Thursday, October 31, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #277: Horror (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're still in October, so it's time for another Halloween-themed edition. And this being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for a TV edition of the blogathon. The theme is horror, and rather than going for the usual theme of episodic TV that would fit in with horror movies, I decided to go with three shows starring personalities who I find quite frankly horrifying. (Or, technically, I'm going with "horrid" rather than "horror".) Now, I have an odd view of the world, so what horrifies me may not horrify you:

To Catch a Predator (2004-2007). This iteration of Dateline NBC starred Chris Hansen as a man who lured alleged pedophiles to a house with hidden cameras and microphones with sting operations. Hansen claimed not to be working with the police to be able to film the arrests, but in one case, he had the police show up at the alleged suspect's house, and when the SWAT team entered the house the man committed suicide.

Nancy Grace (CNN, 2005-2016). Grace, a former district attorney from Atlanta, used her show on one of the CNN channels to rail against the idea of innocent until proven guilty, glomming onto certain high profile cases and inciting hatred of the defendants -- and continuing to hector them even after the defendants were found not guilty, as in the Duke lacrosse case or the Casey Anthony case. I find this sort of behavior as abhorrent as the running of mugshots of people arrested but not convicted in an attempt to humiliate them publicly, or the drumbeat from police and prosecutors that if you've done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.

Judge Judy (1996-2016). I have no idea what sort of judge Judith Sheindlin was in Manhattan Family Court, but on TV she uses the platform to berate the poor people foolish enough to want to arbitrate their cases on TV, constantly shouting them down and debasing the legal system by giving home viewers the idea that this is something that it's good for a judge to do. My mom watched a bunch of these court shows during the afternoons and I frankly find all of the "judges" on them horrid.

From the festivals

I listen to the English-language services of various international news sources, and yesterday I heard the following story on Radio Japan's podcast:

Kawasaki Film Fest Cancels "Comfort Women" Doc Screening, Other Films Pulled in Protest

The film on the contentious issue stemming from the treatment of women in occupied Korea by Japanese Imperial troops was due to be screened at the Shin-yuri Film Festival, but a lawsuit against the filmmaker and concerns about protests led the local government to pressure organizers.

"Comfort women" is a euphemism for the women that imperial Japan pressed into service during World War II, well, servicing the soldiers sexually. Of course, there are people in Japan who would claim that all these women were willing prostitutes. Korea's KBS World Radio reports on the issue regularly (and they use the "comfort women" term too), and if memory serves there are still about 20 comfort women still alive and in their 90s. One of the articles I read on this specific issue pointed out that relations between Korea and Japan have been deteriorating for several months now for various reasons.

I don't know anything about the documentary or the legal case surrounding it, but my initial thought would be that the case seems meritless. The Hollywood Reporter article goes on to say that that interviewees signed consent forms, but now they're claiming they were tricked. It reminds me of wondering how the producers of a TV show like Cops get the arrestees to sign the consent forms to appear on the show.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Don't call me "Crocodile"!

Another of my recent watches off the DVR was Major Dundee.

The time is the end of 1864, which as you'll know is near the end of the US Civil War; the setting is a prisoner of war camp for captured confederates somewhere out in the New Mexico territory. The Apaches have attacked one of the nearby ranches, killing the parents in the family along with an army patrol; they've also taken the three children in the family. The only survivor was the young bugler, Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson Jr.).

The commander of the POW camp, Maj. Amos Dundee (Charlton Heston), is none too happy. This isn't just because of the Apache attack; he doesn't even really want to be in command here, having been sent out west because he screwed up at Gettysburg. Also, all those Confederates are restless because there's a war on and under their commander Capt. Tyreen (Richard Harris), they feel an obligation to make life as difficult for the Union as possible even if they're out in the middle of nowhere in a place that's not going to affect the Civil War one bit.

Maj. Dundee decides that he needs to capture Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate), the Apache warrior who led the raid, not only to teach the Apache a lesson and to prevent further attacks, but to earn back a bit of the glory he lost at Gettysburg. The only problem is, he's way to short-staffed to do anything. The only possible way he can get more people is to recruit from among the Confederate prisoners. And they, understandably, have no desire to help.

But it turns out that one of the Union soldiers the Confederate leaders attacked died, so now they're facing murder charges and a death sentence Joining up in going after the Apache might not be the worst option if it commutes their sentence. So Tyreen reluctantly joins Dundee, along with the Hadleys (Warren Oates and L.Q. Jones) for the Confederates. Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton) is part of the Union contingent along with Dundee and Ryan; a bunch of nameless soldiers and the guide Potts (James Coburn) also join in.

Finding the Apache is going to be hard. Not only do they know the land better than the white man; they decide to escape by going south across the undefended border into Mexico. That presents big problems for Dundee, who follows the Apache into Mexico nonetheless. This being the turn of the year 1864/5, there's not just the Mexicans to deal with but the French as well, this being the period when Napoleon III tried to install a puppet state in Mexico. And the French soldiers are much better than the Mexican soldiers.

Major Dundee goes on like this, and if the movie has a problem, it's this: that it goes on... and on... and on. It only runs a little over two hours, but was apparently edited down quite a bit by the studio over objections from the director, Sam Peckinpah. It's still not tight enough, and has some plot holes. Or, if they're not plot holes, they made the movie more confusing to follow.

The cinematography is nice, helped by location shooting in Durango, Mexico. The actors do as well as they can with the script, although I found Richard Harris to be a bit miscast. All in all, Major Dundee isn't bad, but I find it could have been much better. It's available on DVD should you wish to watch.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Fast Company

TCM's "Short and Sweet" spotlight is airing a bunch of detective movie series entries tomorrow morning and afternoon. I think they did the previous week too, since that's where I watched Fast Company.

Melvyn Douglas plays Joel Sloane, who has the interesting hook of being a dealer in rare books. His wife Garda (Florence Rice) is his secretary, which is obviously a way to save on money since the rare book business isn't going well. Instead, he makes most of the money he does by recovering stolen books for the reward money from the insurance company.

There have been several cases of stolen books involving another dealer, Otto Brockler (George Zucco). Ned Morgan (Shepperd Strudwick), who is in love with Otto's daughter Leah (Mary Howard), was arrested and convicted for the thefts, even though the books were never found. Ned has gotten out of prison, but nobody will give an ex-con a job. And Leah's dad says he'll put Ned back in jail if he gets too close to her again.

We then learn that the cases of Brockler's stolen books were an inside job. He's working with Eli Bannerman (Louis Calhern), an agent for book forger Sidney Wheeler (Dwight Frye). Eli is planning to sell some more of Wheeler's forgeries to Brockler, but there's some argument among the three of them over how much should be paid.

Otto Brockler winds up dead, hit over the head with a paperweight on his desk. Obviously Ned is the suspect, because he's known to the police while it's only the viewers who know about Eli and Sidney and their being possible subjects. Joel, and even more so Garda is, friends with Leah, so Garda tries to get Joel to help Ned. This results in his getting shot at, but not by Ned. He's also pursuing Brockler's secretary Julia (Claire Dodd) to pump her for information.

There's a lot in Fast Company that blends into all the other married couple detective movies that became a thing in Hollywood after the runaway success of The Thin Man. Indeed, it was only two months ago that I blogged about Douglas in There's Always a Woman. In that vein, however, Fast Company is a very good example of the genre. It's twisty and turny, with a lot of good characterizations from the supporting actors playing the various suspects.

Douglas and Rice do well together, but oddly enough, when MGM turned this one into a series with two more movies, they picked different starts for Joel and Garda each time. The three movies are on a box set together, which can be purchased from the TCM Shop.

Julie Andrews night

I tend not to follow the Hollywood memoir/books on Hollywood thing, but apparently Julie Andrews has written a second memoir, about her time in Hollywood. This is an excuse for TCM to run a night of Andrews' movies.

No big deal, since they have non-Star of the Month spotlight nights on one individual all the time. But this time, Andrews sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to talk about the book and the movies (well, the TCM site says three of the four movies airing), and those movies are running tonight.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Thoroughly Modern Mille, an overlong musical I've always had difficulty getting into.
At 11:00 PM there's Victor/Victoria, in which she goes into drag in 1930s Paris to play a female impersonator;
That's Life! at 1:30 AM is a new one to me; Andrews and Jack Lemmon play a married couple where each is having a mid-life crisis (well, technically later) of his or her own;
Finally, at 3:30 AM there's The Americanization of Emily, where she's a Brit wooed by American serviceman James Garner in the run-up to the D-Day invasion, although she's not certain she wants to be wooed.

Monday, October 28, 2019

White Zombie

With Halloween coming up, another movie I watched in TCM's Halloween horror spotlight is White Zombie.

John Harron and Madge Bellamy play Neil and Madeline, a pair of lovers in Haiti who are about to get married at the plantation house of the wealthy Mr. Beaumont (Robert Frazer). On the way, they pass a creepy man, "Murder" Legendre (Bela Lugosi) who steals Madeline's scarf. When they get to the Beaumont house, we learn that Madeline knew him in the past but doesn't really like him. They're only getting married there because of that.

