Sunday, October 31, 2021

How to be very, very unfunny

Another of the movies that recently started showing up in the FXM rotation is How to Be Very, Very, Popular. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 8:10 AM, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a report on it here.

Stormy Tornado (Betty Grable) and Curly Flagg (Sheree North) are burlesque dancers at a club in San Francisco. One night, at the show, another of the dancers in another act is shot dead by a bald guy. Stormy and Curly, having witnessed the murder and knowing that they will be held against their will as material witnesses, decide that the best thing to do is skip town.

Unfortunately, they don't have very much money, so they're forced to get off in the town of "College City" not too far away, and home to Bristol College. Also unfortunate for them is that they've already been spotted, and the police back in San Francisco, as well as the killer, are going to be making their way to College City fairly soon.

The two women are not just broke, but cold and hungry. And unbeknownst to them, they've wound up right outside one of the men's fraternity dorms. So when they go in to try to get food, they wind up in a place that's not supposed to have any women in it other than house mother Miss Sylvester (Alice Pearce).

And a wacky group of students it is. There's Fillmore Wedgewood (Bob Cummings), a forty-something who has learned that he can keep living off of his grandfather's trust fund as long as he's still studying. Also there's Eddie Jones (Tommy Noonan), who attended a lecture on hypnosis and is trying to hypnotize his friend Toby Marshall (Orson Bean), a former student at the college who was expelled for his poor grades. However, Toby's father B.J. (Fred Clark) is one of the college's wealthiest donors, having spend the past few years attending to business in the Middle East, and doesn't know his son has been expelled, instead expecting to see Toby graduate tomorrow.

One thing that's obvious is that Eddie's hypnosis isn't going to work on Toby, but it will work on somebody else; that somebody just happens to be Curly. Stormy has also gotten in touch with Curly's father (Rhys Williams), who is planning to come get his daughter. He, like Toby's father, is bald, which as you'll already have figured out is going to play into the plot since the murderer is bald.

It all goes on like this for 90 minutes, always being tediously unfunny and cringeworthy. I don't know what audiences in the 1950s saw in Tommy Noonan, since he's been the obnoxious half of his comedy team with Peter Marshal in everything I've seen him in. Even though Cummings is supposed to be playing an overage student, he looks way too old even for that. Ditto Betty Grable, who is in her final movie. Apparently, the role Sheree North took was originally conceived for Marilyn Monroe, which is why North looks and sounds the way she does.

The only positive thing about the showing is that FXM left the movie in the original Cinemascope aspect ratio. But simply having widescreen is never going to be enough to overcome a myriad of flaws.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

For those who like David Lynch

I was in college when the TV series Twin Peaks came out. I could never understand why so many of the students were into the show, with large watch parties. Recently, I watched Mulholland Drive, one of David Lynch's movies, as it's going to be on Flix tonight at 8:00 PM. As I was watching I couldn't help but think of Twin Peaks.

There's an opening prologue of a woman in riding in the back seat of a limousine on Los Angeles' Mulholland Drive, intercut with two cars full of young people racing down the same road. The limousine stops and the orders the woman (Laura Harring) out, but she refuses. Suddenly, one of the two joyriding cars has a head-on-collision with the limousine, killing a bunch of people but not the woman. Somehow she gets out of the car and stumbles down the Hollywood hills, hiding in the bushes near a formerly-posh apartment house where old-time people involved in Hollywood live.

Meanwhile, Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) has recently won a jitterbug contest that we see even before the opening credits. She's had dreams of becoming an actress, so she flies out to Los Angeles to try to pursue that dream. She's got an aunt who just so happens to live in that apartment building where the other woman went to hide, and said aunt is about to go off to do some work on another movie, so she's told Betty that Betty is welcome to stay there for a while. Unfortunately, she never told the landlord Coco (Ann Miller) any of this. So when Betty shows up, Coco isn't expecting her.

Eventually, Coco gives Betty the keys to the apartment, and when Betty starts getting settled, she finds the other woman hiding in the shower, trying to clean herself up since she's got some abrasions and whatnot. It's here we find ot that the accident left her concussed and with a case of amnesia, as she can't remember who she is, calling herself "Rita" from a poster of the old movie Gilda starring Rita Hayworth. Rita surprisingly doesn't have any identification in her purse, just a bunch of money.

