Monday, July 26, 2021

Fight Club

It may be hard to believe, but it's been over 20 years since the release of the movie Flight Club I recorded it during one or another of the free preview weekends, never having blogged about it before; recently, I finally got around to watching it to free up some space on my DVR.

Edward Norton plays the technically unnamed Narrator, although some sources refer to him as Jack because the character finds "I Am Jack's [insert body part here]" articles from old Reader's Digest magazines and keeps using the phrase. Our Narrator lives in a high-rise condo in a big city where he works preparing reports on potential automotive recalls for a car manufacturer. It's a job he finds empty, so he goes to a whole bunch of support groups for problems he doesn't have to try to deal with his emotional emptiness. It's at one of these where he meets Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), who is also empty and goes to the support groups for the same reasons.

Our Narrator's job requires him to travel around the country, taking one flight after another, which is equally disorienting. It's on one of these flights that he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who is one of those kids from high school who seems profound but who has never grown up and is now just tedious and inane. But to somebody who feels his existence is empty, like the Narrator, he thinks about the faux profundity. So when his condo is blown up, the Narrator calls Tyler.

Tyler lives in an abandoned house, where he allegedly runs an artisanal soap company out of the basement. The two go out to a bar to get some drinks, and after one of these evenings, the two decide to fight in the parking lot in the rear. It's exhilarating for our narrator, and slowly, word gets out about what's going on, leading Tyler and the Narrator to start a "Fight Club" in the basement of the bar. This taps into a lot of men's feelings of emptiness, not just the Narrator's, and the club becomes increasinly popular, even though as Tyler says, the first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club.

Tyler becomes increasingly erratic in the Narrator's eyes, worrying him as Tyler decides he's going to start a project called Project Mayhem which is a grandiose plan for dealing with what Tyler and the Narrator both see as the increasing commercialization and indebtedness of modern American society. Our Narrator also finds that Project Mayhem is putting a crimp in the friendship between him and Tyler. But he's also finding that it's quite difficult to do anything to put a stop to Tyler's actions.

Although the movie is called Fight Club, it's really not about the fighting, which is just a metaphor for doing something completely out of character as a way of trying to change one's life and get out of a rut. That, and all of the faux profundity, make it easy to understand why the movie would have struck a chord with a certain segment of society. At the same time, however, the movie could easily be perceived as baffling, especially if you're not the sort of person who feels the sort of alienation that the Narrator does and who would find a real-life Tyler Durden nothing more than a pretentious little shit who needs to be smacked upside the head in a non-underground fighting sort of way.

I have to admit that I'm at the age where I wouldn't buy in to Tyler's nonsense, so I don't have quite the positivity towards it that twentysomethings even today might have. However, I can see why it would have struck a chord in the zeitgeist, and for that reason it's absolutely worth seeing, even if you're not the sort of person the movie is targeting.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Dancing with the Mice

Some months back TCM had a spotlight on child stars a couple of months back, which gave them a chance to highlight Dean Stockwell's appearance in Anchors Aweigh. Never having done a post on it before, I decided to DVR it so I could watch and do a post on it.

Stockwell, of course, is not the star, although his character is a key driver of the plot. The stars are Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. They play Joe and Clarene respectively, a couple of guys who have become best friends while in the navy in World War II; indeed, Joe even saved Clarence's life, so, after a musical number with MGM's bandleader José Iturbi (playing himself), Joe and Clarence get four days' shore leave.

Joe plans to go up to Los Angeles to see his girlfriend Lola (although we never meet her), while Clarence tags along hoping for some advice on how to deal with girls because he's really quite shy. But first they meet little Dean Stockwell, who's clearly not a girl and clearly too young to be romanced. Instead, he's Donald Martin, a young boy who wants to join the Navy to do his part for the war effort, his parents apparently having died. His home is now with his aunt Susan (Kathryn Grayson).

As you can guess, Susan is going to become the romantic lead. She works sometimes as a film extra, and in the evenings as a singer at a local Mexican-themed restaurant/nightclub. But her real dream is to be a singer in the movies, and if she can just get an audition with José Iturbi, she knows she'll be a big hit. Joe claims that Clarence will be able to get Susan that audition, and much of the movie deals with Joe and Clarence trying to meet Iturbi to get that audition for her.

The second part of the movie has to do with the various romantic entanglements. Clarence falls in love with Susan, but then at the restaurant where she sings she meets he meets a waitress who, like Clarence, is also from Brooklyn (Pamela Britton), hence the nickname Brooklyn. Clarence falls in love with her, which is going to make breaking off the relationship with Susan tough. Except that by this time, Joe has fallen in love with Susan, and he's worried about how to let Clarence know that he's going to lose Susan to Joe.

The third main theme of the movie is the musical numbers that have little to do with the plot. The most famous of these is the highlight of the movie, a scene in which Gene Kelly dances with Jerry, MGM's cartoon mouse. The framing for this is Joe telling little Donald and his classmates a story about a joyless king (Jerry) who has banned dancing in the kingdom, and how Joe taught Jerry to love dancing. In fact, of course, the scene has little to do with the rest of the plot of the movie.

And if there's a problem with the movie, it's the massive number of song and dance numbers that bloat the movie's running time to 140 minutes. Sure, we go to a Gene Kelly movie to see him dance, and go to a Frank Sinatra movie to see him sing. But there's so much of both here that it keeps bringing the movie to a halt. The plot is also little more than serviceable, so serviceable in fact that it's been used in service of lots of movies. Plotwise, there's nothing original here.

That's not to say I wouldn't recommend the movie. It's more that I would recommend other things first; Singin' in the Rain for example has a top-notch plot with most of the musical numbers fitting in reasonably well. Add in Sinatra and On the Town is better, and shorter. People who like Gene Kelly and/or Sinatra, however, will definitely love Anchors Aweigh.

Briefs for July 25-26, 2021

TCM's Silent Sunday Nights block for tonight lists three shorts all of them a little over 20 minutes. TCM has each of them starting 40 minutes apart, while TitanTV has the first two in 20-minute blocks and the last in an 80-minute block. Clearly this is wrong if the actual running times for the movies are correct. (IMDb doesn't have a running time for the first one, Just a Good Guy. My DirecTV box simply lists "Movie" in a two-hour slot.

Speaking of looking up the running times on IMDb, IMDb's drop-down search box is increasingly irritating. In theory, you enter a title and IMDb will give you matches without having to click through. But I've found that it often gives me popular movies that are near matches without giving me the actual movie I'm looking for. Today, I was looking of the running time of the second Silent Sunday Night short, titled Charley My Boy!, and got... "No results found", until I clicked through, where it was the first title. Every time web-sites change their design to make things easier for people using tiny touch screens, it seems not to break just the design for people on desktop computers, but basic functionality.

The theme for the most recent Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was "Summer Break", and the Monday morning and afternoon lineup on TCM is, if not summer breaks, hot summer places. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with an interesting little programmer that doesn't get seen enough, Heat Lightning, which I blogged about just over a decade ago. Hot Summer Night, with Leslie Nielsen in one of his dramatic roles, follows at 7:15 AM.

One of the movies I mentioned briefly last Thursday, having used it already in a different edition of the blogathon, was Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. That's a Fox movie, and wouldn't you know, but it's on tomorrow, at 6:00 AM up against Heat Lightning. Right now, the showing tomorrow is the only showing TitanTV lists in the next two weeks.

According to Wikipedia, today is the birthday of sometime TCM special programming host and granddaughter of an Oscar-winner, Illeana Douglas (granddaughter of Melvin). Illeana turns 56. Happy birthday to her!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

I don't think Hitchcock ever had a ditzy blonde

Last summer during Summer Under the Stars, TCM had a day of the films of Goldie Hawn, of which I recorded several, which I've blogged about over the past year. I think the last of the films I recorded is Foul Play, which I recently watched.

The movie starts off with a killing, as a priest who's living pretty comfortably decides to sit down for an evening of relaxation, only to get stabbed to death. We then cut to a party someplace just outside San Francisco, where librarian Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn) is. She's going to be a bridesmaid to the woman giving the party, but she herself is divorced and not so certain about getting back into the dating scene. She's happier right now living alone in her apartment with kindly landlord Hennessey (Burgess Meredith) and his big snake Esme on the ground floor.

On the way home, Gloria passes by a man whose radiator has busted, and needs a ride back to San Francisco. It turns out that the man, Scott (Bruce Solomon), is being chased because he has some secret evidence that the people following him want. He slips the evidence into Gloria's purse, and asks her for a date at a revival movie house to get that evidence back, not that he told her about it. However, he shows up late to the movie, and when he's finally there, he gets stabbed to death! Gloria tries to tell the managment about it, but somebody was able to get the body out of the theater with nobody seeing it.

However, these people did see Gloria, and they, in the form of an albino and a man called the Turk, start chasing her. Gloria is again able to escape, this time with some help from kinky Stanley Tibbets (Dudley Moore). But that's not good enough, as she gets back to her apartment where she's assaulted again, stabbing her assailant with a knitting needle although she doesn't kill him the way she thinks she does. Instead the albino does and takes the body away.

This time, however, Gloria has called the police, who show up in the form of Lt. Carlson (Chevy Chase), whom she had already met back at that engagement party, and his partner Fergie (Brian Dennehy). You'd think they'd find some strange blood as well as the evidence that Scottie had passed to her, but apparently not. Finally, after getting kidnapped, Gloria is able to convince the police that something bad is really happening.

