Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tab Wood and Natalie Wouldn't

Tomorrow morning and afternoon on TCM looks like a lineup of David Janssen movies, even though his birthday was actually in March. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with The Girl He Left Behind.

Tab Hunter stars as Andy Shaeffer, place kicker on his college football team, and a pretty good student. He has to be the latter, as he's using college as a way to avoid the peacetime draft and intends to go on to law school just to keep being in school. Thankfully, he's got a mother (Jessie Royce Landis) who keeps indulging him, so money is never a problem.

Unfortunately, you know that with the way he comments on needing to keep up his grades so that he doesn't come to the attention of the draft board, something is going to happen. In this case, it's his girlfriend, Susan (Natalie Wood). She knows that Andy is a bit of a mama's boy (well, a lot of a mama's boy), something that's probably been a bone of contention between them for some time before the movie opens. She reaches her last straw, however, when he borrows her car and forgets to pick her up for one of her classes. They get in a quarrel, and that one little quarrel is enough for Andy to get a bunch of F's on exams and fluck out of college!

With Andy no longer being enrolled, the military can come for him, and sure enough he immediately gets drafted, and sent off to Fort Ord in northern California to do his basic training along with, among others, a young James Garner in a very early role. Among the sergeants leading basic training are Sgt. Clyde (Murray Hamilton) and Sgt. Hanna (Jim Backus, who seems much too old for the role); David Janssen plays their CO, Capt. Genaro.

Andy has been separated from his girlfriend and family, and is none too pleased about it. So he figures that since he comes from a well-to-do family, he can just use his class superiority to get what he wants, and not really follow orders. Unsurprisingly, everybody else in the army is pissed at Pvt. Shaeffer. The other privates going through basic training have to deal with the discipline he brings about, while the sergeants and Capt. Genaro actually want him to succeed, much like Jack Webb's character in The D.I.

Shaeffer is such a washout that he can't even follow basic orders, like watch for civilians who might accidentally wander onto a firing range that you'd think would be incredibly well marked and away from the boundaries of the fort so that nobody would stray onto it in the first place. (Fort Ord, where the army scenes were filmed, was closed in 1994 and 14000 acres of the place are now part of a national monument, so while I don't know how big the original fort was, it's bigger than that.) Shaeffer's actions nearly get two boys and their dog killed, and should have gotten Shaeffer court-martialled right then and there. But then we wouldn't have a movie. Shaeffer gets one more chance to redeem himself, and because of the type of movie this is, you know he's going to succeed.

There's a lot wrong with The Girl He Left Behind. I've mentioned what I think are a lot of plot holes; reading reviews of people who were in the military, the movie doesn't seem to portray basic training very accurately. Tab Hunter is given the job of playing a very unlikeable character, while Natalie Wood is underused; I'm assuming that Warner Bros. was doing everything they could to keep the two in the public eye together, hence the casting.

The movie doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and doesn't straddle the genres successfully. But I think the biggest thing for me personally was the sense that the part of Hollywood that made this movie really liked the idea of the peacetime draft and just stealing 18 months out of people's lives (something that happened to my father; he spent his time at White Sands keeping the missiles out of the hands of the Ernst Blofelds of the world). I can't imagine anybody getting drafted in peacetime and being OK with the prospect. Then again, even after 40 years we can't get rid of forcing 18-year-old men to register for the draft in the first place.

Maybe somebody out there is going to like The Girl He Left Behind, but I'm not certain who. As always, however, watch and judge for yourself. The movie is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Phoenix's Flight

In another installment of the "movies that have shown up in the FXM rotation recently and are on again", there's the 1965 version of The Flight of the Phoenix. Its next showing is at 12:35 PM tomorrow, followed by another one at 3:30 AM Thursday.

Frank Towns (James Stewart) is a pilot flying an old airplane in parlous shape togethr with his co-pilot Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) for Aramco, the oil company operating in various parts of the Middle East. In this case, they're flying from a rig somewhere in the Sahara up to Benghazi, this being a few years before Qaddafi led the coup that changed Libya's history. Considering what they say about the plane itself, the fact that the radio is out, and this is in a sequence before the opening credits, you know something bad is about to happen.

Sure enough, something does when a sandstorm hits. The sand clogs up the carburetor, making the propellers stop and forcing the plane into a crash landing. Worse, cargo falls from where it's been secured, killing two passengers instantly and fatally injuring a third.

The plane has landed off course, in the middle of the Sahara, with no radio, and with nobody knowing for several hours that something's happened to the plane. The only good thing is that among the cargo, there was a supply of pressed dates, so at least the passengers and crew don't have to worry about running out of food. They do, however, have to worry about running out of water, which is much more serious.

Towns is technically boss as his first duty is to the plane and keeping his passengers safe. However, one of the passengers is a former British army officer, Captain Harris (Peter Finch). He just knows he's going to be able to find the oasis that's "only" 30 miles or so away, through a featureless landscape with everybody having no idea where they are. The alternative, of course, is staying where they are and hoping somebody finds them before the water runs out, which doesn't seem appealing either.

Over Towns' objection, Harris eventually sets out with Carlos, leaving behind his underling Sgt. Watson (Ronald Fraser) who picked up a slight injury making him unable to take a trek through the desert. The rest of the men settle in for a long wait that's probably going to result in their deaths unless they're extremely lucky....

Or if somebody can come up with an absolutely ridiculous idea. Another of the passengers is Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Krüger). He's a German aircraft designer, and he's done the calculations to conclude that there is a way out of this mess: they can take the parts of the plane that survived the crash, move a wing here, a propeller there, and soon enough, they'll have a plane that at least can fly to that oasis where they can be rescued. It is, of course, nuts, and since World War II is fresh in people's memories, there's some question of whether or not they should trust Dorfmann. But the alternative is to have no hope, so perhaps doing something is the least bad thing.

As you can guess, there's a lot of difficulty along the way, as the other passengers aren't necessarily as fit for labor as Dorfmann's calculations would have them being. There are further complications involving whether or not Towns can let Dorfmann have authority, or whether a group of Bedouins that pass a couple of dunes over might actually be bandits who would just as soon kill all the non-Arabs.

Flight of the Phoenix isn't a bad little movie if you can get past the idea that the plot is so ludicrous that nothing like this could happen in real life. They'd all be long dead. Although there's nominally the action of trying to build the plane, much like the bridge in Bridge on the River Kwai, the story is just as much about the psychology of the interaction among the various stranded people in a time of disaster. There are also shades of Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat what with a German who may not be fully trustworthy amid that disaster.

I thought that FXM's airing might be panned and scanned since it fills up the 16:9 screen, but IMDb claims that the movie was originally filmed in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and not Cinemascope, so at most there's a little bit off the sides. The movie itself got a DVD release, although that seems to be out of print. There was also a remake in 2004, and that one also got a DVD release that seems to be out of print too. Both versions seem to be available on Amazon Prime streaming video.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Ram's sign

TCM is running a bunch of movies tonight with people with disabilities. The Sign of the Ram is one of them, overnight at 3:00 AM. I recorded it when it was on Noir Alley a few months back, and since it's on again now, I decided to watch it to do a post here.

Phyllis Thaxter plays Sherida Binyon, a secretary about to work on trial with Leah St. Aubyn (Susan Peters), who lives with her family and works as a writer at one of those old Gothic houses that dot the coast of Devonshire and Cornwall in those old movies. Phyllis is picked up at the train station by Logan St. Aubyn (Ross Ford), who is the stepson of Leah and in love with an artist Catherine who's about to come back into his life.

At the house, Sherida meets Leah's husband Mallory (Alexander Knox), and his other two children, Jane (Allene Roberts) and the youngest Christine (Peggy Ann Garner). Although all of the children are only Leah's stepchildren, their mom having died some years back, the all love Leah. It seems like one big happy family, but how many comedies are set at manor houses like this?

That evening, while meeting Leah for the first time, Sherida makes a comment about going for walks along the cliffs, only to discover that Leah is wheelchair bound, thanks to a swimming accidnet along the rocky coast down below, which you just know is foreshadowing for later in the movie. But Leah wasn't offended by Sherida's comments.

What does offend Leah is an offhand action by Mallory and Sherida. Mallory spends a lot of time gardening, and has come up with a new breed of gardenia that he's going to name after Leah. That's a nice compliment to Leah, but then some time later she sees that Sherida has what is supposed to be Leah's gardenia. At this point Leah becomes insanely jealous, although she's able to keep up a good front, instead channeling her her jealousy into a low-key manipulation that would make Ann Blyth's Veda Pierce blush.

