Thursday, April 30, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #303: Game Shows (TV edition)





This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, and this time it's a theme that's extremely easy for me: game shows. I was a huge fan of the genre growing up in the late 1970s and 1980s, a time when there were a lot of game shows in daytime and a moderate number of syndicated game shows, most of which had regular people playing for modest prizes, mostly shot live-to-tape unlike now with central casting archetypes, apocalyptic sets (thank you, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), and numerous stopdowns making tape sessions run long. (I had an acquaintance on a game show board who was a contestant on Who's Still Standing? who had extremely negative things to say about his experience, particularly how they treated one female contestant; unfortunately I can't find a link to his blog post.) At any rate, for me the big difficulty was making certain I hadn't used any of the game shows I picked, having picked game shows for several past TV editions. With that in mind, I picked three shows featuring one of the great hosts of all time, Alex Trebek and his fantastic white afro:



High Rollers (1974-1976, 1978-1980). This show is based on the simple game Shut the Box, a game where you have the numbers 1-9 and roll a pair of dice with the goal of getting rid of all nine numbers. The show added the twist of putting the numbers in three columns and adding prizes awarded to the person who completed a column and won the game. The dice girl on the first version was Ruta Lee, wife of producer Merrill Heatter and remembered by classic film fans as Tyrone Power's friend in Witness for the Prosecution.



Double Dare (1976). Not the game show with kids doing sloppy stunts when they couldn't answer the question and had to take a physical challenge. This is a tough quizzer giving two contestant clues to a person, place or thing. When you thought you knew the mystery answer, you could ring in, and if right, take a dare that your opponent wouldn't know the answer with one, or even two, more clues. The bonus round reversed this, taking Ph.Ds. (this being the era when that implied out-of-touch middle aged white guy) and trying to stump at least one of them after four clues such as "Students at Princeton protested its 1969 cancellation" (the subject being Star Trek in an era before the first movie brought the franchise back to the national cultural consciousness). Hide your eyes when they show the main game subject, and this is a really fun quiz show.



Battlestars (1981-1982, 1983). This game asked celebrities in triangular boxes Hollywood Squares-style questions (Merrill Heatter, who produced this one, also produced Hollywood Squares), with the object being to answer the question correctly when the last point of the triangle around a celebrity's box was selected. Not exactly the best show or original mechanic; Heatter would reuse the Hollywood Squares agree/disagree mechanic for yet another show, All-Star Blitz a few years later. But that one was hosted by Peter Marshall so I didn't want to use it here.

Finally, and unrelated to Alex Trebek, I present Tony Randall's comments on what might be the greatest game show of all time, Pyramid:

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

For some values of "adventure"


Another of my recent movie viewings was Adventure in Baltimore, which ran on TCM as part of a night of movies featuring suffragette characters.

To be honest, the suffrage part of the movie is minor, although the main charcter, Dinah Sheldon (Shirley Temple), is certainly a strong young woman. She's at an all-girls school circa 1905 in an art class where she declares that she's going to be a great artist; as such, she needs to learn how to draw the naked human form. Such shocking language gets her thrown out of school and sent home to her family in Baltimore.

Dinah's father is Dr. Andrew Sheldon (Robert Young), the doctor here being a doctor of divinity as he's an Episcopal priest up for the vacant bishop's position in his diocese. Dr. Sheldon is somewhat socially liberal, as he wants to discipline Dinah a lot more lightly than her mom (Josephine Hutchinson) does. This lack of discipline might just jeopardize Dr. Sheldon's chance at being named bishop, although nobody talks much about the sin of pride.

Dinah, having returned home, continues to be brash and bold and make life a mess for everybody. She's got a friend in the boy next door, Tom Wade (John Agar, Shirley's real-life husband at the time), who works for the boss in the new-fangled job of auto mechanic. In most movies set in this era, you'd expect Tom to be Dinah's boyfriend, and you can probably guess that's going to happen by the end of the movie. But Tom meets the much richer Bernice who becomes his girlfriend, and has to deal with Dinah.

First up is Dinah going to the park to paint, doing a portrait of a drunk on a park bench, and inadvertently starting a brawl among some other bums who debate whether she's got the colors right (not that we can tell, of course, since this is a black-and-white movie). Dinah and the bums all wind up in bail, and Dinah asks Tom to bail her out, saying that she's going to jump bail!

Then, Tom has to deliver a speech for some civic function, and Dinah offers to make things up by helping. Of course, her "help" is to give Tom a barely-edited speech on women's liberation that she has to know is going to embarrass Tom. But no, she goes ahead and gives him that speech. Finally, she asks Tom to model for a painting in an art contest, and her painting is to put Tom's head on a shirtless body. Tom's justifiably angry, and the rest of the community is scandalized by the painting. Dad, to try to save his nomination for bishop, finally relents to Mom to send Dinah off to an aunt until things die down....

Adventure in Baltimore is a movie that has some potential, but that I think ultimately doesn't quite live up to it. That's mostly down to the writing of Shirley Temple's character. She was 20 she made this movie and trying to transition into adult roles, something that never quite worked out for her. The script here doesn't help because she's made out to be so obnoxious that I couldn't help but dislike her. She's not so much an independent woman in the style of Betty Grable's from The Shocking Miss Pilgrim but a jerk who doesn't seem to think of others.

I also had a problem with the ending, which seemed too artificial and tacked on in order to satisfy the studio's need for a happy ending. I can't help but think the rest of the parishes in Dad's diocese would have been nowhere near as liberal as he was and that this would have caused much more serious conflict. This isn't the post-Vatican II Catholic church, after all.

If you want to see why Shirley Temple didn't make it as an adult actress, Adventure in Baltimore isn't a bad place to start.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The pirate of color


My latest DVR watch is the swashbuckling movie The Crimson Pirate.

Burt Lancaster plays the titular pirate, an 18th century man named Vallo who captains a crew together with first-mate Humble Bellows (Torin Thatcher) and best friend Ojo (Nick Cravat) in the Caribbean. The come across a British ship, and capture it, finding out that it carries the Baron Gruda (Leslie Bradley). Gruda is one his way to the islands because one of them, Cobra, has a rebellious uprising.

With this in mind, Vallo comes up with a brilliant scheme. He'll take the guns off the British ship and sell them to the leader of those rebels on Cobra. But then the plan is to double-cross the rebels on top of that, revealing their location to Gruda. Audacious, and unsurprisingly, Humble isn't so sanguine about it.

He's right, at least to a point. Vallo and Ojo go ashore on Cobra, looking for the rebel leader El Libre. They find some rebels, led more or less by Consuelo (Eva Bartok), but they don't find El Libre. That's because he's already imprisoned on another island. Meanwhile, Vallo finds himself falling in love with Consuelo, which is going to be a problem, and why Humble was partly right not to trust Vallo completely.

However, what Humble should have taken into consideration is thta Gruda and the colonial governor weren't about to let Vallo get away with his original plan; Gruda's idea was to capture the rebels, get the guns back, and arrest all the pirates. Further complicating matters is that Vallo learns Consuelo is El Libre's daughter, drawing him closer to the rebels and to a showdown with his fellow pirates who didn't necessarily want him undertaking this plan in the first place.

The Crimson Pirate is one of those movies that you probably shouldn't watch too seriously paying attention to the plot. The movie is a romp that has the plot secondary, starting with Lancaster's ridiculous blond hairdo. He and Cravat, who in real life had been a partner in Lancaster's trapeze act in Lancaster's pre-Hollywood days, do some highly acrobatic stunts. Too acrobatic, in my opinion, as the choreography comes across as too sterile. Other people will probably highly enjoy the set pieces, however.

So while I found there certainly to be some flaws with The Crimson Pirate, for the most part it works as energetic entertainment for young and old alike. You can watch whenever you want as the movie is on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Briefs for April 28-29, 2020


TCM's monthly spotlight on New York in the 1970s had to take a Thursday off two weeks back because of the rescheduling for the TCM Festival at Home. That night's movies is rescheduled for tonight, looking at blacks in New York in the 70s. It's another chance to see Shaft, at 8:00 PM, which seems a bit surprising considering the sex and violence in the movie. There's also Black Caesar overnight at 3:30 AM.

The Saturday night spotlight on Peter Bogdanovich changed to include a couple of movies he had introduced at the festival, along with him talking to Ben Mankiewicz about Casablanca and other things in the wraparounds. The two movies originally scheduled to run that night never got rescheduled as far as I know. The other thing, which didn't need rescheduling, was a podcast series of interviews Bogdanovich did with Ben Mankiewicz, caled The Plot Thickens: I'm Still Peter Bogdanovich. The first episode of that premieres today. If you do the streaming thing, there are several ways to listen. Thankfully, for those of us who would prefer to download MP3s and listen that way without signing up for an account anywhere have an RSS feed. Of course, I've currently got 300+ hours of unlistened-to audio sitting in my playlist, so who knows when I'll get around to this one?