Beaumont, for his part, still has designs on Madeline. To that end, he goes to see Legendre. Ostensibly, Legendre runs a sugar mill, but as we see, all of his employees are zombies, which I suppose would really cut down on labor costs. Beaumont knows about Legendre's skill with zombies, which is why Beaumont has gone to see him. He wants Legendre to come up with some sort of potion that will make Madeline love him instead of Neil.

Beaumont administers the potion to Madeline at the meal after the wedding, and the first effect is to make it look like she's dead, which is partly by design to get Neil to believe she's dead. Of course, she's only undead, and after a suitable amount of time Beaumont and Legendre's zombies go and retrieve Madeline's body. The only problem is, she doesn't really have any emotion. She wasn't turned into somebody who would love Beaumont, but a slave.

What Beaumont doesn't realize is that this was Legendre's plan. Have seen Madeline, he wants her for himself too, and he knows how to get her. Beaumont still has her, and so Legendre has to turn Beaumont into a zombie, which he does with a potion that will zombify Beaumont in slow motion. Neil, meanwhile, has reason to believe something is wrong, helped by a local priest. He stays behind, trying to get back into Beaumont's mansion, hoping to rescue Madeline....

I have to admit that the story behind White Zombie is one that rather strains credulity. But the movie itself is a lot of fun. Lugosi is a joy to watch, and the sets are really stylish. Although it's a horror movie, I didn't find this one particularly horrifying, but that doesn't mean the movie is at all bad. It's more that I tend to be less frightened by these 1930s horror films.

White Zombie is available on DVD should you wish to watch yourself.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Coming Home

During TCM's spotlight on the 100th anniversary of United Artists, one of the movies that they ran was Coming Home. Not having done a post on it before, I DVRed it to watch and do a post on here.

The movie starts off in 1968. Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) is a captain in the US Marines who is about to go off and fight in Vietnam, which means he'll be leaving his wife Sally (Jane Fonda) behind. Sally, despite knowning this could happen, isn't really ready for it. She commiserates with a friend, Vi Munson (Penelope Milford) who has a boyfriend about to go off to fight with Capt. Hyde, as well as a brother Bill (Robert Carradine) who fought and has returned injured.

Vi has been dealing with it by volunteering at the local VA hospital where the returning injured soldiers -- some of them very badly scarred both physically and emotionally -- are housed in pretty lousy conditions while the government that sent them off to war treats them, being unable to figure out how. Vi suggests to Sally that perhaps she too should volunteer at the hospital. It would give Sally something to do, since Bob is insistent Sally not get a job, these being the days when it was still perfectly normal for a woman to be a housewife.

Sally eventually goes to the hospital, where she runs into Luke Martin (Jon Voight). Literally, she runs into Luke, who is a double amputee who hasn't been able to get a wheelchair yet and uses a cane to propel his gurney. He's also got a catheter to empty his bladder, and when Sally runs into the gurney, it spills the bag of urine onto the floor, which as you can guess pisses off Luke. But this galvanizes her into deciding that yes, she will volunteer.

It's not easy work considering that the hospital is severely understaffed and doesn't necessarily want the volunteers doing stuff that medical staff should be doing. It also turns out that Sally and Luke have a past acquaintance, as they had gone to high school together. They weren't necessarily friends back then, but since they already sort of know each other and both are currently more or less alone, they decide to start a friendship. Unfortunately, it evolves into something more, as both of them also have physical needs that nobody else can really satisfy. Luke still has his emotional needs, which cause him to go on an anti-war rant for the local news.

Eventually, the two decide to break things off for a pretty good reason: Bob is coming home, having been shot accidentally. It leaves him with a limp, which means he can't really fight any more. Sally really does still love him despite having had sex with Luke, and with any luck they'll be able to pick up where they left off when Bob left for Vietnam. Except for one small problem, which is that when Luke went on that rant, military intelligence decided to do some surveillance on him. You can probably put two and two together.

I've stated before that I don't particularly have a problem with movies having obvious messages if there's a good story advancing that message. Coming Home is a movie that most definitely succeeds in that regard. Jane Fonda was far more controversial in the late 1970s than today for her actions during the Vietnam War, so it's easy to see why some people might be wary of a movie with her at the center. While the movie is clearly anti-war, it's only in a couple of Voight's speeches that it could come across as being too blunt with the message.

Fonda and Voight are both excellent, and won Oscars for their roles. Dern is slightly miscast, as he looks much too old to be a Marine going off to Vietnam in a front-line role. He does well with what he's given, as do all the supporting cast. The one problem I had was with the music score, which used a bunch of late-1960s hits but came across to me as overpowering at times.

Still, Coming Home is a movie that deserves a strong recommendation. It's available on DVD should you wish to watch.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


With Halloween coming up, I decided to watch some of the horror movies I've got on the DVR. First up is the 1977 version of Suspiria

Jessica Harper plays Suzy Bannion, an American ballerina who has decided to take advanced ballet education at a school in Freiburg, Germany. She arrives late one rainy night, and even though she has a letter of introduction, when she gets to the school out in the middle of the woods, she's refused entry. At the same time, another student, Pat Hingle (Eva Axén; why this character shared a name with a 1950s and on male actor I don't know) is running out the building, ranting about something or other.

Suzy is able to get a room with another student for the night, and when she shows up at the school in the morning, she finds out that Pat has been murdered! At the same time, there's a lot of other stuff going on that seems slightly out of the ordinary, as the head of the school Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) and her assistant Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) both seem like they've got secrets. That and Tanner has an odd obsession with money.

Anyhow, Suzy's room at the school -- students are supposed to be boarders -- is ready, and she settles in about as much as you can expect from a school whre there are going to be weird things going on. Suzy faints from exhaustion and Tanner gives her a special diet that frankly doesn't seem appropriate for a ballerina; then more disturbingly, a bunch of maggots start falling from the ceiling! The young women also hear footsteps at night and wonder whose footsteps they are and where they're going. (You'd think the students would just leave their rooms at night and explore around the building to see what's going on.)

More worryingly, Pat isn't the only one who gets killed, as one student falls into a giant container of barbed wire, while the school's pianist, who is blind, gets attacked by his seeing-eye dog. Suzy begins to investigate, and learns from an older professor in town that the school was originally founded a century early by an immigrant from Greece who was under accusations of being a witch. Who knows if that has anything to do with what's going on at the school now, but it certinly means there's cause for more investigation. But will that investigation put Suzy in great danger?

Suspiria is a movie with a reputation of being one of the more modern horror classics, and one of the greatest works of Italian horror. I have to admit that while I had few problems with the movie (the girls staying in their rooms and not following the footsteps around was a big plot hole for me but the only real problem), I also found it not as particularly horrifying as you'd think it would be based on its reputation.

What I did like, however, was director Dario Argento's use of color, which is almost disturbingly vibrant at times, especially with its use of reds. (I found myself reminded of the 2002 Dahmer here, although in that one the reds aren't as garish.) It's stylish, and combined with the use of shadows gives Suspiria an extremely distinctive look that probably helps contribute to the movie's high reputation.

I was surprised when the movie started off in English, since I knew Argento was Italian and the movie was made in Europe. But apparently the original shooting was done more or less silently, with the dialogue added in post production, something not uncommon in Italian films back in those days. (Recall Valentina Cortese's line in Day for Night about how Fellini let his actors speak numbers.) There were apparently two versions of the dialogue made, one in English for American release and one in Italian for the European release.

Suspiria got a restoration for the 40th anniversary of the movie's release, and that restored print is available on a pricey Blu-ray set. (It currently seems to be on backorder at TCM and there are only a limited number of copies available at Amazon.) It's a good movie, but it would be nice if there were an edition in print that's not quite so expensive.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Return to Sender

Earlier this year, I purchased Volume 1 of the Noir Archive Collection. Among the movies in the collection that I hadn't watched or blogged about before is Address Unknown, so I recently watched it to do a post on here.

The movie starts off with a pair of friends who are also business associates, running an art gallery in San Francisco. Martin Schulz (Paul Lukas) is telling Max Eisenstein (Morris Carnovsky) that he's going to be going back to their native Germany to look at acquiring artwork. This surprised me, since the movie was released in 1944, at the height of World War II, and how could anybody get back to Germany, much less want to live with the Nazis. But it turns out that the movie begins sometime around 1931 or 1932, so just before the Nazis complete their rise to power.

The two men, in addition to being friends, are about to become related by marriage. Martin's oldest son Heinrich (Peter van Eyck) is in love with Max's daughter Griselle (K.T. Stevens), and plans to marry her. There's only one problem, which is that she's an actress, and wants to pursue her dream of being successful on the stage before settling down to marry. So perhaps if Heinrich could wait a year while Griselle goes off to Germany with Martin and his family. Well, there's another problem, which is that the Eisensteins are Jewish and going back to Germany when the Nazis are about to take over is not particularly advised.

