Monday, August 31, 2020

I don't think we've had an Alfred Hitchock day in a while

Tomorrow is the first day in September, which means that we're going to be getting some new programming spotlights on TCM, but more on those starting tomorrow since I've got several movies coming up on various channels to blog about.

But before we get to the ptime time spotlights, we have a morning and afternoon of seven films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. While most of Hitchcock's films, at least from about 1934 or 1935 on (starting either with the first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much or The 39 Steps) aren't particularly uncommon, all the rights issues means some movies wind up getting shown more often than others that are extremely well known.

Most of tomorrow's lineup comes closer to the lesser-known movies, instead of the tentpoles like North by Northwest (on last weekend as part of Eva Marie Saint's day in Summer Under the Stars), and it's good to see a few movies that really deserve to be better remembered, such as The Wrong Man at 5:45 PM.

The lineup goes in chronological order, starting at 6:00 AM with The 39 Steps, which helped cement Hitchcock as the "Master of Suspense".
That's followed at 7:45 AM by The Lady Vanishes, with Dame May Whitty vanishing on Margaret Lockwood.
Joel McCrea is a fresh, unused mind in Foreign Correspondent at 9:30 AM.
Suspicion, at 11:45 AM, would be a better movie if it didn't have a cop-out ending.
At 1:45 PM, Marlene Dietrich is a murder suspect in Stage Fright.
Grace Kelly plays one of her Hitchcock Blondes in Dial M for Murder at 3:45 PM; and
As already mentioned, Henry Fonda gets sent to prison as The Wrong Man at 5:45 PM. If you haven't seen this one, it's definitely worth a watch.

The Last Page

I didn't mean to do two British pictures back to back, as I like to vary genres, eras, and stars as much as possible depending as well as what's coming up on TV. But thanks to being busy the past couple of weekends, I was looking for something short on my DVR that's also available on DVD, and that led to my picking Man Bait from Diana Dors' day in Summer Under the Stars.

Dors gets an "introducing" credit here despite having been in over a dozen movies in the preceding five years; the nominal star is George Brent, this apparently being one of those British movies where the producers thought getting an aging Hollywood star would make getting distribution in the US easier. (The Man Bait title was also for US distribution; the original title was The Last Page.)

Brent plays John Harman, manager of a London bookstore where Dors' character, Ruby Bruce works. Ruby, however, isn't exactly the best worker since she keeps showing up late. One day at work, she catches a customer named Jeffrey Hart (Peter Reynolds) trying to get into a cabinet to take a rare book. Rather than reporting Hart to her boss, Ruby decides that since he puts the book back, there's nothing more to go after. Jeffrey, meanwhile, invites Ruby to the club where he's a member.

Harman's life is more complicated. He's got an invalid wife, but has been able to cash in an insurance policy that will enable her to get treatment in Sweden. Meanwhile, not having been able to get any physical pleasure from that invalid wife, he's been seeing one of his employees, Stella (Marguerite Chapman), who had tended to him while he was in a military hospital during the war.

Anyhow, Harman asks Ruby to stay late after work to get some shipments inventoried and out. Ruby accidentally rips her blouse on a filing cabinet, and Harman offers £3 for a new one, a princely sum for a shop clerk like Ruby in the early 1950s. The encounter also results in Ruby getting kissed by Harman. But when Ruby meets Jeffrey at the club and tells him what happened, he gets bigger ideas in his head. Seeing that a married man kissed one of his employees, this would be a good time for said employee to start blackmailing the boss for much bigger sums -- and as we know Harman has several hundred pounds from that insurance policy.

Ruby isn't happy with the arrangement but feels threatened and needs the money. She writes a letter to Mrs. Harman, and when Mrs. Harman receives the letter, she tries to get out of bed to burn it, which results in her having a heart attack or something that kills her. That's bad enough for Harman, but there's worse to come.

Jeffrey meets Ruby in the shop after hours one evening, trying to get his share of the £100 that was the plan for Ruby to blackmail from Harman. But Harman no longer having need of the insurance money and being pissed with Ruby, he just throws a giant wad of cash at Ruby, well over the £100 she wanted. Jeffrey finds out there's more, and when Harman comes downstairs to investigate, Jeffrey tries to shut Ruby up, strangling her to death in the process.

Ruby's disappearance is noted, and eventually her body is found in a shipping crate that was supposed to be full of books Harman was shipping to himself, so he realizes he's not the chief suspect in the murder of Ruby. As so often happens in these B movie mysteries, the suspect (who we of course know is innocent) has to try to prove his own innocence with the police hot on his tail. At least he's got a woman in Stella trying to help him.

Man Bait is certainly watchable, although I don't think it's as good as another British movie from the time with similar themes, Home at Seven. Brent isn't nearly as good an actor as Ralph Richardson, and the whole blackmail plot doesn't make much sense, since Ruby has no real reason to blackmail Harman.

Dors, for her part, does a more than adequate job, and as an American it's always interesting to see these decidedly non-prestige British movies. Despite the movie's flaws, Man Bait is definitely more than worth a watch. It's on a standalone DVD as well as a box set of Hammer noir.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

North Sea Hijack

Quite some time back, I read a review of an interesting-sounding movie called ffolkes, originally released in the UK as North Sea Hijack. I picked up the DVD under the ffolkes title, and not too long ago finally got around to watching it to do a review on here.

Roger Moore plays Rufus ffolkes, ex-military who is now working in counterterrorism and has what seems to be his own private unit. He consults for Lloyd's of London, the big insurance firm that will insure almost anything for a price. In this case, it's North Sea oil platforms, and how to keep these remote locations from being threatened.

Cut to the other side of the North Sea. Esther is a cargo ship that supplies various oil platforms in the North Sea. Kramer (Anthony Perkins) and Harold (Michael Parks) are part of a group of journalists doing a story on the oil rigs, which is how they're boarded on the Esther. Except that these guys aren't journalists; they're terrorists whose intent is to threaten the oil rigs for a huge ransom. They get to the main rig named Jennifer and attach magnetic mines to it, doing the same to Ruth, some miles away and supplied by Jennifer. They then demand a ransom of £25 million, to be paid out equally in five different currencies.

Needless to say, this is a national security issue, and the Prime Minister (Faith Brook) calls in the Admiralty. Admiral Brindsen (James Mason) thinks about getting Lloyd's to pay the ransom, which seems like a lousy idea. Fortunately for Brindsen, Lloyd's had been talking to ffolkes about how to deal with just the sort of threat the two oil platforms now face. ffolkes is called in, and he has a good idea what to do, even though he's not thrilled having to meet the Prime Minister because of his resentment of women.

The idea ffolkes has involves going to the platforms with Brindsen, from where they'll figure out a way to infiltrate the Esther. Meanwhile, back on the boat, the crew is trying to come up with ways to fight the terrorists who have taken over their boat, although their first idea doesn't work at all. One good idea ffolkes has come up with is to create a fake explosion that looks like it has destroyed Ruth: Kramer will see the explosion but won't see that Ruth has not in fact been destroyed; hopefully, it will buy time for ffolkes and Brindsen. Eventually, the ultimate plan is to send Brindsen and ffolkes over to the Esther in a sort of hostage exchange while ffolkes' divers can infiltrate the ship from below. But Kramer doesn't like ffolkes, threatning to bollix the whole operation.

ffolkes is in many ways a standard thriller of the era, although there's a lot to recommend it. Roger Moore was in the middle of his run as James Bond when he made this, but his character is changed to have a personality much different from Bond even if the the thriller aspects seem similar. Where Bond sleeps with women left and right, ffolkes has a thing against women and authority in general because of the way he was raised by some really nasty aunts. The irony, of course, is that the one female member of the Esther crew is going to wind up helping ffolkes at a key point in the climax.

The story of ffolkes works quite well, even if again there's not anything groundbreaking here. Moore, having played Bond, is able to do ffolkes easily, while Perkins is excellent as the head of the bad guys. James Mason's role is a supporting one, but he lends the appropriate gravitas to it. The rest of the supporting cast does just fine, and the twists and turns of the plot are more then entertaining.

So if you want another movie you can sit back and watch with a bowl of popcorn, ffolkes is one that definitely fits the bill.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The part of Nora Charles is now being played by Ginger Rogers

I was looking for movies on my DVR that are available on DVD, and one of them is Star of Midnight, which is unsurpisingly available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

A brief introductory scene has Tim Winthrop (Leslie Fenton) talking with his girlfriend Alice Markham, with the agreement that they'll meet mid-evening. Cut to a shot of a clock showing a time much later when they were supposed to meet; a phone call to where Alice is supposed to be reveals that she's skipped town to head to New York.

Clay Dalzell (William Powell) is a lawyer in New York who has a young woman chasing him in the form of Donna Mantin (Ginger Rogers). Tim has reason to belive that Alice came to New York, and wants Clay to help find Alice. They do find her, playing the lead actress in a weird show called Midnight, where she's wearing a mask and performing under the name Mary Smith. When Tim calls her Alice, she leaves the stage and disappears, much to everybody's consternation. On leaving the theatre, Clay meets Jerry, an old flame who has been married several times and is now married to Roger (Ralph Morgan).

