Saturday, October 31, 2020

Sean Connery, 1930-2020

Sean Connery (l.) and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King

Sean Connery, who had a long and varied movie career although he'll probably always be best remembered for having played James Bond as the film franchise took off, has died at the age of 90. Among the many iconic moments in the early Bond movies is of Bond being strapped to a gold slab as a laser is heading toward his crotch in Goldfinger. He asks Goldfinger, "You expect me to talk?" to which Goldfinger sardonically responds, "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" If one had a morbid sense of humor, one could say Gert Frobe up in heaven is no longer expecting Mr. Bond to die. Goldfinger was the third of seven times Connery would play the role, in the first five Albert Broccoli-produced Bon films, a one-film break before returning for Diamonds Are Forever, and then a dozen years later in Never Say Never Again, which some Bond fans don't consider an official Bond movie.

Connery first quit playing Bond after You Only Live Twice in part because he didn't want to be typecast; indeed, he took roles in other movies even while he was doing the Bond pictures, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie in 1964, where he was teamed with Tippi Hedren (pictured above). Whatever problems the movie has (and it definitely has problems) are not Connery's fault. Another non-Bond movie Connery made in this period is The Hill, a gritty World War II POW drama.

After quitting the Bond franchise, Connery played in some quite good 1970s movies, including The Man Who Would Be King which I've pictured above. There are also films like The Anderson Tapes, The Wind and the Lion, and The Great Train Robbery. There's also the cult classic Zardoz, although how good a movie Zardoz is is left to the viewer. Connery would finally win an Oscar for his role in The Untouchables.

I haven't seen whether TCM has a TCM Remembers piece up yet, or whether they're going to run a programming tribute to him at some point.

The annual "TCM gains an hour it doesn't know what to to with" post

Tomorrow is already November 1. And it's a sunday, which means the first Sunday in November. And that's the end of Daylight Savings Time in the US. As 2:00 AM, the time officially goes back to 1:00 AM, so we get two 1:00 hours.

This always seems to cause problems for TV schedulers and listings services. And for TCM this year, it's worse I think because of the new schedule format. With it being Halloween, we get a bunch of horror movies, which is in and of itself no big deal either way. But the lineup, starting with a more horror-themed version of Noir Alley at midnight, is:

The Seventh Victim at midnight;
I Walked With a Zombie at 1:30 AM;
The Body Snatcher at 3:00 AM; and
The Leopard Man at 4:30 AM.

You'll notice a problem with I Walked With a Zombie. It's a 69-minute movie in what would normally be a 90-minute slot, which would mean there's more than enough time for a short. The fact that the short isn't listed on the schedule is annoying, but not a huge deal; TCM has had periods where the shorts don't get listed before.

But, of course, with the end of Daylight Savings Time, we get an extra hour, so I Walked With a Zombie is in a 150-minute slot. And it's that way on my box guide as well. The on-line listings service I checked (TitanTV) lists a second 2AM, but has I Walked With a Zombie in the entire time slot. So I have no idea what's filling out the schedule this year.

Happy Halloween, and remember to change your clocks!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Carnival of Souls

With Halloween coming up tomorrow, I decided I'd watch one of the horror movies I recorded earlier this month. The movie I picked is Carnival of Souls.

Candace Hilligoss plays Mary Henry, a church organist in Kansas who one days goes out riding with a couple of friends. They get challenged to a drag race by a couple of guys. During the race, they reach a bridge, and in trying to cross the bridge, the women's car crashes off the bridge into the river below! With the river being as deep as it is and having a strong current, the police figure they'll never find the car in the mud. So everybody in the car must have died tragically.

But then, on a sandbar in the river, we see a wet and muddy Mary struggling onto the island. She's alive! But for fairly obvious reasons, she doesn't want to stay in a town that has traumatic memories. Thankfully, she's got a job waiting for her in Utah, so she decides to head there immediately.

On the long drive, however, something strange happens. She looks out the side window, and sees instead of a reflection, a pale face of what looks like a male zombie of some sort (Herk Harvey, who also directed). Unsurprisingly, this unnerves Mary. The fact that the town she's going to be working in also has an old abandoned amusement park just outside of town is also unnerving.

When she gets to the rooming house where she's going to rent a room, the only other roomer is the mildly seedy John Linden, who seems a bit dishonest but worse, is very forward in trying to pursue Mary. She's OK with being friendly, but not much more. And then she sees that zombie again, this time coming from inside the house!

And then there are times where things grow hazy for Mary, and then it seems as if nobody can see or hear her, and she can't hear them. She talks to people, and they just treat her as if there's nobody there. What's going on? Mary thinks perhaps she can find out something if she goes to that abandoned amusement park, which was also used as an outdoor summertime dance pavilion. And on her visits there, she sees... a whole group of those zombies dancing!

You might be able to guess where this is all heading, although I won't reveal it. In some ways, there's not much to guess. That's because Carnival of Souls is a very low-budget movie made by independent filmmaker Harvey who was able to parlay locations around his home town of Lawrence KS, and that abandoned amusement park in Utah into a feature-length movie, one of the few he made, having worked mostly in shorts like Shake Hands With Danger that shows up on TCM Underground from time to time. Harvey also used a cast mostly of non-professionals, which is why I only mentioned a couple of names.

But even taking all that into consideration, Carnival of Souls is a really effective little movie. The score is entirely organ music, although a lot of it sounds more like an organ tune for the old soap operas than a more stately church pipe organ to me; in any case it works. The clearly imperfect acting is disconcerting, and the amusement park location really works well.

There are several DVD releases of Carnival of Souls, last time I checked. I'm not certain if any of them have noticeably better prints than others.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #329: Horror (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. With it being October, all of the themes this month have been related to horror. And with this being the last Thursday in the month, it means we get another TV edition of the picks. This time was difficult for me, until I decided to extend what I was going to do as the teaser for three TV shows, which was to use a certain TV commercial. With that in mind, I came up with a commercial that's clearly horror-related, one for a horror-related product, one that kind-of-sort-of technically shows horror, and a fourth that's going to horrify you, and no, I make no apologies for the earworm. :-p

Geico has had a series of whimsical commercials for quite a few years now (look up the one about Honest Abe for a good example). Among them is this spoof of the slasher film genre.

In 1971, General Mills introduced the first two of what are known as the Monster cereals, Count Chocula and Frankenberry. There's also a blueberry-flavored Boo Berry which was introduced later, as well as two discontinued cereals I don't remember, not that I ate any of the monster cereals. Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo Berry are apparently still produced a couple months of the year for the Halloween season.

In this 1985 commercial, the Wendy's fast-food chain humorously uses the horrors of the perceived lack of consumer goods under Soviet Communism to inform the viewers that Wendy's gives you more of a choice of toppings.

A quick search says that our last commercial dates all the way back to 2004. And yet, that horrible jingle is memorable all these years later. So I feel no guilt for inflicting it on the rest of you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Critical Condition

A couple of months back, Showtime rejiggered their channel lineup, replacing Showtime Beyond with SHOxBET, a collaboration with Black Entertainment Television, both I believe being owned by Viacom. On DirecTV, they moved another one of the Showtime channels into Beyond's old space; I don't know if other cable systems moved channels around. In any case, when the Showtime channels last had a free preview weekend I had the chance to record Critical Condition. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 5:45 PM, and several other times over the weekend on various Showtime channels.

Richard Pryor plays Kevin Lenihan, a New York property developer who has an idea for a cineplex, but to get the financing, he needs to see a loan shark who's got his office in the back of an adult goods store. However, the meeting goes wrong as the police have been watching the place. And wouldn't you know it, Kevin is the one who is literally left holding the bag, so it looks as though there's no way he's getting out of going to prison.

Kevin plans to plead guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence, although he's also worried about getting killed by the people he still owes money to. So when he remembers that it's possible to claim not guilty by reason of insanity, he actually decides to try it, despite not being nuts at all. The judge, however, has to respect that plea and remand Kevin to a mental hospital pending an evaluation.

Kevin gets sent to Empire General Hospital on Governor's Island, a hospital in a parlous state that frankly I don't know why it would even be there unless it were solely a prison hospital. There's only one causeway leading to the island; it's constantly low on funds; and there's the remnants of a hurricane heading for New York. To top things off, a new hospital administrator, Rachel Atwood (Rachel Ticotin), is applying for an administrator's job there and is being given this weekend as her trial. (You'd think with a hurricane coming, that would be delayed.)

I mentioned that there's a hurricane approaching, and you can probably guess a couple of things that happen. One is that the rain floods the causeway, cutting off the only means off the island (well, technically, they could helicopter out, but in a hurricane?). The other is that the power goes out. Now, any hospital worth its salt will have emergency generators for just an emergency like this. Empire General does, although because of poor maintenance and flooding they go in and out.

