Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Year-end report

So now we're at the end of another year, which for me means less than a month until the 12th anniversary of this blog. I hit 5,000 posts over the summer, but I'm not certain exactly how many of the posts are actual movie reviews. I thought about finally making a database of the movies I blogged about, but it quickly became clear to me that database management isn't my thing as my attempted database was going to look like a spreadsheet, something which horrified the people I know who actually do database stuff for a living.

With this one final post for the year, it turns out that I've got one more post this year than in each of the past couple of years. That wasn't by design; I miscounted and thought I needed two posts yesterday and two today to get to the same number I had last year.

As for what's coming up next year, it's going to be more of the same, watching movies off the DVR as well as from the box sets I've got. My last batch of DVD purchases included a big Bob Hope set from which I've only done two or three of the movies, as well as an Alice Faye set that has four I haven't blogged about. I still have five to go in the Ingrid Bergman's early Swedish years set from Criterion's Eclipse series, and five or six in the W.C. Fields box set I have. Plus a bunch of individual movies I haven't done yet.

The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon put out a new set of themes for 2020, so I'll probably be taking part in that every Thursday, although at first glance there are one or two themes I have to think about. I'm sure I'll come up with something.

Happy new year 2020!

The Kissing Bandit

Another of the movies I watched recently is the lively Technicolor musical/romantic comedy The Kissing Bandit.

Frank Sinatra plays Ricardo, a young man originally from Mexican California who went east to study in Boston. However, his father has died, so now Ricardo is returning to run the family inn, with help from Dad's assistant Chico (J. Carrol Naish). However, what Ricardo doesn't realize is that the inn was actually a front. You see, Dad was the notorious "Kissing Bandit", who robbed passing coached and was romantic with all the women he robbed. And the Bandit has a large bounty on his head, courtesy of the governor, Don José (Mikhai Rasumny).

Meanwhile, the Governor's daughter Teresa (Kathryn Grayson) is returning home from convent school. The old members of the Kissing Bandit gang set out on another mission with Ricardo in tow, even though Ricardo can barely ride a horse -- he's clearly no bandit. Worse, when it comes time to rob a coach, the one they pick just happens to have Teresa in it. Ricardo meets her, and the two immediately fall in love despite the fact that Ricardo is going to be in danger if he's caught out as the Kissing Bandit. Not that he realizes this is the governor's daughter

That just may happen, because the Governor has other problems. Apparently, he hasn't been doing a good enough job collecting taxes, as a general, Felipe Toro (Billy Gilbert) is sent to collect those taxes by any means necessary. Fortunately, though, the general and his adjutant stop at Ricardo's inn, allowing the gang to waylay him and send Ricardo in the general's stead. This is where he's going to learn that he's fallen in love with the governor's daughter....

Frank Sinatra hated this movie, and it was a financial disaster for MGM, and in some ways it's easy to see why. Sinatra and Grayson are a big clash in musical styles, so the music doesn't always work. Indeed, the producers shelved the movie for a while before adding a specialty dance with Ricardo Montalbán, Cyd Charisse, and Ann Miller, which is really the highlight of the movie. Yowza what a combination. That having been said, I don't think the movie was quite as bad as a lot of people think. The color is nice, and Sinatra, Naish, and Mildred Natwick as Teresa's aunt Isabella are all appealing. Still, having seen it, I can understand better why Sinatra was so desperate to get the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity and revive his flagging acting career.

The Kissing Bandit is available on DVD should you wish to watch for yourself.

Monday, December 30, 2019


When I had the free preview of the movie channels over Thanksgiving, and armed with a nearly empty DVR, I recorded a whole bunch of movies, among which was Capote.

Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a southern-born writer living in the Manhattan social scene of 1959 and writing for The New Yorker. One day he reads a newspaper report of a killing out in Kansas in which two young men were arrested for killing an entire farm family. The article intrigues Capote, who immediately tells his editors at the New Yorker that he's going to do a long-form story on those murders.

So Capote heads out to Kansas with his friend and fellow southerner Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener; and yes, it's the same Harper Lee who would go on to write To Kill a Mockingbird, something which is a plot point in the movie), where he finds a media circus and many people who aren't so willing to talk because, to be fair to them, the murder of an entire family of four in a close-knit community like this is going to be a traumatic experience.

Truman responds by bribing his way into the prison where the two accused killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) are being held. Truman finds that Perry is sensitive and somewhat more willing to talk, which is a big help to Truman.

But by this time, Truman realizes that the story needs to be told not in a magazine article, but in a full-length book that, in Truman's view, is going to revolutionize storytelling. There's a problem with this, however. Although Perry is opening up -- and Truman is developing an emotional bond with him -- one thing Perry is remaining silent on is exactly what happened in the house the night of the murder. And that's something Truman feels he has to know for his book.

With the execution looming, Truman decides that he's going to help fund the murderers' appeal, if only for the craven purpose of buying himself some more time to get the information out of Perry. This also raises the uncomfortable question of what's going to happen once Truman does get the things he wants from Perry, even if it's all just delaying the inevitable. Of course, we know in real life that the result was the book In Cold Blood, which would be turned into a movie.

But the experience also broke Capote, who was already a pretty heavy drinker and who slipped further into alcoholism as he was writing the book. He was never able to finish another book, and eventually died at the age of 59 as a result of complications from his decades of alcohol abuse.

Hoffman is quite good as Capote, although I have to admit that the film as a whole left me a bit cold, so I don't think I'd give it quite as high marks as most critics have. Not that I disliked it; more that others will like it even more than I have. The movie has received a DVD and Blu-ray release which seems to be on backorder at the TCM Shop but available at Amazon. You can also do the streaming thing at Amazon if that's what you prefer.

Briefs for December 30-31, 2019

First up, a couple of obituaries I probably should have mentioned. Broadway composer Jerry Herman died on Thursday at the age of 88. Although he wrote for Broadway, some of his musicals were famously turned into movies, with the most notable being Hello, Dolly!. There's also a movie version his musical Mame, based on the Rosalind Russell movie (and I think short stories before that), which starred a way-too-old Lucille Ball in the title role. I haven't seen any of the movie versions of La Cage aux Folles, so I don't know if any of them keep the musical numbers.

Actress Sue Lyon also died on Thursday, aged 73, although her death wasn't announced until rather later. Lyon is probably best known for her role as the title character in Lolita, although I mentioned her several months back as the jailbait in Tony Rome. There's also The Flim-Flam Man.

In those countries that give out honors and titles, the annual year-end titles have been anounced. Director James Cameron was named to the highest ring of the Order of Canada, a "Companion of the Order of Canada", joining Donald Sutherland who was named in June in advance of the Canada Day holiday on July 1. Looking through the list, other notable movie names who are Companions include directors Norman Jewison, Atom Egoyan, and David Cronenberg, as well as actor Christopher Plummer. Over in the UK, the New Year's Honours List was announced, with directors Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) among the nominees.

Tomorrow being New Year's Eve, it's time for TCM to have some relatively special programming to ring in the New Year. I say "relatively" because what they're doing isn't that much different from what they've done in several previous years. Starting at 9:00 AM you can see the six Thin Man Movies, and in prime time, they'll have the That's Entertainment! trilogy and That's Dancing. Nice movies all, but nothing we haven't seen a bunch of times.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Mother Wore Tights

A movie that's been running in the FXM rotation recently is Mother Wore Tights. It's going to be on FXM again tomorrow at 11:00 AM and Tuesday at 9:20 AM.

Betty Grable plays Myrtle McKinley, the "Mother" of the title, since we see her at the opening retired with her husband and some voiceover from one of the daughters (voiceover provided by Anne Baxter). Flashback to about 1900, when Myrtle was graduating from high school in Oakland, CA, and showing she already had some musical talent.

Myrtle and a couple of her friends head off to San Francisco to start their working lives. One of the friends has a brother who works the box office at the local "opera house" (which was just as much a venue for hosting vaudeville in those days), and apparently told his sister that he could get her a free admission. So all three girls try to get free admission together!

Of course, this draws the attention of the owner/show producer (William Frawley in a one-scene part), and the brother says that these three young women were really there to try out as chorus girls! The producer calls his bluff, and when the three young women go upstairs, Myrtle is the only one not horrified by the request to show the producer their legs. So she's in the show.

It's there that she meets Frank Burt (Dan Dailey), who does a single but who we know is just right for Myrtle, especially since we saw the two of them together before the flashback. But it's going to take a reel or two before they finally wind up together, with Myrtle briefly going on a road show in Los Angeles. Eventually they do wind up together, both on stage and married.

Myrtle has to retire when she gets pregnant, although this being a Code-era movie it's fun to see how they try to get around saying the word "pregnant". Eventually Myrtle has two girls: Iris (who as a young adult will be played by Mona Freeman) and Mikey (Connie Marshall). Mother and the two daughters live with Grandma (Sara Allgood), at least until Frank needs a new partner for his act.

The kids start to grow up, and on one family vacation they go to a resort that's incredibly boring for everybody, except Iris once she meets Bob. She's got a boyfriend now, but there is one catch: Bob's parents are wealthy Wall Street types, and Iris is worried about what everybody is going to think when they find out that she's got parents who perform on the stage. This even after Mom and Dad sends the kids to a boarding school close to where Bob is going to Harvard.