This all ties back to the murder that we saw at the beginning of the movie. The victim was the Archbishop of San Francisco, who just happens to have an identical twin brother, Thorncrest (Eugene Roche). He and his partner-in-crime, Gerda (Rachel Roberts), are radicals who believe that organized religion shouldn't have tax-exempt status. Their ultimate plan is to assassinate Pope Pius XIII as he's sitting at the opera as part of his state visit to America. But can Gloria and Lt. Carlson stop this fiendish plot in time?

If you've been reading carefully, and as you watch, you'll probably notice a whole bunch of things that look a lot like homages to various Alfred Hitchcock movies, although this was done after Hitch's retirement. The more obvious relationships are to both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much, as well as Grace Kelly using a pair of scissors to kill her assailant in Dial M For Murder. But there's a lot more going on in Foul Play.

Most of the first two-thirds of Foul Play are serious in the same vein as Hitchcock, with some comic relief in the form of the Dudley Moore character (and the dark humor of a game of Scrabble). But the final third turns into something that's over-the-top zany and comic, and not just Hitchcockian dark humor. That having been said, this sort of zany humor works in Foul Play, in no small part thanks to the comic talents of Hawn and Chase. Using the hills of San Francisco for a car chase has been done to death and is done again here, but works well, helped out by some Japanese tourists who, well, you have to see for yourself.

Foul Play, while taking its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, isn't quite as good as the master's work. But taken on its own, it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Robin and Marian

I'm sure most people know the traditional Robin Hood story about how Robin and his merry men hid out in Sherwood Forest and stole from the rich to give to the poor. Even more so, the Errol Flynn Adventures of Robin Hood has probably shaped people's perception of the legend, even among people who have never seen that movie. A much different look at Robin Hood comes in the movie Robin and Marian.

Sean Connery plays Robin, who after getting Marian away from Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, decides to leave her off to the side for a bit while he goes off and fights the Crusades together with Richard the Lionhearted. That "bit" turns out to be a good decade or more, during whch time Richard (Richard Harris) dies in France, making his brother John (Ian Holm) the new king. This leads Robin to go back to Nottingham.

Robin and his best friend Little John (Nicol Williamson) meet Will Scarlett (Denholm Elliott) and Friar Tuck (Ronnie Barker), and learn from them that Nottingham hasn't changed much, what with the old Sheriff (Robert Shaw) still being just as nasty and dictatorial as ever. Robin wants to see Marian (Audrey Hepburn), who is in Kirkley, so it's off to Kirkley.

Kirkley, however, is an abbey, and Marian is the prioress, more or less, leading a group of nuns. The way she sees it, Robin left and never came back, and she never received any word from him, so as far as she knew he was dead. So what else was she supposed to do. Worse is that the Sheriff is looking to arrest Marian for, well, reasons that aren't particularly well explained as far as I coud tell.

That's bad enough, but worse for Robin is that Marian plans on letting herself be taken peacefully by the sheriff, probably because that might let the other nuns get on with the business of surviving at the abbey. If she doesn't go, the sheriff is probably perfectly willing to burn the whole place down to punish Marian. Robin, however, isn't having any of this, and decides he's going to take Marian into Sherwood Forest if he can.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse between the aging Robert and Sheriff, with King John being aghast at the rebellion up in the North even though he's planning to invade France again. John, for his part, would rather partkake in pleasure if he can instead of fighting all these battles. And the Sheriff sees his own chance to carve out some power for himself.

Robin and Marian is an interesting take on the legends, with the ingenious idea of recognizing that everybody gets old if they don't die young; however, a lot of people don't want to admit that they're getting older. Most certainly, Robin and the Sheriff don't want to admit this, as we can see when the two agree to have a one-on-one combat to determine who will win the battle. It's brutal but also not particularly well-fought compared to the swashbuckling we see from Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Of course, it's supposed to be poorly-fought, since these two guys are past their primes.

Sean Connery gives a very good performance as Robin, while Audrey Hepburn is even better as Marian. But all of the supporting players are also quite good and deftly impart the film's elegiac tone. Robin and Marian isn't the adventure film people who want adventure films might expect, but again, that's the whole point, and in getting that point across, it succeeds wildly.

Younger viewers may not care for Robin and Marian, but I think more mature film fans definitely will.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #367: Summer Break

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. The theme this week is "Summer Break", which I suppose is reasonable for the middle of the summer, at least for us in the northern hemisphere. This is more or less a theme that was done in July 2017, and unsurprisingly I found that two of my selections back then are movies I was thinking of using this time around: Mr. Hulot's Holiday and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. So I had to think of some other movies instead:

Having Wonderful Time (1938). Ginger Rogers plays a working girl from New York who takes a trip up to one of the non-Jewish Borscht Belt resorts in the Catskills, where she meets waiter Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and the two fall in love. Jack Carson plays Ginger's would-be boyfriend back in the city, while Lucille Ball is one of Ginger's housemates at the resort.

A Summer Place (1959). Arthur Kennedy and Dorothy McGuire, together with son Troy Donahue, live in an old house turned into a resort on an island off the coast of Maine, when family Constance Ford, Richard Egan, and Sandra Dee come to visit for the summer. McGuire and Egan had had a torrid affair 20 years earlier, while Donahue and Dee fall hard for each other, which is a problem since Dee's mom Ford is one of the iciest most controlling mothers in Studio Hollywood history. It gets more over the top, and 50s steamy from there. Oh, and there's that theme that was a huge hit back in the day.

The Vanishing (1988). A young Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia, go on vacation in France. But at one of the service stations the two get out to do their own thing, and Saskia never shows up again. Rex obsesses over what might have happened to Saskia, until he hears from Raymond, who might know something about the case. But how far will Rex go to get that information? Remade, rather palely, by Hollywood in the 1990s.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Quigley Down Under

Tom Selleck was quite popular on Magnum, PI back in the 1980s, but for whatever reason he nevr got that many good movie parts. One of the best would be in Quigley Down Under.

Selleck plays Matthew Quigley, who at the start of the movie is getting off a boat in Fremantle, Australia (the port city for Perth on Australia's west coast) in the late 19th century. As he's getting off the boat, there's another American dubbed Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo) who is being harassed, so Quigley defends her. The thanks he gets is that Cora keeps calling him "Roy". Also thankless is the fact that the people who were harassing Cora are working for the man who's hiring Quigley, a ranch owner named Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman), they not realizing this is the man they're supposed to pick up.

Quigley is down in Australia because he needed to get away from whatever about the American West made him uncomfortable, and because he's got a skill Marston can use. Marston had taken out newspaper ads for a marksman, and boy is Quigley a good one. He, like Lucas McCain, has a modified rifle that, in Quigley's case, allows him to shoot highly accurately at distances over a half mile, which is pretty amazing for the late 1800s. You can imagine the sort of vermin in the Australian outback that might be a threat to a sheep rancher.

However, Quigley finds out over dinner with Marston that those aren't the vermin Marston has in mind. Instead, the Australian government has a policy of "pacification" regarding the Aborigines, with ranchers allowed to pacify them by any appropriate measures. For Marston, this means exterminating them. However, they've learned to stay out of range of traditional pistols and rifles, which is why he wants a sharpshooter who can shoot at extreme range.

If Quigly was displeased with what he saw in America, you can only imagine how he's going to react to this. First he throws Marston out of his own house through the front door, and when Marston comes back in, throws him out a second time. Quigley is badly outnumbered however, as nobody else seems to have a problem with exterminating the Aborigines. So they concuss him, drag him out to the middle of nowhere, and leave him and Cora to die.

However, the men assigned that job made one mistake. Quigley had been promised £50 in gold coins, a substantial sum in those days, and the men who left Quigley for dead didn't think to take that money. So Quigley appeals to their greed, and is able to stab one of the two while getting his hands on his rifle to shoot the other one.

What follows next is a mix of a whole bunch of movies, like the Robert Ryan Inferno, or Walkabout or The African Queen, albeit on dry land, as Quigley and Cora try to escape and survive while falling in love along the way. It's a predictable formula, but one that works well, which is probably it's been used so many times in the movies. Selleck, despite his facial hair being styled to ridiculous levels, fits the role easily, while San Giacomo is good as a woman with a past. Rickman wasn't too far removed from Die Hard, and is unsurprisingly good as a nasty villain.

But what really surprised me about Quigley Down Under is how dark it was. For some reason, probably because of Tom Selleck in the lead role, I thought it would be a fairly light, if not outright comic, western. Sure there's some comic relief, mostly having to do with Quigley constantly being called "Roy", but for the most part the movie isn't light at all, being particularly unflinching in its depiction of the treatment of Aborigines.

Quigley Down Under is currently in the rotation on one of the commercial cable channels, but it's also on DVD the last I checked.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Party Girl

Cyd Charisse was TCM's Star of the Month back in June. She is of course known more for her dancing, although she did essay a couple of serious roles. One of those that I hadn't blogged about before is Party Girl. As an MGM movie, it's on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I recently sat down to watch it.

Charisse is the title character, although I don't think she's really the main character. That would be the character played by Robert Taylor: Tommy Farrell, a lawyer in Chicago in the early 1930s. He's working for gangster Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb), basically working to make certain that Rico and his associates stay out of prison. One of those associates is Louis Canetto (John Ireland), who stands trial but whom Tommy defends with some theatrics in the court, so you get an idea of precisely the sort of lawyer Tommy is.

Charisse plays Vicki Gaye, a showgirl in the show at a nightclub owned by Rico. Rico is giving a party, so he hires some of the showgirls to be guests at the party, and Vicki is one of those paid attendees. That's how she meets Tommy. When Tommy points out that being paid to be an escort isn't exactly work to be proud of, Vicki responds that what Tommy does isn't really any different, it's just that he's got high-class degrees behind his work. It's the start of a friendship between the two, although Tommy can never marry Vicki because he's got a wife who won't grant him a divorce.

