Friday, July 31, 2020

Briefs for July 31-August 1, 2020


Tomorrow is August 1, which means the start of TCM's annual Summer Under the Stars. As always, each day means 24 hours (well, minus the intros/outros and the space between the movies) of the movies of one star, with a different star each day. For the first day of the month, we get the films of Barbara Stanwyck. Looking through the schedule, I see that TCM is running The Moonlighter at 12:30 PM. I had recorded that as part of a different programming them, but haven't gotten around to watching it and didn't notice it was on the schedule until it was too late to watch it in time to do a post here.

Note as always that with Summer Under the Stars, the programming blocks like Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Underground, as well as the Saturday matinee, are on hiatus until September. The Essentials keeps chuggnig along, with this week's being Ball of Fire.

I didn't notice until a couple of days ago, but Ruthie Thompson, a Disney animator (well, inker and later supervisor) on a bunch of the classic-era Disney films, became a supercentenarian a little over a week ago as she turned 110. I like her comment of "I don't want to be revered for how old I am, I want to be known for who I am," since most people who get to be 110 are only known for having lived that long. (One other notable exception is Frederica Sagor Maas, a screenwriter who wrote in the silent era, and died in 2012 at the age of 111.)

As for deaths, I see that British director Sir Alan Parker has died at the age of 76. You might not recognize the name -- I have to admit that I didn't remember it until I saw the films. But among his movies are Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning, and Bugsy Malone.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

At Eternity's Gate


One of the movies I DVRed during one of the free previews in the spring is At Eternity's Gate. It's going to be on TMC Xtra tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, as well as a couple of times next week, if you have the Showtime/TMC package.

Willem Dafoe plays artist Vincent van Gogh, who at the start of the movie is at some sort of meeting of a bunch of starving artists who want to start a collective. Van Gogh is there with his friend Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), a fellow artist who of course would also go on to become famous, and has his own radical ideas of what constitutes art; ideas that are different from van Gogh's which are also radical, just not in the same way.

Vincent isn't a successful artist, at least not in the present; he doesn't sell his paintings but gives them to his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) to try to see; Theo, for his part, supports Vincent as best he can, with Vincent clearly needing some sort of help as his inability to relate to the real world results in something that may or may not be insanity.

Van Gogh winds up in Arles in the south of France, which is where teh bulk of the movie is set, and where van Gogh painted the bulk of his work. He painted extremely rapidly, creating several hundred paintings and a series of sketches in the two years of his life in Arles and a nearby asylum, ultimately dying in the suburbs of Paris not far from where Theo lived.

Those are the more or less well-known public events of van Gogh's life (well, I haven't mentioned the cutting off of his ear yet). Any movie can portray those; indeed, Lust for Life did that extremely well with Kirk Douglas as the doomed artist. At Eternity's Gate takes a different tack, trying to get inside van Gogh's mind and positing what the artist might have been thinking during those last two years.

Dafoe's van Gogh is a man who seems to live more for his art than for anything else in the world, not thinking about how he would support himself, or even what other people think. His attempts to get other people to pose for his painting are presented as crude, as though he had no social graces; this is also suggested as leading to the falling out with Gauguin to which van Gogh responded by cutting off his ear.

As a filmmaking technique, it's not always easy to follow. The movie is also not helped by some of the dialog being in French and a lot in English. (Not that I have a problem with subtitles; it's more that I didn't see any real artistic reason for having the movie in two languages.)

On the other hand, much of the movie is intended to be watched for the visuals as opposed to a linear storyline. In that regard the movie absolutely works. Dafoe, despite being much too old for the part (he was 62 at the time he made the movie while van Gogh died at 37), gives a very good performance trying to get inside the mind of a man who definitely had some sort of mental problem.

At Eternity's Gate is the sort of movie that isn't going to be for everybody. But it deserves to be watched, especially in conjunction with Lust for Life such that one can see two completely different techniques for telling mostly the same story. If you don't have any of the premium cable packages, At Eternity's Gate is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Thursday Movie Picks #316: TV Shows Based on Movies






This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. As it's the last Thursday of the month, we once again get a TV edition, and this month the theme is TV shows based on movies. Well, officially it's TV series based on movies, but I'm cheating with my third pick, as you'll see.



The Farmer's Daughter (1963-1966). Based on the 1947 movie, tragic Inger Stevens plays the daughter of a Swedish immigrant farmer who is placed as a housekeeper for a widowed US Representative (William Windom) with two sons. The two fall in love and eventually marry at the start of the final season.



The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968-1970). Based on the 1947 movie, Hope Lange plays Mrs. Muir, a widow who takes a seaside cottage to live in with her two children. That house is haunted by the Ghost (Edward Mulhare). Charles Nelson Reilly, before becoming a mainstay on Match Game is in the supporting cast.



The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978). Based on the 1977 movie, well, just sit back and watch.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Unfaithfully Yours (1948)


Another of the movies that has recently shown up in the FXM rotation is the 1948 version of Unfaithfully Yours. It's going to be on again tomorrow afternoon at 1:10 PM, and then again Friday at 8:55 AM.

Rex Harrison plays Sir Alfred De Carter, a prominent British conductor who is returning to America after a tour abroad. He married an American woman, Daphne (Linda Darnell); Daphne has a sister Barbara (Barbara Lawrence) who married industrialist August (Rudy Vallee). Alfred has always had a bit of contempt for August because he thinks August's family makes a product not really suitable for talking about in polite society.

Anyhow, while Alfred was away, he wanted August to look after Daphne and just see that she wasn't having any problems. August took it more seriously, however. He had to go down to Florida to visit his sick mother; since he wasn't able to check in on Daphne, he hired a private investigator to tail Daphne and see that nothing happened. The detective has a repot for Alfred, but he's so enraged he couldn't be bothered to believe it.

That is, until he hears a report from the hotel detective of the apartment hotel the De Carters stay in. Apparently, Daphne was up in the rooms of Tony (Kurt Krueger) one night. Tony just happens to be Sir Alfred's personal assistant, but when he gets that news, he starts to think that perhaps Daphne and Tony are having an affair.

Still, Alfred has a concert to conduct. But while he's conducting, his mind wanters to his perhaps unfaithful wife, and how he's going to deal with her. Conducting three different pieces of music, Alfred concocts three revenge scenarios in his mind. And then the concert ends, and Alfred decides he's actually going to put one of those plans into motion....

Preston Sturges directed, and he was known for his outrageous comedies -- you'll recall that Vallee had already appeared in Sturges' The Palm Beach Story. However, Unfaithfully Yours doesn't quite reach the heights some of his earlier comedies did. I wonder how much his drinking was taking its toll, but another problem is the presence of Rex Harrison, who I felt was badly miscast. This sort of comedy really needs somebody like a Terry-Thomas, although he was a good ten years away from becoming a big enough name to get a role like this. Maybe Alec Guinness, who was at the beginning of his career. But Harrison just seemed wrong for the role.

Still, classical music fans may enjoy this one, and I'm sure there are fans of some of the stars who will like it too. After all, the movie's critical reputation has risen over the past 70 years. Fox remade it in the mid 80s, also with the title Unfaithfully Yours and starring Dudley Moore as the husband. The Harrison version got a Criterion release and is also available from Amazon Prime video; the Moore version is out of print and not on streaming video as far as I'm aware.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Who's afraid of making a good movie?


Earlier this morning, against Stakeout, TCM ran Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I had recorded it when it ran during 31 Days of Oscar, and watched it over the weekend not realizing it was on today. At any rate you can get it on DVD and Blu-ray, so you get a post on it anyway.

Richard Burton plays George, an assistant professor of history at one of those small New England colleges that dot the movie landscape. He's married to Martha (Elizabeth Burton), who happens to be the daughter of the college president, as we later learn. George hasn't advanced beyond assistant professor, and Martha doesn't let him forget that, or that he likely got the job because of her father.

Neither of them lets the other forget a lot of things, since they're constantly bickering. First on their way home from some university function, then in their kitchen, and even once some guests pop in.

Nick (George Segal) is a young biology professor at the school, married to Honey (Sandy Dennis), who is pregnant, a topic that winds up being a sore point between George and Martha. But then again, there are a lot of sore points between the two.

I said before that George and Martha keep up the bickering even when the guests show up, and boy do they do that. It gets worse and worse, to the point where if I had been in Nick's shoes, I would have gotten up and left. Not only do Nick and Honey not do that; they get in the car with George and Martha to go to a roadhouse for more drinks, and don't ask to be driven home after leaving the roadhouse.