Mother Wore Tights is the first pairing of Betty Grable and Dan Dailey, and it's typical of the sort of movie the two would make as well as the sort of nostalgic musical that Fox was putting out in the 1940s. It's amiable entertainment, with Technicolor that probably could use a restoration, and an undemanding plot. There's nothing really wrong with the movie, but also nothing that will make it stand out against any of the other Fox musicals. I can't help but think there would have been something more interesting if the movie had Mothra wearing tights, or if Betty Grable had been paired with noir heavy Dan Duryea instead of Dan Dailey.

Still, if you want to sit down and watch with something that's just going to entertain you, you could do a lot worse than to watch Mother Wore Tights. In addition to the FXM showings, it got a DVD release courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Purple Rose of Cairo

I notice that the Woody Allen movie The Purple Rose of Cairo is going to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 2:15 PM. So this morning was the perfect time to sit down to watch it again and do a blog post here.

Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a struggling waitress in New Jersey in 1935 who lives with her husband Monk (recently deceased Danny Aiello), an unemployed factory worker (remember, this being 1935, there's a depression on). It's not much of a life, so to deal with the humdrum existence, Cecilia likes to go to the local movie theater for some escapism, seeing a movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo multiple times.

She's about to start seeing the movie more, because she finds that Monk is cheating on her while a dispute with her boss at the diner gets her fired. So after leaving Monk she decides to spend all day at the theater watching this formulaic movie. The plot of the movie-within-a-movie, such as it is, has some socialites going on a trip to North Africa where they meet adventurer Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) and bring him back to New York.

If the movie-within-a-movie is less than exciting for those of us who have watched a ton of 1930s movies, imagine how it must have been for the actors who had to do take after take. So one day, while Cecilia is watching the movie for the umpteenth time in a row, something strange happens. Tom Baxter decides he's tired of this lame story, and decides to step off the screen, having seen the way Cecilia eyes the dashing young adventurer! The two then run out a side door of the theater.

Now, this doesn't seem to be a fantasy or dream sequence, because odd things start happening at the theater. The other characters in the movie-within-a-movie start complaining about the absence of Baxter, and start showing up as though they're actors on the set back in Hollywood, between takes. And other patrons in the movie theater start complaining about what they're seeing, since they paid to see an actual movie after all.

News of this all hits Hollywood, where Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels again), the actor who plays Tom Baxter, is horrified because of this and what his character's refusal to keep doing the story will mean for his career. So Gil heads off to New Jersey to try to find Tom, meeting Cecilia along the way since she's more or less protecting Tom. As for Tom, he begins to have problems since he's still not a real person despite having stepped off the screen....

It's an interesting premise, and one that's handled pretty well by Allen and the actors. Daniels, with the double role, has the most to do here and shows again that he's actually a capable actor. Farrow is good as well, although I find it difficult to think or her apart from the personal problems in her relationship with Woody Allen. Watch for Van Johnson in a small role as one of the characters in the movie-within-a-movie; I also could have sworn one of the complaining patrons looked and sounded a bit like Broderick Crawford, although IMDb and Wikipedia say no. I think fans of 1930s movies will really enjoy Allen's homage to the genre here.

The Purple Rose of Cairo seems to be out of print on DVD, although you can watch it at Amazon streaming if you can do the streaming thing.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Miss Pinkerton

Not too long ago, I mentioned the movie While the Patient Slept. As part of Joan Blondell's turn as TCM's Star of the Month, I recorded Miss Pinkerton, a movie that bears a passing resemblance.

Joan Blondell plays Miss Adams, a nurse at the city hospital who frankly finds her job growing boring. It's always the same old same old with nothing ever happening, except to the patients. Thankfully, she's about to get a bit of change in her life. A wealthy woman in one of those big mansions, Julia Mitchell (Elizabeth Patterson), faints when she sees one of her young relatives apparently shot himself. With Julia in shock, she needs a nurse to look after her, and Adams' boss thinks Julia is perfect!

Of course, there's a bigger reason for Adams to be there. The police are investigating since there's a good probability of murder what with the dead guy having had a substantial insurance policy. Inspector Patten (George Brent) wants more eyes in the house, but nobody's going to act other than proper with the police around. So Patten gets Adams to be a sort of acting detective, on whom he bestows the title Miss Pinkerton. Her job besides looking after Julia will be to try to do what she can to gather clues for Patten.

It should be unsurprising that in this sort of house there's all sorts of strange characters. The doctor himself (C. Henry Gordon) seems a bit off at times, while the butler Hugo (John Wray) keeps acting suspiciously, just so viewers will suspect him as a suspect. There's the maid Mary (Blanche Friderici), a lawyer, and then halfway in, a young woman Paula (Ruth Hall) who claims to have been married to the dead guy although she's carrying on a relationship with another guy. She's also trying to get away from Miss Pinkerton to snoop around the house despite our nurse's sticking her head out to let Paula in the house.

So there's a bit of a convoluted mystery here, and in many ways it really doesn't matter who did it or even if it was suicide. Instead, this is a bit more for Joan Blondell's performance, and her interactions with George Brent. In that regard, it's OK, although some people will probably want a bit more of a story, or at least one that makes sense.

Miss Pinkerton is available on one of the Warner Archives' Forbidden Hollywood box sets, although as far as those sets' pre-Code sensibilities goes, this is one that more than a lot of the other movies could have been made after 1934 without much change. Not that there's anything wrong with that; just that it doesn't feel all that much like what one thinks of when one thinks "pre-Code".

Those Saturday matinees

I didn't notice until today that TCM started a new serial in the 9:30 AM slot last week, The Mysterious Mr. M from 1946. Looks like it's 12 chapters, which would take it through sometime in April since 31 Day of Oscar takes up five Saturdays.

Before that, in the just after 8:00 AM slot, is something that looks more appropriate for Noir Alley, Follow Me Quietly. Apparently I haven't blogged about it before, although for some reason I have a feeling I've seen it. Then again sometimes those B noirs and crime movies start running together.

The Bowery Boys movies continue in no particular chronological order, with 1949's Master Minds at 10:07 AM.

Finally, following the Saturday morning lineup, there's the other half of the salute to remakes, starting at noon with the excellent Five Came Back and its remake, Back from Eternity at 1:30 PM.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #285: Rivalry (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 week of the month -- and the last week of the year -- it's time for another TV edition, with the theme for December being rivalries. It's one that I have to admit I found a bit difficult, but eventually I was able to come up with three shows that fit the theme more or less:

Kenny vs. Spenny (2002-2010). Canadian TV show about two friends who engage in various competitions, with the loser of each one having to perform a humiliating task. Game Show Network here in the US showed some of the episodes in the days when they were first branching out from traditional studio game shows well over a decade ago. And then they turned into the Family Feud channel for a while, but I've already used that show.

Laff-a-Lympics (1977-1979). Hanna-Barbera too a bunch of its cartoon characters and put them into three teams, then creating a series of episodes in which the teams would engage on some sort of odd sporting competition. Yeah, you have to be in a fairly narrow age range to remember this one.

Dallas (1978-1991). J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) are the rivals here, members of two competing Texas oil/ranching families even though they're now related thanks to J.R.'s brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) having married Cliff's sister Pamela (Victoria Principal). It's what introduced me to Barbara Bel Geddes (the Ewing matriarch Miss Ellie) as well as Howard Keel (Miss Ellie's second husband). Do you remember who shot J.R.?

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Holly and the Ivy

I hadn't intended to blog about a pair of Ralph Richardson movies in fairly close succession, but since The Holly and the Ivy is a Christmas movie I decided I should probably watch and blog about it at Christmastime rather than waiting until sometime in the new year. This even though I recently watched Home at Seven. I had actually planned to do it at the start of the Christmas season, but it had been sitting on my old DVR for a year after TCM premiered it last Christmas. The movie finally got a DVD release about a month ago, which was why I was finally set to watch it, but then the old DVR died. Thankfully, TCM ran it again this year, so here we are.

Ralph Richardson plays Rev. Martin Gregory, a vicar in a small town in Norfolk in December, 1948. We see the Christmas messages he's sending off, which happen to be to his relatives in various parts of England. First off are his two sisters-in-law, Lydia (Margaret Halstan), a widow who wasn't certain she was going to be invited to Christmas dinner this year because her sister, Martin's wife, had died; and bitter Bridget (Maureen Delaney), who is a spinster because she was the one who drew the short straw in life of having to take care of her mother at the end of life.

Indeed, Martin's got a daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson) who's drawn a similar short straw, having taken care of her recently deceased mother and now helping Dad run the vicarage. Her friend David (John Gregson) loves her and the feeling is mutual; in fact they'd be happy to get married although there's the problem of Jenny having to take care of Dad. In some ways that shouldn't be much of a problem, except that David has gotten an excellent job offer to take an engineering position -- in South America. If Jenny were to marry David and go with him, who would take care of Dad?