At any rate, all of this gives Tommy the idea of going straight. One thing he can do is finally get his hip fixed. He's suffered from a limp since childhood thanks to a childhood injury, and getting that hip fixed will take him all the way to Stockholm, which also means getting out of Chicago for a while.

But even on his sojourn to Europe, Tommy can't get away from Rico. Another young hoodlum, Cookie La Motte (Corey Allen) is arrested and faces execution, and Rico wants Tommy to be the defense attorney again. Tommy reluctantly accepts mostly because of the power Rico also has over Vicki. But Cookie, being too aggressive for his own good, escapes to Indiana after one of the jurors is bribed.

Tommy goes to Indiana to talk to Cookie and try to get Cookie to do the right thing, but somebody else responds by pointing a machine gun through the curtains and knocking off Cookie and some of his associates; Tommy survives. It's just the start of a gang war in which a whole bunch of people get killed. This gets the state led by ambitious prosecuting attorney Jeff Stewart (Kent Smith) involved, and holding both Tommy and Vicki on charges.

Rico is still behind the scenes using veiled threats against Vicki to keep Tommy from talking, while Stewart tries whatever he can to get either Tommy or Vicki to talk It all leads to the climactic shootout and the Production Code-approved ending.

I didn't realize going in that Party Girl was directed by Nicholas Ray. I didn't notice his style to the extent that a lot of other reviewers have. Instead, I saw something that was fairly typical for MGM, which was trying to take tough material only to see it softened because MGM just somehow couldn't keep its gloss from rubbing off on everything. It works for some types of movies, but it's not what Party Girl needs.

That's not to say that Party Girl is a bad movie, however. It's eminently watchable despite the two male leads both having somewhat limited ranges. Cobb is given a mobster role that's perfect for him, however, so he does just fine. Taylor tries his best and isn't bad, but you wonder what an actor who had the chops to play such a conflicted character -- somebody like a Gregory Peck -- could do here. The Metrocolor helps the dance sequences although it's not necessary for the rest of the movie.

Party Girl is a movie with imperfections, but one of those movies where it's the imperfections that make the movie more interesting.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Not to be confused with Baby Rose Marie

Another of the movies that I recorded during one of the free preview weekends and had never blogged about before is Rosemary's Baby. It's going to be on The Movie Channel Xtra tomorrow at 9:30 PM, and again a few more times the rest of the week. So, as always, seeing that, I made it a point to watch now to do a post on it.

Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) is a young wife married to actor Guy (John Cassavetes) in New York. They're moving into a new apartment that they were able to afford after the last tenant, an elderly woman, had to leave with dementia or something. Heck, she even put a secretary in front of a closet, that's how crazy she was. It's seems like a relatively nice apartment, although I personally though it looked like it was beginning to show its age. But that's not the point of the movie.

The Woodhouses live next to an elderly couple, the Castevets: Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), a seemingly slightly bohemian couple who have taken in a young woman to help her, named Terry. Rosemary meets Terry down in the basement of the building while the two are doing their laundry, and the two become fast friends.

It's not a particularly long friendship, however, as Terry kills herself by jumping out a window. She was a drug addict anyway, so what are you going to do. Good news is on the horizon, however, as Rosemary gets pregnant, which she's always wanted to do. And the Castevets are nice enough to get the Woodhouses an in with the best obstetrician in town, Dr. Sapirstein (a bearded Ralph Bellamy).

But things start to go sour again. Rosemary starts suffering pains that she's convinced aren't the normal pains of pregnancy, as they just won't go away. And the Castevets are getting a little too involved in Rosemary and Guy's lives, saying that Dr. Sapirstein asked them to make up some herbal/vitamin concoction that, being natural, will be better than those pills. Rosemary just wants one night where she can have her own friends back around her.

One of the Woodhouses' old friends before meeting the Castevets was Hutch (Maurice Evans). He's got something he desperately needs to see Rosemary about. But the next day, when the two are supposed to meet, he never shows up. Apparently he suffered some sort of medical issue that left him in a coma and ultimately killed him. But his last request was that one of his books be given to Rosemary.

That book is a book on witchcraft, and after reading it, Rosemary gets the distinct feeling that the Castevets are actually witches, and they might have less than good intentions for the baby. Of course, she can't get Guy to believe her, and there's no way she'd confront the Castevets directly. She can't even trust Dr. Sapirstein.

But are the Castevets actually witches? The answer to that will be revealed in the final reel. And that's where the beauty of Rosemary's Baby lies. To me, the movie is a throwback to the old Val Lewton style of horror where instead of showing all sorts of gore and violence, the scary things are what you conjure up in your own mind. For the most part, it works stunningly well here.

The movie is also helped by good performances from almost everybody, down to smaller roles from people like Elisha Cook Jr. as their new landlord or Charles Grodin as Rosemary's preferred obstetrician. The one thing that I personally didn't find quite so effective were the dream sequences, but they're the sort of thing where I understand why they're in the movie.

Rosemary's Baby is one of those movies like Soylent Green or The Stepford Wives where you've probably heard what it's about before actually seeing the movie. But even then, the movie still definitely deserves to be seen.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Berlin Correspondent

Another of the movies that recently started showing up in the FXM lineup that I hadn't seen before is Berlin Correspondent. It's got another airing tomorrow morning at 4:40 AM, so I sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

A very young, and surprisingly mustachioed Dana Andrews plays Bill Roberts. He's an American radio correspondent in Berlin in November 1941. If you know your American history, this is about a week and a half before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, based on Bill's comments about Thanksgiving. Bill's Nazi minders make certain that Bill only gives out the propaganda that the Nazis want out there, but in fact Bill is able to get more out, by using coded language that would sound perfectly normal to an unsuspecting listener.

The Nazis quickly realize that somebody is getting secret information out to the west, and since Bill is a foreigner in Berlin, he's somebody that the Nazis are keeping their eye on anyway. They've got a private eye-type who's really working for the Gestapo tailing Bill, but he's one of thoes preternaturally stupid Nazis that populated Hollywood propaganda films during World War II. So Gestapo officer Capt. von Rau (Martin Kosleck) comes up with an idea. He'll have his girlfriend Karen Hauen (Virginia Gilmore) tail Bill and make his acquaintance. Bill will never suspect a woman who's never done intelligence work before.

Capt. von Rau is correct. Bill goes to a dealer in old stamps who just happens to be Karen's father (Erwin Kaiser). The stamps that Mr. Hauen sells to Bill have secret coded messages on the back written in invisible ink that only shows up under strong lights. Again, it's something that normal people wouldn't expect, but but Karen isn't stupid and figures things out. She doesn't realize at first that her father is in on the plot.

So the Nazis arrest Mr. Hauen and, to make getting rid of him easier, send him to an "insane asylum" run by Dr. Dietrich (Sig Ruman). Bill is somehow able to disguise himself as a Nazi psychiatrist working in Hitler's inner circle, which gets him into the facility, and able to free Mr. Hauen. However, Bill has to use his own passport to get Hauen out of the country to Switzerland, which poses serious problems.

Unsurprisingly, Capt. von Rau figures out right away what's happened, and has Bill rounded up and sent to an internment camp for foreigners, something that's easier considering that December 7 has come and the attack on Pearl Harbor has happened. By now Karen's decided that she doesn't want to marry von Rau after what he's done to her father and to nice Bill -- and one can guess that Karen's fallen in love with Bill. Capt. von Rau makes an agreement with Karen that he'll let Bill "escape" if she'll marry him (ie. von Rau). But it would take an idiot not to see that von Rau is lying through his teeth.

Berlin Correspondent is another of those movies with all sorts of plot holes, mostly revolving around the requirement that the Nazis we see have to be so stupid that it's a wonder how they were ever able to come to power, much less bambooze the west into giving up everything they did before Sept. 1939. But for all that obvious propaganda, Berlin Correspondent is actually an excellent example of the sort of B propaganda movie the Hollywood studios were churning out as part of the war effort to keep morale up on the home front. Andrews already shows promise, while Kosleck is good and Ruman provides the comic relief.

Berlin Correspondent is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but as an example of the genre it inhabits, it's a very good example.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Road to Singapore (1940)

Some time back, after buying a box set of the movies of William Powell at Warner Bros., I did a post on an early Powell movie called The Road to Singapore. Of course, there's a much more famous movie with the title Road to Singapore, which is on the Bob Hope box set that I picked up a year or so ago. Recently, I put that DVD in the player and watched the movie.

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope play Josh Mallon and Ace Hannigan respectively. At the start of the movie they're sailors getting back to San Francisco from a voyage. Some strangers come in and approach Ace, asking him about a woman named Cherry. We never meet Cherry, but apparently something happened that caused her to think that confirmed bachelor Ace was going to marry her. So he and Josh start a diversion to escape.

Josh is a confirmed bachelor too, but he's got a bigger problem. He's actually Josh Mallon V, the son of Joshua Mallon IV (Charles Coburn). Joshua IV is the head of the Mallon shipping lines, and it seems (not stated in the movie) that he has the policy of putting his son in the grunt work to learn how the whole business works, before Joshua V takes over. Joshua is also supposed to get married to Gloria Wycott (Judith Barrett), but he has no desire to do this.

After Joshua's engagment party goes bad, he and Ace decide that the best thing to do is to escape the United States. So they hope on a boat and head across the Pacific Ocean, presumably for Singapore as the title says. But they don't make it that far, instead getting off on the island of Kaigun somewhere south of Indonesia.