Along the way, George goes on and on with Nick and Honey about his and Martha's son, whom we never see for reasons that will become clear by the end of the movie. In reality, George is doing all this talking because he wants to manipulate Nick and Honey to get back at Martha. Martha, for her part, is doing the same.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? goes on like this for an interminable 130 minutes. The movie received a plethora of Oscar nominations, and won for Taylor and Dennis; everybody says that the movie is a triumph of acting. Frankly, though, I hated all the characters, to the point that I really disliked the movie. George and Martha are nasty, volleying juvenile, masturbatory drivel back and forth and thinking they're oh-so-intelligent. Instead, the sound more like overgrown adolescents. If you remember the things you wrote as an adolescent and thought they were profound, only to go back and reread them and by embarrassed by what you wrote, well, that's what this movie is.

Now, I don't necessarily have a problem with movies that don't particularly go anywhere; I loved The Whales of August and really liked Larisa Shepitko's Wings. I can also appreciate movies with difficult people and topics, such as The Dresser. But Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is just obnoxious. I find it difficult to believe there are people who wouldn't want to shake some sense into these people like Bette Davis did to Miriam Hopkins at the end of Old Acquaintance.

So Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is definitely a movie you'll want to watch and judge for yourself.

TCM's Carl Reiner tribute


Comic actor/director Carl Reiner died last month at the age of 98. TCM, as is often the case, reshuffles its schedule at some time in the future to do a tribute. That tribute is coming tonight, with five movies directed by Reiner:

Enter Laughing (1967) at 8:00 PM;
All of Me (1984) at 10:00 PM;
The Comic (1969) at midnight;
Where's Poppa? (1970) at 2:00 AM; and
Oh, God! at 1977.

I have to admit that four of them (the exception being Oh, God!) I haven't seen before. I haven't checked which ones are available on DVD, and to be honest, I don't have very much room on the DVR to record all of them either.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Stakeout


A couple of weeks ago, I looked through my DVR and thought I saw that the movie Stakeout was going to run on July 21, so I watched it to do the blog post on it. As it turned out, I was off by a week, and it's actually on HBO Comedy tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM.

The movie starts off with a daring prison escape. Caylor Reese (Ian Tracey) is making a delivery to a prison; it just so happens that his cousin Richard "Stick" Montgomery (Aidan Quinn) is in that prison. Well, it doesn't "just so" happen; of course the point of Caylor's beeing there is to break his cousin out of prison.

Cut to a pair of cops, Chris (Richard Dreyfuss) and Bill (Emilio Estevez with an amazing pornstache), in Seattle. They're chasing a criminal in the fish market area of town. Bill is trying to move up the ranks, while Chris seems to have his own way of doing things that isn't always by the books and obviously isn't always going to work as planned. In this case, that involves a forklift winding up in the drink, much to the consternation of their boss.

Montgomery, it turns out, is an escapee from a federal prison. He's got a lot of contacts, too many for the feds to be able to deal with all of them. His girlfriend at the time he went into prison is Maria McGuire (Madeleine Stowe), and she lives in Seattle. The feds make the reasonable assumption that perhaps Montgomery might head toward McGuire's place, so perhaps it would be a good thing if some of the Seattle cops would stake out the place. Chris and Bill are one of the pairs given that job, and make their way to the house across the street to start their surveillance.

Of course, there's only so much you can do sitting by a window and looking across the way, as James Stewart learned in Rear Window. It would be quite helpful if they could bug Maria's phone. To that end, Chris cuts the line and then magically presents himself at her door as a repairman from the phone company, even though he's not wearing the proper uniform and she's dumb enough not to ask him for identification. She lets him in, and Chris bugs the phone.

But, in talking to her, he finds that he's falling in love with her, something which is not completely unexpected since this is a movie. Granted, it's a complete violation of police policy, and if Bill had any sense he would have turned Chris in, with the surveillance footage, and gotten Chris fired and another pair put in their place. I guess that adage about there being only a few bad apples among the cops doesn't hold.

Anyhow, sure enough, Montgomery is coming to see Maria. But he shows up... while Chris is in the house trying to tell Maria the truth, which is probably another serious violation of police procedure that goes unpunished. It's necessary, however, for all of this to lead to the film's climactic chase and fight sequence at a sawmill near the old Skid Row.

Stakeout is an entertaining enough movie, if you're willing to suspend disbelief. I have to admit, however, that I had some difficulty doing so, because some of Chris' behaviors were rather obnoxious. It reminded me of those old "comedies of lies" as I like to call them, where Chris has to keep piling one lie on top of another, all the while doing things that should probably cause the stakeout to come crashing down. With that in mind though, Dreyfuss shows he's good at comedy lighter than what he'd done in The Goodbye Girl, as well acceptable at action. Estevez was the right age to be doing these action movies, and shows he could handle comedy. Stowe is there to look pretty, and Quinn does well as the bad guy.

The last I looked, Stakeout is available on DVD, as is the sequel, imaginatively titled Another Stakeout.

Olivia de Havilland, 1916-2020




The death has been announced of actress Olivia de Havilland. A two-time Oscar winner, de Havilland died weeks after her 104th birthday.

De Havilland's career started in 1935 when she acted in Warner Bros.' version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, although the studio released another of her movies first, Alibi Ike opposite Joe E. Brown.

One of her most frequent co-stars was Errol Flynn; the two made nine movies together, including the classic The Adventures of Robin Hood:



Her first Oscar nomination came in the Supporting Actress category for Gone With the Wind, where she played Melanie Wilkes; wife of Ashley (Leslie Howard). De Havilland lost to her co-star Hattie McDaniel.



Her first Best Actress nomination came two years later in Hold Back the Dawn, playing a teacher in love with refugee Charles Boyer.



De Havilland lost to her sister, Joan Fontaine, which led to a lifelong rift between the two. De Havilland would go on to win, of course, first for To Each His Own, and then for The Heiress:



Later in her career, she's play opposite good friend Bette Davis in Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte and get roped into lousy all-star disaster pics like The Swarm:



TCM's Summer Under the Stars begins on Saturday and de Havilland was not selected this year, I believe, so either they'll preempt somebody or else give de Havilland a 24-hour tribute in September. They do have a TCM Remembers page with embedded video of the piece that's probably already airing on TCM. (I forgot to check just before 8PM yesterday.)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Roar of the Dragon


Another movie that I recorded off of TCM some months back and got a DVD release from Warner Home Video is Roar of the Dragon. As always, I recently sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

China in the 1920s and 1930s was an "interesting" place, in the sense that there was a lot going on, not all of it good by any means. Out in the hinterlands, there was a civil war going on even before the Japanese marched into Manchuria. Richard Dix stars as Carson, who pilots a riverboat owned by Johnson (Dudley Digges) in one of these outlying areas. This area is odd in that it has a Russian bandit named Voronsky (C. Henry Gordon) raiding, despite the fact that they're hundred, if not thousands, of miles from Siberia.

Westerners are trying to get out, and they've all holed up in a hotel not far from the river while repairs are being undertaken on the boat. Among the westerners is Voronsky's girlfriend Natascha (Gwili Andre); timid civil engineer Busby (Edward Everett Horton); and a woman who stupidly undertook a trip to the Orient despite her nerves not being up to it (Zasu Pitts). Humorously, there's also a Jew named Sholem (Arthur Stone) who settled in town and takes refuge in the hotel.

Also taking refuge is a bunch of Chinese people, ferrying in a group of orphan children. This puts a strain on the hotel, which is besieged, and doesn't have enough food. So Voronsky could simply wait and starve everybody out to get whatever it is that he wants, which starts with Natascha but probably doesn't stop there.

Natascha begins to fall in love with Carson, as you can expect. Carson tries to take command although it's a bit unclear as to who should be organizing the defense. But fortunately for them, they have a machine gun on the roof and enough ammo to keep the bandits at bay for at least a little while until they can possibly get to the boat. But there's also a spy in their midst....

Roar of the Red Dragon is part of a cycle of movies that were made in the early sound era and set in China's period of upheaval. I can imagine a couple of reasons for the popularity of making such movies. One is that the war atmosphere naturally lends itself to drama and adventure, while the China setting is an exotic one that likely would have appealed to an American moviegoing poulation that had much less knowledge of the wide world outside of America. Other movies I can think of in the genre include Shanghai Express and The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

Roar of the Dragon isn't nearly as good as those two other movies, but it still has a fair bit going for it. One is the setting, and seeing how inaccurate the filmmakers get it. Making the bandits Russian is one humorous error, and having a Jewish shop owner was also quite humorous. But the bigger thing is the performance of Horton, who winds up playing against type as the man who gets a chance to be a hero. A big negative was Pitts, whose shtick doesn't work for a serious drama like this.

Roar of the Dragon is available on a two-movie set along with another movie I'd never heard of Men of America. It's not overly expensive, either.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Old Acquaintance


Another of the movies that's been sitting on my DVR for a couple of months is Old Acquaintance. I don't think this one is coming up soon, but it's on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, which is why I sat down to watch it recently and do a post on it.