Leah works first on Jane, who has been pursued by the local doctor, Dr. Crowdy (Ron Randell), getting Jane to break off an invitation to a dance where the good doctor was planning to ask Jane to marry him. Then she tells Logan's girlfriend Catherin that the reason she (Catherine) was an orphan is that, well, she wasn't really an orphan, but her father was insane and it's probably going to be hereditary if Catherine marries Logan and has children. The way Leah so obviously telegraphs that she has something terrible to tell but doesn't want to immediately set off vibes that her story was complete nonsense, but apparently both Logan and Catherine believe it at first.

Worst, however, is Christine. She idolizes her stepmother, and when she gets the idea that Dad might be having an affair with Sherida, she decides to take matters into her own hands, which leads everyboy to realize just what Leah has become....

The Sign of the Ram was designed as a vehicle for Susan Peters, who had a tragic life. She was an Oscar-nominated ingenue until New Year's Day 1945. She and her then husband, future director Richard Quine, went on a hunting trip on which Susan was accidentally shot by her own gun. The bullet lodged in her spine and left her paralyzed from the waist down. The Sign of the Ram was designed to be a comeback for Peters, and while she does extremely well with the material and earned excellent reviews, future movie projects fell through and she died at the age of 31 not having made another movie after this one.

While Peters gives an excellent performance, I have to admit that the story itself is not always the best. I was reminded a bit of Leave Her to Heaven except that Leah wants to keep everybody around her, and not just her husband. Leah also doesn't have the character motivation to get as manipulative as she does, and the thought of Christine doing her bidding didn't really ring true to me.

Still, even the minor plot holes, The Sign of the Ram is definitely worth watching. I don't know that it's ever gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

King Vidor day

With TCM running 31 Days of Oscar in February, there are a lot of movie birthdays that TCM can't really celebrate as they happen. One of them is King Vidor. So instead, TCM is giving us a morning and afternoon of movies directed by Vidor tomorrow.

I mention this in part because there are some interesting movies, and in part because at least one sounds really familiar but I'm pretty certain I haven't seen it before. That would be the first movie, Not So Dumb< at 6:00 AM. The plot synopsis is that Marion Davies tries to help her husband (Elliott Nugent) get ahead in business by throwing a wild party. I have a feeling I'm being reminded of a different movie, Loose Ankles, for whatever odd reason. Seeing Marion Davis in the cast makes me pretty certain I haven't seen Not So Dumb before. At any rate, I'm planning to record it to do a post later.

The rest of the movies are:
Sylvia Sidney in Street Scene at 7:30 AM;
The 1930s Bird of Paradise, with Joel McCrea and "native" Polynesian Dolores Del Rio, at 9:00 AM;
Depression-era social commentary in Our Daily Bread at 10:30 AM;
Spencer Tracy in the Colonial-era Northwest Passage at 11:45 AM;
H.M. Pulham, Esq. at 2:00 PM, which I think I haven't seen before;
Ayn Rand's bloated script against some really intriguing images form The Fountainhead, at 4:15 PM; and
Lightning Strikes Twice, another one I'm pretty certain I've never seen, at 6:15 PM.

Some color or another

I've mentioned in the past that there's a segment of the population that thinks of foreign film and immediately thinks "pretentious arthouse stuff". To be fair, there are a fair number of movies out there that would easily give people that impression, one which is not helped by a lot of critics praising such stuff simply for being "not-Hollywood". A good example of a movie that could give non-movie buffs such an impression is Three Colors: Blue.

A car is driving along highways and byways, apparently having recently come from one of Paris' airports on the driver's way to his house somewhere out in the country. We hear fragments of conversation that imply there's a husband, wife, and young child. An adolescent boy is along the side of the road, apparently on the way to school, when suddenly he hears a crash. The car that we saw in the opening has crashed into a tree.

The mother in the car is Julie de Courcy (Juliette Binoche), and she's the only one who survived the crash, although she's in hospital long enough that she misses the funeral of her own husband and daughter. Her husband was a prominent composer who had been commissioned to write a piece of music for the ceremonies marking the change what had been the European Commission to what is today's European Union. But while still in hospital, Julie is approached by a journalist who asks her a couple of intrusive questions, including one about whether the rumors are true that she and not her husband was actually the one to write the music under her husband's name.

Julie at first tries to down a bottle of pills to try to kill herself, but is unable to do so. But that doesn't mean she's OK. She gets back to the country house and tells her lawyer to sell everything, using the proceeds to pay off the house staff as well as pay for the nursing home that her mother (Emmanuelle Riva) is in with dementia. Julie claims she's got a bank account of her own that will be more than enough to live on.

Somehow I doubt that, but that isn't the point of the story. Julie decides that she's going to shut herself off from life, getting a new apartment in Paris under her maiden name so nobody will be able to find her. She also fetches what are, as far as she's aware, the only surviving copies of the piece for the European Union that her husband had been working on, and destroys them!

Life, however, has a way of intruding. Some of the intrusions are new to her. The other tenants in the apartment building where she lives are angry with Lucille (Charlotte Véry), who lives a floor below and works as both a prostitute and an exotic dancer. They need the signatures of everybody else in the building to evice Lucille, but Julie doesn't care, which ultimately leads to a friendship between Lucille and Julie.

But there's more, in the form of her husband's composing colleague Olivier (Benoît Régent), who has some notes on what the EU composition was going to be; Olivier wants Julie's help in completing the composition. Oh, Olivier was also some sort of on-again off-again boyfriend for Julie since they slept together in the country house on Julie's last night there. Her husband also had a mistress of his own, and even knocked her up. It goes on like this.

Part of the problem with Three Colors: Blue is with the story line, which takes a long time to get going. To be fair, however, that's in part because of the subject material, involving a woman trying to shut herself off from the rest of life, which naturally leads to a lot of nothing happening. But where a character study like Wings is well-structured, this one felt like more of a stream of consciousness including any number of scenes that didn't really work for me.

The other big problem is with the cinematography. As with Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers which is extremely red, Three Colors: Blue is, as you can guess, extremely blue, in a way that didn't seem particularly expository but more of an "I'm doing this because I can" statement. I felt the same way about a series of fadeouts that come back to be the exact same point in time. Apparently there's another message here, but it too was lost on me.

But, of course, a lot of critics have praised Three Colors: Blue over the years. It's available on a pricey Criterion Collection set together with the other two films in the trilogy, White and Red, based on the three colors of the French flag and supposedly on the themes in the French motto of "Liberty, equality, and fraternity". I haven't seen the other two movies, so I can't comment on that.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

In which person?

Another of the movies that I DVRed and happens to be available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive is In Person. So I recently sat down to watch it to do a review on it here.

George Brent plays Emory Muir, a man interested in things like bird photography. One day in a hotel elevator he runs into a mysterious woman wearing a veil. He follows her until she nearly gets run over by a taxi, resulting into fleeing to another hotel, but not before Emory gets to see the woman without her veil. It turns out she's an incredibly homely woman named Clara Colfax, with horn-rimmed glasses, buck teeth, and a bad hairdo among other things.

In the next scene, when she's escaped into that other hotel, we see a man referring to her as Carol Corliss, with her telling the man not to call her that. We then see Carol, who is of course also Clara, but minus the wig and other make-up job, and she's pretty darn good looking, which isn't a surprise considering that she's played by Ginger Rogers.

Emory has followed her up to the hotel suite, where he meets the other man, Dr. Sylvester (Samuel Hinds), along with one Judge Parks (Grant Mitchell), who is Carol's uncle. Carol apparently suffered from some sort of nervous reaction to one of her crowds of adoring fans, to the point that she's become afraid of going out in public, which explains the veil and disguise.

Dr. Sylvester has an idea. Not telling Emory the real identity of his patient, he suggests that Carol would do well by getting away from it all at a place up in the mountains, which Emory just so happens to have. Emory is just going to have to pretend to be some sort of therapist. But since he was intrigued by the woman in the veil, and he was planning on going up there anyway, he agrees.

Alone up in the cabin, Carol decides she can take off the disguise. Emory sees a newspaper clipping of Carol and realizes who she is, but for whatever reason, pretends not to know who she is and doesn't believe she's a Hollywood actress no matter what she does to try to prove it. Perhaps taking him to one of her movies in town will do the trick, when she can show by her adoring fans' reaction that they recognize her as Carol. It could cause other problems, however.

Meanwhile, Carol's acting partner Jay Holmes (Alan Mowbray) is in love with her, as well as wanting her to get back to work on her next movie. So he shows up at the cabin and causes a scene, although Emory is able to defuse it by claiming to be one of Carol's doctors. The local sheriff has seen Jay, however, and thinks that he's the man the sheriff's obnoxious young daughter is referring to when the daughter sees Carol's sorrow. We know who should end up together in the last reel, but it's going to take some time getting there.