There doesn't seem to be much of note to mention on FXM in the next day or two, as I missed the return of Trouble Man yesterday, although that one is going to be on again on Saturday. Murder Inc. is going to be on at 6:00 AM, but by the time most of you read this, that will already have aired. That's followed at 7:45 by The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which returned to the FXM lineup a few months back and which I'm not certain whether I mentioned at that time.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Road Builder


One of the movies that I DVRed during Patricia Neal's turn as TCM's Star of the Month is The Night Digger (also known as The Road Builder from its British release).

Neal plays Maura Prince, a woman who's volunteering at a hospital teaching patients recovering from a stroke to speak again, something that's highly appropriate considering that Neal herself had suffered a stroke in real life a half-dozen years before this movie was made. Her boss says that Maura should work there full time at good pay, but she says that she can't, which is largely because she has a blind mother Edith (Pamela Brown) to take care of. Maura, in fact, hasn't been able to get married or anything because of having to be a caregiver for Mom.

It's taken its toll on both women. Maura is definitely isolated socially, while Mom's blindness threatens to do the same. Also, the two live alone in a big house that was obviously more full of people in a previous generation, but is now falling apart, reminiscent of a movie like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, but with a mother and daughter instead of two sisters.

But then a knock comes on their door. Maura opens up and finds a young man Billy (Nicholas Clay) who's been working on a road-building crew constructing a new highway from Liverpool to London. He's apparently heard that these two unmarried women need somebody to help take care of the house and garden, and Billy could use a place to stay. It seems like a convenient arrangement, but Edith, being that trope of the blind woman who can see things sighted people don't want to, has some misgivings.

Billy says his last name is Jarvis, apparently having learned a lot about the Prince family, because Edith claims to have some distant cousins up in the north of England with the surname Jarvis, so Billy could well be a relative. So Edith takes Billy in, with Maura eventually becoming happy to have a man -- any man -- around.

Perhaps they shouldn't have wanted this man. Billy starts sneaking out at night, when it's not as if there's anything much to do in the area the Princes live. It turns out that he's a serial killer who's been killing (and probably raping considering the nude scenes) young women and then burying them where the road is going to be built so that in a day or two, blacktop will be laid down and nobody's going to dig under the road to find the body, at least not before it decomposes.

Edith begins to suspect something, and eventually wants Billy out of the house for good. Maura may suspect nothing, as she withdraws all her money from the bank after Mom suffers a sudden illness that leaves her in the hospital, and runs off with Billy to Scotland. Does she know nothing, or does she not mind that Billy's a killer?

There's a premise for a really nice movie in The Night Digger, but unfortunately to me it didn't play out as well as it could have. Part of that is down to some slow pacing, while the other part is because of the ending which I found illogical. The performances are all good, however, and people who like more psychological thrillers will probably like The Night Digger more than I did.

The Night Digger has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Dick Tracy (1990)


Another of the movies that I recorded during one of the free preview weekends was the 1990 version of Dick Tracy. I finally got around to watching it recently, so today you get a blog post on it.

Based on the vintage comic strip by Chester Gould, the movie is set in a 1930s metropolis beset by gangland crime which is fought by upright police detective Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty). Tracy's nemesis Big Boy (Al Pacino) is trying to consolidate all the underworld crime under his leadership, and when some other gang bosses don't go for it, he has them rubbed out, witnessed Some Like it Hot-style by The Kid (Charles Korsmo). The Kid is a petty criminal, engaging in pickpocketing to surive and appease an abusive father figure. Dick catches the Kid who, not having real parents, is set to go to the orphanage. Dick and his long-suffering girlfriend, Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly), are going to serve as his foster parents until the Kid can be sent to the orphanage.

Dick is still trying to bring down Big Boy, who for his part is still trying to bring the other gang bosses under his wing, doing so from his headquarters at the Club Ritz where Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) serves as the nightclub's singer and main attraction. She's a witness to some of Big Boy's crimes, but would seemingly rather seduce Dick despite his having a girlfriend than spill the beans on Big Boy. Big Boy tries to bribe Dick and have him offed when Dick refuses the bribe, but the Kid saves Dick.

Dick responds by a feint raid on the Club Ritz which is really an excuse to plant a bug in the club to stop Big Boy's reign of crime. It works for a while, but Big Boy eventually finds the bug, and a mysterious criminal, The Blank, kidnaps both Tess and Dick in a further attempt to bring Dick to heel. It's all part of a much more audacious scheme....

Dick Tracy is probably best known for its production design, and that's for good reason. Warren Beatty, who also served as the movie's producer, decided that he wanted a movie that would recreate the look of Chester Gould's comic strip. The strip, being released on newsprint, had to rely on broad drawings and bold primary colors, with the latter being eye-popping in the movie that results. It's extremely distinctive, but works quite well.

But while it's the color scheme that most people will remember, the rest of the movie is pretty darn good too. The plot is fairly well done; the make-up is good for having to do the difficult job of going over the top for the villains with names like Pruneface and Flattop; and the acting is OK. Among the names I haven't mentioned yet are Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, the mumbling stool pigeon; Dick Van Dyke as the D.A.; or Charles Durning as the chief of police. One big plus is the original songs by Stephen Sondheim which are an excellent throwback to the pre-war era, especially "Sooner or Later" which was sung by Madonna and won an Oscar. There is a fair amount of violence, but as befits a movie based on a comic strip, it's mostly handled in a cartoonish manner.

Dick Tracy is a movie I can definitely recommend, and it's available on DVD and Blu-ray should you wish to watch for yourself.

Giorgio Moroder turns 80!


Today marks the 80th birthday of Giorgio Moroder, who most people would probably associate with his place in disco/electronic music by bring synthesizers and overdubbing to Donna Summer's hit I Feel Love.

So why am I mentioning his birthday here? Well, it turns out that he wrote any number of movie scores as well as pop songs for movies -- and won three Oscars for this work. The first was for the score to Midnght Express, presented by the ever-hot Raquel Welch and an embarrassingly drunk Dean Martin:



Gotta love those eyeglass frames that were a big thing in the 60s and 70s.

Moroder's second Oscar came for co-writing the title song from Flashdance; Irene Cara sang it and co-wrote, finally getting an Oscar since she didn't write the title song from Fame but only sang it. I'm not embedding that clip since Moroder was not present for the awards ceremony. The final Oscar came for "Take My Breath Away", from the film Top Gun:



Moroder is still working today, as he's been asked to write a song for the new Top Gun: Maverick movie that's supposed to be released at the end of the year.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

When in Rome



Er, not that "When in Rome"

Some months back, TCM ran a little movie called When in Rome, which I recorded but didn't watch because it doesn't seem to be available on DVD. It turns out that there's another airing tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM (or overnight tonight if you're on the west coast), so now's the time to watch and blog about it.

The movie was released 1952, but points out that it is set in 1950, which was considered a Holy Year in the Catholic Church that led a lot of people to visit Rome. (That would explain the stock footage of mass religious gatherings in Rome.) Going to Rome to take part in the Holy Year is Father John Halligan (Van Johnson), a Catholic priest from Coaltown, PA. His pilgrimage is considered a big deal in that sort of small-town Catholic community. So big that he's actually bought a new cassock for the occasion.

Fr. John is taking the boat over to Genoa and making his way to Rome from there, and to cut costs he's sharing a cabin with a stranger, who turns out to be the very nice Joe Brewster (Paul Douglas). Joe isn't Catholic, and probably not religious at all, but he and Fr. John get along well, helping each other with seasickness and stuff like that.

Of course, we already got some foreshadowing from the intro that Joe has a past, which we see when he makes off with Fr. John's new cassock, leaving John with Joe's loud suit. (You'd think Fr. John would have multiple changes of clothes.) This is because Joe was a prisoner back in the States, having escaped from his latest incarceration. Somehow, unlike Call Northside 77 the authorities couldn't send a photo or even a good description of Joe, only what Joe was wearing. So he makes it through customs no problem and is accepted by a couple of fellow priests picking him up, while Fr. John is arrested and placed in custody until he can prove his innocence.

As I mentioned, Joe isn't religious at all, which is going to become a problem when it comes time to practice any number of Catholic rituals. (Mass was still in Latin at that time, still a dozen years before Vatican II, so in theory Fr. John could have been asked to perform a Mass.) Somehow he bluffs his way through it all, and when he meets Irish Fr. McGinniss on the way to Rome and then helps him carry a cross during a procession, Joe begins to have some pangs of conscience.

Not enough to go back to America, however. Fr. John eventually finds Joe and Joe gets Fr. John to take him on a tour of some of Rome's churches that together are part of a well-known penitent's journey. Joe begins to open up, confessing his sins to Fr. John and showing a lot of admiration for the priests' pureness. They're still being pursued by the police, though, forcing them to make escapes, as they do when the wind up in a monastery where the monks have taken a vow of silence.