During the darkness and general confusion, Kevin is able to escape from the mental wing of the hospital. He heads for the office of the doctor who examined him, and who was certainly going to diagnose him as being perfectly sane, so that he can destroy her records. However, Rachel walks in on him. She sees him, and naturally presumes that he's not Kevin, but a Dr. Slattery who was scheduled to be on duty.

Kevin goes along with the misidentification, even though he's by no means a doctor and doesn't know the first thing about practicing medicine or running a hospital. But since he's otherwise going to be caught as an escapee, he lets Rachel have her mistaken impression. From here on out we get a bunch of predictable scenes of "Slattery" trying to get other doctors and nurses to perform while doing the minimum possible himself what with is not being a doctor. There's also another escaped criminal, Stucky (Joe Dallesandro) on the loose.

I've stated on a number of occasions that I'm not the biggest fan of what I call the "comedy of lies", where the plot is moved along by a little lie at first and then lies have to pile one atop another to keep the original ruse going. Critical Condition suffers from the same problem, and although there are some good scenes, the plot is ultimately predictable and even Richard Pryor can't bring this to be more than mediocre. He really needed a strong lead opposite him, I think.

Now, don't get me wrong; Richard Pryor is still interesting even in something that goes wrong like Critical Condition. There are also some supporting roles that are worth a mention, such as Bob Saget as a young doctor, Sylvia Miles as a nurse, Joe Mantegna as the hospital administrator held hostage in the mental ward, and a brief role from Wesley Snipes as an ambulance driver. But overall, there's a lot of Richard Pryor's work that I'd recommend before Critical Condition.

Critical Condition is out of print on DVD, although you can get it at Amazon Prime streaming, especially if you have the Showtime package.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The part of Robin Hood is now being played by Burt Lancaster

Another of the movies that I recently watched and is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive is The Flame and the Arrow.

The movie opens with some text informing us that in the late 12th century, Friedrich Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire has invaded northern Italy and is subjugating the people of Lombardy, although they're a hardy mountain people who are not going to be easy to dominate. Cut to some villagers such as Papa and Nonna Bartoli (Francis Pierlot and Aline MacMahon respectively) who are vowing not to submit to Barbarossa's overlord for the region, Count Ulrich, also known as the Hawk (Frank Allenby).

Into all of this comes Dardo Bartoli (Burt Lancaster), together with his young son Rudi. Dardo had been married to Francesca (Lynne Baggett), but she left him and is living in the Count's palace. Dardo is a sort of hero to the locals, nephew to Nonna and Papa, and someone who would fight against the Hawk just because it would give him something to fight. He's going to be fighting the Hawk soon enough.

The Count and some of his men have come down to the village because somebody shot one of the Count's hawks, something that locals had always considered fair game out in the wild because hawks would kill their pigeons and other small livestock. But as with the deer in Sherwood Forest being the King's Deer, the Count is absolutely pissed that somebody shot one of his hawks used in falconry. The Count retalites by taking Rudi and bringing him back to the palace to raise as a civilized kid and so Mom can have custody of him.

Meanwhile, Barbarossa is trying to create an alliance between the Holy Roman Empire and Lombardy. To that end, he's brought a noblewoman down from the German lands, Anne of Hesse (Virginia Mayo). The Count has found a suitable noble for her to marry and cement an alliance between the two regions, that being the Marchese Alessandro de Granazia (Robert Douglas). The Marchese is having trouble paying the Count's confiscatory taxes, so he's taken to the palace with marriage being an enticement to get out of tax evasion. Along the way, however, Dardo and his men capture the Marchese and his troubadour (Nolan Lloyd) and taken them to Dardo's hideout at the abandoned temple of Apollo.

There, Dardo and his men, including his right-hand man, the mute Piccolo (Nick Cravat) plot their revenge. Dardo invades the palace to try to rescue his son, but instead of getting Rudi, he winds up with Anne of Hesse, taking her hostage. Now, it should be pretty clear that they're going to fall in love along the way, but that is also unsurprisingly something that takes a little while, since the two are enemies when first they meet.

The idea of a prisoner exchange is floated, but the Count tortures Piccolo and threatens to kill Dardo's uncle. Dardo's men save Papa, but the Count threatens to kill more men. At first the locals think about giving in, but ultimately they decide to fight alongside Dardo. The Marchese, meanwhile, sees his chance to get back what he thinks is rightfully his, even if it means betraying Dardo.

The Flame and the Arrow is a formulaic swashbuckler that in many ways made me think of The Adventures of Robin Hood. It's not exactly bad, and with its action and Technicolor photography, it's certainly worth a watch on any rainy night. But there were also things about it that I didn't like. Not just that there's nothing new or particularly noteworthy here, but especially the presence of Nick Cravat, who was Burt Lancaster's friend and circus partner back in the days before Lancaster made the move to movies. Cravat apparently had a thick New York accent, which is why in the historical movies he's in he's turned into a mute so we don't have to hear the inauthentic accent. Unfortunately, both here and in The Crimson Pirate, it turns Cravat into a smarmy, obnoxious jerk who brings down the proceedings every time he's on screen.

But, of course, that may just be me; other people might well enjoy the presence of Cravat. And visually, the movie is more than worth a watch. Just be forewarned that what you're getting is undemanding.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Crime does not pay, but not MGM-style

I've mentioned the MGM Crime Does Not Pay shorts on a couple of occasions. Recently, I watched an odd little movie that shares the message of those shorts, but does it in an entirely different way: You and Me.

The movie starts off with a song about how you need money to get whatever you want, before we wind up in Morris' department store. Helen (Sylvia Sidney) is one of the shop clerks, and she's just found a woman trying to shoplift a satin blouse. The woman begs Helen not to be turned over to the authorities. When another clerk, Joe (George Raft), shows up to ask Helen if there's a problem, she lets the shoplifter off the hook by claiming there's a flaw in the blouse and the department store shouldn't be putting out gods like this.

Joe actually loves Helen, but there's a problem. He's an ex-convict, finishing up his parole. Mr. Morris (Harry Carey), who owns the store, believes in giving ex-cons jobs as a way of rehabilitating them, but the parolees are still under all sorts of restrictions, such as having to report to their parole officer constantly and not being allowed to get married. So Joe hasn't been willing to reveal his love to Helen up until now. Even then, he's decided that he doesn't want to saddle Helen with an ex-con for a wife, he's going to go west to California instead.

Helen is having nothing of it. She loves Joe too, and she decides that she's going to push the issue herself, asking Joe to marry her! Naturally, he accepts, and the two have a quickie wedding before starting off a life of marital bliss in her rooming house run by a very nice older couple who don't know anything about Joe's past.

They, and Joe himself, don't know much about Helen's past. It turns out that she too is a parolee, but her parole isn't up yet. So she's still under the prohibition on marriage, and she'd get in huge trouble if her parole officer or pretty much anybody but her landlords found out about the marriage. So she makes up a lie to Joe about Morris not wanting his employees to get married to each other.

Joe is obviously going to find out about Helen's lie at some point. Meanwhile, he and some of the other parolees working at Morris' (played by, among others, Roscoe Karns, Warren Hymer, and a young Robert Cummings) are getting approached by the big guy, Mickey (Barton MacLane) to do a job stealing from Morris' department store. Joe wasn't certain at first, but once he's learned his wife has been lying to him, he decides to go ahead with the job.

And here is where the story gets really weird. (Naturally, spoilers abound.) Helen decides once she hears about it from Gimpy (Hymer's character) that she's going to inform Morris. Normally, we'd get the police rounding up the bad guys as the Production Code would have retired. In You and Me, however, Morris has his detectives interrupt Joe and the gang in flagrante delicto, and then have Helen give the guys a lecture on the actual financial figures on crime not paying! It's a really bizarre resolution, but since the gang decides not to go ahead with the crime, it must have satisfied the enforcers of the Production Code.

You and Me, despite being a strange film, works and is quite interesting for all its weirdness. The casting is interesting, what with Sidney being an out-and-out con; ditto Karns and even more so Cummings. Nobody stands out as being particularly good or particularly bad, but together and under the direction of Fritz Lang they make a movie that absolutely needs to be seen at least once.

You and Me was released by Paramount; as with almost all of Paramount's talkies from before 1950, the rights were acquired by Universal. Many of these movies have the modern day Universal logo at the beginning, but You and Me had the 1930s vintage logo of a plane flying around the globe! The movie has received a DVD release from Universal's mod scheme, although it might be nicer had it been part of a box set.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

But nobody actually goes naked

The other day, I commented on MGM's smaller movies from the 1950s when I did a post on Cry Terror!. When one of the "bigger" movies is interesting, it's as much because it's a mess as anything else. A good example is Go Naked in the World.