In Person is a bit of a mess, in large part because it doesn't seem to know exactly what it wants to be. It shoehorns multiple plot lines together, not too successfully. It also varies between genres, with some it seeming to be a light drama, and others trying, but not doing particularly well, to be a comedy. Ginger also gets a couple of song and dance numbers. The one in the first movie-within-a-movie is particularly bad, as though the songwriters had been given the task of coming up with a bad song for an actress character to be saddled with in a movie.

Ginger Rogers tries her best with the material she's given, but ultimately I think that even she can't save it. In Person is the sort of movie that should have wound up on one of those four-movie box sets that TCM used to put out with Warner Home Video, rather than (or in addition to) a standalone disc. At that price point, it might be worth a watch, but at the Warner Archive price point, I'd go for a bunch of other Rogers movies first.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Young Winston

I got a five-movie box set of Columbia "war" movies some time ago, from which I watched two movies so far, although surprisingly a search of the blog claims I haven't blogged about either. One of those movies is Young Winston, which I also recorded off of TCM, so recently I watched that airing to do a blog post here.

Simon Ward plays Winston Churchill, at least as a young adult. The movie starts off in about 1897, when Winston is 22. He's a reporter who had been in the military, covering a British military operation on the Northwest Frontier, which would be roughly the modern border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The British army isn't exactly happy to have him there, especially when it turns out he's ambitious and using the experience to try to advance what is soon to become a nascent political career.

But after this opening, we go back to when Winston is about 7, about to be sent to boarding school by his parents, Lord Randolph (Robert Shaw), a member of parliament for the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury (Laurence Naismith), and Randolph's American-born wife Jenny (Anne Bancroft). Winston always has a difficult relationship with Dad because of a bunch of reasons, including Dad's advancing syphilis, which eventually kills him in his 40s.

Winston is a middling student at best, taking multiple tries to pass the exams to enter the military academy, and only being admitted as a member of the cavalry, which is apparently less prestigious. This eventually gets Winston sent to Sudan, where he meets with General Kitchener (John Mills), who had heard of Winston and absolutely didn't want Winston serving under him.

Winston's ambition has him try to get elected to Parliament after his father dies, but it doesn't work the first time, although of course we know from history that he would eventually win election and then become Prime Minister during World War II. At any rate, Winston, having failed for now in politics, goes to South Africa to cover the Boer War, again ostensibly as a journalist but still really helping the military. This gets him captured and sentenced to a POW camp.

But Winston escapes, and becomes a worlwide cause célèbre as he evades capture (and likely execution) by the Boers despite not speaking Afrikaans. We know from history that he escapes and returns to England, which he parlays into his second run for Parliament, this time successful, despite seeming a bit too chummy with Liberal lader David Lloyd George (Anthony Hopkins).

Sir Richard Attenborough directs Young Winston as a series of set pieces, any of which would have made a decent portion of a miniseries of Winston Churchill's life. Winston most likely embellished his life story, on which the movie is based, but apparently even the unvarnished truth would have made for acceptable episodes. But each scene is an opportunity for a quality actor to get a cameo; among the ones I haven't mentioned yet are Edward Woodward and Jack Hawkins (who has almost no dialogue since his cancer had already cost him his voice).

Unfortunately, as one long movie, the stories strung together don't quite work; the material definitely would have worked better as a multipart TV miniseries. I think a lot of that is down to Attenborough's languorous direction, along with an extremely irritating technique of giving each of the the Churchills an extended solo scene where they're being interviewed by a never-seen off-screen voice. These don't work at all, and bring the movie to a screeching halt. To do it once is bad; to do it three times is unforgivable.

While I didn't exactly hate Young Winston, I definitely think the material could have been made a whole lot better. Still, watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #324: Journalism (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursdy of the month, the theme is journalism, which right away cuts out any TV news show since those are all engaging in propaganda, regurgitating government-sector press releases and trying to induce panic. So to do journalism, I had to go back rather a good ways for my three selections:

The Adventures of Superman (1952-1958). George Reeves plays the superhero, whose disguise is as Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet; two different actresses played Lois Lane.

Lou Grant (1977-1982). After The Mary Tyler Moore Show was cancelled with pretty much everybody at the Minneapolis TV station where she worked got fired, her boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner) goes to Los Angeles and takes a job as editor of the Tribune. Where The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a comedy, Lou Grant was a drama.

Goodnight, Beantown (1983-1984). Bill Bixby plays the evening news anchor at a TV station in Boston who due to poor ratings gets saddled with a female co-anchor in the form of Mariette Hartley. They're also neighbors away from the station, which I guess the writers thought was necessary to make more storylines possible.

Swing Banditry

When I watched Swing Shift recently, it was a ~98-minute movie put in a two-hour time slot, so there was rather a good deal of time left over. TCM filled that with the appropriately-titled one-reeler Swing Banditry.

George Stoll plays a bandleader trying to get an interview with radio executive Royal Cummings. They waylay a man in an elevator thinking he's Cummings, but the man claims to be a fellow musician. It's a lie, however, and when Stoll finds out, he has his band effect a false arrest and assault a worker in the building, in order to get a studio orchestra out of the building for Stoll's band to replace them. Amazingly, this doesn't get Stoll arrested, but instead their orchestra gets the job!

This being a one-reeler, of course there's next to no plot, just a couple of songs (and a Franklin Pangborn sighting). The songs include the then current Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing), a song you'll definitely realize even if you didn't know the name (which I didn't). Louis Prima released the original in February 1936 and this short was released in September of the same year.

As with all these bandleader shorts, I always find myself looking up the bandleader to see just how much of a success they really were. That's interesting in this case, since Stoll was really a house conductor/composer/arranger at MGM, a career that started, ironically, after this short. Stoll notably worked on The Wizard of Oz, and would win an Oscar for his work on Anchors Aweigh.

As a short, Swing Banditry isn't much to write home about, but it's an interesting piece of musical history. It got a DVD release as part of Volume 2 of the Warner Archive's Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Mickey Rooney centenary

I didn't really mention what was coming up on TCM following this week's installment of the Women Make Movies spotlight in my "briefs" post yesterday, mostly because I was planning a post of its own for the programming. Actor Mickey Rooney was born on Sept. 23, 1920, making today the 100th anniversary of his birth. It's unsurprising that TCM should spend the day with Rooney's movies, especially considering he worked much of his career at MGM and those movies are in the old "Turner library".

The "Women Make Movies" spotlight continues into this morning, so the Rooney tribute only begins in the early afternoon, containing nine of Rooney's movies:

Life Begins for Andy Hardy at 12:15 PM, one of a couple of Andy Hardy movies also featuring Judy Garland. This is the only Andy Hardy movie airing today, although not the only Judy Garland film by a long shot.

Girl Crazy follows at 2:00 PM, including not only performances from Rooney and Garland, but a hilarious turn from a young Nancy Walker.

At 4:00 PM is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with Rooney as Mark Twain's character who goes down the Mississippi on a raft.

Rooney plays the younger son of Spring Byington in Ah, Wilderness!, which comes on at 6:00 PM. The elder son and main character is played by Eric Linden. The movie was remade as a musical in the late 1940s called Summer Holiday with Rooney taking on the role played by Linden in this movie; Summer Holiday is not on today's schedule.

Prime time begins at 8:00 PM with Boys Town, which is of course better remembered as a Spencer Tracy vehicle.

Rooney gives one of his finest performances in The Human Comedy, at 9:45 PM, as the second son in a family who is forced to take on the role of man of the house when Dad dies and the elder brother goes off to fight in World War II

A much older Mickey Rooney got his final (sixth, if memory serves) Oscar nominatin for The Black Stallion, which comes on at midnight (so still late Wednesday evening in more westerly time zones).

The last of the Rooney/Garland pairings we'll see is 1940's Strike Up the Band, which comes on at 2:15AM.

The tribute concludes at 4:30 AM with Killer McCoy, which might be notable because of the story Rooney told Robert Osborne about this movie during his Private Screenings interview. Apparently there wsa some friction on the set between Rooney and director Roy Rowland, and when Rooney talked about it all those years later with Osborne, he got so animated that it scared Osborne!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Briefs for September 22-23, 2020

I probably should have mentioned the death of Diana Rigg last week, but I've been busy and never really got around to it, which is also why my recent posts don't feel particularly good to me. Thankfully, I've finally got some vacation time next week to watch a bunch of movies and (hopefully) do better posts. Rigg was in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and that makes me think of another Bond passing:

Michael Lonsdale. Lonsdale was the villain in Moonraker, playing Hugo Drax. The picture of him that I've used, however, is one that I used in a long-ago post on The Day of the Jackal, in which he plays the French police detective investigating the mysterious man of whose identity he has no idea. Lonsdale died on Monday at the age of 89.