Meanwhile, Tommy Tennant is a newspaper gossip columnist who has been writing about Clay and Donna in ways that are quite unflattering to Clay. But he also has information on why Alice bolted from the show she was performing in, and he comes over to Clay's apartment to discuss it. However, before he can reveal what he knows, a mysterious hand holding a gun appears, firing the gun and shooting Tennant dead and grazing Clay before throwing the gun down near the two men.

Stupidly, Clay picks up the gun to chase the gunman, leaving his fingerprints all over it such that when the police come, Clay is going to be an obvious suspect. Clay realizes that he's going to have to do an investigation of his own to try to find both Alice and whoever it is that killed Tennant. (We of course already know that Clay is innocent.) Inspector Doremus (J. Farrell MacDonald) is on the case, and one suspect we haven't mentioned yet is shady lawyer Kinland (Paul Kelly).

William Powell investigates a murder, and he and his love interest drink a lot, so Star of Midnight brings up obvious resemblances to The Thin Man. This one was made at RKO as opposed to The Thin Man at MGM. so the whole production looks a little less polished than what we get over at MGM. The story itself is also a little more convoluted and doesn't work the way The Thin Man did, although to be fair the story is only part of the reason you watch a movie like this.

The other main reason is the chemistry between the two leads, and both of them shine here. Ginger Rogers holds her own as much as Myrna Loy did in the Thin Man movies. The movie is pretty much about the two of them even more than other "couples investigate a murder" movies are, as the rest of the characters are surprisingly unmemorable.

Star of Midnight is certainly worth a watch, although this is another of those movies that would be better served being on a four-film box set of the sort that Warner Home Video used to put out in conjunction with TCM.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Girl in White

About a year ago, I mentioned that I had intended to DVR the June Allyson movie The Girl in White but instead recorded Two Sisters from Boston. When TCM did its series on biopics of women, they re-ran The Girl in White. Recently I got around to watching it, and since it's on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, I'm happy to do a review of it.

Allyson plays Emily Dunning, who at the beginning of the movie is moving into a new place in New York sometime in the 1890s with her heavily-pregnant mother. Mom goes into labor, and Emily has to find a doctor. The only one she can find on such short notice is Dr. Yeomans (Mildred Dunnock), who happens to be a woman doctor, which was almost unheard of back in the 1890s. But meeting Yeomans gives Emily the idea that she too is going to go to college and then medical school and become a doctor. Yeomans is more than sympathetic to Emily, but warns her of the hard road she's going to have ahead.

Still, Emily does go on to college and medical school, studying hard since she feels she needs to be better than all the other medical students, all male, or they won't respect her otherwise. Indeed, most of them tend to make life a bit difficult for Emily, although Ben Barringer (Arthur Kennedy) is a lot nicer to her. The two fall in love, although that's going to cause some problems.

After finishing medical school, Emily plans to go back to New York and hopes to get residency at a hospital there. Ben gets the chance to further his research at Harvard, and there's a conflict over whether Emily should follow as Ben thinks a wife should do. But Emily is firm on going back to New York to help the people she grew up with.

But getting that residency isn't going to be easy, since Emily is a woman. She applies to Gouverneur Hospital, and the chief of staff there, Dr. Pawling (Gary Merrill) is reluctant to accept her. But her grades are so stellar that eventually he's forced to give in. Some accommodations have to be made, of course, since Emily can't actually room with the male doctors. Some of the male doctors try to punish her by changing the duty roster to have her constantly "on call", but this doesn't really stop Emily.

Emily is determined and not always orthodox, as we see when she's theoretically too small to help a very tall sailor (James Arness) with a dislocated shoulder, or when she continues to try to save a patient another intern declared dead (she's successful). She, and ultimately Dr. Yeomans too, gets a chance to shine when there's a typhoid epidemic in the city.

The Girl in White is the sort of programmer that MGM was actually pretty good at making. I know I've criticized MGM here for making stuff that looks too glossy, but a lot of their little programmers and period pieces turn out to be as entertaining as the prestige stuff. The Girl in White is an unpretentious little movie with June Allyson appealing in her role and Kennedy quite good as the man who ultimately has the courage to realize he's got a woman (in real life the two would marry) who's going to have a professional career no matter what. MGM takes liberties with real events for Hollywood purposes, but they work for the story.

If you want a pleasant enough movie about an interesting historical figure, I can definitely recommend The Girl in White.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Briefs for August 27-28, 2020

I'm not going to be taking part in this week's Thursday Movie Picks because it's a TV edition, with the theme being prequels. TV prequels are a subject I don't know much about. I remembered Muppet Babies from the 1980s, and was surprised to see that it got revirevived a few years back. Shows how much recent episodic TV I watch.

I should probably mention the passing of actress Lori Nelson, who died on Sunday about a week after her 87th birthday. I mentioned her not all that long ago as the club-footed girl Jack Palance helps in I Died a Thousand Times, but she was also Mamie Van Doren's sister in Untamed Youth, one of my Against the Grain selections.

As for birthdays, I think I did a birthday post on Cecil Kellaway some years back. There's also James Finlayson, who was the foil in a bunch of the Laurel and Hardy shorts. I found him on YouTube in The Soilers, a public domain short from before Laurel was with Hardy. Finlayson is Snacknamara, the bald guy:

Today in Summer Under the Stars we get Claudette Colbert, which means another chance to catch It Happened One Night at 8:00 PM and The Palm Beach Story at midnight. Tomorrow brings the movies of Paul Henried, so you can watch the recently blogged-about Song of Love at 10:00 AM.

Over on FXM, there's another airing of last week's mention Flight of the Phoenix at 12:30 PM, and another returned to the FXM rotation, Patton getting a pair of airings at 3:00 AM and 9:35 AM.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Ma Kettle Meets the Bowery Boys

Ann Sheridan was TCM's Star of the Month back in June. One of her movies that I hadn't blogged about before is Angels Wash Their Faces. It's on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I recently watched it to do a post on here.

Sheridan plays Joy Ryan, elder sister of high-school aged Gabe (Frankie Thomas). Gabe is set to get out of reform school, and he's going to live with Joy, their parents presumably being dead. In order to help Gabe, they're moving in to a new for him neighborhood. While they're moving in, a gang called the Termites (played by the Dead End Kids, who would go on to become the Bowery Boys) shows up and make themselves mild pests, although truth be told they're really not malicious, they just need some guidance.

The Termites decide to admit Gabe as a member, something that I'd think Joy wouldn't like just out of fear, but she doesn't seem to mind. One of the initiation rites involves making Gabe think the other guys are about to set him on fire, only for them not to. These guys ought to be old enough to know better than to play with fire, but then we wouldn't have much of a movie. They're in the basement of a building they think is abandoned, but the building owner Kroner finds out and wants them to stay out.

But it gives Kroner an idea. He's working for Martino (Eduardo Ciannelli), a mob leader who is burning down storage facilities his group owns for the insurance money -- they leave boxes filled with junk in the facility and take the good merchandise out, but collect on the merchandise. With Gabe recently having been released from reform school and the Termites playing with fire, Martino decides he can get Gabe blamed for the fires and sent to jail for arson.

Of course, the scheme doesn't quite work out that way. The fire spreads to a tenement building full of apartments, and in one of them is one of the Termites' friends, Sleepy Arkelian, who has a "glandular" issue as well as needing to use crutches. He burns to death in the fire, with Mrs. Arkelian (Marjorie Main) watching. Gabe is tried and convicted , and although the Termites know Gabe is innocent, they have no way of proving it.

That is, until the annual "Boys' Week" is announced. This is an initiative spearheaded by the mayor (Berton Churchill) to get adolescents interested in civics. One lucky young man who passes all the tests will get the chance to be honorary mayor for a week. The Termites think if they can get their member Billy (Billy Halop) named honorary mayor, the Termites can use the mayor's real powers to get the dirt on whoever really set the fires, with a little help from Joy and her boyfriend Remson (Ronald Reagan), son of the District Attorney.

Sheridan and Reagan are the nominal leads here, although the movie really belongs to the Dead End Kids. The movie starts off a bit slowly, but once we get to Billy trying to run for honorary mayor and then he and his "cabinet" of fellow Termites (plus Leo Gorcey's sister played by Bonita Granville), the movie gets really fun, even if the Termites take the law into their own hands (well, mostly; an obscure law not enforced in decades is a plot point) with surprising results.

Sheridan, and even more so Reagan, don't have much to do here, with Reagan more or less reprising his not-really-a-lead role from Girls on Probation. What what they do do they do just fine. The adult supporting actors are all quite good, although poor Marjorie Main has to overact pretty severely.

When the Dead End Kids were at Warner Bros., they got put in some pretty darn good vehicles, and while the others may be technically better thanks to having bigger stars, Angels Wash Their Faces still does quite well for what it is. It's definitely worth a watch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Doll House of Size

Another movie that I recently got around to watching is the exploitation film The Big Doll House.