Bette Davis plays Kit Morrow, a woman who's written a critically successful novel in 1924. She's returning to her smallish home town to be fêted and do a presentation on the novel, and her childhood best friend Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins) is going to pick her up at the train station. Millie stayed behind to marry Preston (John Loder) and do the wealthy bored housewife thing -- and she's clearly jealous of Kit. She decides that she's going to start writing novels herself, although she has different ideas about what to write than Kit.

Fast forward eight or nine years. Kit lives a nice life doing the New York writer thing, currently having a play about to open while her latest "serious" novel is on the back burner. Millie's first, trashy novel was a big success, and she's been cranking out similar trashy stuff on a roughly annual basis like Sidney Sheldon or Danielle Steel in more recent times. She's also got a young daughter Deirdre (nicknamed Deedee), while Kit has remained unmarried and childless.

But Millie is still somehow jealous of Kit, something that's always bothered Preston, who has remained somewhat of a background figure while his wife has become the successful one in the family. He's resentful of this and has fallen in love with Kit, but while Kit is certainly a friend of his, she knows that it wouldn't do any good to start a relationship with Preston. So Preston decides that he's just going to walk out on Millie and file for divorce. This sends Millie over the deep end.

Or should I say it sends Miriam Hopkins over the deep end. Fast forward another nine or so years, and it's about 1942 (the movie was released in 1943). World War II is on, and Kit is on a fund-raising drive for the American Red Cross, while Millie is still a successful author. Kit has a guy who's interested in her, Rudd Kendall (Gig Young), but Kit isn't quite interested mostly because of the age difference, since she doesn't want to be a burden on a younger guy.

Who should hear the latest radio benefit drive but Preston, who's now a major in the Army? Having heard it, he decides that he wants to see Kit again, which gives Kit the opportunity to bring an adult Deedee (Dolores Moran) into her father's life. Millie finds out about all this, and starts engaging in hilarious histrionics.

Old Acquaintance is one of those "women's pictures" which were a big thing in Hollywood back in the 1930s and 1940s, with melodramatic story lines that might make a lot of guys crings. Indeed, as drama, I didn't find myself caring for it all that much. It's not exactly bad, but I didn't think of it as anything special.

What does make this movie a must-see is the performance of Miriam Hopkins. She and Davis had starred together in The Old Maid four years earlier, and supposedly that absolutely hated each other. So Hopkins must have wanted to upstage Davis or something, which would explain why she's so hilariously over the top, especially in the third act. That, or she saw some of Davis' rants and decided to emulate them. It results in a famous scene of Davis grabbing Hopkins and literally shaking some sense into her. It wasn't the intent that people find this stuff funny, but I certainly was laughing at it.

Old Acquaintance doesn't necessariy succeed in doing what it set out to do, but boy is it still a fun ride.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Service With the Colors


I only have one movie on my DVR that I've watched and not blogged about, and that's scheduled for Monday. So I looked at some of my old Warner Archive discs for a short to watch. Unfortunately, I got a dud copy of White Heat as the sound doesn't seem to work, constantly dropping out. So I put in City for Conquest, and watched the short Service With the Colors.

This is a 1940 Technicolor short about four guys who decide to join the Army, including a young William Lundigan, as well as William Orr as the soldier who didn't want to join (and yet, he wasn't drafted). Robert Armstrong plays the sergeant with a heart of gold who wouldn't exist in real life, but who helps Orr become a soldier. That's Lundigan sitting and Orr standing.

This stuff is strictly propaganda, made to try to gin up support for the military when average people didn't want to join the war but there was a segment of society that was convinced war was going to come so we better be prepared (remember, Hollywood was hauled before Congress in 1941 for producing several movies actively trying to get the US to join the war effort against the Nazis).

As a story, there's nothing particularly noteworthy here, but the color cinematography is quite nice. The sergeant mentions the Golden Gate and we see the bridge a few years after it was constructed:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #315: Secret Doorways/Worlds






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 "Secret Doorways/Worlds", one that was a bit tough for me at first, until I realized that hidden passages obviously have to have hidden doorways. With that in mind, I came up with two easily, and decided to cheat slightly on the third:

Secret of the Blue Room (1933). A series of murders occurred in the same room of a castle when Gloria Stuart was a baby. She's all grown up now, and a couple of suitors debate whether they should try to solve the mystery of what happened 20 years earlier. People die in a locked room, which obviously implies a hidden passage, and sure enough there is one. Lionel Atwill plays Stuart's dad, and Paul Lukas one of the men investigating.

Clue (1985). Comedic murder mystery based on the classic board game. Tim Curry plays the butler who assembles the six "characters" from the game at a mansion that has the same layout as the game, and murders occur. If you recall there were secret passages between the study and kitchen, as well as between the conservatory and lounge. When the movie was originally released, there were three endings based on whodunit, with different theaters getting different endings. The TV print shows the endings serially, with the first two being hypotheses and the third being "what really happened".

Secret World (1969). An orphaned boy living with his aunt and uncle in a decaying manor house in rural France is visited by his adult cousin (Marc Porel) and the cousin's girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset). The young boy develops a romantic interest in Bisset, although she doesn't return the favor since he's much too young. It goes on like this, with lovely cinematography but a story where nothing happens. There's not much of a secret either.

Hot Summer Night


Another of the movies that's coming up soon on TCM which I DVRed the last time it was on is Hot Summer Night. It's on TCM again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, so once again I sat down to watch it so I could do a post here.

A couple of guys led by Tom Ellis (Robert Wilke) rob a bank somewhere in the Ozarks and retreat to a hideout in the hills around the town of Chatsburg, AR. Also in the Ozarks is an outsider, William Partain (Leslie Nielsen). He's on a honeymoon with his wife Irene (Colleen Miller), although the marriage isn't starting quite so smoothly. William is a journalist who wrote for a paper up in Kansas City. But thanks to consolidation, some papers merged and William's was one of the jobs no longer needed. William doesn't know how he's going to support his wife.

That is, until he reads the local newspaper. He sees a story about Ellis's gang, and knows that if he can only find Ellis and get his story, he'll be able to sell it to the big-city papers for big bucks. Of course, it's a daft idea, because what criminal in his right mind wants to let outsiders in? But Williams heads off to Chatsburg, wife in tow.

There, he finds out that there's a woman who might be able to help him find Ellis, a woman named Ruth Childers (Marianne Stewart). He asks about at the local hotel, but nobody wants to tell him, even though they obviously know. Indeed, William presses his luck and gets in a fight for it. But eventually one of the men, Kermit (James Best) knows where Ellis is, and is willing to take him there.

Ellis is hiding out with nasty gunman Elly Horn (Paul Richards), and older and more philosophical Oren (Jay C. Flippen). Oren is just hoping to be able to retire in peace now that he's pushing 60 and knows he's probably lucky still to be alive considering his career. Ellis does start talking, but Elly doesn't like it, and eventually decides he's going to be in command, which involves taking Partain hostage and other shocking actions.

Irene is left back at the hotel; realizing that something's gone badly wrong, she makes the idiotic decision that she's going to look for her husband herself. She's way too naïve to be doing it, but off she goes anyway, getting some reluctant assistance from the law in the form of deputy Follett (Edward Andrews) and an unnamed truck driver delivering the rural edition of the Kansas City newspaper (Claude Akins).

Hot Summer Night is the sort of material that, had it been made 20 years earlier, would have made for an interesting programmer or B movie. But it was released in early 1957, and by MGM, which was never the right studio for a movie like this. As a result, the material feels subpar and always a bit off. It's always interesting to see Nielsen in one of his dramatic roles. He does about as well as you can expect considering the script, but I think the best part is played by Flippen. Still, anybody who is instersted in Leslie Nielsen will find this an intriguing movie since once Nielsen appeared in Airplane!, that overshadowed all his earlier work.

Hot Summer Night does not seem to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Adventures of Don Juan


I see that The Adventures of Don Juan is on TV tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM. I recorded it the previous time it was on, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a post for tomorrow's airing.

Errol Flynn plays Don Juan de Maraña, the famous Spanish lover of legend. In this telling of the tale, Don Juan starts off in England in the later years of Elizabeth I's rule. He's seducing a lovely young Englishwoman, which in and of itself wouldn't be a big deal, except that she's engaged to be married to some Spanish nobleman, who finds the two in her chambers, forcing Don Juan to make a hasty retreat.

The English understandably don't want him any more, so the ambassador, Don José de Polan (Robert Warwick), who is a friend of Don Juan's, comes to his aid. Don José writes a letter of recommendation to the monarch, Philip III (Romney Brent) and his wife Queen Margaret (Viveca Lindfors), to get Don Juan a job in Spain and possibly get back in people's good graces.

