Italy, watching a staging of the early 17th century Ben Jonson play Volpone. Fox goes back to his palatial villa, where he meets with William McFly (Cliff Robertson). McFly is responding to an ad Fox put out looking for a personal secretary, although McFly realizes something is up and that Fox doesn't really want a secretary, but some other sort of help.

McFly would be right. Fox had relationships with a couple of women in his life that went sour, and he's looking to get back at them by playing an elaborate practical joke on them. Fox is going to tell them he's dying, and that they need to come to Venice for the reading of the will when he dies, at which point they'll find he's left everything to McFly. Except of course that he won't actually be dead, if any of this makes sense.

As for the women, there's French Princess Dominique (Capucine), now married to another man; fading actress Merle McGill (Edie Adams); and Texan business magnate Sheridan (Susan Hayward), a hypochondriac traveling with her personal nurse Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith). Sheridan, being a hypochondriac herself, immediately takes it upon herself to arrange medical care for Fox in a hospital, even though he doesn't need it since he's not dying. He refuses for the understandable reason, and it's revealed that if power of attorney were a thing in 1960s Italy, Sheridan would have it as she could be considered Fox's common-law wife.

But a strange thing happens. Sheridan is found in her bed the next morning, quite dead. Sarah suspects murder largely because, knowing about her employer's hypochondria, Sarah always had a bottle of placebo sleeping pills nearby. There's no way she would have overdosed them. Sarah also suspects things are not quite on the level with Fox and McFly.

The Honey Pot is another of those movies that has a good premise but doesn't quite add up. I found myself thinking of another Harrison movie, A Flea in Her Ear. That one is set in belle époque Paris, and while this one is set in contemporary times, it has an old-fashioned feel in part because of the presence of the play Volpone and in part because it was released in a turbulent time when Hollywood was changing. The Honey Pot has a really hidebound feel to it.

It also doesn't help that there's a lot of the "comedy of lies" as I like to call it here, and that's something that's never been my cup of tea. Everybody comes across as mildly irritating as they're trying to put one over on one or another of the other characters. Still, the actors all do their best with the material they're given, and the movie is always nice to look at.

So you may want to give The Honey Pot a try yourself as you'll possibly have a rather better view of it than I do.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Blood Alley

Another recent DVR viewing for me was Blood Alley.

John Wayne plays Tom Wilder, a merchant marine captain who has been in a Communist Chinese prison for some time for reasons that don't quite make sense to me. Granted, the US and mainland China didn't have diplomatic relations at the time, but you think they would have deported him. At any rate, Tom isn't going to be in jail much longer as he's sprung by some mysterious Chinese villagers.

They have good reasons for breaking him out of jail, too. They hate the Communist government, and have decided that they're going to try to escape. Their audacious plan is to commandeer a boat and sail it all the way to Hong Kong! (I think Taiwan would have been nearer, so another odd plot point.) They need Tom because he's a ship's captain, which is the one thing they don't have in the village. And indeed, pretty much the entire village is going to try to escape.

They have everything else, from a family that has sided with the Communists, headed by Old Feng (Berry Kroeger), and another American: Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall), who stayed behind with her missionary doctor father after the Communist takeover because she was profoundly stupid. Dad isn't around because he was shanghaied into taking care of a bigwig in the nearest big city; if the bigwig dies, so will her Dad.

Eventually, the villagers are able to get that boat, but getting it to Hong Kong is going to be quite the feat. This is a river ferry, most definitely not designed for an ocean voyage because of how top-heavy it is. The boat is also overcrowded with people, and doesn't have enough food to begin with. Never mind that the Communists decide to poison the food supply since they don't want any of the non-Communists to escape. They even break out of the brig to attack Tom at one point.

And then there's Cathy, who's still stupid. She insists at one point on getting off the boat to go into town to see what happened to her father, even though we all know he's already dead. (Tom didn't have the heart to break the news to Cathy). She's so obnoxious that I would have given serious consideration to letting her strand herself on the mainland.

Blood Alley is a movie in a firm tradition of people trying to escape from various forms of totalitarianism. I know I've mentioned Escape from East Berlin and Man on a Tightrope from among those with people fleeing Communism; there's also The Mortal Storm for people escaping Nazism. So the premise of Blood Alley isn't all that bad.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves something to be desired. Unsurprisingly, there weren't enough Asian actors to give the big villager roles to, so the biggest ones go to Caucasians. In addition to the previously mentioned Kroeger, there's also Mike Mazurki as the muscle behind the escape, and Paul Fix (yes, Micah Torrance from The Rifleman) as the brains. Fix actually does a good job with a silly role. The big problem is that this particular escape is particularly unrealistic. That, and Lauren Bacall's character, who had to have known long before getting off the boat for the last time that she was never going to see her father again.

Still, despite all it's problems, you could find worse ways to spend two hours of your time than to watch Blood Alley if you want something you haven't seen before. But it's not something I'm going to look to rewatch. Blood Alley is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sorry, not my friend

One of the movies coming up on FXM that I haven't recommended before is My Friend Flicka, which will be on tomorrow at 1:30 PM.

Roddy McDowall plays Ken McLaughlin, somewhat irresponsible son of Wyoming rancher Robert (Preston Foster) and Nell (Rita Johnson). As a sign of Ken's irresponsibility, he's gotten ridiculously poor grades in school, as if there were something worse than an F. Robert specifically raises horses, breaking them for people to ride and then selling them off, so Ken would like one of the colts as his own. Fat chance, says Dad.

But Mom thinks perhaps having a colt to take care of will be a good thing for Ken, and she eventually gets her husband to reconsider. One of the problems, however, is that the current crop of horses seems to come from decidedly poor breeding stock. If they're not going to be very good for regular adults, how is a kid like Ken going to be able to handle one?

And to make things worse, Ken falls in love with a horse that's decidedly bad for him: Flicka, son of the wild Cigarette. Cigarette is so wild that when he is taken off into town, he bucks just as the truck is passing under the ranch's sign, hitting his head and killng himself. How can Flicka be broken with a blood line like that?

And she continues to be a problem. In the corral, she runs into the barbed wire, cutting herself. Ken, and Mom take care of the original injury, and Flicka's calmness during that action convinces Ken that Flicka can be tamed. But infection sets in, forcing Dad to consider the possibility of having Flicka put down by being shot, much like Old Yeller a dozen years later.

Frankly, I wouldn't have minded if My Friend Flicka had ended with the horse getting shot, which at least would have made an interesting end to the movie. But that's not what happens. Instead, we get a mawkish ending that caps off an obnoxiously treacly movie. Ken is irritating, and it's easy to see why Dad considers him irresponsible. But we're supposed to have sympathy with Ken. The color cinematography, with Wyoming shooting locations, is nice, but it can't save a terrible plot.

Perhaps, however, kids will like such simplistic stuff, so if you've got kids you may want to record this one and watch with them. The movie is out of print on DVD, so the FXM showing is about the only way you'll catch it.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Don't you cry for me

Another of the stars who got a day in this year's Summer Under the Stars is Dorothy McGuire. One of her films that I haven't blogged about before is Susan Slade, so I sat down to watch that one to do a post on it here.

McGuire is not Susan, but Susan's mother Leah; the part of Susan is played by up-and-comer Connie Stevens. Susan and Leah have been living in Chile's Atacama Desert for the past ten years together with the father in the family, Roger (Lloyd Nolan), who was a mining engineer for wealthy Stanton Corbett (Brian Aherne). They're about to go home to the California coast.

One thing Mom is especially worried about is how Susan is going to handle young men, since she didn't have much chance to deal with men of her social class what with her isolated upbringing in Chile. On the boat home, she meets Conn White (Grant Williams), who is the son of a wealthy man but who spends all his time being a mountaineer. Mom isn't so certain Conn is right for Susan, and is especially aghast when Susan comes back to their stateroom with smudged lipstick: obviously, she's been kissing, horror of horrors.

Back at home, we meet Corbett and his family, wife Marion (Natalie Schafer) and son Wells (Bert Convy), the latter being somebody all the old farts think would be perfect for Susan. The last member of the complicated relationships is Hoyt (Troy Donahue), a struggling writer whose father worked for Corbett but who was arrested for embezzlement and hanged himself in prison. Polite society shuns Hoyt, although Susan doesn't dislike him mostly because she's never been in polite society.

Still, Susan is waiting for Conn to return from his latest expedition, at which point she knows he's going to propose. The only problem is, he dies in a mountaineering accident on Mt. McKinley, which makes him rather unable to propose. Worse, he apparently knocked her up on the boat, which would explain that smudged lipstick. So Susan is pregnant out of wedlock, which would be an absolute scandal in her stratum of society.