It's been over a week since Al Kasha died, although I thought the notice only first came a couple of days ago. Kasha is an Oscar-winning songwriter. In fact, he won twice, first for "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure, and then for "We May Never Love Like This Again" from The Towering Inferno, both sung by Maureen McGovern:

Tonight on TCM sees another night of the "Women Make Movies" spotlight, with the one I'm recording being Salaam Bombay. Over on FXM, there's the return of The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, which I thought I had done a full-length blog post on, but a search of the blog says I've only done a couple of brief blurbs, most recently for a Thursday Movie Picks in July 2019. It shows up at 9:30 AM tomorrow. Having gotten a full-length post is Day-Time Wife, which has been back in the rotation for a month or two now; that kicks the FXM Retro block off tomorrow at 3:00 AM. And for those who want to see Sonja Henie since I mentioned her in last week's Thursday Movie Picks, Everything Happens at Night will be on at 7:10 AM Thursday.

Another movie that got a brief mention in a recent Thursday Movie Picks, is Yellow Sky, which I mentioned because it was remade as The Jackals, a suitable movie for the "Sloth" edition of TMP. Yellow Sky will be on tomorrow for those with the StarzEncore package, on StarzEncore Westerns at 5:40 AM.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Blithe Spirit

Another of the movies that I recorded months ago but is coming up on TCM soon is Blithe Spirit. The next airing is tomorrow afternoon at 4:45 PM.

Rex Harrison plays Charles Condomine, a successful writer living in one of those English country estates together with second wife Ruth (Constance Cummings), his first wife Elvira having died some years ago. One of the plot points in his next book involves a séance, so Charles decides that he's going to invite some friends over and bring in a local medium to hold a séance.

Of course, everybody knows that this sort of stuff is a giant scam, doesn't everybody? The Condomines invite a couple of friends, Dr. Bradman (Hugh Wakefield) and his wife (Joyce Carey), and get Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) to do her thing as the medium.

They all get together, and as you can expect, nothing happens. Not long after the séance breaks up and Arcati and the Bradmans head home, there's a sudden, inexplicable rush of wind at the patio door.

Wouldn't you know it, but something did happen. (Obviously, something had to happen, or else there wouldn't be a movie. A green-hued woman enters the scene visible only to Charles, and it's obvious to the viewer that this must be a spirit of some sort. What's obvious to Charles is that this is the spirit of Elvira (Kay Hammond).

Elvira is decidedly unhappy, as she's seen Charles' second wife, and she thinks Ruth isn't right for Charles. Elvira is also unhappy about having been brought back from the dead, although she's not exactly alive either; just in some sort of limbo where she can interact with objects and even talk to Charles. So she talks to him, and anybody else who happens to be around for these conversations only hears Charles so they think something's seriously wrong.

Charles is eventually able to convince Ruth and Arcati that Elvira has come back; and Ruth wants Arcati to help send Elvira back to where she came from. But no matter what Arcati tries, it doesn't work, making everybody including Elvira a bit testy.

If that's not bad enough, there's a series of accidents involving Charles and some of the hired help. This give Ruth a frightening insight: Elvira has decided that she wants Charles for herself and not let Ruth have her anymore, and the only way to do this is to kill Charles so they'll both be in the afterlife together. At this point even more shocking turns of events take place.

Blithe Spirit is based on a play by Noël Coward, who according to IMDb provided the narration. I'm not as big a fan of Coward's comedies as people who are fans of the stage or people who are Anglophiles tend to be, so there are going to be people who like this more than I did.

Not that I disliked Blithe Spirit, however. I did have a few problems, mostly with Kay Hammond who seemed a bit too shrill. I've never seen the play, so I don't know if Elvira was supposed to be as irritating as she is in this movie adaptation. Technically, however, the movie is a treat. It was filmed in Technicolor which is quite vivid, and the special effects are very good too.

I had thought about doing a post on Blithe Spirit earlier, but I could have sworn that when I searched on the TCM Shop, they didn't have a DVD available. The opening of the print TCM showed, however, is the Criterion logo, so I looked there, and sure enough, they have a box set of David Lean directing Noël Coward in four movies. Three of them (Blithe Spirit, In Which We Serve at 11:30 AM, and Brief Encounter at 6:30 PM) are on tomorrow's schedule; the only one that isn't is This Happy Breed. Of course, being a Criterion release, it's quite pricey.

Apparently there's a new version of Blithe Spirit in the works, although the release date got pushed back by the coronavirus nonsense and it's not set to be released until sometime in 2021.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Swing Shift

There are a couple of movies coming up on TCM that I recorded during a previous showing, so I've been sitting down to watch them in order to be able to do a post on here. The first of them is Swing Shift, which will be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 4:45 PM.

The movie opens up with idyllic scenes of Los Angeles on December 6, 1941, ultimately showing up married couple Jack Walsh (Ed Harris) and his wife Kay (Goldie Hawn). They live in one of those bungalow developments where everybody lives cheek-by-jowl. Of course, if you saw the opening date, you'll know that the following day is the one on which the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, sending the US into World War II.

World War II was a "good" war, so of course, everybody signed up to fight. Well, at least, all the men did. Jack is one of those who signs up, joining the navy. He'll send Kay his allotment checks, telling her to be frugal because it's not going to be a whole lot of money and he doesn't want her to be forced to go to work. (What should she do, just spend all day at home alone?)

Jack is so obvious about not wanting Kay to have to work that you just know she's going to. To be fair, there's a war on and she wants to do her part for the war effort, and the other women in her social circle are going to do the same thing, so it's fairly obvious that she ought to go off to work too, in a defense plant making aircraft. The women are at first intimidated by the riveting machines, but as will all those other women working in the war effort movies, you know they'll quickly adjust.

Kay works near her best friend Hazel (Christine Lahti), who lives next door and has dreams of singing at the local nightclub. One of their supervisors at the plant is Lucky Lockhart (Kurt Russell), who tried to enlist but was discovered to have a heart defect that rendered him more valuable on the home front, despite what everybody is going to think seeing a seemingly healthy-looking man not fighting. Lucky is a trumpeter who has dreams of making it in music, too.

Because of how little there is to do and everybody's common interests, it's not surprising that Kay, Hazel, and Lucky should see more of each other. This is especially true when Kay misses the plant's bus back to the housing, and is forced to accept a ride with Lucky in his motorcycle sidecar. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, there spending the overnight together -- in bed. Of course, this ought to be a big problem since Kay has that husband serving in the Navy. But Jack is half an ocean away, and who knows how much longer the war is going to go on?

Unsurprisingly, you can probably guess that Jack is going to get leave and show up at the most inopportune time. He finds Kay at Hazel's bungalow, together with Lucky in a way that makes it clear Lucky is an item with Kay and not with Hazel, although Hazel tries to help out Kay. But she makes matters worse when she decides to go to Lucky's trailer and spend the night with him. Will everybody be able to stay together once the war finally ends?

For the most part, I liked Swing Shift. It's a fairly simple, unprepossessing story that isn't trying to do too much. It's not a comedy, but for the most part it's a fairly light drama. Goldie Hawn is appealing enough as Kay, other than a terrible hairstyle that doesn't suit her. Lucky seems a fairly undemanding role for Russell, who handles it well. Lahti probably has the most serious part, and she's more than up to the job, too.

If there was one thing I'd mark down, it would be the production design. I mentioned Hawn's hairdo, but there's also sets that reminded me of Pennies from Heaven in being too sterile. The opening song, sung by Carly Simon, seemed like the writers were going for a retro World War II vibe but really didn't succeed; it sounded much too modern.

But all of those are minor gripes and don't really take much away from Swing Shift. Hawn shows she could do light drama, and the story, while nothing new, is definitely worth a watch. Swing Shift has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Not quite the hands of Orlac

It's time for yet another movie that's been in the FXM rotation recently and is going to be on again. The time, that movie is Hand of Death, it's going to be on tomorrow at 4:50 AM and again Monday, Sept. 21, at 3:00 AM.

A mailman shows up at an isolated research station out in the California desert. Not seeing the signs not to enter, he opens the fence and walks in, collapsing immediately among a flock of equally-collapsed sheep. Thankfully, they're not dead; the scientist, Alex Marsh (John Agar), is working on nerve gases and the mailman is only knocked out, able to be revived with oxygen. But the experiment shows Marsh is on to something.