Don Juan and his sidekick Leporello (Alan Hale) return to a country that's got quite a bit of intrigue, although he does not yet realize it. Philip has grown weak and, while Margaret is trying to advise him, she's a woman and the real power behind the throne is the Duke de Lorca (Robert Douglas). He's trying to consolidate his power, and when Polan is set to come back to Spain, Lorca has his second-in-command Alvares (Raymond Burr) kidnap Polan and torture him for information.

Don Juan has a job as a fencing instructor, which brings him into relatively close contact with the Queen; Don Juan finds himself falling in love with her although he realizes he can never have her so he needs to try to keep his feelings for her a secret. But along the way, he discovers Lorca's plot, while Lorca, discovering Don Juan's dalliances since he's returned to Spain, decides that now is the time to strike, arresting Don Juan and making the king little more than a figurehead. But you know Don Juan is going to escape....

Watching The Adventures of Don Juan, I couldn't help but think of Errol Flynn's earlier movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Apparently Warner Bros. first came up with the idea for another Don Juan not long after Robin Hood. But plans fell through a couple of times before it finally got off the ground at the end of 1947 (apparently, in part, because Robin Hood had had a successful re-release).

Flynn tries, but unfortunately at times he really looks like he's aged the nine years since Robin Hood, and then some, with Hale having aged even more. For the most part, however, the movie is a reasonable success, if not as grand as Robin Hood. You'll be entertained, but the movie probably could have been quite a bit better.

The Adventures of Don Juan received multiple DVD releases, but it seems to be out of print. It is, however, available on Prime Video if you do the streaming thing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

No Maps on My Taps


TCM's prime time lineup tonight is dedicated to the 30th anniversary of Milestone Films, a company that releases lesser-known stuff to DVD. I haven't heard of the first two titles, although "Archival Screening Night" at 10:30 PM sounds more like a documentary on archiving movies or found footage. I don't know, since I can't find a page about tonight's lineup on TCM's site. However, at 12:30 AM, there's the documentary No Maps on My Taps. It aired a couple of months back when TCM ran a spotlight on tap dancing in film, so I recorded it then, and seeing it on tonight's lineup, made a point of watching it to do a post today.

The documentary was made in the late 1970s. Three older tap dancers: Chuck Green, Bunny Briggs, and Sandman Sims, are getting together at a Harlem nightspot to do a show backed by Lionel Hampton's band. This is a "challenge" show, where each of the three will try to outdo the others in terms of tap dancing -- and since they'd all been performing since the 1930s, they certainly have a lot of skill.

A fair amount of the documentary is about the performers backstage on the night of the performance, as well as footage of the performances; I got the impression from watching that this wasn't a one-night only show. But there's another half in which each of the three dancers discusses how he got into tap dancing, and the history of the genre as it was in the 1930s with dancers like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who famously danced with Shirley Temple.

For anybody who's into tap dancing, No Maps on My Taps is a must see. I'm not particularly into tap dancing, but I enjoyed the movie and I'd certainly recommend it too. Tap fans will probably wish there was more footage of the dancing, but I have to admitted I preferred the old guys talking about how they got into dance, so I think there's something for everybody here.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Give Me a Sailor


I had a movie set to blog about today, but it turns out that it's not back on TV until next Tuesday, so I had to look through what I've watched recently but haven't blogged about. With that in mind, I picked another movie off my Bob Hope box set, Give Me a Sailor.

The plot to this one is relatively simple. Hope plays Jim Brewster, one of a pair of brothers together with Walter (Jack Whiting) who are serving in the navy together on the same ship. The ship is about to get into port, and Walter informs Jim that he's finally going to ask Nancy (Betty Grable) to marry him.

That's no big deal, except that Jim is also in love with Nancy. Jim's obviously known about Walter's feelings for Nancy, as he has a contingency plan for this: he sends Nancy's sister Letty (Martha Raye) a coded message telling her about it and to do something to break up the impending marriage! What a nice guy.

Of course, you can probably figure out fairly early in that Letty is really the right one for Jim. But it's going to take a little while for Jim and Letty to figure this out, much to Letty's consternation, as she has to bear the brunt of Jim's schemes to separate Walter and Nancy that don't work. Letty, for her part, would prefer Walter (spare a thought for her when you consider that neither of the brothers wants her).

It's all a pleasant enough B movie, and you can see why Paramount would have plans for Bob Hope and Martha Raye. But it's also not without some serious problems. One is when we first meet Letty, who's making a cake for the two sailors' return home. She's accosted by an obnoxious young cousin Ethel who frankly should have been smacked like Jane Withers at the end of Bright Eyes. There's also a subplot about Letty's legs -- not Nancy's, which is humorous when you consider that Grable would be the pin-up girl in World War II -- and a contest that doesn't work.

Bob Hope and Martha Raye have both been in my opinion acquired tastes, and while Raye generally works, Hope often strays a bit too close to the Woody Allen nebbishness we'd see 30 years later. He's not nearly as likeable as Raye here, but would fortunately get better material.

The box set is relatively cheap considering how many movies you're getting, so if you don't like this one there's probably something else on the set that you'll like.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Daisy Clover's Insides


Tomorrow, July 20, is the birth anniversary of actress Natalie Wood, so it's unsurprising that TCM is running some of her movies on Monday. One that I haven't blogged about before is Inside Daisy Clover, which comes on at 4:45 PM.

Natalie plays Daisy Clover, who at the start of the movie is turning 15 (in reality, Wood was 26/27 when she made the movie). She lives in a trailer near the boardwalk in Angel Beach, CA, with her mother (Ruth Gordon), who makes a meager living as a card dealer on the boardwalk. Dad took a powder ages ago, and Daisy's sister Gloria (Betty Harford) got married to a rich guy and left too.

Daisy supplements their meager income by running some sort of stall on the boardwalk that's Hollywood-related. She's got a love for Hollywood, and one day she goes and records her voice for 25¢ to send to the Swan Studio, run by producer Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer). Somebody at the studio hears it, and decides that Daisy should be brought in for a screen test. Not that Mom wants any of it. She's either going senile or has some other mental illness and, while Daisy loves her mother, the mental problems can also be embarrassing.

Sure enough, Swan likes Daisy's performance and wants to make her a star. But this is where the problems begin for Daisy. The studio decides that her life story as is is not something audiences accept, so they're going to say that both of her parents died young, putting Mom in a sanatorium to hide her from the public. (What's going to happen if Dad comes back?) Daisy can't really resist, because she's a minor who can't legally sign a contract on her own, which is where Gloria comes in again.

The studio tries to build Daisy up, but she's lonely in Hollywood, especially without Mom. One night, when running out on a party at Swan's house, she runs into Wade Lewis (Robert Redford), who is also running out on the party, which is because he's got secrets of his own. But he's a charming man, and he probably really does like Daisy as a friend, even though she naïvely thinks he's much more than that.

The studio does make Daisy into a star, but she's still not satisfied, in part because the studio bars her from seeing her mother. Wade tries to get her out of her predicament by proposing marriage to her, but it's on the day of their marriage that Daisy learns the truth about Wade when he walks out. And then Daisy's mom dies and Swan pressures her into completing the movie she's working on, something that may destroy her.

I'm sorry to day that I didn't find Inside Daisy Clover appealing. It runs 128 minutes, and it's something that probably could have been cut down by a half hour. It's overlong and self-indulgent. I couldn't believe Wood as a teenager either, which is a problem since she's the main character of the movie The musical numbers don't really work either. All of the actors do the best with the material they're given, but it's not the best of material.

As always, however, I suggest that if I don't like a movie, you might still want to watch and judge for yourself. Inside Daisy Clover is avaialble on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Kid Blue


A movie that started showing up in the FXM rotation relatively recently is Kid Blue. I DVRed it, and since it's on again tomorrow morning at 11:45 and again at 9:50 AM Monday, I decided to watch it now to do a blog post on.

Dennis Hopper plays the titular Kid Blue, real name Bickford Waner. In the movie's opening scene he's leading a gang of outlaws in a robbery of a moving train in the late 1890s. Except that this is the gang that couldn't shoot straight, as it falls at the first hurdle -- and you get the impression this isn't the first attempted robbery that's gone badly wrong.

So Bick decides that he's going to try to go straight, since robbing trains clearly isn't working. He makes his way to the town of Dime Box, TX, where he begins to look for a job. The sheriff, nicknamed "Mean John" (Ben Johnson), isn't so sure about Bick. More accepting is crazy Preacher Bob (Peter Boyle), who is working on a human-powered airplane he calls the "aerocycle", real airplanes not having been invented yet so that Bob couldn't 100% know that human-powered planes are a fool's errand.

