Tuesday, November 30, 2021

My Favorite Wife

A search of the blog suggests that I haven't done a full-length review on My Favorite Wife before. I see that it's coming up on the TCM schedule, at 4:30 AM tomorrow (although since TCM's broadcast day generally begins at 6:00 AM, they'd say it's on tonight at 4:30 AM). Since I've got a copy of it on DVD as part of a TCM Cary Grant box set, I decided to put that DVD into the player and watch the movie to do a review on it here.

Grant plays Nick Arden, a lawyer who at the beginning of the movie is appearing before Judge Bryson (Granville Bates). It seems as though Nick's first wife Ellen was shipwrecked seven years ago and has been presumed missing ever since. Seven years is (or at least was back in those days) the amount of time somebody had to be missing before you could declare them legally dead, so Nick is now going through the motions of having Ellen declared dead. It's something that should be straightforward enough, but somehow, it's turned into fodder for comic relief here.

The reason why Nick is filing the paperwork to have Ellen declared dead is that, while searching for Ellen, he met another woman, Bianca Bates (Gail Patrick). She'd be a good mother to the two Arden children, so Nick wants to marry her, something he can't do if his first wife is still legally alive. Eventually, the judge figures out what's going on and performs the marriage ceremony, leaving the couple to go off on their honeymoon at a resort in the mountains where Nick and Ellen went on their honeymoon back in the day.

After Nick and Bianca leave for their honeymoon, a woman shows up at the Arden house looking for Nick. She's a stranger to the two children, although she seems to have some idea who they are. It's only when she goes inside the house that we learn that this woman is one Ellen Wagstaff (Irene Dunne), who married Nick all those years ago. She went on a scientific expedition in the Pacific when the ship sank and she wound up on a deserted island for seven years. Now, you'd think that news would have gotten out about her rescue from the ship that picked her up, and that would have been some weeks before she shows up at her old home. But no, nobody seems to know anything about her having been rescued.

When her mom tells her about Nick's new wife and where they went on honeymoon, Ellen immediately heads up there herself, surprising Nick. Nick, for some reason, can't bring himself to tell Bianca the truth about who this woman is, even though again, you'd think Bianca might have seen photos of Ellen. Ellen, for her part, isn't telling Bianca who she is, because reasons that make no sense to the plot.

Meanwhile, Nick learns from Ellen that she wasn't alone on the island, but that one other passenger survived on the same raft and washed ashore on the island, one Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott). He, having spent seven years alone with Ellen, has fallen in love with her, and would like to marry her. Now, the fact that she's legally dead ought to mean that her marriage to Nick has been dissolved, leaving Stephen free to marry Ellen. Somehow, however, Nick is declared a bigamist.

There's an interesting dilemma at the heart of My Favorite Wife, one that naturally presents a bunch of opportunities for comedy. But as I was watching, I couldn't help but think of all the plot holes. Also, I found myself thinking of what I've often called the "comedy of lies", where a character has to tell a little white lie for some reason and is thereafter unable to bring himself to tell the truth, resorting to ever bigger lies. My Favorite Wife has that in spades, and I just wanted somebody to smack some sense into Cary Grant's character and have him tell his second wife the truth. For me, the movie grew increasingly less funny and more grating.

Other people, however, have rated My Favorite Wife much more highly, so it's definitely another movie you should watch and judge for yourself.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Briefs for November 29-30, 2021

I probably should have posted this briefs post earlier today, as I see that All That Jazz is on TCM this evening at 10:15 PM as part of the TCM spotlight on musical numbers. I had actually recorded it a previous time that it was on TCM, but thunderstorms rolled through and screwed up the recording, this being DirecTV, so I missed probably a good 20-30 minutes of the movie. I'm hoping to get it all tonight.

Over on FXM, I blogged today about The Horror of It All, but I'd like to mention the two movies that conclude the FXM Retro portion of the day. They're an Audrey Hepburn double feature. I know that I've blogged about How to Steal a Million (11:00 AM) before. Surprisingly, however, I don't seem to have done a post on Two for the Road (1:05 PM) before. The two movies will be back to back on Wednesday as well.

And now for the obituaries. Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim died over the Thanksgiving weekend at the age of 91. He wrote the lyrics for West Side Story along with writing a whole bunch of Broadway musicals that won him Tony awards. He did win on Oscar, for writing the song "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" from Dick Tracy sung by Madonna in the movie. What I didn't know until seeing the obituaries is that he also did the screenplay for The Last of Sheila together with Anthony Perkins.

David Gulpilil died today at the age of 68. You would probably remember this Australian actor best as the young Aboriginal man going through his rite of passage in Walkabout who comes upon Jenny Agutter and her kid brother.

Also having died today is Arlene Dahl. Her film career goes back to the 1940s in movies such as the French Revolution noir The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror) and includes other films like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Woman's World, as well as an appearance at the salute to Robert Osborne on the 20th anniversary of TCM. Dahl was 96.

The Horror of It All

Another of the movies that started showing up in the FXM rotation a couple of months back is The Horror of It All. It was running in advance of Halloween, being a horror movie, if a more comic horror movie, so I didn't know if it would keep showing up. But it's on again tomorrow (Nov. 30) at 9:40 AM and again Wednesday (Dec. 1) at 4:40 AM. So I watched it recently to do a post on it here.

One of those low-budget movies made in the UK and distributed by Fox which is why they're able to have it in their rotation now, the movie stars Pat Boone as Jack Robinson. Jack is an American in Britin who has fallen in love with British woman Cynthia Marley (Erica Rogers). He wants to marry her, but he also wants the family's permission, so he's going to see her at the old family place, which is one of those isolated manor houses that seem far too isolated for a densely-populated place like England, but are a staple of the movies. Unfortunately, Jack also has an incident with the car that puts it out of action.

When he gets to the house, surprisingly not realizing that it's the Marley place, there's a door-knocker that doesn't work, and a doorbell that shoots bullets at whoever presses it. Apparently the Marleys don't want any guests, and are surprised to have a guest like Jack. Jack is welcomed, shall we say, into the house by Cynthia's uncle Reginald, and told that the doorbell is an invention of another uncle, Percival.

Cynthia, it turns out, is the only normal person in the family. Percival's inventions all turn out to be 50 years behind the time. Cynthia's cousin Natalia acts like she might be a vampire or something, while Reginald and even more so Uncle Cornwallis (Dennis Price) act like they've got something to hide. This is especially true considering that another cousin has very recently died and the family is nominally in mourning.

And well they do. At tea time, Cornwallis takes sugar with his tea, the only one to do so, and he summarily drops dead. It tastes as though the sugar has been poisoned, which implies that somebody is trying to poison the Marleys. But who, and why? Well, in takling with bedridden Grandpa, it's learned that Grandpa has written a will that is going to bequeath the house, which is worth quite a bit, to the members of the family. Obviously one of the relatives wants it all for themselves.

The Horror of It All is, as I said, more of a comic horror movie, although the comedy may be rather groan-inducing at times. The Marleys are written as way too nutty and unrealistic, to the point that one wonders how Cynthia turned out so normal. But parts of it work. With Pat Boone as the star, you know he's going to have the opportunity to sing a song, although it's not anything particularly memorable.

In short, The Horror of It All is decidedly a B movie, in line with the other B movies from the UK that Fox was getting distribution rights to, with the only real distinction being the comic nature of the horror. It's as watchable as the others, which means mildly watchable, but certainly nothing great.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Brief Encounter with the atomic bomb

I've suggested on several occasions that one of the reasons why foreign films have always had a poor reputation in the minds of a reasonable segment of the population is that critic types tend to praise certain films simply for not being commercial or the way Hollywood did things when, in fact, these movies really aren't that good to begin with. One of those movies that made me think of this is Hiroshima, Mon Amour, which will be on TCM overnight tonight at 2:00 AM as part of the TCM Imports spot.

Emmanuelle Riva plays an unnamed actress who is in Hiroshima, the first city subjected to the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, some 14 years after the bombing. She's there to make an international propaganda movie against nuclear weapons, and is traipsing around the museum dedicated to documenting the bombing and its survivors. But she's really relating all of this to her new boyfriend, a married architect (Eiji Okada), as they're in bed together.

The man, who survived the bombing and presumably lost a bunch of friends and family in the bombing, thinks that she really doesn't understand the horrors of war, and has no compunctions about telling her so. So she responds by telling of her own experience in the war.

She was a teenaged girl during the Nazi occupation of France, and somehow met and fell in love with a German soldier. (Riva, who was born in 1927, would have been 32 at the time of filming and 17 when France was liberated, so the character is actually the right age to have had an older German soldier boyfriend in the war.) For fairly obvious reasons, this sort of collaborationism would have been frowned upon once France was liberated, so after the liberation, the inhabitatants of the small city where she grew up and where all of this happened locked her up for some time. When she was released, her mom made her leave for Paris, she arriving on the day news broke of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Still, the story doesn't end here. Our actress has to leave for France in the morning, but she wanders around town until the architect finds her again so that they can talk some more. And they talk, and talk, and talk. Eventually the movie just ends, mercifully enough for the viewer.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a perfect example of the sort of movie that has tons of pseudo-philosophical conversation but never really goes anywhere, with the one story that it does have in the middle -- the actress' story of what she did in the war -- not having a satisfactory ending. And yet, because this is very much different from Hollywood filmmaking, or even some of the French New Wave filmmakers like Truffaut in The 400 Blows, there are critics who praise it to high heaven. Sorry, but Hirsohima, Mon Amour is just a tedious 90-minute talkfest.