Judy Brown plays Collier, a young woman who, at the start of the movie, is spending her first day at a prison in a tropical third world country that I think isn't mentioned, but a few signs have place names from the Philippines. Collier is put in a cell with five other women, all of whom only use their surnames to address each other. Pam Grier plays "Grear", a lesbian (albeit maybe by convenience) who procures heroin for Harrad (Brooke Mills); Alcott (Robert Collins) and Bodine (Pat Woodell) are dreaming of escape; and Ferina (Gina Stuart) is along for the ride.

The prison is run by warden Dietrich (Christiane Schmidtmer), who is assisted by the chief guard Lucian (Kathryn Loder). Those two use all sorts of torture on the prisoners to punish them, something that concerns new prison doctor Phillips (Jack Davis), although he doesn't know the extent of what's going on, only what he hears from the prisoners he has to see for medical reasons. Dietrich and Lucian suggest the prisoners are creating tall tales, which they obviously have reason to do.

Rounding out this little world are the two guys who have the contract to supply the prison with fresh produce, Harry (Sid Haig) and Fred (Jerry Franks). They seem to have relatively unfettered access to prison, surprisingly so in fact for a place that includes political prisoners among its inmates. They go through the hallways, dealing with the women who want a man's touch not having had it for years in some cases.

Eventually, Alcott and Bodine do put their escape plans into motion. But none of this is why you watch a women in prison movie. Instead, you watch it for the exploitation: the catfights among the women, the guards' sadistic treatment of the prisoners, the food fight, and the sexuality which is clearly much more open than any prison movies made even just a few short years before under the Prodction Code. There's a lot of women's breasts on display here.

If you were looking to do a technical review of The Big Doll House, you'd have to say that it's not very good. It's cheap and tawdry; there's nothing original in the plot; and people like Grier would go on to put in much better performances in later movies. Caged this isn't. But I can certainly recommend this one because it's so much fun for what it does. The mud wrestling scene between Grear and Alcott is one of the highlights; the food fight scene is laughably bad; and there's a well-done torture sequence involving a cobra.

If you want to watch something undemanding that you can just have fun yelling back at the TV screen as you watch it, you could do a lot worse than to watch The Big Doll House. It's avaialble on DVD as part of a three-film box set.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Last Hard Men

Our next installment in "movies back in the FXM rotation" is The Last Hard Men. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:10 AM, with another airing Wednesday morning at 3:00 AM.

James Coburn plays Zach Provo, who at the beginning of the movie is on a chain gang laying down some rails, or otherwise maintaining them, somewhere in the desert of southwest Arizona a few years before statehood. There are only two guards with guns, and a ruse is created for one of the guys to get his chains broken and overpower one of the guards. The other guard soon follows, and the prisoners can at make their escape.

At least, that's the theory. They're in the middle of the desert, so figuring out where to go is tough. Provo is able to make himself the leader of a group of seven of them, and head for parts unknown; among the group are Lee Roy (Robert Donner) and Gant (John Quade) who are only following out of convenience, looking for a chance to take over if they could.

Meanwhile, in town, we see Sam Burgade (Charlton Heston). He's the retired sheriff, and the man who was responsible for putting Provo behind bars. Sam understands that Provo is going to be gunning for him now. Sam has a daughter Susan (Barbara Hershey) who is loved by Hal Brickman (Christopher Mitchum). Susan was thrilled with her father's retirement and decidedly displeased that Dad is going to be sucked in to "just one more" case.

Dad has a good idea to set a trap for Provo. Provo had been convicted for bank robbery and absconded with a bunch of gold that was never discovered; Provo being half-Indian, Sam thinks that the gold is buried on the reservation where Sam and the rest of the white authorities have no jurisdiction. So Sam tries to draw Provo in to town by getting a shipment of gold on a train coming in, and having word of that leak out where Provo is bound to hear it.

Provo does come to town, but he's no dummy. He gets the distinct impression that this is a trap, and while Sam is out at the train station waiting for Provo to show up, Provo heads over to the Burgade place. He tells Susan that he's been sent over to keep Susan safe from people out to get her, but she's no dummy. Provo is telling a half-truth; there are people out to get Susan, but he's the people out to get her. So he forces his way in to the house and kidnaps Susan, heading off for the mountains.

Meanwhile, the other escapees see this nubile young woman, and want her for themselves because they haven't had carnal relations in a long time; this holds especially true for Gant and Lee Roy who see this as another way to get back at Provo. A posse headed by Sam and Hal heads off to find Provo and rescue Susan....

The Last Hard Men is a nice little 1970s western. Being made well after the breakdown of the Production Code, there's much more scope for violence and the natural adult theme of sex. There's nothing particularly memorable about the acting or the cinematography, but it's all in service of a perfectly serviceable story. If you were looking to introduce people to classic westerns, The Last Hard Men wouldn't necessarily be high up on my list, but if you want to sit down with some refreshments and watch an eminently entertaining movie, I don't think you'll go wrong with The Last Hard Men. Definitely worth a watch.

TCM lists it as being available on a cheap box set of Fox westerns from the 60s and 70s.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Cloud Captains

During 31 Days of Oscar, one of the movies that I recorded was Captains of the Clouds. Having been made at Warner Bros., it's unsurprisingly available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I recently got around to watching it and doing a blog post on here.

Dennis Morgan plays Johnny Dutton, a bush pilot in northern Ontario circa 1939 who is in love with Emily Foster (Brenda Marshall), the daughter of a manager of one of the camps which the bush pilots support. His plan is to marry Emily and start an airline. When he tries to deliver a team of huskies to one of the bush camps, he finds that he's been beaten to the punch by Brian MacLean, James Cagney), who was able to do it more cheaply. Tiny (Alan Hale Sr.), British expat Scrounger (Reginald Gardiner), and Quebecker Blimp Lebec (George Tobias) also have gripes about how Brian has been undercutting them.

And then we meet MacLean, who isn't just a ruthless businessman, but one who takes risks in his flying and doesn't do things by the book. Of course, this is going to turn out to be the right thing in the final reel as with all those "unorthodox cop" movies, but boy is it going to cause heartache for everybody involved along the way. Indeed, it nearly kills Brian when he gets hit in the head by the still-rotating propeller of his plane.

While Brian is unconscious and recuperating, the other pilots find his notebook with a business deal that they pull out from under him and thereby force him into partnership. Brian, for his part, gets to know Emily better, and realizes that if Dutton marries her it's going to ruin his life and dreams for that airline. So Brian marries her to prevent this, but of course Dutton doesn't understand and basically disappears.

Sometime in 1940, during the Battle of Britain, Brian and the other pilots hear Winston Churchill's speech about "We shall fight on the beaches", which triggers some patriotic instinct in them, so they try to join the RCAF as fighter pilots, doing this by literally landing their bush planes on an RCAF base outside Ottawa. They're too old, and frankly, their nation probably needs them as bush pilots helping keep all the northern raw materials operations going, not that the recruiters are going to get them to understand this.

Instead, the RCAF officers suggest that they become pilot instructors. The RCAF have definite methods of how pilots should operate in combat and bombing missions, but MacLean thinks that these methods aren't going to work out in the real world, so he teaches the guys in his planes how to do things by the seat of one's pants. This results in getting one of the student pilots seriously injured, so the RCAF understandably court-martials MacLean, dishonorably discharging him and getting his civil aviation license yanked.

However, some time later there's a serious plane accident that results in a bunch of death among the pilots whose job it is to fly the planes made in Canada over the Britain. They need new pilots. Blimp and Scrounger sign up for this duty, while MacLane sees this as his chance for redemption.

Captains of the Clouds is an interesting movie for a bunch of reasons. It was made with a lot of help from the RCAF, with real officers and flight footage. It was apparently produced in late 1941, just before the US was pushed into World War II, but released in February 1942, which is why there's a bit in the pilot graduation ceremony about the Americans who join up to help Canada and Britain. A few months later they'd all be in the US military. The movie is made in Technicolor with a lot of location shooting, and this too is really nice to see.

On the bad side however, is Cagney's character. He's irritating and seems to have an utter lack of common sense, as when he's rejected from being a fighter pilot for being too old. Also, when he's court-martialed, he and Tiny respond by trying to strafe the graduation ceremony, with terrible consequences! I don't understand why the guy doesn't wind up in jail.

But if you're looking for a snapshot of World War II that doesn't get shown as much as some of the other war movies, or a prestige film that doesn't show up as much as others from the same period, Captains of the Clouds is absolutely worth a watch.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Reality Bites

Another of the movies that I recorded during one of the free preview weekends is Reality Bites. It's going to be on multiple times next week on various of the channels in the Cinemax package, starting Sunday morning at 11:30 AM on More Max.

The movie starts off with a video of Leilana (Winona Ryder) giving the valedictory at her college graduation, and then some more video of her and her friends in the "they think they're profound but they're not" way people that age do. Those friends are Vickie (Janeane Garofalo), who sleeps around; Sammy (Steve Zahn), who eventually comes out of the closet as the movie's Token Gay Friend; and Troy (Ethan Hawke), a slacker musician who spends more time practicing with the band than looking for a job.