Meanwhile, Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is trying to direct a movie. He's in a strained relationship with his wife, and worse, he's got a couple of money men who seem more a part of the Mob. They have somebody they'd like to see play the lead of the movie, and if Adam doesn't cast said woman, well, these two are going to pull their funding. Adam is displeased by this, and even more so when he's brought to see some "cowboy" who reiterates the message.

A third strand of the story involves a hitman who kills somebody for an address book and, botching the operation, kills two other people; one other tidbit has a character who claims he has a recurring dream about some diner and goes to the diner to see if the dream is actually real.

So what do all of these story-lines have in common? Well, Betty gets an audition for a movie while she's got Rita at her aunt's place, coming home to have a lesbian tryst with Rita. But just when the two think they've discovered Rita's identity, something weird happens that results in Betty waking up as Diane Selwyn, who is having a lesbian tryst with the actress cast as the lead in Adam's movie, even though Adam is going to get married to her.

Frankly, Mulholland Drive didn't make much sense to me, at least not the final third. If it had been a conventional mystery with the various plot strands coming together in a coherent way, it probably would have been a better movie. But then, that's not what David Lynch is known for. So instead, we get something that veers off in a direction where even the reviewers who liked the movie said you need to watch it multiple times to figure out what's going on. I guess the most logical explanation would be that the first two-thirds of the movie are a dream, with the second most logical being that the last third is a dream. But either way, I found that terribly unsatisfying.

People who like David Lynch, or just like weird for the sake of weird, however, will probably enjoy Mulholland Drive. So if you're in the mood for something out of the ordinary, you may want to give Mulholland Drive a try.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Lady Confesses

Not having too much old stuff on the DVR thanks to recording a bunch of interesting things during the Showtime free preivew, I decided to look for something older by putting one of the DVDs from the Mill Creek crime/noir set into the DVD player. The selection was an ultra-cheap PRC (the studio probably best known for Detour) film, The Lady Confesses.

One of the women in the movie is Vicki McGuire (Mary Beth Hughes). She's the long-suffering girlfriend of one Larry Craig (Hugh Beaumont, later of Leave It to Beaver), not because Craig was found in an airport bathroom, but because he's been waiting for the seven years to pass from the time his wife was declared missing so that she can now be declared dead and Larry can marry Vicki. But it turns out that Mrs. Craig isn't dead at all. And somehow, she's able to go right back to her old house and find where Larry's girlfriend lives, so she can visit said girlfriend and tell the girlfriend that she (Mrs. Craig) is never going to grant her husband a divorce. This being a B movie, none of this is explained very well if at all.

It's all enough to drive a man to drink, and Larry has gone to the 7-11 Club to get plastered. He sees the club manager, Lucky Brandon (Edmund MacDonald), as well as the club's singer, Lucille Compton (Claudia Drake). Lucille, seeing how drunk Larry is, lets him lie down in her dressing room for a while until he can sleep off the alcohol.

Some hours pass, and Vicki is finally able to figure out that Larry is at the club, getting the bartender and Lucille to get Larry to the phone. She of course never knew until know that Mrs. Craig wasn't dead at all, and wanted to talk to her boyfriend about that. Larry picks Vicki up and heads over to Mrs. Craig's residence, presumably to talk things over. But they get to Mrs. Craig's place where it seems like there's a party going on and everyone's invited. Only it isn't a party, it's the police because Mrs. Craig has finally been found dead. Of course, it was murder, which is a bit of a problem.

Larry has that alibi in that he was asleep in Lucille's dressing room. Vicki claims she was in her apartment all evening except for about a half hour when she nipped down the block to get a bite to ear. And Lucky? He was presumably at the club all night, but when Larry is called to the phone, he calls over to Lucky who doesn't answer, which makes Lucky look like a suspect too, especially when it's determined that he had connections to Mrs. Craig.

It goes on like this for just over an hour, which includes the time it takes to let Lucille sing a couple of songs. It's competently enough acted, but certainly nothing memorable, thanks to the screenplay or relative lack thereof. It tries to be too complicated for its own good and doesn't always make sense as a result. The being a Mill Creek box set, the print was also of relatively poor quality, but then, it was also a PRC movie so I wonder if there are any good prints out there.

People who want to see Ward Cleaver doing something completely different may get a kick out of The Lady Confesses, as may people who are looking for a B movie they've likely never heard of. But don't expect anything great here.

