Sunday, October 24, 2021

Death Becomes Her

Somebody one this week's Thursday Movie Picks blogathon picked Death Becomes Her for the Comedy Horror theme. I had recorded it as part of the three free months of Showtime channels that DirecTV is giving me. Since it's scheduled to be on Showtime Beyond tomorrow at 11:30 AM, I had been planning to watch it anyway to do a review on it. And yes, "Comedy horror" is an apt term for the movie.

The movie was released in 1992 but starts off in 1978, so 14 years before the present day. Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) is a successful stage actress, currently doing a musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth. After the performance, she's visited by an old classmate from years back, Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn). Helen is now engaged to be married to plastic surgeon Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis). She's always envied Madeline and is worried that Madeline might want to steal another boyfriend away from her, which is why Helen is introducing Ernest to Madline. If he can resist temptation, then he'll be a good husband.

Sure enough, Madeline winds up taking Ernest away from Helen. Seven years later, Madeline has moved on to Hollywood and has become a successful actress, at least successful enough to have her movies available on VHS. Ernest is undertaker to the stars, making them look peaceful in death as upposed to whatever scandal-inducing way they actually died. As for Helen, well, she's gone insane, living with dozens of cats, watching Madeline's movies on tape and thinking up a way to get revenge, and not paying her rent, which gets her evicted and put into the state mental hospital.

Another seven years pass, and Helen has gotten out of the hospital and written a book which has become a huge success. She also looks like she hasn't aged a bit since we previously saw her seven years earlier; indeed, she looks younger than she did when she was in that mental hospital. She's doing a book tour which is now taking her to Beverly Hills, so she sends tickets to Madeline and Ernest. Madeline is in a panic since her marriage to Ernest has turned loveless, and worse, she doesn't look half as good as Helen does.

So Madeline goes to her favorite spa to try to get more treatments, even though some of them are a twice-a-year treatments and she had the last one three weeks ago. But one of the women at the spa tells Madeline about a woman who may have a good treatment, the mysterious Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini). When Madeline goes there, she's shocked, as Lisle looks 29, but claims to be 71. Obviously, she's proffering some sort of nonsense that she could bill as the fountain of youth, and gives and example of it by pricking Madeline's finger and then putting a drop of the potion on it. That's enough to convince Madeline to drink the rest of the potion.

Meanwhile, Helen has been visiting Ernest; seeing how unhappy he seems to be, she finds him possibly receptive to her plans for revenge. This would have him push Madeline down the stairs, killing her and making it look like an accident, after which Ernest and Helen would be free to marry.

Ernest does so, or at least doesn't do anything to rescue Madeline when she's about to fall down the stairs. She's dead, all right. But Ernest's first move thereafter is to call Helen, not 911. And during the phone call, we can see Madeline in the background getting up, although she's got a badly broken neck that's basically rotated 180 degrees. A second opinion at the emergency room confirms that Madeline is dead by normal vital sign standards, even though she can talk and walk and all that other stuff. It's obviously Lisle's potion that kept Madeline alive.

And as you might have figured out long before the movie shows us, Helen has taken the potion too. Ernest has no idea what's going on, but Madeline figures it out when she shoots Helen point blank and Helen comes back to life too. Thankfully, they've got Ernest who can do a make-up job on them to make them both look presentably alive. But what are they going to do when Ernest dies?

Death Becomes Her is a movie that's fairly slow going at first, until we get to the point when Madeline "dies", at which point it switches from slowish to a really fun premise that's got a lot of wacky comedy. The climax is unrealistic, but then the premise is unrealistic. Still, the movie winds up becoming pretty darn fun.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Liberace plays God

Another of the somewhat older movies that I had sitting on my DVR is Sincerely Yours. Since it's a remake of an old George Arliss movie called The Man Who Played God, and I had heard that it has a terrible reputation, I figured it would be a relatively undemanding movie to watch.

Liberace, who had already been a success on TV for a couple of years, plays Anthony Warrin, a pianist who does what would more or less become the Liberace shtick, of lushly-arranged popular songs and some classical-adjacent music, presented in a very showy way, although the candelabra isn't here yet. Warrin is a very successful pianist judging by the crowds at his shows and the fact that he's got a full-time secretary Marion (Joanne Dru) and manager Sam (William Demarest). Marion carries a torch for Tony, who doesn't see it at laa, for reasons that have nothing to do with Liberace's real-life sexuality, never mind the scene with Demarest in a bubble bath.

At any rate, Tony, like a lot of successful entertainers of a type, really wants to be taken seriously, which in his case means a classical-only concert at Carnegie Hall. And thankfully, at his next concert in San Francisco, a promoter who can get him booked at Carnegie Hall is going to show up to judge him for that possible performance. San Francisco also means the chance to see his old teacher Zwolinski. While in Zwolinski's apartment, wealthy Linda (Dorothy Malone) shows up, hoping to get Zwolinksi to tell her family that she's never going to make a good pianist so stop paying for lessons.

As you can probably guess, since there's nothing original in this movie for reasons having nothing to do with the fact that it's a remake, Tony and Linda immediately fall in love and even make plans to get married. But two things happen. One is that a young man who's just returned from military service stationed in Asia, Howard Ferguson (Alex Nicol), meets Linda at a concert. He's got dreams of becoming a composer, and you just know the two are going to meet again. The bigger thing is that Tony suddenly goes profoundly deaf, being diagnosed with otosclerosis. (At least in the original there was a better excuse for the pianist's sudden deafness, a terrorist bombing that bascially blows out the pianist's eardrums.)

This causes Tony to become a recluse and cut off all contact with Linda, who is eventually going to run into Ferguson again in New York. Tony is encouraged to learn lip-reading, and he becomes a very good student, even getting a really large pair of binoculars so he can engage in voyeurism by looking down on the folks in Central Park from his penthouse and read their lips. He then eventually gets back into life by helping out the people whose problems he's lip-read, but also sees Linda and Howard talking on a park bench.

The story itself isn't bad, unsurprising since it's a remake of a pretty good George Arliss movie. But Liberace wasn't a very good actor, being more reminiscent of a lot of the professional athletes who transition to acting. Even if it wasn't known that Liberace was gay, his persona certainly didn't make him look like a romantic interest for anybody, woman or man, and having Joanne Dru moon over him is faintly ridiculous. (At least in the case of Malone's character, it's easier to see somebody mistakenly fall in love with an inappropriate partner rather than be in love with the person for years.)

Whether or not you like Sincerely Yours is probably going to come down to whether or not you like Liberace's style of playing. Since he was a pianist by trade, the original movie (wich runs 80 minutes) was padded out with a lot of musical scenes to give a running time of 116 minutes. Liberace certainly had talent, although a little bit of that style of piano goes a long way for me, with the result that I found the movie really dragged. If, however, the Liberace style is your thing, there's a lot of good examples of it here.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Great Air Race

It's time for another of those movies that recently started showing up in the FXM rotation and is going to be on again tomorrow. This time, it's Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. It's got two airings tomorrow, at 3:30 AM and 9:30 AM.

A brief opening segment that reminded me of Conquest of the Air tells us of the difficulties man had in learning how to fly. But the movie is set in 1910, which is seven years after the Wright Brothers' famous flight at Kitty Hawk, and now man can fly, although it's nowhere near as safe as it would become in more recent years.

One of those "birdmen", as the movie calls them, is British military man Richard Mays (James Fox). He's in love with Patricia Rawnsley (Sarah Miles), daughter of press baron Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), although Dad flatly forbids his daughter from flying considering how dangerous it is. However, Mays comes up with the idea of having an air race from London to Paris in order to show the superiority of British aviation. Lord Rawnsley realizes this would be excellent advertising for his newspaper, and agrees to sponsor just such a race.

News gets out, and people from all over the world want to join in the race, since it's got a fairly substantial prize. There's Frenchman Pierre Dubois (Jean-Pierre Cassel); Italian Count Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi); American cowboy Orvil Newton (Stewart Whitman); and an entire team commanded by Count Manfred Von Holstein (Gert Fröbe), although the Count is not supposed to be the pilot. There's also another Brit, underhanded Sir Percy (Terry-Thomas), who plans to cheat his way to victory. Just before the race is set to start, a member of the Japanese navy shows up.

Most of the characters are gentle stereotypes. As I mentioned, Orvil is a cowboy; Pierre is a lover who is part of a running joke about a woman he romanced whom he should know (several characters with different names, all played by Irina Demick); the Germans are the model of officious efficiency; and so on. It's all meant to be in reasonably good taste and reasonably suitable even for children, although they'd probably prefer the aerial stunts once the race actually gets going, which isn't until two-thirds of the way through the picture. One big sub-plot has Orvil falling for Patricia, which creates a fair deal of conflict between Orvil and Richard, although it all comes out right in the end.