Leilana's rich but divorced parents (Swoosie Kurtz and Joe Don Baker) try to buy her off with Mom's old BMW and a gas card, which she reluctantly accepts until she can support herself better. For the meantime, she shares an apartment with Vickie, now working at the Gap, and gets a job with a morning show hosted by phony Grant (John Mahoney) while she can try to follow her dreams of becoming a documentarian.

One day while Leilana and Vickie are in their car, they get in a minor accident caused by Michael (Ben Stiller) who is too busy looking at a map and on his car phone (a big thing for the early 90s). Michael is a producer at a cable TV channel called In Your Face TV, which looks something like either a forerunner to Quibi, or Al Gore's unlamented Current TV. Perhaps Leilana might be able to get her documentary off the ground. At any rate, Michael decides it's love at first sight with Leilana.

This makes Troy jealous, as he realizes he's loved Leilana all along. He's not going to be able to do much for Leilana, however, as he's lost his job again, and resorts to sleeping on Leilana's couch. Leilana also loses her job because she stupidly feeds Grant a bunch of embarrassing questions. (Obviously, none of these people saw Tony Randall realize he was going to have to settle in No Down Payment, and that this is the ultimate reality for most of us.)

Much of the second half of Reality Bites deals with the love triangle between Leilana, Troy, and Michael, as she can't decide which of the two she wants to be with. Michael is ambiguous; it seemed to me unclear whether he was a good guy who just didn't get Leilana's dreams, or a selfish jerk who didn't care about them. Troy, on the other hand, couldn't be bothered to show up for a job interview that Leilana's father offered, which ought to be a major red flag, but Leilana instead makes excuses for him. Vickie has to take an AIDS test, while Sammy is largely written out of the movie.

Reality Bites is the sort of movie that ought to be right up my alley, as all the characters would have been born about the same year I was. But then, I didn't have the college experience they did or the post-college experience. It's not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's one that I found frustrating as I just couldn't sympathize with many of the characters' motivations. At least they came across as more realistic than the people on Friends, however, which is a big plus.

There's an eclectic mix of music dating from then-current back to the 70s and before, something that I think reflects reality as I remember from my college days. While I didn't always care for the false profundity, I did like that the characters and their circumstances also seemed a lot more like real life not only than Friends as I mentioned above, but a lot of the other movies of people trying to make it in the big city.

Ultimately, Reality Bites is an interesting capsule of its time that doesn't always work, but does hit more than it misses. Reality Bites is still in print on both DVD and Blu-ray.

TCM's Olivia de Havilland tribute

Actress Olivia de Havilland died at the end of last month at the age of 104. Since her passing occurred so close to the start of Summer Under the Stars, I wondered whether TCM would just wait until September to do a likely 24-hour salute to her. However, TCM decided to bump what was originally going to be Bette Davis' day tomorrow, August 23, and do a day of Olivia de Havilland instead. The movies they're showing are:

The Male Animal, with Henry Fonda and Ronald Coleman, kicks things off at 6:00 AM.

At 8:00 AM, there's Princess O'Rourke.

Light in the Piazza with Rossanno Brazzi, George Hamilton, and Yvette Mimieux, comes on at 10:00 AM.

In This Our Life follows at noon.
Captain Blood, which teamed de Havilland with Errol Flynn for the first time, shows up at 1:45 AM.

There's more of de Havilland and Flynn in Dodge City at 4:00 PM, and

The Adventures of Robin Hood at 6:00 PM.

Prime time kicks off at 8:00 PM with Gone With the Wind.

De Havilland won her second Oscar for The Heiress, airing at midnight.
Her first Oscar was for To Each His Own, which follows at 2:15 AM.
The final film in the tribute is Hard to Get, at 4:30 AM.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Sex and the Single Girl

Tomorrow in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, we get a day of the movies of Natalie Wood. One of her movies that I haven't blogged about before is Sex and the Single Girl. It comes on tomorrow at 11:30 AM, and since I recorded it the last time it was on, I decided to watch it to do a post on it for the upcoming showing.

Tony Curtis gets nominal top billing as Bob Weston. Bob is the managing editor of Stop magazine, a magazine that at one point in the distant past had been a serious analysis magazine, but at some point in a desperate attempt to boost circulation, turned to writing much more salacious articles. One of those articles was about young psychologist/sexologist Helen Brown (Natalie Wood), who wrote a best-selling book called Sex and the Single Girl about how a single girl can in fact have it all.

Brown and her colleagues at the institute were of course aghast at that article, but Weston thinks it didn't go far enough. In fact, he believes that Brown has no real sexual experience at all, at least not of the sort she wrote about, and he's going to set about proving it for an article for Stop. Of course, there's an obvious problem in that there's no way Brown is ever going to consent to doing an interview with the good people at Stop, so Bob is going to have to come up with some way to get that interview.

As for Bob's personal life, he lives in an aparment next to Frank Broderick (Henry Fonda) and Frank's wife Sylvia (Lauren Bacall). Frank markets high-class women's hosiery, and although he's devoted to Sylvia, he's convinced that she believes Frank is interested in every woman he sees when in fact he's only got a professional interest in what sort of stocking are on these women's legs. It's the source for a lot of bickering.

And this gives Bob an idea. He'll go see Dr. Brown pretending to be Frank, and telling Brown Frank's problems with Sylvia. This, somehow, will trip Brown up and give Bob the material he needs for his story. In fact, Brown seems to be incredibly handsy with Bob, much more than I would imagine most psychologists being. She concludes, based on Bob-as-Frank's descriptions, that Sylvia is the problem. She'd like to meet Sylvia, something which Bob doesn't want because that will give the game away.

Eventually Brown does something I'd think is a severe violation of professional ethics and approaches Sylvia herself. Bob tries to get his girlfriend to pass herself off as Sylvia, and his secretary joins in, leading to three "Sylvias" which further perplexes Brown. And if that's a bad violation of ethics, Bob is falling in love with Helen, while Helen has feelings for Bob she doesn't want to explore for the obvious ethical reasons.

Sex and the Single Girl is a farce that takes its name from the book by Helen Gurley Brown, but as far as I'm aware Wood's character is nothing like the real-life Brown was and the movie is nothing like the book, Warner Bros. only using the title because they thought it would sell tickets.

There's a lot in Sex and the Single Girl that people will enjoy, but I have to admit that there's a fair amount that I had a problem with. I've mentioned the lack of professional ethics that Wood's Helen Brown has; this is all played for laughs and I can't imagine her colleagues at the institute being very accepting of what she's doing. Tony Curtis' Bob is another of his schmoozy schemers, a sort of character that I can find deeply unlikeable when it doesn't work; here, there are times that I didn't like it at all. The finale, which involved a madcap car chase, also didn't work for me.

But again, I think this is material that will appeal to some people, especially if you're interested in how the mid-1960s saw themselves. The movie, having been released by Warner Bros., is unsurpisingly available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2020

For the past several years, Wendell over at Dell on Movies has hosted a fun blogathon called "Against the Crowd". The rules are simple. Pick two movies to blog about. There's just one catch. One has to be a movie that "everybody" (as determined by a Rotten Tomatoes rating) loves but you hate, and the other has to be on that the same everybody hates but you like. We're upon that time of year for the blogathon, and it made me think about what movies I'd use this year. Fortunately, I had just watched a movie that fit one of the two categories, but had to think about the other....

Movie everybody else loves that I hate: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966).

Real-life couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor play insane drunkards George and Martha, inviting colleagues (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) over for a nightcap after a university professors' function. The elder couple proceeds to treat their guests like dire. I absolutely hated both of the main characters, and hated the fact that the younger couple pretty much stood there and took the abuse. Not long after watching this one, I watched Old Acquaintance, which has Bette Davis literally shaking some sense into vapid Miriam Hopkins. As I watched, I thought that perhaps Segal should have shaken Burton and Taylor. Not only are the characters obnoxious, they go on and on has the movie runs well over two hours. It got every Oscar nomination it was eligible for and won for Taylor and Dennis, but I find it tedious.

Movie everybody else hates that I like: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

OK, this isn't exactly a good movie. Music producer Robert Stigwood had the "brilliant" idea of having a bunch of musical stars -- and some non-musical stars -- of the late 1970s reimagine Beatles songs, against a backdrop of a story about a Middle America town called Hearland, its hometown hero Billy Shears (Peter Frampton), and developers' plans to do something to the town. The plot is forgettable; Frampton can't act; I'd have to look up who played his love interest; and it's otherwise all-around cringeworthy. But it fails so spectactularly that it's fun! And to be honest, some of the music is better than is given credit for. The Bee Gees go back to their harmonies from the earlier era that produced "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" for their rendition of "Nowhere Man", which I think they pull off well. The highlight is Earth, Wind, and Fire's tremendous funk version of "Got to Get You Into My Life". And Aerosmith aren't nearly as bad as you might think. But then there's the awful, like George Burns singing "Fixing a Hole" or Donald Pleasance (seriously!) doing "I Want You (She's So Heavy)".