When the Schulzes get to their new house in Munich, Martin is approached by a mysterious Baron von Friesche (Carl Esmond), who seems to serve the sole purpose of trying to infect Martin with Nazi ideology. Why Martin would have believed this stuff is beyond me, but he begins to fall under the Nazi spell, at least far enough to keep his job and position in society, something that alarms everybody around him, especially the Eisensteins. Griselle has even taken on the stage name Stone to hide her Jewish identity. She's even more rebellious, including the New Testament Beatitudes in a stage soliloquy even though Nazi censors ordered the director to remove this line. For this, and the Nazis finding out she's Jewish, she's going to die.

Martin's relationship with her and her father back in America is going to start causing a problem for him, especially when Max starts sending letters that have dimensions of paintings, something the Nazis insist is a secret code. It's thoroughly illegal for coded messages to be sent in Nazi Germany. So Martin writes to Max and tells Max to stop writing, something that the Nazis ought to know if they're opening the letters and reading them to find out that there's a code in them. But Martin keeps getting letters from Max. What's going to happen to poor Martin?

Address Unknown is a movie that I found a bit odd, mostly because I felt like the plot was unrealistic and full of holes. To be fair, part of that is because with the war still going at the time the movie was made, there was bound to be propaganda and a plot that had to be adjusted to fit the propaganda. But everything from Martin's going back to Germany in the first place to his downfall seemed slightly odd to me.

To be fair, however, Lukas does quite a good job with his character study, while the other actors all do a creditable job. I didn't really think of it as a noir, but the look of the movie, with cameraman Rudolph Maté and director William Cameron Menzies, does have a lot of interesting camera angles and shadows to suggest noir.

Overall, I think I'd give a qualified positive review to Address Unknown. But since it's on a box set, I'd give it a higher recommendation than if it were on a higher-priced standalone DVD. One issue, however, is that there are only two spindles, so two of the Blu-ray discs are going to be on one spindle -- there are three discs with three movies each; it's easier to fit three movies on one Blu-ray than one DVD.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #276: Rituals

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're still in October, so it's time for another Halloween-themed edition. This time, the theme is "Rituals":

Er, not that Rituals, but horror movies that have various rituals. I had to think about this one for a bit, since horror movies aren't my favorite and I also had to think about movies that I've used recently. I think the following three choices all work and havent been used by me recently:

Scream Blacula Scream (1973). William Marshall returns as Blacula, who is brought back to life in a voodoo ritual by Pam Grier's jealous brother. Blacula, of course, feels a compulsion to bite people and turn them into vampires, including the brother. But Blacula knows what's going on and doesn't want to be a vampire, hoping that there's a voodoo ritual to make him no longer undead.

Devils of Darkness (1964). Hubert Noel plays a vampire in Brittany who marries his latest wife in a Gypsy ritual. A British tourist accidentally steals the group's magic talisman, and Noel follows him back to the UK to get that talisman. Odd deaths follow.

The Omen (1976). Gregory Peck plays the US Ambassador to Britain who, with his wife Lee Remick wants a child. They wind up adopting the newborn Damien after his mother died in childbirth and Remick gave birth to a stillborn child. What they don't realize is that Damien is in fact the Antichrist. Our ambassador realizes he's going to have to kill Damien in a ritual killing involving daggers and an altar.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Presented with no apologies to our Canadian readers

One of my recent viewings on TCM was the early talkie Men of the North. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you get a blog post on it now.

Gilbert Roland plays Louis La Bey, also known as "Le Fox", a French-Canadian trapper working out of a trading post village somewhere in a northerly part of the country that has mountains. But before we're introduced to him, we see an unidentified person riding on a dogsled and get attacked by another unidentified person. Louis shows up at the post, just in time for a party.

Meanwhile, it's determined that somebody is attacking people and stealing gold, as a gold shipment to the post from a nearby mine has fewer bags of gold dust than it should. The mine owner himself, Mr. Ruskin (Arnold Korff) is about to show up with his lovely adult daughter Nedra (Barbara Leonard). She's interested in seeing the real north, not that she's going to get it in this movie.

Louis falls hard for Nedra, which pisses off his more or less current girlfriend Woolie-Woolie (Nina Quartero). She spies on Louis once he's alone in his cabin, and sees... he's removing a stone from his fireplace, behind which there's a secret drawer in which he stores gold dust! So he's obviously behind the gold robberies.

Once Woolie-Woolie figures this out and realizes she's being jilted by Louis, she's going to go to the Mounties at the base, who always get their man. Well, maybe not this time. Louis sets off even though there's about to be a blizzard coming up. The Ruskins also head out for their mine, but unlike Louis, they don't have experience with the sort of snow they get here, and they're going to need to be rescued. The Mounties go chasing Louis, and one of them is going to need rescuing, too....

Oh boy is Men of the North a silly movie. There's not much of a story here, and what there is seems disjointed and more worthy of a two-reeler than an early talkie. There's also a whole bunch of the tropes about the Canadian north that you'd expect from a movie like this: the heavily accented Quebecker, the Mounties, and the snow. Something tells me Canadian viewers are going to be screaming in horror at the stereotypes.

The acting isn't much to write home about with a young but recognizable Roland being the only familiar name. Thankfully, he already had an accent not being a native English speaker, and it's not as much of a riot as the one Laurence Olivier essays in 49th Parallel. Everybody else is no better than unmemorable.

If you remember Men of the North at all, it'll be for being a particularly big artistic failure. It really should be on a Warner box set with some other early talkie B movies, instead of a pricey standalone.

Short and sweet and not on DVD?

Today is the fourth of five days of the "Short and Sweet" movies on TCM, looking at movies with a running time of under 75 minutes. I was looking through the schedule to see if there was anything worth recording, and I was slightly surprised.

The first thing I noticed is that as the movies continue into Thursday morning, there's High Pressure, which I blogged about at the beginning of the month. It's airing tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM should you want to watch it without buying the Powell at Warner Bros. box set. But what I noticed is that TCM's schedule page doesn't have a link to the TCM shop for that set, which is in fact available not just at Amazon but at the TCM Shop.

So I looked at a couple of other movies to see if they're on DVD despite the schedule not having a link to the TCM Shop. The first obvious guess was the Shirley Temple movie Little Miss Broadway, tonight at 6:30 PM. Amazon has it on a three-movie set, while the TCM Shop has this six-movie set.

A Family Affair (overnight at 12:30 AM) is the first of the Andy Hardy movies, so I thought that would be on DVD, but as far as I can tell it might not actually be on DVD. There are two Andy Hardy box sets, but the first one seems to start with You're Only Young Once. Apparently there was no plan for a series until after the success of A Family Affair. And there's no DVD for it at Amazon either.

Lastly, I would have presumed that the Warner Archive would have put out a set of Wheeler and Woolsey movies. Whether or not they included enough of those movies to have Hips, Hips, Hooray (today at 1:30 PM) on it, I wasn't certain. I couldn't find a DVD at Amzon, but the TCM Shop has this nine-movie set.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Around the world under the world

I've mentioned that FXM finally brought some classic movies out of the vault. One that was actually in the rotation for a while over the summer but seemed to be out for a month or two is Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's going to be back on several times in quick succession, starting tomorrow at 11:00 AM.

The movie starts off in Scotland, where we learn that Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) is a distinguished professor, as he's just been knighted. His students honor him with gifts, with the head of the committee, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone) using up the rest of the money on a giant chunk of tephra. Alec also happens to be in love with the professor's niece Jenny (Diane Baker), although she largely disappears from the movie for reasons that will become fairly obvious.

Lindenbrook analyzes the volcanic rock, since it seems surprisingly heavy for volcanic rock. Eventually, it breaks open, revealing what looks like a plumb bob, with an inscription from an Icelandic scientist that disappeared long ago. Lindenbrook realizes that the legend of this scientist, who had apparently been searching for a path to the center of the earth, must be true! He writes to a Swedish colleague Göteborg, but he never hears back from the guy.

It turns out that Göteborg understood the significance of the discovery and set off for Iceland himself to find the portal that will take him to the paths leading to the center of the earth. Prof. Lindenbrook, realizing he's been tricked, heads off to Iceland with McEwan, although Jenny stays behind because women didn't do this sort of exploration back in the 1880s.

When they all get to Iceland, they find that somebody doesn't want them exploring and finding that passage. Lindenbrook and Alec each get concussed in separate incidents and deposited in an eider feather storage facility, which is where they meet Hans (Peter Ronson). Worse, when they go looking for Göteborg, they find that he's been killed! His now widow, Carla (Arlene Dahl) shows up and insists on going on the expedition with the two Scots and Hans; after all, they're going to be using equipment that her late husband had purchased.

So they set off for the volcanic entry into the underworld, for what's going to be an extraordinarily difficult journey, especially considering all sorts of logistical details are overlooked to get the movie finished in a reasonable amount of time. They do, however, find who's trying to stop them, which is Saknussemm (Thayer David), a descendent of the Icelandic scientist whose earlier journeys all brought them to this place.

This version of Journey to the Center of the Earth is one that's good for children, as there's a sense of adventure but not too much fright. Indeed, I felt like there was a surprising lack of action once they got underground, which ought to be a pretty big flaw with a movie like this. The acting was adequate. Pat Boone, while more a singer than an actor, doesn't really do anything notably bad here, while for Peter Ronson this was his only film (he didn't want to continue acting). One other problem is that Hans has a duck who really seems to be there for the sort of comic relief that Disney had with its animal characters.

