Friday, April 30, 2021

A Life at Stake

Going through that Mill Creek box set of crime movies, I recently decided to watch another completely new to me movie off of it, A Life at Stake.

Keith Andes plays Edward Shaw, a man who got into the building trade after World War II much the same way Zachary Scott's character in The Unfaithful was. The only thing is that in Edward's case, one of the deals went south, and a whole bunch of his good friends lost their investments. Apparently Shaw wound up with a $1,000 bill out of it, which he had framed and refuses to break for... reasons that aren't really well explained.

Shaw lives in a rooming house run by an unnamed landlady (Jane Darwell), and coming to visit Shaw is lawyer Sam Pearson (Gavin Gordon). Pearson has an offer for Shaw that might get those debts paid off, and might get Shaw to start building housing developments again. The backers are the Hillmans, wealthy Gus (Douglass Dumbrille) and his much younger wife Doris (Angela Lansbury).

Edward meets Doris out by the swimming pool at her house, and it seems like there might be some sparks between the two of them. At any rate, Edward agrees to the deal and is even able to get Gus to pay off the debts, at least in installments. He's putting up enough money that doing all of it at once is going to be difficult.

One minor detail in the agreement is that the Hillmans are going to take out "key man" insurance on Edward. This sort of insurance is often for something like a TV show where if one key star dies suddenly, it'll pay off for all the people who will be put out of work by the star no longer being there. But in this case architect Edward is nominally supposed to be that key man, if you can believe it.

Edward has good reason to believe it's bogus, especially when it turns out that another of the Hillmans' business associated died in Wyoming under mysterious circumstances. After all, why do they need that much insurance on a little old architect? And why did they get an insurance policy that's non-cancellable (and why would the insurance company agree to that)? And why are they trying to drug him?

You can guess where things are going to go, with Edward getting increasingly paranoid and the Hillmans possibly trying to kill him. This is an ultra-B movie despite the presence of Lansbury, so there really aren't any surprises, especially as all of the wacky plot details wind up being more important by the end of the movie.

The print on the box set I have doesn't have a production company logo at the beginning, having been made independently by some studio I hadn't heard of; unsurprisingly, the print is also a bit raggedy. While A Life at Stake is by no means a great movie, it's the sort of thing you could imagine getting played on some local station's Late Late Show.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Hot Dog

I hadn't done a post on a short in a while, in part because TCM isn't listing what shorts are in the schedule ever since the website changed formats. I bought the Dogville collection some time back, so I decided to put one of the DVDs in and watch one of the shorts, Hot Dog.

I think this is the first of the Dogville shorts, since there's almost no plot here and it's not focused on parodying other movies the way later entries in the series did. Instead, the first half of the short focuses on a nightclub and pans over most of the customers while showing a bit of the floor shot. One female dog is there with a male dog who is not her husband. The husband shows up, a shooting occurs, and then there's a trial. That's about it.

Hot Dog is also the weakest of the Dogville shorts I've seen so far, and it's not the first one I'd show to people, but I'm glad that it's on the box set.

Thursday Movie Picks #355: TV Theme Songs (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're in the last week of the month, which means that it's time for another TV edition. This month, the subject is TV themes or scores, which is fairly easy. So I thought about what sort of theme-within-a-theme I'd do. I had a couple in mind, such as composer Mike Post (The Rockford Files and others), or themes that became big hits, such as Welcome Back, Kotter. In the end, I decided to go with three TV shows that borrowed pieces of classical music. I think for two of the shows the music is at least as connected with the show as it is as a standalone piece:

Alfred Hitchock Presents (1955-1965). Appropriate, I suppose, for a movie blog, this TV show produced and hosted by the famous movie director is an anthology of mystery and suspense stories. The theme music is "Funeral March of a Marionette", by French composer Charles Gounod:


Firing Line (1966-1999). Conservative writer and thinker William F. Buckley hosted this long-format interview show with a wide range of guests from across the political spectrum and a polite, if clearly adversarial, style of interviewing allowing guests to explain themselves more fully and designed to be more highbrow than, say the Sunday morning shows. An example of this is British philosopher Malcom Muggeridge who did several episodes, including one which became a Christmas staple. The theme song is the third movement of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2.

Masterpiece Theatre (1971-2008). PBS anthology show repackaging BBC dramas such as Upstairs, Downstairs or I, Claudius. The show dropped the word "Theatre" in 2008, as part of a restructuring that also changed its sister program Mystery; at the same time it also dropped the theme known for three dozen years, Jean-Joseph Mouret's Rondeau. Under the new title of Masterpiece Classic, it's aired such BBC fare as Downton Abbey.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now

There are multiple different movies with different stories but having the same title, Mannequin. Recently, I watched the 1937 Mannequin.

Joan Crawford stars as Jessie Cassidy, a woman working in some sort of garment factory and supporting an entire family of Mom (Elisabeth Risdon), Dad (Oscar O'Shea), and bratty kid brother Clifford (Leo Gorcey). Dad and Clifford are both layabouts that don't seem to want to work for anything, and Jessie is really beginning to get sick of that. Thankfully, she's got a boyfriend in Eddie Miller (not the self-styled King of Noir and played by Alan Curtis) whom she likes and who wants her to marry him, so she does.

At their wedding dinner, Jessie and Eddie are in a restaurant where another of the patrons is John Hennessey (Spencer Tracy). He came from the same neighborhood as Jessie, but worked like a dog to make it to where he is now, which is pretty darn well-to-do in the shipping industry. But he visits his old roots, I guess trying to remind himself of where he might wind up if he's a slacker. He sees Jessie and immediately falls in love with her. But he's lso a fundamentally decent guy and is never going to try to woo Jessie because it would be wrong to pursue a married woman.

Jessie gets a new and better-paying job in the Gebhart Follies as a chorus girl, and finds that Eddie is almost as bad as her father and brother, always having some sort of get-rich-quick scheme that is of course never going to work. As an example, he gets some friends to lend them their apartment because they're going away for a few months or something, but never tells Jessie, so when the friends come back and want their apartment, Jessie and Eddie are out on their keisters. Who would stay married to somebody after an incident like that.

Eventually there's going to be one such incident too many, but the one that comes really takes the cake. Eddie decides on a sort of reverse Palm Beach Story. He and Jessie should get divorced so that Jessie can have a quickie marriage to Hennessey, and then take Hennessey for a bundle in alimony, after which Eddie will be on easy street. Jessie is unsurprisingly appalled, and this finally gets her to leave Eddie. She doesn't run to Hennessey, however, because she never loved him, just considered him a decent person.

Hennessey, however, finds out that Jessie and Eddie split, and starts looking for Jessie, who didn't leave any forwarding address. Eventually, however, Hennessey finds her working as a department store model (hence the title Mannequin) and starts putting the moves on her. Jessie refuses at first, since of course she doesn't love him the way he loves her, but Hennessey keeps trying and Jessie eventually decides that even if she doesn't love Hennessey, she likes him and there is financial security in being Mrs. John Hennessey.

Except that the longshoremen have a way of going out on strike. Hennessey has always tried to give his workers a fair deal, but eventually even his employees go out on strike. Since Hennessey has all his capital tied up in his business, it threatens him with bankruptcy. Worse, nasty Eddie shows up to tell Hennessey about the proposition he had made with Jessie just before she divorced him, to try to get Hennessey to believe that's the only reason Jessie married him.

Mannequin is a competent little programmer. It's certainly not the best thing in the careers of either Joan Crawford or Spencer Tracy, although to be fair this was just before Tracy won his Oscars and just a couple of years after he moved over to MGM, so he wasn't getting just prestige roles yet. Both pull off their parts just fine, although the story at times leaves a bit to be desired. Curtis is suitably nasty, and young Leo Gorcey is already ready for the Bowery Boys.

People who like 1930s movies or like Joan Crawford will enjoy Mannequin if they're looking for something new to them; for people newer to classic films I'd start with more prominent titles.

One little point of trivia: the brothers of two prominent character actors named Frank show up: Frank Morgan's brother Ralph plays Hennessey's right-hand man, while Frank McHugh's brother Matt is another of Hennessey's underlings. Apparently they were in two other movies together as well.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Anne of the Great Depression

I mentioned last week that the 1980s movie version of the Broadway musical Annie was coming up on TV this week. It'll be on tomorrow at 5:51 AM on Starz Kids and Familiy, with a repeat at 8:00 PM tomorrow.

Aileen Quinn plays Annie, a little orphan whose parents dropped her off at the New York orphanage for girls run by Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett). Hannigan is a nasty little blankety-blank, and makes the kids do all sorts of menial labor, kind of like the orphanage in Oliver Twist. The kids rebel by singing, while Annie is actually able to escape once, which is how she winds up with Sandy the dog.

Anyhow, Annie and Sandy get caught by a policeman who returns them to Miss Hannigan. At the same time, Grace Farrell (Ann Reinking), personal secretary to ultra-wealthy Oliver Warbucks (Albert Finney going bald) shows up at the orphanage. For PR reasons, Warbucks is looking to have a kid at his palatial mansion for the holidays. Annie eavesdrops on this, and is able to convince Grace to set requirements of what kind of kid gets selected to be exactly those requirements that Annie meets.

Annie is enchanted by the Warbucks mansion, and despite the fact that "Daddy" Warbucks didn't exactly want to do this at first, he's bowled over by Annie's charm, the same way everybody in Shirley Temple movies was, even though this is set before Temple became a star so name-dropping her is one of many anachronisms. (The Greta Garbo movie Camille is even more surprising, especially considering that Annie wasn't released by MGM.