So Mom and Dad get a brilliant idea. Dad, despite having foreshadowed that he's got a heart condition that could kill him, decides to take another engineering job in Guatemala. Mom and Susan will go along, which means Susan will be able to have the baby down there. Mom, meanwhile, has been dropping extremely unsubtle hints that she's pregnant. Not that she is; instead, she's going to act as though it's her baby when they get back from Guatemala, and nobody will know the difference.

But then Dad dies of a heart attack, leaving mother and daughter to return home alone. Well, with the baby, which Mom has increasingly decided is mine mine mine, and dammit Susan, I'm never going to let you have it! Susan, understandably, grows increasingly resentful.

Susan Slade is one of those lush potboilers that were quite common in the 50s and 60s, with upper class people going through all sorts of tribulations for us common people to point at and make fun of. Susan Slade does not disappoint in that manner. It's a mess at times, in no small part due to the acting of Donahue and Stevens, but it's never less than fun. As with All That Heaven Allows, there's some pretty blatant foreshadowing here. A real plus is the cinematography, helped out by being in the Big Sur area, making the movie look lovely even if the story is risible at times.

Susan Slade is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #272: Fantasy (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV themed edition, with the theme being fantasy. I've said several times that I don't watch much episodic TV at all any more, so this one was a bit tough for me because I couldn't think of that many old shows that plausibly fit the theme. Thankfully there was one obvious choice, a second show with the word "Fantasy" in the title, and eventually I came up with a third that fits:

Fantasy Island (1977-1984). Ricardo Montalbán stars as Mr. Rourke, who ran a resort on an island where a series of wealthy celebrity guests could have their fantasies played out. He was helped by his diminutive friend Tattoo (Herve Villechaize), who left in the last season and was replaced by Christopher Hewitt.

Fantasy (1982). Short-lived NBC daytime show hosted by Peter Marshall and Leslie Uggams (remember her?) in which studio audience members had their dreams made reality with help from some stars of NBC series because they have to do that cross-promotion. Not quite as mawkish and manipulative as Queen for a Day.

Highway to Heaven (1984-1989). Michael Landon, together with his friend Victor French, play a pair of angels sent down from heaven to help a series of Z-listers and over-the-hill actors with their personal problems, with the people they help becoming better people in the process. Reminiscent of the later Touched by an Angel.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Live to Tell

I remember, when I was a teenager back in the 1980s, hearing Madonna's big hit "Live to Tell", and knowing that it came from a movie called At Close Range. I never got the chance to see the movie, but when DirecTV had a free preview of the Epix channels, they ran it. It's going to be on the main Epix channel again tomorrow afternoon at 6:00 PM.

(Madonna's music video for "Live to Tell". WARNING: some key plot points of the movie may be revealed.)

Sean Penn (who was married to Madonna at the time which is why her song wound up as the soundrack to the movie, heard mostly in an instrumental arrangement until the closing credits) plays Brad Whitewood Jr., a recent high school graduate in the more rural parts of Pennsylvania in the spring of 1978. He's a shiftless young man, not having much in the way of prospects and getting into all sorts of low-level trouble, such as shaking down a man who gypped his kid brother out of the $5 to buy a bottle of liquor.

Home life is a bit chaotic, living with his kid brother Tommy (Chris Penn), Grandma (the Penns' real-life mother Eileen Ryan) and mom Julie (Millie Perkins). Mom and Dad got divorced many years ago after Dad got sent to prison, and now Mom shacking up with a series of men, with Dad showing up once in a while to give Mom some money that's likely the product of yet another crime.

Brad Jr. gets into it with Mom's latest boyfriend, so he decides that since he's of age, he's going to go see Dad and perhaps live with Dad for a while. Mom hates the idea because she knows what Dad is really like. Dad, Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken), is the leader of a criminal gang that engages in all sorts of robberies, especially of farm equipment, and it's those robberies that got Dad in jail. But Dad seems to like his son, at least to the extent that he's trying to buy his kid's love and loyalty.

Meanwhile, that first time we saw Brad Jr., he was meeting 16-year-old Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson), and the two fall in love even though her parents hate the idea of the two seeing each other for fairly obvious reasons. Eventually Brad Jr. takes Terry to meet Dad, who isn't so sure of the relationship either, probably seeing Terry as a threat. Eventually, young Brad goes on a job with his father to see if he'd be willing to join the gang full time.

Brad Jr. decides against it, because things go wrong and Dad ends up having a man who could have been a witness. murdered Brad decides instead to start his own gang with his own friends and Tommy. They'd been getting into petty trouble as I mentioned, and being so young definitely aren't ready for the sorts of real crime that his father and the gang have been carrying out. Brad Jr. and friends get arrested.

That gives prosecutors an in to try to get at Brad Sr., whom they know full well is a really bad man but don't have enough evidence on to get him back in jail. Brad Sr. understands the danger, too, and when little Brad figures this out, sparks are going to fly.

The closing credits reveal that At Close Range is based on real people, but the names have been changed and some events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. It's an extremely disturbing story, reminding me in places of Badlands and in other places of Animal Kingdom. Sean Penn and Christopher Walken are both excellent, and I can't help but think it's the subject material of the movie that led to both of them getting ignored by the Academy come Oscar time.

The other acting is good too even if it's mostly in support of the two leads. Among them are a young Crispin Glover and a young Kiefer Sutherland as Brad Jr.'s friends. Another big plus is the cinematography and production design, which does a very good job of recreating lower class rural white America. (Tennessee is standing in for Pennsylvania, however.) Living in a declining town in the Catskills, having traveled around a lot of upstate New York, and through a good deal of northern New England during my time in college, I got to see a lot of the small town centers and outlying residences of the sort that are shown here, and it really brought back memories.

The one irony is with Madonna's song. The lyrics in some ways don't really fit the movie, largely because you've got a woman singing it in Madonna. "A man can tell a thousand lies/I've learned my lesson well" makes it sound like nobody's going to believe a woman who's been harmed by her boyfriend or husband, or something similar. But that's not exctly what the movie is about, since it's a father/son dynamic, no woman here. Of course, that's not really a problem with the movie itself, just something I noticed since I had heard the song so many times before seeing the movie.

At Close Range is out of print on DVD, which is a huge shame. Amazon Prime Video says it's leaving there in a couple of days, while Google Play doesn't say anything about if it's leaving there; I don't know about the rights issues for streaming video. Catch it while you can; I highly recommend At Close Range.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Along the Great Divide

Walter Brennan was one of the stars TCM spotlighted in this year's 31 Days of Summer. However, one of his movies that I recorded was actually run for a different star's day: Along the Great Divide, honoring Kirk Douglas.

Kirk Douglas plays Len Merrick, a US Marshal out on his new assignment. He shows up just in time, as a bunch of cattlemen led by Ed Roden (Morris Ankrum) are about to lynch homesteader Pop Keith (that's Brennan), on the grounds that he rustled cattle and murdered Ed's son. Keith may well be guilty, but the marshal points out that this is for a court and jury to decide. As the marshal, it's his job to bring the accused into town for a trial.

However, it's going to be a difficult journey, as they're all out in a desert area relatively far away from the town and justice. More important, however, is that Roden and his son Dan (James Anderson) are pissed. They want "justice", which for them means hanging Keith right now. Since they can't really start the journey to town at night, Keith offers to let Merrick and his deputies stay at their place before heading off across the desert to town.

It's partly a ruse, of course; Pop has a daughter there in Ann (Virginia Mayo). If she can do anything about it, she's not about to let the marshal bring her dad into town. But of course there's also Roden and his men, and she's not about to let them kill her father, either. It helps that she's at least halfway capable with a shot.

So, there's an uneasy alliance heading off across the desert, with the Keiths going only for their own survival against Roden's men. Eventually, they get ambushed by the Rodens, but they're able to take Dan hostage, making Ed withdraw until the party gets to town -- if they can.

At this point, the movie turns from more action to more of a psychological drama. In the ambush, the marshal and his party lost their water packs that the spare horse was carrying, so there's a darn good chance of running out of water. And now with one of the Rodens in the group, there's even more people working against the marshal.

Along the Great Divide is a pretty good movie that probably would have benefited from Technicolor photography. I'm not certain if Douglas had done any westerns before this one, but he already shows an adeptness for the genre. Mayo, as with almost all Hollywood star actresses, still looks a bit too glamorous for the harsh west, but this isn't her fault. Brennan is an actor I generally find irritating, but at least here that character trait is a plot point as he's deliberately wheedling the marshal, something that's understandable since Pop doesn't want to have to face justice (which he expects to be a miscarriage of justice anyway).

Along the Great Divide is availalbe on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, and is one that I think western fans will really like.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Sid Haig, 1939-2019

Sid Haig (the bald one) in Coffy

I should probably mention the death of Sid Haig. He had memorable roles in cult films, and bit parts in several more serious movies. Haig died on Saturday at the age of 80.