As for the positives, the movie looks like it would probably be really nice on a big screen. The underworld animals look slightly better than what Ray Harryhausen would have come up with, although as far as I can tell he wasn't involved with this version of the movie.

There are several movie versions of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and this 1959 movie looks to be out-of-print on DVD. So, you're going to have to catch this one on FXM.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Bill and Ted have an adventure

In my recent batch of Amazon purchases, I picked up this Jerry Lewis box set, since I think I'd only blogged about one of the 10 movies in it, and the price was more than right. Recently, I sat down to watch one of the movies in the set, The Stooge.

The movie starts off with Jerry's comic partner at the time, Dean Martin. he plays Bill Miller, part of a vaudeville "double" act (that is, an act with two people) circa 1930. He wants to find success as a "single", although people around him advise him against this, including his manager Leo (Eddie Mayehoff) and his wife Mary (Polly Bergen), who even feels a bit neglected by Bill.

Sure enough, Bill's attempts to be a single are not a success, and his manager suggests he get a "stooge", that is, somebody who can sit in the audience and yell out some pre-arranged heckling for the guy up on stage to riff off of and make the act much funnier. Cut to Ted Rogers (that's Jerry Lewis if you somehow couldn't recognize him). He works on Tin Pan Alley for a music publisher, but it's a wonder he hasn't been fired multiple times over. His boss would be happy to have him leave for greener pastures, so it's suggested that Ted could be the stooge.

Ted sits up in a box with a woman nicknamed "Frecklehead" (Marion Marshall), and when he starts interacting with Bill, the repartee turns out to be a big hit. The two go on the road, but Bill continues to think of himself as a single, never identifying Ted by name, since he believes that doing so would give away the fact that Ted is a stooge and it's all scripted. This despite the fact that all the critics are naming Ted. Mary and Frecklehead tell Ted that Bill is exploiting him, but Ted just wants the act to work.

The Stooge is one of those movies where it's pretty darn obvious exactly where the movie is headed, but where you don't mind because the fun is in getting there. If you don't like Jerry Lewis' manic style, then you may not like the movie, but otherwise I think it's a perfectly fine film.

As for the box set, it's well constructed for the price. There are 10 DVDs, so each movie gets its own DVD. It's in a case thicker than your average single DVD case, with one movie on a spindle on the inside left, one on the inside right, and the other eight on four inserts that attach to hinges within the case. Each of the inserts has two spindles which are not directly back to back; in other words, one of the DVDs on each insert is closer to the top of the case and the other closer to the bottom. Apparently some of the movies have extras, although I wasn't looking out for those on The Stooge.

The Stooge is good enough that it's worth watching on its own, but in a box set at this price point, it can't be beat.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ulee's Gold

After Peter Fonda died back in August, TCM pre-empted some of their programming to do a tribute night to him. This included the movie Ulee's Gold.

Fonda plays Ulee Jackson, who at the start of the movie is taking care of some of his beehives with a couple of seasonal workers somewhere in the swamps of Florida. (The movie was filmed on location in Gulf County, FL, which is one of the rural counties in the panhandle.) It's tough work, having left Ulee with back pain and a looming deadline to produce a large supply of tupelo honey in the next few weeks.

It's not just business that makes life difficult for Ulee. He returns from the swamp to pick up his granddaughter Penny from elementary school. Ulee lives with Penny and Penny's elder sister Casey (Jessica Biel). Neither of the parents are around, as dad Jimmy (Tom Wood) is in prison, and mom is who knows where. There's no grandma, either, since she died several years earlier.

Life is about to get a heck of a lot more complicated for them. Ulee gets a call from his son, who tells dad that he's learned his wife Helen (Christine Dunford) is in need of help, having a serious drug problem and living somewhere around Orlando. She's hanging out with a bad crowd, and could Ulee help her? Not that either of the granddaughters are thrilled with the prospect of seeing Mom again.

Still, Ulee brings Helen home despite the fact that she's going through drug withdrawal. The familiy is lucky that they're renting out a house across the street to Connie (Patricia Richardson), a nurse who can help out even though she points out that Helen really ought to be in a hospital. But if the physical situation is bad enough, there's about to be a much bigger problem for the family.

When Jimmy committed teh hold-up that got him in prison, he found an extra bag of money. He took it for himself and hid it somewhere where Ulee keeps his bees. The other two robbers, Eddie (Steven Flynn) and Ferris (Dewey Weber), escaped going to prison and were in fact the ones who were taking care of Helen when Ulee came to pick her up. And Helen, during all that drug use, told Eddie and Ferris about that bag of money. So naturally, they want it.

Ulee's Gold is an excellent little drama. I think one of the things that I liked so much about it is how much all of these characters seem like real people, who are trying to muddle their way through some extremely difficult problems. I wrote once many years ago that the production values of historical dramas tend to look a lot better in more recent movies than in Hollywood backlot-constrained films. But when it comes to writing realistic characters, a good modern movie -- probably because of the lack of the Production Code -- can do it so much better than the old Studio Era movies. And Ulee's Gold is one of those movies that does it well.

Fonda is outstanding and rightly got an Oscar nomination. Richardson is good too, and the children are normal and not Hollywood obnoxious in any way. The location shooting is also a huge plus. I mentioned recently how much I liked the production design of At Close Range in showing the rural white working class. But I think Ulee's Gold gets it even better, which is saying something.

It's really good that Fonda got that Oscar nomination, because I think that otherwise Ulee's Gold would have been forgotten. That would have been a huge shame, because Ulee's Gold is a movie that really deserves to be seen.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Doris Day comedy without Doris Day

Another recent watch off the DVR was the 1960s comedy The Wheeler Dealers.

James Garner plays Henry Tyroon, who in a pre-credits sequence shows up to one of his oil wells in west Texas. They're drilling, and ominous sound effects imply they're just about to hit something. The do indeed hit... dust. It's the latest in a string of dry wells. Henry is short on money and time, so he decides to go to New York to get that money.

In New York, brokerage boss Bullard Bear (Jim Backus) is overseeing a firm that's losing money somehow. One of the big bosses died recently, having personally selected some absolute dogs of stocks. However, there's one company they can't figure out anything about, Universal Widget. Bear has just the right analyst to task with trying to sell off these stocks to unsuspecting people, Molly Thatcher (Lee Remick).

Molly, of course, is a woman, part of a very small breed of stock analysts in the early 1960s. Never mind that the job itself is stressful enough, they also have to face the idea that the proper job for a woman is to get married -- even Molly's roommate Eloise (Patricia Crowley) is only working uptown so she can find a suitable husband -- and all the concomitant prejudice from men who don't think women can handle the pressure. Bullard is setting Molly up to fail, and Molly eventually figures that out.

But enter Henry again. He shows up at Bear's firm, and Bear gets the idea that perhaps Henry is a good person for Molly to foist those Universal Widget shares on. What neither Bear nor Molly expect is that Henry is a "wheeler dealer", who barely keeps on the right side of securities law whan he does his various business deals. Henry falls in love with Molly, and engages in sevral of those schemes to try to win Molly's love. She seems more interested in business, since she's already got a neurotic art critic boyfriend.

But in investigating Universal Widget, she and Henry figure out both the source of its wealth and why it's privately held with the privacy being jealously guarded. Henry realizes they could have a winner on their hands if only they can promote the company "properly". Of course, this really means something much different for Henry than for the head of the company or even for Molly. And this time, the scheme might just fall afoul of those securities laws.

The Wheeler Dealers is a broad comedy that takes aim at a lot of targets. The stereotype of the brash Texas oilman is unsurprisingly one, but I was actually surprised by the very modern handling of attitudes toward women in business. The movie is also skewering big business in general, traditional New England Yankee probity, and modern art. But somewhere along the way, the movie loses its way as the scheme to promote Universal Widget first goes into action and then comes undone, seriously lowering my assessment of the movie.

James Garner made a couple of comedies like this in the 1960s, so he fits the role well. Doris Day would have been an obvious choice for the female lead; indeed she and Garner made two movies together. But this time, it's Lee Remick gettin the female lead, and she does surprisingly well. The supporting cast come across reasonably well, while the production design is generally appealing. I just wish the movie hadn't gone off the rails in the third act.

The Wheeler Dealers is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Friday, October 18, 2019

News Around the Girl

Last summer, I mentioned buying a box set of British B movies. Recently, I watched another movie off that set, Girl in the News.

Margaret Lockwood plays Anne Graham, who at the start of the movie is about to leave her job as private nurse to bedridden Miss Blaker (Irene Handl). But Blaker has a change of heart and decides to call Anne back, since apparently Blaker had been mean enough to stick some of her jewelry into Anne's trunk so that Anne would get arrested for theft. Blaker must have some sort of mental problem, because in addition to having done that, after Anne decides to return Blaker gets out of bed and unlocks the medicine cabinet with Anne's key to take a fatal overdose of sleeping pills!