With that in mind, Marsh goes down to Los Angeles to see his nominal boss, Dr. Ramsey (Roy Gordon), and Ramsey's secretary Carol (Paula Raymond), who just happens to be Alex's girlfriend. Alex claims he's on the trail of a nerve gas that can be combined with a hypnotic, which will neutralize the enemy, and make them mind-controlled for weeks! Just think about how that will end the spectre of nuclear war. Or think about what it would do in the wrong hands. Just don't think about the plot hole that hypnotic drugs don't work like that.

At any rate, Alex has to do more research, so he goes back to his lab out in the desert to proceed in some extremely shoddy research practices that would put the scientists in Night of the Lepus to shame. You'd think with such dangerous nerve agents being used, Alex would be wearing the sort of hazmat gear he and his assistant have on at the beginning of the movie, but no. To make matters worse, he works himself past the point of exhaustion, falling asleep in the lab. When he wakes up, he accidentally knocks over one of the flasks, getting some of the liquid on his hands. Despite washing it up, he doesn't bother to see a doctor (Hello? You're working with nerve agents, buddy!), but goes to sleep.

After a night of hokey nightmares seen in a double exposure, he wakes up and his assistant points out that the lab rats have died. Alex thinks he's gotten small enough exposure to the nerve agent that he's more immune to the larger exposure from the previous evening, but we know that's nonsense. Plus, there's the fact that his skin has turned darker, as though he had gone to a tanning salon. When Alex tries to stop the assistant from discarding the lab rats, Alex's touch results in the assistant dying a horrible death, roughly burning to a crisp!

Alex realizes there's a serious problem, so he burns the lab down and takes the flask of the nerve agent with him to Los Angeles for Ramsey and another scientist, Tom Holland (Stephen Dunne) to research it and hopefully come up with a serum. Alex absolutely doesn't want any of this to become public, because he'll just be locked up in a hospital.

When Alex gets to Los Angeles, his colleagues are just as idiotic scientifically as Alex was at the lab out in the desert. None of them bother to wear the sort of gear that the researchers in The Andromeda Strain had, or that doctors trying to treat Ebola cases would wear. Nope, they just wear their civilian clothing, waiting for Alex to touch them and kill them. Meanwhile, Alex's skin hasn't just darkened; it's swollen and scaled up like an even more monstrous version of The Alligator People. Well, just his face and hands; Alex's clothing and shoes still fit. Go figure.

Hand of Death was never meant to be anything more than a B movie in the tradition of the B science fiction from the 50s that would go on through the 60s. With that in mind, the movie isn't nearly as bad as some of the reviews I read would have you believe. Despite the extremely shoddy science, the characters' motivations aren't quite so screwed up otherwise. There's the running question of how to keep Carol safe. She wants to go with the Tom, and it's easy to say that running into the face of danger might not be such a wise idea. But I found myself thinking that leaving her alone would be just as bad an idea, and that there's a reasonable claim of safety in numbers. There's no way to know which move is the right one.

So, if you're willing to overlook the multitudinous plot holes, Hand of Death is a watchable movie that doesn't do anything more than try to be a B movie. Definitely worth a watch.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Casanova not of color

Gary Cooper was pretty good at comedy, as can be seen in movies like Ball of Fire. But like many other actors, there are movies where his comedy doesn't quite work. In Cooper's case, that movie is Casanova Brown.

Cooper plays the title character (nicknamed Cass), a professor of English who, at the start of the movie is returning home to his small town in Illinois from New York City after having done research for a book on his namesake, the famous lover. However, he's apparently returning home an unhappy man.

Some time later, he's about to get engaged to Madge Ferris (Anita Louise), the daughter in a family where the wealth apparently goes from one daughter to the next, as she and her mom have control of the family wealth, much to the chagrin of Madge's father (Frank Morgan), who has been trying to get money out of them to no avail other than a small weekly allowance. Cass claims to have no need of the money and can support Madge on his professor's salary.

But something comes up. Mr. Ferris is at Cass' house shortly before the weding, and when Cass' mail is delivered, Ferris looks through the mail for Cass should there be anything important. Of course there is; a cryptic message from a maternity hospital up in Chicago, telling him he really needs to get his ass up there and see one of the doctors. Cass says at first that it's probably some sort of bizarre advertising campaign to intimidate people into contributing, before eventually he tells the true story.

Back in New York, he made the acquaintance of one Isabel Drury (Teresa Wright), also the daughter of wealthy parents, and fell in love with her. The two get married right away, somethinmg Isabel's astrology-believing mother (Patricia Collinge) thinks is a disaster. Worse for Cass, Isabel's mom hates smokers, and Cass smokes. He decides to hide his cigarette, and when he does it, the foreshadowing is pretty obvious. The cigarette butt in his pocket is going to ignite to comedic effect. Except that in this case the cigarette butt burns the entire house down, leading the Drurys to get Isabel to annul the marriage.

No wonder Cass was unhappy when he returned home. But apparently Cass and Isabel were married long enough for them to have sex, and just that one time having sex would have been enough for Isabel to get knocked up in a way that the Production Code would approve of. But why would Cass be getting a letter from a maternity hospital in Chicago, when the Drurys are from New York? In any case, Cass is going to have to go up to Chicago to resolve the situation before he can get married to Madge.

What Cass finds is that, indeed, Isabel had a baby; her rationale in having it in Chicago is that it was much more likely Cass would come up to deal with the situation. The hospital wants Cass' medical information as a formailty in putting the baby up for adoption. When Cass finds that out, he's horrified: this is our baby, Isabel, not just yours.

In order to keep the baby from being adopted, what does Cass do? Why, kidnap the baby and take it to a hotel, something that I thought would have violated the Production Code and required Cass to spend time in jail, even if he is the little girl's father. But he insists on being a good father, even though this being a movie from the mid-1940s, a single man knows nothing about parenthood.

It's an interesting premise, and one that's based on a play from 15 years earlier that had already been turned into a movie. But in Casanova Brown, the premise winds up falling flat. I think that's because I found the film rather uneven in tone. There's a fairly slow and long buildup to Cass kidnapping the baby, and then the movie becomes much wackier, giving the hotel maid (Mary Treen) and bellhop (Emory Parnell) who help Cass take care of the baby no realistic character motivations for why they'd help Cass in a scheme that at first glance looks criminal.

Gary Cooper does about as well with the material as one could hope for, not being helped that his character too turns on a dime. Teresa Wright is underused, and Patricia Collinge is just irritating. It all adds up to a movie that in my mind is a bit of a misfire. Casanova Brown really needed somebody like Preston Sturges to make the material work. But, as always, you should probably watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #323: The Band

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 "The Band", and I had a couple of ideas in mind until I realized I'd used both of them in previous editions of the blogathon. So I thought a little further, and came up with three movies that a search of the blog claims I haven't used before:

Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938). Society man Tyrone Power decides he's going to pursue "popular" music rather than the classical music that would be "proper" for his social class circa 1914, so he organizes a band including pianist Don Ameche and singer Alice Faye. Both men fall in love with the singer, but World War I separates Power from the other two, even though we know he's really the one who's right for Faye. The story was probably old even for 1938, but the real reason to watch the movie is for all the Irving Berlin songs.

Sun Valley Serenade (1941). Glenn Miller, technically not playing himself, gets his band a job at Idaho's Sun Valley ski resort. The band's pianist (John Payne) is in love with the singer (Lynn Bari), but when the manager (Milton Berle) suggests they sponser a war orphan (Sonja Henie), she immediately sets out to break up the relationship between Payne and Bari because she knows that, she and Payne getting top billing, they should wind up together in the last reel after she does one of her ice skating routines. As I mentioned the other day, Miller got an Oscar nomination for the song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" which is accompanied by dancing Dorothy Dandridge.

Sweet and Low-Down (1944). Benny Goodman plays himself, a clarinetist who escaped the projects of Chicago such as they were back in the early 20th century. He performs a benefit for the local kids each year, which results in one of them concocting a plot to introduce Goodman to brother trombonist James Cardwell. Cardwell gets invoved in a love triangle with Linda Darnell and Lynn Bari, while the band eventually gets back to New York.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Repeat Performance

I intimated the other day when I recommended Peggy Sue Got Married that TCM is running a night of movies tonight dealing with going back in time, with Peggy Sue Got Married being one of the movies. But I had already planned to blog today about another of the movies, Repeat Performance, which comes on at midnight.

Joan Leslie plays Sheila Page, a stage actress in New York married to Barney (Louis Hayward), about to celebrate New Year's 1947, this being Dec. 31, 1946. However, before she can do this, she shoots Barney dead! She then escapes their apartment, going to a club where a bunch of her friends from the theater world are. Among them are obnoxious Bess (Benay Venuta) and gay poet William Williams (Richard Basehart).