But, as always, judge for yourself, since it's on tonight.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Boogie Nights

It's hard to believe that Boogie Nights is almost 25 years old, but indeed it is. It's been airing on various channels in the Showtime package, so I recorded it to do post for when it shows up again. It's got an airing tonight at 11:45 PM on Showtime Extreme, and tomorrow (Nov. 27) at 11:30 PM on Showtime 2, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a post here.

The movie opens in the spring of 1977. At a swanky night spot in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, Eddie Adams works as a busboy, even though he has to come by bus al the way from Torrance on the other side of the city, living in very modest means with his parents. Somehow, word has gotten around that Eddie is well-endowed, and one of the patrons of the establishment, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) has heard of this. He goes into the kitchen and offers to pay to see just how well-endowed Eddie really is.

The reason for this is that Jack is a director of adult movies, and is always on the lookout for new talent because, after all, people age out of the on-camera side of the business fairly quickly. Jack gives Eddie his contact info just in case. As it turns out, Eddie lives with his parents, who don't appreciate him, thinking that he's never going to amount to much and is just mooching off of them. This eventually leads Eddie to run away and go looking for Jack's assistance.

Eddie, it turns out, is a natural at making adult films, thanks in no small part to his size. But he needs a stage name, and he picks "Dirk Diggler". Dirk works with a motley crew of people who have all sorts of problems of their own, with Jack and producer "Colonel" James (Robert Ridgely) being the two most well-adjusted people in their little corner of the business. Among the others are:

Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), a woman who has an ex-husband and a child of whom the husband has custody because leaving a child with an adult film star is a big problem;
Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), who eventually becomes Dirk's best friend and non-sexual partner in a string of spy-themed films;
"Rollergirl" (Heather Graham), who dropped out of high school and entered the adult film industry with no other options in life;
Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), who has ambitions of owning his own store selling audio-visual equipment, but needs the money to get it;
Little Bill (William H. Macy), an assistant director who has a wife who will sleep with anybody anywhere, including in a crowd; and
Scotty J. (Philp Seymore Hoffman), who operates the boom mike, and is a gay man who falls in love with Dirk, not that Dirk is in love with him.

At any rate, Dirk becomes a success and has a few years at the top. But then the 1980s come, and with that lots and lots of cocaine. Dirk starts partaking, and that, combined with an outsized ego born of his success, causes him to start losing his place at the top and have a dramatic downturn.

Boogie Nights is an interesting look at a field that I think most of us wouldn't normally have thought of wanting to take a look at, that being behind the scenes of the adult film industry. I'm sure it's a pretty darn sanitized look, considering how many of the principals wind up relatively unscathed by the end of the movie. (AIDS, for example, is not mentioned at all, and the movie ends sometime in 1984.) The movie also runs nearly 2½ hours and begins to lose some steam in the final third of the movie.

On the other hand, the performances are routinely quite good, and I really found myself interested in what was going to happen to these characters. Amber, for example, goes into a custody hearing where she clearly has no chance of getting custody of her son back, but still goes into it, suffering obvious humiliation. Burt Reynolds earned an Oscar nomination, and if you only know him from his 1970s movies, I think you'll be quite surprised by his performance.

So, despite the fact that Boogie Nights has some decided flaws, it's still definitely worth watching.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Guilty Finger

I've mentioned on several occasions how it was not uncommon for British producers in the 1950s to bring over an American star and make a movie that, with the American star, could be more easily sold to American distributors. I've found that a lot of these movies are interesting, if somewhat flawed. An excellent example of this is Finger of Guilt.

Richard Basehart plays Reggie Wilson, who at the start of the movie is seeing a doctor because he thinks he might be losing his mind. Flash back to what happened that brought Reggie to this doctor in the first place. Reggie was a film editor in Hollywood who had to move to England after a scandal that fairly obviously should have been blacklisting, especially considering that Finger of Guilt was directed by one blacklisted American (Joseph Losey) and written by another (Howard Koch). But since this is the mid-1950s and the British producers presumably don't believe that they could openly discuss the blacklist and get an American distributor, the scandal involves romance with another man's wife.

Anyways, Reggie came to a studio in London, and under the tutelage of producer Ben Case (Roger Livesey) became an executive producer himself, while marrying Ben's daughter Lesley (Faith Brook). Ben and Reggie are locked in a struggle with each other and with the money men backing the film over whether the latest project, "Eclipse", should be filmed in one particular way or another. The movie even has an American star in the form of Kay Wallace (Constance Cummings), who had a thing for Reggie back in the day.

And then Reggie starts getting bizarre letters from some woman, Evelyn Stewart (Mary Murphy), who claims to know Reggie, and who claims to have had a torrid affair with him, one that she can prove. And it looks like she's willing to blackmail him over it. The reason I say those letters are bizarre is that Reggie has no memory of ever having seen Evelyn.

This all gets distressing enough that Reggie decides to investigate. The letters have a Newcastle postmark, so he and Lesley go up there to continue their investigation. Eventually Reggie does find Evelyn, and as a way of trying to get to the bottom of the matter, the two go to the local police station where Reggie is seriously thinking about pressing charges. Lesley, for some reason, goes somewhere else to wait for Reggie. The matter with the police is inconclusive, and when Evelyn runs into Reggie that evening, she convinces him to go to the pub with her. Why he does so makes no sense to me. Of course, Lesley sees this and it convinces her that her husband is a no-goodnik.

Unfortunately, Reggie's going into the pub is the beginning of a long denouement that just doesn't make any sense in terms of the plot or character motivations. There's the makings of a good mystery in the movie, but it feels as though Howard Koch didn't know how to resolve it and came up with a thoroughly unrealistic resolution.

All of the players do their best with the sub-par material that they're given. And it's always fun to see the inner workings of a studio put on film. But the pieces of Finger of Guilt, when put together, just don't quite add up.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A Tale of Two Kitties

Having the DVD of They Died With Their Boots on out, and not having done a post on a cartoon recently, I decided to watch the animated short that's one of the extras on the DVD, A Tale of Two Kitties.

The movie starts off with two cats who don't seem anything like any of the Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies characters we're familiar with, instead looking like they're supposed to be Abbott and Costello or something. (IMDb lists the characters as Babbit and Catstello.) It's a bit surprising too since Abbott and Costello weren't Warner Bros. contract players, but here we are. In any case, Babbit wants Catstello to kill a bird for the two of them to eat, because apparently Babbit can't do it himself.

Babbit is particularly cruel to Catstello, and then when Catstello gets to the nest, we see the bird:

Ah, it's obviously Tweety, especially because the bird says, "I tawt I taw a putty tat!" But this nascent Tweety bird has no feathers, making him look kind of creepy. But already Tweety is able to put one over on his nemesis, constantly making poor Catstello suffer. The short having been released in 1942, there's also civil defense references. More surprisingly, there was a joke about Catstello saying he wished he could give Babbit the bird. Talk about double entendres!

Overall, this isn't one of the best efforts from Warner Bros., however. It runs a bit shorter than a lot of the other Merrie Melodies shorts and feels like more of a one-note joke than other shorts, even if the others are only one-note too. But it's interesting to see the debut of Tweety bird.

Thursday Movie Picks #385: Mystery (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 already at the last week of the month, which means that it's time for another TV-themed edition of the blogathon. For November, that theme is "Mystery", which isn't an uncommon theme. In fat, the bigger problem was coming up with three shows that I hadn't used before, which nixed Murder, She Wrote. In the end, I came up with three shows without too much problem:

Father Dowling Mysteries (1989-1991). Tom Bosley, probably best known as Mr. Cunningham on Happy Days, plays Father Dowling, a Catholic priest in Chicago who somehow keeps coming on one mystery after another.

Diagnosis Murder (1993-2001). Dick Van Dyke plays a doctor who keeps coming upon one murder mystery after another, solving them with help from his police detective son, who was in fact played by Dick's real-life son Barry.

Oh, and just one more thing:

Columbo (1971-1978). NBC had an anthology show (apparently the official term in the business is "wheel series") in the 1970s called The NBC Mystery Movie, which was a collection of three (originall) different mystery shows. The most lasting one is probably Columbo, with Peter Falk as the Los Angeles police detective who solves mysteries among the high society set, which was really an excuse to introduce one guest star after another. The other two shows were McCloud starring Dennis Weaver, and McMillan and Wife starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James. Other mystery shows were included in later years. As you can see from the opening above, one of those later shows was Quincy, M.E., starring Jack Klugman as a medical examiner; that show was so successful that it was spun off into its own one-hour show that lasted for almost a decade.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

They Died With Their Boots On

I mentioned at the beginning of the month when I posted about Star of the Month Sydney Greeenstreet that one of his movies I hadn't blogged about before, They Died With Their Boots On, would be running at 6:00 AM on Nov. 25. That's tomorrow morning, and since I have the movie on DVD as part of an Errol Flynn box set, I made a point of watching it to have it fresh in my mind for a post on the movie.