The movie runs a bit long, although not as long as The Great Race, a movie from the same year which was about a car race at the beginning of motoring. Including the intermission, the print FXM ran was about 139 minutes. This means that things take a while to get going, and I don't just mean the race itself. The comedy more or less works, but there's also not as much comedy as you'd expect. Not that there's really drama; it's more that all the scenes are slow to develop. Of the two movies, however, I did prefer Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

His Trust, Part 1

I wanted to review a movie today and not just do another entry in the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon, so I decided I'd do a short. I popped by D.W. Griffith box set into the DVD player, and the next one on the set that I hadn't done a post on was His Trust.

This being a 14-minute movie, there's not much plot. It's the Civil War, and southern Col. Frazier goes off to fight, leaving his wife and young daughter to be taken care of by their loyal house slave George (Wilfred Lucas in blackface). Sure enough, Col. Frazier is killed in action, followed by nasty Union forces burning down the Frazier place. George, however, stands by the lady of the house.

His Trust has any number of problems, although the one that everybody is going to jump on is that of having white actors put on blackface to play the black characters. Needless to say, this ranges from people looking like the sort of college student who covers his face in body paint at its least bad, to some characters looking quite ghoulish, notably the female servant, who I don't think has a name. George having the wrong color hair doesn't help:

The other big problem is that Griffith conceived His Trust as a longer movie (about 25 minutes), while Biograph insisted on releasing another one-reeler. So the movie got split in two, as a title card informs us at the beginning, with the other half being His Trust Fulfilled. The result is a short that ends abruptly, leaving us with all sorts of unresolved plot points, because, frankly, this isn't the end of the movie. My box set doesn't have His Trust Fulfilled, although there seems to be several edits available on Youtube, since the movie is in the public domain.

On the other hand, His Trust already shows Griffith's adeptness at composition. The battle scene that kills Col. Frazier is well-handled with the exception of the actor playing Frazier keeping his eyes open in death, while there was a really nice shot in the house-burning scene:

I'm glad I picked up the Griffith box set, as movies that old don't show up very often.

Thursday Movie Picks #380: Comedic Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's the third Thursday in October, so that means that we have another horror-themed edition of the blogathon. This time around, that theme is "comedic horror". I thought for a bit, and wound up picking three movies that are all variations on the "old dark house" theme:

The Cat and the Canary (1939). Relatives of a dead man, including Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, and others, return to the man's house in the Louisiana bayous a decade after his death for the reading of his will, which gives all of his money to one person as long as that person is still alive and has not been declared insane one month from the reading. The will specifies Goddard's character, and unsurprisingly, pretty much everybody else in the movie tries to make Goddard go insane.

Murder, He Says (1945). Fred MacMurray plays a pollster trying to conduct a survey on the values of rural Americans. He's been given the job of contacting the last people known to have seen his colleague, a family whose daughter is in prison for bank robbery, with the rest at each other's throats trying to find the money they just know has to be buried on the property somewhere. And then the bank robber daughter breaks out of prison.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966). Don Knotts plays the coward, a typesetter in a small Kansas town who decides to investigate whether the haunted house tales about one of the old houses in town where a murder occurred 20 years earlier are true. Unfortunately, Knotts' character is known for telling tall tales, so when he spends a night in the house and concludes the place is haunted, nobody believes him. But why does the owner not want the story to be told?

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

College Swing

I didn't intend to watch a slew of movies with fairly thin plots back-to-back; it's pure dumb luck that the movies I picked recently happen to have not a whole lot going on. For the latest example, I dove into my Bob Hope box set and settled on College Swing.

We don't see Hope for a while, as the movie starts with a prologue. It's 1738, and a school is having its graduation, presided over by Edward Everett Horton, who is decidedly non-colonial. All of the students get their diplomas except for Grace Alden (Gracie Allen). She's so ditzy that she's been in school for nine years and still can't graduate. Her father and the Horton character get into a debate with it suggested that she couldn't graduate in 200 years. So a contract is drawn up that the school will keep Alden's money in escrow until such time as a female descendant of the Aldens graduates, at which time she can claim the inheritance. Otherwise, in 1938, the money will revert to the college.

Fast forward to 1938, when the movie was made. There's another Gracie Alden, and she's still trying to graduate from the school. This is where Bob Hope shows up. He plays Bud Brady, some sort of smooth operator type who comes up with the brilliant idea of "tutoring" Gracie to pass the examination and then claiming a nice up-front free from that as well as a handsome annual salary from the college, which would be Gracie's inheritance. This "tutoring" really means finding out in advance what the questions are and feeding the answers to Gracie.

Hubert Dash (Edward Everett Horton), a descendant of that man from 1738, returns from South America to administer a special exam just for Gracie, with questions read by George Jonas (George Burns). Although there winds up being a flaw in Bud's scheme, Gracie somehow passes the test through a comedy of errors, and winds up taking control of the college, which means instituting all sorts of new policies including new faculty, which is where the phony "Professor Therese" (Martha Raye), professor of love, comes in, to play the romantic interest for Bob Hope.

There's another love story, typical for the genre, involving two of the students, including one who's related to a bigwig in the administration, played by John Payne and Florence George. But the main story, such as it is, still has some time to play out, so it's quickly suspected that Gracie must have cheated on the test. This means that Bud is going to have to come up with another scheme to help her cheat and pass another test, this one on live radio.

With not much plot here, the reason to watch is for the various musical numbers and sketch comedy that have all been stitched together to come up with something that's actually not terribly incoherent. But having said that, College Swing is also definitely not the sort of movie that's going to be for everybody. I can imagine quite a few modern viewers being put off by the 1930s music, with the comic interludes not being particularly funny for other people. Unsurprisingly, Allen is the best thing here, followed closely by Hope and Raye.

College Swing is another of those movies I'm glad to have picked up as part of a box set, but one that I wouldn't pay a standalone price for.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Don't go looking for Flipper

I don't remember whose day it was in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, but one of the old Studio Era prestige movies I hadn't seen before was airing, Green Dolphin Street. So I recorded it and recently got around to watching it.

In the early 1840s, the Patourels are a well-to-do family of French Catholic descent living on St. Pierre, one of the Channel Islands which are British. Dad (Edmund Gwenn) has been married to Mom (Gladys Cooper) long enough two adult daughters, elder Marianne (Lana Turner) and younger Marguerite (Doona Reed). Dad runs a shipping company, with one of the boats, the Green Dolphin, traveling far and wide.

Also living on the island is Dr. Ozanne (Frank Morgan). He's got an adult son William (Richard Hart) who has just returned after being away, with some vague suggestion that this might be a bad omen. There is, in fact, a not-so-good man around, one Timothy Haslam (Van Heflin). He needs the services of a doctor quick, having been in a knife fight that killed a man. And he needs to get off the island, so the captain of the Green Dolphin agrees to take him to the new colony of New Zealand, where he won't have to face the law back in Europe.

Meanwhile, William has met both of the Patourel sisters. Both like him, although William clearly loves young Marguerite. But because of his father's lower social standing, it's suggested that William make his own way in the world by becoming a Navy officer first, and then he'll be OK to marry Marguerite, not that anybody mentions marriage yet.

It's not until William sails off to China that he's finally ready to think about marriage, sending some jewelry to Marguerite. But the stereotype of the inscrutable Chinese woman decides to slip William a mickey to take all his money, and William wakes up the next morning a deserter as his navy ship left port. Fortunately, the Green Dolphin is there and can take him to New Zealand too.

William meets Timothy, who has become successful in the lumber business, although that also means moving inland, which presents a problem in that they're further away from civilization and have to deal with the Maori. But William becomes successful too, ready to write back to the Patourels and ask for Marguerite's hand in marriage. Except that he gets so drunk that he accidentally writes "Marianne" instead of "Marguerite".

Lots of melodrama follows on both sides of the world. We learn that Timothy has always carried a torch for Marianne. Also in New Zealand, there's both a Maori uprising and a massive earthquake that is the highlight of the movie. Back on the Channel Islands, we learn that Mrs. Patourel had loved Dr. Ozanne when she was younger, but didn't marry him because of his social status and her parents' pressure. She and Dad die within minutes of each other, and Marguerite, being a spinster, decides to become a nun!

Green Dolphin Street is the sort of movie that MGM excelled at making. The prestige nature of it is evident from the cast, as well as the pretty darn good special effects for 1947 of the earthquake and what it does to the river. (In fact, the effects won an Oscar.) The story, however, caused a few groans for me, specifically because there are some mean plot holes here. Marianne and William return to St. Pierre a long time after Dad died, and the house is being kept up like always, with all the old servants there. Who's paying them? And did William really think he could just gallivant in and take over the old family business which certainly would have been under new ownership once Mr. Patourel died?

But if you can overcome such plot holes, as well as the fact that the first half of the movie is very slow-moving (the movie clocks in at a leisurely 141 minutes), you'll find that Green Dolphin Street is a grand example of studio filmmaking near its best in the second half of the 1940s.

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

This being October, we get a lot of horror movies on a bunch of the movie channels, not just TCM's lineup of vintage horror movies it can get the rights to, which it seems disproportionately means Hammer horror. Anyhow, I noticed that the original 1974 version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is getting some airings on the Showtime package of channels, and has another one tomorrow (Oct. 19) at 12:45 PM on Flix.