Anthony Franciosa plays Nick Stratton, a man who's just gotten out of the military after a stint, and hasn't decided whether or not he's going to re-enlist. He's in his hometown of San Francisco, but hasn't met his family yet, instead going to a club where he meets Guilietta Cameron (Gina Lollobrigida). She's lovely, and unsurprisingly Nick falls in love with her. Guilietta, however, seems very unsure about taking the relationship anywhere even though she does like Nick.

Eventually, Nick's father Pete (Ernest Borgnine) finds him at the hotel where he's staying. Nick is a Greek immigrant, and a big deal in San Francisco's Greek-American community. He owns a construction firm, and has even offered Pete a job in the firm. Pete isn't so certain he wants it, because it comes with strings attached.

Those strings are that Dad is the head of the family, and dammit, he's going to let everybody know it. The rest of the family sees it as controlling, and they're all beginning to get fed up with it. That is why, for example, Pete might not want to take the job. Pete's younger sister Yvonne (Luana Patten) decides she's going to rebel by staying out all night with a boyfriend, which really pisses Dad off. Mom's been the Edith Bunker type of housewife, but she might finally be beginning to show some independence.

But the story is mostly about Pete, Dad, and Guilietta. Pete keeps seeing her, and gets the brilliant idea of bringing her as his guest to his parents' anniversary party. This turns out to be a big mistake, as we learn that Guilietta is a former "escort" (well, she did more, except that the studios weren't going to go into detail in the early 1960s). That would be bad enough, except that Dad points out that a lot of the people at his party have availed themselves of her services.

This causes Guilietta to break things off with Pete, but he's insistent on continuing to see her again. So he finds out what her new address is, and meets her at a hotel. But Dad finds out what Pete is up to, and sends the vice squad after Guilietta! No wonder everybody thinks he's controlling! Pete figures that the only way he can get out from under Dad's thumb is to elope with Guilietta. They go off to Acapulco, but everywhere they go Pete finds people who had been Guilietta's clients back in San Francisco....

Oh boy is Go Naked in the World a stinker. The one redeeming quality is that it's a stinker in a really fun way. The movie is clearly trying to be lurid and test the constraints of the Production Code, but it's too glossy to be anything other than phony. The dialog is roundly horrible and overripe, and Borgnine is given free rein to overract, which he unsurprisingly takes. His Fred Sanford-style heart palpitations are hilarious.

As I implied in the title of the post, nobody really goes naked either, with the closest being distance shots of Franciosa water-skiing in one of those early 60s square-cut pair of swimming trunks. OK, I think Lollobrigida might have a scene in a negligee or something too. But it's not as if you should have expected any nudity. One other interesting thing was with the set of the Stratton's house. That staircase made me think of a nother equally "lurid" and silly movie that MGM put out around the same time, All Fall Down. I wouldn't be surprised if the set pieces were reused, even though All Fall Down was released a full year after Go Naked in the World.

Go Naked in the World got a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive. But it's one I'd only watch the next time it shows up on TCM.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Charles Coburn makes anything worth a watch

I think I've mentioned on multiple occasions in the past my belief that early sound era actor George Arliss could take any sort of trifling material given him and make it worth watching based pretty much on his performance alone. A later actor who has a similar effect on me is Charles Coburn. Coburn's watchability is very much on display in Unexpected Uncle.

Anne Shirley plays Kathleen Brown, a shop girl at some sort of hoity-toity shop in Palm Beach, FL, where all the rich people go for the winter. One of those wealthy people is Johnny Kerrigan (James Craig), who tried flirting with Kathleen while she was on the job, something which got her fired. Passing by is Seton Mansley (Charles Coburn). He hears Kathleen's sob story and marches her straight back into the store to see the manager, telling the manager that he's a big shareholder in the store and the manager will never hear the end of it if Kathleen, his niece isn't rehired. The gambit works.

Seton then tells Kathleen that if she needs him again, she can find him at the Seminole Trailer Park, these being the days when the trailers were still mobile as in The Long, Long, Trailer and not like the latter-day stereotype of a trailer park. But still, it's a sign that Seton is likely not what he was claiming to be back in the store. He's probably living off his savings, whatever they are, as well as making some extra money betting on horseshoes, at which he is a whiz (and which is some foreshadowing that horseshoes are going to come into play as a plot point later in the movie).

Sure enough, Kathleen comes looking for Seton when Johnny invites her out to dinner. "Uncle" Seton comes along, meeting some of Johnny's rich friends, including his former fiancée Carol (Renee Haal). Although she and Johnny are still friends, Carol broke off the engagement because every time push came to shove, Johnny was more married to his business than he could ever be to any woman. Carol warns Kathleen that the same is going to happen to her if she gets into a relationship with Johnny.

But Kathleen is in love. Johnny has come down to Palm Beach to try to get away from that business up north, even drinking himself into a stupor and getting into a DUI crash. Kathleen tries to extricate him from the situation, but it blows up B-movie style into an alleged kidnapping, with Johnny, Kathleen, "Uncle" Seton, and Carol attempting to resolve matters. Johnny has been called home on business, but Seton's smart enough to get himself and Kathleen on Johnny's plane, where Johnny proposes to Kathleen!

So when they get back to Johnny's palatial home, they're married, which is a big deal. But it also turns out that Carol knew what she was talking about, and Johnny, now home again, shows just how much more he cares about his business than any woman. Can Kathleen make Johnny love her? Can he balance his interests like a normal businessman? With Seton there, I think you can figure out the answer.

Unexpected Uncle runs about 67 minutes, so there's not a whole lot here in terms of plot. It's pretty easy to figure out where things are going to go, and when those horseshoes are going to come back into play. But it turns out to be an appealing little B movie, mostly because Coburn brings so much energy to the proceedings that you just can't help but like the characters, even Johnny, who like James Stewart's stuffy family in You Can't Take It With You, just needs to learn how to relax. The movie's theme that it's either work or pleasure and that ultimately you can't balance both, doesn't quite ring true, but the movie as a whole works for what it is, which is a B movie that never had any pretentions of being remembered 80 years later.

Unexpected Uncle was released by RKO; as such it wound up in the library of films to which Ted Turner acquired the rights and which form the backbone of the Warner Archive collection. Unexpected Uncle is one of the many movies that has gotten a DVD release this way.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Cry Terror!

I've suggested on quite a few occasions that MGM's B movies and programmers from the 1950s are a lot more interesting than most of the prestige movies they were putting out. Despite the cast, I don't think that I would consider Cry Terror! an A movie. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so the last time it aired I recorded it, and recently watched it to do a post here.

With passenger airplane travel becoming increasingly popular in the prosperous post-war US, the government was having to deal with the odd problem of crank callers putting in bomb threats to the various airlines. In one case that makes the live TV news, a plane had to make an emergency landing so that bomb disposal experts could find the bomb and detonate it, it being a device made from a super powerful explosive. However, the caller suggests that there are more bombs up in the air.

Watching this unfold on TV is New York electronics expert Jim Molner (James Mason). When he gets an up close look at the unexploded detonator, he's shocked: he designed it! Not that he was planning on putting bombs in airplanes himself, of course; he was approached by an old acquaintance from his military days named Paul (Rod Steiger) who fed Jim the lie that Paul was trying to get a contract with the government and that if Jim designed this detonator he'd be in line for a big payday.

Jim doesn't inform the cops of any of this, most likely because he suspects he'd be considered the real guilty party, although if he were on the phone long enough with them another call would come in while he was talking. Instead, Jim goes home to his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) out in the suburbs, to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately for him, Paul also figured Jim would do that, and Paul shows up to take Jim and Joan hostage, as well as their daughter when she gets home from school.

Paul takes them to another home somewhere in the suburbs where we meet the rest of the gang. Eileen (Angie Dickinson) is the woman who actually left the bomb in the plane and then took a different flight to New York; Vince (Jack Klugman) is in this probably just for the money; and Steve (Neville Brand), who has a problem with bennies, not only could use his share of the money but probably gets a thrill out of being violent too.

Paul separates Joan from the rest of the family after taking everybody to a separate unknown location where Eileen's apartment is. Jim tries to find a way to get out of the apartment, while Joan is the one responsible for getting the ransom money and delivering it to its desired location, with her husband and child being used as hostages if any funny business happens. Eventually, she gets left alone with Steve, which is a huge problem....

If there's one problem with Cry Terror!, it's that the movie was made under the Production Code, so we know that all of the baddies are going to get what's coming to them. The fact that Paul's otherwise meticulous plan depends somewhat on the competence of strangers (specifically Joan) is also a bit of a plot hole. But both of these can be fairly easily overlooked.