I have to admit that I didn't know much about Haig until TCM started running the Underground block. The original iteration of Underground was hosted by Rob Zombie, and Haig worked with Zombie on several movies playing Captain Spaulding in House of 1000 Corpses. One of the promos for Underground talked about things like the blaxploitation movies and used Haig as one of the talking heads. So I wound up noticing Haig in films such as Coffy and Foxy Brown.

Haid did a lot of work in episodic TV, and had bit parts in movies a lot more prestigious than anything that would show up in Underground, such as Point Blank, Diamonds are Forever, or Emperor of the North.


I probably should have mentioned first thing this morning that another of the TCM spotlights is coming up starting tonight in prime time. This time, it's called "Cinenmability", about Hollywood's portrayal of the disabled. I could swear TCM did a month-long spotlight on the same topic near the end of the annual series of spotlights looking at different minority groups. At any rate, this spotlight is two nights, tonight and next Monday, kicking off at 8:00 PM with a documentary called Cinemability: The Art of Inclusion, which will be repeated next Monday.

The documentary's director, Jenni Gold, will be presenting the series, I believe with Ben Mankiewicz although TCM's article on the spotlight doesn't say this. For whatever reason, a disproportionate number of the movies have deaf people as the subject, those being Johnny Belinda overnight tonight (or early tomorrow morning) at 3:00 AM, and two next week, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Children of a Lesser God.

Two movies: The Unknown at 4:45 AM tomorrow and The Best Years of Our Lives next week deal with amputees. The other movies are Freaks, tonight at 10:00 PM; Bride of Frankenstein at 11:15 PM; and The Hunchback of Notre Dame overnight at 12:45 AM (so still Monday night in the more westerly time zones). There don't seem to be any blind people or wheelchair bound, which surprises me.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


I don't normally like to recommend movies that are only available via streaming, but with how little space I've got on my DVR, I kind of have to. This time out, that movie is Marooned, which is available on Amazon and Google Play among others.

The movie starts off with little establishing action, showing the launch of an Apollo mission, but not one to the moon. This one is taking three astronauts: Pruett (Richard Crenna), Lloyd (Gene Hackman), and Stone (James Franciscus) to an orbiting space station where they're going to spend seven months to observe the effects of long-term space travel on humans, in preparation for the interplanetary space voyages that are supposedly going to become common (the movie was released at the end of 1969, before we knew what was going to happen to the space program). Five months into the mission, however, the folks back down on earth are seeing all sorts of mental issues with the astronauts, so it's decided to end the mission early and bring them home.

The astronauts get into the space capsule to go home, which requires firing the retrorockets. They flip the switch and... nothing happens. So, they try again, and... still nothing happens. This is a serious problem. In theory, the capsule could orbit the earth for decades, even without fuel to adjust the orbit, until the orbit degrades enough for the capsule to burn up in the atmosphere. Of course, the astronauts don't have food for decades, and far more importantly, they don't have oxygen for very long. At the current rate of usage, there's about 42 hours left, after which the astronauts would suffocate to death.

Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) is the commander of the mission back at NASA in Houston. He's got a lot to deal with in addition to the problem up in space. The three astronauts all have wives who know even if they don't want to admit it publicly that their husbands are probably going to die up in space. There's also all the media asking uncomfortable questions since NASA doesn't exactly want to be completely candid about the problems with the mission. And there's still the question of what to do.

Keith's underling, Ted Dougherty (David Janssen), has a daring idea. Apparently the Air Force has come up with an experimental rocket that is more maneuverable. Since the situation is desperate, why not send that up into space and rescue the stranded astronauts? Keith nixes the idea at first, probably because he doesn't want more people to die. But eventually he relents, and preparations are made.

But there are more complications, both on earth and up in space. The astronauts, in looking down at earth, saw the formation of a hurricane before anybody else, these being the days before satellite weather imagery became commonplace. Originally it looked as though the hurricane was going to go out to sea, but it winds up heading straight for Cape Canaveral! Further, the three astronauts up in space are getting antsy and rebelling to the extent they can. Finally, calculations are made that there might be enough oxygen left for two men, but not for three....

I really enjoyed Marooned. It's a gripping, simple story, made before the Apollo 13 mission even happened. The idea of a rescue mission is a bit unrealistic, but it's also not the sort of thing that's so ridiculous that you can't suspend disbelief. One thing that I really liked is that the story doesn't really get sidetracked by any of the characters having back stories. The wives (played by Lee Grant, Mariette Hartley, and Nancy Kovack) are there for the matter-of-fact reason that this was the practice. Nobody's really trying to overcome personal demons or such stuff.

Much is made of the special effects, which won an Oscar, and it's right to mention them. For the most part they seem quite good. The capsule is pretty claustrophobic, and the zero-gravity looks fairly realistic. The one quibble I had was with some of the matte shots of the earth in the background behind the space capsule. It took me a while to figure out where over the earth the capsule was at first, in part because the rendition of the Iberian and Italian peninsulas was rather inaccurate. For everything they did with the other effects, you'd think they would have noticed that. But that's also the sort of stuff I'm normally nitpicky about.

The minor quibble is nowhere near enough for me to give anything less than a high recommendation to Marooned, which I think still holds up well 50 years later. It's also one that really deserves to be on DVD.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

People Should Shut Up

Tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, FXM is running People Will Talk.

The movie starts off with Dr. Elwell (Hume Cronyn), a professor at a university teaching medicine, talking to an older lady sent to him by a private investigator. Elwell seems to be trying to get some sort of dirt on one of his colleagues, Dr. Pretorius (Cary Grant), and this woman used to know Pretorius when he was practicing medicine in a small town in the southern part of the state ages ago.

As for Dr. Pretorius, he's lecturing to what is supposed to be Elwell's class, when one of the students, Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain), faints. After some discussion, Pretorius takes Higgins to his private hospital, where tests are run to determine that Higgins is pregnant (and that word is actually used in the movie)! Higgins is unmarried and the father of the child is not in the picture and probably a one-night stand, so she tries to kill herself.

Pretorius decides that the best thing to do for Higgins is to marry her, which seems like a rather severe violation of ethics since she's one of the students at the same university where he teaches. But this isn't why Elwell is going after Pretorius. Instead, Elwell seems worried that Pretorius is bringing disrepute on the medical profession through supposedly unorthodox practices. More worrying to Elwell is the presence of Pretorius' mysterious factotum, Mr. Shunderson (Finlay Currie), who has a past that's finally explained at a professional ethics hearing.

People Will Talk is a movie that has a lot going on, and frankly I thought that it didn't handle the clash of styles particularly well. There's no good reason given for Elwell's zeal in going after Pretorius; Shunderson's back story is unrealistic; and the Higgins plot line isn't really resolved. In addition to all of these subplot, there's a fourth involving Pretorius being the conductor of the "student" orchestra whch inexplicably also has a professor on it in the form of Barker (Walter Slezak), who seems there more for comic relief. Cary Grant is either miscast or misdirected, too.

Still, some of you will probably like People Will Talk, so check it out. It doesn't seem to be in print on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showings.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Le mépris

There are a fair number of people out there who have this idea of foreign films as being pretentious arthouse stuff. Part of the reason for this is that there are actually a fair number of foreign films treated as all-time classics that are really not a good pick to start watching foreign movies with. A good example of this is Contempt.

Jack Palance plays Jeremy Prokosch, an American producer working in Rome on a new production of Homer's Odyssey, to be directed by Fritz Lang (playing himself). He's having trouble, so he's looking to hire a script doctor in the form of Frenchman Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli). So Paul's wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) has sort of put her own life on hold to be with Paul in Rome.

After watching some rushes, Jeremy plans to go back to his villa, offering Paul and Camille a ride in his convertible. Paul doesn't say much, basically allowing Camille to get in the car alone with Jeremy. She resents this greatly, thinking that Jeremy is trying to seduce her and that Paul is letting her probably to get a better deal on the script. So later in the day when Camille returns to her and Paul's apartment, the two of them get in a big argument about it and a bunch of other philosophical stuff.

They argue for what seems an interminable length of time, pretty much lasting the rest of the movie even though it's not all at their apartment. They go out to see a crappy stage show, and Jeremy invites them to Capri where he and Fritz are going to be doing some of the filming. The philosophical discussion also continues among the men, with Jeremy's real belief that Ulysses spent a decade on the odyssey mostly because he didn't want to go home to Penelope. Paul agrees, but Fritz doesn't. Paul, meanwhile, gets the impression that his own life is beginning to go like Ulysses'.

There's a lot of talking going on in Contempt, and frankly, I found it tedious, especially the argument at the apartment between Paul and Camille. I also really hated the ending, which I won't spoil. The one positive of the film was the cinematography. This looked like a restored print, as the color was eye-popping and the scenery of Capri was absolutely gorgeous. But that's not enough for me to save the rest of the movie.