Well, Jenny has two siblings. Michael (Denholm Elliott) has been drafted into the Army, and is lucky to get leave to be coming home for Christmas. The expectation for him is to go on to university to study, but he believes he isn't cut out for it. Then there's sister Margaret (Margaret Leighton). She has a secret from the war that left her devastated, to which she took up drinking as a response, this even though she's a successful fashion reporter in London. In fact, her drinking prevents her from coming home at first, with cousin Richard (Hugh Williams) having to bring the bad news.

So, as you can see, everybody in the family but Dad has secrets, and nobody feels they can tell their father since they feel he's concerned more with his parishioners than them and because they're afraid of his opprobrium for their wayward actions. So when they get home for Christmas there's bound to be tension. Will anybody be able to reveal their secrets? Will Jenny be able to ask Margaret if she can take care of Dad? If so, would Margaret accept?

Things get more complicated when Margaret actually shows up; apparently she wasn't as sick as Richard suggested. She was of course just drunk. And she's going to get drunker when she and Michael go down to the pub after claiming they're going off to the cinema. Both of them get home drunk, and that's really the catalyst for the final showdown with Dad.

The Holly and the Ivy is a well-acted movie, showing an England that doesn't exist any longer, making it an excellent little time capsule. It's also for the most part not a neat little piece, which would be a plus. But then everything gets wrapped up suddenly in the last five minutes or so, much too quickly and neatly, which is to the film's great detriment, undoing a fair bit of what it had built up. One other flaw is that Johnson is really way too old for her role; she's 44 playing 31 (and looking it, sorry to say) and only six years younger than Richardson. But her acting is good enough to overlook it for the most part. I hadn't heard of either of the actresses playing the aunts, but they're quite good too.

Overall, The Holly and the Ivy is certainly worth watching, although with the Christmas season fast coming to an end you may not want to see it until next Christmas. Still, with it now on DVD it's certainly worth putting on your list to think about for next year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Those Awful Hats

Another of my recent DVD purchases was this two-disc set of D.W. Griffith shorts and, wanting to do a movie review but not wanting to sit through a full movie, I decided to watch the three-minute short Those Awful Hats.

Apparently, this one was done when the studio wanted something to play to patrons to remind them to remove their hats as a courtesy to other paying customers. A bunch of people are watching a movie, when top-hatted Mack Sennett and his female companion in a ladies' hat of the day come in, causing a disruption. More women with increasingly elaborate hats come in, until the problem is solved in a rather unique and hilarious way. The short made me think of a couple of later shorts, Robert Benchley's A Night at the Movies and the Pete Smith short Movie Pests.

That's it, which understandably isn't much since the movie is a touch under three minutes. But the joke works, and the special effects (the movie on the screen that the audience is watching and one other) are surprisingly good for a movie from 1909. My understanding is that Griffith donated copies of a lot of his stuff to the Museum of Modern Art, which is why his silents survive when so many others don't. The DVD case art doesn't say if that's the origin of these prints, but the one on the DVD was surprisingly good considering the age, and one of the reviews at Amazon says that's the case for all but one of the shorts. (Bizarrely, many of the "reviews" seem to be for a DVD of some children's movie, but I couldn't figure out what movie since they're all one-liners.)

The box set has two DVDs, each on its own spindle; since these movies are all one- and two-reelers you can't expect each film to have its own DVD and that would be a massive waste. Still, the packaging is adequate. Of the shorts, I think I'd already seen and blogged about A Corner in Wheat, but most of them are new to me.

Those Awful Hats, having been made in 1909, is in the public domain, so there are a bunch of copies on Youtube. The one I linked to has almost the same running time as the one on the Kino DVD set which is why I linked to it; I didn't actually watch to see if the print is as good.

Christmas viewing

Now that we're at Christmas Eve, we're getting to the non-stop portion of the Christmas programming schedules on various channels, with things ending seomtime on the 25th or 26th depending on how people consider days starting and ending. TCM started last night with the Christmas remakes -- and I probably should have pointed out the John Wayne version of 3 Godfathers since I don't think I've actually reviewed that one yet -- but the programming is going until 8:00 PM Wednesday when TCM goes back to the "Pets on Sets" spotlight. (Technically, the 8:00 PM film, The Thin Man, is set at Christmastime.) TCM trots out a lot of traditional titles, such as The Bishop's Wife at 8:00 PM tonight; the 1938 version of The Shop Around the Corner (midnight tonight); or Babes in Toyland (7:00 AM tomorrow).

As for FXM, all they're doing is running the 1951 Alastair Sim Scrooge/A Christmas Carol into the ground in the commercial-filled part of their schedule. Starting tonight at 7:00 PM, there are five straight airings of the film, follwed by a Wednesday morning of what's currently in the FXM Retro rotation. At 3:00 PM Christmas, we get another seven airings of the Sim film, until the FXM Retro stuff returns at 4:00 AM Thursday.

If you can stomach the commercials, Sundance Channel is running a loop of the 1954 White Christmas starting about 8:00 this morning going through early tomorrow. But surprisingly, there seems to be rather less Christmas programming on the movie channels than I would have expected. Of course, nowadays, most places seem to stop Christmas programming on the 25th, rather than celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Eric Blore, 1887-1959

Eric Blore (c.) with Fred Astaire (l.) the back of Edward Everett Horton, and a Top Hat (1935)

Today marks the birth anniversary of Eric Blore, an actor known for playing one butler or valet after another. In fact, I just blogged about one of those valet roles, serving Leslie Howard in It's Love I'm After. But it's also surprising looking at his filmography how many non-butler roles there are. Not too long ago, I also mentioned Romance on the High Seas, in which Blore plays the ship's doctor. I had forgotten that Blore was in The Moon and Sixpence, as one of the westerners whom George Sanders met in Tahiti. He's also in the 1935 version of Seven Keys to Baldpate, which is going to be on TCM next Monday as part of the spotlight on remakes.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Heads up on The Letter (1929)

Unfortunately, I'm still feeling lousy, but I want to write another post. TCM has been running a spotlight on remakes on Mondays, with a different sort of remake each Monday. Tomorrow, the morning and afternoon is going to focus on crimes, starting at 6:00 AM with the 1929 version of The Letter, a movie I can definitely recommend. It will, of course, be followed at 7:30 AM by the 1940 Bette Davis version. The other three pairs are two versions of The Maltese Falcon; two versions of Gaslight; and The Asphalt Jungle, which was remade as the western The Badlanders.

Monday night sees Christmas remakes, as TCM gets into its all Christmas all the time for 48 hours or so.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Not to be confused with Young Man With Ideas

Unfortunately, I've come down with a bad cold at just the wrong time of the year, so I don't have the energy to do reviews that are as extensive as I'd like. Thankfully, I recently watched a movie that doesn't need a big review: Young Ideas.

Mary Astor plays Jo Evans, a writer who's recently written an extremely successful -- and rather racy -- novel about life in Paris. Her agent Trent (Allyn Joslyn) has sent her on a speaking tour to discuss the book, but she hasn't shown up to her last several engagements, much to Trent's consternation.

The reason why she hasn't shown up is that she stopped in the college town of Digby, PA, where she met chemistry teacher Michael Kingsley (Herbert Marshall). It was love at first sight, and they got married, with Jo planning to live with Kingsley in Digby. This just won't do.

Jo has two young adult daughters, son Jeff (Elliott Reid) and daughter Susan (Susan Peters), and they're not pleased at all with the idea of their mom getting remarried to... a chemistry professor? So Jeff cooks up a scheme to turn Michael against his new wife.

Frankly, Jeff comes across as a really spoiled jerk here. He does get his comeuppance at the end, but not after any number of complications. Jeff and Susan both enroll at Digby, and while there Susan falls in love with English professor Tom Farrell (Richard Carlson), which is against university rules. But it make her think that perhaps they shouldn't be plotting against Mom. She becomes even more certain of this when Jeff tries to turn Tom against Susan.

This is a standard-issue MGM programmer, nothing particularly noteworthy, and not particularly bad except for the way the characters are written. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, but is really one of those movies that should be in a box set instead of (or in addition to) a standalone DVD.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Murder on Monday

One of my recent DVD purchases was the barebones Reel Vault release of the British movie Home at Seven, and not long ago I sat down to watch it.

Ralph Richardson plays David Preston, who works at a bank in London and lives in one of the suburbs, arriving home at 7:00 PM every evening. One day he comes home to find that his wife Janet (Margaret Leighton) is frantic. David doesn't understand why, insisting that today is a day just like any other, in which he did his exact same routine. But it turns out that something happened. David comes home with Monday's newspaper, while Janet shows him Tuesday's. Obviously David spent 24 hours somewhere, but where?

The first thing to try to do is to get David's memory back, to which end his physician, Dr. Sparling (Jack Hawkins) is brought in. But there's only so much that David remembers before everything gets hazy. One possible clue is that there's no dirt or anything on David's suit and overcoat to suggest that he was outside for a long period of time, but that's nowhere near enough. The police have been called in.