This is the fifth time I've joined the Against the Crowd blogathon; previous entries can be found here:


I don't know what I was doing to miss the blogathon in 2016.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The latest "in the FXM rotation" selection

It seems about once a week lately, I've been getting around to watching a movie that started showing up in the FXM rotation within the past couple of months. This week, that movie is The Hot Rock. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 3:00 AM and 11:25 AM.

Robert Redford plays John Dortmunder, who at the beginning of the movie is being released from prison. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to have anywhere to go are anybody to greet him upon being released, as he's just walking along the sidewalk. That is, until a car tries to run him down. That car is driven by Kelp (George Segal), who is Dortmunder's brother-in-law. Kelp is also looking to become one of Dortmunder's partners in crime, Dortmunder being a jewel thief and Kelp owning a store selling locks in New York City, this being the era when crime in the city was really becoming a huge problem.

Indeed, Kelp has a proposal for a heist for his brother-in-law. The Star of Sahara is a big diamond that is of interest to several African countries, currently being exhibited at one of New York's museums. Dr. Amusa (Moses Gunn) is the UN Ambassador from one of those countries, one which thinks that the diamond is rightfully theirs but has seen it be taken from them by various of their members. Amusa would like it back for his country, and is willing to offer up to $100,000 to Dortmunder and his partners, albeit with some conditions.

Dortmunder accepts the proposal, bringing along Kelp; Murch (Ron Leibman) as the getaway driver; and Greenberg (Paul Sand) as the explosives expert. After some staking out of the museum, Dortmunder decides that the best way to get the diamond is going to involve some sort of diversion tactic to get the guards away. Chaos ensues, and they get away with the diamond.

Well, not quite. Three of them get away, but not Greenberg, who has the diamond. He decides to hide it by swallowing it, obviously planning to recover it when he defecates it out of his system. (Obviously, this places a limit on the size of the diamond.) However, there's another problem. Greenberg is in detention long enough that he elminiates it before he's released, and has to hide it in the police precinct.

So the thieves are going to have to come up with a plan to infiltratate the police station, and get that diamond from where it's been hidden. It's a complicated plan involving helicoptering onto the roof, even though none of them can actually pilot a helicopter. But it works, and they get into the precinct. Except that the diamond is no longer there. Greenberg's father (Zero Mostel) is a shyster lawyer, and on one of his visits to Greenberg in detention he was able to get the diamond, which is now in his safety deposit box, where only he can get at it because the folks at the bank know his face and his signature.

The Hot Rock is another of those movies that has a really fun premise, but winds up not quite meeting those expectations. I think part of the reason is the Zero Mostel character, whom I found intensely irritating. Another part of it is because the movie felt even more unrealistic than other heist films. A lot of the noir era heist movies, while they do have their own plot holes, work better, but all of Dortmunder's partners seem too bumbling.

Still, Robert Redford is amiable enough that the movie is certainly not a complete failure or something that should be missed. It works well enough as light entertainment if you don't think too hard about what the characters are doing. The Hot Rock did get a DVD release, but it seems to be out of print.

Thursday Movie Picks #319: Female 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's theme is "Female Buddy Movies", something you might have thought at first was a more recent phenomenon. But I thought about it for a bit and went way back in time to come up with three features and a short from the 1930s:

Reducing (1931). Buddies: Marie Dressler and Polly Moran. Marie Dressler grew to become one of the most popular actresses of the early 1930s until her untimely death in 1934. Dressler was partnered in several smaller features with Polly Moran, such as this one having her play a country cousin who because of the Depression goes to the big city to work at her sister's (Moran) beauty salon. Dressler shakes the place up, not always to Moran's liking. The two each have a daughter and those two daughters wind up rivals too.

Girl Missing (1933). Buddies: Glenda Farrell and Mary Brian. Farrell and Brian play a pair of gold-diggers trying to wheedle money out of Guy Kibbee, who dumps them unceremoniously in a hotel in Palm Beach, stiffing them with a bill for hundreds of dollars. Thankfully, they discover a fellow chorus girl they knew (Peggy Shannon) has successfully gotten a millionaire (Ben Lyon) but has gone missing. They (mostly Farrell) try to solve the mystery in order to get their bills paid. Unsurprisingly, Farrell gets the best lines and makes this movie run; best is when they get the "Dear Jane" letter from Kibbee: "It's addressed to us all right: 'To the G.D. sisters.' I wonder if he means 'gold-diggers', or that other well-known word."

We're in the Money (1935). Buddies: Glenda Farrell and Joan Blondell. If any woman could keep up on screen with Glenda Farrell, it would have to be Joan Blondell. In this movie, the two play a pair of process servers for lawyer Hugh Herbert. They're asked to serve a warrant on a playboy millionaire (tragic Ross Alexander) who is notoriously good at avoiding such things, but they discover that the millionaire has been slumming in the park and there has become the boyfriend of Blondell.

The Tin Man (1935). Buddies: Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly. Todd (who died tragically young under mysterious circumstances) and Kelly appeared together in a series of shorts made by Hal Roach, Kelly having replaced Zasu Pitts more or less. In this short, the two girlfriends wind up in a house owned by a mad scientist who's created a robot (the titular "tin man"). Also winding up there is an escaped convict. You can imagine the sort of two-reeler comedy that ensues.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Briefs for August 19-20, 2020

Today's star in TCMs Summer Under the Stars is Dolores Del Rio. For some reason, none of TCM's schedules is showing the movie in the 8:00 PM time slot -- and I looked at the daily, weekly, and monthly schedules. A quick trip over to the TV and the box guide says Ramona. This would have to be the 1928 silent, since that's the one she's in (I haven't seen it, so I can't further comment on the movie). The following movie is Bird of Paradise with Joel McCrea, which is definitely worth a watch.

I haven't done a birthday post in a while, and am not doing one today since there aren't too many big ones today. I think I did a birthday post on Debra Paget (as far as I know still alive at 87) some years back. Today is also the 80th birthday of Jill St. John, who among other things played Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever.

I do, however, have to mention another passing, which is that of Ben Cross. In a varied career on stage and screen, Cross is probably best remembered for playing Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire. Interestingly, Ian Holm, who played Abrahams' coach in Chariots of Fire, also died earlier this year, so I'd bet that when it comes time for the end of year TCM Remembers piece, the two will be right next to each other.

Tomorrow's star in Summer Under the Stars is William Powell. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with The Key and concludes at 4:45 AM Friday with High Pressure, which interestingly enough both happen to be on the same William Powell box set I mentioned when I reviews High Pressure. (I haven't gotten around to watching The Key yet.

Posting is actually going to be a bit heavy the rest of the week as I've got a couple of blogathons to participate in as well as movies that are coming up on TV soon so I want to make a point of doing the blog post on them now (I'll have to check again whether they have a DVD release or not).

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The other Catherine the Great movie

It's slightly odd, but there were two separate prestige biopics of Russian Empress Catherine the Great released in 1934. One was the Hollywood movie The Scarlet Empress, starring Marlene Dietrich and directed by Josef von Sternberg; it's probably the better-known of the two movies because of its Hollywood provenance and having a bigger star. A few months back, TCM ran the other movie, The Rise of Catherine the Great, which was made in the UK and is on DVD in a Criterion box set.

Elisabeth Bergner plays Catherine, born Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, a small principality in what is now eastern Germany. At the age of 16, she was married off to Peter (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), heir to the throne in Russia, which is being ruled by Peter's aunt Elizabeth (Flora Robson). The movie has them basically meeting on their wedding day, a sign that the marriage isn't going to be a happy one.

Indeed, Peter leaves Sophia, renamed Catherine because she needed to convert to Orthodoxy to marry Peter, on her wedding night, having an affair with another young woman. Catherine is understandably unhappy, deciding that she's going to retaliate by having a series of affairs and by taking an interest in the affairs of state. Catherine has a bit of an ally in Elizabeth, since they're both women, and Elizabeth understands what Catherine is going through.

Catherine is also the only one with real sympathy for Elizabeth. Peter doesn't like her and is biding his time waiting for her to die so that he can assume the throne. He's mentally unstable and, because of his relationship with his aunt, hates women, so he also plans to get Catherine out of the way once he's Emperor. (Producing an heir is not mentioned here; in real life she had two surviving sons before becoming Empress.)

Elizabeth is portrayed as having a bad heart in some very obvious foreshadowing that she's going to die, which happens right in the middle of a ball. This makes Peter the Emperor, and he's going to send Catherine to a nunnery. She realizes what the score is, so she conspires to have Peter removed with the help of an army regiment, which is what happened, putting Catherine on the throne, where she remained for over 30 years until her death.

Like all biopics, a fair amount of liberty is taken with the truth. I mentioned the two sons above. The movie compresses all of the action into two or maybe three years, when in fact Catherine was married to Peter for 17 years, and Peter reigned for about six months rather than the couple of days it's portrayed as here. These aren't serious problems with the movie, but history buffs as always will notice the liberties.