Now, we've seen all this so we know that Anne is innocent. But there's a whole lot of circumstantial evidence against her to suggest that she deliberately gave that fatal overdose to the patient in her charge. Stephen Farringdon (Barry Barnes) defends Anne at court, and is able to get her off thanks to his clever lawyering, even though he's not certain Anne is actually innocent. This high-profile case has an effect on Anne, who finds herself unable to get a job as a nurse because really, who would want to hire a nurse who stood accused of murdering the patient in her charge.

One day, however, Anne gets a letter in the mail that includes a clip of a classified ad looking for a private nurse, with the implication that she should write in and send a photo to get the job. That job turns out to be for the well-to-do Mr. Bentley (Wyndham Goldie), who apparently has no idea about Anne's past since she's using an assumed name.

However, some of the other people at the house do, notably the butler Tracy (Emlyn Williams). He's been carrying on an affair with Mrs. Bentley (Margaretta Scott), and he's figured out the perfect way to get Mr. Bentley out of the way. That, if you haven't figured it out, is to hire Miss Graham, and then give Mr. Bentley an overdose of the same kind of sleeping pills that Miss Blaker took. The police are certain to find out the nurse's real identity, and put two and two together.

Meanwhile, Stephen has fallen in love with Anne, and she's down in London with him at the time of Mr. Bentley's untimely death. Stephen has the odd feeling that something is wrong since the overdose likely would have happened when Anne was in London, giving her an alibi. But how is he going to be able to prove it? Worse, Stephen has a flat-mate who is a police detective, Bill (Roger Livesey). How is Stephen going to investigate when his own friend is on the case?

Girl in the News is a suspense movie, not a mystery, so I'm not giving anything away by pointing out many of the plot points. Even though this is not a Hollywood movie, it would obviously have Anne be found innocent at the end in order to leave audiences with a happy ending (especially since it was released in 1940, by which time the UK was already at war).

Having said that, however, Girl in the News is a surprisingly good little programmer, with a pretty strong cast of British actors who made prominent enough work elsewhere in their careers that American film buffs will recognize them. On top of that, it was directed by Carol Reed early in his career, so there's little wonder it's good for what it is. Granted, it's not to the level of what the Korda brothers were making in the UK at the time, or even Alfred Hitchcock's British movies from before he left for Hollywood. But the more I see the more I'm surprised how many interesting British B movies there are.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #275: Jump Scares

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. There are two more weeks to go after today before Halloween, so this is the third of five horror-themed editions of the blogathon. This time, the theme is "jump scares", and I'm not certain if I understand the theme correctly, so I'm picking three movies with sudden frights:

Psycho (1960). I think we all know that the climax has Vera Miles going into the fruit cellar looking for Norman Bates' mother, and what she finds when she turns the chair around, causing a lightbulb to swing and all that. But just after that, Norman comes down the stairs looking to kill Miles, and that shot still creeps me out every time I watch the movie.

Les Diaboliques (1955). If you show Psycho to someone and they wind up with a fear of showers, show them Les Diaboliques (the 1955 French version, not the 1990s Hollywood remake). Véra Clouzot (wife of the director, Henri-Georges Clouzot) and Simone Signoret play the wife and mistress respectively of a French boarding school headmaster. Fed up with him, they make a pact to kill him -- but after doing it, the body goes missing, and one of the students claims to have seen him, alive, driving the wife slowly insane. The movie's climax involves a bathtub, and I won't say any more.

Wait Until Dark (1967). I'm pretty certain I've used this one before, but it's got a good "gotcha" moment in the climax. Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman whose husband comes into possession of a doll filled with heroin. The crooks want the doll, and when it goes missing, their leader (Alan Arkin) goes to great lengths to get it. Audrey, eventually realizing danger is imminent, decides to break all the light bulbs in the apartment rendering Arkin as blind as her (and theaters were asked to turn off the house lights at this point). It leads up to a "gotcha" moment....

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Continuing to get through the backlog of movies I've got on my DVR, I watched Harvey over the weekend.

James Stewart playd Elwood Dowd, who lives with his widowed sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and her daughter Myrtle Mae (Victorie Horne). Both of them are quite embarrassed by Elwood's presence, because he keeps talking to something that he claims is a giant rabbit named Harvey that befriended him, but that nobody else can see or hear. (And apparently it takes up space, although nobody ever tried to take Harvey's personal space when, for example, he's sitting on a bar stool.)

At any rate, Veta has finally had it after Elwood finally screws up a big soiree that she's hosting. So she's contacted the executor of the family's trust, Judge Gaffney (William Lynn) to get Elwood committed to Dr. Chumley's (Cecil Kellaway) sanitarium. However, it's not going to be so easy, in part because although Elwood certainly seems touched in the head to anybody who watches, he's also so nice by nature that everybody seems charmed by him when he's not even trying to manipulate people.

It's not going to be that easy, however, because Veta is high-strung herself. Part of it may have to do with having had to put up with Elwood and his antics all these years, but part of it is definitely that she's an annyoing, pushy person. So when she talks to Chumley's assistant Dr. Sanderson, he assumes that she's being manipulative and trying to have Elwood wrongly committed so she can get the house which is in Elwood's name alone. Sanderson responds to all this by having Veta committed.

This displeases Chumley to no end, and in the resulting confusion, Elwood is able to get off the grounds of the sanitarium and back into town. Sanderson and his long-suffering nurse girlfriend Miss Kelly (Peggy Dow) go looking for Elwood. Along the way, everyone is changed by the presence of Elwood and the does-he-or-doesn't-he-exist Harvey.

Harvey is one of those movies that rightly, I think, gets praised, but that I do have some problems with, mostly because I find both of the main characters dislikable. Stewart is playing a man-child who really needs to have some sense smacked into him, while Josephine Hull (who won the Oscar) is often too obnoxious. One gets the feeling Veta was always this way and Elwood decided to act the way he does as a response. The change in Chumley's character is also one that struck me as unrealistic.

Still, Harvey is one of those movies that I think everybody needs to see. And, a lot of you will probably like it more than I did. It's available on DVD should you want to watch for yourself.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

As opposed to devils of lightness?

I mentioned a few days back that FXM is bringing some classics out of its vaults. There are still movies that have been on the schedule for a while with a bunch of repeats. One of those is Devils of Darkness, which will be onb again tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM and again on October 29.

The movie starts of with a pre-credits scene of a gypsy party in the woods somewhere in Brittany, which ends with one of the gypsies getting killed and somebody saying she's going to be his bride for all of eternity! After the opening credits, we get to a bunch of British tourists at a hotel there, led by Paul (William Sylvester) and Madeleine (Diana Decker). Madeleine knows a lot about the local customs, and suggests her fellow Brits watch the All Souls' Eve rituals.

A couple of the guys, however, would rather go spelunking, and it costs them when they find some coffins in the cave; both wind up dead. The one woman other than Madeleine also winds up dying. Paul vows to have the deaths more thoroughly investigated when he gets back to Britain, since he notices some sort of bite mark on the necks of the two recovered bodies. Also only the way he picks up an odd looking bat pendant.

That last thing is something he shouldn't have done. The pendant is a talisman belonging to Count Sinistre (Hubert Noël), and he needs it to engage in his evil powers. He's been living since 1588, and has a retinue of hangers-on who obey all his commands for whatever reason, I don't know. So Sinistre and his wife Tanis (Carole Gray) go off to England to find the talisman.

Along the way, they use their powers to steal the coffins of the two Brits who died in France, kill a scientist who's helping Paul, and kidnap a woman Karen (Tracy Reed) who is working at Madeleine's antique shop and who Paul falls in love with..

Or something like that. To be honest, Devils of Darkness is a movie that has a whole lot of nothing going on in it. It's not notably bad, but it sure isn't notably good either. It's better than a lot of the other programmers that Fox was distributing at the time, or at least has better production values thanks to the Eastmancolor print. But it's something to watch once and then who knows how long you'll remember it?

Devils of Darkness seems to be available at Amazon from a couple of sketchy-looking DVDs, as well as online streaming.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Long Ships

I'm working my way through the movies that TCM ran for Sidney Poitier's turn as Star of the Month back in September. This time out, the entry is The Long Ships.

The actual star here is Richard Widmark, playing Rolfe, the captain of a Viking ship raiding somewhere in the Mediterranean in an opening sequence. The ship gets destroyed in the fog on some shoals, and Rolfe is the only survivor. There's then a non-live-action sequence talking about Rolfe's rescue by some monks who brought him back to health. They were also looking for gold to make a giant bell, which when it is finally cast and rung makes a thunderous sound.

Cut to some Moorish city. Rolfe is in the town square, eking out a living telling fabulous stories, notably the story of that bell, which by now is a legend since nobody really quite knows what happened to that bell if it even existed. But the legend is well known, because the ruler of that town is interested:

Sidney Poitier plays Aly Mansuh, burdened by a desire for that bell and by one of the most horrendous hairdos known to man. He's wanted that bell, and when he hears about Rolfe the storyteller, he puts two and two together to determine that Rolfe must know where the bell is. So he brings in Rolfe, threatening to torture Rolfe if he doesn't reveal where the bell is. Rolfe jumps out a window, and escapes.