The police are about to make life rather difficult for David, too. David is one of the officers at a gentlemen's club (not the euphemistic kind) along with his neighbor, Major Watson (Michael Shepley). Watson stops by to ask David what happened last night, to which David has to try to come up with an excuse despite not remembering anything. And David better have a good excuse: another officer with access to the club safe has been found murdered, with over £500 missing!

David also hasn't been helping himself by telling some little white lies. One he's been telling his wife for years because he doesn't want to alarm her, while another one about where he was last night is to try to keep any controversy from falling on the couple, what with the probity bankers are supposed to have. Of course, once David tells one of those lies to the police, you can expect that things are going to get rather worse for him.

Ralph Richardson directed, and did a quite good job making a really engaging little movie. There's not a lot of action as most of what happens is confined to a couple of sets, but the intelligent script and good acting make for what is an excellent programmer. Home at Seven is a movie that deserves to be much better known.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #284: Child actors venturing out of tyepcasting

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week the theme is child stars who venture out of typecasting, presumably as they become grown-up actors and actresses. A lot of child stars are unable to make the transition, and wind up retiring. But others have varying degrees of success once they turn 18 and beyond. With that in mind, here are three formr child stars trying something different:

Conspirator (1949). Child star in question: Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor turned 18 during the filming of Little Women, and Conspirator is the first film she made afterwards. She plays a woman in England who marries a British military officer (Robert Taylor), only to find that he's a Communist spy, which makes her grow up quickly and face the issue of whether to turn him in for his treason. Liz does an adequate job here, but would go on in future years to show just how well she could do with adult roles.

Hud (1963). Child star in question: Brandon de Wilde. You may remember de Wilde at the end of Shane calling for Shane to come back. By 1963, de Wilde was 21 years old and taking a supporting role as the cousin of Hud (Paul Newman), who idolizes his cousin despite Hud's bad behavior, ultimately leading to grandpa's (Melvyn Douglas) death. A sign of how much of an adult de Wilde was by now is right at the beginning, when family maid Patricia Neal barges in to his room to wake him up and asks him is he's sleeping "raw" (ie. naked). De Wilde probably could have gone on to quite good things as an adult actor, but he was killed in a car accident at the age of 30.

The Hagen Girl (1947). Child star in question: Shirley Temple. Of the three I picked, Temple had the least successful transition to being an adult actress, making her last movie at the age of 21. Her problem is that audiences wouldn't let her escape her typecasting, as this movie shows. Temple plays Hagen, a young woman who is the subject of vicious gossip about who her real parents are, and when lawyer Ronald Reagan returns after several years away, whispers come out that he's the father. You can see why audiences so used to the singing and dancing child star would be uncomfortable watching stuff like this. That's a shame, because whatever mess the movie is really isn't Temple's fault.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Where's the Kenny Loggins song or the shirtless volleyball?

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, DirecTV had a free preview weekend of all the movie channels, so I got the chance to record a bunch of stuff I otherwise wouldn't have. (Having a brand new empty DVR helped, too.) One of the movies I recorded was the 1955 western Top Gun.

Sterling Martin plays Rick Martin, who doesn't seem to be into superstion, black cats, or voodoo dolls. Instead, he's a gunfighter who's returning to his hometown in the Wyoming territory where his mom is buried. The townsfolk don't like him because they know his reputation and consider him responsible for a couple of the bodies in the cemetery. Indeed, people like Lem Sutter (a young Rod Taylor) would like to take Martin down in a gunfight.

But Martin has other ideas. He'd been spending some time with outlaw gang leader Tom Quentin (John Dehner), and has learned that Quentin and his gang plan to raid the town tomorrow to make it an open town safe for all sorts of vice. He tells the marshal, Bat Davis (James Millican), and the marshal is sympathetic. But is the town council, led by big landowner Canby Judd (William Bishop) going to listen to Martin?

It turns out that there's a lot more going on between between Martin and Judd. First is the matter of Martin's dead mother. The offical story is that she mortgaged the family ranch for $5,000, and the night she did so the money was taken from her and she was shot, enabling Judd to get his hands on the land. But a look at the records office shows that somebody had glued a mortgage declaration on top of what was really a bill of sale, do Judd used dirty tricks to get the Martin ranch.

The other big thing is Laura (Karin Booth). She was Martin's girl before he had to leave town the last time some years back, and in the meantime she decided that she didn't want to be married to a gunfighter, even though Martin's plan was to pick her up to head west for California and start a new life there. Instead, Laura has gotten engaged to... Canby Judd, a wedding that's supposed to take place in a few days' time.

That is if the Quentin raid doesn't do terrible things to the town. Two strangers walk into the town bar, and Bat quickly figures out they're from Quentin's gang, trying to get information. And Judd is still trying to figure out ways to get ride of Martin, the sort of keeping your eye off the ball that could make the Quentin raid more likely to succeed.

Top Gun, as you can probably figure out, has absolutely nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie of the same title or the coming remake, but is just a standard-issue 1950s programmer western. There's nothing notably bad about it, but also nothing that will make it stand out. It's available on DVD as well as Amazon streaming if you get the Starz package. Note that when StarzEncore Westerns ran it, the put it in a 16:9 format when IMDb claims it's still in the Academy ratio (not surprising for a B western even though it's after the introduction of Cinemascope). Indeed, the StarzEncore presentation looked badly stretched until I was able to adjust the aspect ratio.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

My spidey sense is tingling

A movie that's been on the FXM schedule for a while now is the 1955 Fred Astaire version of Daddy Long Legs, which is going to be on again tomorrow at 12:50 PM and Thursday at 7:55 AM. I had DVRed it on the old DVR to watch and do a full-length post on here, but the old DVR died. I did get a chance last month to watch the last ten minutes or so just before Désirée, and noticed that the print was both letterboxed and pillarboxed, boo his.

Anyhow, the brief subject of the movie is that Astaire goes over to France and at an orphange, meets one orphan (Leslie Caron) he's taken with, so he anonymously sponsors her to study at college in the US. She falls in love with her unseen benefactor, and then meets Astaire not realizing he's the benefactor. Dance-filled complications ensue.

Anyhow, in doing a bit of research on the movie, I noticed that it's based on a novel from the beginning of the century, and that the Astaire version is at least the third movie version. Janet Gaynor starred in a 1931 version, and there's a 1919 silent with Mary Pickford, who did a whole bunch of these much younger than her actual age roles. That version being from 1919, it's in the public domain, so you can find it on Youtube. I didn't check if any of the versions on Youtube have scores:

TCM Remembers 2019

I saw half of the TCM Remembers piece for 2019 just before noon on Sunday, and see that it's up on Youtube:

I point it out now because tonight's lineup is TCM In Memoriam, looking at eight figures who left us in 2019 and giving each of them one movie:

8:00 PM sees Julie Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon;
David Hedison (credited as Al) is in The Fly at 9:30 PM;
Thoroughly Modern Millie (11:15 PM) honors Carole Channing;
I didn't know there was a movie version of the TV show McHale's Navy, but it's showing at 2:00 AM in honor of Tim Conway;
Rutger Hauer gets a mention n Eureka at 3:45 AM;
It's not just actors honored as documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop will be on at 6:00 AM;
Wild Strawberries, with Bibi Andersson, shows up at 7:30 AM; and
the salute concludes at 9:30 AM by honoring Franco Zeffirelli with The Taming of the Shrew.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Winter Meeting

One of the movies TCM ran during Bette Davis' turn as Star of the Month that I hadn't seen before is Winter Meeting. So I recorded it and watched it to do a post here.

Bette Davis plays Susan Grieve, a poetess who comes from old money and is basically spending down that old money by only being a poetess and working a couple of days a week at a publishing house, not getting married and raising a next generation to continue building the family wealth. One night while coming home she runs into old friend and editor Stacy Grant (John Hoyt), who was looking to go to a dinner party but got on the subway in the wrong direction.

No big deal, though, because he's got a favor to ask of Susan anyway. War hero Slick Novak (Jim Davis) is going to be in town, and Stacy, who is going to have access to Novak, wants to set Slick up with his secretary Peggy (Janis Paige). However, it would be awkward for it to be a threesome, so Stacy wants a partner of his own for the dinner. Susan would be the perfect person to come. Reluctantly, she accepts.

This being a Hollywood movie, you might be able to guess what happens next. Susan's always been a bit reserved, what with being a poetess and living alone. Slick, it turns out, is uncomfortable with being a hero and just wants to get on with living. Peggy is loud and brash, and you can see that Slick is rather uncomfortable with her. But he's not that way with Susan. So when the taxi home gets to Susan's apartment, Slick gets out to help her in the door, and spends the evening with her!

This leads to an affair of sorts, with the two ultimately spending time at the old Grieve farmhouse in Connecticut. It's here that we learn what's made both of them the extremely reserved people that they are. Susan's dad married down, and her mom badgered Dad for years, leading to Dad ultimately committing suicide in the farmhouse as a result. Slick's secret is even wackier. At the age of about 16 he felt "the calling", which for a Catholic means he felt like he needed to become a priest -- which of course would preclude a relationship with Susan, or any woman. But that was before the war, and now Slick isn't so sure what he wants to do. Can our two lovers life happily ever after, either together or apart?