Amazon is offering a Blu-ray of Contempt, so you can watch and judge for yourself. Oddly enough, the TCM Shop doesn't seem to have the movie available.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #271: Break-Ups

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 Break-Ups. It's going to be a little harder for me than I would otherwise have thought, if only because I used a couple of movies about marriages breaking up -- if only inadvertently -- in the Thursday Movie Picks on romantic comedies back in February. But in the end, I was able to find three movies that fit the theme:

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Meryl Streep walks out on Dustin Hoffman, leaving him to take care of their son alone. After a while, Streep returns, thinking she deserves custody of the child just because she's a woman, even though Hoffman hasn't been doing that bad a job of parenting.

The Marrying Kind (1952). Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray play a couple who show up at divorce court at each other's throats. The judge (Madge Kennedy), rather than going through the actual trial, decides to find out why they're getting a divorce. Cut to a flashback which shows the couple meeting, marrying, struggling to get ahead in life, and then losing their young child in a tragic accident. Ray and Holliday are both excellent here.

All Mine to Give (1957). Instead of a marriage breaking up, I decided to have the final film being about a family breaking up. Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns play a couple of Scottish immigrants in mid-19th century Wisconsin. They raise a family, but then Mom dies, followed some time later by Dad. The eldest kid can't take over parenting duties all by himself, so he has to find homes for his younger siblings. On Christmas Eve. Yeah it's a tear-jerker.

Schedule notice for September 19-20, 2019

TCM is showing several pre-Codes this morning and afternoon. I've blogged about a number of them before, although the TCM site suggests a couple of them are now out of print on DVD. One that I haven't mentioned before, I don't think, is The Match King at 8:15 AM, which is loosely based on the story of Ivar Kreuger.

Also worth watching again is the George Arliss movie A Successful Calamity at 12:30 PM, which I used in a Thursday Movie Picks post almost exactly two years ago. A couple of months later, I used The Purchase Price (9:45 AM), a Barbara Stanwyck movie in whch she escapes from an abusive boyfriend and winds up marrying North Dakota farmer George Brent.

Tomorrow's lineup on TCM is a bunch of 60s spy movies, following the night of James Bond films. I've mentioned The Liquidator before; that one comes up at 9:30 AM and is certainly worth a watch. Not a spy movie, but definitely worth a watch, is the short The Your Name Here Story (about 1:10 PM in the time slot for the Montgomery Clift movie The Defector). This one is a spoof of industrial promotional movies, and happens to be on Youtube:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Signpost to Murder

Many years back, I watched a movie that had a very distinctive water wheel in it, but in more recent years I had forgotten the title, forcing me to look it up with IMDb's keyword search. It turned out the movie in question was Signpost to Murder. It was on TCM again recently, so I watched it to do a post on here.

Stuart Whitman plays Alex Forrester, who is locked up in a criminal insane asylum in a small English town, and has been for the last five years after murder his wife and kids. He thinks he's finally sane enough to be released, although that's going to be difficult, despite some support from the psychiatrist managing his case, Dr. Fleming (Edward Mulhare).

Unsurprisingly, at the competency hearing, Alex's application is turned down, leaving him wondering what to do next. That is, until Dr. Fleming rather stupidly drops a hint that the laws on criminal insanity in the UK have only been haphazardly updated, such that there's still a Victorian-era provision on the books that if someone escapes from the insane asylum and isn't caught for fourteen days, that person by law has the right to another competency hearing. So of course you know Alex is going to start thinking about escaping.

That night, he conks Fleming over the head and takes Fleming's coat, helping him to escape into the woods around the asylum. Except that in his haste to run to freedom, he accidentally runs into a branch, temporarily dazing him and giving a convenient excuse for him to not be certain if he really remembered something later in the movie. After a fair amount of running, he winds up at this isolated house with the water wheel, although why it's attached to a residential building I don't know.

Alex breaks into the house, and it turns out that there's currently only one occupant, Mrs. Molly Thomas (Joanne Woodward). Her husband goes on frequent business trips to the Continent as a diamond dealer, and he's away right now, although he's supposed to be back later in the evening. It's a bit of serendipity for Alex, who takes Molly hostage.

The hostage situation that would give rise to the term "Stockholm Syndrome" wouldn't occur for another decade, but Molly seems to begin to develop a bit of a relationship with Alex as the night goes on. In any case, it's clear that her marriage isn't all that it's cracked up to be, once she calls the airport and finds that there was no plane at the time she said her husband was supposed to be arriving.

Perhaps he took an earlier plane, but that would be just as worrying, since then he should be at the house by now. Things take a much more alarming turn when Alex sees a dead body on the water wheel, slashed across the throat just like he had done to his wife all those years ago. And it was supposedly the habit of Molly's husband to take the same lonely forest path back home that Alex was running on, so perhaps that could be Molly's husband and Alex killed him? Not that Molly saw the body, and she naturally begins to wonder whether Alex really is still insane.

Signpost to Murder is an interesting little programmer. It's got a surprisingly star-powered cast for a 1960s movie that runs a little under 80 minutes. Having been made in England, I'm wondering whether MGM had funds they had to use in the UK, or whether Woodward followed her husband over to Europe when he made Lady L and spent her time making this little film instead. The movie is based on a stage play, and the scenes at the house with the water wheel strongly imply that. However, the asylum scenes and some other stuff in town do open up the movie fairly well.

Unsurprisingly, Whitman is good here, although underrated as always. Woodward is good as well, and the supporting cast of British actors make Signpost to Murder a fairly good movie that's well worth a watch. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Old Fashioned Way

Some time back I picked up a box set of W.C. Fields movies. One that I hadn't heard of before buying the set is The Old Fashioned Way.

Fields plays The Great McGonigle, the head of a traveling troupe of actors at the turn of the last century. (Any similarity to The Dresser ends right there.) McGonigle is a bit dishonest, although that's in part because the theater managers weren't always scrupulous either. McGonigle is trying to get out of town not having paid room and board, and the landlady has gotten a sheriff to look for McGonigle as he boards the train. McGonigle burns the summons he's about to be served with his cigar as the sheriff has his head turned the other way.

Eventually the troupe gets to their next stop, where they're going to be putting on a temperance play called The Drunkard. But there are problems. In addition to trying to get the money to put on the play, they're also short one cast member. However, a college boy, Wally Livingston (Joe Morrison), wants to be an actor, so he's willing to accept a tryout. Wally also falls in love with McGonigle's daughter Betty (Judith Allen). But neither Betty nor Wally's father thinks marrying into an acting troupe is a good idea.

There's also Mrs. Pepperday (Jan Duggan), whom McGonigle is trying to get the money from. She has no talent, being able neither to sing nor dance, but is insisting on getting a part in the play. She's also got an infant grandson who makes McGonigle's life hell over lunch.

Eventually the show gets put on, and it's interesting for audiences of today to see such a hoary old production. But there's an encore after the play that's even better: Fields comes back out and does some his old vaudeville stuff, juggling balls, followed by manipulating cigar boxes, the latter of which is really a sight to see.

There's not all that much to the plot of The Old Fashioned Way; like a lot of Fields' work it seems more a hook on which to hang a bunch of sketches than a fully coherent plot. But it all works more or less, and the vaudeville act at the end is worth the price of admission.

The box set as a whole is cheap, so even if you don't like this one, it's not as if you're out very much. But I can certainly recommend it more than some of the other Fields movies in the set.

Monday, September 16, 2019

None But the Brave

I mentioned a week or two ago that I had happened inadvertently to watch several movies set in World War II in short order. One of them was None But the Brave, which I have on DVD as part of a five-film box set of Frank Sinatra movies.

The first thing I noticed was in the opening titles:

My first thought was that the box set must have been produced for the Asian market and that Amazon was selling it on the gray market or something, but a look at IMDb revealed that the movie was a co-production between Warner Bros. (via Frank Sinatra's production company) and Japan's Toho Film:

The movie starts off with the Japanese point of view, narrated by Lt. Kuroki (Tatsuya Mihashi). A bunch of Japanese soldiers are on an isolated island in the South Pacific, abandoned because they have no radio contact with Japan, so they try to build a boat to get off the island. As with Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, though, the war is about to come back to them in the form of an American transport plane that's stricken and forced to crash land, which it does right on their island. The pilot, Capt. Bourke (Clint Walker) tries to keep command of the Marines he's been piloting, as well as a medic, Mate (Frank Sinatra).

However, Bourke and the Marines are about to encounter a bunch of problems, since there are all those Japanese on the island. Lt. Blair (Tommy Sands) wants to attack, and do so in a way that's liable to get them all killed -- and Bourke knows it as does Mate. Eventually, the Americans and Japanese encounter each other, and fighting does break out.