When in Rome is the sort of interesting programmer that MGM was making in the early 1950s that I've long felt were helping to subsidize the more expensive Freed Unit musicals. There's the obvious, if gentle, moralizing about doing good works, for example. But the story largely works even if it's old fashioned, and both of the leads are appealing in their roles. If you want something old-styled and family-friendly, you could do a lot worse than to watch When in Rome.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Wide Open


Another of my recent movie watches was the early talkie Wide Open, which is available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

A very young Edward Everett Horton plays Simon Haldane, a slightly mousy bookkeeper at a company that manufactures record plays and music to play on those players. At least, it seems as though they make record players since Simon has a plan for a new type of needle that will help the company's flagging revenues.

Meanwhile, he's being pursued by co-worker Agatha (Louise Fazenda), who somehow manages to convince her mother that if Simon doesn't marry Agatha, it'll be something that brings immense shame to Agatha and her family. It must be one of those old-fashioned family honor things, since I didn't quite get it. But all of this is interrupted by our other main character.

Patsy Miller plays Doris, who is seen breaking into Simon's place of work and rifling through the books he's left there, which isn't much since he's been working on the books at night as part of his financial plan involving the new needle. But Doris gets his address and breaks in, the police in hot pursuit. Doris feigns illness which gets Simon to keep her there overnight.

Back at work, Agatha does nothing to stop the gossip going on about Simon, leading everybody to think that Simon has just gotten married despite considering himself a confirmed bachelor. So all of the coworkers crash his house in order to hold a party! Meanwhile, Doris is still trying to find those books for reasons that are made clear at the end of the movie.

Wide Open is one of those early talkies that didn't quite seem to know what it was doing, and tried to deal with that by throwing everything it could against the wall to see what might stick. In that regard, it made me think of So Long Letty mostly because that's the most recent early talkie I watched before this one. I think I'd have to say that So Long Letty is better because it's more coherent, but Wide Open is definitely not without its bizarre charms.

The biggest fault I found in Wide Open is the characterization of Doris, who is a sort of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby type. She's lying so much about why she's at Simon's house in the beginning that it seriously made me dislike her. On the other hand, the movie is so full of plot holes that, where they would bring later movies down, only serve here to make things more nuts. It's never explained, for example, how Simon could afford to live in such a big house and have Louise Beavers as a maid.

Wide Open is another of those movies that really should have gotten a release to DVD on one of those four-movie sets that TCM used to put out in conjunction with Warner Home Video, instead of a more expensive standalone Archive DVD. Still, I'm glad I saw it, even though I'm not one to spend that much money on a standalone for such a trifle of a movie.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #302: Verbal Altercations





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 verbal altercations, a theme that left me at first wondering how to tackle it, until I decided to go with a theme-within-a-theme of courtroom jousting. That made things a lot easier, although my first idea of using The Marrying Kind (set in divorce court) was out since I just mentioned that one last September. So I had to come up with three different movies:

Inherit the Wind (1960). Spencer Tracy and Fredric March get into it verbally over evolution in this thinly-disguised (but well-made) version of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Tracy defends the teacher (Dick York) against Tracy; Gene Kelly gets a rare non-dancing, non-singing role as an acerbic reporter reminiscent of H.L. Mencken.

Adam's Rib (1949). Spencer Tracy is the prosecutor this time, prosecuting a woman (Judy Holliday) who is accused of shooting her cheating husband in a fit of rage. (Judy Holliday being the star of The Marrying Kind, you can see why I wanted to connect that one to this one.) Making things very complicated is that Holliday's defense attorney is Katharine Hepburn, who is married to Tracy's prosecutor character. The two engage in lots of verbal jousting both inside and outside the courtroom.

The Paradine Case (1947). Gregory Peck is a barrister who is hired to defend Alida Valli in a trial where she stands accused of the murder of her husband. Peck begins to fall in love with Valli, much distressing both him and his wife (Ann Todd). The real verbal altercation here comes between Peck, and the valet of Valli's late husband (Louis Jourdan) when the valet takes the stand.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

California Sour


Another of my recent movie watches off the DVR was the ensemble comedy California Suite, which TCM showed during 31 Days of Oscar because of Maggie Smith's Oscar win.

The movie is basically an anthology of sorts, based on a Neil Simon play which is actually a series of four one-act plays set in a hotel in Beverly Hills, those four stories being:

Visitor from New York, starring Jane Fonda as Hannah, a divorcée visiting her ex-husband Bill (Alan Alda) in order to get custody of their teenaged daughter for the summer;

Visitor from London, about a British actress Diana (Maggie Smith) up for an Oscar who comes to the ceremony with her gay husband Sidney (Michael Caine). The two bicker along the way.

Visitor from Philadelphia, about a man Marvin (Walter Matthau) coming to LA to see his son's bar mitzvah. He's come a day early, before his wife (Elaine May); Marvin's brother Harry (Herb Edelman) decides to use that extra day to procure a prostitute for Marvin.

Finally there's Visitor from Chicago, about two doctors who are best friends; Dr. Gump (Richard Pryor) and Dr. Panama (Bill Cosby). They've brought their wives with them for a joint vacation, but arrive to find there's only one room reserved for them instead of two.

There are obviously differences between the movie and the play (which I haven't seen; I'm going off the Wikipedia synopsis). One is that the movie can open things up more since it's not just on a stage. This works best in the Fonda/Alda scenes, as they visit a beach among other places while learning to be civil to each other. The Chicagoans' troubles also begin before reaching the hotel, as they have problems with their rental station wagon.

But there's another change which doesn't work at all. Everything I read about the play implies that it's separate acts, like the play and film versions of Plaza Suite, or the way most anthology movies work. The movie version of California Suite, however, makes it look like it's going to be more of an ensemble movie with a bunch of different storylines, like Dinner at Eight or The VIPs. This is where the big problem comes in: in California Suite, the storylines never intersect. So you just go from one couple back to another, for no particularly good reason.

It doesn't help that two of the stories (the Philadelphia and Chicago stories) are fairly week, with Cosby and Pryor in particular having cringe-inducing material. They try their best, and I don't think the film's failings are the fault of any of the cast. Indeed, Fonda, Smith, and Caine all put in very good performances. It's just that it's all in service of decidedly subpar material.

Still, I know other people have different opinions, and this one did win an Oscar for Smith, after all. So you'll probably want to watch and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

On the Riviera


A movie that reappeared in the FXM rotation a month or two back is On the Riviera. It's going to be on FXM again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, so what better time to blog about it than now?

Danny Kaye plays Jack Martin, a nightclub entertainer doing a show in the south of France, at one of the fashionable seaside resort cities. His biggest draw is doing celebrity impersonations, and his act is aided by his girlfriend Colette (Corinne Calvet). One night, the show is interrupted by everybody running out to see the landing of the first non-stop flight around the world, which is landing in the south of France and piloted by Frenchman Henri Duran.

The landing and a brief press conference are broadcast on TV (I actually checked and apparently France already had TV at the time the movie was released in 1951, although not color TV of course), which is why everybody gets up from their tables. Jack and Colette watch too, and Colette makes the point that Jack looks amazingly like Henri, which is unsurprising since Henri is played by Danny Kaye. Perhaps Jack should do an impression of Henri?

It just so happens that there's going to be a gala for Henri the next night, and Jack is one of the people asked to perform, so he comes up with a routine impersonating Henri, which turns out to be a big success, well-received by both Henri and his wife Lili (Gene Tierney). Lili especially wants to meet Jack. Henri, meanwhile, has some other, more pressing things to do. Apparently he's trying to get the airplane he used for his flight mass-produced, but needs an investor for that. He can't find that man down here, so he's going to go to Paris and London if need be.

But that causes problems of its own. Lili was planning to hold a big soiree at the couple's villa, and the absence of Henri is definitely going to raise eyebrows, with people realizing his business might be doomed. So Henri's two business partners, who saw how successful Jack's impersonation was, offer him a large sum of money to pretend to be Henri for the night. Eventually, he agrees, but on the condition that Lili not be told.

The business partners tell Lili anyway without informing Jack; since Lili knows it's Jack this results in some complications of a sort you can imagine. Further problems come when Periton (Jean Murat) shows up at the soiree looking to negotiate, something Jack definitely can't do because he doesn't know anything about the business deal. Henri, realizing going to London won't work, returns, and now with Henri and a lookalike there it's going to cause more confusion for both Periton and Lili, with consequences for Jack and Henri.

On the Riviera is a pleasant enough movie, although it's one that I think is more obviously not going to be for everybody. The stage show musical numbers definitely slow the movie down, and Danny Kaye can be a bit of an acquired taste (although I find him much more tolerable here than in other movies). The story works reasonably well, even though there is for me the inevitable problem of people having to add lie upon lie to keep the ruse going. Still, it's the sort of pre-Cinemascope fluff that Fox was pretty good at churning out, and you could find worse examples.