As compared to The Scarlet Empress, each of the films has its strengths. The Scarlet Empress has the better production values, and impressive camerawork from von Sternberg's ideas, making the movie visually very interesting. The Rise of Catherine the Great is generally more straightforward, although that also turns out to be the movie's strength. It's a much easier version of history to follow than the more visual and less narrative American film.

Some reviews I read have a problem with Bergner's acting, but I didn't. Fairbanks, and especially Robson, are quite good, the latter not a surprise at all. And the production values, while not quite as good as in The Scarlett Empress, aren't a problem at all either.

I can definitely recommend The Rise of Catherine the Great and, having now seen three of the four movies on the Eclipse series box set, the set itself.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Warner Bros. Revue of 1929

The advent of talking pictures threw Hollywood into a tizzy, as many people who had no stage acting experience needed time to learn how to do dialog naturally for the cameras; some people of course had voices or thick accents that didn't translate well to talking pictures. MGM made a movie called The Hollywood Revue as a sort of screen test for most of its contract stars (the major exception being Greta Garbo). Warner Bros. responded with Show of Shows.

Frank Fay is the master of ceremonies here, following a prologue of an execution scene that looks like it could have come from A Tale of Two Cities but as far as I know didn't. Fay thinks he's got a lot of talent, and wants to do a musical number or two. But it's his job to introduce the other acts, with somebody else certain to stop him if he does try to sing.

Warner Bros. used most of its contract players here, like MGM did, although I have to admit that a lot of them I didn't recognize, such as Richard Barthelmess. A few are identified, notably a young Myrna Loy whom I also didn't recognize in her first number, a song asking "What Became of the Floradora Boy", the "Floradora Girl" being a Gay Nineties chorus girl and soon-to-be subject of a Marion Davies movie. John Barrymore is also instantly recognizable giving a soliloquy from Shakespeare's Henry VI Part III.

But most of what we get is song and dance numbers that go on for a long time. For people watching 90 years on, a lot of it will be dated at best, and slow at worst. Frank Fay is nowhere near the level of Jack Benny in The Hollywood Revue, and as far as I can tell he didn't become a particularly big star.

The one highlight of Show of Shows is the two-strip Technicolor number, a Chinese-themed song starring Loy (much more recognizable here) and Nick Lucas, and introduced by Rin Tin Tin (seriously). The color is quite good for two-strip.

If you're curious for a time capsule of 1929, I think I'd recommend The Hollywood Revue or even The King of Jazz (although if memory serves, that's actually from 1930), and save Show of Shows for later. But I'm still glad I finally watched it. Having been released by Warner Bros., it's no surprise that the movie is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Not as insane as in The Deer Hunter

Another of the movies that I had the chance to DVR during one of the free preview weekends is The Dogs of War. It's going to be on again, tomorrow afternoon at 4:32 PM on ActionMax (part of the Cinemax package if you have it).

Christopher Walken plays, Jamie Shannon, a mercenary as we can see in an introductory scene set somewhere in Central America. He's able to make a hasty escape and get back to New York. Somehow, people know how to get in touch with mercenaries underground, because British businessman Endean is able to find Shannon with another job proposal.

This on, however, doesn't seem to involve any actual fighting. Instead, Endean tells Shannon about an African company called Zangaro. Valuable mineral deposits have been found there, but because of the dictator Kimba, getting at those minerals is going to be a risky proposition. Endean would like somebody more pliant in office, and wants Shannon to determine whether a coup d'état would be a viable proposition.

Shannon reluctantly accepts the job, ultimately deciding that the way to get around the regulations is to be on a false passport pretending to be a nature photographer. It seems interesting that he was worried about bringing that camera to Zangaro as when he gets there one of the first westerners he meets is the journalist North (Colin Blakely). North is nosy, however, and suspects that Shannon isn't telling the truth about being a nature photographer.

Of course, we know that North is right in his suspicions, as Shannon goes out with Evelyn, a woman he meets who happens to be one of Kimba's mistresses. Shannon takes photographs of Evelyn in front of a military garrison, which is obviously part of military reconnaissance, and the authorities get that Shannon has done something terribly illegal. So they arrest him and have him tortured in prison, which is where he meets Dr. Okoye. Okoye was an independence advocate during the colonial era, but lost the presidential election to Kimba, who had Okoye arrested.

Eventually Shannon is deported back to the States. When Endean gets in touch with him, Shannon says that there's no chance of a coup working at this time. Not the news that Endean wanted to hear, especially since Endean is friendly with Col. Bobi, another freedom fighter who went into exile after Kimba became a dictator. Endean and Bobi are impatient for that coup to happen and need Shannon's logistical support. So the coup planning goes on....

As I watched The Dogs of War, for some reason I couldn't help but think of Walken's earlier performance in The Deer Hunter, where he goes to fight in the Vietnam War more out of a sense of adventure than anything. Shannon's motivations for being a mercenary are never really explained; I have no idea if the Frederick Forsyth book on which the movie is based goes into that. Not that it's particularly important for the film to do so.

As a story, The Dogs of War mostly works, although viewers looking for an action movie may want to know that this is a more meticulous movie with the real action confined to the last 20 minutes or so. I had no problem with that, but some people might. Walken dominates and does quite well in doing so. The politics of mercenaries and interfering in the third world are largely avoided, which I think is to the movie's benefit.

I found The Dogs of War to be quite worth a watch. It seems to be out of print on DVD, which is a big shame.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Sometimes lousy, sometimes fun

Victor Mature famously said something to the effect of, "I'm not a very good actor, and I've got 68 movies to prove it!" I may have gotten the number wrong, as I think I've seen different numbers cited; in any case, it's the sentiment that counts. I can't help but think one of the movies Mature might have had in mind when he made the comment was The Tartars.

Mature plays Oleg, leader a band of Vikings somehwere in what would probably be northwest Russia around the end of the first milennium AD. They've been living in peace, and consider the local Slavs (technically not yet Russians at the time) their friends. The Tartars, however, don't like the Slavs. Togrul (Folco Lulli; you probably won't recognize the names of a lot of the cast because they're Italians in what was an international co-production; more on that later), chief of one small band of the Tartars, meets with Oleg trying to convince Oleg to join with the Tartars against the Slavs. Oleg refuses, leading to a battle in which Togrul is killed and his daughter Samia (Bella Cortez) is taken hostage.

Togrul's brother Burundai (Orson Welles) is understandably pissed off. Samia was betrothed to Togrul and Burundai's lord, the big leader of the Tartars, who we can guess isn't going to be happy either with losing a potential wife. Burundai responds by attacking a Viking ship, kidnapping Oleg's wife Helga (Liana Orfei). The obvious solution is a hostage exchange, after which everybody can live happily ever after.

Yeah, right. While lovely Samia has been in captivity with the Vikings, she hasn't particularly liked them. However, Oleg's kid brother Eric (Luciano Marin) has taken a liking to Samia. And after a while, he's able to break down her resistance. So when the time comes for the hostage exchange, Samia and especially Eric say no dice. The fact that Eric has knocked up Samia certainly doesn't help.

Meanwhile, back at Burundai's palace, he's been trying to extract information from Helga about the Viking's manpower, since, if they're not going to help him attack the Slavs, he might as well just annihilate the Vikings, too. Helga refuses; when the time comes for the hostage exchange, it's botched and poor Helga falls to her death.

There's still the matter of Eric and Samia; the Vikings hold a vote on whether to let them get married or kill them, but before the vote can be decided, the Tartars attack, setting up the climax.

Hoo-boy is The Tartars a silly movie. Poor Victor Mature has to wear that ridiculously skimpy outfit that he's much too old for. As for Orson Welles, I can't help but think that the only reason he made this movie is for the paycheck. He was probably tying to get one or another of his movies made; based on the date The Tartars was released, I'm guessing it would be funding for The Trial. He's well into the Fat Orson phase, sleepwalking through a terrible role.

The two Americans don't mesh well with the Italian cast, but at least the location work (in Yugoslavia, another of those co-productions of the early 1960s) is nice. The movie is only 83 minutes, yet it feels longer because of an extended dance sequence and a bunch of shots of the Tartars chasing the Vikings or vice versa which look like they're there to pad the running time.

Although The Tartars is from a technical standpoint a fairly lousy film, it's fun for one watch because of what a mess it is. It got a release in the US courtesy of MGM, which is how it's ended up on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Escape in the Fog

Not every person honored in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is a star. A good example is tomorrow's "star", Nina Foch. She's a good actress, and even got an Oscar nomination for her small role in Executive Suite (airing tomorrow at 6:00 PM), but I don't think you can really call her a star. She did have some leading roles early in her career in noirs, and among those, Escape in the Fog is airing at 7:15 AM.

Foch plays Eileen Carr, who at the start of the movie is walking across what looks to be the Golden Gate Bridge one foggy night. A policeman thinks she might be considering suicide, but no; what with a war on it's apparently not uncommon for people to walk across the bridge. A car pulls up and a couple of guys in it are trying to kill the other passenger! Eileen unsurprisingly screams....