But Lt. Kuroki isn't too thrilled by the prospect. He wasn't a particular fan of war to begin with, since he tends to believing it's futile. But trying to fight the Americans now is going to kill everybody on both sides. More pressing is that the Americans have a medic -- and the stranded Japanese don't. And Kuroki has a man with gangrene that absolutely has to be treated. So the two sides arrange a truce for the time being, so that Mate can treat the Japanese soldier, and all of them can focus on survival. The truce should only end when one or the other country's external forces show up to re-take the island, at which point both groups on the island should feel honor bound to fight with valor.

Not that Lt. Blair likes it, but Bourke isn't about to let Blair scupper things. Slowly, the two sides begin to learn to respect each other, knowing however, that the time is going to come when their little respite from the war is going to be broken from outside.

None But the Brave is a really interesting little movie, showing the war in a way Hollywood hadn't done much up to this point. That's partly because of the co-production, I think. In any case, I think it's greatly to the movie's benefit. Frank Sinatra directed, the only time he did so. He's not terrible as a director, but I think there's a reason that he didn't keep directing. He's also not helped by a shrill and obnoxious performance out of Sands. I don't know if Sands was that incompetent of an actor or Sinatra didn't know how to get a better performance out of him.

Despite the movie's flaws, None But the Brave is definitely worth a watch because of the much more human perspective on the Japanese soldiers.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Zandy's Bride

Another of the stars to get a day in this year's Summer Under the Stars was Liv Ullmann. One of her movies that I hadn't blogged about before is Zandy's Bride, so I recorded that to watch.

Ullmann plays the bride, a woman named Hannah. She's a Swedish immigrant in Minnesota sometime in the mid-to-late 19th century (I don't think an exact date is given, although I'd guess it's before the completion of the trans-continental railroad in 1869) who is going to become the mail-order bride of Zandy Allen (Gene Hackman). Zandy lives in a remote part of the Big Sur area of California, working a small plot and raising a small herd of California. He doesn't want a bride so much as he wants a second person to work the place and sons to help him in future years.

So when Hannah gets to California, there's no love, just a professional relationship. Indeed, Zandy is disappointed at first to learn that Hannah is past 30. Hannah wants to be respected as a woman and a wife, but Zandy isn't ready to do that just yet, treating Hannah rather badly. Zandy has even had another girlfriend in Maria (Susan Tyrrell), and might be willing to keep up his relationship with her. Zandy's mother (Eileen Heckart), however, understands Hannah and understands how much less than a man Zandy is being.

Zandy is selfish enough to buy a bunch of cattle and then let them trample all over Hannah's garden. But when she finally gets pregnant he begins to change and warm up to her a bit, something that's seen even more when he goes to San Francisco to buy provisions.

There's really not much going on in Zandy's Bride, and that makes it a bit hard of a movie to review. It was directed by Jan Troell, who had worked with Ullmann in The Emigrants and The New Land, and in some ways Zandy's Bride feels as though it could have been a continuation of those two films. It's got a languorous pace that works here because the movie doesn't overstay its welcome. Hackman seems like someone you'd think would be out of place in a western, but he does well.

Zandy's Bride is more of a character study than a movie with a fully fleshed-out plot, and if you know that going in I think you'll like it. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What happens when you DVR the wrong movie

June Allyson was part of this year's Summer Under the Stars. One of the movies I thought about putting on the DVR was The Girl in White. Unfortunately, I recorded the wrong title, instead getting Two Sisters from Boston. They're both on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, so I sat down to watch Two Sisters from Boston to do a post on it.

June plays Martha Chandler, one of the two titular sisters along with Abigail (Kathryn Grayson, so you should know from seeing her name in the cast what sort of movie you're getting) at the turn of the last century. Their family is one of those Boston Brahmin types like in The Late George Apley, very proper and doing things like sponsoring musical recitals. They've also helped support Abigail in her desire to become an opera singer in New York.

But word comes to Martha and Abigail's uncle Jonathan (Harry Hayden) that Abigail has been seen working in a burlesque house in the Bowery! That's bad enough for any patrician family, but Uncle Jonathan is running for mayor, and if the news comes out it would torpedo his candidacy. So they go to New York to find out if this is true, and get her back to Boston if so.

Abigail is in fact working as "High C Susie", at the Golden Rooster, a club run by Spike (Jimmy Durante), although she's not about to tell any of her family this. Her family's support money ran out, and she needed to support herself, after all. She insists that she's had small roles in legitimate operas, and even makes the claim that she's got one tonight. So of course the rest of the family plans to stay on to see her in the opera, which is going to blow the ruse.

Except that Spike is a Jack Carson-level schemer, and knows who the biggest patron of the opera is, Mr. Patterson (Thurston Hall). He uses this info to get Abigail backstage, and from there she works her way not only on stage, but to upstage the lead tenor, Olstrom (Danish opera singer Lauritz Melchior), in a way that causes a whole lot of consternation. Olstrom would like to black-ball this unknown member of the chorus, while Mr. Patterson's son Lawrence (Peter Lawford) thinks she's carrying on an affair with Dad since she used Dad's name to get into the chorus.

Complications ensue, but in the end Abigail gets her chance to be a star while the Lawford and Allyson characters wind up together as you could probably guess. It's the sort of story that offers nothing groundbreaking, but in the right context can be more then entertaining. Unfortunately for me, this time the context is opera, something which in the movies I really don't care for. Grayson isn't bad here when she's not singing, and I suppose opera singers would like her singing. I also have to admit I've never really been a Peter Lawford fan.

Still, this isn't meant to pan the movie. It's more that it's going to be an acquired taste, appealing much more to people who like opera than to people who don't care for it so much. To be fair, I also find Grayson less irritating that Jeanette MacDonald, and either of them far less irritating than Nelson Eddy And Durante is as good here as he always is, although I'll admit that there are probably people who don't care for his shtick. So Two Sisters from Boston is one I'll give a qualified recommendation to -- if you know in advance what it's about.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

DirecTV had a free preview of the Epix package of channels over the summer, which gave me the chance to DVR several more recent films. Among them is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is going to be on Epix2 on Sunday morning at 9:50 AM, and is also available on DVD if you don't have the Epix package.

Michael Caine, looking almost unrecognizable with his hair slicked back, plays Lawrence Jamieson, a British man living in a ritzy town on the French Riviera where he plies his trade of fleecing rich women out of their money. He's got the help of the local police chief, Inspector Andre (Anton Rodgers), at least in the form of looking the other way and not doing anything about it. His latest scam has him pretending to be a prince trying to get money out of Fanny (Barbara Harris).

On a train back from depositing money in his Swiss bank account, Lawrence meets Freddy Benson (Steve Martin). Freddy is also a con artist, but much less suave than Lawrence. Lawrence has heard of a criminal called "the Jackal", but doesn't know anything about the Jackal's identity, only that apparently the Jackal is about to set up shop in the same town where Lawrence has been working. The town isn't big enough for two con artists, and Lawrence doesn't really like Freddy anyway, so Lawrence gets Freddy on a plane out of town.

The only problem is that Freddy meets Fanny on the plane. So now Freddy has something to blackmail Lawrence with, which he's bound to do. Freddy persuades Lawrence to try to teach him how to be more elegant, and the two pull off another con. But Lawrence still doesn't care for Freddy, so the two make a wager. They'll find a new mark, and the one of them to con her out of $50,000 will get to stay in town while the other is forced to leave.

They soon meet a suitable mark in Janet Colgate (Glenne Headley), an American soap heiress. Freddy tries to pass himself off as an American navy officer paralyzed from the waist down with some sort of mental condition, needing $50,000 to see a specialist to get better. Lawrence passes himself off as Dr. Emil Schaffhusen, a Liechtensteinian doctor who could treat Freddy for that $50,000. So the game is on.

Or, at least, it is until the two find out that Janet is not in fact a soap heiress. She's the "soap queen" because she won a contest in the States, and is only on an all-expenses paid trip presumably promoting an American detergent. In fact, the only way she could get the $50,000 is to sell off a bunch of her assets. On top of this, it doesn't help that Freddy is beginning to find himself falling in love with her, while Lawrence has a strict thing against bilking people who can't afford to be the victim.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a fun little movie with a lot of twists and turns, aided enormously by the two leading men. Both of them fit their parts extremely well, Caine as an elegant con and Martin with his more stereotypically American brashness. Headley is also a treat as the woman between them. It's a shame that she died much too young. The movie is also helped by the gorgeous location shooting and a really nice score.

I can most definitely recommend Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #270: Non-English movies

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is a repeat, non-English movies. I assume it means English as in the language, or else it would be too easy to pick any three Hollywood films -- after all, Hollywood is American, not English! The only difficulty with a a theme like this is picking movies I haven't used recently, and don't want to use in the near future. So I picked three films I watched relatively recently:

Dollar (1938). Made by Ingrid Bergman before she came to Hollywood, this one has her as the wife of a business man angling for an investment in his company. The two are also involved in a complicated series of love triangles involving two other married couples. All of the couples go to a ski resort in northern Sweden, where they're supposed to meet the American cousin of one of them, who might have some money to invest, and who teaches them all a few things about relationships.