William is about the only one Sheila has felt she can trust, so she pulls him aside and tells him what happeed. William isn't quite so certain what to do, but he knows just the guy who would, that being John Friday (Tom Conway), the producer of Sheila's latest hit play Say Goodbye. So the two leave all their friends behind at the club and head out to John's apartment.

A funny thing happens on the way to the apartment, however. Just before Sheila is about to knock on the door of John's apartment, she turns around to say something to William, only to find out that he's suddenly disappeared. The strange things continue when John lets Sheila in, complimenting her on the lovely dress she's wearing. Except that when she fled the apartment, she put a fur coat on over her nightgown. And she hasn't worn this particular dress in months. Eventually, Sheila asks John the crazy question of what day it is.

John tells her that naturally, it's New Year's. And then he points out that it's Jan. 1, 1946. But wait! Sheila knows it's really 1947! She begins to get the funny feeling that perhaps for her it's still 1947, with her having all the knowledge of what happened in 1946, while for everybody else it's the start of 1946, with none of the things that happened to them having occurred yet in this new timeline. Sheila knows that she has the chance to start anew, and is especially relieved to go hom to her apartment to find Barney is still very much alive.

Sheila resolves that she and Barney should not go to London, as they did in the previous 1946, because that's where the two of them met Paula Costello (Virginia Field). Paula is the author of Sheila's hit play Say Goodbye, but she and Barney have an affair. To be fair to Paula, however, Barney is a womanizing alcoholic who more or less throws himself at Paula, and the drinking has been a big bone of contention in the Page household.

1946 starts off again with a party in Page's apartment, which is where Sheila meets William. She warns him not to meet with wealthy but eccentric patron Eloise Shaw (Natale Schafer) because Eloise is going to have him committed to a mental institution later in the year. Sheila wants everybody else to avoid their bad fates, too. Unfortunately, William has already met Eloise. And then, who should knock on the Pages' door by accident? Paula Costello, whom Sheila knows and takes an instant dislike to, really confusing everybody else at the party.

That meeting with Paula was definitely not in the original 1946, leaving Sheila to wonder what she can do to keep the previous 1946 from happening all over again, while the more poetic William wonders if fate is something that simply can't be avoided.

Repeat Performance is a really interesting movie with a nice ensemble cast of mostly people who never quite made the A list. As with Peggy Sue Got Married, a movie of this type always has the potential problem of how the timeline is going to be resolved, but in this case, it's actually handled fairly well, with events ending right around the midnight between Dec. 31, 1946 and January 1, 1947), or about the same time the movie begins.

Eddie Muller aired this on TCM at the end of last year as part of Noir Alley, and while I'm not so sure I'd call it a noir -- it's definitely more of a fantasy like It Happened Tomorrow -- I can see why others might put it in with noirs. In any case, it's definitely worth a watch. The bad news is that at the end of the Noir Alley airing, Muller said the movie was going to be getting a new DVD release, but that doesn't seem to have materialized so far. There's a 1996 movie with the same title but a completely different plot which is available on Prime Video; this 1947 Repeat Performance isn't, as far as I can tell. So you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Sealed Room (1909)

Not really having anything to blog about today, I decided to open up my box set of early D.W. Griffith shorts again and watch one of the shorts on it; this time, the selection was The Sealed Room. This being a one-reeler, clocking in at a little over 11 minutes, there's not a whole lot going on, although the disc menu claims it's based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Honoré de Balzac. Arthur Johnson plays a King who has decided to build a private alcove (called here a dovecote) for him and the Queen (Marion Leonard) to have some alone time together, blocking off all the windows and having only one entrance. What the King doesn't know is that the Queen has been getting it on with the Minstrel (a young Henry B. Walthall with a goofy mustache). When he finds the two of them in the dovecote, well, he has his masons seal it off -- with them inside -- out of jealousy. The end

Still, despite The Sealed Room having little plot and a short running time, there's still a fairly good amount of interesting things going on. One is in the picture above; if you notice, the wall of the dovecote has a Biograph logo on it, which I presume is there to deal with would-be copyright thieves, since the logo isn't in its normal corner spot. Johnson as the King looks like he's got some sort of ridiculous eye make-up, and Walthall looks like he's playing something closer to a ukulele than whatever sort of instrument it was supposed to be. I wouldn't have thought that guitars made it to wherever the story was supposed to be set when it was set. But neither the place nor the time is mentioned, and guitars were definitely in Spain from the late 15th century on while they reached France by the end of the 16th century. And Walthall's leering as the minstrel is a hoot.

The Sealed Room, having been made in 1909, is in the public domain, so several prints of it are on Youtube:

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

I've been watching movies I've been recording off of FXM at the rate of about one a week now, and then blogging about them when there's another showing of them on the channel, which comes up all the time. This time around, the movie in question is Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. It will be on again tomorrow at 1:25 PM follwed by an further airing at 6:00 AM Wednesday.

Deke (Adam Roarke) pulls up to a house somehwere in central or northern California one morning. There, Deke's friend Larry (Peter Fonda) leaves his girlfriend Mary (Susan George) behind and gets in the car with Deke. The two have a job to do.

Larry is a would-be NASCAR driver, this being the era before the sport hit the big time and drivers were much more independent than today where it's all run by corporate teams. Larry is good, but needs more money to soup up his car to make it good enough to run on the NASCAR circuit. So together with Deke, he's come up with a plan to get enough money to do all that with his car. Of course, the plan isn't quite legal, or indeed anywhere close to legal.

Deke gets dropped off at the home of the Stantons, where the husband George (Roddy McDowall in an uncredited role) is a manager at the local supermarket; wife Evelyn (Lynn Borden) is a stay-at-home mom. Deke goes in the house and surprises Evelyn in the shower; the plan is to hold her and the daughter hostage. Meanwhile, Larry goes over to the supermarket, where a large shipment of cash is scheduled to arrive that morning.

Larry is supposed to hold up George at gunpoint, with Deke calling from the Stanton home to have Evelyn tell George the threat is real, and to open the safe and give Larry the money. This should also give Larry and Deke a head start on getting away and evading the police, although I'd think binding and gagging George and locking his office would be a better plan.

But at any rate, the actual robbery in the store goes well, at least until Larry gets back to his car outside the store. Larry was stupid enough not to take the keys with him, this being the 1970s and a smaller town where simply taking somebody else's car was apparently less likely to happen. So what does he find when he gets back to the car but Mary, and there isn't any way she's going to leave the car, especially not once she finds the $150,000 Larry got from the store.

So Larry and Marry pick up Deke, who is equally pissed at Mary's presence. Larry having had to argue with Mary before the getaway also cost them crucial time. Police officer Carl Donahue (Kenneth Tobey) is on the case, setting up and dissolving roadblocks, with Capt. Franklin (Vic Morrow) in a helicopter trying to find Larry's car and follow the criminals.

Larry and Deke's plan had them going to the walnut groves, where the police wouldn't be able to find them because of the density of the trees and the multitude of little roads will make it nigh on impossible for the police to find them. Meanwhile, Mary keeps bollixing up the getaway plans, making it easier for the police to follow them.

I guess the real reason to watch Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is for the car chases and crashes, and in that it does more or less succeed. The rest of the plot isn't really worth it since Mary is intensely dislikable while Larry and Deke aren't lovable antiheroes or even guys evading the law for a purpose we can root for like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. Instead, everybody is at everyone else throats in a way that doesn't work like the noir era heist movies did.

If you like robbery and chase movies, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is adequate and should entertain you. But if you want to introduce other people to such movies, there's a lot better out there. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry did get a DVD release which seems to be available at Amazon but on backorder at the TCM Shop. The movie also seems to be available on Amazon Prime streaming video if you can do that.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Peggy Sue Got Married

Another of the movies I had the chance to DVR during a free preview weekend that I hadn't blogged about before is Peggy Sue Got Married. It's going to be on overnight tonight at 1:55 AM on Epix, and again on Wednesday night on TCM as part of a night of movies going back in time. (I have a different movie to blog about as part of that lineup, however.)

Kathleen Turner plays Peggy Sue, a woman with two children in an unhappy marriage to discount appliance store owner Charlie Bodell (Nicolas Cage). They were high school sweethearts and married pretty much straight out of school, but Peggy is planning to divorce Charlie, so she'll be going to her 25th high school reunion alone, wearing a dress she wore back in 1960 when she graduated high school.