The cast is uniformly good. Steiger, surprisingly, isn't overacting one bit, which is somewhat unusual for him. But then, he's got Neville Brand to play another of his psycho thug roles, and Brand is quite good at it. Dickinson and Klugman are playing against type and do a more than adequate job of it. Mason, surprisingly, despite getting top billing, has less to do than it seems, while Stevens gets the most demanding role. It all works quite well and, while being nothing earth-shattering, will certainly entertain you for a good 90 minutes. There's also the big plus of all the location shooting, seeing Manhattan and the Bronx as they were in the late 1950s.

If you don't want to pay the price for a standalone Warner Archive DVD, Cry Terror! is still definitely worth looking out for the next time it shows up on TCM.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #328: Holiday Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We've got today and one more Thursday in October, meaning two more horror-themed editions of the blogathon. This week, the theme is Holiday Horror. I had one movie right in mind since I just watched it recently, and had to think of two others. Eventually, I came up with some less common holidays:

My Bloody Valentine (1981). Holiday: Valentine's Day. A mining town in Nova Scotia suffered a disaster 20 years ago on Valentine's Day, with one of the miners resorting to cannibalism to survive and vowing to kill people if they tried to hold another Valentine's Day dance. After all those years pass, the town does try, and wouldn't you know, people start getting murdered in grisly ways. Young adults also start doing incredibly stupid things, as is par for the course for slasher movies, but this one is actually pretty fun.

Black Orpheus (1958). Holiday: Carneval/Shrove Tuesday. Lovely retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus set in modern-day Rio de Janeiro against the backdrop of Carneval. Bruno Mello plays Orpheus, a streetcar conductor who is planning in participating in Carneval. He meets Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), who has come from the sticks to escape somebody, who turns out to be Death, stalking and killing her. Orpheus descends into the underworld to see Eurydice, with tragic results.

Hangover Square (1945). Holiday: Guy Fawkes Day. Laird Cregar plays a Victorian-era composer who suffers from some sort of mental illness that causes memory lapses during which he kills people. Cregar meets music-hall singer Linda Darnell and kills her during another of these memory lapses, using a Guy Fawkes bonfire to dispose of her body when everybody else would think it was just an effigy. The tragic last movie for Cregar, who, being known for his weight, went on a crash diet to try to slim down in order to be able to get better roles. It caused stomach problems and ultimately a heart attack that killed him before the release of Hangover Square.

Something happened some time or another

Another of the movies that's been in the FXM rotation lately and that I haven't blogged about before is Everything Happens at Night. It's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 4:40 AM, so I recently watched it to post about here.

Robert Cummings plays Ken Morgan, Paris correspondent for a New York paper. He's about to escape a club where his boss is, but his boss has urgent news for him. Remember the story about the peace advocate Dr. Norden and how he was assassinated by the Nazis last year? Well, somebody's been sending unsigned letters that sound suspiciously like the same exact style Norden would use, meaning Norden might still be alive and moving from one location to another to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. The lastest information implies that this person, if it is Norden, is in a small village in Switzerland. Morgan is to go there and find out whether that really is Norden.

Now, you'd think this would really be putting Norden at risk if it is him, but as in a movie like Five Star Final, you've got editors and reporters who don't care about the damage they do to their subjects. So Morgan heads off to San Palo and gets the last available hotel room, this being a a small town during ski season. And just after Morgan arrives, who should show up but Geoffrey Thompson (Ray Milland), claiming to be a British botanist but obviously a journalist also on the trail of Norden to get the story.

Eventually they meet Louise (Sonja Henie), a lovely young woman who is playing nursemaid to a guy in town to get the mountain air for his health. Both journalists presume that this is Norden, but Louise isn't about to tell. Still, the obvious thing to do is to gain her confidence, although both journalists fall in love with her along the way, complicating matters. But since Morgan is the one who gets the ice skating fantasy sequence, it's a good guess that he's the one who's going to wind up with Louise in the last reel.

You can probably guess that Louise is in fact taking care of Norden, but the movie takes a really dark turn after that. Morgan files the story and Thompson tricks the telegraphist to send it to Thompson's editor in London; when the story breaks the Nazis now know precisely where Norden is. The chagrined journalists try to spirit Norden out of France, but the Nazis show up for a little covert action. How they lost track of him and didn't already have a bunch of spies in town, I'll never know.

Generally, you know what to expect when you see that Sonja Henie is the star of a movie. Surprisingly, however, Everything Happens at Night is much darker than the other of her movies I've seen. Henie wasn't much of a serious actress, but she's nice to look at and passable as a romantic lead. But she only gets the one ice skating number here, and not a finale. All along the way, Everything Happens at Night feels like a movie that can't decide what exactly what it wants to be, and never really gets the two sides together in a satisfying way.

Yet, because of this failure, Everything Happens at Night might still be more interesting than the Henie movies that are a higher overall quality or have the better ice skating numbers. The movie did get a DVD release courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, in case you're unable to catch it on FXM.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Sinful Davey

Some months back, TCM ran a new-to-me movie with a synopsis that sounded interesting, so I recorded it to watch and do a blog post on here. That movie is John Huston's Sinful Davey.

John Hurt plays David Haggart, a young man who at the start of the movie is set to be executed, and dictating his memoirs, much like the start of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Flash back to some time in the past....

Haggart is somewhere in the Scottish highlands as a drummer for a Scottish regiment into which he was drafted, circa 1820. Haggart is absolutely not cut out for the military, so at the first opportunity he jumps off a bridge to desert. He escapes in part because they didn't have photographs back in those days to show what David looked like, so he could disguise himself more easily. But when he runs into MacNab (Ronald Fraser), MacNab knows David's true identity.

MacNab is a pickpocket, while David's father happened to be a thief too, albeit a rather more grandiose thief who was eventually hanged for his thievery. David claims he grew up in a workhouse near the prison where his father was hanged, and even built a cairn to memorialize his father although he has no real idea where Dad was buried. All David knows is that he wants to follow in Dad's footsteps, and do the one thing Dad couldn't, which is to carry off a big heist.

But that's going to have to wait a while, because David gets caught, sent to a jail, breaks out, and starts another series of small-scale robberies. All along the way, he's constantly interfered with by his old childhood friend Annie (Pamela Franklin), who love him and claims she's really trying to save David.

Eventually, David steals some aristocratic clothes which enables him to pass himself off as someone of more means when he meets the Duke of Argyll (Robert Morley). The Duke and Duchess are holding a big party, and David sees this as his chance to make a name for himself by robbing the party guests blind with the help of MacNab and MacNab's ladyfriend Carlisle. Now to stay clear of Annie and the police....

Sinful Davey is an amiable little movie that was conceived as a comedy, and I can see John Huston going for a vibe that's part Kind Hearts and Coronets and part Tom Jones. But for whatever reason, Sinful Davey doesn't work anywhere near as well as the other two movies. It feels plodding even though it's got a relatively short running time, and although it's certainly not a heavy drama, it feels like much of the comedy has been sucked out of it. Apparently there were disastrous previews, and when Huston wouldn't edit it into something that might work better, the producers decided to do it for him, with the result that we see. Considering the problems I've had with some of Huston's other movies, such as The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, this really doesn't surprise me.

As for what works, Hurt tries hard, and there's a lot of lovely cinematography, with Ireland (a place Huston loved) substituting for Scotland. The latter scenes, once Morley shows up, also start to breath some life into the movie, but damn if it doesn't take a long time getting there. Sinful Davey is a movie I really wanted to like, but had a lot of trouble doing so. Still, it's available on DVD, so you may want to track down a copy to judge for yourself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Champ is Back

Wallace Beery memorably won an Oscar for playing the father to Jackie Cooper in The Champ. Beery had a similar role, also opposite Cooper, in O'Shaughnessy's Boy.

Beery plays Michael O'Shaughnessy, nicknamed Windy. He's a big-cat tamer in a traveling circus, and he's got a bizarre idea for a trick in which a tiger will climb up on the back of an elephant and the two animals will go together through a ring of fire. But in the meantime, he's got a wife Cora (Leona Miracle) who is a trapeze artist with some emotional problems of their own. Together, the two have a son Joseph (played in the first half by Spanky McFarland), whom Windy has nicknamed Stubby.

Stubby loves his father, who at heart is trying to be a good person. But this being the circus, there's a lot of drinking and carousing going on, and this results in Windy returning to the family's trailer drunk on more than one occasion. Cora is growing tired of this, and has brought in her thoroughly nasty sister Martha (Sara Haden) to deal with it. Martha hates windy, and keeps putting ideas into Cora's head that she should take the kid and leave her husband.