Somehow, he makes it back to his home fjord, washing ashore and finding that his family has all sorts of problems. Rolfe would like another boat to go find that bell, but the last boat nearly bankrupted his family, including his father Krok (Oskar Homolka) and brother Orm (Russ Tamblyn). They're making a ship for the king that will be the king's funeral ship, but they're so indebted that the king gives them a measly two gold pieces, saying that's all that's left for them after paying off their debts.

Rolfe gets the idea we all have, which is to steal the king's boat and sail off in search of the bell. To ensure their safety, they kidnap the king's daughter Gerda (Beba Lončar). But it's not going to be easy, and unsurprisingly the boat crashes again, very near where Aly Mansuh is. So he finds Rolfe again. How are the Vikings going to get out of this one?

The Long Ships is one of those sit back and relax movies. There's nothing in this one that would be considered high art, but it entertains. To be honest, some of the entertainment value comes from the misfires, including some terrible dialog as well as that horrendous wig Poitier has to wear. There's also no semblance of historical reality, and don't even think about continuity.

Jack Cardiff directed, which is part of the reason the movie looks nice visually, he having been noted as a cinematographer for the color movies of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. He's also helped by some nice locations; watch the opening credits and you'll see enough foreign names to figure out this was an international co-production filmed in Yugoslavia, which wasn't as closed a Communist society as the rest of the Eastern Bloc.

The Long Ships is available on DVD.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Briefs for October 13-14, 2019

It looks like whoever is programming FXM has finally decided to go back to vaults and pull out some stuff that hasn't been on the channel in ages. Normally, I'd always notice that happening at the beginning of a month, but for the past few months that doesn't seem to have been happening. But this week is going to see a change. It starts off with The Boston Strangler, which I blogged about back in 2011. It's going to be on Monday at 1:00 PM and again at 11:30 AM Tuesday. Other movies showing up for the first time in a while are The Robe, and Daddy Long Legs, with more to come the following week.

About a year and a half ago, I mentioned the mediocre movie Millie, and stated that it seemed to be out of print on DVD. It was on again recently and I was thinking about watching it on Watch TCM to do a post on, having forgotten I'd done the previous post. (The opening seemed oddly familiar.) Anyhow, I looked up the DVD, and it's actually from Grapevine Video on a DVD-R, so available.

I don't understand the ways of Amazon and the TCM Shop. I've pointed out multiple occasions where there's something on the Warner Archive which, being a MOD scheme, should be available at the TCM shop, but isn't, even though it's still available over at Amazon. This time, it's the other way around. I had reason to mention Laughter in Paradise somewhere else, and so looked for the Amazon page on it since I actually bought the DVD there back in 2017. It's a MOD DVD from Reel Vault, but it's somehow no longer availalbe at Amazon. It's not as if Reel Vault is no longer at Amazon at all, as my most recent order at Amazon earlier this month included three Reel Vault DVDs.

The Defector

A few weeks back, TCM ran what would turn out to be Montgomery Clift's final movie, The Defector. Not having done a post on it here before, I decided to record and watch it.

Clift plays James Bower, an American physicist who has flown to Germany with the intention of going to Esat Germany to see a few museums and how some art restoration is going on, fine art being his hobby. In Germany, he's met by Adams (Roddy McDowall), an agent for the CIA. It wasn't Bower's idea to meet with Adams, and when he finds out why Adams wants to meet him, he's really unhappy.

Apparently, prominent Soviet physicist Groschek is in East Germany, and he has some important information about the Soviet space program that he wants to transfer to the west. Since Bower is going to East Germany anyway, and since he translated Groschek's books into English, Adams would seemingly be a natural person to meet with Groschek in the East and bring that information back to the West. Bower isn't a spy (and indeed, that's part of the reason why his being the one to get the information from Groschek is a plus), and doesn't want to do spy work. But Adams blackmails him, saying that if Adams doesn't do it, his government funding for research will dry up. (This is one of the many reasons government shouldn't be in the business of funding science.) So Bower reluctantly accepts.

The Communists already know that Bower is coming, and that he's going to be getting this information from Groschek. Commander Orlovsky (David Opatoshu) is nominally in charge of the operation, but he's given a lot of responsibility to one of Bower's fellow scientists, Peter Heinzmann (Hardy Kruger). Heinzmann's job is not only to prevent Bower from getting that information from Groschek, but to try to get Bower to defect to the East.

To do this, there's both physical violence brought to bear against the people Bower meets, as well as mental violence against Bower, who is subjected to some sort of psychedelic-looking trip in his hotel room. Bower eventually decides that he wants to get back to the west, but trying to get there is going to be extremely dangerous.

I stated above that The Defector was Montgomery Clift's last movie; it was four years after his previous work and released four months after he died. That is probably the biggest reason why the movie is still known today. To be honest, it's not particularly memorable for any other reason. The Defector came across to me as a very formulaic movie in the 1960s spy genre, with absolutely nothing to make it stand out against any of the other movies. It's not bad, mind you, even though it does have a few flaws in its slow pacing. It's much more that there's nothing memorable about it other than the trivia surrounding Clift.

Still, The Defector is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, and the vintage cinematography of 1960s Germany is mildly worth mentioning. So watch and judge for yourself.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Wonderful Country

Not too long ago, TCM ran the new-to-me western The Wonderful Country. It being available on DVD from MGM/UA's MOD scheme, I decided to record it to do a post on it here.

Robert Mitchum plays Martin Brady, who at the start of the movie is accompanying a wagon of goods north from Mexico across the Rio Grande into the United States. Brady is American, but living in Mexico because a past brush with the law forced him to flee. Unfortunately, his delivery doesn't go well, as he reaches a small town and a tumbleweed spooks his horse, bucking him and leaving him with a broken leg.

The town has a fort where Brady meets the new commander, Maj. Stark Colton (Gary Merrill). Colton has a job for Brady, if Brady is willing to take it, which is to go back into Mexico and convince the Mexican authorities to let the American soldiers come in and help deal with the Apache raiders which are causing more difficulty for the Americans than for the Mexicans. Of course, the local governor, Cipriano Castro (Pedro Armendáriz) is the one who was paying to delivr that wagon full of guns, and Brady knows that Castro is going to be none too pleased that the delivery didn't go off as planned, never mind that it would be perfectly understandable for the Mexicans not to want American soldiers on their territory.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Brady's life is about to get a whole lot more complicated. When visiting the Major, Brady runs into Mrs. Colton (Julie London), who is just getting settled and is not particularly happy with her marriage to the major and starts puting the moves on Brady. Then there's kindly German immigrant Chico, who gets harassed by a drunk man who breaks a bottle and slashes Chico to death. That guy then turns on Brady, who kills the man in self-defense, if anybody in a court of law would believe that. So it's back to Mexico for Brady.

Things aren't any better back in Brady's adopted homeland of Mexico. It turns out that Gov. Castro has been in a dispute with his brother, a general in the Army, and the Governor wants Brady to be a hired gun to kill the General. And the US Army is going after the Apache in Mexico anyway, including bringing in the Texas Rangers, which is an even bigger problem since they're not military.

I had a fairly big problem with The Wonderful Country in that it seems a lot less like a coherent movie than a bunch of episodes that are supposed to be related but really just made it more difficult to follow what was going on. In particular, the synopsis I saw suggested that the relationship between Brady and Mrs. Colton was going to be much bigger than it turned out to be. The dispute between the Castro brothers also seemed to arise out of nowhere. Maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention.

Those problems aside, Mitchum gives a good performance and Brady, while there's some nice cinematography in the area around Durango, Mexico. But for me that wasn't enough to save the movie from its flaws. Some people may have a different opinion, however, so as always you should judge for yourself.

Friday, October 11, 2019

I'll cry some day or another

Susan Hayward made a whole bunch of melodramatic potboilers in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of them were even based on real events, such as I'll Cry Tomorrow.

Hayward plays singer Lillian Roth, although we don't see Hayward at first, as the story briefly starts with Lillian's childhood. Her mom Katie (Jo Van Fleet) is a stage mother, pushing Lillian into performing on Broadway, even though Lillian would rather play with neighborhood friends like David. If there was any upside to the pushing, it was that it provided Lillian with the opportunity for a career, as she would become a successful singer and actress.

Adult Lillian still loved David (played as an adult by Ray Danton), and he can help her career because he's an entertainment lawyer. But Mom doesn't like him, thinking he'll slow down Lillian's career, so she tries to sabotage their relationship. Worse, David gets some sort of sickness that kills him at a young age, dying in hospital while Lillian, who was going to marry him, is performing so she can't be by his side when he dies. She drowns her sorrow in drink, meeting hard-drinking serviceman Willie (Don Taylor). Their nights out on the town lead to more drinking with the two even getting married one one of those benders, Lillian only realizing the next day that she's married.

But the drinking is beginning to have a negative effect on Lillian's life. Eventually the marriage breaks up at which point Lillian meets Tony (Richard Conte), who is also an alcoholic but who knows that he can't have another drink. If she learns one thing from her relationship with Tony, it's not that she shouldn't be drinking, but that she should be hiding her drinking so that everybody will be thinking she isn't drinking when in fact she is. (Good luck with that.)