TCM's Halloween marathon

Sunday is Halloween, and unsurprisingly, TCM is spending much of the weekend airing movies that are at least horror-adjacent if not outright horror. The marathon starts at 8:00 PM this evening (Oct. 29), and continues until the early morning hours of November 1, as TCM's programming day has traditionally run from 6:00 AM ET to 6:00 AM the next day.

I can't recall the last time the 1970s Donald Sutherland version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers showed up on TCM, but it's got an airing tonight at midnight. The Kevin McCarthy original is not on the schedule, which is a shame, since it's a pretty darn good original.

I mentioned the 1931 Frankenstein on Wednesday as part of the salute to Universal, and it's getting another airing at 8:00 PM Saturday, as part of a double bill with Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein at 9:30 PM, just before the movie that's putatively noir for Noir Alley, Cat People at midnight between Saturday and Sunday. And yes, Cat People has a second showing in the other Noir Alley slot at 10:00 AM Sunday.

I really enjoy the 1935 movie Mad Love, another version of the "Hands of Orlac" story; that will be on at 12:45 PM Sunday. And for a movie on Sunday that's got definite horror elements although it's less classical horror than the rest of the lineup, there's Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho at 8:00 PM Sunday.

There's also Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Imports to conclude the Halloween weekend. I don't quite think of Metropolis as horror, but there it is at about 12:45 AM Monday. Concluding the weekend is the Swedish silent movie Häxan at 5:15 AM, a fascinating "history" of witchcraft.

FXM doesn't seem to be doing anything for Halloween. The closest they have is Witchcraft at 6:00 AM Sunday. I can't believe it's been four years since I blogged about that one.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #381: TV Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's the final Thursday in October, so we get one more horror-themed edition of the blogathon. Also, as the last Thurdsay of the month, it means another TV-themed edition, so unsurprisingly the theme is TV Horror. This wouldn't be too difficult if it weren't a theme every year, so the tough part was coming up with stuff that a search of the blog claims I haven't used before:

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969-1970). Four twentysomethings and their talking dog ride around in a "flower power"-decorated van, solving mysteries of a supernatural nature, almost always perpetrated by a masked person running props like a bad community theater production. Amazingly, the original animated series only ran for a season and a half, but it spawned a franchise that resulted in several animated shows, live-action movies, and an incredibly obnoxious nephew for Scooby. And of course, Velma is hotter than Daphne.

Tales from the Darkside (1984-1988). Generic horror anthology series #205902450; there's not that much more to say about it. Actually, it sprung from the 1983 movie Creepshow, a horror anthology movie, but the production company making the TV show didn't have the rights to the "Creepshow" name so they changed it and this is what we got.

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011 TV movie). A group of animal activists including 1980s pop icon Debbie Gibson release a bunch of giant pythons into the Everglades, where they start to wreak havoc. A park ranger played by 1980s pop icon Tiffany decides to deal with the invasive species problem by feeding the alligators a growth hormone that turns them into mutant alligators. Unsurprisingly, both sets of mutant animals escape the Everglades which is really bad for mankind. Don't expect much of a story with gimmick casting like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Another of the movies I got the chance to record thanks to the free preview of the Showtime Channels is newer by the standards of what I generally post about here, but is still 32 years old: Sex, Lies, and Videotape. I see that it's going to be on again overnight tonight at 12:20 AM on The Movie Channel, or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed.

Ann Bishop Mullany (Andie MacDowell) is a housewife in a medium-sized city living with upwardly-mobile husband John (Peter Gallagher), a lawyer trying to make partner. Ann is bored to the point that she's been seeing a therapist, telling him vapid stories about the things she worries about and whatnot. Little does she know her life is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

Graham Dalton (James Spader) is an old college friend of John's, and he's coming to town hoping to get a new job. John has agreed to let Graham stay on the couch for the couple of days necessary before Graham can get an apartment of his own. But one wonders how much they were actually friends, as their relationship doesn't see to be all that strong now, as we see over dinner.

The next day, since Ann doesn't have anything to do, she takes Graham apartment-hunting, and after he finds an apartment he likes they go out to lunch together, where the talk turns to sex, which seems rather frank for two people who have only met 24 hours earlier. Graham reveals that he's impotent and can't have sex with anybody as a result. Someone who can have enjoyable sex is John. But he's having the more enjoyable sex with Cynthia Bishop (Laura San Giacomo). If you paid attention to the names, you'll realize this means that John is not only having an affair -- he's having it with Ann's sister!