There's not that much going on in this one. We hear a radio news broadcast, with one of the stories being about alleged grave robberies in a rural part of Texas. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) is the granddaughter of one of the people buried in the cemetery where this is supposedly happening. So she takes her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin and a trio of her 20-something friends, Kirk, Pam (who's into astrology), and Jerry. They get to the cemetery and find that Grandpa's grave is still intact, leading Sally to suggest they go see what's left of Grandpa's old homestead.

Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker who's a really strange bird. He takes a Polaroid photograph of one of the passengers in the van, and then burns it since he was expecting to get paid for this and the passengers didn't ask for the picture. He also requests a pocket knife, using it to cut his own hand. He could have just used his straight razor for that, except he's got a different intention for that, which is cutting Franklin on the arm.

After the friends kick the hitchhiker out, they try to gas up the van, but this being 1973 and the oil embargo going on, the middle-of-nowhere gas station is out of gas. Still, they carry on to the old homestead, which is of course in a parlous state having been abandoned some years back when the grandparents died. Franklin, who apparently was not in a wheelchair when he was a kid, tells Pam and Kirk that there's an old swimming hole down the hill, and they decide to go swimming.

They don't find the swimming hole, but they do find a house that sounds like it's running a generator, which means that they have to have gasoline. (Well, technically it could be a propane-fueled generator.) But in any case it means there should also be people around who can help the stranded travelers out. Except that these aren't normal people. The house seems to be run by a person in a leather mask (Gunnar Hansen), who decides that he's going to kill Kirk when he goes in the house!

Pam's been waiting for Kirk outside the house, so it's no surprise that after a fair bit of time without his coming back out of the house, she decides to follow him in. Big mistake, of course, but then she doesn't know what the viewer knows. Nor will Jerry, Sally, and Franklin when the time comes for them to go to the house and meet their inevitable doom.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre gives no explanation for why Leatherface or the Hitchhiker are the way they are, which isn't such a bad thing. The idea of such ultraviolence that's so random and seemingly without any valid reason only makes the movie more frightening, or at least would for viewers back in 1974 when it was originally released. Over the past half-century, many of the plot devices in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre have become tropes for other movies to follow. That's not the fault of this movie, but now that we can get so much more graphic violence on the screen, that may lessen the impact of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre somewhat.

But it's also because of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre setting the standard that it needs to be seen. It's earned an important place in American cinema.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Dazed and Confused

Another of the movies that I had the chane to record thanks to the Showtime free preview is Dazed and Confused. It's got multiple airings coming up this week, starting tomorrow at 6:00 PM on Showtime Beyond, so as always, I made a point of sitting down to watching it and doing a review here.

It's May 28, 1976 in a suburb of Austin TX. It's the Friday before Memorial Day, but more importantly, it's the last day of school before the summer vacation. Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) is the quarterback and captain of the football team, and is going to be a senior in the fall. Coach is expecting everybody on the team to sign a pledge that they won't get into any trouble over the summer, which specifically means that they shouldn't drink or do pot, which is the real problem as that's all everybody seems interested in.

Well, not quite everything. There's also the various initiation rituals. The upperclass girls have one for the younger girls who are hoping to join the cheerleading squad. That's bad, but worse is what the upperclass boys have for the younger boys who are going to become freshmen the next year. Incoming seniors like O'Bannion (a very young Ben Affleck) make paddles in shop class and use these to paddle the incoming freshmen! And the community for the most part doesn't seem to have much problem with this, with the exception of young Carl, whose mom pulls a shotgun on O'Bannion.

One of Pink's friends, Pickford (Shawn Andrews), has parents who are planning on going away for the weekend, so Pickford is going to get a whole bunch of beer delivered and having a massive kegger at his house. Except that the delivery comes while Pickford's parents are still there, so they figure out what's going on, making Pickford delay delivery and move the party to a public park, which pretty much everybody is going to try to get to that night.

In the meantime, there's a lot of teens hanging out at various spots; attempts to score beer, pot, or sex; and O'Bannion still going around trying to get Carl and his friend Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) to paddle them, although at least Mitch gets to pal around with Pink and his friends. One more character is Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey at the beginning of his career); he graduated high school some years back but is still trying to score with the high school girls.

So there's really not a whole lot going on in terms of plot in Dazed and Confused. It's more of a slice of life movie. If you were expecting a plot, then you're definitely not going to like the movie, but if you want an image of a certain place and time, then you'll probably have a better opinion. I graduated high school quite a few years later, and half a continent away two hours north of New York City. So most of what's portrayed in Dazed and Confused was not my experience at all. As such, I won't give it quite the high review that some other people would.

Still, Dazed and Confused is definitely worth a watch, as there are several people at the beginning of their careers who would go on to a fair amount of fame. In addition to the aforementioned Affleck and McConnaughey, there's director Richard Linklater, and actors Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, and Adam Goldberg. And people of a certain age will love the soundtrack.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Kooky women in 1970s mystery movies

I blogged about Foul Play back in July. Around the same time I wrote that blog post, TCM ran The Late Show, which I hadn't seen before. The cast and synopsis, however, made me think of Foul Play, so I recorded it and eventually got around to watching it to do the obligatory post on here.

Art Carney plays the private detective, or a retired one named Ira Wells. He's old and has a litany of health problems he'd be happy to tell you about, so he's now reduced to renting a room in a house owned by Mrs. Schmidt (Ruth Nelson). One evening, who comes knocking on the door but Ira's old partner from the detective agency, Harry Regan (Howard Duff in a very brief cameo). Unfortunately for all involved, Harry has just been shot, fatlly, in fact.

Ira goes to the funeral, and at the cemetery, who should show up by Margo Sterling (Lily Tomlin). She's a failed actress who now does dress design to make ends meet, although she's not making ends meet very well. She owes $500 to some guy and was unable to pay, so the guy kidnapped her cat Winston and is holding the cat hostage until Margo repays her debt. Margo had hired Harry to help find the cat; with him dead, could Ira possibly take the case in Harry's stead?

Ira does take it, as it will give him a chance to be young again. But of course the missing cat isn't really what's going on here; Margo could just as easily have had her macguffin kidnapped instead. When Ira presses Margo for details, it turns out that Margo has been making extra money as a courier, delivering stuff from one part of California to another. That "stuff" is actually stolen goods that are being fenced, and Margo took more than her fair share of the proceeds. No wonder the bad guys want their money back.

Ira gets the address of the head fence, Ron Birdwell (Eugene Roche), from tipster Charlie (Bill Macy), and goes to see Birdwell. He's got a particularly vicious bodyguard, and for good reason. Birdwell claims not to know anything about Harry's killing, and may well not. But he's also got a lot more happening under the surface that we don't know about. One is that his estranged wife Laura (Joanna Cassidy) has been stepping out on him. There's also a robbery of rare postage stamps that Birdwell doesn't want anything to do with because that's the sort of stuff that's really difficult to fence considering how few people would want to buy it.

With Ira being in poor health, and Margo really wanting her cat found, she decides to team up with him and accompany him on some of the parts of his investigation, which bugs Ira at times because she's not a professional and she's way too quirky for her own good. But, unsurprisingly, the two become friends along the way and she does have some help in solving the mystery.

To be honest, however, it's not really the mystery that matters here as much as it is the relationship between Ira and Margo. And that will probably color how you think of The Late Show. With someone like Lily Tomlin in the Margo role, the natuaral assumption is that this is going to be a comic mystery like Foul Play. And, to be fair, there are certainly parts that are straight up comedy, such as the running joke of Birdwell constantly trying to give Ira a good deal on fenced goods. Some of Tomlin's dialogue is also certainly written with laughs in mind. But the overall tone of The Late Show is a surprisingly dark mystery with some comic elements.

This may not work for everybody. Indeed, it took a long time for it to grow on me as I felt Tomlin's character veered too far at times into the "quirky" end of the spectrum. Eventually, though, everything did come together, so I can certainly recommend The Late Show. Just set your preconceptions aside before you watch it.

Friday, October 15, 2021

TCM's Jane Powell Tribute

Jane Powell and Russ Tamblyn in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Oct. 16, 6:00 PM)

Actress Jane Powell, star of a bunch of MGM musicals in the late 1940s and 1950s, died back in September. As is generally the case, TCM will take a few weeks to months before clearing a part of their programming and replacing it with films of the star who died, often depending on how long it takes to get the rights to the movies. For Jane Powell, that programming block is tomorrow afternoon, October 16, with TCM showing four of her movies:

Luxury Liner kicks things off at noon;
Small Town Girl follows at 2:00 PM;
Powell dances with Fred Astaire, but not on the ceiling, in Royal Wedding at 4:00 PM; and
Powell is one of the women who gets married off in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at 6:00 PM.