On the Riviera is not avaiable at the TCM shop, but does seem to be available at Amazon. (Note that the Blu-ray packaging really doesn't give a good impression of what the movie is about.)

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Richest Girl in the World


Another of my recent movie viewings was The Richest Girl in the World, one of those old RKO movies that's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Dorothy Hunter is returning from Switzerland where she's been going to finishing school. She's set to be married to Donald (George Meeker), and she needs the approval of the lawyers handling her trust fund, a bunch of men who have never actually seen her. The approve since they want her happiness, but we learn that the woman who actually spoke to them is not Dorothy, but her secretary Sylvia (Fay Wray). The reason for this is that Dorothy has been afraid to have people know what she looks like and treat her differently because of her money.

Indeed, Donald realizes that he doesn't really love Dorothy and can't marry her, in part because of that money. And that's also going to be a problem for Sylvia, because she's recently gotten married to Phillip (Reginald Denny) and was waiting for Dorothy (Miriam Hopkins) to get married so that Sylvia's work impersonating Dorothy could be done and she could live her own life. The one other person how knows the deception is Dorothy's guardian John Connors (Henry Stephenson).

Dorothy holds a party that's supposed to introduce her and was presumably to announce the engagement that now won't be, and one of the young men who shows up is young stockbroker Tony Travers (Joel McCrea). He meets Dorothy, who is still passing herself off as Sylvia, in the billiard room in a scene that made me think of A Place in the Sun, especially because the two go out on a canoe to get away from everybody else.

Tony falls in love with her, not realizing that this is actually the rich girl. She wants to make certain that he's in love with her, and not her money, so she keeps up the deception in an attempt to prove it. The problem is what's going to happen when the time comes to reveal the deception. That is, if their relationship can even get to that point since you'd think a guy would notice something not quite kosher was going on.

The Richest Girl in the World has the sort of story that sounds like it would be an interesting screwball comedy or a gentler romantic comedy. Instead, the writers decided to have it be a light drama. That, I think, is the big reason why I found the movie so maddening. The drama and the characterizations really don't work. Especially poorly treated by the script is Hopkins, who has a thankless role as a bit of a jerk. I couldn't understand why she couldn't face the trustees herself, for example, and things spiral downward from there.

The Richest Girl in the World is one of those movies that should have received a DVD release on one of those four-movie TCM-branded box sets that Warner Home Video was putting out, say, in honor of Joel McCrea. Instead, it's a standalone Warner Archive DVD that I personally think is too pricey.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Starch Wreck


Epix has been running some of the first-generation Star Trek movies, and during one of the free preview weekends, I had the chance to record the first, 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so I could rewatch it and do a review here.

The movie starts off with a group of Klingon ships coming up against a cloud-like phenomenon. Like any good spacefaring civilization, they send out probes to try to determine what's in the cloud. The cloud responds by engulfing and destroying the ships. The cloud continues on its merry way, reaching an English-speaking United Federation of Planets space staion Epsilon-9. The same fate befalls the station. Worse for mankind, the cloud is heading straight for Earth, and is going to reach the planet in three days!

The only starship in the area that's close enough to intercept the cloud and figure out what danger the cloud presents and neutralize the threat if possible is the Enterprise. So Starfleet, the Federation's military (and probably Earth's dictatorship although what's really going on with Earth's governance is never mentioned anywhere in the Star Trek canon as far as I'm aware) orders the Enterprise to go intercept the cloud, even though the Enterprise is currently undergoing retrofitting and refurbishing.

Since humans get old, Starfleet had planned for a new crew, and some of them are aboard, such as Capt. Decker (Stephen Collins) and Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta). But Starfleet needs experience too, which means all of the crew from the previous incarnation of the Enterprise that we saw on the TV series show up: Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), now a Commander; Dr. "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley); Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy); and the rest, who don't seem to have gotten much in the way of promotions. (And why you need an old, say, communications officer, is beyond me.)

The Enterprise heads off to intercept the cloud, and sure enough, they face as much danger as all the other ships did. The cloud sends out probes that search the various crew members, eventually killing Lt. Ilia because she's not needed for any sequels. Well, that and the fact that the cloud needs some sort of carbon-based interface to communicate more effectively with the carbon life forms on the Enterprise.

Ilia, now in machine form, lets on that she's from something called V'GER, and that V'GER wants information from the carbon-based forms, specifically from its Creator. The Enterprise would be happy to comply, except that they don't know what sort of information V'GER wants or who (or what) the Creator is. V'GER and the cloud have been destroying anybody who can't help it on its information gathering mission, although you can probably guess that Kirk and Co. ultimately figure out what's going on just in time to save mankind.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the first major entry into the franchise in about a decade following the cancellation of the TV series, so the producers and writers apparently believed there would be people who didn't know enough about the TV series that they needed to reintroduce everybody to the cast. This causes the first half of the movie to move at a fairly glacial pace, and I think is one of the reasons why this first movie gets lower ratings than some of the later movies in the series. Once they get into the action, it's really not a bad movie. There are some flaws, especially in the effects which at times look like bad green-screen and no advancement on what had been seen in the old rear-projection days. (They're not just poor compared to today; I'd call them off at times for 1970s standards. The former I can handle.) One particularly apt example comes when the Enterprise enters a wormhole and it's supposed to be shaking the ship or something.

The story isn't bad; in fact, it feels like it would fit right in with the TV series albeit with production values that are appropriately updated. (Except for fashion, which is badly out of date.) The bad news is that it could easily have fit into an hour episode of the TV series, while the movie with all the recharacterization and whatnot runs three times as long as a TV episode (about 130 minutes with all the credits, while an hour TV show of those days ran about 44 minutes after commercials). So while it's a worthy enough movie, it is a bit long.

Still, I can certainly recommend Star Trek: The Motion Picture, even for people who aren't necessarily fans of any of the incarnations of the TV series. It's available on DVD should you wish to watch for yourself.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Goin' South


Some time back, during one of the free preview weekends, I was able to DVR the comic western Goin' South. I finally got around to watching it recently to do a review here.

Jack Nicholson plays Henry Moon, who at the start of the movie is fleeing south through Texas toward Mexico, with the sheriff (Richard Bradford) leading a bunch of men chasing Moon. Moon crosses the Rio Grande, which means going into Mexico, and thinks he's gotten away. But either that's not the Rio Grande, or the sheriff just doesn't care about jurisdiction and crosses the river to apprehend Moon.

Moon is sentenced to hang, but the town where he's held, Longhorn TX, has an interesting law. This is the era just after the Civil War, and marriageable men are apparently in short supply. So men can avoid the gallows if an unmarried woman in the town offers to marry the condemned man, and the two can stay married. Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen) is just such a woman, and she says she'll marry Moon.

Naturally, she has ulterior motives for marrying Moon, which is that her father had set up a small mine on the land he owned and bequeathed to her, and Julia is convinced that her father was right in his assertion that there is gold on the property. She wants to marry Moon because she needs somebody to dig for gold, not because she loves Moon.

Indeed, the lack of love between the two leads is a source of tension between the two throughout the movie, although things do soften somewhat over the course of the movie. But even when it turns out that Julia's father was correct and there is in fact gold on the property, there's tension over how much each of the two gets.

And that's not the only problem. Looming in the background is the fact that there's a railroad that wants to buy up land for a right-of-way to build a new railroad, and good luck trying to mine on railroad land. (Other farmers are willing to sell largely because there's oil bubbling up that they don't know what it is.) Perhaps more pressing is Moon's past. He wasn't a lone horse thief, but part of a band of outlaws, having served first with Quantrill's raiders (or so he claims) and then, after the Civil War ended, joining up with a gang. They eventually show up, knowing that something must be going on for him not to have been hanged.

I basically only mentioned Nicholson and Steenburgen out of the cast, and that's largely because they're the two who come off best in the movie. If I had to give a reason for that, I think it comes down to Nicholson, who also directed. He seems not to know how to use his actors in the material, with the results being underused (Christopher Lloyd as one of the deputies) to the sort of obnoxious that you want to tell to shut up (John Belushi playing to every stereotype as a Mexican-American sheriff's deputy).

The scenery is nice, having been filmed in Durango like a lot of westerns, and the music is suitably offbeat for a romantic comedy western , but in my mind I don't think these positives were enough to outweigh the negatives from the direction. The movie was a critical and commercial flop on release and I personally can see why. Still, Goin' South has gained in reputation over the last 40 years, so this is definitely another one that you're going to want to watch for yourself.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Parrish


Quite some time back I DVRed Parrish, and put off watching it because I wasn't ready to sit down for another 135-minute potboiler. I finally got around to watching it, however, and since it's available on DVD from the Warner Archive, it's time for a review on it.