Alice in the Cities (1974). Wim Wenders' tedious movie about a photojournalist returning from America to Germany, who gets stuck with a bratty, faux-precocious child in tow when another traveler says she'll meet up with him on a flight the next day but doesn't. The journalist tries to find the little girl's grandparents, not having much information to go on. I didn't care for any of the characters, and wondered why the man didn't take the girl right back to the police after she escaped and returned to him.

Andrei Rublev (1966). A series of short stories involving 15th century Russian icon painter Rublev, who lived in Russia at a turbulent time in its history. This is considered one of the all-time greats by a lot of people, but I have to admit I found it underwhelming. It doesn't help that it runs a good three hours.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Mother Didn't Tell Me

Another movie that I watched over the weekend was Mother Didn't Tell Me, which is available on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme.

Dorothy McGuire plays Jane Morgan, a working girl who gets sick with a hacking cough one day and has to see a doctor right away, which is how she ends up at the office of Dr. William Wright (William Lundigan). Jane comes across as a bit selfish, as she's ticked at how long she's made to wait, never mind how many other patients were in the waiting room. She's also selfish enough that when she gets home, she calls up trying to get the doctor to come over for a house call!

It's obvious, however, that she actually is just falling in love with the doctor despite having only seen him the one time. They start seeing each other, but the good doctor often seems to get called away on important calls. Still, Jane thinks she'd be willing to get married to him. His mother (Jessie Royce Landis), however, isn't so sure. Apparently, it takes a special class of woman to be a doctor's wife, dealing with all the sudden absences, and Mrs. Wright doesn't think Jane has it in her. Plus, there's the fact that William knows a female medical student Helen (Joyce Mackenzie) that Mom thinks is better suited to being a doctor's wife since Helen is planning to become a doctor herself.

Still, Jane eventually does get married to the doctor, figuring she can make herself such an important part of his life that it will paper over the hurt of all those sudden house and hospital calls. Unsurprisingly, things go bad the very first time Jane tries to host a dinner party and William isn't able to make it. It's up to another doctor's wife, Maggie Roberts (June Havoc) to try to comfort Jane and get her to see the reality that she's going to have to make compromises.

Eventually, Helen finishes her residency, comes back to town, and takes a job as Dr. Wright's partner! Jane gets the distinct idea that William is going to leave her in favor of Helen, so decides to take matters into her own hands by leaving William first, a decision which makes no logical sense.

In fact, much of the movie makes no logical sense. It's dated, which is no big thing since I'm used to watching old movies. The idea that it takes some special class of woman to marry a doctor seems silly, yet it's the entire premise of the movie. Jane is so flighty that you just want someone to shake some sense into her, while Mrs. Wright's motivations seem to take a sudden turn in the final act.

Mother Didn't Tell Me may be an interesting time capsule, but it's not a particularly good movie. As always, however, you should probably judge for yourself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Northwest Passage

Another of my recent DVR watches was Northwest Passage.

Robert Young plays Langdon Towne, who is returning to his hometown of Portsmouth, NH in the late 1750s after having been expelled from Harvard. He and town drunk "Hunk" Marriner (Walter Brennan) decide the best way to deal with their troubles is to drink them away, so the two get good and drunk, saying some insulting things to a couple of British soldiers that requires the pair to beat a hasty retreat.

The two go out into the wilderness, Langdon being a budding artist who wants to do sketches of the Indians. But if you'll remember your history, this is during the French and Indian War, when the British and French (who still owned Quebec) were using various tribal groups as proxies to attack each other. Langdon and Hunk run into Robert Rogers, who had been given the task by one of the British generals of training a raiding force, eventually known as Rogers' Rangers, to help deal with the Indian raids. The big problem is that they'll be going into fairly inhospitable territory in what is now the Lake Champlain region as well as northern Vermont.

Eventually the plan is to raid a settlement at St. Francis, on the St. Lawrence River downstream of Montreal, which is probably supposed to be more of a psychological victory than a real military victory. Langdon and Hunk, having joined the Rangers, set out with Rogers on the dangerous march north. They have to watch out for both the Abenaki tribe as well as any French in the area, while also having to deal with a lack of food. Indeed, part of the plan for the mission is to raid the fort at St. Francis to get food for the return voyage.

In what is probably the high point of the movie, Rogers' men raid St. Francis and rout the inhabitants, also freeing some English settlers who had been taken prisoner. But they find that there's almost no food to take with them. And Langdon has been shot in the belly. Rogers' plan is to go overland to Fort Wentworth, in what is now northern New Hampshire, a march of about 150 miles. But can the men, who are growing increasingly disaffected thanks to the lack of food and what they see as Rogers' dictatorial ways, handle the march?

Northwest Passage is based on a 1936 book of the same title that deals both with this campaign and Rogers' later time out west looking for the Northwest Passage, hence the full title of the movie, Northwest Passage (Book I - Rogers' Rangers). The movie only deals with the French and Indian War, with a closing scene in which he tells his men they're going to be going out west (in real life, Rogers did go west to quell the Indians in the area around what is now Detroit). Apparently there were plans to make a second movie that never materializes, probably due to the intervention of World War II.

As for the movie we have, Northwest Passage isn't a bad movie, but one that I felt could have been a lot better. The big problem I have is that it runs 128 minutes, with a lot of nothing happening since the soldiers have to make a long march north to St. Francis, followed by one back to New Hampshire. The march back goes on and on, and still relatively little happens. I can't help but think they could have come up with a way to make this 20 to 30 minutes shorter which would suit the movie artistically. Of course, the location shooting and Technicolor probably demanded a longer movie to make a spectacle the public would want to go see.

Northwest Passage has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection. The TCM Shop claims it's on backorder, which has never made sense to me with the MOD titles; it seems to be readily available at Amazon.

Monday, September 9, 2019


My attempts to free up space on my DVR continued over the weekend; this time one of the movies watched was Marlowe.

The movie starts off with a sequence of a man hiding in the bushes taking photographs of a man and a woman together. You get a fleeting glimpse of the photographer, and you might think you've just seen Philip Marlowe. But you'd be wrong. Marlowe is back in Los Angeles and is only going to have anything to do with all this later. Philip Marlowe (James Garner) is Raymond Chandler's private detective who appeared in other movies like The Big Sleep, and back in Los Angeles Marlowe is approached by Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell). She's looking for her brother Orrin, who moved out west from Kansas and hasn't been heard from by his family for quite some time.

Marlowe finds that he was supposed to have been at a hotel, but when he searches through the register and goes to the room Orrin is supposed to be in, only to find another man, Grant Hicks (Jackie Coogan). The manager hadn't been much help, and was trying to call some guy named "Doc". Marlowe pumps Coogan for information and gets none. When he goes to leave the hotel, he finds that the manager has been stabbed to death, with an icepick to the base of the brain! But it turns out that Hicks does have information, calling from a hotel closer to Los Angeles.

That information turns out to be a check receipt to pick up a bunch of photographs after they've been developed. But Marlowe gets attacked by a woman and when he comes to he finds that Hicks has also been killed with an icepick. Fortunately they're able to get the license plate of the woman's car, and Marlowe gets the photographs, which are of TV star Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicutt) and gangster Sonny Steelgrave (H.M. Wynant). Presumably Orrin is trying to blackmail somebody and that or another somebody is killing either to get the photos or to stop the blackmail some other way.

Also investigating the case are the police, in the form of detective Lt. French (Carroll O'Connor) and his second-in-command, Sgt. Beifus (Kenneth Tobey). Mavis doesn't want Marlowe involved, but the advertiser backing her TV show wants no controversy so gives Marlowe carte blanche to keep going. It all gets complicated, but Marlowe eventually does get the case to unravel.

Marlowe is a reasonably good movie, for two main reasons. One is James Garner, who fits the role well. This was several years before The Rockford Files, but Garner hits the right tone of sarcasm and cynicism for an updated version of the character. The other stars add nice support. I haven't mentioned Rita Moreno as Mavis' friend Dolores, or Bruce Lee in a cameo who gets to do his martial arts before coming to a stupid end.

The other reason to watch Marlowe is for the look at late 60s Los Angeles. Marlowe's office looked darn familiar, which is because it's in the Bradbury Building, a frequent location for shooting. Classic movie fans would probably most recognize it as the building where David Wayne hides in the 1951 version of M. But the seedy hotels of the era are well depicted, as is the set design.