Lillian's life gets enough out of control that she thinks about throwing herself out of the window of one of those crappy old hotels that seemed to dot New York in old movies, but of course she doesn't do it. Instead, she winds up going to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I'll Cry Tomorrow is a movie that I found a bit odd for a whole bunch of reasons. It was made at MGM, and despite Hayward's scenery chewing, the MGM portrayal of alcoholism seems a bit too neat and tidy. Hayward's acting also causes the movie to veer into unintentional comedy at times, and the movie is certainly unsubtle. Hayward also did her own singing, which isn't bad but not something she could have made a career out of.

I'll Cry Tomorrow is certainly worth one watch, although I'm not certain it's one I'd want to revisit. It got a release to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, but oddly enough it's one of those that's available at Amazon but not currently at the TCM Shop.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #274: Teen Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. There's still three more weeks until Halloween, so there's a lot more horror to get to. This week, the theme is Teen Horror, which I assume isn't meant to mean acne or finding that your steady is dumping you. I had to think quite a bit to come up with three movies that fit the theme this week, but eventually did so:

The Seventh Victim (1943). Kim Hunter plays a student at a boarding school (Hunter was actually 20 at the time, but being a student I'll assume she was playing a character still in her teens) who finds that her sister in the big city has gone missing and stopped paying the tuition for the last six months. So she goes in search of her sister and finds that the sister sold off her profitable beauty salon and joined what seems to be a satanic cult, which leaves big sister's life in danger. This is one of those Val Lewton-produced horror films at RKO that rely more on the viewer's own imagination than showing blood and gore.

The Blob (1958). 27-year-old high school student Steve McQueen (yeah, I know, but again a high school student implies teenager) finds a meteorite that's actually some sort of alien space craft containing a life form that looks like pie filling. The alien life gloms on to human skin, killing the humans in the process and becoming bigger, until threatening to take over the whole town. And the darn teens can't get the responsible adults to believe the town isn't in danger. The special effects look silly nowadays, but it's actually a fun little movie.

House (1977). A Japanese schoolgirl gets a letter from her grandmother in the country whom she hasn't seen in a long time asking to come and visit. The girl goes with several of her classmates, and the girls find there's something up with the house, which seems to be killing them one by one. The production design is garish and stylized with the "horror" being deliberately over-the-top, but that makes the movie more fun.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Goodbye Charlie

One of the movies in the current FXM rotation that I haven't blogged about before is Goodbye Charlie. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:15 AM and again at 7:45 AM Friday.

The movie starts off with Charlie, who isn't really seen as he's partying with a bunch of other people on the yacht of wealthy movie producer Sir Leopold Sartori (Walter Matthau). Eventually, Charles goes into Mrs. Sartori's cabin and starts putting the moves on her, leading Sir Leopold to go below decks and shoot Charlie, who falls out the porthole into the ocean, obviously dying in the process although since he's lost at sea his body isn't found.

George Tracy (Tony Curtis) was one of Charlie's best friends, and is now living in France as a writer. However, Charlie had named George as the executor of his will, and Charlie's manager Morton (Martin Gabel) wants George to speak at the memorial service, so George comes from nine time zones away to fulfill his solemn duty. Unfortunately, George was also one of Charlie's only friends, as there's only him and two women at the memorial service. Charlie, you see, was a real smooth operator who used and dumped women like tissue paper.

George is going to be in the Los Angeles area for some time settling the estate, which is a mess since Charlie was effectively broke, but George is able to live in Charlie's beach house. That night, after the memorial service, a man comes knocking with an obvious emergency. Bruce Minton (Pat Boone) is a wealthy heir living in another beach house up the coast, and as he was driving to see his mother he ran across a naked and incoherent woman. The most Bruce could make out is that the woman wanted to be dropped off at Charlie's house; presumably she was one of Charlie's many ex-girlfriends.

Except that she regains her identity overnight, and realizes she's not in fact one of Charlie's ex-girlfriends, but Charlie himself, reincarnated as a woman (played by Debbie Reynolds). Charlie is none too pleased at first, knowing how he treated women, and George doesn't believe it anyway until Charlie tells George too many personal things that only Charlie could have known. And eventually, Charlie, if he's not exactly comfortable being a woman, at least figures he can put his womanly body to good use, what with those breasts and sex appeal.

Although Charlie has been reincarnated as a woman, he obviously hasn't learned anything from the whole experience of getting shot, as his plans are to use the womanly form to get close to men and blackmail them, having Charlie's knowledge of everything he did to women. Charlie does need money, after all, even if this isn't a particularly honest way of going about getting it.

Complications arise, however, when Bruce shows up again, having been captivated by this woman that he doesn't realize is actually a former man. Bruce could even marry the new Charlie, and while Charlie might like Bruce's money, he still doesn't want to be a wife till death does them part. There's also Sartori and the question of what will happen to Charlie if Sartori ever learns the truth or the new Charlie releases any information about Sartori.

Goodbye Charlie is a movie with a very funny premise, but one with doesn't quite live up to the potential of its premise. I think the problem is that both of the leads are miscast. In a movie without a gender-bender premise, it would be Tony Curtis who's the unctuous manipulator, not the Reynolds character. Curtis doesn't work so well as the straight man to such an operator. Reynolds, for her part, is entirely the wrong actress to be playing manipulative; I'm not certain who had both the comic chops and the reputation to pull it off at that point in the 1960s. Goodbye Charlie also goes on too long at just a shade under two hours.

As always, however, it's the sort of movie where you may want to watch and judge for yourself. In addition to the upcoming FXM showings, it's available on DVD if you want to watch it that way.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


The movie Parnell has a reputation for being a huge misfire for its star, Clark Gable, during his days as the king of the MGM lot. It aired on TCM not too long ago and, not having done a post on it before, I decided to sit down and watch it.

Gable plays Charles Stewart Parnell, an Anglo-Irish politician who served in Parliament in Westminster in the 1880s, this being the era when all of Ireland was still a part of the UK. One of the key issues in Ireland at that time was the question of "home rule", which would have meant something somewhere betweem what Scotland has now and full independence. Parnell is seen in the film's opening raising support for the issue in America, before returning to Ireland and being arrested (at least in the movie; I can't tell whether he was arrested in real life).

There's a general election coming up, and an ambitious politician named William O'Shea (Alan Marshal) gets Parnell to endorse him. It's also here that Parnell meets William's wife Katie (Myrna Loy). She no longer loves her husband, but he's not about to give her a divorce because she's got an elderly aunt "Ben" (Edna May Oliver) and knows that Ben is going to leave a substantial inheritance to Katie that he wants to get his hands on.

The election of 1885 produced a hung parliament, in which William Gladstone's (Montagu Love) party won the most seats but did not have a majority, in no small part because the Irish party that Parnell led won the vast majority of the Irish seats. Parnell used this to try to get Gladstone to get a home rule bill passed. However, it wasn't going to be easy as Parnell had some powerful political enemies.

One was a man named Pigott, who forged some letters ostensibly from Parnell that showed Parnell supporting the murder of a prominent British official in Ireland, something that could have had Parnell facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder himself. He calls for a trial in the Commons and wins. The other enemy turns out to be William O'Shea.

Katie, as mentioned, felt herself in a loveless marriage to William that she could not get out of. She sits in the gallery in the Commons and watches Parnell's great speeches, and when the two meet again a friendship develops that grows into something more than friendship. Now, this is a 1930s MGM movie, so they weren't about to give the whole story, which is that Parnell was the father of three of Katie's children while she was still married. Eventually, William has had enough and tries to blackmail Parnell, who refuses, letting William make the affair public.

As I said at the beginning, Parnell was Gable's biggest flop during his 1930s stardom at MGM. To be honest, though, it wasn't nearly as bad as I would have thought. It's certainly not without its flaws, notably that it's way too talky and Gable was probably not the right actor to be playing Parnell. He really should have been playing somebody more radical. The love affair isn't much of a love affair, and the Irish scenes are your typical Hollywood doe-eyed view of Ireland.

Still, if you don't know much about the drive for "home rule", which I didn't, a movie like Parnell isn't a bad place to start before looking for the real history. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive should you wish to watch it for yourself.

AFI Lifetime Achievement Award: Denzel Washington

There isn't all that much time on TCM this month for special programming what with four nights of the week being taken up by various regular(ish) programming: the Star of the Month on Mondays; the "Short and Sweet" Spotlight on Wednesdays; and the horror on Thursdays, and Fridays with the "Monster of the Month". So everything is going in on Tuesdays. This Tuesday brings TCM's salute to this year's recipient of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, Denzel Washington.

TCM is running the show that the AFI produced for the occasion. As with a lot of new-to-TCM specials, it's getting run twice, once at 8:00 PM and then after a showing of one feature, for the benefit of people out on the west coast, at 11:45 PM.

That doesn't leave so much time for actual movies, so we only get three: Glory, about a black regiment in the Civil War, at 9:30 PM;
Devil in a Blue Dress at 1:15 AM, with Washington as a detective in 1948 Los Angeles; and
The Mighty Quinn at 3:15 AM, starring Washington as a police chief on a Carribean island who gets involved in a murder investigation with an old friend as a suspect.