Eventually, Bick gets a job at the growing town's biggest employer, a ceramics factory producing kitsch and run by Hendricks (Clifton James). This brings Bick into contact with a co-worker, Reese Ford (Warren Oates), and his wife Molly (Lee Purcell). Both of the Fords have some odd ideas, as Reese tries to get Bick to take a bath with him, not wanting to waste the hot water, while Molly winds up seducing Bick.

But Bick has that past, and it's going to come back for him, in the form of Janet (Janice Rule). She's passing herself off as an actress, coming from Dallas, where Bick claims his girlfriend is from. Janet knows Bick, and knows that he used to be Kid Blue. Worse, she spills the beans to Reese, which is strike one for Bick. Strike two is that Reese learns of the relationship between Bick and Molly.

It's all enough for Bick to decide that going straight isn't going to work for him, so why not rob the payroll from his boss' factory? Perhaps he should have remembered that he wasn't very competent in his previous stint as an outlaw thief.

Kid Blue is one of those 1970s westerns that form a genre that I've found I'm not the biggest fan of. I was never the biggest fan of westerns in general, although I've warmed to Code-era stuff. As for the 70s westerns, it's not the "revisionist" nature of the westerns that makes me like them less, but the fact that most of the ones I've seen come across as meandering and self-indulgent. A big part of the big problem with Kid Blue is that it feels like it's not going anywhere, with characters who seem drawn as quirky only because now that the Production Code is gone, we can make them quirkier than ever and get away with it. It doesn't really work here.

People who like Dennis Hopper or Warren Oates will probably like this one; for other people I'd probably suggest starting with earlier westerns. Kid Blue got a DVD release courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, but I don't know the status of their scheme since the takeover by Disney. The movie seems to be available currently on Amazon Prime video if you do the streaming thing.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Benny & Joon


Another of the movies that I got a chance to record during one of the free preview weekends is Benny & Joon. It's going to be on several times over the next week, with the first being tomorrow at 6:20 PM on HBO Comedy.

Benny (Aidan Quinn) is a mechanic working at a repair shop in Spokane, WA. He lives with his younger, but adult sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) in a house that frankly seems much too big for Benny to be able to pay for on his salary. (A brief flashback scene reveals their parents were killed in a car crash when Benny was an adolescent; I'll guess the house was paid off and there was enough of an inheritance to help support Joon.) Joon calls the shop looking for Benny to pick up a bunch of stuff that make it sounds like Joon is pregnant and having cravings.

But she's not. Instead, she's got a mental illness of some sort (never explicitly stated), which leads to all sorts of odd behavior like this. That's the mild stuff; the bad stuff includes temper tantrums that cause every housekeeper in town to quit working for Benny and Joon; apparently they're also supposed to be Joon's minder, and who could do that?

Having to be Joon's keeper has also been terrible for Benny. He's met a nice young woman in Ruthie (Julianne Moore), but doesn't feel he can start a relationship because of what it might to do Joon. Meanwhile, Joon's psychiatrist, Dr. Garvey (C.C.H. Pounder), has been suggesting to Benny that perhaps now would be the right time to put Joon in a group home, which Benny is also reluctant to do.

Benny's only joy in life is the regular poker game he and his friend have, in which they wager odd items rather than money. One day Joon asks to join in, and one of Benny's friends raises with a rather odd proposition. The friend's cousin Sam (Johnny Depp) has been pawned off on the friend. Sam is eccentric and semiliterate, and the friend would like to move the friend on. So, if Joon loses the poker hand, she and Benny have to take Sam in.

Sure enough Joon loses. Sam is a fan of old movies, and has odd ways of doing things, like using the iron to cook grilled cheese. But he seems to have a bit more of a positive influence on Joon than any of the other housekeepers. The problem is that Sam finds himself falling in love with Joon, and the feeling might be mutual. Benny is understandably uncomforable with this, fearing Sam is trying to take advantage of Joon, and it threatens to break up the whole threesome.

I had only known Benny and Joon from the song that it resurrected, 500 Miles (I'm Gonna Be) which was actually recorded several years before the movie. But for the most part I liked the movie. Most people will think about Masterson's and Depp's performances as the two less-than-stable people, but I found myself thinking a lot about Quinn's as the protector of Joon who can't really bring himself to talk about his sister's mental illness. I do wonder, however, just how well-kept a secret it would be from the community if Joon weren't able to support herself.

By the same token, one other minor problem I had with the movie was the ending, which I felt was a bit pat and unrealistic. Sam was also written as a bit too quirky at times. But overall, it doesn't detract from the rest of Benny & Joon, which is well worth watching.

Benny & Joon did get a DVD release, but it seems to be out of print. However, it also seems to be available on Amazon's streaming service.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #314: Male Buddy Movies





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 "Male Buddy Movies". I thought of two old movies pretty quickly, and am surprised that it took me a while to come up with the third:

Two Arabian Knights (1927). Louis Wolheim and William Boyd play the buddies, men who serve in the AEF in World War I, get captured by the Germans, break out of a POW camp, and meet an Arabian princess (Mary Astor) on a ship while they escape, which is how they end up in Arabia. The movie won an Oscar for Best Director of a Comedy at the first Oscars (the two directing categories were merged for the next year and thereafter), and was considered lost for decades but found in Howard Hughes' archives and ultimately restored.

So This is College (1929). Robert Montgomery and Elliott Nugent play the buddies, a pair of stars on the college football team who plan to focus on football for their senior year to the exclusion of all else. Of course, a girl (Sally Starr) comes into the picture and threatens to drive a wedge between our two best friends. There's an interesting bunch of people who didn't get a screen credit. Future director Delmer Daves (3:10 to Yuma et al.) is one of the football players; another director, Sam Wood (Kings Row et al.), is the PA announcer at the big game; Joel McCrea, Ann Dvorak, and Ward Bond all supposedly have bit parts.

Sons of the Desert (1933). Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy lie to their wives and say they're going on a cruise for Ollie's health, which is a lie they cook up so that they can go to their fraternal society's national convention. They return home to find that the ship they were supposedly taking for the cruise sank, while a newsreel filmed Stan and Ollie quite prominently in a story about the convention. Good luck getting out of this lie.

Briefs for July 16, 2020


TCM spent this morning and afternoon looking at one of today's more prominent birth anniversaries, Ginger Rogers. Apparently they could have spent the day with Barbara Stanywck too; I didn't realize the two share a birthday although Stanwyck was four years older. (Rogers was born on the same day and year as Sonny Tufts, while Stanwyck shares that distinction with Orville Redenbacher of popcorn fame.) Looking through the lesser-known birthdays, I see that on this date in 1888, Percy Kilbride was born. He's best known for playing Pa Kettle opposite Marjorie Main in all those movies starting with The Egg and I.

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of Charles Coburn movies, although the schedule is a bit off. The monthly schedule that I downloaded at the beginning of the month has Louisa at 10:00 PM with no synopsis, suggesting it might be a TCM premiere. For some reason that's missing from the on-line schedule, although there clearly has to be something in between The More the Merrier (8:00 PM) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (11:45 PM). Indeed, my online box guide has Louisa at 10:00 PM. The monthly schedule also has a problem with the running time for The Green Years (1:30 AM), which is 125 minutes and should make the final film, B.F.'s Daughter (ooh, there's Barbara Stanwyck!) begin at 3:45 AM.

Tomorrow morning before the morning of Tod Browning films, there's the 1925 MGM tour, at 6:00 AM. After the Tod Browning films, there's Gideon of Scotland Yard at noon, starring Jack Hawkins as the Scotland Yard detective. This looks to be the American release, as the original British release, which I know I saw on TCM ages ago, was called Gideon's Day and runs in a longer time slot than TCM has for Gideon of Scotland Yard.

Over on FXM, tomorrow morning kicks off at 3:00 AM with The Incident, which has been back in the rotation for a little while now. Another movie that's been in the rotation is one with one of today's birthdays, Black Widow with Ginger Rogers. It was last on this past Monday, and I was going to do a post on it, but then I made it a point to check whether I had done a post before. It turns out that I did all the way back in 2008, which makes me wonder how long it had been since FXM/Fox Movie Channel put the movie back in the vault.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Maybe you should have quit after one of the first 999 times


Several months back, TCM had a spotlight on remakes, with one of the nights devoted to movies with multiple remakes. It's here that I got the chance to record I Died a Thousand Times, the third version of High Sierra.

This one hews closer to High Sierra than the other remake, Colorado Territory. Jack Palance, still in his villainous days, plays Roy Earle, whom we see at the beginning of the film racing down a middle-of-nowhere road and keeping the Goodhues from getting in an accident. They meet up at a service station, where we learn that the grandparents (Ralph Moody and Olive Carey) are taking granddaughter Velma (Lori Nelson) to see her mom who has remarried. Velma has a club foot and needs surgery, but the Goodhues can't afford it.