Interestingly, before Powell died, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers had already been on the TCM schedule this weekend, at 8:15 AM Sunday. However, that airing has been pulled from the schedule since it's going to be on early Saturday evening. Instead, it's been replaced by a different musical, It Happened in Brooklyn with Kathryn Grayson and Frank Sinatra. And if you're wondering what got pulled from the schedule, I happen to have a copy of the schedule from before the edit, and it was three movies: 55 Days at Peking, Giant, and Paths of Glory.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #379: Horror Edition: Folk or Urban Legends

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's the second Thursday in October, which means that there's another horror-themed edition of the blogathon. For a time, I thought I was going to have trouble this week, since I thought the category was "Urban Legends", a subject I don't remember coming up too much in older movies. But I looked again and saw that the category is actually "Folk/Urban Legends", so I can go with folk legends, which are much easier to find. I did, however, in the end decide to go for one more recent movie:

The Phantom Carriage (1921). Apparently there was a legend in Sweden that at the end of each year, the Grim Reaper would take the last dead person whose soul he gathered and make that person the new Grim Reaper, having to spend a year collecting souls and looking back at his own life. That person is Victor Sjöström, as an alcoholic who gets killed in a fight and has to look back at how his drinking destroyed not only his life, but those of his family along with a Salvation Army officer who wanted to minister to him.

Cat People (1942). Simone Simon plays a Serbian immigrant who comes from an area where the Christians turned to witchcraft to deal with the Ottoman overlords, with the legend being that certain people are destined to become too cat-like for their own good. She meets engineer Kent Smith, and they fall in love, he not believing in the legend or that there's any danger. But for some reason, animals go nuts every time Simon shows up. Jacques Tourneur directed and Val Lewton produced this movie, which is one of a series of extremely effective low-budget horror movies he made at RKO in the 1940s.

The Last Broadcast (1998). "Found footage" movie that purports to be a documentary about a team's search for the Jersey Devil, a mythical creature that lives in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Unfortunately, something goes wrong, and all but one of the members of the expedition wind up dead. Was it murder, or did something else happen? This is one of those movies that used to show up on the old IFC when they actually showed independent movies, uncut and commercial-free.

You Can't Fool Your Wife

Some time back, when I reviewed one of Lucille Ball's RKO films -- I think it was Beauty for the Asking -- I brought up the Star of the Month piece on Lucy that Carol Burnett narrated. In it, Burnett said that the studios just didn't know what to do with Lucy. Another movie where it really seems like the studio didn't know how to use Lucille Ball properly is You Can't Fool Your Wife. It's coming up tomorrow (Oct. 15) at 11:30 AM as part of TCM's Star of the Month salute to Lucy.

The movie starts off with senior yearbook headshots of Andrew Hinklin (James Ellison) and Clara Fields (Lucille Ball). Clara looks rather plain and not like what you'd expect from Lucille Ball from the days of Du Barry Was a Lady. But there's a reason for that which we'll get to later. Andrew and Clara get married, and as Preston Sturges put at the beginning of The Palm Beach Story, "And they lived happily ever after.... Or did they?"

Fast-forward five years. Andrew is working as an accountant and the couple lives in a relatively small apartment with Clara's mom (Emma Dunn). Andrew is a faithful husband, if a bit boring, in that his one vice is his work at the firm. The next day, the partners in the firm are talking about picking up old Battincourt, a senior partner from another part of the firm, as he's coming in on one of the transatlantic boats. None of them want to do it, so when Andrew barges into the office, the partners "volunteer" him for the thankless task.

The only thing is, it's not Old Man Battincourt who shows up, but his son "Batty" (Robert Coote). After young Battincourt and Andrew make their acquaintances, Andrew takes him to where he's going to be staying while in town. Battincourt also organizes a party with lots of pretty young women, and drinking. It's the first time Andrew gets drunk in his life, and he doesn't return home until 2:30 AM, leading Clara's mom to start putting the seeds of doubt in Clara's ear.

A conversation with partner J.R. Gillespie leads to another meeting, and another long night out, and when Andrew gets home and tries to explain, things go wrong because Gillespie is at the door with two beautiful women. Clara and her mom won't give Andrew a chance to explain. Battincourt, feeling as though he's somewhat responsible for this, lets Andrew stay with him. And when Clara shows up at another party to talk with Andrew, Battincourt decides he's going to play matchmaker of sorts to bring Andrew and Clara back together.

Battincourt's plan, which sounds like it wouldn't have been out of place on I Love Lucy a dozen years later, involves an Argentine-themed party in which Battincourt is going to make Clara over (at which point she looks like the Lucille Ball we're used to, which is why she had to look so different in the first half of the movie) and have her be a rich Argentine heiress, to test Andrew, who will of course be faithful.

One of Battincourt's other women lets Andrew in on the secret plan on the way to the party, so Andrew is definitely going to be faithful. But there's one small problem, which is that Gillespie brings a different Argentine heiress who just happens to be the model for who Battincourt made Clara over to look like. So we've got two women who look exactly alike, and since part of the party involves everyone wearing Lone Ranger-style masks, telling the two apart isn't going to be easy.

Things get predictable from here, as You Can't Fool Your Wife is only a B movie. It's not bad, although there's definitely a clash of styles as the first half is too skewed to drama and the second half is nothing but comedy. One also can't help but think that if these characters talked seriously, there wouldn't have been a real issue.

You Can't Fool Your Wife is a movie that's really mostly going to be of interest only to Lucille Ball completists. It's the sort of thing that might have ended up on one of those four-film TCM box sets, if Warner Home Video were still in the business of making such sets. But they're not, and it seems never to have gotten a Warner Archive release either.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bad Medicine

No, not that "Bad Medicine"

Yet another movie that began showing up in the FXM rotation recently that I hadn't seen before is Bad Medicine. It's going to be on again this week, first at 9:50 AM tomorrow (October 14) and then again at 6:00 AM Friday. So I made a point of watching it to do a review on here.

Jeff Marx (Steve Guttenberg) is an indifferent student who comes from a long line of doctors. His father (Bill Macy) is a plastic surgeon, and his mother and sister are both doctors as well. So unsurprisingly, Dad would like Jeff to go into the family profession and go to medical school too, never mind what Jeff wants. Jeff, for his part, finds that his grades are going to get him rejected from every medical school in the country -- there are just too many people with higher grades, never mind the passion, who want to become doctors as well.

So Dad does what any parent who thinks he's being a good parent would do, which is to find a medical school that will accept his son. Ultimately he does find one: the Madera Univeristy of Medicine. The only thing is, the school is in one of those fictional Central American countries that dotted Hollywood movies about people needing to get out of the US for some reason.

Jeff goes down there, not thrilled about the prospect, and even less so when he finds that the student dorm for foreign students seems to be no better than stereotypical housing in poor Latin American cities: the plumbing doesn't work, there are large cockroaches, and the like. And the administration seems a bit odd, considering some of the rituals the school's founder and president, Dr. Madera (Alan Arkin) has the students do.

On the bright side, however, the foreign students all stick together, allowing Jeff to make some friends in Cookie (Julie Kavner), Dennis (Curtis Armstrong), and Liz (Julie Hagerty). They are, after all, suffering the same problems as Jeff.

Eventually, Madera sends the foreign students out on what he calls "Dia del Pueblo". Basically, Madera has selected a small village away from the big cities, and sends the students there to run a clinic for a day which should give them some practical medical experience. But really, it's just a public relations move, as the Americans find out that this clinic isn't getting any real medicine, since that would cost the school too much money. All of the prisoners, for example, have the clap, which could be easily cured, if only there were the basic medicines available.

The Americans decide that they're going to get those medicines by any means necessary, and actually open a clinic in that village and help the locals, who come to trust these Americans they think are real doctors and not just medical students. Unfortunately, this means putting in bogus orders to the university's pharmacy, which are bound to be discovered when Madera does an audit of the school's finances. What's going to happen to the students when the ruse is found out?

Bad Medicine is a movie that's funny in spots, but not as consistently funny as it might be. The basic plot about people (in this case medical students, but it really could be any job) finding out that their boss is committing fraud, is tried and true, and moved to a new location, it works quite well, with light drama mixed in with the comedy. There are several subplots that didn't really work for me, however, such as one involving the students trying to get another cadaver since the medical school can't afford enough.

I think Bad Medicine is also the sort of movie that's clearly of a certain time, although surprisingly, the idea of political instability is never mentioned here. But in this case, I wouldn't consider it a strike against the movie. Bad Medicine is a pleasant enough diversion, but not much more than that.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Twelve Crowded Hours

I had a couple of Lucille Ball movies on my DVR for quite some time that I didn't watch and blog about yet because they don't seem to be on DVD. But with TCM having picked Lucy as this month's Star of the Month, both of them are going to be on, and this week. So you're getting a blog post already today for a movie that isn't coming up until Friday morning. That movie is Twelve Crowded Hour, at 10:15 AM Friday.