Everybody seems surpisingly OK meeting everybody else after all these years, with a lot of people liking Peggy Sue since she was apparently popular back in 1960. The one person Peggy wishes she could catch up with is Michael Fitzsimmons, who was on the track team back then and dropped out of society to become a writer: the committee couldn't find him.

Part of the reunion involves naming a King and Queen much like they'd have back at the prom, except that this isn't a couple, but people who have become successful in some way. At least, that's the way it is for the king; for whatever reason Peggy Sue got named queen even though she's a housewife. The committee brings up a cake for the king and queen, and... Peggy Sue faints.

Peggy Sue wakes up, and she's still in the high school gym where the reunion was being held. But she's on her back, with people telling her that it's not uncommon for people to pass out like that after donating blood. The doors open, and a sign reveals that this is the Spring 1960 blood drive.

It's not only this sign that makes Peggy Sue realize something's up. All her friends trying to help her seem remarkably like they were back in high school. As far as they all know, it's 1960, and has been ever since January 1, and won't be 1985 for another 25 years. Peggy Sue is the only one who seems to have any memory of it having been 1985 before she fainted.

Peggy Sue returns home to find her parents (Barbara Harris and Don Murray) are the same age they were back in 1960. Peggy also realizes that her grandparents (Maureen O'Sullivan and Leon Ames) are still alive, which gets Peggy emotional, since as far as she knew before she fainted, they had been dead for years. Peggy now has another chance to see them again, this time with all the knowledge she has as an adult.

That adult knowledge also makes Peggy Sue consider that perhaps she has the possibility of doing things differently in life, such that she won't wind up in a troubled marriage to Charlie. She goes on a date with Fitzsimmons (Kevin O'Connor) and even talks to the nerdy science guy Richard Norvik (Barry Miller), who as she knows will go on to be a big success in life. She asks Richard about time travel, and he finally realizes that something's happened such that Peggy Sue really is from 25 years in the future.

As for Charlie, who married Peggy Sue in the first go-round, he's obviously dating her. He works for his dad's appliance store (which is of course how he ends up with the store we see in the commercial at the beginning of the movie), but is also a singer who has a doo-wop band with a couple of classmates (watch for a very young Jim Carrey here as Walter). Charlie had felt in the first life that Peggy Sue made him give up singing and songwriting and settle down to the appliance business, which made him resentful. Now, he's still pursuing her and not understanding why she's seeing other guys.

Finally, as Peggy Sue's 18th birthday approaches, she takes the chance to ditch Charlie for a day to go see her grandparents. Grandma actually believes Peggy Sue's story that she's from the future. Grandpa, for his part, belongs to a masonic lodge-like society that has a ceremony that could possibly take her back to 1985....

Peggy Sue Got Married is an interesting little fantasy buoyed by some really good performances. I found myself thinking as the movie was going on that it's quite hard to pull this sort of movie off well since you've got a whole bunch of people who are playing themselves at both 18 and 43. The real-life actors were of varying ages: Turner in her early 30s, Cage in his early 20s, and everybody else in between. Still, I think they all succeed, with Turner obviously being by far the best since the movie revolves around her. There's also the question of how the time travel is going to be resolved, which also works here, although I won't reveal the outcome.

I can definitely recommend Peggy Sue Got Married if you haven't seen it before. It seems to be out of print on DVD, although available on streaming if you can do that. As I said at the beginning, if you don't have the Epix package, you'll still be able to catch it on TCM later this week.

TCM Star of the Month September 2020: Dorothy Dandridge.

Although the new month started quite some time back, we didn't get a new Star of the Month on TCM for quite some time for a couple of reasons. That Star of the Month is Dorothy Dandrige, who didn't get to make all that many movies because she died young and Hollywood wasn't making many movies with black leading characters back in Dandridge's day. So TCM is only showing eight Dandridge movies, running them on Sunday nights before Silent Sunday Nights. And with last week being the Labor Day weekend, we got all those concert movies on the first Sunday in September, leaving just three Sundays to put those movies into.

This first night of Dandridge's spotlight includes her Oscar-nominated role in Carmen Jones, at 8:00 PM. That will be followed by a really good role in Bright Road at 10:00 PM, and a musical number in Sun Valley Serenade at 11:30 PM, the last of those being decidedly not a starring role for Dandridge. She and the Nicholas brothers dance to Glenn Miller's Oscar-nominated song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo", and you can see a couple of pretty obvious points where the exhibitors in the south could cut the number out so that white southern audiences wouldn't have to have their pretty little eyes polluted by, horror of horrors, black people dancing.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Sadie McKee

I thought I had blogged about Sadie McKee before, but a search of the blog claims I haven't. Having recently watched it and it being available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, now you get a review of it.

Joan Crawford plays Sadie, who at the start of the movie is a domestic, having grown up with her cook mother in the home of the Aldersons. Their son Michael (Franchot Tone) is a lawyer who is in love with Sadie, but she's in love with a man from her social class, Tommy (Gene Raymond). Michael bad-mouths Tommy, so what does Sadie do? She gets together with Tommy and runs off to New York to elope with him!

But perhaps there was a reason Michael bad-mouthed Tommy and Sadie should have been with Michael. Sadie and Tommy arrive in New York too late to get married that day, so they get a room in a rooming house with the plan to get married the next day. Sadie looks for a job in the morning and plans to meet Tommy who is going to get the marriage license. But while she's out looking, Tommy meets a traveling performer who offers Tommy a job on the spot, which he takes even though it requires traveling and separation from Sadie.

Sadie, being in need of a job, gets one in a nightclub as a dancer. This is the sort of 1930s clubs that rich guys went to and threw away lots of money, including on dancers and waitresses who hoped to snag a rich man. Not that Sadie was expecting that, but it's going to happen anyway. Rich guy Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold) shows up one day and immediately falls in love with Sadie, who sees things more in terms of how this might be beneficial to her, not that she wants to hurt Jack.

There are two problems with Jack, however. One is that he's an alcoholic. The other is that among his friends is... Michael Alderson! So now he knows what Sadie's done with herself, and he knows (or at least is convinced) that it's going to be bad news for Sadie if she hooks up with Jack. Still, she does so, and even tries to help Jack sober up when she learns that if he doesn't sober up it will kill him. But she's still in love with Tommy....

Sadie McKee is one of those 1930s melodramas that are interesting if you don't focus too much on the plot, which really doesn't make that much sense. Crawford plays a lot of characters like this at MGM in the first half of the 1930s, and she does a perfectly fine job with it. Edward Arnold is also surprisingly good both as a drunk and as the fundamentally decent human who doesn't want to hurt Sadie. Raymond isn't around much, and Franchot Tone is acceptable at least.

Sadie McKee is nothing special, but there's also nothing really wrong with it. It works well enough as a vehicle for Joan Crawford, and is enough to hold the interest of anybody who's already a fan of 1930s melodrama.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Birdman of Leavenworth

During Summer Under the Stars, TCM ran The Birdman of Alcatraz; not having done a blog post on it before, I decided to DVR it. It's going to be on again tomorrow (Sept. 12) at 2:00 PM, so I watched it to do a post on here.

Burt Lancaster plays Robert Stroud, a man who was sent to federal prison for manslaughter in 1909 because he had the great bad luck of being from the Alaska Territory, which didn't have its own judicial system at the time. In 1912 he was transferred to the Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas, which is where the story in the movie opens.

Stroud, under warden Harvey Shoemaker (Karl Malden), isn't exactly rehabilitating, instead being a constant irritation. This culminates in an incident with a prison guard during one of the meal times when Stroud stabs the guard to death, which is declared murder. He's sentenced to death, but his mother Elizabeth (Thelma Ritter) comes to Stroud's aid, eventually going to Washington DC to try to get an audience with President Wilson, who unfortunately had suffered his stroke, so Elizabeth could only be seen by Mrs. Wilson.

Still, Elizabeth is able to get somebody in the administration to have sympathy, such that the sentence is commuted to life in prison. But there's a catch, which is that like all people awaiting execution, Stroud was in a form of solitary confinement that, although unlike the stereotypical dark cell of the movies, mean he was in his cell 23 hours a day and had almost no contact with other prisoners. The commutation said that Stroud was to remain in solitary confinement until his sentence could be carried out, which is technically never. Shoemaker sees to it that Stroud isn't going to get out of solitary.

One day, during one of Stroud's exercise hours in the courtyard, a storm comes up breaking several tree branches. One of those branches hass a bird's nest with a baby sparrow in it. Stroud takes that orphaned bird back to his cell and nurses the bird back to health. This leads to Stroud getting a couple of canaries, with other prisoners (including one played by Telly Savalas who earned an Oscar nomination for his role) getting canaries too. But an avian illness strikes, and the birds start dying. Stroud has to do what research he can on the illness and guess at remedies, eventually finding one.