Watching a movie like Winter Meeting, you can see why the material might appeal to actors. It's psychological material that's well suited to the live stage. But in this movie adaptation, there's something seriously wrong with it.

Well, actually, there's a lot wrong with it. It all starts with Jim Davis as Novak. This isn't the Jim Davis who created the Garfield comic strip, but it might as well be considering Davis' wooden performance here. Paige is supposed to be unsympathetic, but she overdoes it, which I think is probably down to director Bretaigne Windust, who only made a couple of movies before switching to TV and dying relatively young.

The movie also feels like it's borrowing from a whole bunch of sources. Warner Bros. couldn't get Clifton Webb for the part of Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead, if they even tried, but this movie has the Stacy character be pretty clearly modeled on something Webb would have fit perfectly. With a B actor, the role comes across as a parody. Then there's the morning after scene between the two Davises, a breakfast scene that felt like it was lifted shamelessly from the one between Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives.

And then they go out to the country, and it feels like Douglas Sirk came from several years in the future to shoehorn material into the plot, notably the nonsense about Slick wanting to become a priest which feels like it would fit in Magnificent Obsession. (To be fair to Sirk, the novel had been written 20 years earlier and already been turned into a movie once. Also, the book's writer Lloyd Douglas wrote several other books with strong religious themes, although the source material for Winter Meeting is not by Douglas.) I was laughing inappropriately at how overheated it all became.

With all that in mind, I have to say that I wouldn't recommend Winter Meeting to people who are new to Bette Davis. But for people who are looking for a different experience, this is one they might want to try.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Blood Diner

Another of my recent DVD purchases was this six-film horror box set that I picked up mostly because I recognized the title Earth Girls Are Easy and, at the low price, who cares if five of the six movies are bad? Not long ago, I finally put one of the DVDs in the player and sat down to watch Blood Diner.

The Tutmans, Michael and George, are a pair of brothers living in one of those tract housing sections of Los Angeles of the sort that sprang up for movies like No Down Payment after World War II. A brief introductory sequence introduces us to the two brothers as children in the early 1960s, with a harried mother who leaves them alone for a few minutes, telling them not to open the door for anybody, and she means anybody. Unsurprisingly, the door gets opened, but not really of their choosing, as a man with a cleaver breaks down the door, and introduces himself as... their uncle Anwar! Apparently he's a wanted serial killer, but before he goes back out to surrender to the police, he gives the boys what he claims are amulets in praise of a five million-year-old goddess.

Fast forward 20 years, and Michael and George are all grown up, but still living together since neither of them has gotten married. They never forgot about those amulets Uncle Anwar gave them, because we see the two brothers in a graveyard at the site of their uncle's grave, digging it up! They're looking to get his brains and eyes, so that they can get further instructions on how to fulfill the prophecy that is symbolized by the amulets he gave them all those years ago.

That wacky duty is to build a mannequin of the goddess Sheetar -- out of parts of many women, so one woman's leg, another's arm, a third's ears, and so on. (They should have found The Girl from Jones Beach.) After so doing, they are to create a cannibalistic dinner with organs from several other women and create a blood feast that will really bring Sheetar to life, although what's going to happen with Sheetar thereafter is an interesting question.

So the two brothers set up a diner which they claim is vegetarian, but is really serving cannibalistic meals with the organs of the women they're killing to create the mannequin. However, one complication happens when one of the brothers falls in love with one of the patrons at the diner. There's another patron, a trencherman who provides some of the intentional comic relief, who suspects something is up.

Some other people suspect things are not quite right with the diner, notably a rival diner owner who has a stuffed ventriloquist's dummy sitting at the counter. There are also the police, with a chief detective and his lascivious underling. The chief brings in a special investigator from outside Los Angeles who knows more about investigating crimes like this (after the brothers shoot up a topless aerobics studio!), and the underling starts putting the moves on her. Will out brothers be able to complete their quest?

Blood Diner is a movie that is on any objective level terrible. I don't think I've ever seen the names of any of the cast, which is probably because by and large none of them is any good. The plot is nonsense, and the script doesn't serve the plot well at all. And yet, I loved this movie, precisely because it was so bad. The plot's ridiculous makes for a lot of unintentional humor, and there's enough gross-out horror thanks to the murder and cannibalism themes. And, of course, a lot of nudity to ogle. But I think the best for me was when the movie gets to the climax. After an hour or more of being hilariously tacky, the movie tries to class up the place by setting the climax to the overture from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser! At least I as a classical music fan found the juxtaposition hilarious.

Still, I have to admit that Blood Diner isn't going to be a movie for everybody. I did say it's terrible, and some people probably aren't going to see the unintended humor, or be put off by the level of gross-out content. I would argue, however, that with a title like Blood Diner and knowing that this is an 80s B movie, a viewer probably shouldn't be expecting much cinematic quality in the first place.

And, as I said at the top, the box set is ultra cheap, so even if you only like one movie from the set, you're not out too much money. For fans of 80s horror, I think they'll like at least this movie (I haven't seen the other five set so can't comment on them).

Saturday, December 14, 2019


Another of the family-friendly movies TCM ran on Thanksgiving was Heidi. Not having blogged about it here before, I DVRed it so I could watch it and have it fresh in my mind as I did a review.

Shirley Temple plays Heidi, a little girl whose parents have died and is being sent to live with her grandfather Adolf (Jean Hersholt) in a village in the Alps that's so stereotypical it's even called Dörfli (which would be dialectical German for a little village). Adolf is a bitter old man who wants little more than to be a hermit, and certainly doesn't want to be taking care of a little girl. Except, of course, that the little girl is played by Shirley Temple, so as the two get to know each other, she slowly begins to melt his heart.

But just as Grandpa is finally warming up to Heidi, her nasty aunt Dete (Mady Christians), who had previous foisted Heidi off on Adolf, has found a way to exploit Heidi for money! Apparently there's a family in Frankfurt who have a wheelchair-bound daughter Klara (Marcia Mae Jones), and Klara needs a companion. So Dete takes Heidi from Grandpa and brings her to Frankfurt to be what is really an indentured servant, not that Heidi knows. And not that she's happy, either, since she's grown to love Grandpa.

Heidi's right to be unhappy, since life withe the family in Frankfurt, the Sesemanns, is no bed of roses. Klara, to be fair, is a nice girl in unfortunate circumstances. Her father (Sidney Blackmer) is away on business most of the time, so he has no idea what's going on in the house. Instead, it's the evil Fräulein Rottenmeier (Mary Nash) who runs the place, keeping Klara in her wheelchair and making life miserable for poor Heidi.

But Heidi throws herself into her new job with gusto, especially since none of this is Klara's fault. Heidi, being as perfect and sinless as any other Shirley Temple character, oozes so much charm that she decides Klara is just going to get up and walk through sheer force of will. (I suppose if Klara had been an amputee Heidi would be expecting her to grow her legs back through sheer force of will too.) And Klara does take some tentative steps, which really pisses Rottenmeier off.

Meinwhile, Grandpa has decided he's going to walk all the way from Dörfli to Frankfurt to take back Heidi, even though it's several hundred miles away. And he shows up in the big city on busy Christmas Eve, nearly in time to find Heidi before she's brought back home for a family Christmas. Rottenmeier, however, has other plans for Heidi....

I didn't dislike Heidi but oh boy is this a Shirley Temple movie. It's the sort of thing that would have made a lot of audience members happy during the Depression when simplistic, happy-ending stories could bring joy to moviegoers' difficult lives. Shirley ramps up the treacle, while Nash turns up the comic book villainy past 11. There's one big musical number that I didn't care for, but other than that it's pretty much a straight story, albeit one tailored for Temple and what her audiences wanted.

There are multiple DVD releases of this one, although only one of them seems to be available at the TCM Shop. I'm not certain how many of the out-of-print ones at Amazon are colorized. (And, of course, there are other movie versions of the story.)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Some FXM heads-ups

Unfortunately I was quite busy today after work so I didn't get the time to write up a regular post even though I've got a couple of movies I watched recently but didn't blog about. So instead I'll mention a couple of movies on tomorrow's FXM lineup that came back recently after the usual long absences.

First up will be Wild River, at 7:40 AM. I've always liked this movie, in which Montgomery Clift plays an agent of the federal government who has to buy out people's land during the Depression because the Tennessee Valley Authority is setting up hydroelectric dams that are going to flood the people's property. One old matriarch, played by Jo Van Fleet, has no intention of leaving.

That will be followed at 9:35 AM by The Bravados, which I blogged about only last December, but that's because I had DVRed it off a free weekend of StarzEncore Westerns. Gregory Peck plays a man who shows up in an Old West town looking for the men who raped and killed his wife. Some men are in prison there, but on a bank robbery charge and may or may not be the person or persons responsible for making Peck's character a widower.

Finally, the FXM Retro lineup for the day concludes at 1:10 PM with the fun western Bandolero!, starring James Stewart as a man freeing his brother (Dean Martin) from the gallows and fleeing to Mexico along with Raquel Welch; they're chased by the local sheriff (George Kennedy).