As for Roy, he's recently been let out of jail in Illinois, and is heading to Los Angeles to loo up Big Mac (Lon Chaney), who has a big job planned for Roy. That involves robbing a hotel vault and stealing jewels and cash worth somewhere in the mid-six-figure range, a nice sum for the mid-1950s. While the plan is being finalized, Roy is going to stay at a cabin up in the Sierras.

Also staying there are Roy's incompetent partners-to-be in the crime, Babe (Lee Marvin) and Red (Earl Holliman). And one of them brought "his" girl Marie (Shelley Winters) up to the mountains. Roy doesn't want her there, but she has nowhere else to go; worse, she doesn't want to be with Babe and Red, but with Roy, because she can tell he's going to treat her halfway decently. Rounding things out is a dog that you just know is going to be trouble because he has so much loyalty to Roy from the first time the dog sees Roy.

Roy has to head back to Los Angeles a couple of times, giving him a chance to see the Goodhues again, and offering to "lend" them the money for Velma's operation. Roy loves her, although he should realize he has no chance at getting not only because of the Production Code but because Velma had a boyfriend back east.

The heist itself goes off OK, but the escape doesn't. Babe and Red are stupid, and take a wrong turn that results in their driving off a steep embankment and burning to a crisp. When Roy goes to see Big Mac for advice, it turns out that Mac has died, and Mac's second-in-command doesn't like Roy. People are going to recognize Roy, too....

I said at the beginning that this is a remake of High Sierra, and it felt like a really close remake (although I'll admit it's been years since I've seen High Sierra). Still, updating the movie with color and widescreen helps, and Jack Palance is good as the nominal bad buy. If I Died a Thousand Times were an original story, and not a remake of a recognized classic like High Sierra, it would have a much higher reputation. It's really a pretty good movie.

I Died a Thousand Times did get a Warner Archive release, but it's one of those that the TCM Shop claims is on backorder while Amazon has the DVD and the movie on streaming.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Robin Hood of El Dorado


Another of my recent movie watches that's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection is Robin Hood of El Dorado.

The movie is based on Joaquin Murrieta (played here by Warner Baxter), a legendary figure from around the time California became a US territory. Anglos are going to be coming west, a trend that's only exacerbated when gold is discovered and that gold rush is set off. A lot of the newcomers have no concern for the Mexicans and their land claims, and so it is with Joaquin. Some Anglos kill his wife, and then when he and his brother come into town, they accuse the brother of rustling and kill him!

Despite there being one good American in the form of Bill Warren (Bruce Cabot), who tries to stop all this. But he's powerless to do so. When Joaquin meets Three-Fingered Jack (J. Carrol Naish), an outlaw gangster, Joaquin decides to fall in with the gang. Joaquin's plan is to go after the Anglo newcomers and try to help the Mexicans, but the law and the Production Code aren't going to look too kindly on it all.

Robin Hood of El Dorado is an interesting little movie. In many ways it's little more than a B western, but William Wellman directed and he had already made a whole bunch of zippy social commentary movies at MGM, so he tried to make as much as he could out of this story, turning Murrieta's struggle into a question of nationalism, something which certainly enhances the movie even if we know where it's going.

Warner Baxter was past his peak when he made this but still does his best with the material, as do Cabot, Naish, and the rest of the cast. Interestingly enough, a couple of years after this movie was made, MGM enlisted Carey Wilson (of those awful Nostradamus shorts) to narrate an MGM historical short about Murrieta, and that showed up on TCM not long after the most recent airing of Robin Hood of El Dorado. I didn't get to see the short, but the feature is certainly worth a watch as a good example of Warner Bros.' B movies.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Fred Zinnemann's dud


I've mentioned before that pretty much every actor and director has at least one dud in their oeuvre. For director Fred Zinneman, that would be Teresa, which is going to be on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM is you want to watch and judge for yourself.

John Ericson is technically the star here, although he's obviously not Teresa. He's Philip Cass, a World War II veteran who is without a job and, when it comes to dealing with the unemployment office, he finds that he's unable to, running away when he gets to the front of the line.

Clearly something is wrong with him, so he goes to see the psychiatrist provided him by the Veterans' Administration for some talk therapy, played by Rod Steiger in an early role. Philip has problems with his parents, and says that the one person who could truly make him feel "safe" is Sgt. Dobbs.

Flash back to the war. Philip served in Italy, and one day he and some other stragglers wind up in a small village where the most senior officer is Sgt. Dobbs (Ralph Meeker). Dobbs has Philip and a couple of other men billet with one of the families, which is where they meet Teresa (Pier Angeli). Philip takes a liking to her, but there's still that war to fight. But when it comes time to fight, Philip chickens out, not even being able to light a flare, a mistake which kills Dobbs, as Philip learns in a military hospital where he's been taken for combat fatigue, since it's clear he's got something wrong with him.

The Allies go on to win the war, of course, and Philip is able to return to the village where he met Teresa. She's still there, and he decides to marry her, although he's going to have to leave her behind in Italy for a while until all the paperwork for bringing a war bride back to the States can be worked out.

Philip is such a coward that when he returns home, he can't even bother to tell his family (sister Peggy Ann Garner, mom Patricia Collinge, and dad Richard Bishop) that he's gotten married! Mom only finds out because Philip hid the license and a picture from the wedding up on a china cabinet, and Mom dusts like a good housewife and finds it. Boy is she going to be pissed, and frankly with good reason. But she's also such a passive-aggressive bitch about it once Teresa actually arrives in America.

All of those war marriages were tough once people had to adjust to the war being over and finding out that the person they married in haste might not be quite the same person now that it's peacetime. Teresa certainly didn't have any way of knowing what a coward Philip is, or why, while Philip really needs to get his head on straight.

The box guide synopses I've seen of Teresa suggest that it's a movie about Philip and Teresa's struggle to adjust to married life after the war and having to live with Philip's family. If it had been that, it might not have been a half-bad movie. But it's really about Philip and his psychological struggles, and that causes serious problems for the movie. First Ericson is entirely too lightweight for the role, which really needed somebody like a Gregory Peck. He's also unsympathetic for most of the picture.

The other problem the movie has is that it jumps around way too much, handling a whole bunch of difficult topics, and never giving enough attention to any of them. The ending also feels tacked on and entirely phony, as if they didn't know how to resolve the problems they set up for themselves. At least Virginia Mayo had the good sense to walk out on Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives.

Teresa doesn't seem to be on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Serpico


I had the opportunity to record Serpico during one of the free preview weekends. It's going to be on again multiple times this week, starting at 4:45 PM tomorrow on Showtime 2, so I sat down this weekend to watch it and do a post on it here.

Based on the true story of New York police detective Frank Serpico, the movie starts off in 1971 with his being shot in the face and taken to hospital. The police chief, Sidney Green (John Randolph) is informed, and he worries that Serpico was shot by another cop. After all, several police officers have already said they wouldn't mind seeing Serpico shot.

Flash back several years, to when Serpico graduated the police academy. He'd always dreamed of becoming a police officer, and his family are understandably proud of him. Serpico becomes a patrolman, partnered with an older cop, and it's here that he has his first taste of corruption, when a diner owner offers both of them free chicken soup. Frank doesn't want chicken soup, and is willing to pay for the roast beef sandwich he does want, but the older cop is horrified that Serpico won't just shut up and take the free meal.

Then on the police radio, he hears of a potential rape in progress. He's probably in the closest car, but the location is technically in a different sector, so his partner tries to let the cops in the other sector handle it, which doesn't seem good for public safety. When Serpico does arrest one of the suspects, the other cops pressure him not to take credit for the arrest.

It continues like this, while Frank tries to become a detective and starts dating a woman who studies ballet. Frank is also unconventional in other ways, growing his hair out and wanting to patrol in plain clothes and his own car, since he figures this is a better way to catch criminals. The downside to this is that during one arrest, some cops in uniform don't recognize him (and to be fair, why should they).

The monetary corruption continues, and Serpico contacts Bob Blair (Tony Roberts), a man in the Mayor's office investigating police internal affairs. Blair wants Frank to testify, although that carries the obvious risk that cops will know who threw a giant spotlight on the rampant corruption going on and whom to target. Frank starts thinking about going to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, it's increasingly becoming clear that the corruption isn't just beat cops taking bribes from local businesses and drug dealers, but that it goes all the way to the top, and has for decades. The idea that the brass would be ignorant of what's going on is ludicrous, of course. The police increasingly turn against their colleague Serpico, which is going to lead to his shooting when, during a drug bust, two of them refused to back him up and let the drug dealer shoot him.