Eventually Cora does, also clearing out the couple's joint bank account with the circus. Windy is despondent to the point that he loses his confidence, and when he tries to train one of the tigers to get on top of that elephant, he fails, with the tiger mauling him Siegfried and Roy style and costing Windy one of his arms. He leaves the circus and turns further to drink, trying to find his wife and kid.

Eventually, his old cirus comes back to town, and the boss, Dan Hastings (Willard Robertson) offers to help Windy find his son. It turns out that Cora kept up with the trapeze act but died in an accident during a performance. So Aunt Martha got custody of Joseph, and put the kid in a military academy. It's all Windy can do to get temporary custody of the kid for three months as a sort of trial to see whether he should get permanent custody of Joseph.

Joseph doesn't really remember his father, instead only knowing what Aunt Martha has told him about Dad. That, needless to say, is about as negative as you can imagine, so Joseph (now played by Cooper) hates his father too and doesn't really want to spend a summer with the circus. Windy tries evrything he can to earn his son's respect and love, but it doesn't seem to be working well.

With Windy also being back with the Hastings circus, Hastings wants Windy to do that tiger and elephant act, but Windy finds that every time he tries to get near the tiger, he loses his confidence, and the tiger knows it. Amazingly enough, however, Joseph has a beatific smile that seems to have a calming effect on the tiger and might enable Windy to do the act after all. But on the night they're supposed to go live with it, Aunt Martha shows up again....

O'Shaughnessy's Boy looks like little more than a programmer for Wallace Beery, pairing him with Cooper again because of the success of their previous movies together. The story is somewhat implausible but does mostly hold together, thanks in part to competent acting by both of the leads. Haden is also quite good as the really nasty aunt. Although O'Shaughnessy's Boy is nothing special, it's certainly worth checking out whenever the next time is that it shows up on TCM.

As one of the MGM movies that's part of the old Turner Library, O'Shaughnessy's Boy has also unsurprisingly received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Monday, October 19, 2020


Another of the movies that I had the chance to DVR during one of the free preview weekends is Traffic. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 4:01 AM ET on Starz, or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed.

Traffic is a complicated story spreading out over multiple plot lines which ultimately interconnect, so I'll mention the plotlines individually. First up is one set in Baja California in Mexico, not too far from Tijuana which is just across the border from San Diego. A pair of local cops, Javier (Benicio Del Toro) and Manolo (Jacob Vargas), have been tipped off about a drug shipment being passed through a remote part of the area, and they've shown up to interdict it. The operation more or less works, but it is ultimately commandeered by General Salazar (Tomas Milian), who is the head of Mexico's nationalized operation in the War on Drugs. Javier and Manolo start working for Salazar the national anti-drug operation.

The drug running that Javier and Manolo stopped was being run by the Obregón outfit, based in Tijuana They're one of two rival cartels in the Mexican drugs trade, the other being the Juárez cartel. You might think that there's room enough for both cartels, but as we've seen from one 1930s gangland movie after another, that's a load of crap, and both cartels are bringing every measure they can think of to try to strike a mortal blow to the other cartel.

As for that shipment in the beginning of the movie, it was supposed to go across the border to San Diego and a dealer named Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer). A couple of DEA agents, Montel Gordon (Don Cheadel) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzmán), have been undertaking surveillance on Ruiz, and they're able to interrupt a drug shipment, getting involved in a shootout that injures Ruiz in the process. While Ruiz is in the hospital, he decides to turn state's evidence and name his superior, Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer). He's arrested, putting a major hurt on his wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who finds that she's facing liens from the IRS, as well as demands from the Obregón people in Mexico. Helena is understandably pissed at her husband, but over time, she learns that she's going to have to take matters into her own hands to defend herself.

Well away from San Diego, judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is judging a client quite harshly in a drugs case in Ohio. It's going to be his last case as a judge, as he's been nominated by the President to be the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He's happy to take the new job, although it's going to take him away from his family as he goes first to Washington, and then to Mexico to try to get the Mexicans to create something similar to the ONDCP. Gen. Salazar gets named the rough equivalent to Wakefield's position.

While Wakefield is away from his family, he has no idea what's going on with his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen). She's a high schoo student, and she and her friends do many of the typical things they do on weekends, like a more juvenile version of the recent college graduates from Metropolitan. There's a lot of BSing going on and some drinking, but also some drug use, which I'm sure would infuriate Dad. Caroline's boyfriend Seth (Topher Grace) teaches her how to freebase cocaine, while another friend overdoses, which brings the teens into the purview of the police. This probably ought to disqualify Dad from holding an anti-drug job, but he being a right-thinking person with the right connections inside the Beltway, everyone's able to get the police to sweep it under the rug.

All of the subplots come together, more or less, although Caroline's addiction isn't really tied to what's going on with Ruiz and Ayala out in San Diego (not that it needs to be). Although the story is quite a complex one, it's still easy to follow, and a compelling, well-told story. The acting is good, benefited by the fact that the scenes with Mexicans only are all done in Spanish with subtitles which, considering how much of the movie is set in Mexico, means a lot of subtitles.

If there's one big flaw, however, it's director Steven Soderbergh's use of color. The Mexican scenes, especially those in the seedier and more outlying areas, are generally brown and oversaturated, while a lot of the scenes with the Wakefields are given an extreme blue filter. I think the use of the filters was way overdone to the point of being intrusive, as if that's more a part of the story than the events happening on screen.

A small amount of mention is made of the demand side of the drugs question, a side which doomed alcohol prohibition 70 years earlier and which probably ought to doom the War on Drugs, except that the War on Drugs has been an excuse to give the government all sorts of powers that it can use in non-drug-related areas and doesn't want to give up. Hell, they've expanded it into the even more pernicious War on Opioids, something Soderbergh probably couldn't have envisioned back in 2000 when the movie was released.

The TCM Shop lists Traffic as being available on a Criterion Collection DVD, while Amazon has it on Prime Video.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Not that there's much moonlight....

I watch a lot of movies that are available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive in part because most of what I record is off of TCM, and in part because I make it a point to look up the movies I haven't blogged about that have been released by the Warner Archive in order that I can blog about them. With that in mind, the latest Warner Archive selection is The Moonlighter.

Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd are nowhere to be found, as this is an early 1950s western. Fred MacMurray plays Wes Anderson, a man who has just been put in jail for "moonlighting", or rustling cattle under cover of darkness. Of course, this is a serious offense in those old westerns, and he's probably going to get a substantial punishment. But the townsfolk, led by Alex Prince (Morris Ankrum), don't want to wait for legal justice to take its course, so they plan to bust Wes out of jail in order to lynch him.

There's one problem however, which is that they don't know what Wes looks like, since there's no photograph on a wanted poster for them to consult. All they know is which jail cell he's in. And this is where the big problem comes. When the jail cells were being cleaned, Wes got moved into a different cell, and another man was put in the one he had been in. So when they lynch mob comes, they get the wrong guy! But everybody just natuarlly assumes Wes was killed.

Some time after the lynching, a woman named Rela (Barbara Stanwyck) shows up in town asking about Wes. Upon learning that he was killed, she pays for his funeral and breathes a sigh of relief. She had been in love with Wes in the past, but things grew problematic what with Wes' life of crime. She fell in love with another man, and is now free to marry him.

Of course, we know that Wes is still alive. He, having seen the lynch mob kill an innocent man, decides that he's going to exact his own form of vengeance on the mob, trying to kill them one by one. This isn't easy, and in one of the attempts to kill people in the mob he gets shot himself. So he beats a hasty escape and decides that he'll go back to his old home.

There, Wes will meet his kid brother Tom (William Ching), and Tom's girlfriend... who just happens to be Rela. Oh dear. As with Love Me Tender, the reappearance of a man who was thought dead but isn't causes all sorts of problems.

Tom has been working at the bank in town, but gets fired. Around the same time, one of Wes' old friends, Cole Gardner (Ward Bond) shows up. Cole wasn't part of the lynch mob, and has a new job in mind for himself and Wes: rob the bank in this town. Wes understandably doesn't want Tom in on this at all, but Tom, having been fired, wants his own revenge, so he's anxious to be let in on the bank robbery.

The Moonlighter, like Love Me Tender, has an interesting premise. And with two headliners like Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, you'd think you'd get a really good little movie out of it. Yet somewhere, The Moonlighter loses its way. Nothing really works as well as it should, and at just under 80 minutes it all feels quite rushed, with an ending that doesn't make a whole lot of sense but seems to satisfy the Production Code.