But fortunately for her, it's all a bad dream. Well, not quite all. She's in bed in a room at Ye Rustic Dell Inn, where she's been sent to recover from her wartime experience as a nurse on a ship that got bombed and sank. When some of the other guests come in to check up on her, she finds that one of them is the same guy she saw in her dream that the other guys were trying to kill!

That guy is Barry Malcolm (William Wright). He's taking some time off between jobs, although his next job is about to begin, as we learn when he and Eileen go back to San Francisco together. Barry gets out for a quick meeting in one house, where he meets Paul (Otto Kruger). Paul is a spymaster, and Barry is working for US intelligence. His latest job is to get some critical documents to Hong Kong.

What Barry and Paul don't realize is the bad guys, led by Schiller (Konstantin Shayne), are onto them. Under the guise of a clock repairman, they've inserted a listening device into Paul's study where he and Barry met, and that enables the bad guys to find piece together a good idea of what's going on. This enables them to capture Barry.

Fortunately, they didn't also capture Eileen, who by now has been let in on Barry's secret, or at least that he's a spy, which always seems a bit odd in any spy movie. But Eileen remembers that dream, and wouldn't you know, as she's walking across the Golden Gate Bridge she sees... Barry about to be killed by the bad guys!

Of course, they don't kill Barry since Eileen and a cop are there, but the documents fall over the railing and into San Francisco Bay, to be carried away by the currents, you'd think. Except that the Navy was testing a secret radio-controlled ship that night, and the documents landed right on the ship. The second half of the movie is the rest of the race to get those documents.

Directed by Bud Boetticher when he was still going under his original name Oscar, this is a fun little B movie that's not quite a noir, although you can be forgiven for anybogy thinking it is. Sure there are plot holes, but you have to come to expect that in a B movie. For what it is, it's darn entertaining, and definitely worth a watch.

I picked it up on Blu-ray last year as part of the Noir Archive set. I think it also got a standalone release at some point.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #318: School

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 school; I'm not certain if it was timed for back-to-school since when I was growing up school didn't begin until after Labor Day. But back-to-school season did begin in August:

Since the schedule for Thursday Movie Picks was done before politicians and government-sector teacher's unions lost their collective shit over the coronavirus, back to school may not be so relevant right now, but we can still do a blogathon on it just like we can have Christmas in July. As usual, I went back a ways for my three picks:

Because They're Young (1960). Dick Clark plays a young teacher starting a new job in a high school where his unorthodox methods cause conflict with the principal, getting closer to the students than the principal thinks is appropriate. A couple of the students get in trouble with the law, setting up the film's climax. Worth a watch for the oddity of Dick Clark the actor.

The Explosive Generation (1961). William Shatner plays a high school teacher who gets the job of teaching the "life skills" class, where he encourages the students to be open about their concerns. They start asking questions about "relationships", which of course really means sex; Shatner's frank attitude toward letting them discuss this angers the parents. Spoiler: nobody actually explodes.

Our Time (1974). Two students at a New England girls' school in the late 1950s (Pamela Sue Martin and Betsy Slade) want to learn about sex, so each of them winds up having sex with her boyfriend (Parker Stevenson and George O'Hanlon Jr. respectively). However, Slade's character gets knocked up from the one time she ever had sex, so the two guys try to procure a back-alley abortion for her, which goes badly. Dated, but interesting.

Not as kind a stranger as Gary Merrill

Another of the movies that I had the chance to DVR during one of the free preview weekends is the 1979 version of When a Stranger Calls. It's going to be on again tomorrow, at 8:00 PM on Flix; as well as late the following week.

Carol Kane plays Jill Johnson, a student who one night gets a job babysitting two children for a couple who decide to go to dinner and perhaps a movie. It should be an easy job, since the kids are already in bed. But then the phone rings, and it's not a call for the parents. Indeed, if anything, it's an obscene phone call asking her if she's checked up on the children, those being a thing back in the 1970s when Caller ID wasn't around at all, let alone ridiculous. Jill doesn't like the call, of course, but I suppose those things happen. Except that in Jill's case, it happens over and over.

Eventually, Jill decides to call the police after a whole bunch of these calls. There's not all that much they can do, although it might be possible to trace the call if it happens again and she's on the line long enough. Jill also calls the restaurant that the parents were at, but they've gone ahead to see that movie they were thinking about; no number left there for Jill to call. And finally, the mystery caller calls again, long enough for the call to be traced....

This first part of the story you probably know, since it became an urban legend: the calls are coming from inside the house! Apparently, the parents had a second number that they for some reason never disconnected, and the caller is calling from there. When Jill finally does check on the children, she's accosted and the children have already been murdered. At least Jill is saved by the police detective, John Clifford (Charles Durning).

Seven years pass. The guy who killed the children and terrorized poor Jill was a British seaman named Curt Duncan (Tony Blakely) who was adjudged to be insane, so he was sent to an asylum rather than to prison. After spending seven years there, he escaped, and is on the loose. The parents hire Clifford, now retired from the force, as a private eye to find Duncan and, with any luck, kill him, even though that's not really legal.

Duncan first shows up at a bar where he meets Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst), and rather clumsily puts the moves on her. He follows her back to her apartment and tried to get her to let him in. Eventually, having been rebuffed, he goes to a flophouse for the night. Clifford gets word that Duncan is there and tries to capture Duncan, to no avail, leaving Duncan the chance to go back and attack Tracy.

But what Duncan really wants to do is.... In the third act, we meet Jill again, now married to Stephen Lockart (Steven Anderson), a successful sales manager. The couple have two kids, and Stephen decides to celebrate his likely promotion by taking Jill out to dinner. That's perfectly normal, but while they're at the restaurant, the maitre d' informs Jill that there's a call for her on the telephone, which really ought to be unnerving if you're going out to eat, at least in the days before cell phones. In that situation, I'd be worried about what problem the baby sitter is having at home, but it's something far worse: Duncan asking her if she's checked the children lately!

When a Stranger Calls is based on a short film that the director, Fred Walton, had made a few years earlie which was only what is here the first act of the movie. Walton stretches things out two 90-plus minutes, and pretty much every review I read came to the same conclusion I did. The first act is excellent, even though we know now how it's going to end because this is the film that really made the trope, Black Christmas notwithstanding. The second act is slow, although Durning and Dewhurst are definitely worth a watch. The final act picks up again and is definitely better than the second, although not quite up to the level of the first.

Overall, though, I'd say that When a Stranger Calls is definitely worth a watch, even if you knew before reading this review where the first act was going to go. It's effective at what it does, and is good for a rainy night with a bowl of popcorn (or in my case, ice cream, since that's what I prefer).

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Nora Moran's Sin

A couple of months back, TCM ran a night of pre-Code premieres, none of which I had seen before. Recently, I noticed that one of the films run that night, The Sin of Nora Moran, got a new Blu-ray release, so I watched it to do a review here.

Edith Crawford (Claire Du Brey) comes in to District Attorney John Grant (Alan Dinehart) with an anonymous letter from a woman to Mr. Crawford (Paul Cavanagh), who just happens to be the governor. It's a love note, and the DA, being not just a friend of the governor but the governor's major fixer, reveals that he has a whole bunch of other letters from this woman, named Nora Moran.

Nora, however, is currently on death row, scheduled to be electrocuted in a few hours time. In order to prepare her for her execution, she has to have her head shaved and is given sedatives to calm her down. These cause her to start having hallucinatory flashbacks to her past....

Nora (Zita Johann) had a difficult childhood, eventually running off to the big city to look for work as a chorus girl. There wasn't any for her, and as she's down to her last few dollars, she sees an ad for a job with the traveling circus, even though she's too young for it and has no circus experience. While with the circus, she has a difficult love affair with Paulino (John Miljan), another circus performer.

Eventually she leaves the circus, which is how she meets Crawford. Those two start an affair, having trysts in a place Crawford rented for her just across the state line. Remember, he has an ambitious political career, and is married, so if this affair become public, it would cause a scandal that would put the kibosh on that political career.

One night, the DA shows up at Nora's place, where she shows him that she killed Paulino. Apparently Paulino knew about the affair with Crawford, and was planning to blackmail Crawford, so Nora killed her. At least, that's her story. She's lucky she's in another state, because DA Grant tells her that he'd be prosecuting her to the fullest extent of the law in order to keep the scandal from hitting the governor or himself.

And yet, in the attempt to escape and dump the body, Nora winds up getting arrested in Grant's county and convicted and sentenced to death. Now Gov. Crawford has the chance to offer clemency and commute the death sentence, but in order to keep the scandal covered up, he's going to let Nora go to her death! Worse, it eventually transpires that the story Nora told Grant about having murdered Paulino isn't quite true....