Just don't try to pay too much attention to the mystery plot of Marlowe, which I found wasn't quite satisfactorily wrapped up. It's also too complex for its own good. But the movie as a whole works if you want to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Briefs for September 8, 2019

Carol Lynley, the actress probably best known for playing the singer Nonny in the 1972 movie The Poseidon Adventure, died on Tuesday at the age of 77. I didn't mention it earlier mostly because of a fortuitous bit of scheduling on TCM's part. Tonight's prime time lineup is a pair of movies starring Lumley, scheduled long before she died. The two movies are Bunny Lake Is Missing at 8:00 PM, followed by Blue Denim at 10:00. I really didn't like Blue Denim, in which Lynley gets knocked up courtesy of Brandon De Wilde who tries to get her an illegal abortion. But some of you might. I'm assuming the movie intros were done quite some time back and that TCM will have an extra card inserted announcing Lynley's death.

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights lineup is three shorts starring Charlie Chaplin, running from midnight to 2:30 AM. Unfortunately, TCM's online schedule lists all three as starting at midnight, while my DirecTV box guide lists only A Dog's Life, having it be a 2-1/2 hour movie that runs from midnight to 2:30 AM. I suppose that means it doesn't matter which order they air in, as you'd get all of them if you record it.

Speaking of recording, I'm constantly running out of room on my DVR. I recorded several movies off of FXM that I was going to blog about. But it turns out that Kangaroo is one I blogged about five years ago, while several others are out of print on DVD. So I guess I'll be blogging about more movies only available on streaming. And wouldn't you know it, none of them seem to be coming back up on FXM soon. One movie back on FXM that I did blog about ages ago is Night People, which will be on tomorrow at 3:00 AM.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

None Shall Escape

About a year ago, TCM ran a Sunday night double feature of movies with the theme of going after Nazi war criminals after World War II. I had held off on doing a review of None Shall Escape because when I first checked, it was not available on DVD. But it got a release courtesy of Sony's MOD scheme earlier this year, and now I can do a post on it.

The movie, which was released in early 1944, starts off at a war crimes trial in Warsaw some time after the Nazis have been defeated, so it's already a pretty daring premise. On trial is Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox), who as a Nazi commander in a certain portion of Poland. People are going to testify as to his war crimes, starting with the local Catholic priest, Father Warecki (Henry Travers), so cue the flashbacks....

Warecki actually knew Grimm back in the day long before the war began. At the end of World War I, their village had been part of Germany, since Poland was partitioned in the late 18th century and would not become an independent country again until the end of World War I. Warecki was already the parish priest, while Grimm was the town's German teacher. Grimm went off to fight in the Great War, returning home disillusioned and having lost a leg. He had left a fiancée in Marja (Martha Hunt), but decided not to marry her and knocking up another young woman who commits suicide. Wilhelm is forced to beat a hasty retreat and go to Munich where his brother Karl (Erik Rolf) lives.

Karl is the second witness. He saw Wilhelm's turn to Nazism and is horrified by it, being a staunch opponent of the ideology. But Karl's son, named Wilhelm like his uncle but called Willi, likes his uncle and thinks Uncle Wilhelm has the same humanity as everybody else. The Nazis' inexorable march to power continues, and once the Reichstag fire occurs, Karl realizes he has to get out of Germany, planning to go to Vienna (of course not knowing what would happen to Austria five years later). But he doesn't make it to Vienna as Wilhelm has him arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

The final witness is Marja, who details Wilhelm's time as the commander of their village where he was put as commander once the Nazis took over Poland. Wilhelm is brutal to the locals seeing them as an inferior race, while looking to gain revenge on the people he knew earlier. Worse, his nephew (Richard Crane) is all grown up and just as bad as his uncle. But the nephew falls in love with one of the local girls and starts to develop a bit of humanity.

None Shall Escape is another of those movies with a fascinating premise, being set after a war that's still going on while the movie was being made. In some ways that leads to the natural problem of being propagandistic. But for the most part it's no more heavy handed than any other World War II movie made during the war. Alexander Knox is excellent as the embittered man who turns to hate, while everybody else does reasonably well, even those like Travers who I thought was miscast.

I can definitely recommend None Shall Escape to anybody who wishes to watch it.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Fort Vengeance

I'm continuing to try to get through the backlog of movies I've got on my DVR, and today's selection is Fort Vengeance.

Dick (James Craig) and Carey (Keith Larsen) Ross are a pair of brothers who have been forced to escape north to Canada thanks largely to Carey begin a serial idiot who among other things cheats at poker, constantly making Dick pull Carey's irons out of the fire. As an example of Carey's nastiness, the two wake up to a couple of Indians off in the distance, and Carey shoots him utterly unprovoked! They're going to have to keep running.

Fortunately for them, they wind up at a fort manned by the new Northwest Mounted Police, the forerunners of the Mounties. The two look to enlist in the quasi-military force and while the commander is reluctant at first, he eventually lets the brothers sign up. Dick is a model soldier, while Carey continues to be a jerk.

Canada of the time (late 1870s) is trying to maintain better relations with the various tribal bands than the US had, and there are some tribes that have migrated north from the US. The Blackfoot leader Crowfoot (Morris Ankrum) wants good relations with the Canadians, while Sioux leader Sitting Bull (Michael Granger) has fled the US and is more willing to attack whites, especially after the companion of the Sioux that Carey shot in the opening of the movie sees Carey in the Mounites!

Carey has more nastiness coming, too, when he sees one of the Blackfoot store some beaver pelts in a hidden location, and convinces a trapper to steal them and pass them off as his own! And the payment the trapper gets is to get shot by Carey! Now, thanks to the Production Code you know that Carey is going to have to get his comeuppance, so the question is how it's going to happen.

Fort Vengeance is Saturday matinee entertainment, and not much more. There's nothing demanding here, and probably not much historical accuracy either. (I did, however, go down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out exactly what flag would have been flying in parts of Canada that were not yet provinces but after the 1867 law that made Canada a Dominion within the British Empire. The Maple Leaf flag wasn't used until the mid-1960s; the movie uses a straight Union Jack.) Rita Moreno has an early role, while Reginald Denny has a late role. The color is bad because the movie is in Cinecolor and not Technicolor. Overall it's OK for one watch, but not something I'd particularly revisit.

If you want to judge for yourself, the movie is on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, Warner apparently having gotten the rights to the Allied Artists pictures at some point.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Winsor McCay

Tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM, TCM is running a two-hour block called "The Cartoons of Winsor McCay. McCay was a cartoonist who, in the early 1910s, started making a series of animated films. This was extremely difficult, because he started in the days before cels were invented. Cels were used when you had things in the background that were static: you could make one image to be the background, while the characters or things that moved would be in the front. Before cels, the entire image had to be re-drawn for every frame.

McCay apparently made ten shorts, of which some only survive as fragments; TCM's synopsis implies that all ten are airing. I know TCM ran at least some of them in the past, as I saw How a Mosquito Operates and Gertie the Dinosaur on TCM, but I don't remember when. At any rate, all of the movies should be in the public domain since they were all made before 1924. Here's Gertie the Dinosaur, which combines live-action and animation as there's an extended establishing sequence at the beginning.

Thursday Movie Picks #269: Hostages

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 hostages, which sounds like a theme we've done before. It isn't necessarily too hard to come up with three movies that have hostages in them; coming up with three I haven't used recently is a bit harder. But not too hard:

The Terrorists (1974). Terrorists have kidnapped the UK ambassador to "Scandinavia" (the movie was filmed at Oslo's former airport but the actual country isn't named), while another related group of terrorists have hijacked a plane and landed it in the capital city. Head of security Sean Connery has the task of making certain the hostage situation at the airport is resolved with a minimum of death.

Split Second (1953). Stephen McNally and Paull Kelly play a pair of men who have just busted out of jail and carjack a group of people to a Nevada ghost town where they're supposed to be picked up. The catch is, this ghost town is now on a military range where the government is going to be doing an above-ground nuclear test at the crack of dawn. So everybody better get out of town in time. Among the hostages are Keith Andes and Alexis Smith.

The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974). Robert Shaw and his gang of criminals hijack a New York subway train and threaten to shoot one passenger per minute if they don't get their demand of $1 million and safe passage. High-ranking transit cop Walter Matthau has the job of defusing the situation, saving the passengers, and catching the crooks. A taut, atmospheric thriller.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Dresser (1983)

I don't normally like to do posts on movies only available on streaming if they aren't coming up on TV, but I've got an almost full DVR as well as a bunch of recently-watched movies about World War II that I want to space out, so today's post is going to be about The Dresser, out-of-print on DVD but available at Amazon prime video.

The movie starts off near the end of a performance of Shakespeare's Othello at a theater somewhere in England in the early part of World War II. The curtain comes down, and we know that we've got a towering actor at the head of the company as Sir (Albert Finney, whose character is only called "Sir") starts lecturing the other actors about their performances. But we get hints that all might not be well when he goes back to his dressing room. His longtime dresser, Norman (Tom Courtenay) seems to tend to Sir either more like a mother or possibly a gay lover than an employee of many years. (They're not actual lovers; Sir is married to another member of the company referred to as Her Ladyship, played by Zena Walker).