I certainly wouldn't use The Moonlighter to introduce people to either Fred MacMurray or Barbara Stanwyck. But for people who are already movie buffs and looking for something new to them, why not give The Moonlighter a try and judge for yourself.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Rhonda Fleming, 1923-2020

Rhonda Fleming in a screencap from Inferno (1953)

The death has been announced of actress Rhonda Fleming, a flaming redhead whose hair and beauty made her a perfect match for Technicolor in a series of movies in the 1940s and 1950s. Fleming was 97.

Fleming's career started in the mid-1940s, with one of the earliest movies being a small appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound. Fleming did a "Word of Mouth" piece that's showed up on TCM from time to time in conjunction with an airing of Spellbound, in which she talks about being cast in it as one of Ingrid Bergman's patients, being a nymphomanic. The punchline is that she lived with her mother, who was relatively religiously conservative, and neither Rhonda nor her mother knew what a nymphomanic was. So imagine their shock when they found out what Rhonda was being asked to play! She does a more than adequate job with the role however.

Probably my favorite of Fleming's movies, at least those in which she has a prominent role, is Inferno, pictured above. Fleming plays the wife of Robert Ryan, although she's cheating on him with William Lundigan. So she tries to get rid of Ryan by getting him injured in the desert on a business trip and leaving Ryan to die. Of course, Ryan has no plans on dying so he tries to hobble to escape, and thanks to the production code, you know Fleming and Lundigan are going to get what's coming to them in the end. Another lovely to look at role for Fleming is in Gunfight At the O.K. Corral (pictured immediately above), in which Fleming plays the gambler who becomes the girlfriend of Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster).

I don't know if TCM is planning any sort of tribute to Fleming; their redesigned website is frankly terrible at giving us any news like that.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Why does Stowaway seem so familiar to me?

Another of the movies that showed up in the FXM rotation recently is Stowaway. A search of the blog claims I haven't blogged about it before, so I decided to DVR it and watch to do a post on it the next time it shows up on FXM. That time is coming up, with an airing tomorrow (October 17) at 6:00 AM. However, having watched it, the movie seemed awfully familiar to me.

Temple plays Ching-Ching, real name Barbara Stewart, a girl whose parents died in China and who has been looked after by a missionary organization in a provincial town. This being the era when there was a civil war going on in China, the town is under threat from bandits of one stripe or another, so the missionaries decides this American girl should be sent to Shanghai, which is relatively safe.

So Ching-Ching and her dog are put on a boat headed for Shanghai, where her handler runs off with the money left for her. She wakes up all alone (well, except for the dog, and doesn't know anybody, so she gets up, gets off the boat, and goes wandering in town looking for a bone for her dog. It's there that she meets Tommy Randall (Robert Young), a playboy tourist trying to haggle with a store clerk who doesn't speak English. Ah, but little Ching-Ching speaks both English and Mandarin, so she's able to translate!

Tommy offers to get her a meal, and when he's at his club telling some of his expat friends about Ching-Ching, she gets out of the car because the dog runs off, only to hide in the trunk to get out of the rain. So Tommy doesn't know where she's gone, when he goes to have his car put aboard a boat bound for various Southeast Asian destinations.

Ching-Ching doesn't know what's going on, either, until she wakes up in the cargo hold of the ship and her dog starts barking, which makes the crew think there's a stowaway on board. (To be fair, little Ching-Ching is a stowaway, but not intentionally.) When she realizes the crew is chasing her, she runs off and hides in the cabin of one of the wealthier travelers.

You'd think that traveler is Tommy Randall, but no. Actually it's a pair of people, young Susan Parker (Alice Faye) and her future mother-in-law, Mrs. Hope (Helen Westley). They're travelling to meet Susan's fiancé Richard (Allan Lane). Mom is pissed, but Susan has sympathy. And when she runs into Tommy and tells her about the girl, Tommy finds that it's little Ching-Ching.

Now, if you've seen a Shirley Temple movie, you can probably guess where this one is going, which is part of the reason why I felt as though I might have seen this one. But there's more, such as a lullaby scene which seemed awfully familiar, along with much of the interaction between Young and Temple.

That having been said, there's really not a whole lot wrong with Stowaway. Alice Faye does well with her songs; Shirley Temple is as charming as always and gets a particularly fun song that has her imitating, among others, Al Jolson -- that particular impression is a hoot. The movie ends with a courtroom scene reminiscent of the one in Bright Eyes, except that this one is far more unrealistic, which is probably the movie's one big flaw. Eugene Pallette is underused as one of Randall's friends, while Arthur Treacher is hilarious as Randall's butler.

Anybody who wants a good family movie, however, will certainly enjoy Stowaway, which showcases Shirley Temple in the sort of role that made her immensely popular during the Depression. If I wanted to introduce people who didn't know what Temple was all about, there are some other of her movies that I'd recommend, like the aforementioned Bright Eyes, but you won't go wrong with Stowaway. It's available on DVD on one or another box set of Shirley Temple films.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #327: Winter Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. As we're only halfway through October, we've got a couple more weeks of horror-themed picks to go. This week, the theme is snow or winter-related horror. I had one movie in mind immediately, another that it turned out I already used, and a couple I had think about before coming up with. But I did get to three:

The Thing From Another World (1951). Scientists in Alaska discover a spacecraft of some sort buried under the snow and ice, and make the stupid decision to take the pilot back to their research station. The pilot (James Arness although you don't see his face) thaws out and starts killing people at the station.

The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957). An English botanist (Peter Cushing) in the Himalayas meets an American (Forrest Tucker) who thinks he has evidence that the Yeti is actually real, so the two men along with a couple of others set out for an expedition to find out if that's actually the case. The problem is that Cushing wants to do science, while Tucker wants to capture the Yeti King Kong-style in order to make big bucks. The Yeti obviously doesn't want to be captured and starts killing people.

Quintet (1979). Tedious, pretentious movie from Robert Altman set in a post-apocalyptic ice age where the few survivors (including Paul Newman and Bibi Andersson) play a game called Quintet. Only these people play with much higher stakes, with the loser getting killed. I hated this one, but there are people out there who actually like it, so perhaps you might, too.

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

A lot of channels are going to be running horror movies this month. I recently had a free preview weekend of the Epix channels, and one of the movies they ran was the original 1981 version of My Bloody Valentine. It's going to be on Epix again tonight at 8:00 PM, so I made it a point to watch it as quickly as possible to do a post here.

The movie starts off with a seeming prologues as the credits run. Two miners walk through some of the tunnels in a coal mine. One of them takes the breathing mask off, revealing that it's a young woman, and these two people aren't miners, but young lovers who were able to get down here unnoticed for a romantic tryst. Except that as you can probably guess from the title, it turns out not to be so romantic. The other miner, never taking off his breathing apparatus, sticks his pickaxe in the wall. And then, as part of the love-making, he takes the young woman's body and impales it on the pickaxe!

Up on the surface, we're introduced to the mining town of Valentine Bluffs, Nova Scotia (not a real place and the location of Valentine Bluffs isn't revealed in the movie other then the obligatory end credits stuff; the movie was shot out on Cape Breton near Sydney, NS). Mayor Henniger, who also owns the local mine, is talking with Mabel, an older lady who runs the laundromat and who is putting up decorations for the town's Valentine's Day dance. It's going to be the first Valentine's Day dance in 20 years, and while the young people are excited, the older folks are mildly worried....

That's because, as the older bartender points out, the last dance 20 years ago resulted in tragedy. Some of the dance organizers were supposed to be looking after safety in the mine but neglected to do so in favor of the dance, which led to a methane explosion down below that trapped five minors, ultimately killing four of them and leaving the fifth, Harry Warden, to engage in cannibalism to survive. Warden wound up killing people and winding up in an insane asylum.

And then the sheriff gets a box of Valentine's candy in which the chocolates have been taken out and replaced by a human heart! The obvious implication is that Warden has escaped the asylum and is back to commit a reign of terror. When the sheriff calls the asylum, they've got no record that the guy was ever even in there, which frankly doesn't make sense to me, but this being a low-budget movie, don't take it too seriously. The sheriff and others are also getting warnings about what will happen if the Valentine's Day dance does go ahead.

As for the young people, looking forward to the dance is T.J., the son of the mayor and mine owner how has recently returned to town after leaving to try to make a success of life in the big city, which clearly didn't work. He left behind a girlfriend in the form of Sarah. But while T.J. was away, possibly never to return, Sarah decided that she was going to hook up with T.J.'s friend Axel, something which causes a lot of tension between the two men, to the point that Sarah thinks perhaps she should break things off with both of them.

After Mabel gets killed and her heart removed, the sheriff and mayor decide that they're going to have to cancel the Valentine's Day dance, no matter how much the young adults want it to go ahead. With the dance cancelled, the youngster decide to come up with the next best thing: go to the mine's rec hall and have a party there. Obviously none of these people ever saw a slasher movie, or they would know that this is a spectacularly bad idea.