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #283: Super Long Titles

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week the theme is "Super Long Titles", which I presume means movies where the name of the movie is long, not the movie itself (see Erich von Stroheim and Greed) or the opening/closing titles go on and on (the closing titles of 2001: A Space Odyssey come to mind). Now, my first thought wasn't a movie, but a song:

Due to legal issues over copyright, in the US the Stars on 45 Medley had to name every song it used, so the real title is quite long. But it's a song, not a movie, so I had to think of three other things:

Joe and Ethel Turp Call on the President (1939). The Turps (William Gargan and Ann Sothern) go to Washington to see the President (Lewis Stone) after their local mailman (Walter Brennan) gets fired. How they got past security I'll never know, even though 80 years ago security wasn't quite as nuts as it is today. This is an MGM B movie, and I have to say the MGM B movies are never quite as fun as the Warner Bs.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963). Stanley Kubrick's black comedy about nuclear weapons that's quite good... until Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers in one of three roles) shows up; Sellers' mugging for the camera as Strangelove nearly ruins the movie and is a prelude to Sellers' obnoxious non-Clouseau characters he'd play in the second half of his career. Watch Fail-Safe and The Bedford Incident instead.

The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fifth with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (1944). Laurence Olivier plays English King Henry V in this adaptation of the Shakespeare play which also serves as an allegory for the world situation at the time as World War II was raging. The movie is unsurprisingly commonly called Henry V, but that's not the full title. How this one ever got made, in Technicolor no less, at the height of World War II is amazing.

Briefs for Decemer 12-13, 2019

TCM's schedule page was screwed up yesterday. The lineup was supposed to be odd aunts, but a couple of the movies on the schedule page were different from what the box guide was showing, and not consisten with the theme. Oddly enough, however, today everything seems to be back to normal. The schedule for today shows a bunch of Frank Sinatra movies in the daytime, what with it being the anniversary of his birth. Other than that I'm not certain if everything's back to normal.

Joan Blondell's second night as TCM's Star of the Month is tonight, with a bunch of stuff from 1933 to about 1935. TCM's schedule page claims none of it is on DVD, which surprises me since Gold Diggers of 1933 (9:15 PM) is on a Warner Archive DVD. But for whatever wonky reason the TCM Shop says it's on backorder. (You can get it at Amazon.)

I probably should have mentioned a few obituaries recently, which also reminds me that I'm not certain if TCM's year-end TCM Remembers piece has aired yet. Most notable for me would be René Auberjonois, an actor I first noticed when he was on the sitcom Benson in the early 1980s. I was surprised when I grew up and started watching older movies at some of the things he was in, such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or The Eyes of Laura Mars. Most memorable might be playing Father Mulcahy in the movie version of M*A*S*H. Auberjonois died on Sunday aged 79.

I never mentioned the death of Michael Pollard from Bonnie and Clyde among others back in November, while Ron Leibman's death was less noticed largely because he did more TV and stage work. I think Leibman's notable role would be as Reuben, the union activist from New York who goes down south to help Sally Field organize a union at the textile mill in Norma Rae.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

If you like Journey to the Center of the Earth....

A movie that's been back in the FXM rotation recently is the 1960 version of The Lost World (not to be confused with the entry in the Jurassi Park series that has a similar title).

Claude Rains plays Prof. Challenger, who at the beginning of the movie is just getting back from an expedition to the Amazon and has to deal with journalists mobbing him on the steps down the plane (so although this is based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, it's set in contemporary times). One of those journalists is Ed Malone (David Hedison), who although he doesn't get the story from the professor on the tarmac, is planning to go to the professor's lecture at the Zoological Society.

Challenger's revelation at the Society is startling: he claims to have been to a part of the Amazon where the rest of the world's evolution never reached and, as such, there are creatures surprisingly similar to mankind's perception of dinosaurs on that plateau. Unfortunately, when challenged by Prof. Summerlee (Richard Haydn), Challenger admits that his cameras and all his other evidence is at the bottom of the Amazon thanks to some boat accidents.

And that's part of the reason why Challenger is giving his lecture: he wants to raise the funds for a second expedition to prove that there are actually dinosaurs still in existence. He needs both money, and people. One guy who could fill both functions is the wealthy playboy and hunter Lord Roxton (Michael Rennie), who actually has ulterior motives for wanting to go on the expedition. Malone's boss, being a newspaper publisher, is also willing to put up money in exchange for Malone being on the expedition, implying that Malone will get a scoop at the end of the expedition. The publisher's daughter Jennifer (Jill St. John) also wants to go, but Challenger says no to the idea of there being any woman on the expedition.

Eventually the men get everything they need for the expedition and set off for the upper reaches of the Amazon, where they find... Jennifer and her brother David (Ray Stricklyn) have already beaten them to the base camp! And Jennifer is dumb enough to wear impractical clothing and bring her purse-sized dog, which to me confirmed Challenger's otherwise sexist logic in not wanting a woman on the expedition. (The dog seems to serve the same purpose -- if there is one -- as the duck in Journey to the Center of the Earth did.) There's a guide Manuel (Fernando Lamas), who isn't too happy about flying the people up to the plateau, although as we'll see he has reasonable justification for not wanting to be a part of it.

Since the plateau is considered unreachable by foot, the party had to take a helicopter up there, one that looks surprisingly roomy on the inside considering that the outside shots don't look like it would hold more than about three people, never mind their equipment. And on the first night, one of the dinosaur-like creatures comes and destroys the helicopter, leaving the expedition stranded!

Worse, it turns out that they're not the only people on the plateau. There's a band of indigenous people who have somehow managed to survive up there all this time, and they're pissed about having the white man encroach on their territory. Somehow, they've managed to escape the dinosaurs all this time. Eventually they capture our white heroes, which means certain doom... or does it?

The Lost World is one of those movies that's more than entertaining as long as you don't do any actual thinking while watching it. If you do, you'll find yourself thinking about all the plot holes and things that wouldn't work in real life. And believe me, there are a lot of them, well beyond what I mentioned regarding Jennifer. One other problem the movie has is that its budget got cut thanks to Fox needing all the money it could get its hands on for the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra. Irwin Allen produced and directed, and as we'd see in the 1970s, when he had a big enough budget he could create quite the spectacle.

Still, what Allen was able to create works as long as all you want to do is be entertained. So sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch The Lost World. And if you want to laugh at the plot holes, go ahead and do that to.

One other note is that the print FXM ran was panned-and-scanned from the Cinemascope ratio down to 16:9. The reviews I read suggest that the DVD is in the Cinemascope ratio, but I don't have the DVD.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Romance on the High Seas

A few weeks back TCM ran a salute to Oscar Levant, showing sevreal of his movies. One that I hadn't seen before was Romance on the High Seas, so I watched it to do a post here.

Levant, unsurprisingly, isn't the star, since he was always in a supporting role. Top billing goes to Jack Carson, although we don't see him for a while. First up is second-billed Janis Paige, playing Elvira, getting married to Michael Kent (Don De Fore), who runs a drugstore chain together with Elvira's uncle Lazlo (S.Z. Sakall), because Janis Paige is oh-so Hungarian. (Don't think too hard as you watch this movie.)

Anyhow, although the marriage seems a relatively loving one, there is one problem in that Michael is constantly swamped with work, such that he had to beg off going on a planned vacation for the couple's first anniversary, and another one for the second anniversary. The third anniversary is coming up. Elvira is planning a boat trip to Brazil, and at the travel agency she learns about Georgia (Doris Day in her movie debut), a nightclub singer who keeps to the agency for the brochures but never has the money to go anywhere.

Unfortunately, when Elvira goes to Michael's office, she finds that he's got a new secretary, and claims he's going to have to delay the anniversary trip again, because he's got an important merger to deal with, although he swears it'll only be four days and he can join Elvira after that. (Maybe Elvira should have watched Ex-Lady.) But Elvira, seeing the new secretary who isn't a very good typist, gets the suspicion that her husband might be having an affair with the secretary, as executives in the movies of those days are wont to do.

Elvira has a great plan to get back at her husband: she's going to find that Georgia from the travel agency and pay her to take Elvira's place on the cruise so that Elvira can stay behind and figure out whether Michael is in fact having that affair. As for Oscar Levant, he plays the manager of the nightclub, and is none too happy about the possibility of losing Georgia to a hare-brained scheme like this. But Georgia sees visions of the $1,000 that Elvira is going to pay her (in 1948 dollars) and a free first-class cruise, so she jumps at the offer. All she has to do is be virtuous on the cruise.

Michael, for his part, has other ideas. He gets the idea that if Elvira is insisting on going on the trip ahead of Michael, and alone, that perhaps there's somebody on the boat that she's seeing. So he hires a private detective, Peter Virgil (finally we see Jack Carson show up), to go on the boat as well and find out just what Elvira is up to. Of course, Michael fails to give Peter a picture of Elvira.

You can probably guess what happens next. Peter meets Georgia on the boat thinking that this is Elvira. He falls in love with her, which for him is a big problem since this is supposed to be a married woman and the wife of his client. Georgia, for her part, falls in love with Peter, which is also a problem. And then to complicate things further, Michael, Oscar, Elvira, and Lazlo each wind up making their way down to Rio to find out what's going on.