The Sin of Nora Moran is a really interesting little movie. It keeps switching persepective back and forth between Nora, the governor, and the DA's study, and in some of the scenes with Nora it's difficult to tell what's real and what's just a dream/hallucination. That does make things hard to follow at times, but the movie turns out to be a very good little B movie for it. Everything does make sense in the end, although some might find the ending a little unsatisfying (I don't want to give more away).

If you can get your hands on a copy of The Sin of Nora Moran, it's definitely more than worth a watch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Man Called Adam

TCM's star in Summer Under the Stars for today (August 11) is Sammy Davis Jr. Davis didn't get the chance to be the star in too many movies, often playing secondary roles. One movie where he is the star is A Man Called Adam, which will be on tonight at 9:45 PM.

Davis plays Adam Johnson, a jazz trumpeter who at the start of the movie is on tour playing in nightclubs with his combo. However, in one of the clubs, a patron starts heckling him to play happier music, something which causes Adam to leave in a snit and head back home to his apartment in New York, nearly assaulting the heckler while leaving! Imagine trying to organize a tour with a temperamental musician like that!

However, Adam returns home to find he's not alone. Adam's friend Nelson (Ossie Davis) knew that Adam was going to be away for a few more days yet, so Nelson let another jazzman, Willie Ferguson (Louie Armstrong) use Adam's apartment together with Willie's granddaughter Claudia (Cicely Tyson), who's busy fighting the civil rights battle, this being the mid-1960s. Considering that Adam was hoping for an assignation, coming home to see strangers in his apartment is not something he was hoping for.

However, he respects old Willie Ferguson, and he finds Claudia lovely, so he's possible open to being in some sort of relationship with her. It's not going to be easy, however, as it would be his first longer-term relationship since his wife and kid were killed in a car crash he caused several years earlier. That crash, in which Adam was driving drunk, led Adam further down a spiral of alcohol abuse.

Claudia, meanwhile, is still naïve enough to think that she can reform Adam, and tries to figure out what the hell it is that's making him so angry with the entire world, as he lashes out a bunch of times at various people, be it the big guy at the management/booking agency Manny (Peter Lawford); another woman who says something untoward to Claudia; or the police who show up at a friend's house upstate that the friend has lent to Adam and Claudia but without any sort of note to give the police who might naturally wonder what these unknown people are doing.

It goes on like this for almost 100 minutes. The jazz music is great, and if you're a jazz fan that's more than worth the price of admission, as they say. A lot of that footage looks almost as though it was done in documentary style. Davis isn't bad as an actor here, and Tyson is unsurprisingly quite good. But boy is Adam a frustratingly broken person, to the point that it's an uncomfortable portrayal at times that makes the movie difficult to watch. You wish that sometimes somebody could just shake some sense in the guy, like Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in Old Acquaintance.

But watch it anyway. It's quite good even if it is difficult at times. It doesn't seem to be on DVD at all, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Suds and Bland

Another of the movies that started showing up in the FXM rotation within the last couple of months is Blood and Sand. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 6:00 AM, so over the weekend I sat down to watch it to do a post here.

Tyrone Power, with an awful hairdo most of the time, plays Juan Gallardo, but we'll get to that later, because he doesn't show up until maybe a half hour into the movie. The beginning of the film is a long prologue about Juan and his friends as kids. Little Juan is into bullfighting because his father was a professional bullfighter. Mom (Alla Nazimova, credited under her surname only) is not one bit happy with this, because Dad died as a result of injuries sustained in the bullring, and god knows she doesn't want that to happen to her son.

Anyhow, Juan goes running at night to try to practice fighting bulls, and eventually grows up with his gang of friends to leave their provincial Spanish town to head for Madrid which is apparently the center of bullfighting. Charismatic Juan is the leader of the group, who work together as a team, and return home at the end of the season to what Juan thinks should be fame and fortune. In fact, he (and apparently nobody else in the group) can read, because they don't realize that the great critic Curro (Laird Cregar) has savaged them.

Now as adults, in the group are Juan; Manolo (Anthony Quinn), who is the one person who's liable to stand up to Juan; Garabato (J. Carrol Naish); and El Nacional (John Carradine), a committed socialist who decries bullfighting and constantly vows to retire after the upcoming season. They don't get a heroes' welcome when the return to Sevilla, but they do find that Juan's childhood friend Carmen (Linda Darnell) has waited for him. They do eventually get married, although Juan would have preferred to be a little more successful before marrying Carmen.

Back in the bullfighting ring, at one of the bullfights there's a captivating young woman in the front row box seats named Doña Sol (Rita Hayworth). Juan unsurprisingly accepts flowers from her, but he also throws her his hat. She sends him a letter telling him where he can retrieve it, but since he can't read, Carmen has to read the letter to him, so she knows what's about to happen. Frankly, the audience should know too, which is that Juan goes without bringing Carmen, spends an evening with Doña Sol, and falls in love with her.

While neglecting his wife, Juan is, one can guess, neglecting practice too, as he rises through the ranks and his arrogance grows with his status. It leads to Manolo leaving the group, ultimately to become the next big matador (but with shades of Eve Harrington), while El Nacional gets killed in what he claimed was going to be his last bullfight (for different reasons). Can Juan reconcile with his wife?

Blood and Sand is a movie that, despite the potential for interesting material and interesting bullfighting footage, turns out to be surprisingly bland. The sporting hero's downfall storyline has been done better in any number of movies (Kirk Douglas' Champion comes to mind), while there's not much in the way of exciting bullfighting here. The movie is also slow, clocking in at a little over two hours. The only thing it really has going for it is the Technicolor photography. Or, if it's your thing, Tyrone is shirtless in several scenes.

Blood and Sand is based on a novel published in 1909, which explains the time period that's never quite mentioned but seems slightly old fashioned. The book had already been made into a movie in the silent era, starring Rudolph Valentino. That film is readily available on DVD. The Tyrone Power Blood and Sand only seems to be on DVD courtesy of a region-free Korean import, but it does also seem to be available on Prime video. Also, don't confuse it with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which has nothing to do with this story.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Love Song

Some months back I recorded Song of Love when it ran on TCM. It's on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a post here.

Katharine Hepburn plays Clara Wieck (1819-1896), a pianist and sometime composer who had a long career as a concert pianist. The movie starts off with one of her performances in 1839 (but to be fair to Hepburn, who was about 40 when she made the movie, the movie quickly moves to parts of Wieck's life closer to Hepburn's actual age at the time). Among the people in attendance at the concert are composer Robert Schumann (Paul Henried), who studied music under Clara's father (Leo G. Carroll who only gets the one scene). Indeed, Clara has fallen in love with Robert, 10 years her senior, something which her father really disapproves of.

But Clara, having fallen in love with Robert, marries him against her father's wishes. Cut to ten years later, when Robert and Clara have a whole bunch of kids (I think in real life they had eight in all, although I'm not certain if all of them survived infancy). Clara has become a housewife, managing the home with the help of a housekeeper, while Robert has gone on giving lessons and composing, trying to get an opera written and staged.

Knocking on the door one day is Johannes Brahms (Robert Walker). Now, if you know your music you'll know that Brahms is a fairly famous composer. But back around 1850 he hadn't yet earned the fame he'd have later in life and retains to this day. He had been given a recommendation to see Prof. Schumann. Seeing what a mess the household is in, and not having anywhere else to be, Brahms offers to rent a room, helping with the household management and apparently paying in to keep the place running and the increasingly indebted Schumanns afloat.

As this happens, bad things are happening to Robert. During music performances, we get shots of Clara or Johannes and hear the normal music, cutting to Robert, at which point the soundtrack has a dissonance added. This is the way the filmmakers signified what was some sort of mental illness. Of course, mental illness was not so well understood back in those days, with the condition being called melancholia; the modern-day best guess being bipolar disorder. Whatever the condition, however, it increasingly affected Schumann's life, leading to a suicide attempt and a couple of years in a mental asylum before he died, although this is glossed over in the movie.

Meanwhile, Brahms falls in love with Clara, although she's never going to return the affection. Not because of any dislike of Brahms, but because she could never hurt her husband like that, even though he ultimately realizes that Brahms has difficult feelings of his own to work through. Brahms doesn't want to hurt Robert either, not telling Robert that a publisher has rejected the opera Robert was working on. (In real life, the opera did get performed, but it's not part of the repertoire of commonly-performed operas today.)

Robert Schumann died in 1856 in the mental asylum, and Clara would live another 40 years, giving piano performances and trying to keep the legacy of Robert's music alive, with help from Brahms.

As I understand it, Song of Love gets the broad events of Robert Schumann's life correct, although the movie has a disclaimer at the beginning that it moves events around and dramatizes them for the sake of making a better movie. For example, Brahms did live with the Schumanns, but apparently it was only a couple of months.

Hollywood license aside, Song of Love is a movie that anybody who's a fan of classical music should really enjoy, thanks to all the good music that's pretty well presented, although it would be nice to hear more of Robert's orchestral works. I'm not certain if it will hold as much interest for people who aren't that into classical music, however, as the movie is certainly deeply rooted in the 1940s. But even for those people, Song of Love is definitely worth a watch.