Parrish is a young man, last name McLean, played by Troy Donahue. He's the son of widowed Ellen (Claudette Colbert in her final film). They're moving to Connecticut, where Ellen has gotten a job on the tobacco farm run by Sala Post (Dean Jagger). Actually, she's not working on the farm; she's going to be a sort of governess to Sala's wanton daughter Alison (Diane McBain), who is about to return from boarding school and whose mother died when Alison was young.

Putting Parrish in the same house as Alison is a no-go for Sala, so Parrish has to live with one of Sala's managers, Teet Howie (Dub Taylor), who himself has a daughter Parrish's age in the form of Lucy (Connie Stevens). They quickly fall in love, but she's got a secret boyfriend in one of the sons of rival tobacco grower Judd Raike (Karl Malden), who wouldn't be one bit happy with his son seeing a lower-class woman.

Anyhow, Parrish learns about the tobacco business from Sala and Teet, and finds that he's got a bit of a knack for it, even though he knew nothing about growing tobacco when he started. Mom, meanwhile, starts seeing Raike, trying to do it secretly despite the fact that everybody in the valley knows what's going on. Parrish has dalliances with both Alison and Paige (Sharon Hugueny), who is the daughter of Raike.

Eventually, Mom marries Judd Raike, who offers Parrish a job in his tobacco empire, which is ruthless. Judd won't stop at anything to ensure he gets his hands on the tobacco he needs, and by anything I also mean that he's perfectly willing to do illegal things. Parrish still has a lot to learn about the business, and anytime there's something he hasn't learned, his new stepfather gets really pissed, over-the-top jerk that he is. Raike's sons hate Parrish, but their daughter likes him. To make matters worse for Parrish, one of the Raike sons marries Alison!

Parrish decides to join the navy, and after his hitch (and not looking a day older, of course), he decides that he's going to take on Raike by going into business with Sala, who is now retired what with his daughter married off but likes Parrish enough and wants somebody to take on Raike enough that he's willing to let Parrish get what is essentially a zero-interest loan on the use of the land. However, Raike has bought up all the labor. Alison, now realizing she's in a loveless marriage, might be able to help.

It goes on like this, as I said at the beginning, for a good 138 minutes. Or a not-so-good, depending on your opinion. I called it a potboiler, and boy does it boil. Troy Donahue is as good as ever here, which of course means not particularly good but nice for the ladies to look at. Karl Malden is hissably nasty, although it's hard to believe anybody could be that much the stereotype of the evil businessman. Jagger is unsurprisingly quite good, and Colbert does the best she can with the material. None of the young ladies does much to distinguish herself, however. One plus is the nice cinematography and color; much of the filming was done on location in Connecticut.

Parrish is definitely a product of its time, and is I think the sort of movie you really need to be in the right mood to watch.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #301: Numbers in the title, and not part of a series






This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week is another easy theme, movies with a number in the title, that are not part of a series. So no Friday the 13th Part II or whatever. There are still a lot of such movies, especially those with dates and addresses. With that in mind, I thought about doing a theme within a theme, which led me to the following three movies:

Three Men and a Baby (1987). Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, and Ted Danson play three bachelors living together who get stuck with a baby since one of them knocked up a girlfriend and she's left them the baby. This was a remake of a French comedy which one of my high school French teachers showed us in class (subtitled, since we didn't learn that much French!). Technically you can argue that this shouldn't fit the theme since there was a follow-up movie, Three Men and a Little Lady, but I think the theme was supposed to mean not the Roman numerals of a series.

Eleven Men and a Girl (1930). Joe E. Brown plays a college football player (stop laughing) at a struggling college program. He's friends with the dean's daughter (Joan Bennett), so he persuades her to use her sex appeal to bring in a bunch of stars from other colleges (played by actual college football stars of the day, none of whose names I recognize) to join the team and help it win. If you think that's not enough men, you might want to watch...

One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937). Deanna Durbin plays the daughter of an unemployed concert musician (Adolphe Menjou). After running into a wealthy socialite (Alice Brady), she's convinced the socialite will fund her dream of having Leopold Stokowski (playing himself) conduct an orchestra of 100 unemployed musicians. But Brady goes off to Europe leaving no evidence of the offer. Of course, Dubrin has so much talent and charisma that she's able to get Stokowski to conduct the orchestra.

TCM Festival: Home Edition


The 2020 TCM Film Festival out in Hollywood was scheduled for this weekend, starting today. But of course the coronavirus came and lots of people panicked, with politicians getting their ban boners on and regular people acting like Stasi snitches. Lots of events were cancelled, with the Festival being among them.

TCM responded by programming a "Home Edition" of the festival, which begins this evening at 8:00 PM with the 1954 Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born. The Festival is going to have a bunch of movies that were shown at previous festivals, as well as some of the programming that was created at those previous festivals, which mostly means interviews with featured stars, some of whom are no longer with us.

I'm not certain if any of the short interstitial programming that came with the presentations at past festivals will be reused. I specifically remember Tony Curtis in his wheelchair cheerily talking about Some Like It Hot (5:45 PM Friday); whether that piece will run before the movie I don't know. The actual interviews kick off tonight with 100-year-old Luise Rainer from the first Festival (overnight at 1:45 AM), followed by The Good Earth.

There are also a few movies on Sunday programmed because they were supposed to show up at this year's film festival; I don't know what sort of original programming will be done for the intros there. One thing that does look to have original programming will be the Saturday night lineup. Originally this was supposed to be part of a spotlight on movies directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Those two movies were not rescheduled as far as I can tell, but Bogdanovich is returning on Saturday night to present two of the films he presented back in 2010: Casablanca at 8:00 PM and The Magnificent Ambersons at 10:00 PM.

As for pre-empted programming, the salute to New York in the 70s that was scheduled for tonight has been moved to Tuesday, April 28, so we eventually do get all five nights of that.

It's too bad TCM couldn't run a night of plague movies like Panic in the Streets and The Killer That Stalked New York.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Secrets of the French Police


I didn't mean to blog about another Gregory Ratoff movie today after having mentioned one of his appearances yesterday, but it turned out that Secrets of the French Police was next up among the movies I recently watched.

The star here, if you will, is actually Gwili Andre, one of those Europeans (Danish, in her case) who was brought over in the early sound era to be a studio's new exotic star, although in her case it didn't quite work out. She plays Eugenie, a flower-seller in Paris, although we only see her after an introductory scene. A French policeman has been killed, but his funeral is secret because of the work he was doing investigating an organization of some sort.

Investigating this murder is François St. Cyr (a surprising Frank Morgan), and suspicion is going to fall on Hans Moloff (Gregory Ratoff), but more on him in a bit. Leon Renault (John Warburton) is a pickpocket who is in love with Eugenie, although her father doesn't like the idea because, well, who would want their daughter to marry a criminal. Of course, Dad isn't actually her real dad but her adoptive father, as Eugenie was a war orphan from Russia in the previous war.

This brings her under Moloff's eye. He's decided he's going to scam the remains of the Romanov family out of the wealth that they had been able to get out of Russia before the Bolshevik revolution. So Moloff kidnaps Eugenie and hypnotizes her into believing she's the Grand Duchess Anastasia. The police can't investigate openly, so St. Cyr asks Leon if Leon would be willing to break into Moloff's house in order to find out what's going on; apparently Leon is as good a cat burglar as he is a pickpocket.

Secrets of the French Police is an odd little movie, because there's a lot going on here in a very short (58 minutes) movie, so a lot is left either relatively unresolved or unsatisfactorily resolved. The movie isn't helped by the fact that Andre wasn't much of an actress, although in her defense she spends most of the movie in a Trilby-like trance.

But there's also a lot interesting in the movie, with the mansion sets and Frank Morgan not playing rascally but straight. And the story apart from the stereotyped hypnosis angle certainly has some fun aspects to it. Just don't expect anything particularly great.

Warner Home Video released this one to DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood collection, on Vol. 10. By this time, they were running out of famous pre-Codes to pacakage together, as you can see by the titles in this volume.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The gamble of size


A movie that recently showed up in the FXM rotation is one that was completely new to me: The Big Gamble. It's going to be on again tomorrow, at 3:00 AM and 1:15 PM.

The first thing we see is that, sadly, the movie is panned and scanned. Then we see that this is a film from Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, for distribution by Fox, having been made during the time that the Taylor/Burton Cleopatra was being made back in the States.

The background under the credits is the docks of Dublin, Ireland, and into the scene comes one Vic Brennan (Stephen Boyd), who is with his bride Marie (Juliette Greco) in order to meet his family again for the first time in years. In that interim, Vic spent his life in the merchant marine sailing the seas, which is why he has a Corsican wife and not a good Irish lass.

Anyhow, his family knows that if he wants to see all of them it can only mean one thing: one family member is asking the others for money. Indeed, Vic learned of an interesting business proposal from one of the friends he made on one of the ships of which he was a crew member. Africa is being decolonized (the movie was released in 1961, just after the great wave of decolonization in 1960), and there's going to be a need for goods transport. Vic thinks he can make a killing driving a truck in Côte d'Ivoire. But there's one catch: he doesn't have a truck, and needs £4,000 capital to buy one.