There, the two meet Mima (Dorothy Lamour), who immediately moves in with them as some sort of housekeeper, in order to get away from her brutal would-be boyfriend Caesar (a young Anthony Quinn); together the two had been doing a nightclub act. Both Ace and Josh pretty quickly fall in love with Mima, although as you can guess there are going to be all sorts of complications along the way.

This is the first of the "Road" movies, and it doesn't seem as though the producers at Paramount had expected this movie to be successful and spawn the entire "Road" series as there's none of the breaking of the fourth wall here that there is in later movies. The movie still works quite well, however, as Hope and Crosby have excellent chemistry together, with Lamour being the very appealing woman for them to have a not-quite rivalry over.

If there was a flaw for me, it was the amount of musical numbers, which seemed quite high. I'm not the biggest fan of Bing Crosby's singing, but I'm sure that other people who like that sort of vocal styling won't mind the musical numbers. There was also a plot hole for me based on Ace's not having a passport. One wonders where he was sailing to be away for months but not be out of the United States.

Still, if you haven't seen any of the "Road" movies, Road to Singapore being the first isn't a bad place to start.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Not quite Ace of Base

Over the Memorial Day weekend, TCM ran a bunch of military-themed movies, as always. One that I hadn't blogged about before i Ace of Aces, so I recorded it and sat down to watch recently.

Richard Dix plays Rex Thorne, an artist in 1917 who's in love with the daughter of a fairly well-to-do family, Nancy Adams (Elizabeth Allan). This being 1917, you know that the US is about to get dragged into World War I, although of course at the time the movie ws released in 1933 the war was only known as the Great War because World War II was still several years away.

For no good reason, everybody immediately gets filled with patriotic fervor, or at least the desire to fight in a war a continent away that doesn't really seem to be any of the US's business. The only one who doesn't want to fight is Rex, leading Nancy to break off their engagement as she goes off to Europe to be a nurse.

Rex, embittered by this, decides that he's going to volunteer to become a flyboy, even though there's no evidence that he had any ability to fly before the war, and he arrives fairly late in the game considering how many Americans are already there, commanded by Capt. Blake (Ralph Bellamy), who gets a promotion to Major by the end of the movie.

After some training not shown in the movie, Rex, now christened with the nickname Rocky, gets to go up with one of the squadrons and fight the Germans. At first, he can't bring himself to shoot, but this quickly changes, and Rex finds that he gets a taste for blood. A taste that frightens everybody else, as he wants to go up on patrol alone, even though this seems rather dangerous and ill-advised.

Rex meets Nancy while on leave in Paris, and isn't so sure he likes her any more as the fighting experience has changed him. The war seems to have changed Nancy less, and she just wants Rex to love her.

I'm sorry that this is a rather brief review, but Ace of Aces is a movie that just doesn't have a whole lot to discuss. It's an old formula, and more or less works even though other movies have done it better. Dix is frankly too old for the role, and if you think too hard you'll find a lot of plot holes. So don't think too hard and just sit back and enjoy.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Squad Car

FXM runs the movies they run in heavy rotation, but as I've said in the past they at least seem to change the rotation on a regular enough basis. One of the new-to-me movies that got added to the rotation recently is Squad Car. It's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 9:25, and then again early Saturday at 4:55 AM.

The movie starts off with a man working late at an airfield, when another man whom we only see from the knees down shows up, obviously stalking the first man for no good. The first man is a fairly stupid victim, since instead of trying to get away by driving off in his car or some such, he tries to make a panicked phone call instead, getting shot -- with a tommy gun, no less -- for his trouble.

The dead man was working for Jay Reinhart (Don Marlowe), who runs a crop-dusting service in the Phoenix area back when it only had about 15% of the population it does today. Obviously, the police, led by Lt. Beck (Paul Bryar), would like to get whatever information they can from Reinhart. He has an alibi, in that he was with his girlfriend Jeanne (Lynn Moore), although as we learn later, this is a lie and Jeanne is covering up for Jeanne in that regard.

One other person is an obvious person to ask for information, that being the dead man's girlfriend, nightclub singer Cameo Kincaid (Vici Raaf). The police detective asks himself why a stereotypical blonde bombshell-type singer would go for a mechanic in an airfield hangar, and figures something doesn't add up, but has no idea what.

On a different case in the Phoenix area is the Secret Service. As you'll recall, in the days before the Department of Homeland Security, they were part of the Treasury Department as their first mission was to investigate counterfeiting. It seems as though somebody's been passing bad banknotes in the Phoenix area.

Of course, the two cases are related. Manfred Stahl (Jack Harris) is a bespectacled man who's in on the counterfeiting ring, which flies in money from Mexico with Reinhart doing the flying. He's pissed that he's being shorted on the money, which is because the dead man was taking some of it out of the packages to buy things for Cameo. Cameo isn't stupid, and puts two and two together and wants a piece of the action now that her sugar daddy is dead, and is willing to use force to get her piece.

Squad Car is the sort of material that, by 1960, really should have been made as an episode of some TV series or other in the crime genre. Although everybody here was more or less unknown to me, they make something that's modestly entertaining but forgettable, the sort of stuff that TV needed in spades to fill all that programming. As a movie, it certainly couldn't have been conceived as anything more than a B movie. The end result is something that's more interesting as a time capsule than as art, although it's not terrible.

Thursday Movie Picks #366: Non-English films

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time out, we have a theme that's been done before, but one that isn't particularly difficult: Non-English films. The only think I really had to do was check whether or not I'd used any of the movies before. Sure enough, one of my original choices was one that I had used, so I had to think of some others. In the end I came up with three movies set in World War II:

Rome, Open City (1945). The first film in Roberto Rossellini's war trilogy, this one is set in Italy during the period when the Allies had already invaded Sicily but not reached Rome, where the Nazis and Italian Fascists were still in control. An underground is operating, and the Nazis are trying to find the leaders and exterminate them, being typically ruthless in the process. A young Anna Magnani plays a war wido.

The Ascent (1977). In the western Soviet Union (what is now Belarus) in the winter of 1942, the first after the Nazi invasion, a group of Soviet soldiers have been caught behind enemy lines. Two of their number are sent to find food, but the farm where the food is supposed to be has been burned to the ground, to the two have to soldier on, hopefully not to be caught by the Nazis. Directed by Larisa Shepitko, who would die tragically in a car crash while doing location scouting for what would have been her following film.

Divided We Fall (2000). In the Nazi-occupied Czech lands, the husband of a couple finds an old Jewish friend who has escaped one of the concentration camps. Having a spare storage room in their Prague apartment, the couple hides the Jewish friend in that room away from the Nazis. Things get exceedingly complicated.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Ladies in Retirement

One of the new-to-me movies that I had the chance to record during 31 Days of Oscar back in April was Ladies in Retirement. Recently, I sat down to watch it and do a review of it here.

Ida Lupino plays Ellen Creed. She's a single woman in mid-1880s England who works for Leonora Fiske (Isobel Elsom). Fiske is a former actress who apparently could afford to retire fairly well, as she's got a nice house in a rural part of County Kent, and not just Ellen living with her but maid Lucy (Evelyn Keyes). However, things aren't going so well for Ellen as she gets a letter from London.

In that letter, a landlady informs Ellen about Ellen's two sisters, Emily (Elsa Lanchester) and Louisa (Edith Barrett). Both of them are apparently "dotty", more than the aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace but not quite as insane as the aunts' nephew who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt. In any case, Ellen seems to be the only one who can take care of her two sisters as they cause problems everywhere else they go and the landlady is threatening to call the police and have the sisters sent to an asylum.

Another problem for Ellen shows up, although she doesn't know about this one yet. A man from Gravesend not too far away shows up, and rather rudley asks Leonora if he could borrow £12. Tha man is Albert (Louis Hayward), who claims to be Ellen's nephew, which would be by a fourth, unseen sibling who must apparently be dead or else that sibling should be helping to take care of Emily and Louisa. But enough thinking of possible plot holes. Albert leaves before Ellen sees him, although he's going to come back later on and we learn that he's in much deeper financial difficulties and embezzled from the bank's till to get the money so the police are after him.

The police might be about to be after Ellen, too. Not because of the two sisters, at least not directly. Ellen asks Leonora if the two sisters can come to visit, Leonora not knowing about the sisters' mental state. Leonora would be thrilled to have more guests, at least until she finds out the truth about them and wants to be rid of them while Ellen is scheming to come up with a way to get them to stay on permanently.

Ellen's ultimate plan is to send everybody away from the house for a day and, while alone with Leonora, kill her and claim that Leonora sold the house to her. Of course, it's a scheme that wouldn't work in real life, and definitely isn't going to work here since the Production Code would never allow it. Oh, it does seem to work for a while, but Albert returns, romances Lucy, and together the two of them start snooping and guess the truth about Ellen. Not that Albert can do much about it since he's got his own legal problems, of coures.

Ladies in Retirement was originally a stage play, something which is fairly obvious considering how much of the movie is set inside the house. But director Charles Vidor does a good job of opening up the action, and plays aren't necessarily a bad thing, especially if they're not stagey. Unsurprisingly, Lupino gives a good performance, and the movie is mostly about her character. The ending may be a bit of a problem for some, but then they had to come up with something that would placate the Production Code office. (I couldn't find what differences there are between the movie and the play.) Definitely worth a watch.

If you're wondering why TCM was able to show Ladies in Retirement in 31 Days of Oscar, it's because the movie got an unsurprising nomination for its black-and-white art direction as well as a more surprising one for the score.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The perfect movie for Bastille Day

Tomorrow is July 14, which means that the French will be commemorating Bastille Day and the start of the French Revolution. TCM has run French Revolution-themed films before in a block on July 14, but not this year. Instead, we get a morning and afternoon of the films of Robert Mitchum, including The Lusty Men at 10:45 AM.