One of the partiers gets drowned in a pot of hot dogs above ground and stuffed into a refrigerator, while some of the other partiers, not realizing this has happened, get the even more brilliant idea of taking the mine train down the shaft. When T.J. and Axel find out about this, they have to go down the shaft too, and sure enough, more people are getting killed down below.

My Bloody Valentine is, as I said, a low-budget slasher film, something borne out in part by the fact that I haven't mentioned the names of any of the actors. That's in part because I haven't heard of any of them before watching this movie. Indeed, Paul Kelman, who plays T.J., doesn't even merit a head shot on his IMDb page. But the movie is effective, at least if you want to be entertained. I suppose it would have been more frightening upon its release, when there hadn't been quite so many slasher films, and certainly not the parodies like Scary Movie. Decades after the genre has run a long course, parts of My Bloody Valentine are more darkly humorous -- we know enough of the tropes to know what's going to happen next.

That's not to say My Bloody Valentine isn't good. It's more than entertaining, as well as being atmospheric and claustrophobic since many of the mine scenes were shot in actual mines which were on the verge of being abandoned. So despite the low budget and cast of unknowns, My Bloody Valentine is a worthy addition to the slasher genre. It has received a DVD release and is available on Amazon Prime streaming, but I believe the DVD release is out of print. Note also that there was a remake a decade ago which is going to be on various channels in the Showtime family starting at the end of this week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020


Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of movies about real American presidents. I haven't blogged about 1776 before, and it's one of the movies in the lineup, running overnight at 3:15 AM.

Any American should know that Britain's American colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776, at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, but how the colonies got there is a little more complicated. John Adams (William Daniels) is one of the delegates from Massachusetts. The Revolutionary War began in Massachusetts back in 1775, and over the first year or so much of the war dealt with either New England, or the British attempts to go through New York to cut off New England from everything to the south.

As such, the war hadn't really hit the southern colonies to the extent that it had the north, and the southern colonies are rather more reluctant to declare independence. They're also annoyed by what they see as Adams' idée fixe on the matter, although there certainly are delegates who are more conciliatory, such as Richard Henry Lee, who rides back to Virginia to try to get their legislature to approve the idea of indepence. Some colonies such as Pennsylvania are split, with John Dickinson (Donald Madden) being one of the key opponents of an independence declaration, with Ben Franklin (Howard Da Silva) being strongly in favor, and speaking in the sort of epigrams for which he's remembered today.

After much debate, the Congress decides to appoint a committee to write up the declaration and submit it for a vote, which will have to be unanimous with each colony getting one vote. The committee will consist of Adams and Franklin; Roger Sherman of Connecticut, who is probably best known for the compromise at the 1787 Constitutional convention that gave the US our bicamerial legislature with one house based on population and the other having an equal number of votes per state; Robert Livingston from New York; and, of course, Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) from Virginia, who would go on to write the declaration that we all know today.

Jefferson is reluctant at first to write it, because all he really wants to do is see his wife Martha (Blythe Danner), whom he hasn't seen in months. But he eventually does write it and submits it to the Congress, which has all sorts of problems with the declaration. As you may know, much of the Declaration of Independence is simply a listing of things the colonists felt King George III and his representatives had done that constituted tyranny (my favorite being the one about how "he has sent hither swarns of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance", which is still quite relevant today). Some of the objections would seem nitpicky today; others were a huge problem at the time, especially a passage about slavery which the southern colonies balk at. Adams is an absolutist who wants that passage kept in, while Franklin is a pragmatist who is in favor of kicking the can down the road.

Of course, we all know that the Declaration of Independence did get signed, so there's not necessarily much in the way of surprises here. As a story, 1776 is quite good, dealing with a complex topic and making it both understandable and entertaining, even if there are various minor problems with the history. (To be fair, some characters do have to get written out for dramatic effect and to keep things from becoming too unwieldy.) The acting was good as was the production design.

But I did have some serious problems with 1776. The first is that it's a musical, something which isn't normally my favorite genre of movies. Of course, I knew that going in, but still most of the songs go on too long and bring the movie to a screeching halt. Putting the songs in alst makes the movie run on too long. The TCM schedule lists it as 141 minutes, which was the running time of the original movie on release in 1972. However, it had a couple of songs removed which have been put back in, making the film run close to 165 minutes. (Wikipedia says 168; I think the print TCM ran was a few minutes shorter.) TCM has it in a 165-minute block, and that might not be long enough. One other problem has to do with Abigail Adams, who appears as a sort of dream-like character whenever Adams needs advice. The plot device doesn't really work well either.

People who like musicals will probably love 1776, and anybody who wants an understanding of the complexities of politics will probably find it interesting too. I just wish someone could make a good movie discussing the issues without all the music.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Toeing the party line

Back in August when Rock Hudson was one of the stars in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, I had the chance to record a movie I hadn't blogged about here before: Pillow Talk. Recently, I finally got around to watching it.

Er, not that Pillow Talk

Doris Day plays Jan Morrow, an interior decorator for wealthy clients who does a lot of work out of her well-appointed Manhattan apartment. One of her clients, Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), is romantically interested in her, but he's already been married three times and in psychoanalysis for it, so Jan politely declines his advances and would be perfectly happy remaining friends with him.

However, she's got a problem. As an interior decorator, it would be easy for her to do a fair amount of work from her apartment. Except, she needs to make a whole bunch of phone calls to clients, furniture stores, and her nominal boss, and her line is always busy. That's because she's only able to get a party line, meaning multiple customers sharing one telephone line (with each one getting a different ring pattern to know calls are for them). The other party on her party line is one Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), a composer who also lives in a swanky apartment, and composes one song that he sings to every woman he tries to seduce, which is a whole bunch of them.

As a result, Jan intensely dislikes Brad despite never having seen him, since he's always hogging the line, and making snarky comments to Jan when she complains about it. Jan also comments about it to her maid Alma (Thelma Ritter), but what's Alma going to be able to do about it? Of course, this being a romantic comedy, and Day and Hudson being the two stars, you can probably guess what's going to happen in the rest of the movie.

One of Jan's clients lives out in Westchester County, and at a party to show off Jan's new designs, the lady's drunk son (Nick Adams) offers to drive Jan home. They end up at a nightclub somewhere in Manhattan, and who just happens to be in the next booth but Brad, with the latest of his girlfriends. He's taken by Jan, and wants to rescue her from her bad date. But he also realizes that if he opens his mouth, she's going to recognize the voice. So Brad puts on an incredibly stereotyped Texas accent and persona, calling himself Rex Stetson. As you can probably figure, Jan falls in love with "Rex".

Meanwhile, Brad is supposed to be working on songs for a new show, and who happens to be putting up the money for the show? Jonathan Forbes, who has apparently been Brad's friend for a while. Jonathan doesn't know yet that Brad and Jan have met in person, and certainly doesn't realize that Brad is passing himself off as Rex. But that's going to come and drive the plot. And then Jan is also going to learn the truth about Rex. Can love conquer that?

Well, this being a romantic comedy, you know the answer is going to be yes, the two stars wind up together in the last reel. But the fun in watching a movie like Pillow Talk is seeing how they get there. Pillow Talk is the first of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies, so it's technically more original than the later movies, even though if you've seen one you'll get the generic gist of the others going into them.

Day and Hudson are appealing as a couple, and Randall is as good as always in support. Thelma Ritter has fun as the wise-cracking maid; she has an important scene with Hudson that moves the plot along which involves her drinking Hudson under the table. She also gets a running gag involving the elevator, operated by Allen Jenkins in a small role.

I couldn't help but think of some plot holes, however. I couldn't help but wonder whether Jan would have recognized Brad by voice even with the phony accent. But I also couldn't figure out why they never met in the apartment building, which was implied at the end by suggesting Brad's and Jan's apartment were several blocks apart. This made no sense to me as I would have thought the parties on a party line would have to be in close proximity. Several blocks apart in Manhattan would be separate lines and almost definitely a separate exchange. So they might still be on party lines, but not with each other. That, and I would have expected party lines to be a rural thing or for people of lower socioeconomic class.

But I guess you just have to suspend disbelief, since it's not like any of these late 50s/early 60s sex comedies have any grounding in reality to begin with. In that regard, it's perfectly frothy light comedy that certainly works. It's also lovely to look at.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The best-dressed island

Another of the movies that I recorded some months back and finally got around to watching is Blackwell's Island.

The movie starts off with a mobster, Bull Bransom (Stanley Fields), who likes to play obnoxious practical jokes on people who come to his office. But he's really much worse than that, as he runs the Waterfront Protection Asoociation, which is a shakedown for anybody who tries to moor at the port. Nice boat you've got there; it would be a shame if something happened to it. One captain is apparently new to the port, so when Bransom's goons come to make him their generous offer, he refuses, resutling in his boat getting firebombed.