The company has to take a train to Bradford to perform at their next venue, this time the play being King Lear, a fact that Sir doesn't seem to remember. And he's so full of himself that he takes the company for a leisurely walk down the station platform, forcing Norman to try to get the train from leaving the station. It's yet another sign there's something wrong with Sir.

But the real problems are going to come once they get to Bradford. Sir is in the market square, and suffers some sort of attack that alarms everybody and has him winding up in hospital. Surely the show can't go on with Sir in hospital. But Sir decides that he's going to check himself out against medical advice, and return to the theater which is his one true love. Nobody thinks that Sir can go on, but dammit if Norman isn't going to try, even though Sir seems unable to remember his entrance cue. And even if there's an air-raid.

There's really not much more than that to the plot of The Dresser, being a bit less of a story than a look at the workings of a stage company as well as a character study of Sir and Norman. In that regard, Finney and Courtenay are both excellent, and while both of them got well-deserved Oscar nominations, I think I prefer Courtenay's performance, with Finney's being a bit too over the top at times, possibly a bit of a fault of the script for writing the character that way. The supporting performances are quite good too, notably Eileen Atkins as Madge the stage manager.

If there is one fault with the movie it's that it made me think at times of Finney's following movie, Under the Volcano. Sir's illness/madness, and Finney's portrayal of it, are at times just as uncomfortable to watch as Finney's alcoholic in Under the Volcano, never mind how good the performance is. The Dresser at least doesn't have the idiotic ending that Under the Volcano does.

The Dresser is an excellent movie that rightly got a lot of recognition from critics and the awards bodies when it was released, but for whatever reason doesn't have such recognition today. Well, that might be a bit unfair, as it was based on a stage play and remade as a TV movie a few years back; that one does seem to be in print on DVD. In any case, if you get a chance to catch The Dresser, I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

There's Always a Woman

During Summer Under the Stars, TCM ran a day of films devoted to Melvyn Douglas, whose very broad range goes from dramas like Hud to screwball comedies. Something much closer to the lattter is There's Always a Woman.

Douglas plays Bill Reardon, a private detective who doesn't particularly like it. Part of that is because he preferred his old job as an investigator for the district attorney, while the other part is because the business is failing due to lack of clients. His wife Sally (Joan Blondell) got him to start his own detective agency in the first place, and wants him to keep at it.

Bill goes out to approach the district attorney about getting his old job back, and wonder of wonders, a woman walks in the door looking for a detective! Lola Fraser (Mary Astor, which made me think a bit of The Maltese Falcon) is worried that her husband is cheating on her with his old girlfriend Anne (Frances Drake). Lola would like a detective to tail the husband and see what's going on. Sally sees that there's good money in this, so she's willing to take the job, even though she doesn't know the first thing about being a detective. That, and the first night of surveillance involves going to an expensive club, and Bill definitely does not know that Sally has taken a client.

At the club, we see a complicated love triangle as Anne has a fiancé in former gambler Jerry Marlowe (Robert Paige), so there are all sorts of reasons for sparks to fly. Except that the sparks don't fly there, but at the Fraser apartment, where the husband gets shot to death. Sally has a feeling she knows who did it, and actually calls up one of the papers to give them her story.

This is a problem for Bill, since the district attorney assigns him to investigate the case. And Sally isn't about to stop doing her own investigating, since she still has Lola as a client. So you can imagine where the comedy is coming from for the rest of the movie as husband and wife both investigate, with Bill trying to stop Sally from investigating, and Sally's moves constantly but unintentinally making life difficult for Bill.

Don't think too much about the mystery in There's Always a Woman, because that's not really the point of the movie. It's more about the give and take between the dueling investigators, and in that it works quite well. Every time I've seen Douglas in light comedy, he's been quite good, and that's the case here. Blondell worked especially well with Cagney back in the early 30s, but here she's able to work off of Douglas well too. She's not quite ditzy in a Gracie Allen way, just well-meaning but having everything backfire.

There's Always a Woman is a fun little comedy from the late 1930s that really deserves to be better known. It's on DVD courtesy of Sony/Columbia's MOD scheme, but that means it's a little pricey.

TCM's new themes for September 2019

Left to right: Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, and Sidney Poitier in No Way Out (1950), on tonight at 8:00 PM

Now that we're done with Summer Under the Stars, it's time to get back into all of the monthly programming themes that are on the TCM schedule ten months out of the year when they don't have Summer Under the Stars in August or 31 Days of Oscar in February. The first of those is a new Star of the Month. This time, that's Sidney Poitier, and his movies will be running every Tuesday in prime time, starting tonight at 8:00 PM with his debut, No Way Out.

Wednesdays and Thursdays see what TCM is describing as a salute to the centenary of United Artists, although I'd really break it up into two separate spotlights. Wednesday -- starting in the morning and not with prime time -- is the traditional spotlight if you will, with a broad range of movies. Prime time is roughly chronological with silent films tonight, although the daytime schedule for Wednesday has early talkies, so not quite chronological. The Thursday prime time lineup will be James Bond movies, since those were distributed in the US by United Artists (and later MGM/UA after the merger). Those go in chronological order, too, starting with Dr. No this Thursday at 8:00 PM.

Friday nights will feature another spotlight, on college football in the movies. There are a lot to choose from, at least in the studio era when college football was bigger than the pro game. On three of the four Fridays, Ben Mankiewicz will be sitting down with a guest host to discuss the movies. Note that the overnights between Friday and Saturday still have TCM Underground, so this spotlight is an abbreviated one.

The Saturday morning block also returns, with the Bowery Boys taking the 10:00 AM Saturday slot. I was wondering if TCM would be doing an abbreviated set of Bowery Boys movies, since this Saturday's selection is Dig That Uranium! from 1956, but on the 20th they go back to Jinx Money from 1948.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Logan's Run

I saw back in July that I had never blogged about Logan's Run before, so when it was on the TCM schedule then as part of the salute to science fiction, I decided to record it to do a post on it here.

Of course, this is one that most people probably know the basic story of already. Michael York plays Logan, a 26-year-old who works as a sort of policeman in a post-apocalyptic domed city in 2274, together with his partner Francis (Richard Jordan). They and a bunch of other people are on their way to a ceremony called "Carousel". It's something designed for people who have turned 30, and are at "Lastday". These people go onto the carousel, and some sort of ray from above strikes them dead, "renewing" them for the next generation of people. And people actually watch this, screaming "Renew! Renew!"

The first obvious thing to think is that there are people who just don't believe in "renewal", and would like to live more than 30 years. Sure enough, there are people who try to avoid Carousel, called "runners". Logan and Francis' real job is to find these runners and do away with them, in part to keep people from finding out that the whole renewal thing is a bunch of nonsense.

As you can guess, there certainly are people around who understand it's nonsense and would like to run, and Logan is about to meet one of them in the form of a date the computer that runs the city selects for him, Jessica (Jenny Agutter). She's got an ankh around her neck, as did the runner that Logan just killed, and she talks openly about not wanting to die at 30.

Logan is summoned by the computer, and told that there are apparently some runners who escape, and that they've made it to a place called "Sanctuary". Logan is given the job to find Sanctuary -- and destroy it. And just to mess with Logan, the computer advances Logan's life clock by three years, meaning he's going to be at Lastday soon. It's this that makes him decide that perhaps he's really going to become a runner himself and stay in sanctuary.

But there are problems. One is that the people who help the runners certainly aren't going to want to help Logan, understandably believing that he's a spy to rat them all out. Indeed, one such person, Doc (Michael Anderson Jr.) tries to kill Logan. There are also the other police, including Francis, who are going to do whatever they can to stop Logan.

Somehow, though, Logan and Jessica not only get past all the police, but get out of the dome, which they at first think means they've made it to Sanctuary. Except that there aren't any people here, and only the ruins of Washington DC. Until they find one crazy Old Man (Peter Ustinov) and all his cats. (Where the Old Man gets his food from is not answered.) Logan decides that perhaps he should bring the Old Man back to the city and let everybody know there's life after 30.

Logan's Run is a movie with an interesting premise, although the movie that we get is something I have quite a few problems with. I'm not the biggest fan of dystopian movies, and Logan's Run has the added issue that there's no logical way this particular dystopia could have developed. Contrast this with something like Soylent Green, based on overpopulation. How anybody gains the institutional knowledge to keep the supercomputer running is never addressed, or the breakdown of the family structure. And how did they kill off the vast majority of the population that was over 30 to get down to a population of only young people.

The biggest bright spot is the sets, but that's not enough to raise a movie beyond mediocre. Watch Logan's Run once because the plot is famous, and then strike it off your list.