This brings him some notoriety outside of the walls of the penitentiary, as he's been writing letters and articles to a bird lovers' magazine. One of his readers wonders about this mysterious Stroud, eventually writing and finding out that Stroud is in fact a prisoner at Leavenworth. A new federal Bureau of Prisons is formed, threatening to take away Stroud's birds, and this woman, Stella Johnson (Betty Field) and Elizabeth start another publicity campaign to save Stroud's birds. As part of the campaign, Stella marries Robert, which absolutely pisses Elizabeth off (one wonders what sort of relationship mother and son had in real life, as apparently Mrs. Stroud really did cut off all relations with her son after this marriage).

The denouement of it all is that Stroud does lose his birds when he gets transferred to Alcatraz (Wikipedia claims it's because some of the scientific equipment he'd been allowed to procure was being used as a distillery, something the movie obviously completely overlooks), where he meets warden Shoemaker again. No birds here, although Stroud would eventually be called the "Birdman of Alcatraz" when a writer named Tom Gaddis (Edmond O'Brien) wrote the book by that title.

In some ways, there's not a whole lot going o in The Birdman of Alcatraz, which shouldn't be surprising, since Robert Stroud spent 40-some years in solitary confinement of one form or another. So we get a lot of confined sets in which not a whole lot can happen. Instead, this is a movie for the performances, which are uniformly quite good. Lancaster is excellent as Stroud, and Thelma Ritter earned her sixth and final Supporting Actress in a much darker role than normal as Stroud's mother. Malden is also quite good.

The movie's only drawback is that it runs right around two and a half hours; considering the relatively limited subject material, a script clocking in at about two hours probably could have been written. Even then, the movie doesn't really feel like it's going on a long time, which is down to the strong performances.

The Birdman of Alcatraz did get a DVD release, although the TCM Shop claims it's on backorder.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #322: Movies not in English

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 movies not in English, which is a fairly easy theme, with only needing to check whether or not I'd used the movies in a previous Thursday Movie Picks. With that in mind, here's my theme-within-a-theme picks:

Closely Watched Trains (1966). Directed by the recently deceased Jiří Menzel, the movie tells the story of Miloš, an apprentice dispatcher at a station in a middle of nowere part of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. He's worried about becoming a man due to his sexual inadequacy, but has the chance to show what he's made of when there's a plot to sabotage the Nazis involving his station.

The Confession (1970). Based on the true story of Arthur London, a Czech Communist who was purged, tortured, and subjected to a show trial in the early 1950s, Yves Montand plays the man being arrested for a political crime he didn't commit. The movie is long and brutal, but worth a watch.

The Ear (1970/1990). Equally brutal but in a different way, this one tells the story of a junior minister (Radoslav Brzobohatý) in the Foreign Ministry and his wife (Jiřina Bohdalová) who return home from a function to find the power off, which leads them to believe the house has been bugged in advance of another Party purge. The couple then descend into madness trying to find the bug. This was made after the Soviet invasion that ended the Prague Spring of 1968, so I'll never know how it even got made in that oppressive environment; unsurprisingly, it didn't see release until 1990, after the fall of Communism. Despite the difficult subject matter, this one is also extremely worth a watch if you can find it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


A couple of weeks back, when the Thursday Movie Picks theme was "Female Buddy Movies", one of the movies I selected was Reducing, starring Marie Dressler and Polly Moran. The two actresses were paired together in a handful of movies, and one that TCM recently aired is Politics. Since it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, I recently sat down to watch it and do a post here.

Dressler plays Hattie Burns, a widow with an adult daughter Myrtle (Karen Morley) who is renting half her house out to her friend Ivy Higgins (Polly Moran) and Ivy's husband Peter (Roscoe Ates). Ivy in ivolved in the political campaign of mayor Tom Collins (Tom McGuire), who is running for reelection.

This being a small-to-medium sized town in the early 1930s, Prohibition is an issue, specifically the underworld that runs the bootlegging and supplies the speakeasies, a business run by Jim Curango (John Miljan). Hattie doesn't realize that Myrtle is in love with Benny Emerson (William Bakewell), who has screwed up just enough in life to have gotten himself involved with the Curango gang at a very low level.

There's a shooting at one of the speakeasies in which Benny is shot and wounded and a young woman is shot to death, with Benny being the chief suspect. So he goes to Myrtle seeking help. She, not knowing what's about to happen, decides to hide Benny in Mom's normally locked attic.

As I said, there's a mayoral campaign going on, and after the shooting, Hattie asks the mayor what he's going to do to stop it. In fact, the mayor has the tacit support of Curango, so he's not going to do anything, so when Hattie figures that out, she gets outraged, and Ivy decides to nominate Hattie for mayor on the spot, ballot access apparently not being a big issue in those days.

Hattie's campaign isn't going so well, and all the husbands are kind of disrespectful to Hattie's campaign, thinking politics should be left to the professionals (read: men). So Hattie gets the idea that all the wives should go on strike until the men agree to vote for Hattie! This leads to the predictable but gentle comedy of the men not being able to run their own homes, apparently none of them ever having been a bachelor in his younger days or having had to learn how to do basic things like cooking.

Just as Hattie's campaign looks set to succeed, Peter asks for his trunk since Ivy isn't going to share her bed with him and he's going to go to a hotel or a friend's house or something. Of course, this leads to Peter finding fugitive Benny in the attic, and the natural suspicion that Hattie might be involved which would of course be hypocrisy.

Politics is a fairly gentle comedy/light drama, which in many ways was fresh and new back in 1931 when it was released because a lot of this stuff hadn't really been done before. Watching now, some of it is definitely going to look dated, especially Ivy's behavior at the political rallies.

But as a movie, Politics works, mostly because of the performance of Dressler, who like George Arliss made even little trifles work on the sheer strength of her charisma. John Miljan also does well with his role, turning Curango into a slick villain whose appearance belies what he's up to, like a younger version of a George Macready in Gilda.

Anybody who wants a look back at a simpler time should enjoy Politics.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

For those who like Tennessee Williams

Another of my recent watches off the DVR was The Night of the Iguana.

Richard Burton plays Rev. Lawrence Shannon, who at the start of the movie is an Episcopalian minister in some middle-class parish of the sort that David Niven had in The Bishop's Wife where everybody seems to attend services. Shannon, however, has some sort of breakdown when he's about to deliver one of his sermons, which results in going on a rant and getting dismissed from this particular congregation.

Cut to Mexico, at some point in the future. Shannon has apparently been down here for quite some time, never having been able to get a minister's post with another congregation. He's leading a tour of little old (well, middle-aged) ladies from Texas, a tour that includes one student, Charlotte (Sue Lyon). She's constantly leading him on, and he seems to be OK with it.

The woman who organized the tour, Miss Fellowes (Grayson Hall), understandably thinks Shannon is the one responsible for the way the relationship between him and Charlotte is going, and to be fair, in some ways he is. But she's also a prudish little biddy who's going to be complaining about the smallest thing. What she's doing on a tour like this, I'll never know.

Then again, I don't really know what everybody's doing in a movie like this. The tour is scheduled to go to Puerto Vallarta, which was apparently a backwater at the time. Shannon commandeers the bus and takes it from the hotel in downtown Puerto Vallarta to a ramshackle resort run by a woman with whom Shannon had a previous relationship, Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner). He then steals the bus' distributor so that the tour can't leave.

Fellowes and Charlotte and Shannon and Faulk go through a lot of overheated Tennessee Williams dialogue, but if that's not enough for you, they're joined by sketch artist Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather poet who should have been in a rest home decades earlier, Nonno. Hannah obnoxiously touts her and her grandfather's talents, while tending to Shannon, since she's the one who realizes how broken he is.

The tour group is able to get the distributor back and escape, while Shannon and the other two women do things for another half hour, as if the movie hasn't gone on long enough, until it reaches a conclusion of some sort.

As you can probably tell, I didn't particularly care for The Night of the Iguana. It's partly down to the dialogue from Tennessee Williams, which possibly works better on a stage, although I haven't seen the play either. It's not helped by direction from John Huston, who turned this into another of his indulgent movies. I couldn't help but think of Under the Volcano, which had an excellent performance from Albert Finney, but a Hustonesque ending that nearly sinks the film. The performances here are adequate but not quite as good as Finney's, and Huston thankfully has to hew at least somewhat to Williams' script.

Still, The Night of the Iguana definitely isn't going to be for everybody. If you're a fan of John Huston or Tennessee Williams, you'll probably like it; otherwise, I'd suggest starting with something like The African Queen for Huston and Suddenly Last Summer for Williams.