Errol Flynn plays George Armstrong Custer, who at the start of the movie is entering West Point as a plebe in the summer of 1857. Custer, as presented here, doesn't seem to care much for rules, naïvely thinking that he'll be able to bring his hunting dogs with him and get the biggest suite in the barracks, egged on by upperclassman cadet Ned Sharp (Arthur Kennedy). This is just the first of many, many incidents in which Custer will pick up demerits, he being constantly wary of authority.

One of those incidents results in his having to march guard, basically marching back and forth and having to keep his mouth shut. Elizabeth Bacon (Olivia de Havilland) is a young woman from the same town as George, Monroe, MI. But she comes from the well-to-do part of town while George was a blacksmith's son, so there's a class difference that her father may not approve of. Of course, it's going to take a while for George and Elizabeth to meet each other again.

1861 comes, and this of course means the start of the Civil War. All of the cadets from the South leave West Point, while those in Custer's class are still a year away from graduating (at the time, West Point was a five-year school). The Union was badly in need of junior officers, so they took the West Point cadets and graduated them a year early. Custer fights in his own iconoclastic way, eventually rising to the rank of brevet general, although that's not a full general but only a temporary rank. So when the Civil War ended, he was returned to his regular rank of Captain and sent back to Michigan with the thanks of a kind nation.

Having married Elizabeth, who father died soon after the war, Custer is in need of a good job, even though the military is all he really knows. Ned Sharp shows up looking to trade on Custer's name to have it behind a development company looking to develop the Dakota Territory. Custer rightly doesn't trust Sharp one bit, and refuses, instead looking to get put back into regular service.

Custer does, in fact, get promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and sent as a cavalry commander west... to Fort Lincoln, which is in the Dakota Territory and where Ned Sharp just happens to be. Custer finds all sorts of chicanery going on, including with the Indian agent for the region, which causes him to try to take his case to Washington. Ned and the agent are trying to get the treaty with the Sioux and other tribes abrogated so they can bring more white settlers onto the land, from which they hope to make a hefty profit. Custer's patrols eventually take him to the Little Big Horn in eastern Montana, and his unorthodox command style finally does him in.

Pretty much anybody who has a good knolwedge of history and who has seen They Died With Their Boots On will tell you that the movie is more or less a whitewashing of history, along with a hefty dollop of Hollywood tropes deemed necessary to entertain the viewers. I can certainly say that the tropes are laid on in grand style, from the romance between Flynn and de Havilland to Hattie McDaniel as the Bacons' servant, to the whole military gallantry.

From what I've read, the real life Custer was indeed a discipline problem and unorthodox. There might actually be room for an interesting movie about the question of unorthodox command when the battle is actually raging and the communication lines break down. It's generally presented in World War II movies that Nazi generals were fairly rigid, with American initiative and ingenuity winning the day. But when is it right to take that initiative, and when not?

Also, in later years there were a lot more westerns about how the Bureau of Indian Affairs was cheating the Indians blind, something we wouldn't get in pre World War II days. The real-life story of Custer seems interesting in that the corruption apparently ran all the way up to the Secretary of War (nowadays Secretary of Defense) and President Grant's brother; Custer was a witness in the impeachment proceedings of the Secretary of War and arrested when he wanted to return back to his post out west instead of staying around to testify when he thought his written testimony was enough. There's material for a Tennessee Johnson type movie there, but nobody in Hollywood ever thought to make it.

What we do get, however, is more than worth watching as examples of what Flynn and de Havilland could do, and on the whole an example of what the studio system could put out. Just don't expect real history from They Died With Their Boots On.

You'll note that I haven't brought up Star of the Month Sydney Greenstreet once. That's because he's got a smaller role as General Winfield Scott, fighting the war from central command in Washington. He has a few scenes during the portion of the movie covering the Civil War, but once the war ends, he's pretty much out of the picture.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Grizzly II

Just before Halloween, Flix ran a new-to-me movie called Grizzly II: Revenge that had such a dumb plot synopsis that it sounded like it would be a fun watch. It's on the Flix schedule again tomorrow at 9:00 AM (and again on, I believe, November 30). So I watched it to do a review on it here.

George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen are atop the opening credits as the nominal stars of the show, and indeed we see them right at the beginning of the movie. They're three friends who are going out for a hike in a national park one day, walking blithely past a sign warning them that there's a danger of bears in the area. So you know something bad is liable to happen to them. Sure enough, once they bed down for the night, a giant grizzly bear gets all three of them. Maybe 10 minutes into the movie, our three top-billed cast members are all dead.

Meanwhile, down at the foot of all the hills, the park rangers and bear experts are worried about the bear attacks, and angry that they've got more to deal with than just a grizzly bear running amok. The park superintendent, Draygon (Louise Fletcher -- yes, that Louise Fletcher) has decided to grant a permit for a festival-style rock concert that's going to bring tens of thousands of young fans to the park. Never mind that it would trash the park; the head ranger is worried about how to keep the music fans safe while there's a rampaging bear out there.

Back up at higher elevation, the bear is still killing people, so the ranger consults with expert French-Canadian hunter Bouchard on how to track the bear and kill it. All of this is intercut with scenes of the various musical artists going through dress rehearsals for the concert; it's pretty obvious that the bear and the concert are going to cross paths for the movie's climax. As for the music, most of the artists sound like a terrible Eastern European simulacrum of early 1980s New Wave music. Indeed, one of the keyboardists even sings in Hungarian.

And that helps to explain why what the viewer gets when watching Grizzly II: Revenge is so bizarre. I didn't recall that in the wake of Jaws there was an original Grizzly among the wave of animal-themed horror. So several years later, it's not unnatural that somebody would come up with the idea of a low-budget sequel. But while the box guide says this is a 1983 movie, IMDb says it's a 2020 release.

Therein lies the real story. Apparently the producer went to Hungary, which was slightly more open than the rest of Eastern Europe at the time, with the exception of Yugoslavia. The American producer hired a Hungarian director and brought a bunch of western actors over for what presumably would be an interesting payday. However, money ran out and Hungary kept the film elements. Some bootlegs were released 10 or 15 years ago, but one of the producers was eventually able to get enough elements together, cobble together a film, and give us an official release which is what we see here.

The result is something that is spectacularly bad. There's not much of a plot; the acting is wooden; there's all sorts of out-of-place 2020 footage; the the concert music is hilariously awful. Frankly, the time warp of vintage Eastern European music ought to be the highlight here, and it's a shame that more of it wasn't (or maybe couldn't be) used. Indeed, there's one bizarre intercutting of a band wearing "Greenpoint" T-shirts, clearling referring to the hipster section of Brooklyn that probably nobody in Hungary would have known about in 1983.

Overall, Grizzly II: Revenge is so bad it's hilariously funny, and definitely needs to be seen to be believed.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Girl Week: Orlando

Every year, Dell over at Dell on Movies hosts his "Girl Week" blogathon, which is a fairly simply blogathon to join. As Dell writes:

If you're not familiar with Girl Week, it's that time of year when we focus on women in movies. You can join the fun by posting or talking about films with females in the lead, directed by women, or feature women in some other prominent role (cinematography, special fx, etc.) on your own blog or channel or whatever during that week, using any of the banners in this post (or create your own with all the relevant info), or mentioning this blog, and leaving me the link here.

With that in mind, I still have a couple of movies on my DVR from last year's Women Make Film series on TCM, which spotlighted 100 different female directors, and watched Sally Potter's 1992 film Orlando.

Based on a novel by Virginia Woolf, the movie tells the story of Orlando (Tilda Swinton), who at the start of the movie is a sort of courtier to Queen Elizabeth I in an era when, as Orlando says, all the men wanted to look feminine, as was the style of the time. This is near the end of the virgin queen's reign, and she bequeaths some property to Orlando, telling him not to fade, wither, or grow old.

Amazingly enough, Orlando doesn't do any of those things. Fast forward 10 years, and Orlando looks fresh as a daisy, falling in love with the beautiful Princess Sasha, part of an diplomatic group from Muscovy. Unfortunately, Sash is going to have to go home when the ice on the Thames unfreezes and they can get the boat back to Russia. Despite Orlando's protestations, Sasha does indeed leave.

Next we jump ahead to 1650, with Orlando being a patron of the arts who is looking for a poet to sponsor so that he can ridicule the poet for his poor poetry. Move on to 1700, and now Orlando is an ambassador to some place in the Near East where he meets a dashing Khan. But that friendship, too, is going to have to end as the Khan's city is besieged. More interestingly, Orlando wakes up from this episode as a woman (which of course would explain why Tilda Swinton would play the male Orlando in the first half of the movie.

We get another episode in 1750 in which she meets Jonathan Swift (an anachronism as Swift had died in 1745), Alexander Pope (ditto; Pope died in 1744), and Samuel Johnson. More noteworthy here is that Orlando is starting to face legal problems as he/she is supposed to be dead, having produced no heirs to inherit that lovely manor house Elizabeth I had bequeathed Orlando 150 years earlier. There's an episode in 1850 in which Orlando meets an American man (Billy Zane) and definitely loses the house because of inheritance laws not letting women inherit the property, and finally a coda in the present day in which Orlando still looks the same age.