Romance on the High Seas is predictable, but what it does it does mostly well. This being Doris Day's debut, she's given several songs to sing, and that might slow the movie down for some viewers. But she does a very good job not just singing but acting as well. Carson is his normal solid self, Sakall the comic relief, and De Fore and Paige OK in what are clearly supporting roles since much of the action takes place on the ship. There's also lovely Technicolor photography.

If you want an undemanding feel-good movie, you could do a lot worse than to watch Romance on the High Seas.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Escape from Alcatraz

Despite only being used as a federal prison for about 30 years, Alcatraz has a rather outsized place in American culture for being the prison from which nobody could escape. Or could they? That's the question addressed in the 1979 movie Escape from Alcatraz.

Clint Eastwood plays Frank Morris, a prisoner who had escaped from several prisons, which ultimately led to his being imprisoned in Alcatraz in January 1960. The Warden (Patrick McGoohan) informs Morris that Alcatraz is unlike any other prison he's been in and that escape is impossible, although it's not as if a little thing like that is going to stop Morris. Among the prisoners Morris meets are elderly painter Doc (Roberts Blossom), prison librarian English (Fred Ward), and the Anglin brothers, Clarence and John (Jack Thibeau and Fred Ward respectively), the last two of whom you'd think would have been split up even if that made it more likely one of them would escape.

Prison life is suitably brutal, and eventually when Morris sees a cockroach go into the ventilation system, that gives him an idea for escape. Perhaps he can chip away at the concrete walls surrounding the grilles, and escape through the ventilation shaft. It seems unlikely, but it's also not as if Morris has anywhere else to go. So he starts, and eventually gets the Anglins to start along with a fourth prisoner, Charley Butts (Larry Hankin).

Still, there are all sorts of problems. Where does the ventilation shaft actually go? What are they going to do once they get out of the shaft? How are they going to prevent the guards from finding they've gone into the shaft? And how the hell are they going to get off the island? Slowly the prisoners come up with answers to all of the questions, and get about the hard work of planning and effecting the escape.

And then, just as they set a date for the escape, there's one more problem. The warden decides he's going to move Morris to a different cell, meaning that Morris is going to have to move up the escape, and they might not be fully ready for it.

The most interesting thing about Escape from Alcatraz is that it's based on a true story, which you will have noticed if you clicked on the link to Frank Morris above. Now, since it's based on a true story that link does more or less give away what happens in the movie, as well as pointing out a few differences between real life and the movie. But even if you know what happened in reality, the movie is stlll worth watching.

Despite Morris being only one of three men who tried to escape together, this is still Clint Eastwood's movie all the way. He's quite good. The movie is methodical, which can make it seem slow at times, but also serves to ratchet up the suspense. I can very highly recommend it if you want a good true crime movie.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A pimpernel's love is different from a square's

One of the first movies I put on the new DVR was the 1934 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

It's 1792 in France, and if you know your history which you should since I just mentioned this era a week or so ago regarding Désirée, there's a revolution on, and the revolutionaries are killing the non-revolutionary nobles. However, a cart driven by an elderly lady leaves Paris. Only it's not an elderly lady, but an Englishman, Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard) in disguise. The guards let the cart pass because Percy says there's a patient with the plague in the back, which is why they don't inspect it. In fact, there's a nobleman who was slated for the guillotine.

Now, the authorities know about a man called the Scarlet Pimpernel who has been getting noblemen out of France, but they don't know the identity of the Pimpernel (if you haven't figured it out from my description, it's made quite clear that it's Blakeney). So Robespierre (Ernest Milton) sends his envoy Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) to England to try to figure out who the Pimpernel is, because after all there's a substantial French expat population in England.

One of those French is Blakeney's own wife Marguerite (Merle Oberon). Percy still loves her, but doesn't really trust her, because after all she's French and there's been some rumor that she was responsible for getting some noblemen arrested. Worse, Marguerite's brother Armand (Walter Rilla) is one of the Pimpernel's men in France, so Chauvelin has Armand arrested so that he can put pressure on Marguerite to reveal the identity of the Pimpernel (which she doesn't know).

The Pimpernel has to head back to France for his most dangerous mission, saving one of his own men, knowing fully well that Chauvelin has more men then ever trying to find the Pimpernel. Marguerite follows him to France to try to warn him, but that might be a mistake because if Chauvelin can get her in custody, then there's even more pressure on Percy.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a Korda brothers production, made in England for London Films, which if you've seen enough movies from that era you know is a byword for high technical quality. The only thing is, I couldn't help but think the movie could have been better. But that's largely because knowing the basic plot synopsis, I was expecting more of an action movie. Instead, The Scarlet Pimpernel is rather talky at times, especially in a long section I haven't mentioned set at a society party attended by Percy and Chauvelin. The one big action scene comes in the finale, and even that doesn't have all that much action.

Still, as I implied in the previous paragraph, the acting and production values are both top-notch. So if you know going in that there's a bit less swashbuckling-type action, it's not a bad movie at all.

The TCM Shop has a DVD of the movie from Reel Vault available for purchase that doesn't seem to be on Amazon. Amazon, however, has the movie on streaming. The story has been filmed for the big screen and TV on quite a few occasions, so you may want to make certain you're getting the right version.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Room for One More

TCM ran a bunch of family-friendly movies over the Thanksgiving holiday, so I took that opportunity to watch Room for One More.

Cary Grant plays George Rose, a civil engineer for the small city in which he lives, married to Anna (Grant's real-life wife at the time Betsy Drake), with three children and too many pets -- Anna takes strays in, much to George's constant irritation.

He's about to get more irritated. Not only does a dog show up, but another human does, too. Anna and the other members of the local PTA have made a visit of one of the orphanages for older children who can't be adopted, and after the visit, administrator Miss Kenyon (Lurene Tuttle) knows of a case that would be just right for the Roses to take in as a foster child on a trial basis. Anna pretty much accepts without even discussing it with George, which should be a serious red flag in any marriage, but somehow this marriage survives.

Jane (Iris Mann) is about 16, so older than the Roses' own children, and has a lot of problems. Her father died and Mom didn't want her, so she has serious abandonment issues and doesn't expect the Roses to want to keep putting her up after the two-week trial period. Somehow, though, the Roses -- Anna especially -- are just such magically good parents that they're able to keep Anna, who grows to like living with the Roses.

But if one foster child isn't bad enough, Anna inflicts a second, much more difficult case on George. Jimmy John (Clifford Tatum Jr.) is a boy of about 10 with polio, who wears leg braces and has become extremely withdrawn as a result of all the times he spent in hospital. It's to the point that he doesn't talk at all, and can't read either. Anna is determined to help him, but he's going to be a much more difficult case. And then both Jimmy John and Jane have serious problems over the Christmas holidays....

Room for One More is a movie looking at a topic that didn't get much mention in the movies, that of foster parenthood. There's always been adoption of infants, as in the recently mentioned My Blue Heaven or Cary Grant's earlier Penny Serenade, but the emotional difficulties of older children in need of a stable home weren't discussed very often. In that way, Room for One More is a really nice addition to the family movie genre.

But I also had some pretty big problems with this one, notably in the relationship between Anna and George, as well as the fact that everybody's problems seemed to be solved way too neatly. I can't help but feel Jane would have had problems for a lot longer than two weeks, for example, while in the real world nobody would have let Jimmy John try to get his Scouting merit badge in the dead of winter.

Still, Room for One More is definitely worth a watch, and available at Amazon on a Warner Archive DVD as well as from the Prime streaming video.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Peter O'Toole does comedy!

Another of my recent movie viewings was My Favorite Year.

New York, 1954. It's what Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) describes as his "favorite year". Benjy is a junior writer for the live sketch comedy TV show hosted by King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna), working under Sy Benson (Bill Macy). It's not all a bed of roses, however. One problem involves a series of sketches the show has been doing about a mobster named Hijack, which in and of itself would be no big deal. But the show is clearly spoofing a guy named Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell), and he's pissed. He visits Kaiser and the rest of the writers, and threatens them if they don't stop doing sketches about him.

The other problem involves this week's guest star. Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole) is one of Benjy's favorite old actors, being a swashbuckler who's very obviously modeled on Errol Flynn. Alan, it turns out, is only doing the show because he's very heavily in debt to the IRS and needs the money. It's a headache for Kaiser and the writers because Swann is a notorious party animal and drinker, two things which just won't work for live television. But since Benjy is such a big fan, he offers to take the job of making certain Alan can stay sober and show up for all the rehearsals and the show on Saturday night.

It's not going to be easy, since the first time we meet Alan we see his chauffeur finding all the bottles Alan has hidden. And the first thing Alan wants Benjy to do is to escort him to one of those nightclubs of the sort that featured in screwball comedies -- one where Swann caused a major incident the last time he was there. (In the end, Swann creates another incident, but by dancing with a woman there for her anniversary, played by Gloria Stuart.)

Against the backdrop of all this, Benjy is in love with one of the other junior staffers, Dowling (Jessica Harper), which creates another thread running throughout the movie. Then Benjy's mom Belle (Lainie Kazan) invites him for dinner, and since Benjy has to chaperone Alan, he brings Alan along, which creates another big scene since everybody in the building knows who the famous Alan Swann is and wants to see him.