Al Pacino gives a pretty good performance, while location shooting greatly enhances the feeling of realism. This is a New York City that's crumbling both physcially and societally, with the police and much of the political class being responsible for a good share of that destruction. Serpico is highly worth watching, and is available on Blu-ray if you don't have the Showtime package.

Serpico is a movie that's relevant 50 years on, largely because police corruption has never gone away, and never will as long as we have a state that has so much power that nobody can enforce all the laws and they have to be enforced arbitrarily. Of course, nobody wants learn that lesson, because you've got half the country that still believes in "law and order", while the other half really cares more about law enforcement being used for their ends against people in the first half than they actually do about corruption and state-sanctioned violence. (And to be fair, Serpico himself is shown to be rather violent when dealing with criminals like the rapists.) One doubts that the lessons that should be learned from Serpico are the ones that will be learned.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Battle of Algiers


Ennio Morricone died recently, and when I put up a quick obituary post, I overlooked that one of the movies for which he did the score is The Battle of Algiers. I happened to have it on my DVR, and it's available on DVD and Blu-ray on a pricey Criterion release, so I sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

For those who don't know their history, Algeria was a French colony for about 130 years until being granted independence in 1962. It wasn't a straightforward handover of power to the locals, however; for years in the 1950s a group of revolutionaries called the FLN had been agitating for independence since the early 1950s.

The film starts in 1957, when the French military, which had been called in since the police were ineffective, are busy torturing a man looking for information on the whereabouts of the FLN leader, Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag). He's hiding with his family somewhere in the Arab Casbah district of Algiers, which is a stark contrast to the fashionable European quarter with its bars and nightclubs.

Flash back to the early 1950s, where we learn that as a youth, La Pointe had been involved in the juvenile justice system on the wrong end; naturally, as tensions began to increase after the end of World War II, somebody like him might get involved in fighting the French authorities just because. He and the FLN start off small, gaining arms along the way, but as the cycle of violence ramps up, they engage in bombings of those fashionable places in the European quarter.

It's unsurprising that the police alone didn't know what to do, and since the military had been involved in World War II and Vietnam, the French bring in Col. Mathieu (Jean Martin) to quell the uprising. He's got good knolwedge of the way groups like the FLN work, with a sort of pyramid scheme structure wherein each commander recruits two people below him, such that anybody in the organization only knows three other people: the one who recruited him and the two he recruited. Mathieu realizes the way to go after them is systematically, bringing in people for interrogation and getting them to reveal the names and locations of the three people each person being interrogated knows.

Of course, the FLN aren't so dumb, and use their advantages. First there's the support among the regular Arab population, allowing them to stage a general strike that brings the UN's attention. But on a darker note, they're also able to use the covered-up women to get around the military checkpoints since going after women the way they go after men is something that looks very hard.

In 1957, after years of operations, the French are able to get La Pointe, and that brings one phase of the independence struggle to an end. But we know from history that the Arabs did ultimately gain their independence. It was much easier to operate in the mountains outside the big cities, so the spirit of independence remained there, to come out of the woodwork at an appropriate time some years later.

The Battle of Algiers is a fascinating movie, since it's shot in docudrama style and takes a relatively uncompromising look at both sides, although it clearly does have more sympathy toward the drive for independence. It's easy to understand why the French look bad 60 years on, but for the independence movement it's more sublte. I couldn't help but think of the movie Crisis at one point where the FLN announces they're going to ban alcohol and prostitution, and execute recidivists. The question of what to do with locals who don't want the sort of independence the revolutionaries are proposing is a vexatious one that doesn't have a good answer, as we can see in the tragedies that befell India at partition, or places like South Korea and Taiwan having to live under martial law for decades while their nearby neighbors were even more ghastly dictatorships.

TCM ran The Battle of Algiers last year as part of The Essentials, and it is most definitely an essential film. I just wish it were available at a lower price point than the Criterion Collection.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Saturday's Children (1940)


Another of my recent DVR watches was the 1940 film version of the Maxwell Anderson play Saturday's Children. It's another one that last I checked is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archve.

Anne Shirley plays Bobby Halevy, who still lives with her parents as a lot of unmarried young women did back in those days. Her father Henry (Claude Rains) has gotten her a job with the company where he works as a bookkeeper, which is a good thing for her. Dad is a bit of a dreamer who's never really wanted to accept that the life he has is the one he's going to have to live, but here we are.

One day Bobby gets an invoice in Spanish, since the company does a good business with Latin America. Brought in to translate is Rims Rosson (John Garfield). He's also a dreamer, with plans to get a job in the Philippines (still a US colony at the time the movie was made, of course), where he's going to work on his sure-fire invention of turning hemp into silk, nylon only having been in its infancy at the time and about to become unavailable to the domestic market when the military would need it for World War II.

Bobby and Rims fall in love, but there's no way Bobby can follow Rims to the Philippines, since the job isn't going to pay anywhere near enough for Rims to support a wife. So Bobby's sister Flossie (Lee Patrick), who is married to a debt collector Willie (Roscoe Karns) and who still lives with Mom and Dad too, comes up with a brilliant idea. Bobby should trick Rims into marrying her!

Bobby does this, and the two are even able to live on their own because they live frugally. But then disaster strikes. Bobby's company hits a financial downturn, and one of the company's policies is that since married women are likely to start a family -- remember, these are the days when a man could be the sole breadwinner and Mom could stay at home to raise the kids -- married women would be first on the chopping block to lose their jobs. Now the couple can't afford even the crappy apartment they live in.

Then, to top it all off, Bobby gets pregnant, but can't bring herself to tell Rims. That, or the fact that Rims' position in the Philippines is still open. Or the fact that she tricked him into marrying her. Can the couple survive if any of this comes out? (Well, surely Bobby's going to start showing someday.)

Saturday's Children is another interesting period piece, but one that's not without its flaws. I think a lot of people would suggest that John Garfield was miscast, although apparently he wanted to do the movie to show he was more than just a tough guy. I don't think he's the problem. Instead, the big problem is the script, which is too slow in getting the two leads married, and then has Bobby be a less-than redeeming person at a lot of points. Surely there could have been some way for Bobby to find secretarial work in the Philippines?

Still, Saturday's Children is definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Car Wash


Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the freeview weekends was Car Wash. It's going to be on StarzEncore Black twice tomorrow, at 12:21 PM and again at 11:49 PM.

The scene is an old-style car wash in central Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, when those old full-service car washes were dying out, to be replaced by the automated car wash that you can find today. The business is owned by a white guy, Mr. Barrow (Sully Boyar), but has a mostly black staff on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder.

Lonnie (Ivan Dixon) is a parolee trying to make a better life for himself, and has what he thinks are good business ideas that the boss just never seems to have time for. Duane (Bill Duke) has become an Islamic radical, taking the name Abdullah and getting pissed every time somebody calls him Duane. There are also a pair of friends who sing covers of popular songs, and are preparing for an upcoming audition; a guy trying to win tickets from a radio contest; and so on.

I mention all this in passing because Car Wash is one of those slice-of-life movies, looking more at a day in the life of the titular car wash than having a fully developed plot, not that there's anything wrong with that. There are other running stories such as TC (Franklin Ajaye) trying to convince the waitress at the café across the street to go on a date with him, or the owner's Marxist son.

In and around all of this, several people get cameos as they have one comedic interlude. George Carlin actually shows up several times as a cabbie whose fair stiffed him; Richard Pryor is a pastor preaching the prosperity gospel who has the Pointer Sisters, still in their 1940s era, with him; and Irwin Corey plays a man who may or may not be the Pop Bottle Bomber. There's also a whole lot of disco music.

It's all pleasant enough if disco music is your thing. There's nothing particularly earth-shattering here although the finale is surprisingly dark; otherwise, it's just a bunch of people having a lot of fun doing what amounts to sketch comedy, bringing in some guest stars along the way, and it mostly works. One other nice thing about the movie is how it serves as a time capsule of a bygone era.

Car Wash might not be for people who hate disco, but other than for them, I think it's well worth a watch. It seems to be out of print on DVD, but Amazon has it on streaming if you don't have the Encore channels.

Thursday Movie Picks #313: Globetrotting movies






This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "Globetrotting movies", which of course made me think of...



Of course, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island was a TV movie, so not appropriate for today's theme. I haven't seen the 1951 movie The Harlem Globetrotters, so I don't want to use it here. I was able to come up with three movies anyway:

Holiday for Lovers (1959). Clifton Webb and Jane Wyman send their daughter (Jill St. John) off to South America to study art, where she falls in love with an architect's (Paul Henried) son. Webb misunderstands and thinks his daughter has fallen in love with the architect, and doesn't like the idea of a May-December relationship, so he takes the family down to South America to set his daughter straight. By this time, she's started touring the continent, with Webb and family chasing her.