Annie still talks fondly about her parents, who left her at the orphanage with nothing but the clothes on her back and half of a locket. Warbucks decides he's going to find Annie's parents for her and give them a reward to be able to take care of Annie. He doesn't mention the locket, however, so that the multitude of imposters will overlook a key fact they need to claim Annie, a sort of 1930s form of two-factor identification.

Miss Hannigan has the other half of the locket, as Annie's parents are in fact dead. (How Grace wasn't informed of this seems a major plot hole to me, as any sort of fostering would, I should think, have had to go through the government.) Two of Hannigan's old con-artist friends, Rooster (Tim Curry) and Lily (Bernadette Peters) show up willing to play the part of Annie's parents, since they'd be able to produce the locket. In exchange, they'll split the reward with Hannigan and dispose of Annie. The other orphans overhear all this and try to warn Warbucks.

If you're a 10-year-old girl who likes musicals, you'll love Annie. If you're either not a 10-year-old girl or don't care so much for musicals, you'll probably ahve a lot of problems with Annie. Making things even more difficult is that for the most part, it's children doing the singing, with the decidedly imperfect voices that pretty much every child has.

Everybody is also sharply drawn as either pure and virtuous or unalloyed evil. This is something that will work for kids, but as adults, it gets a bit grating. Still, even though I didn't care so much for Annie this is a much clearer case of a movie that some people are definitely going to like, and not so much a poor movie.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Devotion (1946)

I had two movies on my DVR titled Devotion, with different stories. The early talkie version doesn't seem to be on DVD, but the 1946-released movie titled Devotion is, so I watched that recently to do a review on here.

The Brontës are a family living in Yorkshire near the moors in the 1830s, where their father (Montagu Love) is a reverend in the Anglican chuch. There are four surviving children, daughters Charlotte (Olivia de Havilland), Emily (Ida Lupino), and Anne (Nancy Coleman), along with son Branwell (Arthur Kennedy). (In real life there were two older daughters but they, like all of the siblings, died young.)

As you probably know, all three of the surviving daughters liked to write, while Branwell liked to paint, as well as drink. Charlotte and Anne are set to go off to become governesses, while Emily stays to look after Branwell. He gets drunk one night at the local inn just as a new curate, Rev. Arthur Nicholls (Paul Henried) shows up to work alongside the overworked Rev. Brontë in the parish. Rev. Nicholls brings Branwell home, but Emily thinks Nicholls is one of Branwell's drunkard friends.

Emily has on again-off again feelings toward Arthur, until Charlotte shows up back home. The three sisters finally think about publishing some of their poetry, although they do it under male pseudonyms since apparently the thought of women writers, at least from outside the gentry, was somewhat scandalous. Not as scandalous as Branwell's behavior, mind you, but scandalous nonetheless.

Emily and Charlotte go off to Brussels to teach in a school there, where they meet married headmaster Constantin Heger (Victor Francen). Charlotte is portrayed as having a crush on Heger while Emily has more muted feelings for him, although this is probably just Hollywood hogwash from what I've read. Branwell has another bout of illness that forces the sisters to return home, just in time for him to die.

As you know from real life, Emily became famous for writing Wuthering Heights and Charlotte for Jane Eyre. Charlotte goes to London after Jane Eyre has been published under the pseudonym Currer Bell. There she meets William Thackeray (Sydney Greenstreet), author of successful books like Vanity Fair. He learns the secret of the Bells which is that they're actually women, and thinks that Emily's writing is more powerful than Charlotte's, not that he dislikes Charlotte. And then Emily gets sick too....

As with most Hollywood biopics, from what I read, there's a lot in Devotion that's exaggeration at best and made up out of whole cloth at worst. As a movie, however, Devotion is an interesting jumping-off point if you want to learn more about the Brontës. Arthur Kennedy looks like he's channeling MGM contract player Van Heflin here, although since the movie was made at Warner Bros. they probably couldn't get Heflin. In fact, although the movie was released in 1946, it was actually made early in 1943 and shelved for a couple of years, possibly because of de Havilland's lawsuit against Warner Bros. (Indeed, Montagu Love died in 1943, long before the movie was released.)

De Havilland and Lupino both do reasonably well, although some people might find the material a little beneath them what with Hollywood's changing biographies around for dramatic effect. It all winds up feeling like material that should have been handled by MGM since they still had the gloss necessary to put this kind of movie over. Devotion isn't bad by any means, but it feels like it could have been so much more.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Briefs for April 25-26, 2021

Ah, yes, the Oscars are tonight. Not that I've been paying attention, since I don't watch too many recent films. That's especially so with the government forcing movie theaters to shut down thanks to the coronavirus, and my lack of internet bandwidth suitable for streaming lots of movies. I think I saw a story on the news recently that New York finally allowed movie theaters to reopen, but only at 25% capacity. That wasn't enough for the local arthouse theater, which is permanently leaving one of its two locations.

TCM's programming for 31 Days of Oscar this year having all the movies in alphabetical order means that if you've got a remake, chances are it means you're going to have the same story twice in a row. Or, in fact, three times in a row. The first three of the movies called A Star Is Born are going to be run back-to-back starting tomorrow at 6:00 PM with the 1937 Janet Gaynor/Fredric March version. That will be followed at 8:00 PM by the 1954 Judy Garland/James Mason film, and the 1976 Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version at 11:15 PM. The recent version with Lady Gaga is not on the schedule, although if memory serves it actually won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Some people might argue that the original version of the story is actually 1932's What Price Hollywood?, which did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story. But What Price Hollywood? is not on the 31 Days of Oscar schedule.

Over on FXM, a movie that's back in the rotation is Forever Amber, which I blogged about almost exactly 10 years ago. It kicks off tomorrow's FXM Retro block at 3:30 AM with a second airing at 10:55 AM tomorrow, and one more on Mother's Day, but that's in two weeks' time. StarzEncore Westerns is one of the few premium channels that has really old movies on a regular basis, but I don't see anything that I blogged about a long time ago and ought to bring up again.

Director Monte Hellman died on Tuesday at the age of 91. He's probably best known for Two Lane Blacktop which I haven't blogged about before; it's probably likeliest to wind up on TCM Underground. One of his earliest movies was Back Door to Hell with a young Jack Nicholson. In addition to directing, he took over editing and some direction on Avalanche Express after Mark Robson died.

Wise Blood

John Huston is one of those directors whose work I've found very uneven as I've gone through it, at least in terms of how much I've liked it. Some of the movies are greats, like The Maltese Falcon or The Asphalt Jungle; others like Sinful Davey and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean have left me much colder. Another movie that fits into that second category is Wise Blood.

Based on a book by southern writer Flannery O'Connor, the movie stars Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes. Hazel has just gotten out of the army, and returned to his old home somewhere in Georgia, although the exact location isn't mentioned. Apparently his parents must have died while he was in the army and nobody told him, since he gets to the old homestead acting as though he's expecting somebody to be there for him. Instead, the home is dilapidated and everybody's been buried. So Hazel sells off his army uniform, buys a new suit of clothes, and sets off for the big city of Taulkinham.

Taulkinham looks amazingly like the city of Macon, GA, considering how many of the businesses are Macon something-or-others. (As you can guess, and the closing credits reveal, the film was indeed shot in Macon.) After cavorting with a prostitute, Hazel goes out to see the town, which is how he meets Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton) and Hawks' daughter Sabbath (Amy Wright). Asa is a blind street preacher who is so obviously a fraud and con artist that you wonder why on earth anybody would stop and listen to this guy, much less make a donation. Hazel thinks Asa's preaching is nonsense, but he's clearly taken by Sabbath. He also makes his one friend in Taulkinham, another transplant named Enoch Emory (Dan Shor). Or, at least, Enoch considers him a friend.

Hazel decides he's going to find out where Sabbath and her father live, which turns out to be a rooming house run by an unnamed landlady (Mary Nell Santacroce). After some talking with Sabbath and Asa, and Hazel's rejection of traditional Christianity, Hazel decides he's going to become a street preacher too, preaching the Church of Truth Without Christ, or something like that.

How anybody could listen to Hazel either is a mystery that is left unanswered. But Sabbath keeps pursuing Hazel, and Enoch tries to keep making Hazel be his friend. Asa's non-blindness is revealed by Hazel and Asa winds up working with another preacher (Ned Beatty), while Enoch goes nuts and steals a gorilla costume in a subplot that makes no sense whatsoever.

In fact, none of the movie makes sense. Perhaps I'm being too hard on John Huston, and instead should be harder on Flannery O'Connor for writing a story that doesn't translate to film. (Having not read the original book, I don't know if it doesn't work in print form either.) It also doesn't help that there's not one likeable character here. Every one of them is a selfish jerk, and with a bare wisp of a story, it's hard to be interested in these people.

However, some people will probably enjoy this look at a certain segment of society at an unnamed time. As for that time, most of the production design such as the cars suggests the 1970s (the movie was released in 1979), but the themes seem more from the days of The Trip to Bountiful (just after World War II) and Hazel takes what really seems to be a pre-Amtrak train. I assume the themes are supposed to be timeless.

So Wise Blood is absolutely a movie that you're going to have to watch and judge for yourself. You may come to a completely different conclusion than I did.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Ford v Ferrari

Whenver we get a free preview weekend from DirecTV of one or another subset of premium channels, I find myself recording a bunch of movies. During one of those weekends, I recorded Ford v Ferrari. It's going to be on HBO tomorrow morning at 9:20 AM (or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed), so I recently watched it to do a review on it today.