Lucy isn't the star here. That honor goes to Richard Dix, even if the movie was made in 1939, which is well past the time he was a real star. Dix plays reporter Nick Green. In the film's opening scene, he's going up to a school of dance to see his would-be girlfriend, Paula Sanders (that's Lucille Ball, as if you couldn't tell). They had met when Paula's brother Dave (Allan Lane) was the defendant in a vehicular manslaughter case, and Paula has always blamed Nick's articles for sending Dave to prison. He's just gotten out, however, and is living with Paula.

Meanwhile, we see a bunch of people getting a mysterious phone call to meet somebody at a certain place and time. That somebody is George Costain (Cy Kendall, looking vaguely like Laird Cregar). Costain runs the numbers racket in town, and all of these people are supposed to meet with him to discuss their takings. But one set of people has decided that they're going to take their share of the takings, amounting to $80,000, which was quite a bit back in 1939, and flee town with it.

Nick knows that Costain is a bad guy, and the newspaper has been printing enough articles about it that Costain is ticked off. So Costain calls up a truck driver he knows, who just happens to drive the same type of truck Dave Sanders was alleged to have driven in his crime, and tells the guy to ram the editor's car and cause a fatal accident. Unsurprisingly, the blame is going to fall on Dave, who will become a fugitive.

The two stories come together because Costain has discovered that somebody is on the train with "his" money, so Costain gets on the train, finds the guy, kills him, and takes the money. Nick runs into him at an el station, and creates a ruse that allows him to steal the money and put it in a locker for storage. Costain is chasing him, and the police are looking for Dave, ultimately also trying to get Nick after it transpires that Nick brings Dave to his apartment for safekeeping.

Twelve Crowded Hours is really one crowded hour, because this was a Lew Landers quickie at RKO, Landers being known for quickly churning out a whole bunch of short B movies (his output in 1939 was low, only directing six films, compared to eight the year before and nine the following year). For such rapid-fire production line work, Twelve Crowded Hours isn't bad, but at the same time it's nothing more than a throwaway B movie, complete with all the problems that merely competent B movies had. A dozen years later, and it's the sort of movie that would have been the plot for a TV private detective series.

Fans of Lucy will probably be disappointed that she doesn't get that much to do in the movie, either. Twelve Crowded Hours is really the sort of movie to watch more to see what Lew Landers did than for either Richard Dix or Lucille Ball.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Strange One

Trying to go through the backlog of movies I've got on my DVR, and trying to watch some older movies, I recently decided to watch The Strange One.

The opening credits are superimposed over a jigsaw-like montage of pieces of darkness being removed to reveal what looks like it could have been a Tom of Finland drawing, which is actually not inappropriate considering what's to come in the movie. Anyhow, after the credits, we are transported to a southern military college which is imaginatively named "Southern Military College", where all the cadets are going to barracks for the night. They are, of course, expected to remain there until reveille in the morning.

And of course, some of them don't remain there. Jocko De Paris (Ben Gazzara at 26) is an upperclassman who rooms with Harold Koble (Pat Hingle at about 32). Jocko has decided that he's going to fleece football player Roget Gatt (James Olson) in a poker game. But, he's going to use a couple of freshmen to help him do it. So he and Harold barge in to the room of Robert Marquales (28-year-old freshman George Peppard) and the very mousy Simmons (Arthur Storch), Jocko acting as if he owns the place.

In some ways, he does, because he's a nasty little bully that nobody can ever bother to stand up to in part because he's also ridiculously manipulative, knowing how to get people to do what he wants. In part, they won't rat on him because they too would be punished for not having done anything right at the start.

One cadet who does try to do something is young Avery, who is the son of one of the higher-ups in the school, Major Avery. He breaks curfew to tell the commanding officers something is going on, although he has to know that there's going to be enough time for Jocko to get away with getting everybody back to their own rooms. Still he does it, and Jocko punishes him by liquoring him up and beating him before depositing him on the quadrangle.

Maj. Avery suspects something is wrong, but he's somehow unable to get anybody to speak, not even his own son, who you think would have told him that Jocko had a couple of freshmen beat him. Simmons is the one person who hates Jocko enough to think about doing something, but he's also the biggest coward of the bunch, and Jocko would basically out Simmons as a homosexual and a communist, regardless of whether or not Simmons is either.

In fact, there seems to be a lot of latent homosexuality going on here, including one fellow student, McKee, who's writing a novel that's a thinly veiled biography of Jocko in which McKee seems to be pouring his own repressed sexual desire for Jocko. This subplot is largely independent of the investigation into young Avery's beating.

The Strange One is one strange movie, and frankly, one that I found hard to like. That's in no small part because Jocko is such an unlikeable character right out of the gate, and the movie never really lets up on his nastiness. I was thnking of the previous movie I blogged about, About Last Night, and how Jocko is basically Bennie and Joan on steroids. The other characters around him are also all the way on the other side of the spectrum in their spinelessness. Further, it doesn't help at all that a lot of the dialogue felt incredibly unnatural to me.

Fortunately, the dialogue is the one thing that does let up as it starts to feel less stilted. The story, however, doesn't. So The Strange One may be a maddening watch for many of you.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

About Last Night

Another of the more recent movies that I had the chance to record from the free preview of the Showtime channels is About Last Night.... It's going to be on again, tomorrow (Oct. 11) at 4:00 PM on Flix, so I watched it to do the obligatory review on here.

Rob Lowe plays Danny, who works for a restaurant wholesale supplier together with his best friend Bernie (Jim Belushi). Now, any objective person ought to see right away that Bernie is a bit of a dick. Well, a lot of a dick. He's clearly making up BS about his sexual prowess and, as the movie goes on, comes across as really selfish and deliberately trying to sabotage his best friend. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Danny and Bernie are also on the softball team sponsored by their favorite watering hole. Among the spectators at one of their games in one of the big Chicago-area parks are Debbie (Demi Moore) and her best friend and roommate Joan (Elizabeth Perkins). After Danny's team wins the game, everybody goes back to the bar to celebrate, Danny and Bernie going independently from Debbie and Joan. But you know that Debbie and Joan are going to meet Danny and Bernie. Further, Danny and Debbie are going to wind up together.

Danny and Debbie go back to his apartment, and wouldn't you know it, but the two make love on their very first night together. Not that Debbie is so sure that she should have done it. But she goes home and finds that Joan has an extremely drunk man in her bed while she took the couch for the night.

Danny finds out that Debbie works as a designer in an ad agency, and so goes to call her about the possibility of going out on another date together. And wouldn't you know it, but Debbie has found out about Danny's job and was just about to call him at the very same time he called! So they go out on another date together, which is really just an excuse to have more sex.

After several more intense sex sessions, Danny and Debbie decide that perhaps they should move in together. And this is where the relationship really starts having problems. Bernie has been a dick every time Danny talks about the relationship with Debbie, almost as though Bernie is trying to sabotage the relationship because he's incapable of having a real relationship. But now Joan starts acting badly. She's always seen Debbie as her best friend, and feels abandoned by Joan. Not only that, but she's the one person who really sees through Bernie's BS.

There are a lot more complications, mostly due to both Danny and Debbie's inabilities to see the problems that their best firends are causing, along with their lack of desire to step back and take a breath before figuring out what to do next. If they could just stop and have an intelligent conversation about how they want their relationship to go rather than just the sex and volatile arguments, a whole lot of heartache could have been avoided.

I think it's because of the frustrating character foibles that I wound up not liking About Last Night as much as another 80s movie I was thinking of as I was watching it, that being When Harry Met Sally. There's a lot of potential here, but there are so many times where I just wanted to take the characters and shake some sense into them, especially Belushi's character.

So while there's a fair bit to recommend about About Last Night..., be warned that it could have been a lot better.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Gastrointestinal blues

Elvis Presley was TCM's Star of the Month back in July. Elvis was an actor who had some potential, but as an extremely popular singer, and thanks to probable career mismanagement from his manager, Col. Tom Parker, Elvis wound up in a bunch of formulaic fluff movies. One of the earliest movies in that formula was G.I. Blues.

Elvis, like all American young men of that era, was subject to the peacetime draft, and eventually his number was called, forcing him to waste 18 months of his life in service to the US military, which he spent mostly in Germany. (My dad also had 18 months of his life stolen, but he spent his time at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico making certain the Ernst Blofelds of the world didn't get their hands on those missiles. Anyhow, with Elvis set to be demobbed in early 1960, what better to do than make a movie that cast him as an American serviceman in Germany?

That serviceman is named Tulsa McLean, who drives a tank by day and has a musical combo with his friends and fellow servicemen Cookie (Robert Ivers) and Rick (James Douglas) by night. They try to perform at various night spots, Tulsa hoping to get enough money from this to open up a nightclub of his own once he gets back to the US.

It's in one of these clubs that Turk and the other American servicemen meet the lovely Lili (Juliet Prowse), who works at the club; and her roommate Tina (Leticia Roman). Lili is known to be notoriously hard-to-get, despite the best attempts of all the servicemen, who style themselves Lotharios, to get her. Indeed, two of the men start a bet over whether one of them can in fact spend the entire night in Lili's apartment.