Trade Winds (1938). Joan Bennett is wanted in connection with a murder, and flees the US mainland first to Hawaii and then to various ports of call in Asia. The police, in the form of Ralph Bellamy, are in chase, but also private investigator Fredric March is pursuing her. March finds her, and the two fall in love, complicating matters. Rounding out the chasers is March's secretary Ann Sothern.

The Great Race (1965). Tedious comedy about an early 20th century car rally from New York to Paris, going west, because just putting all the cars on a ferry across the Atlantic wouldn't work. Tony Curtis plays a famous adventurer who enters the race, and his eternal rival, Jack Lemmon, decides to join simply to stop Curtis from winning. Natalie Wood plays a newspaper correspondent who joins in to cover the race.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Underground


A couple of times this year, TCM ran the movie Underground. I watched it not too long ago, and it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, so now you get the post on it.

Philip Dorn plays Eric Franken, a chemist who works at a German research institute in the early days of World War II (the movie was released in June 1941, before the US entered the war). Of course, all the research these days is military-related, and Eric has a brother Kurt (Jeffrey Lynn) in the army.

But Eric goes out one night and helps a bunch of people get in a truck with a radio transmitter and send out a clandestine broadcast telling people the truth about the Nazi regime! Of course, this is highly illegal, and the Nazis home in on the source of the broadcast, leaving Eric and his confidants to make a hasty escape.

Unbeknownst to Eric, Kurt has returned home, having been injured in the war. Kurt is a dedicated Nazi, while Eric is actively fighting against them and their parents just want peace. With Kurt back home, Eric knows he's in a bind. If he keeps going out at night, it's going to raise Kurt's suspicion. But he has to keep the resistance movement going.

In fact, Kurt has already noticed that Eric goes out at night, and has traced one of Eric's destinations as a restaurant where Sylvia (Kaaren Verne) plays the violin. Sylvia, as you can probably guess, is a member of the underground too, although Eric tries to pass her off as a girlfriend. Kurt, for his part, decides to start putting the moves on Sylvia!

This means, as you can probably guess, that Kurt is going to figure out that Sylvia is part of the underground, meaning that either Eric is in danger, or he's actually part of the underground too. Not that Kurt realizes yet that his own brother is fighting the Nazis.

Undergound is an interesting little B movie from Warner Bros., released at a time when the US Senate was ramping up to investigate Hollywood's decidedly non-neutral stance on the situation in Europe. (The attack on Pearl Harbor would obviously quash all this.) It's clearly propaganda of sorts, although it's relatively mild compared to what we'd get during the war and especially the stuff directed at the Japanese.

Still, it's there, and it results in an ending I found unrealistic, on top of what is already a relatively thin plot. Underground is certainly worth a watch, but all in all it's one that never really rises above being a B movie.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Sam Fuller night


Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of movies from director Sam Fuller, all of which are interesting, and some of which deserve to be better remembered, especially those that aren't on DVD or are out of print. I think I've blogged about all of them before, so no full-length post on any of these again.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The Steel Helmet, a Korean War drama about a bunch of soldiers who wind up banding together after their various platoons get split up.
That's followed at 9:45 by probably the best-known of the movies, Pickup on South Street, starring Richard Widmark as a pickpocket who robs Jean Peters, who doesn't realize she's a courier for some very important government secrets.
Then at 11:30 comes House of Bamboo with Robert Stack as an MP in Japan looking for his "friend" Robert Ryan who is actually a gangster.
Up fourth is Underworld USA, at 1:15 PM, with Cliff Robertson as a man who joins the criminal underworld to gain revenge on the gangsters who killed his father when Cliff was an adolescent.
Park Row at 3:15 AM is a really interesting look at the yellow press in New York around the time the Statue of Liberty was being erected. In fact, this is the one that I haven't done a full-length post on before, although I haven't seen it in years. If I've got space on the DVR, I'll probably record it and watch again.
Concluding the night, or starting early tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM is The Baron of Arizona. This one is a really interesting historical drama about James Reavis (Vincent Price), a real person who used a point in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to make a false land claim to a large portion of the state of Arizona, and nearly got away with it.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Ennio Morricone, 1928-2020


I woke up early this morning to see that Twitter was blowing up with news of the death of Italian film score composer Ennio Morricone at the age of 91. Morricone was incredibly prolific, having started in the late 1950s and becoming really famous with the scores to the three films in Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy.

Morricone scored both Hollywood and Italian movies, earning six Oscar nominations but only finally winning a competitive Oscer a few years back for The Hateful Eight. I happen to have Once Upon a Time in America on the DVR and at some point I'll get around to watching it and doing a post on it, but it runs something like 73 hours so it's going to be a time commitment.

I was looking for some examples of his work on Youtube, and wouldn't you know I was able to find three good examples right off the bat in which he's conducting his own music:



The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly



The Mission, which is one of his Oscar-nominated scores



Cinema Paradiso, which Ennio composed along with his son Andrea

I haven't read anything yet on when TCM is going to run a programming tribute to Morricone.

TCM Star of the Month July 2020: Tony Curtis

We're into the first full week of a new month, which means it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM, that being Tony Curtis. TCM is running Curtis' movies every Monday in prime time, with a surprisingly low number of his movies, just 17. The movies are grouped somewhat by theme, with his early movies tonight, two nights of comedies (July 13 and 27), and one of dramas (July 20).



A movie which surprised me in its absence is Operation Petticoat, since it's one that Curtis talks about in the Star of the Month piece he did for Cary Grant many years back. But then I looked it up and it turns out the movie was made at Universal; for some reason I was thinking it was an MGM movie which would be easier for TCM to get.



Curtis got an Oscar nomination for The Defiant Ones, which is on tonight at 10:00 PM and is somewhat surprisingly not the first movie in the salute, that honor going to the Trapeze.



I was fortunate to have a pair of related pictures to use since The Defiant Ones is followed at 11:45 PM by The Vikings, which isn't all that good but is a fun movie to watch.

It's not surprising that the first of the comedies on July 13 would be Some Like It Hot, since it's one of the great movies ever made, with Tony Curtis being fun as the guy who gets poor Jack Lemmon into the crazy scheme of dressing as women to get away from a bunch of mobsters they witnessed committing a mob hit. Of course, Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon are the ones to get the memorable finale.



One other omission is Sweet Smell of Success, another movie for which Curtis would have been a worthy Oscar nominee. Curtis only got the one nomination for The Defiant Ones as mentioned above, but it's not the only role for which he probably should have gotten one. There's also The Boston Strangler, which is on the schedule, at 1:30 AM on July 21 (which is of course still July 20 on the west coast).





Sunday, July 5, 2020

Ooh, Fannie Hurst again


Author Fannie Hurst wrotesome works that got turned into rather melodramatic movies. I've blogged about the 1960s version of Back Street before, as well as both versions of Imitation of Life. Recently I had the chance to watch another movie based on a work by Hurst, Symphony of Six Million.

The movie starts off at some time in the past when the Jewish immigration was congregated in Manhattan's Lower East Side. One immigrant family is the Klaubers with parents Meyer (Gregory Ratoff) and Hannah (Anna Appel) and three kids. Felix is the middle kid, a bookish boy who's got an interest in medicine, while his older brother Magnus is more interested in moving up the socioeconomic ladder.

Fast forward twenty years or so. Felix (Ricardo Cortez) has in fact become a doctor, interested in ministering to the poor people still living in the tenements. He's also got a potential girlfriend in Jessica (Irene Dunne), someone with a decidedly non-Jewish name but who also works with the poor, in her case the blind children. She's got a handicap of her own thanks to a spinal deformity. Meanwhile, Magnus (Noel Madison) has become somewhat financially successful, and wants Felix, who is in a prestigious profession, to move uptown to treat wealthier patients and get their parents out of the tenements. And to be fair, the parents would like some more leisure.

It works, and Felix goes uptown with the rest of the family, although Felix does still have some misgivings. Life is financially rewarding but not spiritually fulfilling, and things are about to get worse. At a religious ceremony for Felix's young nephew, Meyer collapses, and somehow, Felix is the only one who can perform the brain surgery to save Dad. (Didn't they have specialists back then?) Dad dies on the operating table, and then Jessica needs an operation too even though she's down in the ghetto.

Symphony of Six Million is a decided melodrama, and as I was watching it, I couldn't help but think of another movie whose title I couldn't remember. Thankfully I recalled it was a Frank Capra film, and looking it up I knew I was thinking of The Younger Generation, surprised that is also starred Ricardo Cortez.

Cortez does a good job in Symphony of Six Million while Dunne is miscast. The material, to be honest, is a bit of an acquired taste, and certainly won't be for everybody. I think I liked The Younger Generation a bit more, but Symphony of Six Million is certainly worth a watch.

Symphony of Six Million is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.