In 1959, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wins the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race in an Aston-Martin. But upon returning to America, his doctor informs him that he has a heart valve issue that results in his having a high resting heart rate that will kill him if he keeps racing. (In real life Shelby had that issue since childhood and finally got a heart transplant in the late 1980s.) So Shelby turned to desiging racing cars.

Meanwhile, at Ford Motor Co., sales are flagging thanks to a change in taste among the American car-buying public. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal), a junior executive at Ford at the time (he'd become chairman in 1970, get fired in the late 70s, and move to Chrysler where he was chairman for a dozen years), comes up with the idea of going into European-style auto racing, NASCAR being a highly regional thing at the time. The first idea is to go into partnership with Ferrari, which had the best racing team at the time. But Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) is disdainful of the Americans and uses the offer to extract a higher price from Fiat. So Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides to start a team to go up against Ferrari and beat them at their own game.

Ken Miles (Christian Bale) is a British World War II veteran and would-be racecar driver who, in order to pay the bills, opens a garage repairing other people's cars in the Los Angeles area. Shelby finds Miles, and knowing Miles' reputation, hires Miles to test drive Shelby's cars as well as driving some of them in more local races. Miles is successful, but because of his abrasive reputation, it's going to be hard for him to work with anybody but Shelby.

This is going to be a problem because Ford, in their desire to beat Ferrari, turn to Shelby for help. Shelby is a good designer, and with Miles as a driver, is able to diagnose all of the problems with Ford's prototypes. However, the attempts to improve the prototype result in brake fade that almost kills Miles. That's going to make it difficult to get the car ready for the 1966 Le Mans, let alone have any chance to defeat Ferrari. But thanks to a lot of work and a daring wager from Shelby, not only are they ready for Le Mans, but Miles has a chance to be a driver for one of the cars.

Ford v Ferrari is based on a true story, and like most Hollywood retellings of history, it gets things wrong, although often for dramatic effect. I have no idea what these people were like in real life, although it wouldn't surprise me that, to get to the top of their chosen field, they all had to be extremely driven to the point of alienating folks around them. Damon's Shelby and Bale's Miles both display this quite well, with Iacocca being slightly less obnoxious.

I'm not a fan of auto racing to be honest, but found the portrayal of the characters in the run-up to the racing to be quite compelling. The races, however -- and the 1966 Le Mans unsurprisingly takes up a good half hour or so -- were a bit more difficult for me to get through. Part of this was that the special effects were the sort of latter-day effects that always leave me cold, as I talked about when I reviewed 1917. A bigger issue, for me, however, was the amount of Hollywood heartstring-tugging going on during the race with, among other things, constant cutting to Miles' wife and kid back in Los Angeles watching the race (which I would have thought wasn't broadcast live, and certainly not for the entire 24 hours). Others may not have a problem with this sort of story-telling.

In any case, Ford v Ferrari is definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Friday, April 23, 2021

The French Lieutenant's Woman

Another of the movies that I recorded some months ago on TCM and only recently got around to watching is the early Meryl Streep movie The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Streep plays Sarah, a young woman who at the start of the movie is walking along a breakwater somewhere in southwest England in the 1860s. Except that we're seeing the making of a movie, much like in Day for Night. After a scene of this and some of the people taking about Sarah's doomed relationship with a French lieutenant, we cut seamlessly to the present day. There, Anna, the actress playing Sarah, is sleeping in her hotel room with her costar Mike (Jeremy Irons), when she gets a make-up call that he answers, so everyone knows about their affair, since they're married to other people.

The big difference between The French Lieutenant's Woman and Day for Night, however, is that in The French Lieutenant's Woman, the movie-within-a-movie is treated as the main story, as this isn't a movie about the making of a movie. So with the exception of a director' clapper at the beginning and a set that hasn't been struck at a wrap party at the end, we don't really see things from the point of view of a crewmember, but as if we're in the movie theater watching the movie, because well, we are, more or less.

So the movie jumps sharply from the Victorian era to the present-day actors and back, which is how we learn that in many ways they're going through the same story. In the Victorian era, Mike's character Charles is a Darwinian looking for fossils who meets Sarah and falls in love with her. The only problem is, he's already fallen in love with Ernestina Freeman (Lynsey Baxter) and ask her father (Peter Vaughan) for her hand in marriage.

Meanwhile, Sarah is emotionally unstable because of the failed romance, and rather an outcast because she's defying convention. One doctor suggests to Charles that Sarah is suffering from melancholia, and should perhaps be sent away to a sanitarium. Charles, for his part, can't get Sarah out of his mind.

The cast were shooting on location in Exeter, and eventually, Anna learns that her husband is flying in, so since there's apparently going to be a break in shooting, she'll go see her husband in London for a few weeks. This distresses Mike greatly, who organizes a luncheon for a few of the main cast members and their families at his London house. There, it's discussed that the book on which the movie-within-a-movie is based has two endings, one happy and one sad. Which one will the movie take, and which one will the actors' lives take?

The French Lieutenant's Woman is based on a book that was apparently considered for quite some time to be very difficult to translate to the big screen. I haven't read the book, but from my viewing of the movie, what they did make works exceedingly well. Both halves of the story are compelling, and since there's a big difference between the look of the Victorian era and 1981 (I couldn't help but imagine Meryl Streep lending those eyeglasses to Dustin Hoffman for Tootsie), it's not exactly complicated to distinguish the two stories.

The actors all give good performances, with the two leads understandably being the best, and the production design works, with the standard movie caveat of everything being too bright and clean.

Apparently, audiences of the day didn't care for the movie's structure, and it was a box-office bomb. That's a shame, since the movie worked for me, and I think is one that should be better remembered.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #354: Psychological Thrillers

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "Psychological Thrillers", another one that seemed a bit tough, so I decided to go with three suspense movies in which people try to solve murders at some danger to themselves, with pyschiatric analysis playing a part in all three movies:

Spellbound (1945). Gregory Peck plays the new head of a sanitarium in Vermont where one of the staff psychiatrists, Ingrid Bergman, falls in love with him. The only thing is, Peck isn't the new boss, but an amnesiac under the care of the man who was supposed to be the new boss, and who was murdered, with Peck being an obvious suspect. Bergman and Peck go on the run to try to solve the murder, before the authorities can catch up with him. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, there's a very famous dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali, and a laughable Freudian kiss involving a double exposure of a long hallway with doors opening up. (Almost as memorable and obvious as the train going into the tunnel at the end of Hitchcock's later North by Northwest.)

Klute (1971). John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a detective in small-town Pennsylvania who gets asked to investigate the disappearance of a local businessman who disappeared in New York City. Klute goes to the big city and finds that the disappeared guy was seeing prostitute Bree (Jane Fonda in her first Oscar-winning role), who may know more about what's going on. In asides, Bree discusses with her psychoanaylst why she's into prostitution. As Klute keeps investigating, both he and Bree might be in danger.

Still of the Night (1982). Roy Scheider plays a psychiatrist who is visited by the mistress (Meryl Streep) of one of his patients. The patient winds up murdered, and as the good doctor investigates, he winds up falling in love with the mistress, even though she's an obvious suspect in the killing, and both of them might be in more danger the closer he gets to finding out who committed the murder.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

C'era una volta

Some time back TCM had a day of interesting love story movies, which gave me the chance to record a couple more movies I hadn't seen before. Among them was More Than a Miracle.

After a 1960s MOR song by Roger Williams with choir, we finally, mercifully get to the action of the story. Omar Sharif plays Prince Rodrigo, the prince of somewhere in Spain. He's busy breaking a horse, which rather irritates his mommy, the Queen (Dolores del Rio), who would rather he do his princely duties and get married and start producing more heirs to the throne. Rodrigo doesn't seem to care, so he rides off with the horse until it throws him.

After searching for the horse, Rodrigo comes upon a monastery where there's a flying monk (not played by Sally Field) named Giuseppe sees Rodrigo in torn clothing from the fall, so he (and nobody else) seems to know that he's a Spanish prince. Giuseppe gives him some magic flour and tells him to make seven dumplings from it and eat them, before giving Rodrigo a donkey to get back home.

On the way home, Rodrigo finds his horse, which is now being used by a peasant woman Isabella (Mrs. Carlo Ponti, Ponti having been the producer; of course, Ponti's wife was Sophia Loren) to carry the harvest. Isabella understandably doesn't want to surrender the horse and doesn't like this insistent man who keeps begging her to make those seven dumplings. Finally, just to get rid of him, she does, but she eats one of them herself.

The end result of all this falderal is that Rodrigo and Isabella wind up falling in love with each other, but it's going to take them a long time to get back together and wind up in love in the last reel. Isabella enlists the help of some witches, but later some of Rodrigo's men stick her in a barrel where she's supposed to stay for five days with only bread and water, except that the barrel starts rolling all the way to the sea. Don't ask, I don't think it's supposed to make sense.

Ultimately Rodrigo is going to be married off whether he likes it or not, and Mom has selected seven princesses as candidates, each having some political advantage. Poor Rodrigo isn't even going to get to pick, as the bride will be whichever princess wins an odd homemaking contest of washing a large stack of dishes as quickly as possible while breaking as few of them as possible. Aren't these princesses going to have servants? Isabella worms her way into the contest, and looks like she's going to win, but....

As you can tell from the snark in the preceding paragraphs, I had a lot of problems with More Than a Miracle. Now, the fact that magic and witches are involved could, I suppose, be used as an explanation for why the plot doesn't make much sense, jumping from point to point. But I don't think it's a good enough explanation. The movie is also quite slow, taking way too long to get to the conclusion even though it only runs 103 minutes.

The other problem might be guessed from my title for the blog post. More Than a Miracle was an Italian-French production that MGM somehow got the rights to distribute in the US. But it was originally filmed in Italian, with the American title release More Than a Miracle being dubbed into English, and not too well. I'd guess that Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif did their own voices with Ponti intending from the start for the movie to be dubbed for American audiences. But the rest of the cast is badly dubbed, especially the main witch and a group of ragamuffins who sound much older than they look. It's highly intrusive.

More Than a Miracle, having been distributed in the US by MGM, did get a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

As much of an acquired taste as My Sharona

A few months back, TCM had a one-night spotlight of the films of director Richard Lester. One that I hadn't blogged about before is The Knack... and How to Get It. Recently, I finally got around to watching it, so now you get the post on it.

Michael Crawford (yes, the guy who'd do Phantom of the Opera in the 1980s) plays Colin, a schoolteacher living in a London house that he probably inherited, since there's no good way that he could afford a house like that otherwise. Indeed, he can't afford it, which is why he's renting out rooms to people like Tolen (Ray Brooks), who doesn't use his given name. Tolen has a string of women coming to his room one after the other while he makes love to them. Colin isn't thrilled with this, as he thinks he should be able to get women too. Perhaps Tolen can teach him.

There's another empty room to let in the house, and a la Charles Coburn in The More the Merrier, young Tom (Donal Donnelly) walks in through the window and decides on the spot to rent the room for himself. However, he doesn't like Colin's furniture, or the color of the walls, so Tom takes it upon himself to change these, blocking the front door with the furniture, among other things. Now, I don't understand why Colin would keep Tom around in a situation like this, but whatever. Don't pay attention to the plot.

Meanwhile, coming into London for the first time is Nancy (Rita Tushingham), looking for the YWCA probably because it's fun to stay there. Again, you'd think she'd have looked up the address of the YWCA before she left for London, and then figured out which bus to take to get there. Instead, she just randomly starts asking strangers, who probably shouldn't have any better idea where the YWCA is in such a big city. The movie keep going back and forth between Nancy's subplot and the three guys, but you know the two are going to converge eventually.

When Nancy meets up with the guys, Tolen immediately starts putting the moves on her although Colin thinks he should have first dibs, especially since it's his house and Tolen has enough women already. Tom has more sympathy for Colin than Tolen. The fact that you can probably guess which two are going to wind up together doesn't help.

There are a lot of problems with The Knack... and How to Get It, starting with the fact that the movie isn't really about the nominal plot. Instead, like The Bed-Sitting Room, it's more of an absurdist comedy. Richard Lester, who directed, had already made It's Trad, Dad! and A Hard Day's Night, which both play with our perceptions and in the case of the former, really break the fourth wall. But this time around, it doesn't work.

The plot holes, if you actually pay attention to the plot, don't help either. Nancy is unbelievably stupid, while Tolen is such a dick that you can't help but wonder why Colin didn't evict him long ago. Whole sections run on too long (even though the movie is only 84 minutes), the the humor isn't that funny.

But perhaps I'm not of the right generation to enjoy this one, and those who enjoy Mod London will. (On the other hand, I liked Georgy Girl and Bedazzled, for example.) So watch and judge for yourself.

Monday, April 19, 2021

And Then There Were Nine

Every now and then I buy the cheap public-domain DVDs because the titles sound interesting. One such example that I recently watched is The Ninth Guest.

The movie stars off with a bank of telephone operators who work for a telegram-by-phone service where you call in the telegrams. Somebody sends out anonymous telegrams to eight people inviting them to a party at a penthouse apartment. Among the eight are college dean Murray Reid (Samuel S. Hinds), who has just received a large donation from Jason Osgood (Edwin Maxwell, looking vaguely reminiscent of Edward Arnold). Osgood is doing it for the positive publicity, considering that he's screwed up by backing the wrong person to run for mayor against the corrupt machine led by Tim Cronin (Edward Ellis) and his attorney/girlfriend Sylvia Inglesby (Helen Flint). Also invited to the party is socialite Margaret Chisholm (Nella Walker), who doesn't want his daughter hanging out with Cronin's crowd; childhood friends Jim Daley (Donald Cook) and Helen Trent (Genevieve Tobin); and Henry Abbott (Hardie Albright), who got kicked out of Reid's college for being a political radical.

On the night of the party, we see butler Hawkins (Sidney Bracey), giving a cook a script of how the party is supposed to go, one which was given to Hawkins by an unseen host. Everything has to go precisely to schedule, for reasons we will soon learn. The guests come, and all of them think that one of the others was responsible for organizing the party, especially considering that Osgood and Cook were both invited and they hate each other's guts. But none of them is the organizer, each having received the identical telegram.

Along with the cocktails, the butler turns on the radio for some background music. But the voice of an announcer not named U.N. Owen comes on, telling the guests that they're going to be playing a game against an unseen ninth guest, one named Death! Our invitees are going to have to keep their wits about them to defeat Death and stay alive. They can't just leave the party because the host has electrified both the radio and the gate to the outside world (you'd think there was a service entrance that bypasses this gate, but no mention of it is made, and it probably would have been electrified too). Indeed, one guest does eventually make the mistake of trying to use the gate and pays a grisly price for it.

Anyhow, our host plans on killing the guests one by one, every hour on the hour. Or at least letting them bump themselves off. Osgood plans to poison everybody else with the prussic acid (an old name for cyanide) left in a bottle, but he accidentally poisons himself. Then, somebody mysteriously leaves a letter for Margaret where only she'll find it, and that leads her to commit suicide. It goes on like this, until....

You'll be forgiven for thinking of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians as you watch this, since the plots seem so similar. However, The Ninth Guest is based on a play and novel which came out nine years before Christie's book, so this is actually the original. (Everything I read suggests Christie was completely unfamiliar with this book/play/movie.) While it may not have the polish of either Christie's writing or the movies based on Christie's books, it's still quite entertaining. I'd also think that people interested in Agatha Christie would enjoy seeing this movie precursor to one of Christie's more famous works.

The Reel Vault DVD is still available at Amazon.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Gone With the Bayou

Some months back, TCM ran a one-night spotlight on some of the films of actress Yvonne De Carlo. One that I hadn't seen before is Band of Angels, so I DVRed it and recently watched it to do a post on here.

Yvonne De Carlo plays Amantha Starr, daughter of the owner of a plantation in 1850s Kentucky (however, the opening act has Amantha as a child). Mom died years ago, and Dad has doted on Amantha ever since, mortgaging the plantation to send Amantha to a good boarding school up in Cincinnati where she meets northerners like Ethan Sears (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) who are firmly opposed to slavery.

Bad news comes when Amantha learns that her father has fallen ill; she can't get home soon enough and Dad is quite dead. It's at Dad's burial that Amantha learns about Dad's having mortgaged the farm. But worse, she learns that Dad had consorted with some of the slaves, and that Amantha is the daughter of one of the slaves. Now, you'd think a doting Dad would have provided for Amantha in his will, at least by setting her free, or doing it much earlier in her life. But somehow Dad never got around to it, and Amantha is somehow still technically a slave. With that giant plot hole, the movie immediately began to go off the rails for me.

As a black person who could pass for white, Amantha can obviously command a much higher price at the slave auction, and Rhett Butler shows up to buy her for the princely sum of $5000. OK, it's not Rhett Butler, but you can be forgiven for comparing Band of Angels to Gone With the Wind. It is Clark Gable, 20 years older and playing a character named Hamish Bond. Hamish takes Amantha to New Orleans, where he makes her his new mistress.

I say "new mistress" because Hamish apparently had a previous slave mistress. He's also got a slave who serves as his factotum, Rau-Ru (Sidney Poitier). Hamish had Rau-Ru educated at great personal risk, since black slaves weren't supposed to be educated as they might get ideas above their station. Indeed, Rau-Ru resents Hamish even more than if he hadn't gotten an education and other "good" treatment from Hamish. After all, Rau-Ru is still a slave.

As the movie opened in the early 1850s and Amantha was just a girl then, you know what's coming up in American history. One of Hamish's friends from his days sailing the oceans brings up the secession of Louisiana, although it's not until after Hamish decamps from New Orleans to a plantation upriver that the attack of Fort Sumter occurs and the Civil War begins in earnest.

The North wins the Civil War, of course, and as they're subjugating Louisiana all of the plantation owners decide to burn their cotton crops so as not to give the North anything useful. This even though it's against martial law and makes Hamish and the other plantation owners outlaws. There's also a subplot about another of the owners, Charles de Marigny (Patric Knowles), trying to put the moves on Amantha.

Band of Angels is one big mess. It's an interesting mess, mind you, but a mess nonetheless. It veers from one plot point to another, having some wildly implausible character motivations. There's also all the tropes that Hollywood had in those days of the Romantic South, as well as an impossible ending. So while I didn't hate Band of Angels, I certainly didn't love it either.

Band of Angels is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, should you wish to watch for yourself.

Coming Attractions, April 18-April 20 (or so), 2021

I've got some things I've watched recently that I could blog about, but I was looking through the listings recently to see what's coming up that I blogged about a while back. TCM's 31 Days of Oscar is up to N, starting at 4:00 this afternoon with The Naked Spur. Surprisingly, the N's don't even continue for 24 hours before we get to O movies with Odd Man Out, at 11:00 AM tomorrow.

Over on other channels, there's One Foot In Hell, tonight at 11:54 PM on StarzEncore Westerns. This would also be the place to point out that the similarly-titled, but completely different movie One Foot in Heaven got an Oscar nomination, so TCM can use it for 31 Days of Oscar, and does, at 2:00 AM Tuesday.

I can't believe it's been 12 years since I blogged about Antwone Fisher. It shows up overnight tonight at 2:38 AM on HBO Zone, as well as several more times over the next couple of weeks.

Over on FXM, it's only been 11 years since I did a post on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, which will be on again at 6:00 AM tomorrow. Of course, I think I've mentioned it a few times since then in the FXM repeats threads I do from time to time. (I don't think there's anything on FXM this week that I've both watched recently and haven't blogged about yet. Maybe that will change at the start of May.)

As for movies that are on my DVR and are coming up but I haven't blogged about, there's the 1982 musical version of Annie, among other times at 2:18 PM tomorrow on Starz Family. However, I was planning on getting to it this coming weekend, since I've actually got a vacation day off of work.

On against Annie, tomorrow at 1:44 PM on StarzEncore Mystery, is The Fury, which I only blogged about a decade ago. It's hard to believe I've been blogging for 13 years now.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Korean War All-Star Morale Booster

Doris Day was TCM's Star of the Month for March, which gave me the opportunity to record a couple of her movies that I hadn't blogged about before. Among them was Starlift.

Sgt. Mike Nolan (Dick Wesson) and Cpl. Rick Williams (Ron Hagerthy) are a couple of Air Force men from Travis AFB out in California, on a bit of leave in Los Angeles. They're not engaged in combat in the war over in Korea, but instead fly the combatants over the Pacific, returning with the injured getting sent stateside. In front of one of the theaters, they see a cardboard cutout of Warner Bros.' newest star, Nell Wayne (Janice Rule). Nell just happens to be from Williams' hometown of Youngstown, OH, and the two were even vaguely acquainted as Williams' dad was Nell's dentist.

Ruth Roman (playing herself) shows up, as does Doris Day (also playing herself). When they hear about Rick's being from the same town as Nell, the two actresses decide to bring him and Mike to their hotel to meet Nell (and James Cagney in another cameo). Unfortunately, Mike is a bit of a jerk, and leads the actresses to believe that the two are actually about to go off to combat, and that Rick and Nell are much closer thank they are in real life. But the actresses agree to go up to Travis AFB to see some of the men before they go off to Korea, in the sort of morale-booster that had been common in World War II.

Ruth Roman gets more into it, sort of the way Kay Francis did in Four Jills in a Jeep, and starts something called "Operation Starlift", to try to get all of the Warner Bros.' contract players to go up to Travis to see the men and perform for them. Meanwhile, Louella Parsons has been handed Mike's line of guff about Rick and Nell, and has made it into a really big story.

Nell keeps going up to Travis as part of Operation Starlift and, as you can guess, on one of those trips she's going to see Rick on the plane that's come back from Honolulu. Rick probably should have told Mike off and then told Nell the truth about what a jerk Mike was. But there's the problem of keeping up appearances for the sake of Nell's career. Worse, Rick's parents wind up in Los Angeles and meet Nell's parents.

The plot of Starlift isn't much to write about. But that's because the plot wasn't supposed to be the point of the story. Instead, Starlift was designed as the sort of morale-booster that every Hollywood studio had made the previous decade during World War II. Unfortunately, public opinion had changed in the intervening half-dozen years, and there wasn't the unanimity of purpose that there was in the 1940s.

Instead, the main reason to watch Starlift is for the cameo performances. Some of them are quite good. Doris Day, as you can expect, does very well with her songs. Gary Cooper shows up for one of the variety shows, playing a Texas Ranger who has to deal with Frank Lovejoy. These two do quite well also. On the minus side, Gordon MacRae's singing style is an acquired taste, and I definitely haven't acquired it. Peter Marshall and Tommy Noonan show up, unrecognizable, spoofing an Italian chef radio show. It doesn't work.

Starlift is an interesting historical curiosity, but not particularly great as a standalone film. It is available on DVD, however, if you want to watch for yourself.

Friday, April 16, 2021


It's been a month or so since I last recommended a silent movie, and I've got a couple sitting on the DVR. So I went ahead and watched The Phantom Carriage recently, available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, to write up a post on it here.

Victor Sjöström directed and starred, but the movie starts off with a young woman named Edit (Astrid Holm). She's a Salvation Army member on her deathbed, being attended to by a couple of her fellow nurses, on New Year's Eve. She wants them to go get David Holm (that's Sjöström) for her because, well, you'll learn that later in the movie. The other women are horrified because, as we'll soon see, David isn't the best person out there.

In fact, he's spending New Year's Eve drinking in a graveyard with a couple of friends. He remembers his old friend Georges, who died a year ago, and tells his other friends about Georges and his superstition about death. To wit, the Grim Reaper comes and collects the souls of the dead, using a horse-drawn carriage with a driver. The thing is, the driver is the last person who died in the old year, who has to drive the carriage for a year as some sort of penance.

And wouldn't you know it, but David and his friends get in some sort of argument that results in one of the friends hitting David over the head with a liquor bottle, knocking him to the ground, apparently quite dead. So the titular phantom carriage shows up, with Death deciding to show David just how badly he's screwed up not only his life, but the lives of all those around him. First is David's brother. David's own drinking got him into some sort of detention, but as in The Days of Wine and Roses, David introduces his own brother to the drink, with the results being even worse for the brother.

Also, while Davi was in detention, his wife (Hilda Borgström) up and left him, taking the two kids and not leaving any forwarding address for the obvious reasons. David vows to find her, and shows up at a Salvation Army flophouse for drunks and homeless men, becoming the first person to spend the night there. Edit is there, and mends David's coat for him, breathing in the germs that are going to give her tuberculosis and kill her, even though they haven't come close to killing David yet. David is such an ingrate that he tears up the mending that Edit did, saying that he liked the coat the way it was.

It goes on like this, with David eventually finding his wife when she shows up to admit to the Salvation Army workers that she's the cause of so much grief in everybody's life. David basically plans to make certain that his wife never leaves him, even resorting to force if necessary. Edit, for her part, is still hoping that David will come to see her since she thought her ministering to him would help him turn his life around. Obviously, it didn't.

The Phantom Carriage is a pretty darn good story, even if you could compare it to something like A Christmas Carol Sjöstron's camerawork is quite good, with a lot of use of double exposures to represent the fact that Georges and David are dead, and can't necessarily be seen by everybody else. I don't think the acting was nearly as histrionic as in some other silent films. In any case, The Phantom Carriage is absolutely worth tracking down and watching.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Enemy Mine

Another of the movies that made it into the FXM rotation recently is Enemy Mine. Its next airing will be tomorrow at 10:45 AM, so I recently watched it to do a post on here.

The movie is set in the relatively distant future of the late 21st century. Earthlings have figured out the problem of the speed of light being the maximum speed, as they've gone out into the universe and developed other planets. This has put them into conflict with another species, the Dracs. Dennis Quaid plays Willis Davidge, a space fighter pilot for Earth, who has the sort of rah-rah attitude that would be considered stereotypical if it occurred in a John Wayne war movie.

Unfortunately, Davidge's ship gets shot down in a battle with the Dracs, although his crew also shoots down the Drac ship, the two spacecraft amazingly surviving the journey through the atmosphere and winding up on a planet that can support both human and Drac life, albeit a planet that's otherwise harsh and forbidding.

Conveniently enough for the plot, the two ships come down on the planet relatively close to one another, so that they can continue their combat on the surface. At least, that's the intent of the two warriors, but it doesn't quite go that way as an intense meteor shower occurs, with enough of the meteorites hitting the surface at a big enough size that any one of the meteorites would kill both of them. So Davidge and the reptilian-looking Drac, named Jeriba (Louis Gossett Jr.) make their way to a cave to wait out the meteor shower.

It looks as though the two are going to be stranded on the planet for some time, so they start an uneasy alliance, sort of like the Frank Sinatra movie None But the Brave. Of course, it's a bit hard to find the Dracs too menacing once you hear their language which rolls its R's so badly it sounds like a parody of a brrrrrrrogue. And the movie is only going to get more and more ridiculous, but in a good way.

The Dracs are hermaphroditic, and somehow Jariba has gotten pregnant, which seems surprising to me in that I don't think the Dracs would sent the regnant off to fight. This especially when they have a tradition of reciting the heritage of their young back five generations in a ceremony on the Drac home world. Jariba and Davidge have by this time learned some of each other's languages, and Davidge actually seems to have some respect for Drac traditions.

But Jariba dies as a result of a difficult childbirth, leaving Davidge to try to care for a baby. Making matters worse is that there are earthlings who mine planets for the mineral wealth. That in and of itself is no big deal, but they use captured Drac slave labor to do it. And they come to this planet, so there's no way Davidge and Jariba's kid, named Zammis, are going to get help.

As I said, the plot of Enemy Mine veers into something that requires extensive suspension of disbelief, even more than most science fiction movies. It had me laughing at times when it was probably inappropriate to be laughing, but it was still a pretty good movie. The effects are good for the 1980s, and don't look like the CGI effect of today that have a tendency to leave me cold.

I don't think I'd heard of Enemy Mine before seeing it show up on the FXM schedule, and I'm glad I watched it. It does seem to be available on DVD, too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Don't call it "Slander"

In TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, we're about to get up to the letter L, which includes the movie Libel, on tomorrow morning at 6:00.

Paul Massie plays Jeffrey Buckenham, a Canadian pilot on a layover in London. While in a pub, he sees a TV program about the gret old manor houses of Britain. This episode focuses on Sir Mark Loddon (Dirk Bogarde) and his wife, Lady Margaret (Olivia de Havilland). That's something which really intrigues Jeffrey, for reasons that will become clear in a short while.

The Loddons have periodic guided tours of the estate in order to defray the costs of living there, and Jeffrey comes to one of those tours, more as a way of seeing Mark in the Loddons' private residence after the tour. It turns out that both Mark and Jeffrey served in World War II, and wound up in the same POW camp. Mark's bad experiences in the camp resulted in his only having sketchy memories of a lot of things that happened when he was younger before the War, which would explain why he doesn't recognize Jeffrey despite the fact that they escaped together.

When Jeffrey sees Mark's hand and sees that Mark has lost the first joint on one of his fingers, his suspicions are confirmed: this isn't Mark Loddon, but an impostor, Frank Welney. Frank was the third member of the escape, and an actor who had lost a joint on that finger. In Jeffrey's view, Frank's actions during the escape were less than honorable and resulted in Mark's death. So Mark writes an open letter to one of the Sunday tabloids.

Mark doesn't like that the letter was printed, and especially doesn't like the resulting publicity. In theory, they could just ignore it as the writings of a crank, but then what effect would it have on Mark and Margaret's son? So Mark makes the difficult decision to sue for libel, since the libel laws in the UK are rather more generous toward the putative victim than in the US. But the problem with taking the case to court is that a whole bunch of uncomfortable stuff is going to come out into the public, and with Mark having all sorts of memory holes thanks to that POW experience, who knows what's really going to come out.

Sir Wilfred (Robert Morley) is Sir Mark's barrister, while Hubert Foxley (Wilfrid Hyde-White) is Jeffrey's. At the trial, we get the views of both Jeffrey and Mark about what heppend both while they were in captivity, and that pivotal escape attempt, told in flashback. It's clear that Jeffrey thought even while they were all in captivity that Welney was a chancer who was trying to learn as much as possible about Mark's past life in order to kill Mark when the opportunity presented itself and take over Mark's identity. That opportunity would, in Jeffrey's view, present itself during the escape attempt.

Libel is a well-acted movie, albeit one with what seemed to me a glaring plot hole. Surely the British military would have had either fingerprint records of everyobdy under arms, or dental records, or both, in order to aid with identification of the killed in action if dog tags or other ID went missing. It should have been a fairly simple thing to check against those records. (A quick search suggests the US Army started fingerprinting soldiers all the way back in 1905; I couldn't find similar information for the UK.) I had other problems with the script, too, which is a shame since the actors all did a fine job.

Libel was produced by MGM's British arm, so it's no surprise that the movie has received a DVD release from the Warner Archive.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

They Live Dangerously

One of the movies that I had the chance to record off of TCM during John Garfield's turn as Star of the Month was Dangerously They Live. It's available on a standalone DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I recently watched it to do a review here.

We don't see Garfield for a couple of minutes; instead we first meet Jane (Nancy Coleman), leaving a British consulate-type building in New York. She gets into a taxi, not realizing that others have arranged it so she'd get into this particular taxi, which isn't going to take her where she wants to go. However, during the trip, the taxi gets into enough of a fender-bender to stop traffic. Jane is taken to the hospital for observation.

The reason she's being observed in hospital is because she claims not to know who she is. Intern Michael Lewis (that's John Garfield, not that you could miss him) is put on the case as he had an interest in amnesia from his medical school days. But Jane tells him that she doesn't really have amnesia; instead, she's Jane Greystone, a British agent with some secrets about the North Atlantic convoys that the Nazis want so they can bomb the convoys. (The movie was made just before the US entered World War II but not released until a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, which would explain the Americans' behavior here.)

Dr. Lewis doesn't know what to believe at first. Then, a man named Mr. Goodwin (Moroni Olsen) comes to the hospital claiming to be Jane's father. She claims not to recognize him, although she knows that he's with the fifth columnists. Dr. Lewis at least comes up with a reasonable test to find out whether Goodwin is telling the truth, which is to bring some photos of him and a younger Jane.

Put on the case by Goodwin is Dr. Ingersoll (Raymond Massey), whom Lewis knows from his medical school days. What Lewis doesn't realize is that Ingersoll is also one of the fifth columnists, so his pronouncements on Jane's condition are not necessarily to be believed. Eventually, Jane agrees to go home with "Dad", even if she knows the Goodwin place is a trap (she refers to it as a "concentration camp") but only if Dr. Lewis can accompany her to stay on the case.

As I said, it's a trap, and Jane and Dr. Lewis are not allowed to go out when and where they want, with Goodwin and his associates eventually separating the two. They drug Jane (she really didn't suspect her food was drugged??) and take her away, while Lewis escapes and goes to the police. But Goodwin and company have powerful allies....

Dangerously They Live is little more than a routine programmer, which is entertaining enough and well acted, although the plot leaves a lot to be desired. The bad guys in Saboteur, for example, had the good sense to split up Bob Cummings and Priscilla Lane when they were spotted at the party, but Goodwin has them brought back together in one place of captivity. You'd also think Lewis would have some more common sense, in addition to what I've said about Jane.

Overall, Dangerously They Live reminds me of other early World War II movies like Joe Smith, American (from MGM) or Busses Roar (Warner Bros.). They're all decent enough time-passers, but understandably nothing memorably great. They weren't designed to be, and in some ways that surprises me in the case of Dangerously They Live since John Garfield's career was really on the upswing.

Monday, April 12, 2021

When Harry Met Sally...

For some reason, I thought I saw on my DVR that When Harry Met Sally... was on TV tomorrow, April 13, so I watched it this weekend to do a post on. It turns out there's an airing on the evening of April 12, although you'll probably have missed that by the time you read this post. There are some airings later in the week though and next week, and the DVD does appear to be available, so you get a post on it anyway.

The movie starts off in the spring of 1977. Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) is graduating from the University of Chicago, leaving behind a girlfriend Amanda and driving east to start life in New York City, sharing the driving duties with Amanda's friend Sally Albright (Meg Ryan). They discuss any number of things, such as Ingrid Bergman's motivation in Casablanca, but they don't hit it off as friends, largely because Harry says that guys can't really be platonic friends with nice-looking women -- the guys think too much about sex. Never mind that Amanda is still nominally Harry's girlfriend. So when Harry and Sally get to New York, they go their separate ways.

Fast forward five years. Sally has a boyfriend in Joe, while Harry has a wife Helen. Harry is going on a flight somewhere, and at the airport he just happens to run into Sally and Joe, although he doesn't recognize Sally at first. Sally does, however, seem to be mildly irritated at having run into Harry again.

Finally we get to the meat of the movie after the action jumps forward another several years. Sally has just broken up with Joe, sharing her heartache with best friends Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Alice. Harry's wife has left him, and he commiserates with his best friend, Jess (Bruno Kirby). By chance, in a Manhattan bookstore, Harry and Sally run into each other again.

With the title of the movie being When Harry Met Sally..., you might guess that the two are going to wind up together in the final reel. But we've still got a good hour to go before getting to that final reel. In the meantime, Harry and Sally decide to do a good thing for their friends. Marie has been seeing a married man even though deep down inside she knows that that man is never going to leave his wife. So Sally decides to set her up on a date with Harry. Harry, meanwhile, sets Jess up on a date with Sally, and the four go on a double date together.

The outcome of that date is obvious too, in that Marie and Jess are going to wind up together, although it's much more quick in happening than you might think. Harry and Sally still have a lot to go through before they finally decide whether they really love each other or not.

Even though you know where When Harry Met Sally... is going to end up, it's still quite enjoyable in getting there. The various scenes are introduced by faux-documentary vignettes of elderly couples talking about how they met (these are all actors, not real couples), adding a really nice touch. There's a lot of talk about sex, with one really memorable scene of Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in the middle of a diner.

If you haven't seen When Harry Met Sally... before, I can definitely recommend it.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

When We Were Kings

Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the free preview weekends was the documentary When We Were Kings. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:00 AM on SHOxBET, as well as a couple more times during the week, so I watched it to do a review on here.

Boxer Muhammad Ali was one of the most famous sporting figures of the second half of the 20th century. Born Cassius Clay, he won an Olympic gold medal, beat Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship, went to prison for refusing to fight in Vietnam after losing his title, and came back ultimately to win the title. One of those title fights was a 1974 bout in Kinshasa, Zaïre (formerly the Belgian Congo and today known as the D.R. Congo or Congo, Kinshasa to distinguish it from the other Congo), and that bout is the basis for the documentary.

The fight itself isn't quite the focus; instead it's more about two other things. One is the preparation for the fight, which takes up probably two-thirds of the film; the other is the cultural milieu in which the fight was announced. Ali had become a cultural icon as the charismatic but non-militant Black Muslim who could pretty much charm everybody, and used those gifts to display a social conscience. So going back to the spiritual homeland was a big deal.

Indeed, the preparations surrounding the fight were not just to have a fight, but to have a concert celebrating black music with some of the biggest names in both America (James Brown and the Spinners) and Africa (Miriam Makeba). Ultimately, the concert and the fight were both held, but six weeks apart because Foreman suffered a cut over his eye in training.