The rest of the family is understandably skeptical, and you get the impression that the family has had a lot of bitter internal squabbles in the past and dislike Vic in part for getting away from the family. At least Aunt Cathleen (Dame Sybil Thorndike in a more or less cameo role) likes Marie, so she might be able to get the other family members to agree to fund Vic's idea.

Eventually, they do in fact agree, but under one condition. They want to make certain their investment doesn't just disappear a continent away, so they plan to send Vic's cousin Sam (David Wayne) along as a business partner to make certain there's no funny business. Sam is the one member of the family other than Vic who has any business sense, but unlike Vic he doesn't have the initiative and is definitely unsuited for going off to Africa. But go off he does.

At this point, the action shifts to Africa and we get all the tropes you can expect in a Hollywood (or at least in this case, a Hollywood man basing himself in Europe) movie. Sam drops the briefcase with the import documents into the ocean, making it a question of whether the truck will be released from its impoundment at all. But it does, and the three set off with a couple hundred cases of beer for the town of Jubenda in the north.

You'd think these brilliant people would have a compass with them, and maybe even a sextant to determine latitude or something. But they don't. And the roads are bad, since there's almost nothing paved. (I'm amazed they didn't run out of gas). At least on the occasion they reach a big tree blocking the road they run into a group of happy natives willing to help move the tree for a price. There's also another expat (Gregory Ratoff) who turns out to be a thief, and so on.

The Big Gamble isn't exactly a bad movie, but it's also not particularly good. It's the sort of story we've seen before, told in a very pedestrian manner. There are also all of those tropes about the locals in a distant land (Africa in this case, although a fair number of other movies have India for this), and the colonial administration (former, I think; the movie doesn't explicitly state when it was set). Being panned and scanned also takes away the best thing the movie would have going for it, which is the scenery that would probably look quite nice in wide screen as it was intended.

The TCM shop claims that The Big Gamble did get a DVD release courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, but that the DVD is now on backorder (I don't know exactly what happened to their MOD scheme after Disney took over parts of Fox). So you'll have to catch the FXM showings.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Something to Sing About


Another of the movies that I recently watched off the DVR was Something to Sing About. It's available on DVD, so now's the time to do the review on it.

James Cagney plays Terry Rooney, a bandleader in New York who is in love with the band's singer, Rita Wyatt (James Cagney). He's become well-known enough that Hollywood wants to bring him out to do a movie, an offer he's accepted.

He's met at the train station in Los Angeles by studio PR man Hank Meyers (William Frawley), who brings him to the studio to meet the big boss Regan (Gene Lockhart). Regan's underlings in the make-up, costume, and dialogue departments think Terry is going to fail because he doesn't have the look or sound of a Hollywood star, but Regan puts him into a movie anyway, opposite the studio's foreign discovery, Steffie Hajos (Mona Barrie).

Regan realizes that the camera loves Terry and that Terry is going to be a big hit, which is unsurprising considering James Cagney's screen charisma. But the last would-be star Regan brought in let the potential of success go to his head, so Regan doesn't want anybody to tell Terry just how good he's going to be. Of course, this is going to leave Terry disillusioned and thinking he's beeen a failure in Hollywood.

If only he had waited for the movie to premiere before skipping town all would have been well. But he left right after production wrapped because he wanted to marry Rita. The two flee to San Francisco to get married and then take off on a South Seas cruise for their honeymoon, while Regan goes nuts looking for Terry when the previews of the movie predictably make a success out of Terry at least if he shows up again.

Terry does return, and the studio wants to sign a contract, but there's a catch. The studio wants to market Terry as a romantic lead, but fear that the female audience won't be as accepting of this if they know that Terry is married, so Regan has a clause in the contract barring Terry from getting married, not knowing that Terry is in fact already married. They eventually agree that Rita will play the part of Terry's personal secretary, living in an outbuilding at Terry's Hollywood escape.

But it's not that simple. The studio decides to market Terry and Steffie as a romantic couple like Powell and Loy or some such. You can guess what's going to happen next, which is that Rita gets uncomfortable with Terry's obligations with Steffie, while Steffie, not knowing that Terry is already married, tries to make things more serious. It threatens to screw up everything.

Something to Sing About is a movie that's interesting for a whole bunch of reasons, even if it isn't exactly great. There's another backstage look at Hollywood, this one bringing up echoes of the later Singin' in the Rain what with the the romantic triangle, as well as the dialogue coach scene.

Also really interesting was the character of Ito, played by Philip Ahn. Ito is given a job as Terry's dresser, and is made to be the stereotypical Asian manservant you'd see in Hollywood movies of the era. But it's revealed that Ito came to Hollywood to be a star, and never made it (unmentioned, but obviously because Hollywood wouldn't have known what to do with an Asian lead at that time). Ito, in fact, speaks better than everybody else and only does the accented shtick because a previous boss explicitly asked for it! I was very surprised that a Hollywood movie of the era would have such a sympathetic portrayal of an Asian man.

But, as I said, there are also problems with the movie. One of the problems is also one of the things that makes the movie interesting. Cagney had left Warner Bros. to try to get better roles, and made Something to Sing About and one other movie at upstart Grand National Pictures. The movie looks as though it's made at a mid-range studio; it's frankly the sort of thing that MGM would have handled well and would have been right up their alley.

The movie has other problems. One is that the story is really rather pedestrian, and we can figure what's going to happen a mile away. There's also the casting of Evelyn Daw as the singer. She's got a Jeanette MacDonald voice, which may not be to everybody's liking and is also absolutely not the right type of voice for the songs in the movie. She does fine in the acting part of her role, but every time they have a musical number it really drags the movie down.

Still, Something to Sing About is definitely worth one watch thanks to James Cagney's presence.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Outlaw and His Wife


Back at the beginning of the year, one of TCM's Silent Sunday Nights selections was the Swedish film The Outlaw and His Wife. It's in the public domain, so recently, I sat down to watch it and do a review here.

The setting is a rural part of Iceland in the 18th century, being based on an Icelandic legend. Kári (Victor Sjöström) shows up at the farm of Halla (Edith Erastoff), a widow who relies on itinerant labor to help run the farm. There's a question about his past, but he's strong and able to do the work, which gets him hired on. As for Halla, she's being pursued by Björn (Nils Aréhn), who is the widow's brother-in-law and the local bailiff. She's not getting any younger, and could use a man to run the farm full time.

But Halla is falling in love with Kári, which enrages Björn, partly because he's a laborer and partly because of the rumors that he's really Ejvind, a notorious outlaw who escaped a prison sentence and fled to the rural areas. Not that Halla cares, and in any case even if Kári is Ejvind, he does seem to be trying to go straight.

But the bailiff is able to find somebody who's going to be able to tell whether or not Kári is in fact Ejvind, which could mean Kári would have to go back to jail. So Kári reveals to Halla that he is in fact Ejvind, and that they should escape to the forbidding highlands which make up much of Iceland and which are unpopulated even today as you can tell if you look at a map. Apparently it was common for outlaws in those days to flee to the highlands and try to make a living off the land, hunting and fishing.

Kári and Halla are able to make a go of it for several years, even bringing up a baby. But then Kári's old friend Arnes (John Ekman) appears. He falls in love with Halla, which threatens to bring tragedy, although Arnes does come to his senses. A bigger problem comes when outside civilization shows up in the form of footprints, meaning somebody who can recognize Ejvind....

The Outlaw and His Wife is about as beautiful a movie as you can get for something that was filmed in 1917 considering the limitations of the era and the difficulty filming in the middle of nowhere. Iceland wasn't used; instead, locations in northern Sweden close to the border with Norway filled in since there's a mountain range along the border.

As for the story, it's easy enough to follow, even I think for people not used to silent movies; the acting is typical of the era. The movie is definitely more than worth a watch.

The Outlaw and His Wife doesn't seem to be on DVD, but since it was released in 1918 it's in the public domain and there are several prints available on Youtube. The print TCM ran was about 72 minutes, while some of the Youtube prints run 81; I'm not certain whether that's because of frame rate differences or what.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Detouring America


What with my plan being to post about Easter offerings early today, I decided that I wanted to watch a short for a second post today actually reviewing a movie. So I put in the DVD of Each Dawn I Die, and from the "Warner Night at the Movies" selections I watched the cartoon Detouring America.

This one is a spoof on the Traveltalks and other travelogue shorts that the studios were cranking out in the 1930s, and starts with a humorous disclaimer based on the disclaimer in regular movies:



After that, there's a running gag about a "human fly" climbing the Empire State Building Safety Last! style, with sight-gag visits to various states. Some of the gags are predictable, such as one with logs being floated down a river; when you see there's a second river crossing it, you can guess what happens. Others are more interesting, like the literally rolling hills, or the cliff-dwelling Indians who walk down the cliffs on two feet, perpendicular to the vertical cliffs and parallel to the ground.