Tim Haydon (John Garfield) is a reporter for one of the newspapers, and as is the case in movies like this he's a crusading reporter raging against the mob and the government that tacitly supports them, to the point that he comes to Bransom's attention. Meanwhile, Haydon goes to the hospital to try to get information from the ship's captain, which is where here meets nurse Mary Walsh (Rosemary Lane) and her cop brother Terry (Dick Purcell). While some of the goons are escaping the hospital, Terry gets shot chasing them.

That, combined with Haydon's exposés, results in Bransom getting sentenced to prison, in the jail on Blackwell's Island. Bransom, having a lot of politicians in his pocket, decides that he's going to make the best of prison, by buying off the warden (Granville Bates) and getting himself treated like royalty and able to run his business from the prison, even if he's not quite able to get off the island.

Tim and the Walshes are ticked, but what are they going to do? Write more articles? Tim knows that he's got to get the goods on Bransom somehow, and eventually comes up with an idea. He stages an incident so that he can smack the prosecutor, which gets him sent to prison... on Blackwell's Island. Perhaps he can get the goods on Bransom from inside the prison. It certainly wouldn't be the first prison movie where that happened.

Blackwell's Island is most definitely a B movie, and I was somewhat surprised to see Garfield as the star, since I would have guessed he was above B movies by this point. But even though he had made an auspicious debut in Four Daughters the previous year, this was still only his third movie, and IMDb says it was in filming already before Four Daughters was released.

Garfield is, unsurprisingly, quite good here, as the material fits him well. Warner Bros. were good at making social commentary movies, and this little B movie is no different, zipping along and never being anything less than entertaining. The one oddity, however, is Fields, with his non-stop practical jokes. To be honest, I found it generally less funny and more irritating, which I don't think was the point. He does, however, get his comeuppance at the end after an exciting escape/chase sequence.

Blackwell's Island is a fun little movie, available as a standalone DVD from the Warner Archive collection. This is another one, however, that I wish were available on a box set, since I've always found the Warner Archive price point a bit high for standalone B movies. Should it come up on TCM again any time soon, however, it's definitely worth watching.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Not quite Tallulah Bankhead in Faithless

Zachary Scott, Ann Sheridan, and Lew Ayres (from left to right) in The Unfaithful

A couple of months back, Ann Sheridan was TCM's Star of the Month, which gave me the chance to record a bunch of movie available on DVD from the Warner Archive but that I hadn't blogged about before. Among them is The Unfaithful. So I recently rectified that situation and watched it to do a post on here.

Sheridan plays Chris Hunter, who married her husband Bob (Zachary Scott) just before he went off to World War II. The war is over and he's been back, working as a builder and flying to various places on the west coast supervising the construction of suburban housing developments. While he's away this time, Chris is invited to a party held by Chris' cousin Paula (Eve Arden) to celebrate her divorce.

Chris returns home from the party to find a man waiting outside her house. He forces her into the house, and in silhouette we see what appears to be a struggle between them before Chris kills the man. Bob returns from Oregon the next morning to find the police at his house, with bad news for him.

With the help of the family lawyer, Larry Hannaford (Lew Ayres), Chris gives a statement about the killing that clearly makes it out to be self-defense. But if that were the case, we wouldn't have much of a movie, would we? So we know that something more is going to happen. Eventually, we hear from Martin Barrow (Steven Geray). He's an art dealer who has... a really bad bust of Chris' head. (Unfortunately, I don't have the movie on DVD, and I couldn't find an image of the bust online.) That in and of itself would be no big deal, but it turns out that the bust was sculpted by... the guy she killed!

There, as you can see, is the problem. The idea that the guy she killed in "self-defense" now has some holes in it, and any bright and ambitious prosecutor should be able to find this out in the investigation into the man's death. To make matters even worse, Barrow and the dead guy's wife want to blackmail Chris for a substantial sum of money not to have the information be made public.

But it's not just the public Chris would like to keep the information a secret from. The thing is, Chris really did have an affair with the dead guy while Bob was away fighting the war. In her defense, it was a whirlwind romance that Chris and Bob had before he left, something that was not uncommon in 1941/2, and just as a fair number of servicemen picked up war romances or even war brides, the women back home still had physical needs.

Now, if a lot of this sounds like The Letter, that's not by coincidence. Warner Bros. wanted to revisit the material, although in this case the screenwriters changed enough of it to avoid having it be a full remake of The Letter. Still, anybody who watches is can't help but make the comparisons, and judge the movie in that light.

That's a bit unfair to The Unfaithful, because while it's not quite as good as either version of The Letter, it's not exactly a bad movie in its own right. If it has flaws, it's that it runs too long (it should probably have been written to clock in at about 90 minutes instead of close to 110), and, surprisingly, Eve Arden. I think she's supposed to be playing the same sort of sounding board she did in Mildred Pierce, but where it worked well in Mildred Pierce to break up the tension, The Unfaithful is more of a straight drama instead of a melodrama, and Arden just doesn't work quite as well here.

Still, The Unfaithful is absolutely worth watching for the performances from the other three leads, and for its all around solid production, especially for people not particularly familiar with Ann Sheridan.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Hannah's sisters and her

A couple of months back, TCM had a tribute to the late actor Max von Sydow. One of his films they ran is one in which he's got a supporting role is Hannah and Her Sisters. It's going to be on again, early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM (or, I suppose, overnight tonight depending on what time zone you're in).

Mia Farrow plays Hannah, one of three daughters in an acting family which is getting together for another Thanksgiving dinner. Patriarch Evan (Lloyd Nolan in his final film) and Mom Norma (Maureen O'Sullivan) do love each other even though they have their squabbles. Hannah is married to Elliot (Michael Caine), not an actor by any means, with a couple of kids. Hannah used to be married to Mickey (Woody Allen), a writer for a sketch comedy TV show.

Hannah's life seems the most in order, as each of her sisters seems to have bigger problems. Lee (Barbara Hershey) is unemployed and living in a sparse studio with her much older artist boyfriend Frederick (that's von Sydow, not that you couldn't figure out which role he was playing since he had a very distinctive look). The other sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest), is trying to get gigs on Broadway or in commercials or anything acting-related, but to shis point she's been rather less than successful, and is reduced to working as a caterer with her friend April (Carrie Fisher).

One Day, Elliot is in a different part of Manhattan for a business meeting but arrives early and has time to kill, so he decides to look for an independent bookstore to browse in. Who should he run into, however, but Lee, who claims to be on her way to her AA meeting? She knows where there's a good bookstore, and after spending some time browsing together, Elliot buys Lee a book of e.e. cummings poetry. The two wind up having an affair, meeting in out of the way hotel rooms.

Holly sees a couple of guys, too, but the relationships don't go so well. Hannah, after her divorce from Mickey, decides to help Mickey and Holly both out by setting the two of them up on a date, but that first date goes disastrously. Then there's an architect whom Holly and April meet at one of their catering gigs. He takes them out to show them the architecture of Manhattan, and Holly even thinks of going out with him, but he can't really decide between the two women.

This being a Woody Allen movie, we also have to talk about his character in more detail. This is another of Allen's nebbish, neurotic types, thinking both that he's got a deadly tumor in his ear and realizing that, as a non-observant Jew, he's got a crisis of faith in wondering what will be after he dies. So he considers joining other religions.

There's quite a lot going on in Hannah and Her Sisters, some of which is quite good, and some of it not as good. Nolan and O'Sullivan shine as the elderly parents in their Thanksgiving scenes together. The Hannah-Elliot-Lee triangle also works well, with all three actors doing a good job and Caine picking up a Supporting Actor Oscar for his part. And as with any Woody Allen movie, people who like New York City will like the photography of New York as it was circa 1985.

Ironically, however, for me, it's the presence of Allen that's one of the weak spots for me. I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of his neurotic shtick from about Annie Hall on, so I tend to be a bit biased against him as an actor. But the contrast in Hannah and Her Sisters was for me even starker than in some of his other movies. We get it, Woody, and it's not as funny as you might think it is.

Allen and Farrow were a couple at the time the movie was made, and some of their children get small roles as Hannah's children. (IMDb also says that Mia Farrow's own apartment was used as one of the sets.) Considering what eventually happened in the Allen/Farrow relationship, some people might find it a bit off-putting. But I didn't find myself thinking about that at all.

When I checked, Hannah and Her Sisters seemed to be out of print on DVD, although it is on Amazon Prime streaming. That's a shame, since the movie is really worth a watch for the performances of pretty much everybody but Woody Allen.