Orlando is an interesting enough premise, and well-enough photographed. But I think there's something wrong in the translation of the material from book to screen (although I admit to not having read the book). It felt to me as though all of the segments were given short shrift, and Orlando's dilemma over how to keep remaking him/herself since everybody else around has to grow old and die at some point. (I did like that at least the legal issues were discussed.) And Orlando seems surprisingly equanimeous about suddenly waking up as a woman.

Still, the interesting premise, the nice cinematography, and Swinton's good performance, doing the best she can do with the script, make Orlando worth at least one watch.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Blume in Heat

George Segal died earlier this year, and TCM honored him with a day in Summer Under the Stars. One of his movies that I hadn't seen before is Blume in Love, so I recorded that. Recently I got around to watching it so that I could do a post on it here.

Segal plays Stephen Blume, a divorce lawyer in the Los Angeles area who thinks Venice is one of the most romantic cities out there, as he keeps going back, at least in his imagination. (I'm not certain whether the sequences in Venice are real; if they are, the movie has serious continuity problems.) Blume has a wife in Nina (Susan Anspach) -- or had, since he's been caught philandering and she's obtained a divorce.

Nina is a social worker, and as part of that work she meets Elmo Cole (Kris Kristofferson). He's a musician who has been unable to get a job for years, moving from state to state and living out of his truck, although somehow he has the money to get pot, among other things. In any case, Nina finds Elmo so darn charming that she invites him to live with her!

Blume is distressed by all of this, and one of the ways he handles it is by gettin a new girlfriend in Arlene (Marsha Mason). The other way is by trying to get Nina back into his life, in part by ingratiating himself to Elmo. After all, Elmo is such a nice guy that Blume can't help but like him too.

The movie goes on like this for almost two hours, without much of a plot as the characters go about their musings, sit through analysis, and the like. Then, without a half hour left, there's a plot twist that I frankly found horrifying but in the time the movie was made is apparently supposed to be something acceptable.

It didn't help for me that the box guide had this one listed as a comedy. There's certainly a place for comedies about a divorced spouse trying to win back the other half of the marriage, going back to at least The Awful Truth. But while Blume in Love is mostly fairly light drama as far as drama goes, it's definitely not comedy first, if it's even comedy at all. I didn't laugh much.

Perhaps Blume in Love is one of those "you had to be there" movies, with people who lived through the 70s and this sort of lifestyle appreciating the look at it. All I know is that I sure as hell didn't appreciate any of it.

TCM's Dean Stockwell tribute

Dean Stockwell and Charles Coburn in The Green Years (8:30 AM)

Actor Dean Stockwell died earlier this month. I didn't know whether TCM would get a programming tribute together before the end of the year, figuring they'd be likelier to give him one movie when they do a night of programming remembering various people who died over the course of 2021. Happily, I was wrong. Tomorrow morning and afternoon, TCM will be running seven of Stockwell's juvenile roles. It looks like most of them are MGM, with the exception of The Boy With Green Hair which is RKO; in any case, it's all stuff from the old "Turner Library" that forms the backbone of TCM's programming:

Gene Kelly dances with a mouse instead of Stockwell in Anchors Aweigh at 6:00 AM;
Stockwell has to go up against Charles Coburn's ridiculous beard in the first half of The Green Years at 8:30 AM;
Stockwell becomes the latest child star who has to suffer Wallace Beery in The Mighty McGurk at 10:45 AM;
I have to admit not having seen The Happy Years, at 12:30 PM, before;
Dean Stockwell is opposite Margaret O'Brien in The Secret Garden at 2:30 PM;
Stockwell is the title character of the Kipling-based Kim, at 4:15 PM; and
Stockwell is the titular Boy With Green Hair at 6:15 PM.

Incidentally, IMDb's search function is a mess. I don't know whether it's because of the site redesign or that they just don't care about anything old anymore. But I did a search on the advanced search page of Stockwell and MGM, and only four movies came up, none of which are on the schedule tomorrow.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Thing Between Howard Hawks and John Carpenter

I've mentioned the "Blind Spot" blogathon in which various movie bloggers pick 12 movies they haven't seen before that people generally think movie buffs should see, and watch them over the course of the year. As always, I've stated that I don't take part in it mostly because I don't know when I'm going to get around to watching all of the movies if I don't currently have them on DVD and don't know when they're going to show up on any channels. But one of the movies that would have been a "blind spot" for me is Alien. It's been in the FXM rotation for a while, and will be on again tomorrow at 1:00 PM, so recently I watched it to do a post on here.

The Nostromo is a merchant ship plying outer space sometime in the distant future, currently carring 20 million tons of ore. The crew of seven is in stasis since the distances traveled in outer space are so vast. But they're woken up by the ship's computer, Mother, when Mother detects a distress call from a nearby moon. The ship's crew is mostly not happy about having to take this detour since it's not normally part of their work, and on top of that they're complaining about pay: this isn't a happy Star Trek-type crew.

When they get to the planet, the captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt) assembles an away team including Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt) and Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), leaving behind Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who is nominally in command now, over Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) and technicians Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto), who have some repairs to do on the Nostromo.

Unfortunately, the away mission doesn't go well. Oh, they find the source of the distress call and see some sort of creature that's been dead for a long time. There are also things that look like eggs, and Kane is stupid enough to take a closer look when one of the eggs opens up. Bad idea, as something comes out of the egg and attaches itself to Kane's face the way octopi do to humans in cartoons. The space suit didn't even help as the creature ate through the shield on the helmet.

Dallas and Lambert take Kane, still alive, back to the Nostromo, and Ripley has the sensible view that Kane is going to have to be sacrificed because who the heck wants to let this alien life form onto the ship. Besides, it's policy from the company, so it's not as if Ripley is doing this out of malice. She has to think about the ship. Ash, however, opens the airlock and lets all three crew members in.

They try to get the life-form off of Kane's face; trying to cut one of its arms causes the form to bleed some sort of acid that goes right through metal. Amazingly, however, the creature detaches itself as quickly as it attached itself in the first place. After a bit of time to recover, the crew decides to have one more meal before going back into stasis. At this meal, Kane suddenly goes into convulsions, with an alien life form breaking out of his stomach just like what happened on the surface of that moon. The life form escapes.

All the time I was watching Alien, I couldn't help but think of the movie The Thing From Another World and its various remakes. Crewmembers take an alien life form into their own environment, and the thing escapes, tormenting them from places where they can't see it. Not that Alien is a remake, of course. It's a story line that's tried and true, and unsurprisingly, it works well here. Further helping things is that the characters are realistic people and not just archetypes or tropes, all with realistic motivations for what they do.

If there was one thing that bothered me, it was a plot hole involving the emergency lighting, which was all strobes and such designed to further the suspense for the viewer, but make things pointlessly difficult for the people on the ship. If they were facing an emergency, you'd think they would want a well-marked way to safety and not strobe lights going off. (Yes, I know fire alarms for deaf people use strobe lights, but this wasn't that sort of strobe light.) I'm really being picky, though, and that's a minor flaw at most.

If, like me, you're one of the few people who hasn't seen Alien, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Ellery Queen

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, B movie series with various detectives were fairly common; I've mentioned several of the series before. I don't think, however, that I'd ever actually seen an Ellery Queen movie until I popped in my DVD of The Spanish Cape Mystery.

Donald Cook plays Ellery Queen, a detective created by a pair of mystery writers who used the pseudonym "Ellery Queen" both for the author of the books, and the name of the detective. Ellery the detective has a police detective father, played here only in the opening segment which has Ellery solving a mystery that has no bearing to the rest of the movie. Ellery, together with his friend Judge Macklin (Berton Churchill), are planning to go for a vacation out on the California coast, where the plan is to have nothing whatsoever to do with murder mysteries.

Yeah right. Just before Ellery and the judge get to their seaside cottage, we go next door to the Spanish Cape mansion. There, the Godfreys are gathered, together with the people who are going to be heirs to a great-aunt's fortune. Young Stella Godfrey (Helen Twelvetrees) is there to provide the requisite love interest, and in addition to a bunch of bickering people we see somebody kidnapping both her and her uncle!

So when Ellery arrives at the cottage, he finds Stella tied up there, the uncle not to be found. They take her back to Spanish Cape, and Ellery falls for her even though she's got a fiancé in Leslie Court. However, as they get back, they find that another man, Marco, has been killed, wearing nothing but a pair of swimming trunks and a cape around his shoulders. Anybody at Spanish Cape could be the murderer. Well, except for the dead guy and, we presume, Stella.

The police are brought in in the form of Sheriff Moley, who proceeds to make one wrong assumption after another about the case. Ellery himself insists that he's not going to try to solve the case because that's the police's job, and besides, he came here not to get involved in any murder mysteries. But of course, more people get killed, with the same odd conceit that the men are found in swimming trunks.