On the DVD, there's a disclaimer before the start of the short about the racial stereotypes of the time. I'm assuming that the biggest problem the folks at Warner Home Video would have is with this scene:



Sure, the black guy has very exaggerated features, and his singing "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" (the Eskimo literally carries him back, as though Alaska and Virginia share a border). But this being a cartoon, every human is a caricature, including the white guys:



There are better shorts out there, to be sure, but considering this is an extra on a regular DVD, and it's only eight minutes, you won't really go wrong watching it.

Ooh, it's Easter time again!


Tomorrow is Easter, at least in western Christianity, and unsurprisingly TCM is spending a day with several Easter-themed movies. Actually, it's only six of them, because of the interruption from Noir Alley at 10:00 AM and because some of the movies are those obscenely long biblical epics:

We start at 5:00 AM with The Silver Chalice, which nearly sank Paul Newman's career until he got a second chance with Somebody Up There Likes Me;
At 7:30 AM there's Barabbas, starring Anthony Quinn as the thief whose place on the cross was taken by Jesus when Pontius Pilate gave the Jews a chance to save one condemned man; the movie goes on to speculate what Barabbas' future life might have been like.
After Noir Alley, at noon is the 1959 version of Ben-Hur, in widescreen so that Sydney Pollack doesn't get the heebie-jeebies.
Max von Sydow dies last month, and one of his big roles was as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Now that it's Easter, we unsurprisingly get that one, at 4:00 PM.
For something not exactly religious, you can watch Easter Parade at 8:00 PM.
Finally, at 10:00 PM, there's the 1961 version of King of Kings, a movie I'll always remember for the "Word of Mouth" piece screenwriter Philip Yordan did on it.

Somewhat surprisingly, FXM is also getting into the Easter spirit this year. Of course, in their case, it's rather less imaginative, being four consecutive airings of The Robe, starting at 6:00 AM with each subsequent showing 2:15 apart, until 3:00 PM. Still, at least somebody is thinking over there.

Friday, April 10, 2020

For some values of "road" and "happy"


Another of my recent movie watches was the slightly odd in terms of provenance movie The Happy Road. It's another of those movies available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so now you get a review here.

Bobby Clark plays Danny, a young American who's at a boarding school in Switzerland not far from the French border. One night, he climbs out the window of his dorm room in order to escape! He's got a plan, but unfortunately he didn't realize that his plans were going to get screwed up by a girl. Janine Duval (Brigitte) Fossey is a fellow student at the school, and decides she's got a good reason to run away as well, so she eventually badgers him into letting her accompany him on what is intended to be a voyage to Paris.

That's because Bobby's father, ugly American businessman (and widower) Mike Andrews (Gene Kelly), lives there, and Bobby wants to show his father that he's independent and able to take care of himself, something he can show if, well, he can get from Switzerland to Paris alone. As for Janine, she's got a divorced mother Suzanne (Barbara Laage) she wants to get back to.

The disappearance of the two students is duly noted at the school, which contacts both single parents, who make a beeline for the school. They don't like each other because of the culture clash, with Mike not being able to handle the French laid-back attitude towards life and Suzanne finding Mike the ugly American (and to be fair, he is brash and can't be bothered to try to fit into French culture). They set out together on a search for their children, which involves meeting a whole bunch of other people along the way.

The kids, for their part, are mildly resourceful, at least Danny. But they're also helped out by a bunch of other kids as well as a kindly deaf-mute forester. You can probably guess that this one is going to have a happy ending and that the two parents are going to wind up liking each other in spite of their differences.

This one is slightly odd in that Kelly made it in France, at the end of his contract with MGM. He produced and directed, and there being no musical numbers here, his direction is nowhere near as inspired as it was when he was working with Stanley Donen. (Whether or not that says anything about Kelly's direction is up to the reader to determine.) The story is pleasant enough although I found it cringe-inducing at the points where it missed more than it hit. A bicycle race at the climax of the movie was the big miss, although there were also times where I wanted Danny to smack Janine the same way Jimmy Stewart treats Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much when she loses her wits.

Overall, The Happy Road is a movie that will probably appeal to families looking for a wholesome movie, although I'd also argue that there are better movies in that genre out there.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #300: Movies About Animals






This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time, the theme is "Movies about animals". Now, I figure you could go one of two ways with this. One obvious way is movies along the lines of the Lassie movies, with a heroic main character animal. But I decided I'd go in a different direction, and actually picked four movies instead of just three:

Them! (1954). Nuclear testing in the US southwest has created a breed of giant ants, which being that big have enough venom to bite people to death. (In reality, insects have a size limit preventing them from getting this big as the exoskeleton would crush them to death.) Scientist Edmund Gwenn is brough in to investigate at the urging of James Whitmore and James Arness, and when he waves a glass of formic acid under a little girl survivor's nose, he knows what he's up against. Can he stop the ants before a new colony hatches in Los Angeles?

Tarantula (1955). Leo G. Carroll plays a scientist working on nutrients to feed the world's growing population. One experiment creates a giant tarantula, and in an accident at the laboratory, the tarantula escapes to wreak havoc on an isolated region of the US southwest.



Night of the Lepus (1972). Feral rabbits are a pest wherever they've been introduced and bred like, well, rabbits, and the US southwest is no exception. Scientists Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh are brought in to come up with something that will make future generations sterile, but the experiment goes awry and their idiot daughter releases a rabbit that causes the bunnies to grow large and deadly. Hilariously bad special effects make this one a classic.

Tentacles (1977). Henry Fonda's company is constructing an undersea tunnel, and journalist John Huston thinks that's responsible for causing some sort of freak of nature that's killing people in the ocean off of southern California. It turns out that that something is a giant octopus, so everybody get out of the water. Shelley Winters plays Huston's wife, and gets one of the classic scenes in the movie. Her kid and the kid's friend are about to take part in a junior regatta (nobody realizing the octopus is going to attack the boats), and Winters, who was quite ample by this point in her career, says she wishes she could be on the sailboat with the kids taking part in the regatta. To this, the friend of her son replies, "Then we'd need a tornado to move the boat!" LOL!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Colorado Territory


I briefly mentioned Colorado Territory back in 2015 when it was airing on TCM in honor of the birthday salute to one of its stars, Virginia Mayo. It ran again last December as part of TCM's spotlight on remakes. I recently got around to watching it, so now we get a review.

While Mayo may be the female lead, the real star is Joel McCrea, playing Wes McQueen. At the start of the movie he's in prison in Missouri in 1871, but he's sprung by friends. The first thing he does is go to the farm where his old flame lived, but he finds that she died while he was in prison. So he goes west, out to Colorado where his old friend Rickard (Basil Ruysdael) has a job for him.

Along the way to Colorado, however, on the stagecoach he meets the Winslows, father Fred (Henry Hull) and daughter Julie (Dorothy Malone), whom Dad is bringing west because they're of too low a social class to marry her beau, and he wants to start a farm. Wes takes a liking to the two of them, and even thwarts a would-be gang of robbers from taking the coach's money box. The Winslows don't know Wes' true identity.

About that job that Rickard had for Wes? It's a criminal matter, of course, involving the robbery of a payroll from the Denver and Rio Grande railroad. While preparing for the robbery, he is to hide out at an abandoned mission, where he's going to meet the two other guys in the robbery, Reno and Duke (John Archer and James Mitchell, respectively). They're bad news, as should be seen by the fact that they've brought a woman with them to the hideout, Colorado Carson (that's Virginia Mayo). They treat her like crap, and fight amongst themselves, so it's unsurprising that Colorado takes a liking to Wes and eschews the other two guys.

The day of the robbery arrives, and it doesn't go off without a hitch. Reno and Duke try to double-cross Wes, even sicking the railroad police on Wes and Colorado; they get away although Wes gets shot in the shoulder during the escape. But there's a Production Code, so you know that Wes isn't really going to be able to get away. (Not that Reno and Duke do; we see their legs dangling after their necks have been stretched.)

Colorado Territory is a remake of High Sierra, and if there's a problem with the movie, I think it's surprisingly in the casting of Joel McCrea. Humphrey Bogart is tough enough to play the part where, while still engendering a bit of sympathy, we know he deserves to die as the Production Code warrants. This is especially true because Bogart had been mostly playing bad guys at the time he made High Sierra; it was only that same year starting with The Maltese Falcon that he really began to play good guys. McCrea comes across as too nice, not having the hardened edges that Bogart's reputation brought. I think the writing doesn't quite help McCrea; nor does his reputation up until that time which involved a lot more good guys.

That doesn't mean that Colorado Territory is at all bad, however. It's a serviceable western, and a solid retelling of High Sierra moved out to the old west. It's more that the movie could have been so much better. Colorado Territory is available on DVD from the Warner Archive should you care to watch for yourself.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Narcissus of Color


I had Black Narcissus on my DVR for a while, it being one of those movies that the critics all think everybody should watch. So finally I watched it to do a review here.