Tulsa is at heart a decent guy, echoing what a lot of the people who worked with the real-life Elvis as an actor said about him. He could certainly be nice to Lili, but wouldn't really want to be part of such a wager. That is until the guy who claimed he could get Lili is transferred and Tulsa is thrust into the role.

Meanwhile, Cookie gets involved with Lili's roommate, while Rick is looking for a girl he used to know, whose landlady insists moved without leaving a forwarding address. The reason that third woman doesn't want to see Rick is because she thought Rick was engaged to a woman back home, but along the way got her pregnant, leaving her a single mother.

As you can guess, Lili learns of the wager and it threatens to screw up their friendship, although this being an Elvis Presley movie, everything will turn out right in the end because Tom Parker presumably thought audiences didn't want to see Elvis in anything dark. Along the way, Elvis sings several songs that I don't think became much in the way of hits. One exception was a reworking of an old German song called "Muß ich denn zum Städtele hinaus" (Must I leave for the city), which with English lyrics was called "Wooden Heart". Except that this wasn't a hit for Elvis, but Joe Dowell.

G.I. Blues is undemanding entertainment from Elvis Presley. It's competent but nothing spectacular. But I think it shows just why Elvis was such a hit with the fans.

Friday, October 8, 2021

One of many movies with "Witness" in the title

In addition to the three free months of the Showtime channels DirecTV gave me, there was a free preview weekend of HBO and Cinemax at the end of September. I recorded Witness, not having seen it in ages, so that I could re-watch it and do a blog post on it. It's got an airing tomorrow at 9:04 AM on Movie Max, and then not another airing for another week and a half.

In the Amish country of Lancaster County, PA, Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) has just become a widow. She's got a young boy named Samuel (Lukas Haas) and lives with her father-in-law. But before getting on with the rest of their lives, the two are going to spend some time to mourn with relatives in Baltimore.

This requires taking a train, and they'll have to switch trains in Philadelphia. Not that the relatively circuitous rote matters to them since they're Amish and time seems to stand still for them. But they're going to have to spend several hours in Philadelphia's train station. Samuel gets the chance to explore a small portion of the big wide world out there, eventually having to go to the bathroom. In the restrooms there's one other guy. But when Samuel steps into the stall to use the toilet, two other men come into the restroom and kill the first guy.

Poor traumatized Samuel, having seen a murder, is now a witness. Mom is deeply unhappy with this fact, but the police do need to talk to him and find out what he knows and if he can make a positive ID. The Philadelphia Police Departments sends in two men, John Book (Harrison Ford) and his partner Carter. The only thing Samuel is able to tell Book is that one of the killers is black like Carter.

When Samuel is taken to the precinct station for further questioning the next day, he does a little more exploring, which sets up a big problem. In one of the trophy cases he sees a press clipping of a narcotics bust led by McFee (Danny Glover). And Samuel recognizes McFee as the black man he saw in the restroom: this murder was an inside job. Further, McFee has figured out that there's a witness, so both Book and the Lapps are in danger. Indeed, McFee is even able to shoot Book, not knowing where the witness is.

So what's the best thing to do to try to keep safe? Take Samuel and Rachel back home for one. But at that point Book passes out from the effects of his gunshot wound, and is forced to convalesce at the Lapps' farmhouse until he can get better and figure out what to do next.

At this point there are some obvious Hollywood tropes such as the culture clash as Book tries to cope with the Amish way of life. There's also the fact that Book and Rachel begin to develop feelings for each other, even though there's no possible way Book could ever live the rest of his life the way the Amish do. And even though there's another Amish guy putting out feelers about being willing to take on fatherly and husbandly duties for Rachel, one Daniel Hochleitner (Alexander Godunov). But underneath all that, you know that McFee and the other crooked cops are going to find Book....

I'm really kind of surprised that Witness got all the Oscar nominations it did, because in rewatching it it didn't seem to me like the sort of movie that the Academy would recognize in the big categories (technical things like Art Direction, sure). That and considering all the tropes in the second half of the movie. But then Witness overcomes all of that, and is with one or two exceptions, an exceptionally well-made movie.

I'd guess that most people who were around in the 1980s would already have seen Witness. But if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #378: School Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're into October, which means that it's that time of the year again when everything switches to a horror theme. (And yes, pumpkin spice foods are a horror, thank you very much.) So every edition of the blogathon this month is horror-related. For this first Monday in October, we have horror related to school. It took a bit, but I came up with three movies:

Black Christmas (1974). Students at a sorority house about to head home for Christmas are getting obscene phone calls. That's bad enough, but then one of the girls go missing. We know there's an intruder who killed her, but the sorority sisters don't. And there are other people in their lives who could be plausible suspects, especially once more of the sisters disappear.

The Fury (1978). Kirk Douglas plays a former CIA agent whose son gets kidnapped. It turns out the son has psychic abilities, and has been taken to a school the CIA has set up just for adolescents with various pyschic powers, run by John Cassavetes. Kirk wants his son back, and another student at the school who wants out (Amy Irving) eventually tries to help him, even though both of their lives will be in danger.

Flatliners (1990). Kiefer Sutherland plays a medical student who wonders if there's an afterlife, and devises a highly unethical experiment to test that hypothesis. This will require help from fellow medical students William Baldwin, Julia Roberts, and Oliver Platt, along with suspended classmate Kevin Bacon. Sutherland's experiment seems a success, and the other members of the group want to try it too, but by the time they do Sutherland realizes he's being harassed by somebody who died and who he saw in his near-death experience.

TCM Star of the Month October 2021: Lucille Ball

Lucile Ball in Du Barry Was a Lady (Oct. 21, 8:00 PM)

Now that we're into the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM. This time out it's Lucille Ball, who was already a Star of the Month at least once considering the piece on her narrated by Carol Burnett that TCM loves to run whenever there's a Lucille Ball movie coming up. But then she made a lot of movies at RKO before decamping to television, and those movies would be in the library that Ted Turner bought which became the backbone of the programming on TCM, which probably still makes it cheaper for TCM to get the rights to those films. At any rate, TCM will be showing Ball's movies every Thursday in prime time, continuing into Friday morning

This first Thursday in October has a bunch of Ball's movies from the 1930s, starting at 8:00 PM with Stage Door, which is definitely worth a watch. Then next week, we get all three of her films with her husband of 20 years, Desi Arnaz, including The Long, Long Trailer (pictured left) at 10:00 PM. The 28th includes some of her later movies, including Yours, Mine, and Ours, which I really enjoy.

Apparently, the "Scary Lucy" statue that had been installed in her home town of Jamestown, NY, was replaced a few years back:

with something more appropriate:

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Beguiled (1971)

Some time back, I picked up a box set of Clint Eastwood movies. (Actually, it's a repackaging of two box sets, one of westerns and one of dramas.) One of the movies I hadn't blogged about before is The Beguiled. Even though it's not really a western, it's going to be on StarzEncore Westerns tomorrow at 5:38 AM and 12:14 PM.

Eastwood is the star, although he's not the first person we meet. Instead, that's little Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin). She's wandering through the forest picking mushrooms, when she comes upon a man who's in terrible shape. That man is Eastwood, playing John McBurney. McBurney is a soldier in the Union Army in the Civil War, and Amy is a student as Miss Farnsworth's Seminary for Young Girls, located somewhere in Louisiana. (Location shooting for The Beguiled was, in fact, done in Louisiana.) This of course is a problem since Louisiana was part of the Confederacy.

Amy, not being certain what to do, takes the wounded solder back to the school, where Miss Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) is none too pleased. Don't you know that it's dangerous to go outside school grounds with a war on and marauding Union soldiers getting closer and closer to the school? With any luck, the Confederate patrollers are going to come along soon and they can all turn McBurney over to the patrollers, who will take McBurney to a POW camp where he'll surely die, if he doesn't die before he gets there.

But then, these are women, and they have moral qualms about being that cruel to a wounded man, even if he's fighting for the other side in a war. Perhaps they can at least deal with his injuries before turning him over to the Confederates. With that in mind, Miss Farnsworth, along with the one other teacher Edwina (Elisabeth Hartman), together with the student body of six and the one slave still staying on, set McBurney up in the music room to convalesce.

Of course, you can probably guess what happens next. Some of the girls are too young to have ever been this close to a man, while the few grownups haven't been around a man in a long time, what with the war on. The closest Miss Farnsworth got was having an older brother. We only see him in flashback, and there's some insinuation that there was an incestuous relationship going on, along with the brother having sex with the slave. No wonder Miss Farnsworth seems to have warped views of sex.

McBurney, for his part, plans to use the women's squabbling over him to his advantage, as he wants to get out of here with his health intact. Or at least as intact as possible considering how badly off he was when little Amy found him. Unfortunately, there's enough conflict between the women that some decide something has to be done about him.