Mitchum plays Jeff McCloud, who is returning to the old homestead after years away that he spent on the rodeo circuit. Having recently been injured, however, he's looking to settle down, hence the return "home". It's not home any more, of course, since the family moved away and a man named Watrus (Burt Mustin) owns the place, although Watrus does remember Jeff's parents.

Also interested in the house is cowhand Wes Merritt (Arthur Kennedy) and his wife Louise (Susan Hayward). They're not making much, but the big thing for them is that this would finally be a place of their own. Wes recognizes Jeff and helps Jeff get a job at the same ranch where Wes is working.

But Wes wants more. Knowing that Jeff was a relatively big-time rodeo guy, at least in the smallish world of rodeo, Wes wants the taste of that himself. Louise is fairly pragmatic and worries about the physical danger Wes would be getting himself into. After all, Jeff had to quite the rodeo business due to injury. Still, Wes decides that he's going to get the money together and enter a rodeo without telling Louise. Perhaps Jeff can help train him and teach him the behind-the-scenes part of the business, but Jeff wants a substantial cut, and frankly, who can blame him.

Unsurprisingly, Wes does well at his first rodeo, because if he failed badly we wouldn't have much of a movie. Wes, having succeeded, finds that he likes both the rodeo itself, and the money, along with the modicum of fame. As I said, Louise is at least pragmatic enough to decide that perhaps Wes can win enough money to buy the old McCloud place from Watrus, and then retire from rodeo having gotten it out of his system.

Yeah, right. Once again, The Lusty Men would be a fairly boring movie if Wes were that pragmatic too. He's beginning to get pursued by the ladies, and some of the people around the rodeo are putting it into his head that Jeff was a big hit with the ladies back when he was doing rodeo. Wes earns the $4100 that will let Louise make the escrow payment on the house, and Wes responds by saying sorry, but he loves rodeo too much to quit now.

So while there's a lot about The Lusty Men that's formulaic, one thing that's relatively new is that it's set against the world of (semi-)professional rodeo. The one other movie that came to mind was J.W. Coop, which I apparently never blogged about after watching it some years back. Here, Arthur Kennedy is miscast but does his best. Hayward is professional and Mitchum seems cast best of the leads. Probably the most interesting thing, however, is some of the establishing scenes of the rodeos without the leads. The movie probably should have been in color, however, to make those scenes more worthwhile.

The Lusty Men is an interesting change of pace, even if it isn't the first thing I'd think of to recommend to people who want to learn about any of the three leads. It's definitely worth a watch.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Rainy people and Mondays always get me down

Quite a few months back TCM ran a night of road movies, including the new-to-me The Rain People. I had put off watching it for some time after watching Number One, because I didn't want to do two football-themed movies in close succession. Recently, I finally got around to watching The Rain People to do a post on it.

Shirley Knight plays Natalie Ravenna, a housewife from Long Island who drives off from home one day and goes west, probably not to grow up with the country but because she has to figure out a lot of problems. She's left behind a husband and, as we later learn, she's pregnant and thinking of getting an abortion, an extremely controversial topic for the late 1960s.

Somewhere out on the road she passes a hitchhiker, stopping to pick up the youngish man. That man is Kilgannon (James Caan), nicknamed Killer in part because of his surname, and in part because he was a college football player with a hard-nosed style of playing. So hard-nosed, in fact, that nowadays everybody would hold him up as an example of CTE, but in those days they really only thought about dementia pugilistica in terms of boxing. Killer has brief flashbacks to his college days. In any case, now that he can't play football anymore, the college responded first by giving him a make-work job doing some of the landscaping like raking leaves, and then giving him $1000 as a parting gift.

Natalie is turned on by Killer, but as she gets to know him more she begins to understand more about his brain damage. So she'd like to get rid of him, preferably by getting him a job with somebody. She can barely handle her own life; how can she handle his? Thankfully, Killer had an old girlfriend who's father had offered him a job back in his college days, so Natalie takes Killer there. Unfortunately, the girlfriend doesn't want Killer any more now that he's got his brain injury, and is very vocal about it.

On again further west, as Natlie tries to find herself and tries to find a job for Killer. They stop in a small town in Nebraska where there's a farmer with a "reptile ranch" and a bunch of chickens, and it would be Killer's job to do all the dirty odd jobs around the place. Natalie realizes that the farmer is exploiting Killer for his $1000, but is at the point where she just wants to get the hell out of town.

She gets out so fast that the local cop Gordon (Robert Duvall) pulls her over for speeding and makes her drive back into town to pay the fine. The two get to talking. Gordon has some sympathy for Natalie, as he'd lost a wife he didn't really love in a house fire, and lost an infant son. He's got a daughter about to enter puberty, and she's hell to raise without a mother around. Gordon invites Natalie back to his trailer, and....

The Rain People is one of those movies that's really more about the characters than their stories. As such, some people might have some problems with the movie and its narrative structure. It doesn't help that all of the characters have enough personal problems that it would be easy not to have much sympathy for them. Thankfully, however, we get three pretty darn good acting performances from the leads, more than making up for the narrative flaws. The other positive is the location shooting, as director Francis Ford Coppola directed on the road over several months on a tight budget. The authentic locations are much more authentic than anything Hollywood's studio system would have given us just a few years earlier.

The Rain People isn't perfect by a long shot. But it's ultimately compelling, and absolutely worth a watch.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Flesh

For some reason, I thought I had blogged about Flesh before, but a search of the blog says that I haven't. It's going to be on TCM again tomorrow at 7:30 AM, so now would be the perfect time to do a post on it.

Karen Morley plays Laura Nash, who's in a prison in Weimar Germany because of some con that she and her boyfriend Nicky Grant (Ricardo Cortez) committed. However, Nicky got Laura knocked up, so the German authorities release her on a compassionate parol. (You'd think they would deport her, but that doesn't happen for whatever reason.) Laura tries to get the authorities to let Nicky out, too, but no dice if she can't pay the fine. Laura, not having any money, can't do that.

She can, however, go to a beer garden and order a substantial meal, even though she doesn't have the money to pay for it or any place to stay. Working at the beer hall is Polakai (Wallace Beery), who works there to earn a modest living and lives in an apartment above the place owned by his bosses, Mr. and Mrs. Herman (Jean Hersholt and Greta Meyer). His real dream, however, is to win the German wrestling championship, and benig a strongman, he entertains the patrons at the beer hall by carrying barrels of beer over his shoulder and serving the guests that way.

Polakai sees Laura and immediately falls in love with her, offering to pay the bill for her and letting her stay at his apartment. Laura is no dummy, and no honest woman either, so she decides she's going to take Polakai for as much as she can, or at least enough to bail Nicky out of prison and get the two of them back to America. Polakai is so dumb and in love with Laura that when he catches her stealing from him, he actually believes her story about the money being to free her "brother" from prison.

Nicky, on getting out of prison, is none too pleased to find Laura living with Polakai, but he plays along because there's not much else to do. He does, however, treat Laura badly, leaving Polakai and the viewer to ask why Laura likes Nicky. The one thing Nicky can't stand, however, is finding out that Laura is pregnant, since she didn't have the chance to tell Nicky this with his being in prison. Nicky believes Polakai is the father, so he takes the money Polakai was giving to Laura and uses it to get back to the US. Laurs doesn't tell Polakai who the actual father is, but marries Polakai nonetheless.

Polakai eventually wins the German wrestling championship, and now it's time to head across the Atlantic to try to win the world championship. He and Laura go to America, where he looks up the Hermans who have also emigrated and Laura looks up Nicky, still being in love with him. I said before that Polakai is stupid, and stil stupid enough to trust Nicky when he suggests that he should be Polakai's manager. Polakai doesn't realize that he's being set up and the matches are being rigged. When he learns of Nicky's part in this, trouble wil be brewing....

Flesh is an interesting little pre-Code, although it's a bit odd considering how much you have to shake your head at the characters' motivations. Wallace Beery does well with a role that he probably could have done in his sleep, and Ricardo Cortez is suitably oily. It's always nice to see Karen Morley get a bigger role. If there's one big problem, it's with the title: one would hope to see Karen Morley's flesh, but one only gets Wallace Beery's flesh.

Flesh, while not one of the most prestigious or most lurid movies of the pre-Code era by any means, is still a nice example of the filmmaking of the era and one that's definitely worth a watch.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Something happened somewhere that may or may not be funny

During another of the free preview weekends a few months back, I finally had the chance to record the movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It's going to be on MGMHD a few days from now, although that looks to be one of their showings interrupted by commercials since it's a 99-minute movie in a 130-minute time slot. In any case,the movie is available on DVD the last time I checked.

After the rousing musical number "Comedy Tonight", a tune you've probably heard before even if you you don't know the lyrics, we learn that the action is going to take place around three houses in Rome: those of Senex (Michael Hordern), a retired senator; Erronius (Buster Keaton), whose two children were taken by pirates; and Marcus Lycus (Phil Silvers), a procurer of fine young women. Telling us this is Pseudolus (Zero Mostel), one of Senex's slaves along with Hysterium (Jack Gilford).

Meanwhile, Senex and his wife Domina (Patricia Jessel) has a son in Hero (Michael Crawford) who has fallen in love with one of the young ladies next door. Hero offers Pseudolus his freedom if Pseudolus can buy that young woman from Marcus Lycus. But when Pseudolus goes to see Marcus Lycus, he's told that the woman in question is not available, having already been promised to Miles Gloriosus (Leon Greene), a captain in the Roman Army.