The movie is set in India, presumably in the late 1930s since that's when the book on which it's based was published. In Calcutta, there's an order of Anglican nuns known as the Order of the Servants of Mary. They run a school as their missionary work, and the Reverend Mother has a mission for Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr). Apparently there's an old palace up in the Himalayas that the order thinks would be perfect for starting a remote mission, and Clodagh is the perfect one to run it as the Sister Superior.

Sister Clodagh takes four nuns with her, and they go to meet Mr. Dean (David Farrar), the agent for the palace's owner, an old general (Esmond Knight). It's difficult to get to the palace, it being high on a cliff above the village in the valley below, and it's going to be a hard life for the nuns. A group of monks tried to make a go of the place some time back, and they left after a whopping five months. As in the old Lillian Gish movie, the wind is supposedly going to drive everyone crazy.

Still, Clodagh goes up to the palace with confidence, leading the other four nuns: Sister Briony (Judith Furst) is going to run the infirmary; Sister Honey (Judith Furse) for morale and teaching the making of lace to the local girls); Sister Philippa for gardening; and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), partly as a teacher and partly because the Reverend Mother thinks getting the already unstable Ruth away from Calcutta will be a good thing for Ruth.

Along the way, the nuns deal with the old caretaker Angu Ayah, and take custody of a young woman Kanchi (Jean Simmons). As Mr. Dean predicted, the location has a somewhat adverse effect on all of the nuns. Clodagh seems the most stable, but she starts remembering an old relationship back in her native Ireland that led her to join the order, one she hadn't thought about in ages. Ruth goes further nuts. Briony tries to help a sick baby, but the baby is beyond saving. So when she gives the baby medicine that's really harmless castor oil, the baby still dies and the locals in the valley below think the nuns caused the death.

Ruth decides she's going to leave the order and marry Mr. Dean, although he has no desire to marry her, and this finally pushes Ruth over the edge, literally and figuratively.

Black Narcissus is a beautiful movie to look at, which is a good thing because it's not exactly beautiful to think about. This is partly because of the dark story line, and partly because as with Camille, it feels as though there's a whole lot of nothing going on. The stunning visuals, however, make up for this to an extent, helped by the cinematography of Jack Cardiff and some extremely impressive matte paintings.

So, I can recommend Black Narcissus if you know going in that it's psychological and less on plot. It's available on a pricey Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Honor Blackman, 1925-2020



Honor Blackman (r.) and Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964)

Honor Blackman, who had a long career in film and TV but will probably be best remembered for playing Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger, has died at the age of 94.

In looking through her filmography, I see that she was in Conspirator, Elizabeth Taylor's first real adult role, which I had forgotten about. There's also Quartet, the first of the anthology movies based on the work of Somerset Maugham; A Night to Remember, about the night the Titanic hit the iceberg; and Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion masterpiece Jason and the Argonauts, among others.

Blackman also did a lot of TV work, most notably in the early seasons of The Avengers, although a lot of that work was in British TV and I don't know how much of that made it to this side of the Atlantic since I don't recognize it.

TCM Star of the Month April 2020: Jane Russell



Jane Russell in The Outlaw, tonight at 8:00 PM

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month. This time out it's Jane Russell, and her movies are going to be airing every Monday in prime time. The salute starts off with her debut in The Outlaw, racily bringing Russell and her ample assets to the screen. Russell plays the girlfriend of Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) becoming the girlfriend of Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel), and it's a bit of a mess, since Howard Hughes was using the movie to promote his new discoveries.



I was mildly surprised to see that I didn't have much in the way of Russell pictures to illustrate this post with. One was a lobby card for The French Line (midnight April 21, or late evening April 20 in more westerly time zones), which is undemanding fun but nothing special. That's followed by what I think may be the TCM premiere of The Revolt of Mamie Stover, which I blogged about years ago back when it aired on FXM.

Of course, considering when I was born, the first I learned of Russell and her bustline was when she was hawking the Playtex Cross-Your-Heart Bra:

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Earth Girls Are Easy


Some months back, I mentioned picking up a DVD box set of cheap horror movies, having watched Blood Diner off of it. I had really picked up the set for what's almost certainly the best-known movie in the set, Earth Girls Are Easy, and recently watched that one.

A prologue has three aliens with colorful hair -- one blue, one yellow, and one red -- in a spaceship somewhere in outer space. They complain about not having had love, what with being out in space and all that. But they pick up some TV broadcasts from Earth that have women doing aerobics and other stuff. These women are shapely, and just as interesting to the aliens, relatively hairless. They locate the source of the broadcasts, and set out.

On Earth, Valerie (Geena Davis) is a manicurist at a salon in the Los Angeles suburbs where she works with Candy Pink (Julie Brown). She's engaged to Dr. Ted (Charles Rocket), but their sex life needs some spicing up, she thinks. So she decides she's going to do that spicing by not going to the convention she said she'd be attending, but instead surprising Ted when he gets home from work. What she doesn't realize is that he's been doing some spicing up of his own by seeing another woman. When she does find out, she kicks Ted out.

Thankfully, she's about to get some more spice in her life. Those aliens crash-land in her swimming pool (apparently the aliens have technology that makes the spaceship much bigger on the inside than the outside). The three aliens are blue Mac (Jeff Goldblum), yellow Zeebo (Jim Carrey) and red Wiploc (Damon Wayans). Both sides have the understandable apprehension about meeting their first live humanoid of another species. But the aliens, being intelligent enough to get to Earth, are also smart enough that they pick up the langauge relatively quickly through television. (Of course, they can't pick up everything that quickly, which will lead to the film's many humorous situations.)

Valerie realizes that Ted will probably sic the authorities on the three aliens if he meets them, so she takes them to the salon, where she has Candy do a makeover on them, revealing their very human-looking forms, and humorously turning Zeebo into a surfer dude. She then takes them out for a night on the town, where all the women love them even if they do cause a bit of havoc. Along the way, Valerie and Mac find themselves falling in love with each other, which is a problem in that Valerie is still engaged while Mac is going to have to go back to his home world.

Earth Girls is a really fun movie, largely because it knows that it's just silly little entertainment and doesn't take itself seriously, mostly being in on the joke. It's also a great time capsule of the late 1980s, at least as southern California likely saw itself. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the performances other than to see a very young Jim Carrey; it's the comic material that raises everything. The movie effortlessly bounces from one comic scene to the next, with a couple of musical numbers thrown in that don't even really take away from the proceedings the way they do in a lot of musical movies.

If you want a fun, quirky little comedy that won't tax your brain but leave you smiling, I can absolutely recommend Earth Girls Are Easy.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Lady of the Camellias


Where yesterday's selection Our Time showed a young, naïve love, today's selection shows a rather more craven kind of love: the 1936 version of Camille.

Greta Garbo plays the lady of the camellias, named not Camille but Marguerite. She lives in the Paris of 1847 (just before the revolution of 1848 that brought Napoleon III to power but which isn't mentioned here; I couldn't do a good enough calculation of how long the events in the movie are spaced out to determine when it ended), where women of her sort woo wealthy men. Her matchmaker -- to use a polite term -- Prudence (Laura Hope Crews) is taking her to a theater where it's hoped she'll meet the wealthy Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell).

Unfortunately, she mistakes another man, Armand Duval (Robert Taylor), for de Varville. The two like each other, but he's only a diplomat's son and so of just moderate wealth. Armand falls in love with Marguerite, but he's not going to be able to support her in the manner to which she is accustomed.

The Baron, of course, could, but he's not going to marry her, especially when he knows what kind of woman she really is. In addition to being in love with another man, she's also a spendthrift, constantly owing money because she wants to spend on herself and even more so help others when possible. Armand's father (Lionel Barrymore) knows that Marguerite is financial bad news for Armand, but when he meets Marguerite he realizes that the two are in real, if doomed, love.

That doom isn't just because of Marguerite's profligate ways, but also because she has consumption, which in those days mean an early death, especially if Marguerite is living it up as she is. Armand and the Baron come in and out of Marguerite's life, until the three legs of the love triangle all meet at the opening of a new gambling club in Paris. Armand wins the money to pay Marguerite's debts off of the Baron in a game of baccarat, but it leads to a duel between Armand and the Baron which ultimately forces Armand to leave France. Will he be able to return before the consumption takes Marguerite?

Well, you can probably guess that the answer to that last question is yes, but that Armand sure won't be able to save Marguerite. Camille is the sort of movie that MGM was really good at making during Irving Thalberg's lifetime. It's got excellent production values, and a story and performances that I'm sure audiences of the 1930s loved.

However, watching it 80-plus years later, I realize that it's not exactly my cup of tea, as I felt like a whole lot of nothing was happening. Still, it's easy to see the quality of the movie, so I have no qualms about recommending it for people who know what they're getting into. The movie is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, should you wish to watch for yourself.