Monday, October 7, 2019

TCM Star of the Month October 2019: Paul Muni

October started last Tuesday, but thanks to the way that TCM decided to schedule its Star of the Month, it meant that we didn't actually have a Star of the Month in last week's programming. Oh, we've got Godzilla as the Monster of the Month on Friday nights, but not the traditional Star of the Month until tonight. Every Monday in prime time, TCM is going to be running the films of Paul Muni. Muni was nominated for the Best Actor five times, only winning for The Story of Louis Pasteur which doesn't air until the 21st. Tonight, we get two of his Oscar-nominated roles, starting at 9:45 PM with I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, in which Muni is pictured at left.

The other Oscar-nominated role is a very early talkie, The Valiant at 11:30 PM. In this movie, Muni plays a man who comits murder in a big city because the guy needed dying, or at least that's what Muni says, not saying any more. News of his story his the press, and a family out in the midwest is convinced this is the son who left for the big city many years earlier.

One other movie that's worth mentioning is Hi, Nellie, which is on overnight at 2:30 AM. Muni plays a newspaperman whose constant campaign against corruption gets him in trouble with his bosses and the political powers, to the point that he gets demoted to writing for the "Miss Lonelyhearts"-style column. No big deal; Muni will find a way to keep up the campaign from there! I mention this movie because it's a hoary chestnut that is the first of its kind; Warner Bros. would remake it three more times in the next 15 years. The second version, called Love Is on the Air would move the action to radio and feature the movie debut of actor Ronald Reagan.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


Continuing to get through the backlog of movies I recorded during Summer Under the Stars, I recently watched Papillon to do a post on it here.

Steve McQueen plays the title character, a man whose real name is Henri Charrière but who has the nickname "Papillon" (French for "butterfly" because of the butterfly tattoo he has on his chest). At the beginning of the movie, he's being marched the the streets of a French city sometime in the 1930s on his way to a boat, which is going to transport him and a bunch of other prisoners to the notorious Devil's Island prison colony off the coast of French Guyana.

Papillon's reputation precedes him; one of the other prisoners who makes his acquaintance is the bespectacled Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman). While Papillon is going to Devil's Island for a murder he insists he didn't commit, being a safe-cracker by trade, Dega is going for having forged French bonds and bankrupting a whole bunch of people, so there are many on the transport and at the prison who are going to have it in for Dega. He needs protection and has a wife and money at home; perhaps he could use some of that money to get protection courtesy of Papillon and help fund an escape attempt for the two of them.

Devil's Island is uncompromisingly brutal. A passing reference is made during the transport that 40% of the people sent there don't survive the first year, and even if you do there's terrible humidity and malaria out in the work camps. But trying to escape may be even worse, as the warden tells them when they first arrive that getting caught trying to escape means two years in solitary confinement the first time, and five years the second time.

Even having said that, prisoners think they might actually have a shot of escaping, and Papillon sets out trying. He gets caught a first time and sent to solitary, which is of course even worse than the regular prison conditions. It's a tiny cell where the guards look down on him; complete silence; and, when Papillon breaks the rules, screens put over the top of the cell to leave him in complete darkness. For months at a time.

Papillon's indomitable spirit is going to lead him to try to escape again, while Dega has tried to make the best of a bad situation by working with the authorities to the extent it won't get him in trouble with the other prisoners. Indeed, Dega has been helping Papillon out to the extent possible while Papillon was in solitary and in the prison hospital after being released from solitary. So when circumstances threaten to bollix Papillon's second escape attempt, Dega helps him out and eventually goes along on the escape attempt.

Papillon is based on a book by the real-life Henri Charrière, who wrote the book based on his experiences in Devil's Island. I don't know how accurate the book (which I haven't read) is or whether his stories and the adaptation of them for film are him embellishing what happened at Devil's Island. One thing that I have seen is that the Dega character is actually quite a small one in the book and that in the movie he was built up out of several characters from the book because the movie needed a second star.

In any case, Papillon is a pretty darn good movie. It has a languorous pace which at times seems as though it could have been sped up, but considering how much of the movie is about the isolation and tedium of prison, and especially solitary, the slow pace isn't as much of a problem here as it is for some other movies. McQueen and especially Hoffman give good performances, and the locations (mostly Jamaica according to IMDb) are sufficiently forbidding. Papillon is more than worth a watch.

Papillon has been released to DVD. Note, however, that the story was remade a few years back, so you'll want to make certain which version you're getting (I haven't seen the remake).

Saturday, October 5, 2019

No Snickers, please

During September's TCM salute to the 100th anniversary of United Artists, one of the movies shown that I hadn't blogged about before was the 1921 version of The Three Musketeers. A recently-restored print is available on DVD, so I recorded it and sat down to watch.

The time is France in the 1620, and there's palace intrigue going on. Louis XIII (played by a young but recognizable Adolphe Menjou) is the King, although the real power behind the throne is Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel De Brulier). Louis' wife Anne (Mary MacLaren) is in love with England's Duck of Buckingham (Thomas Holding), but apparently the King doesn't yet know about it. Richelieu does, though, and one can guess is planning to reveal it at a time that would be advantageous to him.

The Cardinal seems to have decided that that time is coming up soon, as the Queen's seamstress Beatrice has a boyfriend in D'Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks Sr.) whom she calls to Paris for help. There's a big dance coming up, and Louis wants Anne to wear a particular piece of jewelry. But Anne gave it to Buckingham as a token of remembrance since they really shouldn't be having a relationship. He's taken it back to England, and Anne needs it back.

D'Artagnan has wanted to join the King's Musketeers, a defense force that's been clashing with the Cardina's defense force. When D'Artagnan gets to Paris, he calls on the musketeers, which is where he meets three of their number, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, whom you'll remember from the book. (Aramis is played by a young and unrecognizable Eugene Pallette. I knew he was thin in a previous life before he became the portly character actor with the memorable voice; I didn't know just how unrecognizable he was.) Eventually, D'Artagnan and the musketeers set off for England to get the jewel, while Richelieu tries to stop them.

This version of The Three Musketeers is moderately interesting, but it also has problems that have nothing to do with the fact that it's a 1921 movie that was limited to the filmmaking capabilities of that era. There are plot holes galore, with the big one for me being that news somehow travels much faster than the musketeers. Somehow, Richelieu is able to keep getting news to people further ahead of the musketeers, despite that it would take time to get news from the musketeers' location back to Paris, and then have Richelieu decide something and get that news out. I suppose carrier pigeons might have been faster than men on horseback, but I'm not convinced.

Also, for as much as Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s reputation is predicated on being a swashbuckler, and how much this story in any of its adaptations should be built on swashbuckling, the sequences we get here are surprisingly tame. Last, but not least, the pacing is slow. Fairbanks, now being at a studio of his own, was able to make this as an epic and it runs right about two hours when maybe 90 minutes would have been better to keep things from dragging.

Overall, this version of The Three Musketeers is an interesting little curio, but if it comes to Fairbanks I'd recommend The Mark of Zorro first.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Baby Dull

I've mentioned on a couple of occasions that I'm not the biggest fan of Tennessee Williams, or overheated Southern Gothic in general. A good example of this phenomenon is Baby Doll.

Carroll Baker plays "Baby Doll" Meighan, a virginal bride just shy of her 20th birthday. She lives with her husband Archie (Karl Malden), in a decaying Mississippi manor house, in a town where Archie runs one of the cotton gins. Except that business is lousy, as we can see not only by the fact that the house is decaying, but the furniture company is repossessing the furniture. Anyhow, Baby Doll is still virginal because Archie promised her father that he would have sex with her until she turned 20, in exchange for being allowed to marry her. Since that birthday is coming up, he's very eager to be be able finally to have sex with her.

The reason that Archie's business has been falling off is that there's a better businessman who's recently entered the area, Italian-American Silva Vaccaro (Eli Wallach). He's set up his own cotton gin, and it's been taking business away from Archie's. Archie responds as any bad businessman would: he burns down Silva's gin.

Silva is pretty darn sure who did it, but he needs to get evidence. So he decides to go to the Meighan place, having met Mrs. Meighan. His plan is to get an affidavit from her. Not that she realizes this; in addition to being virginal, she's also a bit naïve. Of course Silva doesn't make things easy on Baby Doll by moving thing as though there were a ghost in the house. Eventually, the two play a game of hide-and-seek that results in Baby Doll cowering in an attic she's afraid is going to cave in.

When Archie finds out what happens, he's pissed, more about Silva's pursuit of Baby Doll because it's not until a bit later that he finds out about the affidavit. How Archie reacts provides the climax of the movie.

Baby Doll is one of those movies that has a repuation because of is controversially lurid-for-the-times presentation. To be honest, however, I found the whole thing a bit tedious. The characters are obnoxiously loud, they're unsympathetic, and the story came across to be as being rather unrealistic. Still, it has its reputation for a reason, and a lot of other people really like this one.

Baby Doll is available on DVD, so you can watch and judge for yourself.