Pseudolus, despite being a slave, is also quite the schemer. So he comes up with the idea of telling Marcus Lycus that the young woman in question, Philia (Annette Andre) came from an island that has the plague, so she really needs to be quarantined. Fortunately, Pseudolus has survived the plague, and Senex's house is currently unoccupied, so Philia can be kept there.

Unfortunately, that's not enough to get Philia for Hero. First, Senex shows up and when he sees Philia, he thinks Philia is for him, even though he's already got a wife. And then Miles Gloriosus shows up and is unsurprisingly absolutely pissed when he figures out that he's being swindled. Pseudolus' scheming backfires here as Miles Gloriosus threatens to burn down Marcus Lycus' house, and Pseudolus has already claimed to be Marcus Lycus.

It goes on like this, with an increasingly convoluted plot, and a bunch of musical numbers along the way, having been adapted from a popular Broadway musical (however, quite a few songs have been cut from the stage show for the film). How much you like it is going to depend on how much you like the stars and the genre. I'm not as big a fan of this sort of comedy, which I've referred to quite a lot here as the "comedy of lies", so there were points at which I found the proceedings quite grating. Others, however, are going to love it. So I think I'd call it a bit of an acquired taste that I haven't acquired. Watch and judge for yourself.

Briefs for July 10-11, 2021

Unfortunately, I've been busy again with work which has been rather stressful recently, so I haven't had as much time to watch movies as I'd like, trying to squeeze them in between dinner and going to bed early. That's probably why the reviews aren't as good as I'd like them to be. But there's any number of things worth mentioning.

First up is the passing of director Richard Donner, who died on Monday at the age of 91. His career actually started in the late 1950s, directing TV shows. I've probably seen his name in the closing credits of The Rifleman since Dad and I watch that every Saturday at dinner. As for his films, his breakthrough was The Omen in 1976, and he went on to direct the first Superman movie along with such 80s stuff as The Goonies and Scrooged. I think Scrooged was on earlier this week, but won't be on again until Wednesday, July 14.

As for what is coming up, TCM starts off tomorrow morning with Sadie McKee at 6:15 AM, an entertaining enough "which man should I marry" movie from Joan Crawford. To be honest, though, one can see why Crawford began to grow tired of the roles MGM was giving her, and this was a full nine years before she left.

Also on TCM on Sunday is the excellent Running on Empty, at 5:45 PM. Hard to believe that it's been almost five years since I blogged about this one. River Phoenix plays a teenaged music prodigy whose parents have had him on the run his entire life since they were radicals who seriously injured a man when they bombed a napalm research facility. Judd Hirsch is also quite good as Phoenix's dad.

Over on FXM, The Man from Snowy River joined the rotation recently. Kirk Douglas gets a double role in this Down Under western and looks like he's having a lot of fun doing it. It'll be on FXM again tomorrow at 1:10 PM and kicks off the Monday FXM Retro block.

I'm hoping to have another fresh movie review later this evening.

Friday, July 9, 2021

After "Love Before Breakfast" comes....

TCM ran a night of the movies of 1930s second-tier actress Florence Rice back in June. I had already had Four Girls in White on my DVR thinking it would air that night, but TCM had a different group of movies. So I recorded Love Before Breakfast and recently watched that.

The star here is Robert Young, playing Tom Wakefield. He's an inventor with a girlfriend June (June Clayworth) he'd like to marry if he could get the money. He thinks he's come up with a depilatory shaving cream that would obviate the need for razors, although it does tend to cause some swelling, enough that people might not want to use the product. The company he proposes it to, however, sees things differently, realizing they'd be put out of business if razors were made obsolete. So they offer Tom a cool quarter of a million dollars (in 1937 bucks!) for the rights, with the idea that they won't market it.

In any case, Tom has his money, and in addition to being able to marry June, he can spend some of it on the people closest to him by getting them the gifts they've always wanted. Kitty Brent (Florence Rice), however, is not one of those women. She's a ticket agent at the cruise line, and Tom only meets her when he's booking the cruise that's going to be his and June's honeymoon. It's expensive enough that Kitty will be willing to come around to Tom's place to pick up the check.

When doing so, Tom asks Kitty what she wants, which is to get married. She's got a boyfriend in Kenneth (a very young Hugh Marlowe) who could easily be her fiancé. But as with Tom and June, Kenneth doesn't have the money to marry June. He's an insurance salesman, and along the lines of Glengarry Glen Ross, his boss has offered him a bonus and promotion if he can sell a policy to the milkman Mr. Baglipp (Tom Kennedy). That would be enough for Kenneth to be able to get married.

Tom, being a generous sort, decides he's willing to help Kenneth sell that policy, which I suppose would include paying the first year's premiums if it would help. But this is a screwball comedy and not Double Indemnity, so Baglipp isn't going to get killed. He isn't going to get a moment's peace, however, as he most decidedly does not want an insurance policy. He's done well enough without one all these years.

At this point, Tom gets the ridiculous idea to cause an accident, because this will most assuredly get Baglipp to believe that he does in fact need an accident policy. Yeah, right. In any case, it leads to an increasingly wacky chain of events as Tom hires first a taxi, and then a bus, to try to catch up with Baglipp. He and Kitty, who is tagging along, also get mixed up with a gang of criminals. More predictably, you can guess that Tom and Kitty are going to fall in love despite the fact that each of them is engaged to somebody else.

Married Before Breakfast is decidedly a B movie, but it's a pretty darn fun B movie. True, you do have to suspend some disbelief to think anybody would go along with Tom's zany schemes, but there's not much more disbelief to suspend than in most screwball comedies. Robert Young and Florence Rice both do well in this light comedy, and it doesn't outstay its welcome.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #365: Female Athletes

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. For this second Thursday in July, the theme is female athletes, which isn't too difficult, especially if you watch more recent movies. As for me, however, being a blogger of old movies I came up with a bunch of movies that are all over 40 years old:

Pat and Mike (1952). Katharine Hepburn plays Pat, a golfer and tennis player who hires promoter Mike (Spencer Tracy) to help her get over the hump. Along the way, they fall in love despite the fact that Pat is already engaged to another man. Quite a few famous athletes of the day have cameos, and a young Charles Bronson plays another of Mike's clients.

Hard, Fast, and Beautiful (1951). Directed by Ida Lupino, this movie tells the story of a young tennis player (Sally Forrest) who's quite good but wants to settle down and marry, while her mother (Claire Trevor) keeps pushing her to the top. Of course, this was the days when tournaments like Wimbledon were strictly amateur, so continuing to play would be quite a financial sacrifice for the daughter who has a well-to-do boyfriend.

Ice Castles (1978). Lynn-Holly Johnson plays a girl from Iowa who's gotten quite good at figure skating; indeed, she's good enough to try to qualify for the Olympics. But instead of an interesting look at amateur sports and the way the athletes are exploited, we get a mawkish tragedy when Johnson crashes while skating for pleasure, losing most of her eyesight in the accident. Still she tries a comeback at the insistence of her washed-up hockey player boyfriend Robby Benson. Colleen Dewhurst plays the small-town coach who knows she can take her student only so far. Apparently it was remade about a decade ago, but this version is the disaster to watch.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Some movies' titles need no explanation

One of the movies that recently started showing up in the FXM rotation again is Snow White and the Three Stooges. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 6:00 AM, so I watched it to do a post on it today.

As you can probably guess, the movie is about Snow White (played by champion figure skater Carol Heiss), as well as the Three Stooges (Larry, Moe, and Curly-Joe, ie. Joe DeRita). Snow White lives in the land of Fortuna, with her father the King, and the King's second wife, the Queen (Patricia Medina), who is not Snow White's mother but her wicked stepmother. The King eventually dies, and the Queen and Snow White are technically supposed to go into mourning. So the Queen uses this to imprison Snow White while she comes up with a way to get rid of Snow White.

Meanwhile, there are the Three Stooges, elsewhere in the kingdom. They have a traveling medicine show together with Quatro (bodybuilder Edson Stroll), an orphan whose real identity should be obvious, but who only learns it from the Stooges halfway through the movie. The borrow the Seven Dwarves' house while the dwarves are away mining, which is eventually how they're going to meet Snow White. The Queen has one of her bodyguards dispatch Snow White, but he just can't do it, so he lets Snow White free in the middle of nowhere, which just happens to be near the dwarves' house.

Of course it's going to be dangerous for the Stooges and Quattro. When they get invited to the palace to perform at a celebration, the Queen's adviser, Count Oga (Guy Rolfe), recognizes Quattro as Prince Charming, who was supposed to be betrothed to Snow White. The Queen and Oga plot to have Prince Charming killed, and he gets hit by an arrow during a fight, leading everybody to think that he's dead, although he isn't. The magic mirror, meanwhile, tells the Queen that Snow White is still alive, so she has Count Oga come up with that poisoned apple.

Snow White and the Three Stooges is an odd movie, for a whole bunch of reasons having to do with the fact that nobody would think to pair Snow White with Larry, Moe, and Curly-Joe. There's also the fact of Heiss' previous career as a figure skater. (Well, she was an amateur, so it was retiring from competitive skating that allowed her to make money.) As with Sonja Henie, having a skater star in a movie means that we're going to get several extended skating scenes, along with musical numbers.

Stooges fans will probably be disappointed to see that they're in many ways supporting characters here. Young girls will probably like the fairy tale but not so much the Stooges, while young boys will more likely enjoy the Stooges but not the fairy tale. So in many ways there's no one good audience to market a movie like this too. It's not exactly bad, despite the fact that Heiss and Stroll weren't actors, but it's defnitely a mess. An interesting one, to be sure, but a mess nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Devil's Disciple

Hollywood didn't make too many Revolutionary War movies, so every year on July 4 TCM trots out a lot of the same ones. One that I hadn't gotten around to blogging about was actually made in the UK: The Devil's Disciple. So I rewatched it on Monday to do a post on here.

It's the middle of the Revolutionary War in New Hampshire, and the British have been putting down rebels including with arbitrary hangings. One of those hangings was a Mr. Dudgeon, father of Richard (Kirk Douglas). At night after the hanging, Richard takes the body down from the gallows and brings it back to Dad's hometown, where Rev. Anderson (Burt Lancaster) is the local minister. Anderson believed in doing the Christian thing, which was to try to convince the British to let him have the body buried, but the British wanted to leave it hanging, pour encourager les autres as they'd say. In any case, with Richard having done the deed and Anderson having buried the body, they're both running afoul of the British.

Dudgeon is a bit of an iconoclast. When he gets home to the old family home to hear the reading of the will, we learn that he's the black sheep of the family, but that Dad left most of the estate to him and not Mom (Eva Le Gallienne). But not is he the black sheep of the family, he's also a non-believer, so you'd think Rev. Anderson wouldn't much care for him. But then Anderson seems to be a man of the cloth who practices what he preaches, as much as being nice to a sinner like Richard might bother Mrs. Anderson (Janette Scott).

Some time later, Rev. Anderson invites Dudgeon over again. But Ma Dudgeon gets sick, and the good reverend is called to attend to her. (Remember, Richard, being the bad son, isn't about to get invited over.) Richard stays behind with Mrs. Anderson, at which point British troops show up. They've got a warrant for the Rev. Anderson.

Even though Rev. Anderson isn't there, Dudgeon claims that he's Anderson, since if he had been honest they'd both be hanged anyway. Probably the first nice thing he's done for anybody, too. But he has to pretend to be Rev. Anderson, which means having a loving wife. Mrs. Anderson begins to get the mistaken belief that perhaps Richard might be in love with her.

General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier) is set to hear the trial of Anderson, not knowing this is actually Dudgeon, together with his second in command Maj. Swindon (Harry Andrews). The real Rev. Anderson, finding the extent to which people will stick their necks out to save him, decides to throw his lot in with the rebels, and take on the British troops in his home town.

The Devil's Disciple is based on a play by George Bernard Shaw, which means that for some people it might be a bit of a tough go, even though the movie only runs about 82 minutes. I think, for example I blogged about Caesar and Cleopatra before, which I didn't care for, many years back. The Devil's Disciple, however, is much better. All three of the leads are quite good, and director Guy Hamilton very deftly opens the stage play out, including an action sequence in which Anderson tries to sabotge a cache of British gunpowder.

While Pygmalion is probably Shaw's best known play, The Devil's Disciple is more than worth a watch.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Belatedly Celebrating Buster Keaton

Last autumn was the 125th birth anniversary of silent screen genius Buster Keaton. TCM celebrated with a night of his movies, along with a relatively recent documentary, The Great Buster: A Celebration. I hadn't watched it before because I naturally figured it wasn't likely to be on DVD. But when I checked, I found out that it is in fact on DVD. So I sat down to watch it and do a review here.

Directed and narrated by Peter Bogdanovich, the movie is a fairly standard biography, albeit one that has a bunch of talking heads from the world of comedy talking about his movies. Keaton was born to parents traveling with a vaudeville show, so he gut put into performing at a very early age. Little Buster showed great talent for taking the throws that his father did. He became the star of the show, leaving when he was 21 so that he could make enough money to give his two younger siblings the education he didn't get.

In New York, he was going to star on Broadway, but got roped into doing a two-reeler with Fatty Arbuckle. He loved it and knew he wanted to go into the movies, which he did in a big way, eventually writing and directing his own movies because he could figure out how to make the gags work. In the last five years of the silent era, Keaton was extremely successful. But with the introduction of talking pictures, tragedy was to come.

Keaton signed a contract with MGM that stifled his creativity, leading him to drink more, and destroying his first marriage. He sank into obscurity, until his third marriage which lasted about 25 years until the end of his life. Eventually he was rediscovered in the final decade of his life and got to find out just how many movie buffs there were who actually liked his old silent films.

Keaton dies, but this comes only about two-thirds of the way into the movie. So for the last third, we get the 10 or so movies Keaton made during the last five years of the silent era, with Bogdanovich showing us scenes from most of them and telling us why he thinks these scenes are so successful, even if the films as a whole didn't always work.

There's not all that much going on here, so people who are already quite knowledgeable about Keaton may find it all a bit trite, and would prefer to rewatch the movies themselves. But for people who don't know much about silent cinema, I think it would make a pretty darn good introduction to one of the greats, along with starting with the two-reelers like One Week.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Glass Bottom Boat

I hadn't quite intended to do two posts on Doris Day movies within a relatively short amount of time, but I notice that The Glass Bottom Boat is going to be on TCM tomorrow at 4:00 PM, so I figured that now would be a good time to watch it and do a post on here.

Day plays Jennifer Nelson, a widow living with her dog Vladimir who does some work for her father, Axel Nordstrom (Arthur Godfrey). He runs a tourist boat doing cruises off of Catalina Island, the glass-bottomed boat of the title, and when he tells the tourists that they might even see a mermaid, Jennifer is supposed to dive under the boat wearing a mermaid costume. The two communicate by radio, each having transmitting equipment in their houses.

On one of the cruises, Jennifer accidently gets hooked by fisherman Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor). As you can guess, Jennifer isn't very happy about it and at first doesn't necessarily like Bruce. But you know that Jennifer and Bruce are going to meet again in fairly short order. That meeting comes because they both work at the same firm, an aerospace comapany doing research for NASA and the space race. Jennifer is in public relations, while Bruce is doing the heavy lifting on scientific research.

And indeed, Bruce has discovered a secret formula which will allow NASA spaceships to overcome some of the problems that stem from weightlessness. The importance of the formula means it's naturally something that America's rivals like the Soviet Union would love to get, so there's substantial security around Bruce and business partner Zack Molloy (Dick Martin) in the form of General Bleecker (Edward Andrews) and security guard Homer Cripps (Paul Lynde). And unsurprisingly, trying to get the secrets is bumblinb spy Julius Pritter (Dom DeLuise).

Homer overhears Jennifer on the phone calling up her dog to get him some exercise running around the house, and that's one of the first things that gets people to think that perhaps Jennifer might be one of the spies. She isn't of course, and Bruce doesn't want any part of believing it as he and Jennifer fall in love. But there's a true bad guy who can use that to his advantage by making certain the CIA go off in the wrong direction in pursuit of the spy.

Eventually, the Three's Company-style misunderstandings lead the authorities to believe that the information drop is going to happen at a party Bruce is giving at his fabulously 1960s house. At that party, Jennifer overhears the authorities first suggesting that she's the spy, and then arguing that she might be too stupid to do it well, which enrages her and has her try to turn the tables on everybody. Except that she winds up with the secrets, and running for her life from the real spies.

The Glass-Bottom Boat was directed by Frank Tashlin, who got his start in World War II making cartoons (indeed, he directed one of the Pvt. Snafu shorts made to train servicemen during the war). As such, the movie is directed not just as a romantic comedy, but an over-the-top spy spoof -- watch for the cameo from Robert Vaughn, who at the time was the star of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't always work, as some of the comedy feels too frenetic and forced. It also goes on a bit too long, being about 110 minutes when it probably should have been 10-15 minutes less.

On the plus side are the sets, with great 1960s houses and fashions, and the futuristic look of Bruce's kitchen, especially the pre-Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner which is used in several scenes. Doris Day and Rod Taylor are also a very appealing couple. It's not Day's best movie, but anybody who's already a fan of hers, as well as people who are into vintage 1960s set designs, will find a lot to like in The Glass Bottom Boat.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The first talking picture rom-com

One of the movies that I had to chance to record during 31 Days of Oscar back in April is one that got nominations for its lead actress and its director, but one that gets fairly little attention nowadays: Romance. To be fair, I think it's with good reason that it's gon relatively forgotten.

The movie starts off with an establishing scene in the present day, that being 1930. Young Harry (Elliott Nugent) comes rushing in on New Year's Eve to see his grandfather, Rev. Tom Armstrong (Gavin Gordon, who in real life was five years younger than Nugent, although it makes sense when you watch the movie). Harry has fallen in love with an actress and is thinking of marrying her, but his parents are none too pleased, since she's clearly of the wrong social class. Grandpa looks in a small wooden box he keeps, and pulls out a handkerchief that clearly must have been scented at some point in the past, and tells his own story....

Flash back to some point around 1880 or so, when Tom was a young man just starting off in the ministry. He attends a party given by family friends the Van Tuyls, with father Cornelius (Lewis Stone) and adult daughter Susan (Florence Lake), who would be right for young Tom, a match made in heaven for the two families. However, another of the party attendees is opera singer Rita Cavallini (Greta Garbo). Since Harry is in love with an actress, we just know that Tom is going to fall in love with Rita. Also, since Grandpa has that faded handkerchief in the establishing scene, we know that the romance isn't going to work out, but we still have another hour or so to get there.

Well, actually, only about 40 minutes. Rev. Tom does indeed fall in love with Rita, and the feeling seems to be mutual as the two have a whirlwind winter romance set against the backdrop of some very obvious rear-projection photography. Obviously, Tom's family doesn't like this, and his Aunt Abigail (Clara Blandick) disapproves. More worryingly are the rumors that Rita is in fact Cornelius' mistress. Cornelius has been lying to Tom about it because he doesn't want to hurt Tom's feelings. But soon enough, the truth will come out.

The problem is, this comes out about 45 minutes into what is a 75-minute movie. After Tom learns the shocking truth, he still holds a candle for Rita, while she starts moping and claiming that she's going to be unable to sing at what is supposed to be her final American performance before returning to Europe. Worse, Tom is at the performance and wants to see Rita after the show to try to save her soul!

I called Romance a romantic comedy in the title of the thread. The romance part is obvious. The comedy, maybe not so much. But I found myself laughing during the final half hour in part because the script gets increasingly ridiculous, and in part because Garbo goes increasingly over the top. Romance was clearly intended to be more tragic, and with no comedy, but for me, that's not the way it turned out at all.

Then again, it doesn't help that Romance is the sort of movie that hasn't aged well. Perhaps audiences of the day would have been more amenable to it. Hollywood was still trying to figure out which stars were right for talking pictures, and the production here is nowhere near as stagy as films from even just a few months earlier were. So if you like Greta Garbo, you may find Romance interesting. The last I checked, it's available on a Warner Archive DVD.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Maid of Salem

A couple of months back, I mentioned the Claudette Colbert box set that I picked up. One of the odder entries in the set is Maid of Salem, which I recently watched.

Colbert plays Barbara Clarke, who lives in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Now if you know your history you'll know that's the year of the infamous Salem witch trials. Barbara lives with her aunt Ellen (Louise Dresser) and the two work as candlers, making candles for the rest of the village in exchange for the goods and services they need. Ellen is being pursued romantically by Miles Corbin (Sterling Holloway), a cow herder who has ambitions of getting some good land with a sizable amount of livestock.

Among the people to whom the Clarkes sell their candles is the Elder Goode (Edward Ellis), who seems to have the only slave in town, Tituba (Madame Sul-Te-Wan). We see Tituba doing a bit of palmistry to tell the fortunes of a bunch of the town's women, which ticks the Elder off to no end when he finds out. What terrible idle, gossipy women! Indeed, even his own wife (Beulah Bondi) is in on it.

Another of the Clarkes' clients is Jeremiah (Halliwell Hobbes), who lives a bit outside the village on a hilltop that looks entirely too high for Massachusetts. He lives alone, but things lead Barbara to believe he's not along right now, and wouldn't you know, she's right. Jeremiah's nephew Roger Coverman (Fred MacMurray) is there, having fled Virginia where he's considered a rebel. Because he's a wanted man and there's a reward on his head, he's more or less hiding out. But he falls in love with Barbara, and the feeling is mutual.

This causes Roger to stray from the confines of his uncle's property, and people start seeing him, thinking they've seen the devil. This, combined with Tituba's fortune telling and practicing of some elements of the traditional African culture that have still been handed down since she's probably only a second-generation slave, and reports of witchcraft in other parts of the Massachusetts colony, lead to the eventual accusations of witchcraft that tear the village asunder.

Ironically, it's the Elder Goode's own daughter Ann (Bonita Granville) who sets the ball rolling. She's stolen one of Dad's books on how to deal with witches, and thinks it would be interesting to find out what it's really like to be bewitched. Of course, when she strts acting bewitched, she can't tell everyone it's just a lark since she'd get in big trouble with her strict father. So she starts rumors as to who's bewitched her. The town's citizens quickly realize that it's better for them to make false accusations before other people can accuse them.

Among the people accusing Barbara is her own cousin Timothy. He thought he saw Roger although he didn't know Roger's real identity of course. He also sees Barbara practicing a dance Roger had taught her that definitely wouldn't be allowed in Salem. He puts two and two together and immediately suspects something's wrong. The fact that Barbara is a bit of a free spirit doesn't help her cause. Barbara, for her part, could produce an alibi in the form of Roger, but since he's a fugitive she doesn't want to get him caught and extradited back to Virginia where he'd probably hang anyway. (Or at least that's what we think; there's one scene in which we discover that the new governor will be pardoning the rebels.)

Maid of Salem is odd in that when I think of Colbert and MacMurray being paired together, I think of romantic comedy, and something fairly light. Not the Salem witch trials. Now, the material is somewhat lighter than The Crucible or any more modern retelling of the trials would be, but still, there's some fairly dramatic stuff here. There's a lot of obvious Hollywood here, most notably Colbert, who looks more like a star than 1690s.

But although Maid of Salem is always a Hollywood product, it's still quite an interesting movie, and not a bad one. It's also always timely, whether you have Arthur Miller reworking the Salem witch trials to be an allegory about the Red Scare of the 1950s, or whether you can compare it to the deplatforming movement coming from the opposite political direction that's going on today. Definitely worth a watch.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

State Fair (1945)

Another of the movies that started showing up in the FXM rotation in the last few months is the 1945 version of State Fair. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 8:50 AM, with another airing on Saturday, and probably more in the not-too-distant future.

I had seen the original 1933 version of State Fair, which Fox produced as a vehicle for star Will Rogers, and knew that the 1945 and later 1962 remakes were both musicals. Although Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the songs, as far as I can tell the musical was in fact an original for the silver screen and not a Broadway musical, at least not until much later. In any case, the 1945 film is roughly the same story as the Will Rogers movie, plus the music and minus some of the pre-Code elements.

State Fair tells the story of the Frake family, who are going to be visiting the Iowa State Fair in the upcoming weekend. Father Abel (Charles Winninger) is planning to show off his prize pig in the hopes of winning the big prize, while mom Melissa (Fay Bainter) is entering her pickles and her mince pie in the cooking contests. There are also two adult children who have varying levels of enthusiasm about going to the fair. Wayne (Dick Haymes) has a girlfriend Eleanor who has to beg off going thanks to an illness in the family, while Margy (Jeanne Crain) has a drip of a boyfriend. After all this expository introduction and a lot of singing, we're finally off to the fair.

One reason Wayne wanted to go to the fair is that the previous year, he got cheated by the ring-toss barker (Harry Morgan in a role so early he's still being called "Henry" in the credits). Wayne's been practicing, and he finally gets his revenge on the barker fairly early on. Afterwards, he meets lovely singer Emily Edwards (Vivian Blaine) and has a whirlwind romance with her. This even though he should see the warning signs when she lies about being a policeman's daughter. He also runs into McGee, a song hawker who gets Wayne to promote a song for payola.

Margy has a more complicated time. She decides to go on the roller coaster, and in order to fill up the seats, another passenger, journalist Pat Gilbert (Dana Andrews), there to cover the fair. As you can guess, those two also fall in love, and their love is much more real than the romance between Wayne and Emily. But there's a problem in that at the film's climax, Pat gets a job offer he really can't refuse, that of a columnist in Chicago. He'd have to accept almost right away, which would mean stiffing Margy.

There are also extended scenes of the judging of Ma's pie and pickles, along with the judging of Pa's boar. Unfortunately, these feel more like they're bringing the movie to a halt. I'm guessing I got those feelings because Winninger and Bainter are decided supporting players, and not stars who could carry a movie the way Will Rogers could. There's also a lot of music, and when I say a lot, it seems to be more than most musicals if not to the level of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

And ultimately, I think, it's whether or not you like the muisc and the whole musical genre that will determine how much you like State Fair. It's the sort of musical that Fox was quite adept at producing in the 1940s, and I can see why audiences of the day would have flocked to it, wanting something homespun and comforting in the aftermath of World War II.

I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, and to be honest, I prefer Fox's biopic musicals from the same era. But people who like musicals will probably really like State Fair.

Thursday Movie Picks #364: Best Cinematography (Oscar Edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Being the first Thursday of the month, we're getting another Academy Awards-themed week. This time, the awards in question are Cinematography and Visual Effects. So it's easy enough to look up a list of winners and pick from among them.

I decided to go with just Cinematography. For about 25 years, from 1939 through 1966, there were actually two awards, one for color cinematography and one for black-and-white cinematography. Indeed, it was the Academy's getting rid of the separate categories in cinematography, costume design (wich only started in 1948), and art direction (started in 1940) that led to the end of Hollywood producing films in black and white. In the end, I only selected one movie from the era of two awards:

The Garden of Allah (1936). Winners: W. Howard Greene and Harold Rosson. Marlene Dietrich plays a woman in French Algeria who remembers her relationship with a monk (Charles Boyer) who renounced his vows until she learned that he was the last person to know the secret of the monks' liqueur and that his leaving the monastery would lead that to die out. The movie was in color, and received a special award for its color cinematography; this was the first of three special awards for color cinematography before it was made an official category. The plot may be somewhat eyeroll-inducing, especially if you're not into romances. But the color cinematography is absolutely jaw-dropping.

Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). Winner: Milton Krasner As I said when I blogged about this a few months back, somebody must have seen Roman Holiday and decided that what audiences needed was to see Rome in Cinemascope and Technicolor. Maggie McNamara plays an American who moves to Rome and moves in with Jean Peters and Dorothy McGuire. All three of them have romances: McNamara with prince Louis Jourdan; Peters with co-worker Rossano Brazzi; and McGuire with terminally ill American author Clifton Webb. The romance storylines are about as bad as The Garden of Allah, but the cinematography on the Italian locations is lovely.

Cries and Whispers (1973). Winner: Sven Nykvist. Harriet Andersson plays a woman in circa-1900 Sweden who's dying of cancer. Her two sisters (Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin) come to visit, and all sorts of family conflicts come back to the surface as everybody has flashbacks to why they are the way they are. While movies of today seem to be dominated by color palettes of orange and teal, Cries and Whispers has a color palette of red, red, and red. And if you don't like that red, there will be a lot more in the next scene.