Cynthia learns about the presence of Graham, and would be curious to meet him, but Graham is a bit of a professed weirdo in that he doesn't want to be tied down with a phone and doesn't even necessarily want Ann giving her sister his address without him first knowing about it. So Ann goes to see Graham to talk to him about it, which is where she learns about Graham's dark secret.

Graham finds women and interviews them, recording the interviews. That in and of itself is no big deal. But the interviews are about sex, and they're rather intimate and lengthy interviews. Now, if Graham were an academic like Efrem Zimbalist in The Chapman Report, this again wouldn't be such a big deal. But he's just a regular schlub with a perversion that would horrify most people, especially if they learn that Graham uses these interviews to try to get himself turned on.

One person who doesn't seem so fazed by it is Cynthia. She goes to see Graham and, learning about the tapes, agrees to talk about her own sex life, something with is going to make the already complicated sibling relationship between Cynthia and Ann even more complicated should Ann find out. Well, then again, there's also that affair between John and Cynthia. As you can probably guess, all these secrets are going to come to light as we get to the climax (no pun intended) of the movie.

I have to admit that it took me a while to get into Sex, Lies, and Videotape, because the characters are not particularly redeeming. But as the movie goes on, the story and the acting is just so good that for me it overcame any of the difficulties I had with the characters. Having said that, it's also obvious that this isn't going to be the sort of movie for everybody, and certainly not for families.

Universal night

I meant to post this morning, but didn't get around to it. I notice that tonight's lineup on TCM is dedicated to some of the earlier days at Universal Studios. In and of itself, that's not a huge deal, although TCM doesn't normally get the rights to run what Universal has in its catalogue from the days before Universal-International. The real reason I wanted to mention it is that there's a new-to-TCM documentary on studio boss Carl Laemmle kicking off the night at 8:00 PM. And as is often the case with a new documentary, it gets a second airing later in the evening for the benefit of the folks out on the west coast. That airing comes 1:45 AM. I haven't seen the documentary, so I can't comment on it futher.

Around the two airings of the documentary are a couple of Universal tent-poles:
The Bela Lugosi version of Dracula at 9:45 PM;
Early Best Picture Oscar-winner All Quiet on the Western Front at 11:15 PM;
The re-release (I presume that's the only version out there) version of The Phanton of the Opera at 3:30 AM; and
the Boris Karloff classic Frankenstein at 5:00 AM.

It would be nice to get more of the lesser-seen pictures from Universal, but as always, it takes two to make a deal.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A three-hour tour

I've had The Sand Pebbles on my DVR for quite some time, but I've been a bit reluctant to sit down and watch three-hour movies. Recently, I finally made the time to sit down and watch it to do a review on here.

Steve McQueen plays Jake Holman, a Petty officer in the US Navy in 1926. It's a time when there's no real war going on, but there's still enough adventure abroad for people who want it, and Holman didn't have much choice, having been given the choice of the military or reform school when he was about 18. Being from an interior part of the States, he picked the Navy, and has now wound up being transferred to a ship called the USS San Pablo, whose job it is to assist with the defense of American citizens in China, which is in tumultuous days.

This is still five or so years before the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, but there's still the sort of civil war and warlords things going on that were a staple of 1930s movies that tried to be exotic, like Shanghai Express or The Bitter Tea of General Yen, with the big difference here being that it's a movie about the Navy and not the Marines or even really about the locals. Anyhow, among the Americans are an older missionary, Jameson (Larry Gates), as well as a young woman about to do the missionary thing herself, Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen). Holman meets both of them just before boarding the San Pablo, and they're going to go up river to where their mission is.

On the San Pablo, the captain, Lt. Collins (Richard Crenna), has a bit of a hard time of it because there's not much of a navy out on the Yangtze River and there are a lot of Chinese to deal with. Indeed, there's a sort of symbiotic, if definitely not by-the-book relationship between the men on the ship and some of the Chinese in that they do a bunch of the jobs that would normally be done by the crew, with this being easier for the crew but also probably making it less likely that the Nationalist army would attack them. Holman sees all this and is horrified by it since it's probably the sort of thing that would lead the San Pablo to become the rickety boat that it is.