The Spanish Cape Mystery is nothing more than a B mystery, but in that niche it does quite well. The characters are interesting enough, the mystery itself is diverting, and there's also the requisite humor. As an example, the Sheriff keeps calling Ellery by a different detective name, such as "Sherlock" or "Mr. Chan" instead of Ellery. It's nothing too taxing, but then, these B mysteries weren't supposed to be anything other than throwaway entertainment. Two decades on this stuff would have been perfect for an episode of one or another of the TV detective shows, but at the time the movie was made we didn't have TV series yet.

TCM has run several of the mystery series in the Saturday matinee programming block, and if they had the rights to The Spanish Cape Mystery, it would be perfect for them to show there.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #384: Book Adaptations

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is one that's probably been done here on more than one occasion, but there are a lot of movies that fit the theme: book adaptations. Adapting a book has been one of the laziest forms of coming up with a movie for the Hollywood screenwriter. Indeed, books were being adapted into movies even before there was much of a Hollywood to make movies. With that in mind, I went with three extremely old adaptations, all of which are in the public domain now:

The Wizard of Oz (1910). Everybody remembers the Judy Garland movie. But there were two silent versions, including this one from before there was color photography in movies. As you can see, it's got some differences from the 1939 film, but some things stay the same. Frank Baum wrote something like two dozen books in the Oz universe, so there are still a lot of stories that could be turned into movies.

Ben Hur (1907). Fifty years before Charlton Heston, and twenty years before Ramon Novarro, we get this early version of the movie that, as I understand it, ran into rights issues from the estate of author Lew Wallace. In a piece TCM did on letterboxing, director Sydney Pollack said that the thought of Ben-Hur panned and scanned gave him the heebie jeebies, but I don't think I ever heard him say anything about this version, or even the later epic-length Novarro version.

Frankenstein (1910). Thomas Edison's studio produced this version, which as you can see in the opening credits describes itself as "A liberal adaptation from Mrs. Shelley's famous story". There's also no bolt in the side of the monster's neck.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Don't look for Lionel Richie

Some time back I picked up a box set of Basil Dearden movies from Criterion's Eclipse series in no small part because it had The League of Gentlemen on it. The one movie in the set that I hadn't done a post on before is All Night Long, so not too long ago I put that one in the DVD player and watched it to do a post on here.

Richard Attenborough plays Rod Hamilton, a wealthy man who is a lover of jazz music. He's met jazzman Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and Rex's wife Delia (Marti Stevens) before. Now it's their first anniversary, so Rod rented out a warehouse in an industrial party to have an all night party/jazz session for the couple and many of their jazz-playing friends. It's something they can't do in the polite and posh part of London where Rod lives, because of the noise complaints it would engender. But it also shows just how rich Rod is, being able to rent such a warehouse and furnish it like this.

Among the guests are Rex's manager, Cass (Keith Michell), who has a bit of a drug problem, although amazingly enough the drug of choice isn't heroin; some famous real-life jazz musicians (more on that later); and drummer Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan) and his wife Emily (Betsy Blair).

Johnny has been hoping to step out on his own and start a combo. But there are a lot of combos out there, and he'd need something more than just a competent drummer, as promoter Berger tells him. But he's got a plan for that too: Delia is a singer. Or was, as she decided to retire when she got married to Rex. Johnny has been working on convincing Delia to come out of retirement, starting by her surprising Rex with a new arrangement of a song at the party.

Rex doesn't know anything about this, however, and he's not going to be particularly pleased when he starts finding out. If that weren't bad enough, Johnny has a particularly nasty way of getting Rex to find out. Johnny's plan it to make it seem as though Delia is being unfaithful with him, instead spending time with Cass. It is, of course, untrue, but it certainly gets Rex's temper up.

Supposedly, All Night Long is a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello, a play that I haven't actually seen first-hand, but only in adaptations like this or Ronald Colman's A Double Life. So I can't really say just how faithfully this follows Shakespeare. But I can say that the acting performances are quite good.

Equally good are the jazz performances. Fans of vintage jazz will probably highly enjoy seeing people like Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, and some names I didn't recognize but jazz fans probably would such as John Dankworth. They not only do some very rudimentary acting, but also play various jazz pieces, which are by themselves worth the price of admission.

If there were one flaw, it was how Johnny was able to record everybody to make a fake conversation to try to convince Rex of his wife's unfaithfulness. If Rod had rented and furnished the place, why would the reel-to-reel recorder be there, and how would Johnny have gotten access to any tapes? It's not as if this were a real house where a musician might have had such a recorder.

But that's a minor plot hole. In any case, I'm thrilled that I bought this box set and got to watch (or in some cases re-watch) all four films in it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Room With a View

It's time for another of the movies that I had the chance to record thanks to the free preview of the Showtime channels. That would be the Merchant-Ivory film A Room With a View. It's going to be on again tomorrow, at noon on Flix, so once again, I made a point of watching it in order to be able to do a review on it here.

It's 1907, and there's a class of idle rich Britons who are able to go on long vacations to all sorts of places in Europe, such as Florence, Italy. One such pair are you Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) and her much older cousin Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith). They get to the pension where they'll be staying, and are disappointed to see that they've got a room at the back of the place, which means it overlooks an alleyway rather than having one of those great views of the palazzo and piazza and Arno river and the like.

This gets brought up at dinner, which is one of those affairs when everybody is expected to eat at roughly the same time, so a large group of Britons are at the same table along with Lucy and Charlotte. Among them are the Emersons, a father (Denholm Elliott) who is there as much for his health as for the tourism, and his adult son George (Julian Sands). George immediately offers to switch suites with the two women so that they can have a view, he already having had it and not needing more of it. Charlotte isn't so sure that young Lucy should be talking to a strange unmarried young man without responsible adults having introduced the pair first.

These being Brits abroad and not too many of them, it's unsurprising that they're an insular little community, constantly bumping into each other in the same places because they use the same guidebooks. So eventually George and Lucy not only bump into one another again, but spend a little time walking around the back streets of Florence. And then, when Lucy and Charlotte on one hand and the Emersons on another wind up renting carriages to see the countryside and have some picnics, George takes Lucy and kisses her, thinking they're alone. Charlotte sees it and is horrified, after which Lucy and Charlotte return to England.

Back in England, Lucy lives with her mother and her younger brother Freddy (Rupert Graves), waiting to reach the age where she'll receive her inheritance, and being called on by men such as Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis), who eventually proposes to Lucy and the proposal is accepted. Meanwhile, the local vicar has a cottage sitting idle that he's planning to rent out to make some money for the parish. Somebody met the Emersons down in London, and suggested to the vicar that old Mr. Emerson be a tenant. This leads to George coming up on the weekends to visit his father, and naturally running into Lucy again as a result. Mom, of course, doesn't know anything about what happened between Lucy and George in Florence because Charlotte didn't tell her.

George, being a passionate man, is still in love with Lucy. But, of course, she's engaged to Cecil, who is exactly the opposite of George. In a world where Lucy would never have expected to see George again, it's easy enough to compromise and marry Cecil. But now that he's back, she has to lie to herself about not being in love with George.

The story in A Room With a View is a darn good one, although the relatively slow Edwardian pacing and the romance may mean it won't appeal to some viewers, especially younger males. And it's not really a family movie, especially with one skinny-dipping scene which, while tastefully done, is still there. But the movie is absolutely worth the watch for everyone else, thanks in part to the fine performances, and in part to the production values. Merchant and Ivory make the film look gorgeous.

If you haven't seen A Room With a View before, I can highly recommend it.

Monday, November 15, 2021

The fisherman's shoes

Another movie that I had sitting on my DVR for quite some time is The Shoes of the Fisherman. In order to try to free up some room on my DVR, I recently finally got around to watching it.

Anthony Quinn plays Kiril Lakota, a political prisoner in Siberia who had been the Bishop of Lvov in Ukraine, which from what I understand from a brief look on Wikipedia is part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church but in communion with Rome. In any case, there are tensions between Communist China and the Soviet Union, so the Premier of the Soviet Union, Kamenev (Laurence Olivier), decides to free Lakota and send him to Rome in order to curry faith with the West. As for the Chinese, their crops are failing and there's the possibility this could lead to war with the Soviet Union over fertile land in southern Siberia.

When Bishop Lakota gets to the Vatican, he's elevated to Cardinal by the elderly pope (Sir John Gielgud), but there's a lot more going on at the Vatican. There's a younger, charismatic priest named Fr. Telemond (Oskar Werner) who has some views about man's relationship to Christ that the Church thinks are somewhat unorthodox. It's a subplot that's not really relevant to the movie other than the fact that it allows Kiril and Fr. Telemond to become friends and show that Kiril is different from the rest of the Vatican hierarchy.

The other big thing that happens is that the current pope finally dies. This means that all of the Cardinals (at least those who haven't reached the age of 80) are brought to Rome not just to attend the funeral, but more importantly for the election of the new Pope. The Cardinals are brought to a special chamber in the Sistine Chapel which is "sealed", and they hold two ballots a day on who should become the next Pope, until somebody gets two-thirds of the votes. If a vote fails to produce a Pope, the ballots are burned with some wet straw (I think nowadays, they also add a chemical to make the color clearer) which produces black smoke; if the ballot is successful, the ballots are burned alone producing white smoke.

In theory, the Cardinals are supposed to put God first, but since they're humans of course there's going to be politicking going on as they may prefer or dislike some particular prelate. Some don't even want the job. In any case, as you can probably guess, the College of Cardinals makes a shocking decision in selecting Cardinal Lakota, who becomes the first non-Italian Pope in over 400 years. (The movie was made 10 years before Cardina Wojtyla was elected and became John Paul II.) The new pope faces problems both within the Vatican and without, the latter being that crisis between the Soviet Union and China that's bubbling up. Pope Kiril decides to try to be mediator.

The plot lines that deal directly with Kiril are the best, as Anthony Quinn is quite good. Unfortunately, the movie is dragged down by two subplots. One, the Fr. Telemond plot, I've already mentioned; the other involves an American journalist, George Faber (David Janssen) who is sent to Rome to cover the conclave. He's got an estranged wife Ruth who is a doctor, but also has a mistress. Pope Kiril meets Dr. Ruth by chance and, one presumes, helps Ruth figure out how to solve her problem. But the rest of that subplot brings the movie to a screeching halt every time it comes up.

In addition to a fine performance from Quinn, there are also good performances from some of the Cardinals who have been in the Vatican too long (Vittorio De Sica and Leo McKern) and have lost touch with the changing outside world as a result. There's also some nice cinematography and use of documentary/newsreel footage. Unfortunately, the subplots make the movie run really long. A two hour movie tightly focused on Kiril and/or probably would have been quite good; The Shoes of the Fisherman, however, sags under its 162-minute running time.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Another movie that I recorded some months back is coming up on TCM today: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at 5:15 PM. So I made a point of watching it to do a post on it here.

Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) is a widower inventer in circa-1910 England who has a past as a racecar driver. But his car suffered a fiery accident and is now junk, so he's been reduced to various inventions, none of which work, while trying to raise his two children Jemima (Heather Ripley) and Jeremy (Adrian Hall) and living with a grandfather (Lionel Jeffries) who in the present day would probably be considered to have dementia.

One of Potts' inventions that has failed is a type of candy that unfortunately has holes in it, from the sugar being boiled to the wrong temperature, as Truly (Sally Ann Howes) tells him. She's a woman rich enough to have a car of her own and drive it, she having picked up the kids from the junk dealer since they were supposed to be in school. In any case, it's clear that Truly and Caractacus start off on the wrong foot.

On the bright side, it turns out that the candy does have some use to it. All those holes mean tht it can be used as a flute, making it a novelty candy. Potts goes to see the local candy manufacturer, Lord Scrumptious (James Robertson Justice) about selling the rights to manufacture the candy to him, which would bring in some royalties to the Potts family. It's here that we learn that Truly is in fact Truly Scrumptious, daughter of Lord Scrumptious, which would explain why she knows about candy.

Potts gets the money to buy back his racecar from the junkyard, tinkering with it and actually getting it to run, so he takes it down to the beach for a picnic with his two kids. Truly has shown up there as well, and the kids like her, not having a mother of their own. They invite her to picnic with them, and eventually Dad starts telling the kids a story about the ship that's just offshore.

The story is that the ship is a pirate ship sent by the head of Vulgaria, Baron Bomburst (Gert Fröbe). He's learned about Potts' car which is a magical car that has the power to float and fly, and he'd like that car for himself. So he sends of spies to get the car. They're bumbling, so they accidentally capture Grandpa instead, forcing Caractacus, Truly, and the kids to fly over in the car, named "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", to Vulgaria to rescue Grandpa.

Meanwhile, the Baron's wife (Anna Quayle), hates children, so she's outlawed them and all of the children are in hiding, which is why the villagers are horrified when Jemima and Jeremy show up. A toymaker (Benny Hill) hides them, and eventually helps Potts and Truly rescue all of the kids.

When Ben Mankiewicz presented this one back in July, he quoted a critic from, I think, Time magazine who wrote that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was "a movie for the ages... the ages between 5 and 12" and went on to savage the movie. I'd have to say that it's easy to see why a critic would write something like that. The movie runs way too long for a story like this, at 147 minutes. Albert Broccoli, who had been producing the James Bond movies, brought in the Sherman brothers from Disney to write songs for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and if you don't care much for Disney music, you're going to hate the musical numbers here. Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who doesn't care much for the Sherman brothers songs, which repeatedly bring the movie to a screeching halt.

Worse, what's supposed to be the fun part of the story, when Dad starts telling the kids about Vulgaria and the movie turns to fantasy, doesn't come until over an hour into the proceedings. I understand the need for a set-up to introduce Dad and Truly, but there's also a long scene at a carnival that could have been excised, along with one or more of the musical numbers.

Still, if you've got young kids, they may enjoy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And then irritate you for weeks with the songs.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Devil in a Blue Dress

Another of the movies that I had the chance to DVR thanks to the free preview of the Showtime channels is Devil in a Blue Dress. Interestingly, this is a movie that's going to be back on TCM instead of on one of the premium channels. That airing is overnight tonight at 2:00 AM, so still late Saturday evening if you're on the west coast.

It's the summer of 1948 in Los Angeles, and Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is a former GI who served in World War II before being demobbed. He's a native of Texas, but screwing up his personal life there sent him west to Los Angeles looking for work and a fresh start in life. He got that fresh start, but has recently been fired from his job, and with a bunch of bills he's in need of work as he sits in Joppy's (Mel Winkler) bar.

Fortunately for him, there's somebody who could use him for a job that has the promise of a big payday. That somebody is Dewitt Albright (Tom Sizemore). Dewitt is an assistant to one of the candidates for mayor, Todd Carter (Terry Kinney). Except that Carter is planning to drop out because his girlfriend, Daphne (Jennifer Beals), has gone missing. Daphne has been known to spend time in some of the black-owned bars and nightclubs in town, and the hope is that somebody like Easy will be able to find Daphne and bring her back to Carter; obviously, a white person couldn't go into those clubs so discreetly to do the search.

Easy probably ought to realize that such an "easy" job (no pun intended) with that big payoff has to have a catch behind it, but he takes the job anyway since the advance allows him to pay off his bills. At one of the clubs he visits, he sees a friend Dupree, who has a girlfrind Coretta who is thought to know Daphne and can give information as to Daphne's whereabouts. She does know, but Dupree gets so drunk that Easy has to take him and Coretta back to Dupree's house where the three spend the night. It's a bad move because the following day, the cops tell Easy that Coretta was murdered, with him as an obvious suspect.

Of course, we know that Easy didn't do it. But what we don't know yet is that this isn't the last murder, by any means. Amazingly enough for Easy, Daphne calls him from out of the blue, telling him her whereabouts! It's another trap, as Daphne asks Easy to take her to some house up in the Hollywood Hills because she has some important business there. The house owner is dead, and Daphne drives off, leaving Easy there alone and a prime suspect.

The mystery gets more complex, as it turns out that the other mayoral candidate, Terrell (Maury Chaykin) is involved, with compromising pictures of him that Daphne is believed to have in her possession, so everybody wants Daphne, some of them wanting her dead. Easy has to deal with a whole bunch of people who are out for him, including both Carter's and Terrell's men, along with black gangsters and the cops. The finale is pure Hollywood, and frankly unbelievable, but that's another story.

Devil in a Blue Dress is a well-made movie, that unsurprisingly made me think of Chinatown since I watched that one recently and both are complex mysteries set in vintage Los Angeles. Washington is an overarching figure here, and he delivers with a fine performance. The mystery might be a bit confusing at times, but that's why it's a mystery. It's not supposed to be clear.

If there's one flaw -- and it's a minor one -- it's that the movie's view of Los Angeles is a bit too clean. We've got noir footage of Los Angeles as it was back in the late 1940s, and that looks rather grittier. I've stated before that historical movies made in more recent times look better than the stuff done on Hollywood backlots, but I find myself increasingly thinking that any "period" piece set in a time for which we have Hollywood movie footage, especially stuff done off the back lot, tends to look slightly off, as though everybody has a higher standard of living than they would have had in reality.

But that minor flaw is absolutely no reason not to watch Devil in a Blue Dress if you've never seen it before.

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Ladies Man

Going through some of my DVD box sets, I decided to crack open the Jerry Lewis set again since I had six or seven movies I hadn't blogged about before. This time, I selected The Ladies Man.

Lewis plays Herbert Heebert, who at the start of the movie is graduating from college. He's got a girlfriend he's about to propose to. Except that when he goes up to pop the question, he finds that she's with another man. This of course leaves Herbert depresed and not sure what to do with his life, so he thinks about leaving town.

There's a big mansion that has a help wanted sign up, stating that the job has to go to a bachelor. Herbert having been jilted and thus taking a break from women for a while, and in need of a job, inquires about it with Katie (Kathleen Freeman), the maid of the house. She, and the house's owner, former opera singer Miss Wellenmellon (Helen Traubel) are thrilled, giving Herbert a room to spend the night before he starts work in the morning.

It's only in the morning that Herbert discovers the house has dozens, if not hundreds, of young women residents, all living dormitory-style as they're looking to crak the entertainment industry in one form or another. And they all seem to be somewhat man-hungry, too.

That's the basic premise for the plot, but in reality it's more like The Bellboy or The Errand Boy before it in that it's really an excuse for a whole bunch of not-closely-related sketches, which are hit-or-miss. There are also sketches which serve the purpose of bringing in a star for a cameo, most notably George Raft.

For me, the "plot" and many of the sketches in The Ladies Man didn't really work. But it did show that Lewis already had quite a bit of technical talent as a director. The mansion itself is a character, as it appears on many occasions as though it could have been inspired by the set of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, with long shots showing lots of the rooms on all three floors and the action being very carefully choreographed through the rooms and up and down those staircases. It's just a shame Lewis couldn't be directing other actors and/or off of somebody else's script.

Still, The Ladies Man is an interesting miss, and definitely worth the price considering how many movies the box set has.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Frogmen in the Air

Today is Veterans' Day here in the US. Of course, it used to be Armistice Day, since it originally marked the end of World War I, but nowadays it's another holiday to honor all veterans. TCM is running a bunch of war movies, but either I've blogged about their selections, or don't have them on my DVR or on a DVD. I couldn't find anything World War I-related offhand, so instead I decided to dig out my box set of John Wayne war movies, and watch Flying Leathernecks.

Wayne stars as Maj. Kirby, who has just been given command of a group of Marine flyboys in World War II who are about to get involved in the battle for Guadalcanal. None of the men in the squadron know Kirby, and they were expecting that the group's former second-in-command, Capt. Griffin (Robert Ryan), would be elevated to commander to replace the old guy. But apparently the brass some levels above didn't think Griffin was ready for command yet, which is why Kirby has been brought in.

So it's understandable that the men don't particularly like Kirby. But he only makes it tougher on himself by being a stickler for doing things the right way, and being particularly not nice about it when the men under his command screw up. When one guy loses a fighter while chasing a Japanese reconnaissance plane, Kirby schedules the man for a court martial! But in Kirby's defense, there's a war on, and if there's too much laxity, there's no way the Americans are going to win.

Since there's a war on, we get a lot of combat sequences, and these are all made up of actual combat footage from World War II, which is mildy jarring since it looks like it ws done on different film stock compared to all the Hollywood scenes. And there's not much of a plot fleshed out besides the ever-present conflict between Kirby and Griffin over whether Griffin will ever be fit for command.

It's not all that long ago that I did a post on the Fox film The Frogmen, which deals with many similar themes, with Richard Widmark in the "new commander" role taken on here by Wayne, and Dana Andrews in the "man passed over" role given to Robert Ryan. And frankly, I preferred The Frogmen, because I think the characters are better fleshed out. Everybody tries their best in Flying Leathernecks, but the picture never really goes anywhere.

Thursday Movie Picks #383: Dream Sequences

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 "Dream Sequences". There are enough movies out there with dream sequences in them, with one of the most famous dream sequences of them all being the one designed by Salvador Dali and featuring in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Spellbound. However, I happened to use Spellbound earlier this year, so I had to think of some other movies. In the end, I came up with three movies from the 1940s, although I have to admit that using them for this theme is kind of spoiling them:

The Woman in the Window (1944). Edward G. Robinson plays a college professor who sees a striking portrait of a woman near the social club he frequents. On heading home from the club one night, he meets the subject of that portrait (Joan Bennett) and has drinks with her before they're surprised by her lover, leading to a fight in which Robinson kills the lover in self-defense, leading to tragedy.

The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945). Jack Benny plays a trumpeter for a radio show orchesta sponsored by a coffee company whose coffee -- and whose announcer -- puts everybody to sleep. Benny dreams that he's an angel in heaven along with his girlfriend from down on earth, Alexis Smith. Heaven decides that Earth needs to be destroyed what with all the war going on, and Benny is sent down to earth to blow the trumpet that will destroy earth, because the previous angels sent to do the job found they like being alive too much. Complications ensue.

Dead of Night (1945). Mervyn Johns plays an architect who wakes up from a dream one morning on a day when he has to go out to a country cottage to discuss some architectural plans. When he gets there, he finds a surprising number guests, all of whom he thinks he's seen in his recurring dreams. The guests then start telling horror stories.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Gleaming the Cube

Another of the movies that started showing up in the FXM rotation a few months back that was new to me is Gleaming the Cube. It's on again tomorrow (Nov. 11) at 6:00 AM, so I recently watched it to do a post on it here.

Christian Slater plays Brian Kelly, a teenager in suburban southern California who's very much into skateboarding with his friends, so much so that it's put him into one of those groups that's one of the character types you'd see in 1980s teen movies. At home, Brian doesn't get along so well with his parents, mostly because a decade or so ago, they adopted a Vietnamese refugee boy about the same age as Brian named Vinh, and Brian thinks his parents care more about Vinh than they do about him.

Vinh works for Col. Trac, who makes his money from running a video store catering to all the Vietnamese immigrants in Orange County, but also runs a charity that collects medical aid for Vietnam as a sort of propaganda to show that the Communists can't run a country, Trac having fought for the South Vietnamese. Vinh's job is for the charity and not for the video store.

One day, in looking at the numbers, Vinh gets the distinct feeling that Col. Trac and the charity are getting fleeced by the medical supply provider as the numbers just don't add up. Rather than going to Trac, Vinh comes up with the idiotic idea of going to the supply house alone, and at night so he can break in. He doesn't get the answers to his questions as he's found out before he can learn the truth. His captors take him to a hotel room where they intend to inflict some light torture, but accidentally strangle him to death. So they stage it to look like suicide.

Art Lucero (Steven Bauer) believes that it's suicide, but the family is devastated and Brian certainly doesn't believe it's suicide, so he's going to start doing some investigating of his own, without letting the police know what's going on. This gets him pursued by the bad guys, and when he hides in a car to follow the bad guys, that driver gets killed.

But this doesn't deter Brian. Instead, Brian goes to the medical supply house himself, where he discovers that the charity is in fact running guns to some unmentioned rebels who I don't think ever existed in real life. In addition, he tries to get to know Trac's daughter, who is also about his and Vinh's age and goes to the same school, to the point that when she says they could never be friends because just look at him and his skater image, he decides to change his image to a preppy, to everybody's shock (and the start of the film's unintentional humor).

However, having discovered the guns, Brian is now in danger himself, and Lucero is getting really pissed about this snotty kid horning in on the police department's job. Brian sets up a diversion at the medical supply house that gets Lawndale (Richard Herd), the white American helping obtain those weapons for Trac and smuggle them to Southeast Asia to suspect Trac. Lucero, on the other hand, finally figures out what's going on, and this leads to the final showdown which involves Lawndale on one side, Lucero on another, and Brian and his friends -- who are now willing to believe in him even if he looks like a preppy -- on a third side. It's one of the more humorous car chases in the movies.

Gleaming the Cube is one of those movies that's not really covering any new ground. As I was watching it, I got the impression that the movie was one part Chinatown (the whole Los Angeles-based mystery, not the immigrant community); one part Scooby Doo (Lawndale would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling teenaged skateboarders), and one part Roller Boogie (some of the action scenes look like they could have been recreated from Roller Boogie, only with the characters on skateboards instead of roller skates). There's also some mild social commentary about the generational clash in immigrant communities that's always been a thing, going all the way back to the silent Jazz Singer. It's in many ways a standard-issue amateur detective movie that just moves the action to a few completely new sub-cultures.

Gleaming the Cube starts off a bit dumb, in that the characters act in ways that really make you suspend disbelief, but the movie picks up steam as it becomes increasingly more absurd, especially when it gets to the car chase. For example, Lucero commandeers a car that had a computer voice instructing passengers to fasten safety belts and things like that; the sort of technology that was considered cutting-edge and a big deal back in the 1980s. During the chase, the passenger door gets torn off, and for the rest of the chase, you can hear the computer voice intoning, "The right door is ajar".

Watch also for the skater who works as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut (and the Pizza Hut delivery truck!). That's a young Tony Hawk before he became a skateboarding legend. If you want an interesting look at 80s style and a sub-culture that didn't show up much on the screen in those days, you could do far worse than to watch Gleaming the Cube. Great it most certainly isn't, but it's incredibly entertaining.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Dean Stockwell, 1936-2021

Dean Stockwell and Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

The death has been announced of former child starDean Stockwell, who went on to maintain a steady career as an adult and even get a third act on TV in his 50s. Stockwell, who died on Sunday, was 85.

Stockwell's career started as a young boy, in movies I've mentioned here before such as Anchors Aweigh and Gentleman's Agreement (pictured above), the latter of which has him playing the son of Gregory Peck who is passing himself off as Jewish for a story on anti-Semitic discrimination that ultimately affects Stockwell's character too. I've tried gettin through The Boy With Green Hair but have always found that tough; there's also his role as a child in the first half of The Green Years that comes to mind.

As a twentysomething, there was Compulsion (that's Stockwell on the left) that sees him as one of a pair of young men who commit a thrill killing, the other being played by Bradford Dillman. Orson Welles defends them in court in a movie based on the Leopold and Loeb trial. Over at Fox, he did Sons and Lovers with cinematographer-turned-director Jack Cardiff; I saw that one ages ago when FXM was still the Fox Movie Channel.

Then, in the 1980s, Stockwell had a resurgence in movies like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, before winding up in the roles that younger people might best remember him, on the small screen in shows like Quantum Leap or Battlestar Galactica.

A couple of months back TCM did a spotlight on child stars and had a night of Stockwell's movies, so they've got enough to do a small tribute if they want. I'd guess that when TCM has its night in December of people who passed away this year he'd be more likely to get one movie there.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman?

Gloria Grahame had a day in Summer Under the Stars this past August, so I recorded one of her movies that I hadn't done a blog post on before: A Woman's Secret. Recently, I watched it so I could do a post on it here.

Grahame plays Susan Caldwell, a singer and actress who performs on the radio under the stage name Estrellita. She finishes up her radio show one night and goes back to her posh apartment in Manhattan where she lives with her friend who discovered her, Marian Washburn (Maureen O'Hara). Susan announces that she's going to give up performing, which causes an argument between the two women. Susan goes up to her room, Marian following her into the room. We then hear a gun shot, and Susan is gravely injured.

Unsusprisingly, the police, in the form of lead investigator Fowler (Jay C. Flippen) arrest Marian and hold her on a charge of attempted murder. What's much more surprising is that Marian confesses right away, basically shushing anybody around her who might try to stop her. One of those who would try to stop Marian is Luke Jordan (Melvyn Douglas). He's a pianist and bon vivant who also appears on radio shows due to his knowledge of all genres of music. He's convinced Marian couldn't have shot Susan, and is going to try to get Marian cleared of the charges, even if Marian doesn't seem to want to.

To that end, Luke impresses upon lawyer Brook Matthews (Victor Jory), who was apparently romantically involved with both Marian and Susan at different times, to take on Marian's case, even though he'll have a client who doesn't want him to represent her and in spite of that convoluted back story. As you can guess, since all of this happens in roughly the first quarter of the movie, we're going to get a flashback as to what really happened. Well, that only comes after half a movie's worth of Luke giving the back story involving himself and the two women.

Susan had been a singer herself back before the war, but she got some sort of illness that took away the qualities in her voice that made her a good singer, leaving her with a voice that's fine for talking but not singing. Around this time Marian and Luke discover Susan, and since she's got some talent, the start building her up, with Marian becoming a sort of manager. So there's the possibility that if Susan retires, it would take away Marian's meal ticket. Add in a GI they met in France (Bill Williams) and things get even more complicated.

In fact, I think a big part of the problem is that A Woman's Secret is too complicated for its own good. There's also not much of a secret going on here. If it's not attempted murder then there are only one or two other possibilities; it's not as if an attempted murder with a bunch of different suspects. But the biggest problem of them all is that the writing came across as flat. It's just really hard to get emotionially involved in the story of any of these characters, and that's a pretty big failing. All of the stars do the best they can with the material they're given, but in the end it's just not enough.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Buchanan Rides Alone

I've got a couple of box sets of Randolph Scott westerns; not having done a post on a real western recently and wanting to watch something a bit shorter and older, I decided to put one of the DVDs in the player and watch Buchanan Rides Alone.

Randolph Scott, unsurprisingly, plays Tom Buchanan, a man from west Texas who went down to Mexico to make enough money fighting in one of those revolutions that he'd be able to go back to Texas and get a big enough spread of land to start the ranch which is his real goal in life. Having done so, he's now returning to the US, although the fighting took him a ways west, as he crosses the border in California, in a town run by the Agry family.

The Agrys, who include among their number local judge Simon (Tol Avery), sheriff Lew (Barry Kelley), and innkeeper and town gossip Amos (Peter Whitney), aren't very happy about having strangers here, and try to get Buchanan out of town, at least until they find out he's got all that cash on hand they they can steal from him. In any case, Buchanan is probably planning to spend only one night before getting the hell out of here, getting a room at Amos' hotel and a $10 steak to feed himself.

Unfortunately for him, Simon's belligerent, dipsomaniac son shows up at the inn, looking for a drink and taking Buchanan's bottle of whiskey. This only makes him more belligerent, and he gets into a fight that results in a passing Mexican cowboy, Juan de la Vega (Manuel Rojas) shooting Roy in self-defense and killing him. THis being a corrupt little town, there's no way there's going to be any justice for Roy's killer. Juan is arrested in the killing and Buchanan is held as an accessory.

Thankfully, Buchanan is able to defend himself and be declared not guilty by the jury, although Juan isn't so lucky. The judge, however, is angling for higher office, and eventually comes up with a deal to release Juan to his father back over the Mexican border in exchange for $50,000 which of course the judge will keep. However, he's going to have to keep this secret until the deal can be done, since the townsfolk are braying for blood. Amos overhears the deal and tells the sheriff so they, and not the judge, can get the money.

As for Buchanan, he's been let go, but he's not allowed to leave town alone because the sheriff is a nasty man who doesn't want word of Buchanan's fleecing or the general town corruption to get out. So the sheriff sends two of his deputies to escort Buchanan out of town, with the expectation that what they'll really do is kill Buchanan. One of them is a Texan himself, which Buchanan can use to his advantage. Eventually everybody winds up back in the town of Agry for the finale.

Buchanan Rides Alone is one of several programmer-type westerns that Randolph Scott made together with director Budd Boetticher. If you've seen any of the others, you can presume, quite rightly, that Buchanan Rides Alone is a quality movie, even if it's one of those films that's never going to be remembered as an all-time great. Scott was very comfortable in the western genre, and he's helped out by a more than capable script and a cast of very good supporting actors.

In short, Buchanan Rides Alone is the sort of movie that's perfect for a box set, providing 80 minutes of solid entertainment at a nice price point.

Saturday, November 6, 2021


If I were taking part in the "Blind Spot" series that one of the other movie blogs runs, in which you blog over the course of a year about a dozen movies that are generally considered must-see but you haven't seen before, one of the movies I might have selected would be Chinatown. I recently had the chance to record it from the free preview of the Showtime channels, and see that it's going to be on multiple times in the next week, starting overnight tonight at 3:55 AM on TMC Xtra and tomorrow morning at 10:45 AM on Showtime Showcase.

Jack Nicholson plays J.J. Gittes, a private detective in 1930s Los Angeles. One day, into his office comes Evelyn Mulwray, saying that she's worried that her husband Hollis is stepping out on her. Could J.J. investigate and get the goods on Hollis? It'll take some money, and Gittes seems to have some pretty high rates for the mid-1930s, but he's willing to take the job.

Mulwray works for the Los Angeles Water Department, which is trying to get a dam built to deal with the chronic water shortages stemming from the fact that Los Angeles is a growing city and that it never rains in southern California. Mulwray, opposes the buidling of the dam, and probably has evidence that building the dam wouldn't be necessary, which is why he's so dangerous. Gittes does his usual bang-up job, gets photos of Mulwray that sure make him look unfaithful, and then lives happily ever after.

Well, that last part about living happily ever after is clearly wrong, or otherwise we wouldn't have a movie. Gittes goes to the Mulwray house to speak personally to Hollis, but Evelyn tells him to look for Hollis at one of the reservoirs. There, Hollis is found -- but he's quite dead, having drowned. So the police investigate, which is where Gittes finds out that it wasn't Evelyn who hired him, but a woman named Ida Sessions (Diane Ladd) who was made up to look like Evelyn. Obviously somebody had it in for Hollis. But who, and why?

So Gittes finds himself investigating a lot more. Among the possible suspects are Yelburton (John Hillerman), now one of hte bigwigs in the Water Department, who gives Gittes a lie about water being sent to irrigate the orange groves out in the San Fernando Valley. There's also Noah Cross (John Huston), who used to work in the Water Department before it was sold to the city. Noah and Hollis had a falling out over that, but also over the fact that Noah's daughter was born Evelyn Cross, the same Evelyn who married Hollis.

Gittes continues to investigate, working somewhat with Evelyn as he had to lie to the police who thought that she had hired Gittes to figure out if Hollis was being unfaithful. Indeed, if the detective investigating the murder, Lou Escobar (Perry Lopez) knew the truth, Gittes could be in big trouble for withholding evidence. And the case is about to get a whole lot more complicated, as Gittes discovers those orange groves are being sold off to dummy buyers as the land would be more valuable as residential tracts -- if only they had enough water. As you can figure, the point of building the dam is to get that water for the putative new housing developments. Oh, and Hollis did drown -- but the water in his lungs was salt water, which raises further questions about where and how he really died.

Chinatown is one of those movies that gets notoriously high rankings on all-time movie lists like the AFI lists or even IMDb's Top 250, which tends to skew towards more recent movies because of their methodology. It's certainly a well-crafted movie, and one worth watching. But it's also something that I found myself thinking I wouldn't put quite as high as all those other critics do. It's not that there's anything wrong with it; it's more that I tend not to buy into hype.

So by all means see Chinatown. It's a darn good movie. It's just that for me it a bit less good than all the other vintage movies on those "best of all time" lists.