The Beguiled, is an interesting picture from Clint Eastwood, and one that as I said I wouldn't quite call a western. Just because it's the Civil War in a fairly rural place doesn't make it a western. It's more of a straight drama, with some possible tinges of horror, albeit not of the supernatural kind. The entire cast is quite good, and the ending, which I won't reveal, was quite surprising. If you haven't seen The Beguiled before, it's well worth watching.

The Beguiled was remade a few years back, but the listings say it's the Clint Eastwood version. That's something else to note if you're looking for it on DVD or streaming.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

13 West Street

A couple of months back, TCM had a spotlight of "Juvenile Delinquent" pictures. This gave me the chance to catch another one that I hadn't seen before, 13 West Street. It's just gotten a new DVD release as part of an Alan Ladd box set from Mill Creek, so I recently watched it to do a reivew here.

As you can probably guess, Alan Ladd is the star here, although it's one of his final movies and he died suddenly, so he's beginning to look a bit haggard here. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however, considering the character he's playing and what happens to him. Ladd is Walt Sherrill, a rocket scientist living in Southern California with wife Tracey (Dolores Dorn). He's got a fair amount of stress in his life, since this isn't very long after the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space, and NASA really wants that next rocket, so there's a lot of work for Walt to do.

One night he's driving home through what looks like an industrial district. Not having paid attention to his car, he runs out of gas, which means getting out to walk to the nearest gas station and buy a gallon or two. As he's walking down an otherwise deserted street, another car shows up, this one with five teenaged boys who have taken the car for a joyride. For whatever reason, they decide to get out of the car and beat the crap of out Walt!

Walt is unsurprisingly pissed, at least once he begins to recover from the concussion. He somewhat vaguely remembers that one of the boys might have been named Chuck (Michael Callan), and that they may have said something about getting thrown out of a bar. Police detective Sgt. Koleski (Rod Steiger) takes all of this information down, and surprisingly gets to work on the case. Nowadays they'd probably just treat it as a cold case right from the start and get to easier things that allow them to engage in asset forfeiture.

Somehow, Chuck and his friends find out that Walt has been talking to the police. So they decide that they're going to threaten Walt some more, first telephoning him since they got his name and address from the ID his wallet, and then even coming over to the house to harass him more personally. That seems rather stupid, but who ever said petty criminals are smart?

So even though Koleski has continued on with the investigation, Walt decides he's going to do some investigating of his own. His brother-in-law is even the prinicpal of one of the big high schools, and might be able to help with yearbook photos of the various Chucks for Walt to see if he can positively ID any of them.

Of course, Walt gets so obsessive in trying to find his assailants that he starts harassing anybody who looks like they could be a possible match, such as when he tails a car that looked like the one the kids were riding in when they assaulted Walt. Big mistake, since it's the wrong car. The kids read the daily paper, too, and find out about the incident, which only makes life more difficult for Walt.

A lot of reviewers bring up Death Wish when mentioning this movie, and it's understandable why. Of course, this is a full decade before Death Wish, when societal norms hadn't yet broken down so much and there was still a Production Code that had to be followed. Still, 13 West Street isn't a bad little movie.

I do think, however, that you're going to have to going to have to suspend some disbelief. The detective spending days on this one case seemed unrealistic to me, as did the extra harassment or the blurb in the newspaper that the teens just happened to read. I know these are cinematic tropes, but still.

This being a Mill Creek box set, I don't know how good the prints are going to be, but the one or two other Mill Creek sets of Columbia movies I've picked up really aren't that bad for the price point.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Moonfleet

I've said in conjunction with a number of movies that MGM had a lot of gloss that could be used to bring really high production values to a movie. After World War II and outside of the Freed Unit musicals, though, that competence left a lot of movies with something a little off. Another good example of this is Moonfleet.

Jon Whiteley plays John Mohune, an orphan in England in 1757. Apparently his family had come from wealth down in the village Moonfleet in Dorsetshire some generations back, so his mom left him with a letter to look up one man in Moonfleet, one Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger). Moonfleet must have changed, however, since one of the things little John finds upon his arrival to the area is a man who's been hanged for smuggling.

John finds Jeremy at a tavern, and Jeremy is none too pleased to see the arrival of a Mohune. Apparently the people of Moonfleet disliked the Mohunes, who were powerful back in the day but rather cruel. The Mohunes also had something to do with Jeremy's being forced to leave Moonfleet and cross the Atlantic to live in the colonies for some time. Worse for little John is that Jeremy is the head of one of the gangs of smugglers!

Jeremy tries to senf John away, but John escapes from the coach that's taking him away and returns at just the wrong time, while Jeremy is entertaining some important people. The only one who realy takes pity on John is Jeremy's lady friend Mrs. Minton (Viveca Lindfors). As for Jeremy, he'd like to get into a privateering deal with local bigwig Lord Ashwood (George Sanders), but having to schlep this kid around would be a problem.

Meanwhile, everybody in Moonfleet is complaining about ghosts in the graveyard. The reason for that is that the old Mohune crypt under the church, extending out into the graveyard, is where the smugglers meet in secret. Johnny goes into the old family crypt, and finds a silver locket in an ancestor's coffin. What he doesn't know is that the locket contains a piece of paper that holds the clue to finding a large and valuable diamond. Eventually that piece of paper is found and Jeremy is able to put two and two together. But by this time the authorities are on to him.

It goes like this, and since the Production Code was still pretty strong, it's tough to figure out a way that Jeremy is going to get out of all of this without facing justice. And what's going to happen regarding his relationship with John, since everybody else is telling Jeremy to ditch the boy?

I think part of the problem is Moonfleet is that the script seems to go all over the place without really doing enough. The other problem is that the movie is unable to break away from the look of obviously being done on the backlot. Everybody is professional, and there's the kernel of a pretty entertaining movie hiding at the center of it all. But the potential is never reached.

Some boys who are into adventure stories will definitely enjoy Moonfleet, but there's also a lot of adventure that's been done better out there.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Four years before the heat of the night

Jane Fonda was one of the stars in this year's Summer Under the Stars on TCM. That gave me the chance to record the movie In the Cool of the Day, not having done a post on it before. Recently, I watched it to do a post on it here.

Fonda, wearing a God-awful black wig, plays Christine Bonner, a young woman with some sort of chronic health issue with her lungs married to New York-based editor Sam (Arthur Hill). Sam is from a fairly well-to-do background, considering the fashionable Westchester County house his father (Alexander Knox in a brief role) lives in. Coming over to visit for some sort of business is Sam's London-based colleague Murray Logan (Peter Finch). Somehow it gets suggested that Sam and Christine come over to visit and perhaps do some traveling together.

Unfortunately, nobody here has a happy marriage. Christine, as I mentioned, is ill although it doesn't really show until the end of the movie. She feels she needs a meek husband which Sam provides, even if it's not a marriage with much love in it. Murray has marriage difficulties, too, although of a different kind. He and his wife Sybil (Angela Lansbury) had a child together, but the family got in a car accident one evening. The kid died and Sybil was left with scars that she notices even if the rest of us don't. And she blames Murray for it.

So you can probably guess what happens the next time Murray and Christine meet, which is that they begin to develop feelings for each other. Complicating things is the fact that Sam had to stay behind in New York thanks to his father having a health issue. Still, the Logans decide to go forward with their plans for a trip to Greece, with Christine tagging along sans husband. It seems rather awkward to me, but what do I know?

This being a Studio Era movie, it turns out I knew a fair bit. Of course Murray and Christine's feelings for each other are going to deepen, especially when you see that Sybil is increasingly shrews and seems like she doesn't even want to be on this trip at all. Apparently there's somebody out there who doesn't want to see Greece at all.

Eventually Sybil meets another Englishman, Leonard (Nigel Davenport), who is nice to her and she decides to go running off with him to the Riviera, leaving Murray and Christine to see the beautiful sights of Greece alone together. But Sybil also decides she's going to write to everybody and tell her her opinion of what she's seen between Murray and Christine. This ticks off Christine's mother (Constance Cummings) enough that she flies over to Greece to see Christine, who clearly doesn't want to see her mother.

One day Murray and Sybil are preveted from seeing the sights by a rainstorm. This is considered somehow extremely dangerous for Christine's health, for no good reason other than we need her to fall ill for the purpose of the plot. Sure enough the couple drives around in the rain (and not even in a convertible), and disaster ensues.

Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury haven't had anything good to say about In the Cool of the Day, and I can't say that I blame theme. It's a pallid mess of a movie that has a whole lot of nothing going on, feeling like it's overlong even though it runs less than 90 minutes. You especially have to feel for Jane being forced to wear that awful wig for no good reason. There was location shooting on Greece, but the cinematography doesn't look as good as it might have.

In the Cool of the Day is one of those movies to watch only if you're a completist of one of the cast members, or if you want to see how a movie can go badly wrong.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Misery

Another of the more recent movies that I had the chance to record thanks to it showing up in HBO/Cinemax free preview at the end of last month is Misery. I suppose you could say it's not all that recent since it's over 30 years old, and I even saw it when I was in college back in the early 90s. But I recorded it since I saw that it was going to be on multiple times and hadn't blogged about it before. The next airing is tomorrow, Oct. 3, at 6:02 PM on Action Max, with more airings coming up during the week.

James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, author of a popular series of romance novels featuring a character named Misery. He's just finished his newest book, although it's something he wanted to write and not part of the Misery series. Sheldon is one of those superstitious writers who does everything in a particular way. For him, this means going from New York to a secluded mountain resort in Colorado to write; after finishing, he has one cigarette and a glass of Dom Perignon. Then he sets off down the mountain to get back to civilization.

Unfortunately, as he starts off on his journey this time, a blizzard comes in. Driving in the snow can be tough enough, but trying to do it on a twisty mountain road in a 25-year-old car that doesn't have the latest and greatest safety equipment is much more nerve-wracking. As you can probably guess, Sheldon's car goes off the road and into a deep ravine. This being a snowy mountain road, there's a good chance that he won't be found until the spring, if the animals don't get to him first.

However, there is somebody not far down the road, one Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who is even a nurse and has a stash of medical equipment at her house since she lives in the middle of nowhere outside of town. On top of that, she recognizes Paul, since she claims to be his #1 fan, although I'm sure a bunch of people would make the same claim. But she makes certain the local general store owner saves the first copy of the newest Misery book for her.

So while Paul is convalescing, having broken both his legs, Annie reads the latest Misery book that has just come out. What she doesn't realize until she gets to the end is that it's going to be the last book in the series, since Paul has decided to kill Misery off, wanting to write the sort of books he wants instead of what his readers think he should write. Big mistake.

Annie is absolutely pissed that Paul killed off Misery. Worse, she's deranged, having been accused in any number of wrongful deaths at various hospitals -- death seems to follow her wherever she goes, and she's got a scrapbook of all the newspaper stories about it. So Annie decides that she's going to destroy Paul's latest manuscript, which she knows is the only copy -- there's that superstition again -- and force Paul to write a new Misery novel in which Misery absolutely lives. Further, she's going to hold Paul hostage until he does it, since nobody is going to find him until the spring what with the car under all that snow.

Or maybe not so much. The local sheriff covers the are in a helicopter, and the eventually do find Paul's 1965 Mustang, only without him in it for obvious reasons. The sheriff is also smart enough to figure out that the door has been pried open from the outside, which means somebody else must have shown up to get Paul rather than Paul dying out in the elements. The sheriff, understandably, doesn't yet know who might be responsible for all of this.

Paul, meanwhile, doesn't want to be subjected to torture, and wants to figure out a way to get out of his predicament. Part of this involves buying time by writing that Misery book that Annie wants him to write. But at some point he has to finish the book. And the sheriff is bount to put two and two together to figure out Annie's involvement in the case.

As I said at the beginning, I had seen Misery many years ago, but I don't think I'd seen it recently, certainly not in the time that I've been doing the blog. I was surprised at how well I remembered the movie compared to some other movies. But that's because of how good a movie Misery is. There's some definite foreshadowing that's a bit more obvious the second time you watch the movie, but the suspense works, while Bates is excellent as Annie Wilkes. This time around, however, I found myself wondering about the realism of the writing process, as though a writer can just write a novel straight through, without a whole bunch of outlining first and editing along the way.

But that's just a minor quibble. If you want an entertaining suspense movie, Misery is certainly worth the watch.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Heartbreak

I've noticed that I've got a rather higher ratio of more recent movies -- at least if you consider recent as being released after I was born -- on my DVR than older movies. Specifically, I haven't blogged much recently about movies from before 1950. With that in mind, I made a specific point of watching Break of Hearts from Katharine Hepburn's day in Summer Under the Stars to do a post on here.

Hepburn is the female lead, although we don't see her until the second reel or so. The other star is the male lead, orchestra conductor Franz Roberti, played by Charles Boyer. Franz is known to be extremely tough on his musicians, and also for socializing with the sort of high-society woman who atends his concerts. While in New York for a series of concerts, he goes to visit an old friend, Professor Thalma (Jean Hersholt), who teaches music in lives in a rather less glamorous apartment.

Living in the same apartment building is Constance Dane (Katharine Hepburn), who has a love of classical music and has even written a composition for piano that the movie tries to pass off as musical but sounded more contemporary to me. When she stops by to see Thalma, she meets Roberti for the first time.

Constance would love to see one of Roberti's concerts, but when she goes to the box office, she finds that the concerts are all sold out because that's just how popular Roberti is. So she does what any self-respecting lover of classical music would do, which is to sneak in to one of the rehearsals. Roberti is unsurprisingly pissed at first when he discovers Constance in the audience (well, actually, an audience of one). But Constance's explanation is one of those movie tropes that wouldn't work in real life but does in the movies, with Roberti starting a relationship with Constance.

It's a whirlwind romance that leads to the two getting married and going on an extended honeymoon in Europe. They return to New York where Franz will be giving another series of concerts, and the two live happily ever after.

Yeah, right. Constance and a violinist friend, Johnny Lawrence (John Beal) go to have dinner together because Franz is way too busy with rehearsals. Except that he really isn't, as he's seeing another woman, which he was wont to do in his pre-marriage days. Doing it once you've gotten married, however, is much worse, certainly by the standards of 1930s movies.

At this point, the movie really veers into melodrama. Constance obtains a divorce and to support herself, gets a job as an accompanist at one of those Tin Pan Alley publishing companies. Here, she learns that unfortunately she doesn't quite have the talent to be a professional musician. Roberti turns to drink and reaches the point that it's going to derail his conducting career. The only thing that can save him is the love of a good woman like Constance.

It's easy to see from the second half why anybody might have a scathing review of Break of Hearts. Oh my does it become sappy. Boyer and Hepburn both do the best they can with the material they're given, although considering some of the lines Hepburn has, you can be forgiven for thinking the suits at RKO looked at her Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory and tried to recreate it.

Other people, however, may like this sort of melodrama, in which case they'll probably enjoy Break of Hearts. It's certainly not bad; it just very much fits a certain genre that to me also has the problem of appearing dated. It's definitely not going to be for everybody.

Briefs for the beginning of October, 2021

Ah, so we're into the beginning of a new month. Tht being October, it's the month where Halloween comes at the end. So, unsurprisingly, everybody trots out the horror stuff, and TCM is no exception. They've got a bunch of horror movies peppered throughout the month's schedule, although it climaxes on the weekend of Halloween, October 31 being a Sunday this year. TCM is having a horror marathon starting on the morning of the 29th. However, there are already a bunch of horror films from the 1930s this morning and afternoon.

I watched a couple of shorts recently, most of them unfortunately not being listed on the TCM schedule since the redesign last year. One was a Crime Does Not Pay short, They're Always Caught. If this one seems familiar to you, it's probably because the movie was extended into B-movie length a few years later as Kid Glove Killer, a little Van Heflin B movie that I absolutely love, about CSI as it was 80 years ago.

The other short was Olive Oyl for President, a Popeye short running in the 10:00 AM Saturday portion of the Saturday matinee block. Popeye makes a disparaging remark to Olive about politics, and she responds by concussing him with a frying pan. Popeye has a dream sequence about Olive being elected President. Some may find the dated policies sexist, although I was more reminded of the Simpsons where Homer becomes sanitation commissioner and institutes trash collection policies so extravagant he bankrupts the city. More importantly, however, is that the cartoon ended before the time scheduled for the start of the next B movie; I think they're going through the Perry Mason movies right now. But that started immediately after the cartoon, so if you were trying to record just the B-movie, you missed the start.

If you missed The Innocents which had a TCM airing today as part of their 24 hour salute to the centenary of actress Deborah Kerr, don't worry: it's going to be on FXM again today at 11:25 AM, and tomorrow at 3:00 AM.

As for recent passings, I probably should have mentioned director Melvin Van Peebles, who died a week ago at the age of 89. Mevlin directed such notable blaxploitation movies as Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and was the father of Mario Van Peebles, who also became a director of such movies as New Jack City.

There's also Tommy Kirk, a Disney child star who's probably best remembered for his role in Old Yeller. Kirk was 79.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #377: Non-English TV

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're at the last Thursday of the month again, which means that it's time for another TV-themed edition of the blogathon. Once again, the theme is foreign-language TV, which is something I always have to think about because I don't watch much episodic TV. Once again, I went for the competition show route:

Der Große Preis. Long-running (in both senses of the word) German quiz show that seemed to be no more about the quiz as about what musical acts they could put in between questions.

The Cube (Ukraine). Originally a British show, this one asks contestants to perform progressively more difficult feats inside a cube. I found a Ukrainian version for your viewing pleasure. It took a long time for this one to come to the US because we had to suffer through the dreadful Minute to Win It first.

Exathlon. Originally a Brazilian show, this one pits two teams of the 2020 standard of Conventionally Beautiful and Fit People: one a group of Z-listers and the other being otherwise regular people who would like to become Z-listers themselves in a series of obstacle course-style challenges that eventually result in progressive elimination.