Frankly, the whole part of the movie looking at the preparations for the fight were to me the most interesting, being a fascinating look at the logistical difficulties in pulling off an event like this. Promoter Don King had gotten contracts from both Ali and Foreman to fight each other if King could get $10 million in backing so that each boxer could get $5 million. The biggest reason the fight was held in Kinshasa is that Zaïre's then-dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, put up the money as part of a PR blitz to get good publicity for his country. Ali and Foreman, from the archival footage we see, concern themselves more with boxing than with Zaïrean politics, although Ali always looked at the broader picture of the advancement of black people. Contrast that with today, where there's increasing pressure to do sport only with right-thinking political polities and blacklist the rest.

Interspersed among the archival clips of the boxers' preparation are interviews with three figures: writers George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, and movie director Spike Lee. The writers talk more about the actual fight itself while Lee is there to give insights into the broader cultural context. Also intersperesed are clips from the musicians who performed at the concert. Finally, we get to the fight itself, although I'd tend to mention this part less mostly because I'm not the biggest fan of boxing. For those who are fans, there's a good bit of strategic commentary from Plimpton and Mailer. I don't know how accurate it is, not being a fan of the sport.

When We Were Kings won the Oscar for Best Documentary and received overwhelmingly glowing reviews, but I couldn't help but see a few weaknesses. Surprisingly, the music was one. Not that it's bad; in fact, a documentary about trying to put together this concert would be interesting depending on how much archival footage of the principals there is. But in this movie, it feels like it's padding the main story; the movie is already short enough as it is running about 80 minutes before the credits roll.

There's also the lack of present-day interviews. Ali had already been diagnosed with his Parkinsons-like disease, I think, so I don't believe he would have been able to do interviews. But Don King and Foreman certainly were. Indeed, as either Mailer or Plimpton noted, Foreman completely remade his image from what he had in 1974 and became one of the most affable figures in boxing. His perspective on the fight would have been fascinating; instead, the movie is often presented as though Foreman is an afterthought and it should be called When Ali Was King.

Still, there's a whole lot that's interesting in When We Were Kings, and it's more than worth a watch.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Our Worses

Some time back, TCM ran the film adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham play Our Betters. Not having seen it before, I decided to record it and eventually watch it to do a review on here.

Constance Bennett plays Pearl Saunders, an American heiress who marries Lord Grayston (Alan Mowbray, seen only at the beginning of the movie), in part for his title; he's married her for her money because he's one of those British nobles who have lost most of their money (see Gosford Park for an example). Pearl, now Lady Grayston, decides that she's going to shake up the joint, so to speak, by doing her own thing and causing a general scandal among the members of Britain's smart set nobility

Some years later, Lady Grayston is in the same position as her husband as he's spent most of the money. She's also taken on a paramour in the form of Arthur Fenwick (Minor Watson). She decides to introduce her kid sister Bessie (Anita Louise), who's come over from America, to her new social circle and possibly marry Bessie off into the circle. Bessie, for her part, had a fiancé back in America in the form of Fleming Harvey (Charles Starrett).

So Lady Grayston hosts one of those weekend-long parties (again, see Gosford Park) for a couple of her friends and the men in their lives. The Duchess Minnie (Violet Kemble-Cooper) is being pursued by Pepi (a very young Gilbert Roland); Lord Harry (Hugh Sinclair) is there for Lady Grayston to introduce to Bessie; there's a princess (Phoebe Foster) and an American businessman Thornton Clay (Grant Mitchell).

Pepi winds up wooing Lady Grayston and the two go off for a tryst in the teahouse; Minnie is unsurprisingly pissed and sends Bessie to go off and find her sister with Pepi, which understandably pisses off Bessie, who no longer wants any part of this lifestyle. Lady Grayston and Minnie are generally bitches to each other for reasons that I couldn't quite fathom.

The big problem that I had with Our Betters is that it's way too talky, and complicated enough that it could use a second viewing to figure out everything that's going on. The fact that few of the characters are very sympathetic doesn't help either. One high spot is the final scene, with the dance instructor brought from London, who is played as the sort of incredibly stereotypical gay that you wonder how it could have gotten done even in the pre-Code days of 1933.

Our Betters is another of those movies that would probably benefit from being on a box set; I think there are enough adaptations of Maugham's work in the Turner Library (after all, they have The Letter from Warner Bros. and The Painted Veil from MGM) to pull it off. Instead, I could only find it on a standalone DVD from the Warner Archive.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Briefs for the weekend, April 9-11, 2021

Gloria Henry died last Saturday at the age of 98. Older folks will probably remember her for playing the mother on the TV show Dennis the Menace, although I don't think I've ever seen an episode, since I don't know if it's been in syndication in the last several decades, unlike, say, Leave it to Beaver. I also don't know whether it's been on any of the digital sub-channels; I've never seen a promo for it. As for Henry's movies in the 1940s and 1950s, probably the best known would be Miss Grant Takes Richmond (a Lucille Ball vehicle) and Rancho Notorious (a Marlene Dietrich western).

Polish actor Zygmunt Malanowicz died on Sunday aged 83. Probably the one role you'd know him for is as the young hitchhiker who winds up on the boat in Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water.

FXM is always recycling its lineup. Can-Can is still in the rotation, airing tomorrow at 11:10 AM and again on Sunday. I mentioned Conrack a few years back when it got an airing on TCM. But it's a Fox film and back on the FXM schedule, including Sunday at 1:10 PM.

Over on TCM, we're into the H's in 31 Days of Oscar, moving into the I's early Sunday (or overnight between Saturday and Sunday). So we've got Hell's Angels tonight at 10:15 PM; Robert Mongtomery in Hide-Out, which I didn't know got an Oscar nomination, tomorrow at 6:45 AM; and one of those not-so-good movies that got a nomination in the Original Song category, Ice Castles, at 1:30 PM Sunday.

Birthdays include Jean-Paul Belmondo of Breathless fame; he turns 88. Brandon de Wilde was born on this day in 1942, but he died tragically young at the age of 30 in an automobile accident.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #352: Amateur Sleuths

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time around, the theme is "Amateur Sleuths", which isn't all that difficult. I just had to make certain that I hadn't used any of my picks recently. Also with that in mind, I decided to go with a theme-within-a-theme and pick three more or less daffy dames doing the sleuthing (well, two of them are clearly daffy, the third not quite so much although the movie is still a comedy):

The Mad Miss Manton (1938). Barbara Stanwyck plays Miss Manton, a socialite known for her practical jokes who finds a dead body. Of course, having played so many practical jokes, the police don't believe her this time, and she has to get a reporter (Henry Fonda) to help her figure out who's responsible for the murder.

Mr. and Mrs. North (1942). Gracie Allen plays Mrs. North, without George Burns as Mr. North, who is instead played by William Post. The return home one night to find a corpse in their closet, and Mrs. North, in true Gracie Allen fashion, starts investigating, and hilarity ensues if you like Gracie Allen.

The Corpse Came C.O.D. (1947). Actress Adele Jergens has a trunk full of costumes shipped to her, only to find the trunk contains a dead body. Journalists and holdovers from the 1930s George Brent and Joan Blondell investigate and try to one-up each other in solving the case. A nice little B movie.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

I first saw the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy many years ago, and hadn't watched it in quite a while. It recently started showing up in the FXM rotation, so I DVRed it to watch again and do a post on it here. It's got another showing tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM, so now's the time for the post on it.

The Gods Must Be Crazy has three main story lines, more or less. The first one, and the one that's the genesis for the movie's title, involves the Bushmen of the Kalahari, in what is now northeastern Namibia (at the time South West Africa, a colony of the apartheid-era South Africa). They're presented as having an idyllic life, which was out of date even for 1980 when the movie was released, and probably never true as life in humanity's more primitive days was, to use the words of Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish, and short. The Bushmen are presented as living in harmony with nature, in small family units with basically no posessions other than what they can carry on the back.

But then, somebody in an airplane flying overhead drops a Coca-Cola bottle out of the plane, with it falling to the ground and not breaking, one family, with father Xi (N!xau), finds it and finds this hard clear thing is useful for a whole bunch of purposes. But everybody wants to use it, leading to the entirely human emotions of jealousy and possessiveness, along with violence. It's decided that this will never do, so they have to get rid of the "Evil Thing", and the only way to do that is to throw it off the end of the world.

Several hundred miles to the south is Johannesburg, South Africa. It's a city born of white European civilisation, with all of the difficulties and stresses that come with modern life. One resident is Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo), who works at a local newspaper. Her life is stressful enough that, having read an article about the severe shortage of teachers in Botswana, she decides she's going to pull up stakes and go to Botswana for a while to teach. Elsewhere in Botswana is Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers), doing doctoral work on the migration patterns of elephants that requires his collection samples of elephant droppings and analyzing their chemical composition. Andrew is asked to pick up Kate at the bus stop, but Andrew is notoriously awkward around women.

Several hundred miles north of the Kalahari is some African country which has been decolonised and has a black president who is opposed by some self-styled liberation group led by Sam Boga (Louw Verwey). He leads a coup against the current government, but it fails, only killing a couple of cabinet ministers and only wounding the president. The legitimate army goes after Boga and his men, who try to flee to Mozambique (at least, that's what it sounded like they were saying), which seems rather far away. Their route takes them through Botswana, as does Xi's route. So eventually, the people in all three plotlines are going to come together.

The Gods Must Be Crazy is a fun movie, as it deftly handles three disparate plots before bringing them all together. There are things that some people probably won't like, especially the attitude towards the Bushman, which as I said at the beginning was outdated. It also leans too much on the "noble savage" trope, to the point that it posits no violence whatsoever amongst the Bushmen. But I think part of this is deliberately exaggerated to present a contrast with white westernized life. Some of the comedy is turned slapstick by speeding things up, which may not appeal to some viewers either. There's also the dubbing of Prinsloo (and, I think, Weyers, although Prinsloo's is much more noticeable).

But the good vastly outweighs the bad, here, I think. But the situational humor mostly works, as does some of the dialog, notably a line from Steyn's assistant about marriage. I was also somewhat surprised to see Thompson having a black colleague at the newspaper, since I would have guessed that was a no-no under apartheid. (I suppose the character might have been a dark-skinned Indian, or a mixed-race Coloured.)

If you haven't seen it before, I strongly recommend taking a look at The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Years of Color

One of the movies that I hadn't seen before this years 31 Days of Oscar is The Green Years. It's going to be on TCM tomorrow at 1:45 PM, and fortunately, I had it on the DVR to watch and do a review here.

Robert Shannon (played by Dean Stockwell as a child) is a young boy circa 1900 whose mother moved to Ireland to get married, but she and her husband have both died, leaving poor Robert an orphan. His family is mostly living in Loganford, Scotland, so the people who took care of Mom at the end of her life ship Robert off to that family.

The patriarch of the family is Papa Leckie (Hume Cronyn), Robert's maternal grandfather, married to Mama Leckie (Selena Royle), even though there are two great-grandparents around, known as Grandma Leckie (Gladys Cooper) and Grandpa Gow (Charles Coburn). There are also a couple of adult children who are Robert's aunt and uncles, but they mostly move out, having grown up, only to return now and then.

There are all sorts of conflicts right off the bat. Papa Leckie works for Loganford's sewer department, hoping to get a promotion when his boss leaves. Meanwhile, he's a severe penny pincher, to the point that it annoys everybody else in the house. Papa is more or less waiting for his father-in-law to die so he can get his hands on that sweet sweet insurance money. Grandpa Gow is also disliked intensely by Grandma Leckie, since Gow is a bon vivant and inveterate teller of tall tales who also has a taste for the drink.

Robert's entrance into the family also means that there's another mouth to feed. He shows quite a bit of aptitude at school, to the point that Papa will consistently point out later that he made a big sacrifice by not pulling Robert out of the Academy at the legal school-leaving age but letting him go on to graduate. Also complicating things is that he's Catholic, his Mom having converted while the family back in Scotland having remained whichever Protestant denomination they were.

So that's more or less the first half of the movie. The second half opens after several years have passed and Robert is about to graduate from the Academy. He's grown up and Dean Stockwell is obviously too young to play the ~18-year-old Robert, so he's now played by Tom Drake. He's got a best friend who's relatively well-to-do and can go off to university, and a girlfriend who's got a good enough singing voice that she might have a shot at a scholarship to the conservatory. As for Robert, he's in line to take the examination to get a scholarship to go to university with the aim of studying medicine and become a doctor. But there's a catch: Papa Leckie is going to have to sign off on it, and dammit, he only sees Robert as a source of revenue, so it's off to the local boiler factory for Robert, Papa having no qualms about crushing his grandson's dreams.

Thankfully, despite being three generations older than Robert and having had a lifetime of heavy drinking, Gow still hasn't dropped dead. He's the one member of the family who has always been kind to Robert (well, Mama Leckie has generally been on his side too), and even at this advanced age he's going to do all he can to try to fulfill Robert's dream, because, after all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

The Green Years is the sort of movie that MGM was good at making, and the polish that MGM could put on a movie like this really shines through. Now, a lot of it is probably nonsense; Coburn has a truly awful beard and I don't know that any two characters have the same Scottish accent. But, minus a couple of musical numbers since the studio was trying to promote Beverly Tyler, it's amiable enough. It runs a bit long at just over two hours, though, so be warned.

The Green Years did get a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, but the TCM Shop has it on backorder, while Amazon has it listed as avaialble to buy from a bunch of non-Amazon sellers. Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Errand Boy

It's been a couple of months since the last time I popped in one of the DVDs from my Jerry Lewis box set, so recently I decided to watch The Errand Boy.

The movie starts promisingly enough, with a montage of how Hollywood makes movies, with pretty much nothing being real. We then move to Paramutual Studios (spelled this way as an obvious referent to Paramount which released the movie), ron by the Paramutual family which is headed by Tom (Brian Donlevy), with his wife Helen (Kathleen Freeman) also on the board). Apparently, the studio is doing well at the box office, but is not making as much money overall as it could because there's some sort of money wastage occurring on the lot that they can't figure out.

So, the board hires an analyst to watch the doings at the lot to determine where that money is being wasted, but the analyst says that he can't do the job, because everybody will recognize him. They need somebody secret that nobody will suspect of being a glorified spy. Thankfully for the board, trying to paste up a billboard just outside their office window is one Morty Tashman (Jerry Lewis). He is, as you can guess, thoroughly incompetent at the job.

The Paramutuals decide he'd be perfect for the spy job, and hire him on the spot, with him to report to Dexter Sneak (Howard McNear). Dexter, for his part, puts Morty into the studio messenger/errand service, where Morty's unsuspecting boss will be Grumpy (Stanley Adams).

At this point, the plot stops dead in its tracks, and we get an excuse for a bunch of sketch comedy from Jerry Lewis. We never really learn what's causing the leak in the studio's finances, and, to be fair, that's not really the point of the movie but more of a macguffin. But in any case, it's hard to give much of a lengthy synopsis to The Errand Boy.

Unfortunately, the sketches on the whole don't work as well as in the earlier The Bellboy, and with a relatively plotless movie unlike Cinderfella, the movie winds up being a lot less than perhaps it could have been. Some of the skits do work well, such as one the studio water tank, but others either don't work (the wacky-named characters whose names nobody can pronouce), and others are just oddly out of place (the juvenile basketball team).

The Errand Boy is a movie that's good to have as part of a box set, but I don't think it's ever going to be remembered as one of Jerry Lewis' finest hours.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Strictly Ballroom

Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the free preview weekends is Strictly Ballroom. It's going to be on again multiple times this week, starting with 10:00 PM today on The Movie Channel (three hours later if you only have the west coast feed), so I sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

The movie starts out in mockumentary fashion, with Shirley Hastings (Pat Thomson) talking about her son Scott. Shirley was big in the field of competitive ballroom dancing back in the day, and she stayed in the field after her competition days were over, having a son Scott (Paul Mercurio) and training him to dance, along with running a school of ballroom dancing. Scott apparently caused controversy at a district-level competition, by diverting from the traditional steps and doing his own thing, which caused a scandal in the cloistered world of competitive dance, and caused a breakup with dance partner Liz (Gina Carides).

The big competition, eventually leading to the Pan-Pacific Championship, is coming up fairly soon, and Scott needs a dance partner. Offering her services is Fran (Tara Morice). She's part of Australia's Spanish community, who emigrated to the country in the years immediately after World War II, at least as I understand it. So she's still got a father and grandmother with one foot in both Australia and the old country. But we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit, as the bigger problem is that she's one of the beginners at the dance school, and with her big glasses doesn't look the part of a ballroom dancer at all, which probably wouldn't work so well in competition.

Still, Scott decides to dance with her, mostly because he's reached the level of being passionate about doing the dancing he wants to do, which isn't necessarily the dance that everybody else would want him to do. So there's a lot of pressure on Scott from his mother, as well as from Kendall, the nominal owner of the dance school. On Fran's side, there's a lot of bigotry from the more established dancers, as well as pressure from her own family who aren't so sure of these non-Spanish dances with somebody not of the Spanish-Australian community.

Eventually, however, Scott comes to be accepted by Fran's family, and learns about his own parents' history with the Pan-Pacific, just in time for the big competition. Apparently, a lot of the judging is based on reputation, and it's tough to do well if the judges have already decided who they think is good based on past reputation. And will Fran even dance in the competition? Will Scott put in his own steps?

There's a lot good in Strictly Ballroom, which takes one of the basic universal storylines, that of tradition versus modernity, and updates it deftly by putting it into a relatively new setting of competitive ballroom dancing. (I distinctly recall my local PBS station running some shows of such competitions in the late 1980s or early 1990s, around the time Strictly Ballroom came out.) However, I had a lot of problems with the movie, or more specifically the direction by Baz Luhrmann.

There's a lot of artificially gaudy color, which reminded me of some of the camerawork in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. To an extent, that fits in with the movie in that the way the competitors make themselves up for the competitions (in part, I believe, to capture the attention of the judges who are not always up close to the dancers on the other end of the dance floor) does look highly stylized. But I felt Luhrmann overdid it, to the point that it became intrusive and took away from the story.

The other big problem I had was that Strictly Ballroom gave off a strong vibe of what led to Variety's "Stix Nix Hick Pix" headline, only in an Australian context (of course I, being American, may have a completely wrong view of Australia here). It felt a lot like Luhrmann playing the part of a sophisticated metropolitan, saying "Look at these icky lower-class people from the sticks trying to get ideas above their station with their ballroom dancing! Aren't they so déclassé?" It gets tedious as fast as Douglas Sirk's movies do. Reading the Wikipedia article on Luhrmann, it seems he grew up with a ballroom dance teaching mother in the rural part of New South Wales, so I can't help but wonder if it's personal with him.

Still, there's definitely a lot of Strictly Ballroom that's interesting and definitely worth a watch.