But events conspire to threaten Swann's appearance on the show. One is that he's got a daughter in Connecticut he hasn't seen in a year, what with him having been through several marriages. On the morning of the show, he decides to pop over to Connectict -- as if he doesn't know that it's well over an hour away -- to see the daughter. Worse, he finds out that the show is actually going on the air live, something the producers neglected to tell him, apparently knowing this would be a problem for Swann. And, the show is scheduled to start with another Hijack routine, which fortunately Swann doesn't have a part in so at least they have a few more minutes to get Swann ready if that need arises. But of course, there was that threat from Rojeck....

I've said on quite a few occasions that while I enjoy contemporary movies from any era (at least if they're good), I've always been more ambivalent towards more recent movies looking back at the Boomer era, so I've long been hesitant toward My Favorite Year. But to be honest, I really enjoyed it. I don't know that Peter O'Toole got to do a whole lot of comedy -- there's How to Steal a Million, although most of what I can think of is more dramatic. But O'Toole really shines in My Favorite Year and makes the movie work. He's helped by a very good script and direction from Richard Benjamin who clearly has a soft spot in his heart for this material.

There are also a lot of good supporting performances. In addition to the actors I've mentioned, Selma Diamond in the wardrobe department and Lou Jacobi as Benjy's uncle come to mind.

If you haven't seen it before, I can highly recommend My Favorite Year.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #282: Adaptations

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 "Adaptations", which is a broad one, since there are so many movies that have been adapted from books, plays, and short stories. So I decided to think about doing a theme within a theme, and unsurprisingly, that turned out to be fairly easy too:

Baby Doll (1956). Mississippi cotton mill owner Karl Malden is set to marry his naïve, barely legal bride Carroll Baker, when into town comes rival mill owner Eli Wallach. Malden has his henchmen burn Wallach's mill, and when Wallach visits the house to get a statement from Baker, the two get rather racy, which really ticks off Malden. It's adapted from a play by Tennessee Williams, who was known for his overheated Southern Gothic plays.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Katharine Hepburn plays a matriarch who wants to donate to a clinic run by Montgomery Clift. But there's a catch: the donation is contingent upon his performing a lobotomy on her niece Elizabeth Taylor. It seems that Taylor was on vacation with Hepburn's son when the son died a rather shocking death, and Hepburn thinks this his wrecked Taylor's mind. The truth, however, might not be quite what it seems at first glance. This was adapted from a play by Tennessee Williams.

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962). Paul Newman plays a gigolo escorting Geraldine Page back to his hometown in Florida. Town political fixer Ed Begley (who won an Oscar) doesn't want Newman around, because Newman used to be the boyfriend of Begley's daughter. Meanwhile, Begley has a hotheaded son who has no qualms being too violent toward Newman, and a mistress who is threatening to spill the beans and destroy the political machine. If this all sounds over-the-top melodramatic to you, it's because this too was adapted from a Tennessee Williams play.

TCM Star of the Month December 2019: Joan Blondell

Blondell talks to James Cagney in Blonde Crazy (tonight at 11:00 PM)

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM. This time, it's Joan Blondell, who was a delight opposite James Cagney in the early 1930s, and continued to work through the 1970s. (I remember seeing her in an old episode of Starsky and Hutch on one of the vintage TV digital subchannels.) Blondell's movies will be airing every Thursday in prime time, into Friday morning.

Blondell worked a lot in the first half of the 1930s, so it's not surprising that a good half of the movies TCM is showing in their tribute to her are from this era. It also means that there's a surprising number of movies from this time that aren't part of the salute:

I love Night Nurse, but Blondell has a smaller part in this, and it's really Barbara Stanwyck's movie. So I'm not surprised that if TCM felt they could only show so many Blondell movies, this one didn't make the cut

Lady for a Day has Blondell in another supporting role, and since it's from Columbia and Blondell's selection as Star of the Month was made by the Backlot voters, I'm not surprised that TCM made certain they'd have enough stuff from the old Turner library for whichever star was selected.

The final night of Blondell's turn as Star of the Month on the 26th features movies from the 1950s and 1960s, including The Cincinnati Kid which I haven't blogged about before:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

While the Patient Slept

Quite a few years back, I mentioned that Warner Bros. put out a series of short mystery films as part of a cross promotion called the "Clue Club" mysteries. The movies aren't related to each other in any other way, but one of those B mysteries showed up on TCM recently: While the Patient Slept.

An elderly businessman is believed to be on the verge of death, and all of his relatives as well as some other important people like his lawyer are at his mansion waiting for him to kick the bucket. He gets a telegram with some unexpected news, and this causes him to have a stroke -- but the stroke doesn't kill him. So the old man's doctor sends over Nurse Keate (Aline MacMahon) to take round-the-clock care of the old guy.

Needless to say, all the man's relatives want to talk to him; they're all cousins to one another. One guy is calling in an outstanding loan; there's also the old guy's lawyer, and so on. The old guy is in bed in a bedroom that seems to have been converted from a library or something because it seems to be way too big and right off the greatroom. So in any case there's a lot of traffic outside his room.

And then, suddenly, a shot rings out! And one of the cousins dies! And pretty much everybody in the house could have been a suspect. The police send over Detective O'Leary (Guy Kibbee), who obviously has a past relationship of some sort with Keate, and not just because MacMahon and Kibbee had starred together in Big Hearted Herbert a year earlier. As O'Leary tries to solve the case, he and Keate trade one-liners, helped by the fact that O'Leary's deputy is played by comedic character actor Allen Jenkins.

To be honest, I'm being a bit vague on the plot largely because the plot isn't the real reason to watch this one. It doesn't really matter who did it, because the real reason to watch it is the banter between MacMahon and Kibbee. They're both in good form, although they'd probably be in better form with a more original plot. The rest of the cast of character actors is professional but not something you're going to remember years from now.

While the Patient Slept is the sort of movie that belongs on a box set, although as far as I can tell it's only available on a standalone DVD from the Warner Archive collection.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Boys' Night Out

I've mentioned a few times in the past that I always enjoy watching those 60s color comedies at least for the set design, even if the movies aren't always particularly good. Another example of such a movie that came up short for me was Boys' Night Out.

Fred (James Garner) is a man from suburban Connecticut who works in New York City, taking the train in with three of his friends: George Drayton (Tony Randall), Doug Jackson (Howard Duff) and Howard McIllenny (Howard Morris). The four man, in addition to commuting together, also spend every Thursday evening staying in the city for a night out. Except that over time, the nights out haven't been particularly exciting, with them just drinking in a bar.

And then one night, Fred sees his boss Mr. Bingham (Larry Keating) walk in with a lovely lady who Fred knows is not Mrs. Bingham. Bingham is obviously wealthy enough that he can keep an apartment in town and have his girlfriend in it, not having to rely on an employee like C.C. Baxter to lend him an apartment for his assignations. Our four commuters start thinking about the idea of being able to have such an affair, although it is of course much too expense for middle-level workers such as themselves.

However, one of them gets the idea that perhaps they could rent an apartment together to put up a woman, and each of them could use it one night a week. At first, the math on this doesn't work out, as the good apartments are still too expensive. This is much to Fred's relief, as he doesn't like the idea since it implies they're all sharing the same women. The other three all have wives, and while Fred doesn't, he has his mother (Jessie Royce Landis) living with him. So he goes for an apartment that's obviously going to be out of their price range. But because of a scandal that happened there, the landlord is willing to rent it out cheap.

Meanwhile, they need a woman, and Fred is shocked that he's able to get one to respond so quickly. That woman is Cathy (Kim Novak). What she doesn't tell Fred is that she's a graduate student in sociology, working on her dissertation, on the sexual fantasies of the suburban male. So when she figures out what Fred and his friends have in mind, she's actually thrilled with the prospect, since it's perfect for the thesis. Her doctoral adviser, Prof. Prokosch (Oskar Homolka), however, thinks it won't work.

And to be fair, it doesn't quite work out the way Cathy or any of the guys plan it. Cathy starts to fall in love with Fred, and he with her, although they're not certain they realize it. The other three guys come to the apartment for their one night a week, and all three wind up being less than romantic, more getting companionship out of Cathy than they could at home with their harried wives and families.

As for those wives -- and Fred's mom -- they suspect something is up, but they can't quite figure it out, hiring a detective and then ultimately heading into New York to find out for themselves what's going on. They're going to find out just in time for the big comedic finale.

One of the big problems I had with Boys' Night Out is that that big finale was for me more grating than comedic. It also didn't help that Fred's three friends all come across as more obnoxious than funny, too. Even Tony Randall, who's normally quite good at material like this.

I did mention the set design, which is certainly worth a look, as in this view of the main room of the apartment Cathy is billeted in:

There's also the foam kitchen appliances in the apartment, with other pastels in the houses in Connecticut. It wasn't enough to make the movie fully worthwhile for me, but I'm sure there are other people who are going to like Boys' Night Out a lot more than I did. This is definitely one you should watch and judge for yourself.