One of the few people on the San Pablo who becomes a friend of Holman's is Frenchy (Richard Attenborough). He's met a Chinese prostitute, Maily, and has fallen in love with her. But she's in debt to her pimp, and when Frenchy tries to pay off those debts, he finds there's a civilian westerner who wants Maily too.

Along the way, the San Pablo gets involved in multiple skirmishes with the Chinese, who at one point besiege the boat during the winter season, before a climax of having to go to that mission and save Jameson and Eckert, who don't really want to be saved despite what the Nationalists are going to do to them.

As I said at the top, The Sand Pebbles runs just about three hours, and boy does that show. It's a well-acted movie, and in terms of the technical production it's the sort of high-quality movie that you can see why it got so many Oscar nominations, but at the same time, why id din't win any of those. It's extremely leisurely, and there's really not a whole lot going on as it feels as much episodic as it does a fully-plotted movie.

Still, there are definitely going to be people who like The Sand Pebbles for its performances, so it's definitely worth a watch, if you're willing to sit down and watch a three-hour movie.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Emperor Jones

Paul Robeson was TCM's Star of the Month back in September, which gave me the opportunity to DVR one of his movies I hadn't seen before: The Emperor Jones. Recently I sat down to watch it.

Robeson plays Brutus Jones, who at the start of the movie is a member of a Baptist congregation in one of those small wooden churches that dotted westerns and movies set in the old south. But he's about to leave to try to make his fortune, or at least a modest living, as a Pullman porter. He's good at what he does, enough so that he gets invited to be the personal servant of the president of the company, planning to use the insider information he hears to make money in the stock market.

But, alas, that's not to be. He goes back to a regular route, and in Savannah he meets up with old friend Jeff. They're in a juke joing and get involved in a fairly high-stakes game of craps. Brutus figures out that Jeff is using loaded dice, which leads to a knife fight in which Brutus kills Jeff. Brutus is unsurprisingly caught, and sent to the chain gang.

Brutus isn't a quitter though, and immediately comes up with a plan to escape, which he does, getting on a boat headed to Kingston, Jamaica working as a stoker. However, there's always the possibility of extradition from Jamaica since it's still a British colony, so he jumps ship when it nears an island that most of the boats don't go to.

It's with good reason that boats don't go to this island, because when Brutus washes up on shore he's immediately taken into custody and put into jail, where the corrupe importer/exporter Smithers (Dudley Digges) buys Brutus' freedom. Everybody else on the island is descended from slaves who apparently revolted like in Haiti, and who still believe a lot of the old African religious beliefs their ancestors would have held back in Africa.

Once again, however, Brutus is no dummy, and is able to worm his way into becoming a partner in Smithers' business. From there, he's able to create a situation in which he leads a military coup and installs himself as Emperor. But it's a short lived reign, as he lets power go to his head and almost immediately turns everybody against him.

This was based on a play by Eugene O'Neill, although from what I've read only the last third of the movie is the play and everything that comes before it was written by Dubose Heyward of Porgy and Bess fame. It might explain why the movie feels more like a series of not-quite-connected scenes than a fully fleshed out movie. Robeson does a fine job of acting here, but is unfortunately brought down somewhat by the screenplay. Digges is good too, and there are a bunch of interesting names with small parts in the cast, including Fredi Washington who would go on to Imitation of Life the following year, or Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers as a child tap dancer.

The movie was obviously controversial at the time as one of the first Hollywood movies with a black protagonist holding his own against white characters, but 90 years on, some of the material seems like a huge overreaction. Brutus made Smithers light his cigarette, and some censors wanted to remove that? Then again, the censors absolutely butcherd Robeson's earlier Body and Soul. In the end, The Emperor Jones is an interesting performance in what unfortunately could have been a better story.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Death Becomes Her

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Liberace plays God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Great Air Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 21, 2021

His Trust, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday Movie Picks #380: Comedic Horror

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

College Swing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Don't go looking for Flipper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Dazed and Confused

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Kooky women in 1970s mystery movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 15, 2021

TCM's Jane Powell Tribute

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

You Can't Fool Your Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bad Medicine

No, not that "Bad Medicine"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Twelve Crowded Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Strange One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

About Last Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Gastrointestinal blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 8, 2021

One of many movies with "Witness" in the title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #378: School Horror

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

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

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

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

TCM Star of the Month October 2021: Lucille Ball

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

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

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

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

with something more appropriate: