Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Last Emperor

Another movie that's been sitting on my DVR for several months was The Last Emperor, which TCM aired during 31 Days of Oscar but got left on my DVR until I was up to watching another long, long movie. Recently I had a few days off work, which gave me a good chance to get around to watching it.

I already knew, as I assume most people will, that the story is about Puyi (played as an adult by John Lone), the literal last emperor of China before the republican governent overthrew the Qing dynasty. Puyi ascended the throne as a child and was still quite young when he was deposed, and I somewhat expected that the movie would deal with a child emperor and the turbulent political situation going on around him up until the end of the empire. Well, the political situation remains turbulent throughout Puyi's life, but the movie more or less covers the whole life, although it does so going backwards and forwards.

The movie actually kicks off shortly after the Communist revolution came to power on the mainland in 1949. Puyi had already been a prisoner of war for some years, although the reason for having done so -- collaboration with the Japanese starting with their takeover of Manchuria and installing him as a powerless figurehead -- only gets discussed later in the movie. As the movie opens, Puyi had been held by the Soviets who joined the war against Japan after having beaten Germany; now that China is a communist country, they transfer Puyi and other Chinese POWs back to the PRC, where Puyi is to spend another decade as a political prisoner.

In flashbacks, we see Puyi as an actual child emperor, and then under a sort of house arrest that he doesn't seem to comprehend is actually house arrest in the Forbidden City. After some years of this, the people taking care of him bring in a westerner, Reginald Johnston (Peter O'Toole), to be Puyi's tutor and westernize him.

Johnston's teaching works pretty well, as Puyi is reasonably able to function in the upper levels of society when he's forced out of the Forbidden City after a coup and goes to Tientsin. He gets married to Wanrong (Joan Chen) and takes a mistress in Wenxiu (Vivian Wu), although it's more of a ménage à trois. It's suggested that he go to the west, but Puyi makes the fatal mistake of staying in the country he loves. When the Japanese invade in 1931, he sides with them in what is presumably a way to regain power, although they use him far more than he's able to use them.

Eventually Puyi gets released from prison and goes on to spend the last yearss of his life as a gardener before dying in 1967 during the early years of the Cultural Revolution.

The Last Emperor is a beautiful movie to look at, expertly photographed and having the big advantage of being one of the very first western productions to be allowed to film in the PRC. I read some stuff saying that the moving back and forth between various periods of Puyi's life was complex, but I didn't think it was difficult to follow at all. It would probably help to know a little more about the historical situation in China in that era before watching the movie, however, not that this is really the fault of the movie. As for the acting, Lone does a fine job as the adult Puyi, along with O'Toole as the tutor.

If The Last Emperor has one flaw, it was the ending, which felt tacked-on and utterly phony, the sort of thing a Hollywood production (this was actually a co-production between Italy, the UK, and the PRC) would do. Well, there are one or two short scenes before that that I didn't think were essential, but those were more minor than the ending. Not that the ending takes that much away from the rest of the movie, however; it's more that it felt a bit jarring after the quality of the first 150 minutes.

Still, if you haven't seen The Last Emperor before, by all means make it a point to watch it.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Silent Blast

Last year during the Christmas season, one of Eddie Muller's picks for Noir Alley was a new-to-me picture called Blast of Silence. I recently sat down to watch it, not realizing that it's set during the Christmas season even if it isn't really a Christmas movie.

In this extremely low-budget movie, Allen Baron (who also directed) stars as Frank Bono, a hired hitman who is showing up in New York City in order to do another hit on some mobster type he doesn't know and doesn't really care to know. Indeed, all Frank wants to do is to be alone as he figures out where, when, and how to carry out the hit. But of course, he can't always be alone; after all, he's going to have to deal with the people who are paying him for the hit.

But those aren't the only people. Frank doesn't carry his own gun, since using the same gun for multiple killings is going to get him found out sooner or later. So he has to deal with a middleman, the vulgar Big Ralph (Larry Tucker). Ralph lives in a grimy apartment and keeps sewer rats for pets, and is just as honest as everybody else in this business, which means not very. Trust nobody.

Trying to figure out how to carry out the hit is going to take some time, as Frank needs to figure out a time when the mobster is going to be alone without his bodyguards around. So he starts following the mobster, taking longer because he doesn't want to be noticed. This also gives him more free time when he really can't be following his target, time that will result in other people seeing him. One day at a bar, an old friend who grew up in the orphanage with Frank, a man named Petey, shows up, and invites Frank to a Christmas party together with Petey's sister Lorey (Molly McCarthy). Frank starts to fall in love with Lori, but he doesn't know how to be a gentleman around women. And besides, Lori has more complicated feelings towards Frank. And then Ralph shows up again, deciding that perhaps he should blackmail Frank since Ralph has figured out who the target it. This could bollix the whole operation.

In some ways, that's a fairly short synopsis for the movie. But then, this is a fairly short and low-budget movie without a whole lot going on. There are a lot of scenes of Frank walking the streets of New York that don't really add much to the movie in terms of plot of character development, with the possible exception of showing just how alone Frank really is. But those scenes do provide a lot of value in the form of showing New York as it was back in the early 1960s, both the somewhat fashionable sidewalks, and the much more dismal neighborhoods where the Frank Bonos of the world spend most of their time.

If you examine Blast of Silence too closely, you'll realize just how little is happening. But the movie is still worth a watch. It got a Criterion release, although to be honest it's much more the sort of movie that ought to be part of a box set instead.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Men Are Not Gods

Another of the movies that I've had on my DVR for quite some time is Men Are Not Gods. Recently, I finally got around to watching it to do a review on it here.

Miriam Hopkins was borrowed by the Korda brothers' London Film Studios to star; she plays Ann Williams, a secretary at a London newspaper to drama critic T.H. Skeates (A.E. Matthews). Skeates is a bit of an eccentric in that he never reads any of the newspapers, not even his own, and not even to see the reviews of the plays he's watching. Most recently, he's watched a revival of Shakespeare's Othello, starring Edmond Davey (Sebastian Shaw) as the Moor of Venice. Skeates hated it, largely down to Davey's poor performance.

Coming in to the newspaper to complain is Barbara Halford (Gertrude Lawrence), an actress who played Desdemona in the play. It turns out that she's also the wife of one Edmond Davey, so she knows how much the bad reviews are going to hurt him, she putting it down to opening-night jitters. She meets Ann, and begs Ann not to run Skeates' review. And since Skeates never actually reads the reviews in the paper, how is he going to know if the wrong review was inserted into the paper? Ann, shockingly enough, decides to go along with the ruse.

Unsurprisintly, Skeates does find out, and that's the end of Ann's job at the paper. Going to see the play for herself, she's noticed by Barbara, and Barbara does Ann a bit of a favor by introducing her to Edmond, now that the play is becoming a bit of a success.

Complications arise, of course, as Ann winds up falling in love with Edmond after going to the theater to watch him in Othello dozens of times. And the feeling also turns out to be mutual. But Ann isn't a bad person, and doesn't want to have the affair at first. She's just going to need a kick in the pants to stop it once it begins, and that comes when Barbara tells Ann that she's pregnant. However, Ann's method of trying to get Edmond to go back to his wife doesn't quite go as planned....

Men Are Not Gods is the sort of movie that, had it been made in Hollywood, would have been a programmer. It's competently made, and well-enough acted, although there's nothing here that would ever raise it to the level of a prestige picture or be remembered as one of the great movies in the career of any of its cast. The one possible exception might be a young Rex Harrison, playing one of Ann's coworkers at the newspaper; he was on the way up and this picture did nothing to hurt that.

Nothing of what I said in the last paragraph, however, should be construed as saying I didn't like Men Are Not Gods. I think anybody who likes 1930s movies, and especially people interested in British movies of the period, will enjoy the movie.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Not Dwayne Johnson

During one of the previous free preview weekends, I had the chance to record the movie The Rock. Recently, I finally watched it in order to be able to do a review on it here.

Ed Harris plays Brigadier General Francis Hummel, who at the beginning of the movie is seen at his wife's grave vowing to do something in her memory, and it's not long before we see what that something is. Hummel is the leader of a section of the Marines that does super-duper secret missions, so secret that when the marines die, their families aren't even compensated, because that might break the secrecy of these operations. So he and his mean break in to a naval weapons facility and steal a bunch of chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) is one of the few honest people in the FBI, at a time when the FBI hadn't redeemed itself in the eyes of Hollywood by going on a politicized extralegal campaign against former president Trump and his supporters. Godspeed is the head of a department within the Bureau that investigates chemical weapons, so it's obvious that he's going to get called in by the people closest to the President when Gen. Hummel puts the rest of his plan into action, and it's not going to be long before that happens.

That plan involves making their way to Alcatraz, taking one of the tour groups hostage, and threatening to blow up rockets that have the nerve agent as warheads over various places in the San Francisco Bay Area, killing tens of thousands of people. Goodspeed's job is going to be to disable the weapons, since he knows what to look for.

Of course, there's a pretty big problem: how to get on the island of Alcatraz in the first place. Gen. Hummel is no dummy, and has communications and radar and whatnot set up, so he and his men will pretty much seen anbody trying to get to the island by air or the surface water. But how to get there from below the surface? Well, it shouldn't be that difficult to send in some frogmen, but in theory they'd be noticed when they surface having reached the island. Perhaps there might be some subsurface way into the facility?

There's only one person who knows that, since the blueprints aren't that detailed. That person is Capt. Mason (Sean Connery), a member of British Special Forces who was imprisoned at Alcatraz for reasons that will be explained toward the end of the film, although those reasons turn out not to be germane to the plot. Mason escaped from Alcatraz, only to be recaptured and held in some secret location for the past 30 years. But now the FBI needs his knowledge to get back in to Alcatraz in order to deal with Gen. Hummel and his men.

The operation goes wrong, with all of the regular-duty FBI agents getting killed, leaving only Goodspeed and Mason left to carry out the operation, which as you can guess they are somehow able to do because otherwise we'd have the sort of profoundly sad ending that you wouldn't expect Hollywood to give us in a movie like this. A few dramas (Fail-Safe and The Bedford Incident) and parodies (Dr. Strangelove and The Day the Fish Came Out are movies that come to mind) have done it, but not an action movie with an obvious hero.

Michael Bay directed, so if you want special effects, non-stop action, and explosions, you'll get those in spades. And chances are you'll be highly entertained. But I found Bay's direction to be one of the problems with the movie, as a lot of the camera angles and editing didn't work for me, making the movie longer than it needed to be (131 minutes before the end credits begin to roll). You'll also have to suspend a lot of disbelief to watch this one. But if you can do that, you'll like The Rock.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Biggest Bundle of Them All

Raquel Welch was one of the people TCM honored this past August in Summer Under the Stars, which gave me the chance to record a couple of her movies that I hadn't seen before. Among them was The Biggest Bundle of them All, which I put on the DVR because the plot sounded fun. I recently watched it, and am sad to say that the movie didn't quite live up to my expectations.

Welch isn't really the star here, of course; as in qute a few of her movies she was added as eye candy. The two stars here are Robert Wagner and Vittorio De Sica. De Sica plays Cesare Celli, an Italian-born man who worked as a mobster in the States for a good portion of his career, only to retire back to Italy. At a funeral, he's picked up by Harry Price (Robert Wagner) and his friends. Only, they don't take him back to his house, but to another place where they inform him that they're kidnapping him for ransom, as Harry has written a bunch of bad checks he needs to cover. Cesare calls some of his old friends back in the States, only to find that nobody can (or is willing to) pay the ransom.

Now, this made me think of two movies, the great Terry-Thomas comedy Too Many Crooks as well as the more recent Anthony Quinn vehicle The Happening. And indeed, it turns out that the producers at Columbia found about about this movie being made and forced MGM into an agreement that they wouldn't release it until several months after The Happening finished its theatrical run. I'm getting ahead of myself, however, other than to point out that if you've seen The Happening, you'll have an idea of what happens next.

Cesare doesn't have any way of raising the ransom money himself; despite his life as a higher-up mafioso, he's really not very rich. But he knows the perfect crime for which he needs a gang, and now he's got a gang that could help carry it out. Further, it would solve everybody's financial problems. But Cesare is going to have to bring in the real brains behind the scheme, "Professor" Samuels (Edward G. Robinson).

The actual details of the heist are more of a macguffin, but the short version of it is that platinum mined in Colombia is sent for processing in Italy, where it's transported by train. The gang will hijack the train, relieve it of the platinum, and fence that in Morocco. The real plot of the movie, however, involves Harry and his gang who kidnapped Cesare not being terribly competent, and, in at least one case, fellow American Benny (Godfrey Cambridge), not even wanting to use a gun!

As for Raquel Welch, she's along for the ride as Harry's girlfriend Juliana, and also serves the purpose of being somebody good-looking enough that characters in the movie can be distracted by her beauty, allowing Harry and his gang to do what they need to unnoticed.

The big problem for me with The Biggest Bundle of them All is that the script felt scattershot, jumping from one point of preparation to the next in a way that didn't particularly feel coherent. The movie is supposed to be a comedy, but it doesn't reach the level that Too Many Crooks did, with substantial portions feeling forced and grating in the humor. One thing that the movie does have going for it, however, is location shooting in Italy, which is very picturesque here.

Overall, however, The Biggest Bundle of them All feels like the sort of movie that in the past a studio would have needed to make in Europe because of capital controls, with the Americans involved in the proceedings there for a vacation and a nice paycheck. It's not a particularly good movie, and a serious comedown for actors like Robinson and De Sica.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #428: Female Investigators

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 "Female Investigators", which can either be cops or private investigators. In my case I decided to be a bit lazy and go with three movies from the 1930s that were each part of a different movie series featuring a woman solving mysteries. I'm pretty certain I've mentioned all three series before at one point or another in the Thursday Movie Picks, but I don't think I've used these specific movies:

Murder on a Honeymoon (1935). Edna May Oliver returns for her final outing as schoolteacher-turned detective Hildegarde Withers, this time solving a murder that occurs on a flight from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island. James Gleason also returns as Oliver's foil, long-suffering police detective Oscar Piper. Among the suspects are Lola Lane and Leo G. Carroll.

Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939). Glenda Farrell returns for her final outing as investigative journalist Torchy Blane, this time investigating corruption in the mayor's office, much to the distress of her long-time boyfriend, police detective Steve McBride (Barton MacLane). Tom Kennedy also returns as beat cop Gahagan. This one has a twist in that after Torchy's articles bring down the old mayor, Steve puts Torchy forward as a candidate as a lark, only for her to take it seriously.

Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter (1939). This is the third of four movies featuring Bonita Granville as teenaged detective Nancy Drew. In this installment, she follows her lawyer father (John Litel) out into the country when a cousin is accused of a murder that both she and dad knows the cousin didn't committ. Nancy also has a long-suffering boyfriend, Ted (Frankie Thomas), and he too comes along for the ride.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

I'm in the minority on Kelly's Heroes

Kelly's Heroes is one of those movies that TCM seems to trot out a lot for the Memorial Day marathons or maybe on Veteran's Day. Since I hadn't done a post on it before, I recorded a showing some months back and finally got around to watching it. I have to admit that I didn't like it as much as most people seem to do.

Clint Eastwood plays Private Kelly, who's marching through France in the months after the D-Day invasion. The Nazis are losing but clearly haven't lost yet, and it's still dangerous for the troops near the front lines. In one operation, the platoon of which Kelly is a part, commanded by Capt. Maitland, captures a German officer. During the interrogation, Kelly learns that the Germans are holding a whole bunch of gold, worth some $15 million in 1944 dollars, in a town not too far away. The only thing is, the town is 30 miles behind the front line.

When Capt. Maitland goes to see Gen. Colt (Carroll O'Connor), Pvt. Kelly gets an idea. During the fog of war, he can lead a team to get that gold, enriching all of them personally. (Obviously he hadn't seen a movie like Charade or even The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.) However, he's going to need both men, and equipment, to carry out the operation. To get the materiel, he turns to a sergeant nicknamed "Crapgame" (Don Rickles). But learning about the operation is Sgt. Oddball (Donald Sutherland), who has been trying to sit out the war as much as possible by claiming that his men's tanks are all out of commission, such that they can't move anywhere. But for $15 in gold, his men will get enough of the tanks fixed to help with the operation.

Eventually, the operation gets under way, although it's not going to be easy and not just for the reason that the gold is behind enemy lines. The men need to get over a bridge, but regular US troops, not knowing about this secret and highly illegal operation, bomb the bridge. And even when they get to the town where the gold is being kept, it's going to be difficult to get it and get it out of town.

I think the problem I had with Kelly's Heroes is that none of the characters seemed remotely realistic. The movie was released in 1970s, and while it's ostensibly set in World War II, I couldn't help but get the feeling that the filmmakers, like those who made MASH the same year, were really making a statement about the Vietnam War. Where everybody else sees a riotously funny movie, I see one that's trying a bit too hard to be funny, to the point that it didn't really work for me.

But, of course, everybody else finds it funny, so maybe you will too if you watch it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Web

I mentioned quite some time ago that when I visited my relatives in Germany back in the late 1980s, one of the movies that one of the channels put in their late-night slot that I didn't stay up to watch was The Web. I never got a chance to see it after that, and since it was released by Universal, it's not the sort of movie that shows up on TCM. The Web finally got a DVD release last year, and I shelled out the $10 or so to pick up a copy, Eventually, I got around to watching it.

Edmond O'Brien stars as Bob Regan, a lawyer who, at the start of the movie is representing the Italian-American owner of a fruit stand in small claims court. The guy won his case, which involved a rich businessman who ran into the fruit stand and caused some damages, but that rich guy never paid up. So Bob decides to press the issue by barging in to the businessman, Andrew Colby's (Vincent Price) board meeting!

Colby is actually more impressed with Regan's chutzpah than anything else, and decides to reward Regan for it by giving him a job. Apparently Colby had an old business associate embezzle money from him and blame Colby for framing him. That man just got out of prison a few months back, and Colby is worried that the guy might come to his house to try to kill him. Perhaps Regan could serve as part lawyer-on-retainer, and part live-in bodyguard? The "respectable" uptown lawyers who handle all the business for Colby's company would find this beneath them, but an independent lawyer trying to build up a practice could use a rich client like Colby, especially when Colby is willing to pay Regan far more than the job is worth.

Now, any normal person ought to see the warning signs a mile away, and that there's a catch. But this is a Hollywood movie, and if we had normal people, we wouldn't have so much of a movie. (Alternatively, you could make the lawyer jokes about Regan, being lawyer, having no ethical compunctions that would prevent him from taking this job.) And as it turns out, there are two catches. One is that the guy who claims Colby framed him shows up, and gets shot by Regan in a way that makes it look like Regan was shooting in self-defense, only for the guy's daughter to show up some time later to contradict a lot of Colby's claims about her father.

The other catch is that Colby has a personal secretary, Noel Faraday (Ella Raines). She's young and pretty, so you just know that Regan is going to fall hard for her, even though she's technically already spoken for by Colby. This is going to make Colby jealous; in fact, jealous enough that he might just do something that will leave Regan thinking Colby's framed him, just like that other guy claimed about Colby. Fortunately, however, Regan isn't all that dumb, and his got somebody nominally on his side in the form of police detective Damico (William Bendix) who, being a Production Code-era cop, is going to be on the side of good and exonerate the people who didn't do anything wrong.

So, The Web winds it way to its ultimate denouement, which you can see coming, although the road it takes to get there is entertaining enough. If The Web had been made a decade earlier, it would have been done so as a programmer. In the late 1940s, however, with the infancy of television, programmer-type movies were starting to seem a little old and rough around the edges. Not that they're bad movies, just that they don't seem to have quite as much shine as the programmers of the 1930s did.

The Web is no exception. The four main stars fill roles which feel as though they'd been filled in a dozen similar movies, but do so quite competently and entertainingly. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but also nothing really wrong, just 90 minutes of good, solid entertainment. It's the sort of movie that would be perfect for Eddie Muller to get for an edition of Noir Alley, if he hasn't already done so.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Briefs for September 19-20, 2022

One of the news podcasts I listen to had a story this morning in which Woody Allen was alleged to have announced that his next movie, which would be he 50th, would be his last. Not so fast, Allen clarified. In any case, Allen is 86 and if he wants to retire and enjoy life, he certainly deserves it. Then again, for creative types, continuing to be creative is what brings enjoyment in life. If I could continue to do what I love when and only when I wanted to, and get paid for it, why not keep doing it into my 80s, or like Clint Eastwood, into his 90s?.

I bring this up in part because tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of movies about radio, a theme I could swear TCM has done before, although once a channel is pushing 30 years on the air there aren't too many vintage themes that haven't been done. Starting the night is one of Woody Allen's films that I haven't seen before, Radio Days, so I'll have to see that I've got enough room on my DVR to record it. Concluding the night is The Next Voice You Hear... at 4:15 AM; this is one of those little pictures MGM made in the early 1950s and is definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it before.

The daytime schedule on TCM tomorrow is devoted to Sophia Loren, beginning at 6:00 AM with A Special Day, which I blogged about here a few months back. It's a small, mostly two character story with her and Marcelo Mastroianni, but one that lets both of them display their acting chops. I'll have to see if I have more room left on my DVR after recording Radio Days to record one or two of the Loren movies I haven't seen before.

And then tomorrow evening we get a night of Joan Collins, including a new (or maybe newish) documentary on her. 10:00 PM tomorrow brings The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, which I'm really happy to see on the TCM schedule since it doesn't show up anywhere very often. It's a Fox film, and I don't recall the last time it was in the FXM rotation.

As for deaths, there's Henry Silva, whom I mentioned just a few weeks back when I had done a post on Green Mansions. I had actually noticed at the time I watched it that Silva was still alive. Silva was 95 when he died last Wednesday. Also dying last Wednesday was Greek actress Irene Papas, who graced the screen in such memorable movies as Zorba the Greek. I probably should have mentioned her obituary a bit earlier, since TCM ran Anne of the Thousand Days last weekend and Papas has a part as Catherine of Aragon. Papas was 93.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Missouri Breaks

TCM ran a spotlight some months back on revisionist westerns. Among the titles that I hadn't seen before is The Missouri Breaks, so I recorded it to be able to watch at a later date and do a post on it here.

The title refers to an area in Montana, in the upper headwaters of the Missouri River, where the waters have flowed in such a way such that the landscape is full of "breaks" cut out by the erosion of the river. It's some time after the Civil War but before statehood in 1890, which means Montana is still a federal territory and the law is not always present. Cattlemen like David Braxton (John McLiam) hold a lot of sway, and they're none too happy with rustlers. Indeed, in the opening scene of the movie, we see Braxton carrying out an extrajudicial execution of one alleged rustler.

Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson) is another rustler, leader of a gang of rustlers. He too is none too happy with what's going on, but obviously for opposite reasons. He wants to be able to continue stealing cattle and horses, and doesn't want people like Braxton stopping him and killing his men. He vows to get revenge on Braxton for killing one of his men.

To that end, Logan goes into town and finds that there's some land bordering on Braxton's ranch that's available for purchase. Logan decides that he's going to rob a train to get the money to buy that land and start a ranch of his own, so that he'll be able to rustle more of Braxton's cattle. Meanwhile, Logan meets Braxton's daughter Jane (Kathleen Lloyd), and falls in love with her. The feeling is mutual, as Jane has been chafing at her father's authority and, being naturally rebellious, sees a good way to tick off her father.

Meanwhile, Braxton isn't about to take any of this lying down. He hires what is known as a "regulator", which is similar to a bounty hunter except that this is somebody who goes after rustlers and is in the employ of a rancher. The regular in question is Robert E. Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando), who is obviously different from the normal sort of person you'd meet in a Hollywood western. He serenades his horses and disrupts funerals, among other things, and underneath this odd exterior is a particularly brutal killer. He unsurprisingly figures out that Logan isn't much of a farmer, and sets out to find the men in Logan's gang, killing them one by one. Logan plans to stay alive, however....

The Missouri Breaks is an odd little movie. Well, perhaps it's not such a little movie, as it runs over two hours. It also runs at a fairly sedate pace, being the sort of movie that you feel could have been given a script to run a good 20 minutes shorter. The movie has a good premise, and I personally don't have an issue per se with "revisionist" westerns, so the fact that all of the characters have moral issues doesn't bother me. However, Marlon Brando's character is way over the top, and director Arthur Penn didn't bother to rein him in; as I understand it, directors at the time thought that letting Brando go off like a loose cannon was a good thing. I'm sorry to say I disagree. Also, as I said, there's a whole lot of nothing going on at times.

The Missouri Breaks got scathingly bad reviews at the time of its release. I think that's somewhat unfair, although I can certainly see why the reviews would be significantly less than positive. I would say that it's worth a watch if you know what you're getting into. (I'd guess the critics of the time didn't know what they were getting into.) Also, as always, judge for yourself.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Mysterious Lady

Greta Garbo had a day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars this year, and one of her movies that I hadn't seen before and TCM showed was The Mysterious Lady. Recently, I sat down to watch it.

As you can probably guess, Garbo plays the titular lady of mystery; we first see her sitting in a box at the opera in Vienna sometime around World War I, or about a dozen years before the movie was made. Coming to the opera is Karl von Raden (Conrad Nagel), an Austrian military officer who doesn't have a ticket of his own, but is able to get a returned ticket in the same box where the mysterious lady is siting, she claiming to expect a cousin who presumably would have been the one to return the ticket.

This is, of course, a ruse, as we'll learn over the course of the movie, and not too far in to the movie in fact. But not having her cousin present, the woman, named Tania, has no cash on her to get home that night. And since it's raining, Karl kindly offers to take her back to her house, where the two fall in love with each other over the course of the night. This, despite Tania finding a telegram from the other man in her life, General Alexandroff (Gustav von Seyffertitz). He's in Warsaw, which was part of Russia at the time since Poland had been partitioned in the 1790s and wouldn't regain its independence until after World War I. So we learn that Tania is Russian.

And then Karl's uncle, Col. von Raden (Edward Connelly), who just happens to be the head of the Austrian secret police, informs Karl that Tania is in fact a Russian spy. Because who would ever think to use sex appeal to try to get military secrets? Now, at this point, what the colonel should have done is to give his nephew fake military secrets so as to catch Tania out and find out from her how she's getting her information and what-not. What he does instead is to give Karl real military secrets, about the country's defense alliance with Germany, and send Karl on his way alone on the overnight train to Berlin.

Unsurprisingly, Tania finds out about this and is able to get the compartment next to Karl, leading her to be able to get those military secrets. However, she also insists that she's really, truly in love with Karl, and doesn't want to betray him, except that the only way out of spying for her is death. This results in Karl being court-martialed, losing his rank, and sentenced to prison. His uncle, however, just knows that there has to be somebody else in military command feeding information to Tania about the Austrian military. With that in mind, Karl's uncle gets him sprung from prison so that Karl can get a fake passport to go to Warsaw and find who the real mole is.

Now, you'd think that somebody besides Tania would recognize Karl right away. The Russians all suspect him, but they don't quite know yet that he's really an Austrian spy. Tania, meanwhile, is getting increasingly sick of the abusive treatment from General Alexandroff, and sees in Karl a way to get away from being a spy once and for all.

The Mysterious Lady is the sort of movie where it's easy to see why Greta Garbo had the star power that she did. She's the center of attention whenever she's on screen, and she does well with what she's given here, even if some of the material seems unrealistic. Indeed, with a star vehicle like this, one finds oneself not caring so much about the material as much as the chance to watch Garbo do her thing, which she does effortlessly.

The Mysterious Lady isn't Greta Garbo's best movie by a long shot, but it's certainly worth watching as a fine example of a Garbo silent movie.

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Sex Life of the Polyp

Yesterday was the birth anniversary of Robert Benchley, whose brand of humor is an acquired taste, and for me generally works best in smaller doses, as when Alfred Hitchcock used him in Foreign Correspondent. But in looking him up on my blog, it seems that the one video I embedded has since been taken down. So with that in mind, I've decided to post a video of one of Benchley's earliest talkies, the short The Sex Life of the Polyp. This one rarely if ever shows up on TCM, and with them not listing the shorts on their schedule any more, who would be able to find out when any future airing would ever be to get a heads up? Interestingly, Benchley would remake The Lex Life of the Polyp a decade later as The Courtship of the Newt, made when Benchley was under contract to MGM and so more likely to show up on TCM.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #427: Media/Technology Mysteries

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're halfway through a month of mystery themes, and this week's theme is mystery movies centered on media or technology. With that in mind, I wound up selecting two movies that have to do with the media, and one that deals with technology:

The Unsuspected (1947). Claude Rains plays the host of a popular radio program dealing with mystery and true crime. One night, Rains' secretary is found hanging from the chandelier in Rains' apartment, in what seems to the characters like an obvious suicide, except that we know it's really a murder. But who killed the young woman, and why?

Lured (1947). This time, the media in question is the personals section of the newspaper. Lucille Ball plays a taxi dancer in London, where a bunch of young women are going missing after answering personal ads. One of the women was Ball's best friend, so Scotland Yard detective Charles Coburn asks Ball to help with the investigation to find the killer. George Sanders seems like a likely suspect, but is he really the guilty party? This is a decidedly non-comic turn for Ball, who shows she really could do more than just be zany.

Kid Glove Killer (1942). Van Heflin stars in this B movie that, when I blogged about ages ago, I titled the post, CSI 1942. That's because Heflin plays an investigator with the police department who does CSI-type work before they had that term, using technology to find who's bombed a reformist mayoral candidate. Marsha Hunt, who died last week at the age of 104, plays the female lead, a woman who's involved with both Heflin and the guy who actually committed the murder (technically not much mystery for the viewer since we know who did it). The movie is actually an expansion of one of the old MGM Crime Does Not Pay shorts into a B-movie length, and is quite fun.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Cowboy and the Lady

Another movie I recorded some time back because it sounded interesting is The Cowboy and the Lady. I recently got around to watching it so that I could do a review on it here.

Merle Oberon appears first as the lady, because you don't expect her co-star Gary Cooper to be playing the lady. The lady in question, Mary Smith, is the daughter of Horace Smith (Henry Kolker), a wealthy man who's hoping to get nominated for president but needs the endorsement of some big power broker, this being the days before widespread presidential primaries. To that end, Dad doesn't want any scandal, which means that Mary hasn't gotten to do much with her life. At least her uncle Hannibal (Harry Davenport) has some sympathy for her plight.

Unfortunately, Mary has done something which might well bring scandal into her father's attempt to get that nomination. She went to a club one night, only for it to be one of those places that has illegal gambling. So of course the club was raided, and she wound up on the list of people caught up in the raid. Annoying for a run of the mill rich person, but possibly fatal to your father's hopes of securing the nomination. So Dad gets the brilliant idea of keeping his daughter out of the spotlight by sending her down to Palm Beach together with two maids, Katie (Patsy Kelly) and Elly (Mabel Todd).

The thing is, this isn't the Palm Beach of The Palm Beach Story or Some Like It Hot, but the Palm Beach of the off-season, when the other rich people don't go south for their health. Mary is there mostly alone, or at least only with the locals. (Looking it up, apparently Palm Beach swells by a factor of four during the snowbird season, and the Palm Beach County of 1940 had about 5% the population that it does doday.) Poor Mary,and she didn't do that much wrong.

For the locals, the rodeo is in town, and Katie and Elly decide they're going to go see the rodeo and then try to get dates with a couple of cowboys in the rodeo, which is how we get the title of the movie. Mary goes along, and is eventually paired with Stretch (Gary Cooper), who doesn't seem too interested in her. That leads Mary to tell a tall story about her family. Instead of being the well-to-do daughter of a possible presidential candidate, she's a made for a rich family looking after the Palm Beach home for the off-season and being the breadwinner for a drunken widowed father and four younger siblings. That gets Stretch's interest.

But of course you knew they were going to fall in love, or else we wouldn't have much of a movie. Stretch immediately wants Mary to marry him, something she doesn't think she can do because that would really cause a scandal. But she does love Stretch, so she follows him onto the steamer sailing back for Stretch's home, or at least to the port of Galveston from where he'll go overland to his ranch. But Mary falls in love with Stretch enough that she actually marries him on the boat!

How's she going to get out of this? Or how is she going to get out of causing her father a scandal. There are some twists and turns, but this is the sort of story where you know how it's going to end, mostly, with the titular cowboy and lady winding up together in the final reel.

There's not really anything wrong with The Cowboy and the Lady so much as it is a movie where you feel like everything's been done a bunch of times already, and done better. It's material that would have been perfect for Olivia de Havilland and somebody at Warner Bros., or Joan Fontaine at RKO, or perhaps for some people one of the studios was trying to groom for stardom. Gary Cooper had already shown his adeptness at a certain form of comedy, and what he's asked to do here comes extremely easy to him. Oberon is adequate, too.

If you're looking for a 1930s romantic comedy, you could do far worse than The Cowboy and the Lady. But you could also do far better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Death after death after death

I mentioned last Friday when I did a briefs post that nobody big in the movies had died that recently. Wouldn't you know it, but that was the signal for the deaths to be announced of some people who were well-known or had long careers, one after the other. I'll take them in what I think would be the rough order of prominence.

Jack Ging died on Friday at the age of 90. He had much more of a career as a guest star on TV than in the movies, although he's in a couple of Clint Eastwood's films, notably Play Misty for Me and High Plains Drifter, although IMDb also says he's got an uncredited part in Hang 'Em High. I remembered the name from a couple of those low-budget movies Fox was distributing during the time when they needed the money to finance the Burton/Taylor Cleopatra although I couldn't think of the titles off-hand; there's Sniper's Ridge and Desire in the Dust.

Marsha Hunt was a month shy of her 105th birthday at the time of her death on Wednesday, although the death wasn't announced until the weekend. She's in the MGM version of Pride and Prejudice from 1940; had a role in The Human Comedy; and would go on to become one of the victims of Hollywood's fight against communism. I was actually planning on using one of her movies in this week's Thursday Movie Picks, so stay tuned.

Finally, Jean-Luc Godard, one of the leaders of the French New Wave, died today aged 91. I have to admit that I'm a much bigger fan of the works of François Truffaut than of Godard's, not being the biggest fan of the New Wave. Something like Truffaut's The 400 Blows is a lot more accessible than the overly talky Breathless, while I think Godard got it wrong when he had his falling out with Truffaut over the latter's Day for Night. Day for Night is also a much better movie about the movies than Godard's Contempt. But there's Alphaville, which is certainly different. I have a feeling TCM will be able to get enough stuff from Criterion to be able to do a programming tribute to Godard sometime later this year.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Behave Yourself

One of the movies that ran during TCM's Summer Under the Stars that I hadn't seen before and sounded interesting was Behave Yourself. So with that in mind, I recorded it, and recently sat down to watch it and do a review on it here.

The movie starts off with a bunch of gangsters using a trained dog named Archie to deliver messages, much in the way that some people might have tried to use carrier pigeons in a different era. However, one of the gangsters has to make a phone call at a pay phone, and the dog gets away. Meanwhile, accountant Bill Denny (Farley Granger) is celebrating his wedding anniversary. Well, he's supposed to be celebrating it. But he forgot, and there's not a whole lot to celebrate anyway. He and his wife Kate (Shelley Winters) are still living with Kate's mother, and boy does she make Bill feel like he's not enough of a man to be able to support Kate properly.

Bill, having suddenly been reminded of the anniversary, goes out to buy a gift for Kate, which is where Archie shows up in Bill's life. Unfortunately for Bill, Archie makes a mess out of Bill's attempt to buy something nice for Kate, instead following Bill all the way home and making Kate believe that it's the dog that's Bill's anniversary present for Kate.

At least, unlike Room for One More, the other spouse is OK with getting a surprise pet as a present. Bill, however, isn't pleased, because he makes the obvious assumption that a dog as well-trained as this has to belong to somebody, and that somebody is going to want their dog back. And how is Bill going to explain to his wife that no, this isn't really your anniversary gift and I forgot to get you anything? (If Bill is lucky, there might be some reward money for the return of Archie, and might make a good gift for Kate.)

Bill, having pored through the classified ads, finds one that looks like it's Archie's owners looking for him. It was placed by one Albert Jonas (Elisha Cook Jr.). Bill, unsurprisingly, doesn't know that Albert is one of the gangsters. Worse for him, he doesn't know that just after getting in touch with Albert to arrange for the return of Archie, another man, Gillie (Hans Conried), enters Albert's apartment and stabs him to death, or that Gillie is going to try to frame Bill for the murder.

Police detective O'Ryan (William Demarest) enters the case to investigate, while everybody and his brother in the underworld is now looking for Archie, which means that there's danger all around for Bill, who knows at least some of what's going on, and Kate, who doesn't. Now, of course, the Production Code was still around at the time Behave Yourself was made, so you know that things are most likely going to end up well for Bill and Kate, and that the bad guys are all going to face justice in one way or another.

The existence of the Production Code is a bit of a problem for Behave Yourself, but a lot of movies in that era faced the same strictures and handled them just fine. The bigger issue with Behave Yourself is that the story is just too convoluted for its own good. Supposedly the script was written in four days, and it really shows. It's a shame because the premise of using a dog to commit crime is certainly fairly original, even if getting an innocent couple mixed up in all of it isn't. Farley Granger isn't quite adept enough to pull off such a madcap story, and he and Shelley Winters aren't the best of screen couples.

Still, the movie has such an interesting premise that Behave Yourself is the sort of movie you'll want to see at least once, just to judge it for yourself.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Crossing Delancey

Another of the movies that I watched recently to try to free up some space on my DVR is Crossing Delancey.

Amy Irving stars as Isabelle "Izzy" Grossman, a 1980s yuppie, or at least a woman who has aims of being a yuppie, working in an independent bookstore in Manhattan's upper west side where she gets to meet a lot of literary types, the sort of people who would just know every Broadway type and what they're doing, something I mentioned when I blogged about Angels Over Broadway. In Izzy's case, she's got an interest in Dutch-born author Anton Maes (Jerone Krabbe).

But Izzy also has one foot in another world. She grew up on the Lower East Side, which in the 20th century was one of the centers of Jewish immigration to New York before the Hasidim made Brooklyn a much more dominant part of New York's Jewish demographic. Indeed, Izzy still has a grandmother, Bubbie (Reizl Bozyk), who lives down there; the two love each other even if most of their lives are spent in entirely difference cultures. One of the things that bugs Bubbie is that Izzy still hasn't gotten married.

So Bubbie brings in one of her friends, Hannah Mandelbaum (Sylvia Miles). Hannah is a marriage broker, but not quite like the one Thelma Ritter plays in The Model and the Marriage Broker. Instead, Hannah gives of vibes of being the sort of person who just knew everybody in the community and which families would be right for each other, and tries to influence the "right" people to get together. She's the sort of person you can imagine being in the villages like the one depicted in Fiddler on the Roof, or in the equivalent villages in other religious communities in the olden days.

But this time, Hannah introduces Izzy to Sam Posner (Peter Riegert). Sam is a secular Jew, just like Izzy. But he's still of the Lower East Side, and works as a pickle salesman, a decidedly non-yuppie profession. Izzy is horrified both at what she sees as meddling from her grandmother and Hannah, and the idea of going out with a pickle salesman.

But Sam is just so nice, such a mensch, that you know he and Izzy are going to wind up together in the final reel. The only problem is that the two are introduced a half hour in, and the movie has another hour to get to that point, so there are going to be more twists and turns along the way. Indeed, when Izzy isn't so certain about Sam, she decides that Sam would be perfect for another of her friends, except that the friend realizes right away how Izzy and Sam are really meant for each other.

In some ways, Crossing Delancey is a movie bound to its era and physical location. The characters are very much 1980s characters, as is this depiction of New York. You could see Woody Allen being right at home here, for example. But at the same time, the themes explored by Crossing Delancey are very much universal: tradition versus modernity, the desire for love and fulfillment, and so on. Reading other people's reviews of Crossing Delancey, I see that most of them have fond memories of it. It's easy to see why.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Uncertain Glory (1944)

Errol Flynn was Star of the Month back in April, and that gave me the chance to record some of his movies that I hadn't seen before. One of those was Uncertain Glory. As Flynn was at Warner Bros. for many years, it's unsurprising that a lot of his movies have gotten DVD releases courtesy of the Warner Archive.

It's sometime in 1943 in France, which if you know your history you will know is smack dab in the middle of World War II, and more specifically, the Nazi occupation of France. Something not commonly mentioned is that even in wartime, and in countries occupied by a foreign power, there's still your standard-issue crime that has nothing to do with the war situation going on. Flynn plays Jean Picard, a man who's sentenced to the guillotine for having committed a murder. However, with the war on, the prison gets bombed and Picard is able to escape just in time!

The authorities, who seem to permit a surprisingly free press, have police inspector Marcel Bonet (Paul Lukas) try to track down Picard so that Picard can be brought back to justice and executed. (There's no intimation that Picard might actually be innocent, just that his crime doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the war.) Fortunately for Bonet, whose job depends on it, he's able to find Picard fairly quickly, Picard having been ratted out. Bonet starts to bring Picard back to Paris, and they all lived happily ever after, except of course for Picard who's supposed to be beheaded.

Well, naturally that's not how it happens, since Picard is recaptured fairly early in the movie. What does happen is that, with the war on, Bonet and Picard's journey back to Paris is delayed thanks to sabotage from the Underground. They've bombed a bridge in a rural area of France, and Bonet and Picard are forced to stay in a small town while a way around the detour is worked out.

This gives Picard a chance to change his fate. The Nazis haven't been able to find the saboteurs, so they do what Nazis are always depicted as doing -- and to be fair, they did it for real after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich: they announce that if the saboteurs aren't ratted out, they'll round up a hundred innocent men and kill them. Picard decides to see if he can get Bonet to agree to the idea that Picard turn himself in as the saboteur, instead of as the real murderer Picard. After all, since Picard would die in either case, it doesn't have to matter to Bonet, who could claim Picard was shot dead trying to escape.

Bonet is skeptical, and for good reason. Any sane person would think that Picard was simply trying to come up with a way to delay the inevitable in the hopes that another avenue of escape might open up, and indeed, Picard does try again to escape. But there's also the personal and professional risk for Bonet: if Picard is found out as not being the real saboteur, how will that affect Bonet who will have perverted the course of justice? But Bonet does eventually go along with the idea.

Things get much more complicated, however. One is that Picard falls in love with a local girl, Marianne (Jean Sullivan). And then Bonet gets a bad cold that forces him into bed rest, preventing him from the travel that might be necessary to keep Picard around and to deliver Picard to the Germans as the saboteur.

Uncertain Glory is another of those movies with an interesting premise, but a movie that has a whole lot of reasons why it can never truly become great. Part of it is the Production Code. Since Picard is a real murderer, and not a combatant in the war, he technically has to pay for his crime, so there's pretty much only two options: Picard gets guillotined as the murderer, or he goes through with admitting he's the saboteur so that he can pay with his life for that murder. Also, Warner Bros. doesn't seem to have given this movie as much attention as some of their others. It's not a straight-up programmer, but it's also not to the level of a prestige film or even an A-list movie. There's a sense that the leads here are doing this movie to get through it and be able to start on the next movie. And, of course, the movie having been released in 1944, there has to be an undercurrent of propraganda. No morally ambiguous characters among the Nazis or the Underground here.

Still, Flynn gives a good performance in an otherwise uneven movie, and as a time capsule from World War II, it's definitely worth a watch.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Briefs for Sept. 9-10, 2022

Among the spotlights on TCM this month is one on how Hollywood movies portray American ideals to the rest of the world. Tonight and for the following three Fridays in prime time, Ben Mankiewicz is going to be sitting down with nine immigrants who will each be presenting one movie. Some of the movies are things you might expect if you're looking to discuss the presentation of America on film, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or a World War II movie like To Hell and Back. But one of the people selected Holiday Affair, which I wouldn't have thought of.

The other thing I wonder about when I see a programming thing like this is how TCM selected this particular set of immigrants. It was only a month or so ago that somebody on the TCM boards started a thread on the topic of this programming series, and you'd think TCM would have had to coordinate actually selecting people to do the interviews and pick a movie well before that. It's much the same as it being a mystery to me of how people get selected for focus groups. I've never been asked to be part of a focus group, and I presume that if anybody were to ask me, I'd get weeded out in the original questions because I tend not to have the sort of opinions that the people bringing together focus groups seem to want.

I don't think there's been that much new to FXM, or at least new in the sense that it was recently pulled from the vaults after a long absence. Diplomatic Courier is on tomorrow at 7:30 AM, although it seems like it's been showing up for several weeks now. Also, a search of the blog shows that I mentioned another upcoming airing on FXM back in August 2021.

No big Hollywood names have died recently, and if anybody does, it's going to get overshadowed by the recently deceased UK head of state. One of the international broadcasters I listen to mentioned Helen Mirren playing Elizabeth II, but I don't think I heard anybody mention this:

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #426: Mystery edition -- Historical mysteries

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We've got mystery-themed editions of the blogathon every week this month, and for this second Thursday in September the theme is historical mysteries. Now, I'm not certain whether this is supposed to mean mystery movies based on real events in the somewhat distant past, or movies that would otherwise be called historical films but have a mystery at the heart of them. In the end, I went with one movie that's clearly in the first category, one that has a real mystery subject as a main character and then runs away from fact as quickly as possible, and a third where part of the mystery is whether one of the characters is a real person:

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976). I just blogged about this yesterday, in part because I knew the "historical mysteries" day in the blogathon was coming up today. The movie is based on a real serial killer in Texarkana, AR/TX in 1946. Ben Johnson plays the Texas Ranger brought in to investigate because he's an expert at this sort of murder case. The murderer, dubbed the Phantom, eventually disappears, and to this day nobody knows what really happened to him.

Time After Time (1979). Malcolm McDowell plays British author H.G. Well, who not only wrote The Time Machine, but in this movie believes he's invented a time machine. He's about to show his new invention to his friends, but the party is crashed by Jack the Ripper (David Warner), who hijacks the Time Machine and takes it to 1970s San Francisco. Wells, having put a safety feature in the machine, gets it back and follows Jack to San Francisco. The movie has next to no basis in reality, but it's entertaining enough.

The Man With a Cloak (1951). Leslie Caron plays a young woman coming to America from her native France to help her boyfriend, a leader of one of the student revolutions in 1848, by visiting his grandfather (Louis Calhern). She finds that there might be somebody trying to kill Grandpa. Coming into all of this is Dupin (Joseph Cotten), which happens to be the surname of the detective created by Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, this Dupin may actually be Poe himself.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Some time back, TCM had a spotlight on movies about true crime. One of the movies they showed that I hadn't heard of before was one called The Town that Dreaded Sundown. Recently, I finally got around to watching it to do a post on here.

The movie opens up in February, 1946, in Texarkana, a town that straddles the Texas/Arkansas border. As you can guess from the date, World War II has just ended with the soldiers and sailors returning home, and a new wave of optimism and prosperity in town. A couple of young people decide that they're going to get away from town for the evening, one one of the "lovers' lanes" that towns apparently had back in the day. If you want to go necking or anything like that, being in such a secluded location isn't a bad thing. But if something goes wrong, you've got a problem.

And, as you can guess, something is about to go wrong. Some guy with a head covering that only has eyeholes cut out of it shows up, and attacks the young couple, leaving both of them alive, but badly injured. They're not able to give much in the way of identification, of course. And then, three weeks later, there's another such incident. But this time, gunshots are involved, and deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) finds the two lovers quite dead. And when it's realized that this and the previous lovers' lane incident have a lot in common, it's feared that the town has a serial killer on its hands.

To deal with that, Texas sends in Texas Ranger J.D. Morales (Ben Johnson) to investigate. He takes over the investigation from the locals, and does some things that are very good, and some not so good. He doesn't tell the media everything that is going on with the investigation, tough patooties for the reporters. But at the same time, he seems like a bit of a dictator in running the case. His theory that the killer, now dubbed the Phantom, is going to strike every three weeks is part of the reason the townsfolk get so scared at night.

Eventually,there are a couple more sets of attacks, the last one even more audacious as the Phantom goes after two people in their own home rather than on a lovers' lane where he's a lot less likely to be seen. The husband is shot dead, but the wife, Helen Reed (Dawn Wells), is able to escape, and eventually recovers. Meanwhile, the police are still baffled.

The police finally get a break when there's a report of a stolen car that matches reports from some of the earlier attacks. This leads to a chase through a swamp, and the Phantom is never seen again. To this day, nobody really knows who the Phantom was, and whether he died in that swamp or elsewhere.

I didn't know anything about these killings before seeing the movie, so I don't know quite how close the movie follows the events of the case. Wikipedia, for what it's worth, suggests that it's a reasonably accurate (certainly by Hollywood standards) retelling of the story. Ben Johnson is really slumming here, having won the Oscar just a few years earlier for The Last Picture Show. Indeed, a lot of the other cast members come across as amateurish. However, I found that it actually helped the movie, as for me it gave the film a sense of cinema verite.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is not a great movie by any standards, but it's one that should entertain you if you get a bunch of friends and a big bowl of popcorn.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Flashdance

I don't think I'd ever actually seen the movie Flashdance before, as I was too young to go to the theater and see it when it originally came out. That, and I can't think of any adults I would have known at the time who would have been the sort of person to go see a movie like that. (The only exception, of course, being my uncle who ran the local Cinema 1-2-3 and would probably have run Flashdance. But that's different.) Anyhow, the Showtime family of channels has had it in their rotation, which gave me the chance to record it earlier in the year. It's coming on again multiple times, starting with 3:15 AM tomorrow (or overnight tonight), and some more times on Sunday Sept. 11, so I fired up the DVR and watched it.

You probably know the basic story. Jennifer Beals, who was about 19 at the time she made the movie, plays 18-year-old Alex Owens. Somewhere along the way, she learned how to weld, so she's living in Pittsburgh and working as a welder at what must be the quietest and most temperate steel mill known to man. That's not enough to pay the bills, not even for the converted warehouse she calls home, so she has a second job dancing at Mawby's, doing dances that would be PG-rated if you're watching from a distance but are deliberately shown on the screen to highlight the star's (well, her body doubles') assets. You see, Alex has a dream of becoming a "serious" dancer, at the local conservatory, even though 18 is rather too old for her to be starting in ballet. She confides her dreams to some sort of mentor, former Ziegfeld girl Hanna (Lilia Skala), who is so old that you know she's going to die before the movie ends, and has a best friend at Mawby's, Jeanie (Sunny Johnson), who would like to be a figure skater.

Alex also has a supervisor at the mill, Nick (Michael Nouri), who takes an interest in her. Alex keeps saying no, mostly because she has enough of a head on her shoulders to realize that getting in any sort of a relationship with the boss, even one as little as him buying lunch from the food truck, is going to cause issues. But he keeps pressing the issue, and more than that, has a rich ex-wife which allows him to live better than a steel mill supervisor ought to as well as to know some people in higher society.

Alex keeps dancing, and a fair portion of the movie is given over to dance scenes that are filmed more like music videos, which makes sense considering how the soundtrack used some recent pop hits and made a few other songs big hits (Giorgio Moroder and Irene Cara won the Oscar for writing the title song). But Jeanie fails at being a figure skater and decides to pay the bills by working at a strip club(!?), while Alex finally gets the courage to fill out an application. Unbeknownst to her, Nick decides to pull some strings.

Flashdance is known for the basic plot, as well as the songs it spawned. Other than that, there's a good reason it really hasn't stood the test of time. It's the sort of movie I'd call one of the great comedies of the 1980s, although the problem is that it's not supposed to be a comedy. It's ridiculous and only gets more ridiculous as the movie goes on, with really obvious plot twists. That, and the acting is pedestrian at best. Still, the absurdity of it all makes it fun to watch, and I suppose you can watch and see why there's a good reason the movie was so notable upon its original release.

Monday, September 5, 2022

So Well Remembered

Another older movie before I go back to a couple of days of more recent movies. This time, it's the 1947 British movie So Well Remembered. It's based on a novel by James Hilton, who also serves as the narrator of the movie. But for reasons I'll get to later, the movie isn't as well remembered as the movies based on Hilton's other works.

The movie opens up in the mill town of Browdley, somewhere in the north of England, right at the end of World War II. Germany has just officially surrendered, and pretty much everybody in town is celebrating, with the exception of the town's mayor, George Boswell (John Mills). George enters the town hall, sees a portrait of himself on the wall, and begins to get rather nostalgic, in order that we may get a flashback to tells us the whole story. What an original plot device!

At any rate, the movie goes back to 1919, when Boswell was only the editor of the local newspaper. The town was then, as now (well, now being the 1945 at the start of the movie), dominated by the mills, which employed a lot of people, but in jobs that paid just enough for the workers to live in the sort of housing that more forward-thinking people railed against, saying that they were unsanitary and leading to a public health crisis. One of the mills has been run for a long time by the Channing family, with Olivia Channing (Martha Scott) being the heir to the fortune. However, Dad is facing legal issues, and before he can go to jail, he's killed in a car accident on a washed-out road.

Boswell feels bad for Olivia, and falls in love with her. Boswell has a good friend in the form of Dr. Whiteside (Trevor Howard) who, like Lionel Barrymore's character in One Man's Journey, has a foster daughter in the form of Julie Morgan (the adult Julie during the World War II years being played by Patricia Roc). The good doctor has come down quite a ways in life, feeling responsible for Mr. Channing's death, knows that Olivia is bad news for Boswell, but Boswell is in love and not thinking clearly. Further, after getting married, he's able to make the acquaintance of the powerful, leading to his running for the House of Commons and getting elected.

But Browdley still has those unhygienic houses, and sure enough, that eventually leads to a diphtheria epidemic, this being the days before it was common to vaccinate everybody against the disease. Dr. Whiteside saw it coming, but nobody believed him. And when Olivia refuses to take her kid to the free clinic to get an inoculation, you know the poor kid is going to get the disease and die, leading to her and Boswell getting a divorce.

Boswell resigns from the House of Commons, deciding instead to concentrate his political career on more local matters, eventually becoming mayor, which you know is going to happen because he's mayor at the start of the movie. Boswell becomes mayor just before the start of World War II, which is of course going to change everybody's lives dramatically. For the most part, it only means privation for the good people of Browdley, not the bombing raids people in London and other places suffered. But it also brings the reopening of the Channing mill, since the UK needs the cotton production.

So Boswell meets Olivia for the first time in ages. In the meantime, Olivia got remarried and had a son, Charles (Richard Carlson), who is much too old for the timeline to work out properly, but just ignore that. Charles, being a twenty-something Briton, has joined the RAF as his part of the war effort. But he gets shot down, and sent to a hospital in the Browdley area to recuperate. There, he meets... Julie, who is doing her part by becoming a nurse. They fall in love, but Mom is none too pleased at this relationship.

I mentioned at the top that the movie isn't so well remembered. That's because it was a box-office failure in the UK. The opening titles on TCM's print show it as a partnership between J. Arthur Rank and RKO; Dory Schary decided to shelve the picture in the US and it was out of circulation for over 50 years. That's a shame, since John Mills gives a pretty good performance.

However, it's understandable why the movie failed at the box office. It doesn't have quite the production values of the other British studios, and has a female lead who turns out to be too nasty for the movie's own good. I don't know if British audiences on the movie's original release noticed the same timeline problems I did.

Still, even with all the film's flaws, So Well Remembered is one of those films that's worth at least one viewing, if only to see where it went wrong.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Fashions of 1934

My posts here have been a bit more about more recent movies for a little while now, which is mostly because I've been seeing some of the more recent stuff that I have on my DVR showing up on one movie channel or another, leading me to want to do a post on it. Something rather older that I had on my DVR that got a Warner Archive release is Fashions of 1934. As always, I made a point of sitting down to watch it and do a post on here.

William Powell, nearing the end of his time at Warner Bros. before going to MGM to make The Thin Man, plays Sherwood Nash. As the film opens, Sherwood is one of those 1930s stockbrokers that were common in movies of the day, the sort who thinks he's got a deal for you but is really just trying to pull the wool over your eyes. He doesn't have a deal, however, as his phones are being repossessed, forcing Sherwood and his partner Snap (Frank McHugh) to go into another line of business.

Fortunately for them, they run into Lynn Mason (Bette Davis, stuck in a platinum blonde wig for the first time in her career). She's a fashion sketch artist, one who clearly has a lot of talent, but unfortunately doesn't have a job. International copyright protections weren't quite as well honored as they are nowadays, so Sherwood comes up with the idea of getting the designs for high fashion straight from Paris, before the people who actually paid big bucks for the right to use them in the US can get them. Obviously, when the knockoffs show up on the market, the legitimate licensees are pissed off.

Sherwood is forced to decamp to Paris along with Snap and Lynn, with a plan to institute some scheme or another to get them involved in the world of high fashion, but the big idea only hits them when they pass one of those street vendors selling vintage books. One of them has historical drawings, and Lynn, having an eye for drawings since she's a sketch artist herself, realizes that it's drawings like this that have been the inspiration for Paris designer Oscar Baroque (Reginald Owen).

Lynn starts creating such imitation drawings herself, but complicating matters by stamping the established designers' names on such images. Sherwood discovers that Baroque's girlfriend, the Grand Duchess Alix (Verree Teasdale), is an impostor, and somebody he new back in Hoboken in the 1930s. Sherwood uses this first to get Baroque to make the designs for a fashion revue, and then to get out of trouble once Baroque discovers that Lynn has been forging his signature.

Fashions of 1934 came across to me as much the sort of movie William Powell was making a lot of during his time at Warner Bros.: Powell as the suave man who may not be quite so honest, getting himself into a range of situations that may not be quite so legal. (I doubt it was deliberate that Powell switched studios just as the Production Code was going into strict enforcement, but it does seem like a very lucky move on his part.) This time, however, the Powell story has a bit of a musical grafted on it, at least in the form of a big production number choreographed by Busby Berkeley. It's an interesting pairing that doesn't quite always mesh.

I also felt like it was easy to see why Powell might want more of a challenge than being typecast at Warner Bros. Also, you can see from roles like this why Bette Davis would go on to stand up to the studio and flee to London. There's a fair bit here to like, but also a fair bit that feels like it's running out of steam. Still, despite the flaws, Fashions of 1934 is definitely worth a watch.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Brainstorm (1965)

Dana Andrews was TCM's Star of the Month back in July, and one of his movies that I hadn't seen before was the 1965 Brainstorm. (There's the proably more famous 1983 movie Brainstorm, the movie Natalie Wood was making at the time of her death, that has a completely different plot.) The plot of the 1965 Brainstorm sounded interesting, so I recorded it and just recently watched it to, as always, do a post on it here.

Jeffrey Hunter (billed as Jeff, not Jeffrey) plays Jim Grayam (yes, that's the spelling), who works doing computer analysis of weapons systems for Benson Industries, one of those defense contractors that dot the Southern California landscape. One night, as he's leaving work, he spots a car that's stalled on the train tracks. Worse, there's a woman in there who looks to be unconscious if not dead. And Jim can hear a train coming. Not being able to wake up the woman, Jim breaks one of the windows and gets the car off the tracks just in time.

Jim looks through the woman's belongings for identification, and finds that she's... Lorrie Benson (Anne Francis), the wife of Jim's ultimate boss, Cort Benson (Dana Andrews)! Jim is going to have to break the bad news, and worse, Jim figures out that since the car didn't have any mechanical issues, Lorrie was really trying to commit suicide. Imagine having to be the one to do that with one's boss.

Jim gets to the Benson mansion, and finds that Lorrie is deeply unhappy that Jim saved her, as she feels trapped in a loveless marriage with Cort using his power to prevent any other man from getting close to her -- there have been quite a few men before, apparently. But when Lorrie learns that Jim didn't save her for any sort of monetary or work-related reward, she decides that she's going to try to pursue him romantically.

Cort figures out what's going on, and uses his power as head of the company to make it look as though Jim is going nuts at work. Decidedly not helping Jim in this regard is the fact that he already has a history of mental instability, having suffered a breakdown in college. But this, combined with his increasingly falling in love with Lorrie, gives him a wacky idea that couldn't possibly work in real life, never mind in a movie that was made when there were still some of the restrictions of the Production Code.

Jim decides he's going to kill Cort, but also to try to get himself declared not guilty by reason of insanity, so that he'll be sent to a hospital, from where he can then fairly quickly get himself proved not insane after all. When it comes time for the psychiatrists to determine whether or not Jim is sane or not, the head of the committee examining him is Dr. Larstadt (Viveca Lindfors). Jim seems to be falling in love with her, too....

There's a seed of an interesting plot in Brainstorm, but the movie goes off the rails, I think, in no small part from the script being rather unrealistic. The only thing that it does well -- and I wonder whether this was unintentional -- is to make the viewer wonder at the end whether Jim was ever sane. But Cort is never fully fleshed out, and Lorrie seems one-dimensional in her on instability. The direction (by future TV star William Conrad) was somewhat jarring at times with its cuts and pans, but that may have been a deliberate attempt to keep the viewer off-kilter. (If it was deliberate, it succeeded.)

Brainstorm is an interesting misfire that may leave other viewers as frustrated as it left me. But it probably deserves one viewing, at least, if only to figure out where everything goes wrong.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Mansions of Color

Audrey Hepburn had a day in Summer Under the Stars this year, and one of her movies that I hadn't seen before was part of the lineup, that being Green Mansions. So I recorded it and watched it to do a post on it here.

Audrey Hepburn gets top billing, even though she doesn't appear until a good half hour in if not longer. The real lead is Anthony Perkins, playing Abel. Abel is a Venezuelan sometime in the early 20th century, at a time when the country has regular military coups. Abel's father was a cabinet minister in one of the governments that got overthrown, and when that coup happened, Dad was killed and it became unsafe for Abel to stay in Caracas. So he makes his way to the part of the rain forest on the border of the Orinoco and Amazon watersheds, having also heard that there's gold in the area.

This being over a hundred years ago, there are still parts of the rain forest where the pre-Columbian civilizations hold sway, or at least Westerners' fictionalized vision of those civilizations. Abel winds up in the lands controlled by one of those civilizations, a tribe led by Runi (Sessue Hayakawa), with Runi's son Kua-Ko (Henry Silva) being Dad's spokesman. Kua-Ko is about the only one to speak Abel's language, and the rest of the tribe is fearful of the white man, so they torture poor Abel by forcing him to stand until he collapses.

But Abel doesn't collapse, and that earns him at least a little respect from Runi. However, in order to save his skin, he's going to have to do a favor for the tribe. They've got an enemy in the forest near their village, and since the forest is off limits to the tribe, perhaps Abel could go into the forest and kill that enemy. Since the choice is doing that or dying -- well, I suppose there might be a third choice if Abel knew his way through the forest to elsewhere -- Abel decides to go into the forest to find this enemy.

What he finds is a little wisp of a woman named Rima (that's Audrey Hepburn, dressed in her Givenchy rags), who saves Abel's life after he gets bitten by a snake. Rima, it turns out, is a beastmistress, in a time when we hadn't yet had the Beastmaster movie so nobody would have used the term. In any case, Rima has a way with animals, who seem to become less of a threat around her. No wonder the tribe is terrified of her.

Abel finds himself falling in love with Rima, because really, this is what happens in Hollywood movies and the plot wasn't ridiculous enough already. It's about to become even more ridiculous when we find out that Rima lives with her grandfather Nuflo (Lee J. Cobb, who at least is playing a white guy and not one of the native peoples) and that there's some conflict between them because Rima determines that Grandpa took her away from her home for, well, reasons. Nuflo doesn't want to lose his granddaughter and feels threatened by Abel, but he's also the only one who knows the way to Rima's birth village. They eventually go to that village, which surprisingly looks like it's in the Alabama Hills instead of the rain forest. Meanwhile, the tribe is going to be coming after Abel if he hasn't killed Rima....

The top review at IMDb has the title, "I can see why this one lost money at the box office." So can I. The movie is a mess, with talented actors expected to play people of a different race; a romantic relationship between Perkins and Hepburn that doesn't really work; and a plot that lurches from one wacky point to the next. And then there's the establishing shots that were done on location. They're nice, except that you can immediately tell which scenes were done on the backlot. Lee J. Cobb, at least, gets the chance to overact, and runs with it. And the less said about the ending, the better. The one saving grace is that there are times when Green Mansions becomes so ridiculous that it's easy to laugh at the movie.

I've said before that pretty much every prominent actor and director has at least one dud in their career. For Audrey Hepburn, Green Mansions is definitely that dud.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #425: Mystery Edition -- Capers

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. I'm back after several weeks off, in part because there were some themes I couldn't think of good movies for, and in part because of everything going on in regular life. But this month we have five mystery-related themes which I think I should be able to come up with movies for. The first of them is "Capers", which isn't really a mystery theme so much as a suspense theme, since we already know whodunit. In any case I decided to go with three movies that have British ties to them:

The League of Gentlemen (1960). Not to be confused with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this movie stars Jack Hawkins as a military man who's been cashiered out of the service. So he contacts several other men in the same situation who are all blackmailable and in need of money, and comes up with a scheme to rob a bank. Of course, things don't quite go right, but you'll have to watch the movie to see how.

11 Harrowhouse (1974). Charles Grodin plays a diamond dealer who travels back and forth between the US and UK. De Beers, the South African company, artifically keeps supply low to maintain high prices, and wealthy Trevor Howard wants Grodin to get some of those diamonds -- by vacuuming them out of the vault. John Gielgud runs the exchange where the vault is; James Mason plays a terminally ill man willing to help in the heist; and Candice Bergen plays Grodin's girlfriend.

The Italian Job (1969). Michael Caine plays a criminal who gets word of a plan to steal a shipment of gold bullion in Italy during an Italy-England soccer match, when the confluence of the two events is going to cause such a commotion that they'll have a better chance of getting away with it. Noël Coward plays a rich man stuck in prison who might be able to finance the scheme, and Benny Hill is among the people brought in to carry it out. The famous climax involves Caine and Co. driving Mini Coopers through Turin, with a cliffhanger ending.

TCM Star of the Month September 2022: Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (airing Sept. 22, 10:15 PM)

Now that Summer Under the Stars is over for another year, we're back to TCM's regular programming. The first thing we get on September 1 is a new Star of the Month. This time around, that star is Humphrey Bogart, who was also Star of the Month back in December 2009, since I did a post on that. Bogart's movies will be airing every Thursday in prime time, into the morning hours on Fridays. Bogart, being under contract at Warner Bros. for a lot of his career, has a lot of movies available for TCM to select from fairly easily, and a lot of them show up this month.

One of Bogart's most famous roles is in Casablanca, but that doesn't show up until the fourth night of the salute. He was also married to Lauren Bacall and made four movies with her, so you'd think that would be a good way to kick off one of the nights of programming. Indeed, we get all four of those movies together, but it starts off overnight tonight, or early tomorrow morning, at 4:00 AM, with Key Largo.

Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep, Sept. 2 at 8:00 AM

The Maltese Falcon is generally considered the movie that really made Bogart a star, coming on the heels of High Sierra (Sept. 9, 12:45 PM), so you'd think The Maltese Falcon would be another good choice to kick the whole thing off, or at least one of the nights. But it shows up at 10:00 tonight. In fact, the movie that kicks everything off is the one that won Bogart his Oscar, The African Queen. I didn't have a picture of it on my hard drive, and didn't really have the time to look for one to post here, which is why that's not the movie at the top of this post.

I did have a photo from The Petrified Forest (pictured above), which probably should have made Bogart a star. Amazingly, he'd have to toil in supporting roles, such as the stable boy in Dark Victory (Sept. 23 at 12:15 AM, or still the evening of Sept. 22 in more westerly time zones; and no, I don't have a photo of that either), or decided B stuff like The Return of Dr. X, pictured at left; that one comes on at 4:30 AM on Sept. 9.

The Return of Dr. X was released in 1939, one of several Bogart movies from that year, along with the James Cagney western The Oklahoma Kid, the aforementioned Dark Victory, The Roaring Twenties (Sept. 16 at 6:00 AM), and You Can't Get Away With Murder (Sept. 30, 7:15 AM). That last one gets mentioned in a Bogart movie that was new to me when it aired in August for William Holden's day in Summer Under the Stars: Invisible Stripes (Sept. 30, 4:30 AM). I'll be doing a review of Invisible Stripes at the end of the month. Suffice it to say that in the movie, the characters go to a movie theatre that has a poster of You Can't Get Away With Murder, and I looked it up to see if it was a real movie. Imagine my surprise to see that it was a Humphrey Bogart movie.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Dil was his sled

It's hard to believe, but it's been just about 30 years since the premiere of the movie The Crying Game. I recorded it to my DVR during one of the previous DirecTV free preview weekends and, seeing that it's going to be on again several times in the near future, starting with 11:00 AM tomorrow on Thriller Max, I finally decided to watch it to do a review here.

I assume most people know the "controversial" twist, so I don't feel so bad about having given it away in the title of this post. The real plot of the movie, which might be less well known, starts with Jody (Forest Whittaker) at a funfair somewhere in Northern Ireland. Jody is also a soldier for the British units trying to keep some semblance of peace in the restive territory, and as such his and the other military units are actively hated by the IRA, who want Northern Ireland reabsorbed into the Republic. With that in mind, an IRA cell led by Maguire (Adrian Dunbar) uses Jude (Miranda Richardson) to lure Jody with sex, whereupon they kidnap him.

At an undisclosed location somewhere in Ulster, Maguire and Jude hold Jody hostage, with the grunt work of actually guarding him being done by Fergus (Stephen Rea). The plan is to use Jody as a hostage to try to get the British to release a particular IRA prisoner; if the British don't they'll kill Jody after three days and it will be Fergus who has to pull the trigger. Jody, understandably, starts working on Fergus, while Fergus doesn't seem quite so enthusiastic about engaging in such kidnappings. Along the way, Fergus learns about Dil (Jaye Davidson), ostensibly Jody's girlfriend, who is a hairdresser in London.

Anyway, the three days pass, and Maguire does indeed hold to his plan to have Jody executed, with Fergus having to do the actual deed. Jody tries to escape, and would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that meddling British army. In a cruel irony, just as Jody makes it to the road, he's run over and killed by a British APC. The British, however, are able to attack the IRA cell, with Fergus getting away.

Some time passes, and Fergus has made his way to London, taking on an assumed name and working construction. He's consumed with guilt, evidenced by the ridiculous dreams he has of Jody throwing a cricket ball with a strange aura around him. But at least he was able to escape the IRA, and with the rest of his cell gone, who higher up is going to know what became of him? This leaves him able to pursue Dil, at least in the sense of being able to find out what Jody saw in Dil so that Fergus can possibly assuage some of his guilt.

But Fergus begins to fall in love with Dil, which causes all sorts of problems. First off, if you were responsible for somebody's death and then fell in love with that person's lover, wouldn't you think that's just a little bit awkward? Worse for Fergus, however, is that Maguire and Jude didn't die when the British found Jody. Not only did they escape, but they've been able to track down Fergus. They're not about to let him escape the IRA, and intend to use him in their next terrorist plot, assassinating a judge somewhere in London.

The story in The Crying Game is a pretty good one, even without the twist for which the movie became famous. In some ways, it's actually a bit of a shame that the movie has the twist, since everybody remembers that rather than the rest of the movie. (Also, the twist comes a little more than halfway into the movie, not at the climax as you might think.) Stephen Rea gives a fine, Oscar-nominated performance, while the suspensful script actually won an Oscar. If there was one flaw, it's that parts of the movie seemed a bit unrealistic, notably those dream sequences. I'm also not certain if the ending of the movie is what would happen in real life.

But then, who ever said the movies are supposed to be real life? It's easy enough to suspend disbelief for the ending, and enjoy what is a darn good movie, even without that twist.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Eight Men Out

Another of the movies that I've had on my DVR for a while is Eight Men Out. I see that it's going to be on Cinemax tomorrow at 7:15 AM (or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed), so I recently sat down to watch it in order to be able to do a review here.

Baseball films have always been popular in Hollywood, so our non-American readers may already know a little bit about the Black Sox scandal that forms the basis of this movie. In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were generally considered to be the best team in Major League Baseball. But their owner, Charles Comiskey (Clifton James), had a reputation for paying his players extremely poorly, at a time when team owners held all the power in baseball. (Free agency wouldn't become a thing for another 50 years.) This caused resentment among the players, such as star pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn), who was held out of five starts allegedly to rest him for the World Series, but in Cicotte's view not to get to the magic number of 30 wins which would have activated a $10,000 bonus in his contract.

With things like that going on, another of the team's players, first baseman Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker), met with representatives from gangster Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner), who ran a gambling syndicate. Rothstein was willing to offer players a substantial sum of money in exchange for deliberately playing badly and throwing the World Series, with Rothstein making a killing on the wagering. Eventually, eight players did take part in the conspiracy, although there has long been debate on how much certain of the players were involved. Third baseman Buck Weaver (John Cusack), for example, knew about the fix but claimed not to have tried to make any deliberate mistakes; he would get in trouble for not coming public with his knowledge until after the Series. More controversial was Shoeless Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney), one of the best players in the game at the time; he was most likely illiterate and gave into pressure to take money, although as with Weaver how much he did during the Series games is disputed.

Meanwhile, manager Kid Gleason (John Mahoney), a former player himself, knew fully well that there was always a threat of gamblers trying to influence games, while a cadre of players on the team, led by college graduate Eddie Collins (Bill Irwin), hated people like Gandil and were assiduously clean.

And so we get to the Series, and as you can probably guess, the White Sox lose it five games to three. However, some of the bad playing on the part of those who were in on the fix was pretty apparent right from the get-go, leading sportswriters to wonder openly whether anybody was trying to throw games. After the Series, the information comes out, which leads to a trial in which the eight accused players are tried collectively. It also leads to pressure to have one person in complete charge of baseball. The owners hired federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (John Anderson) to fill that position, which he only accepted on the grounds that he had a lifetime contract and complete control over the sport. And he really did mean complete, ruling the Major Leagues with an iron fist. Even the owners chafed under his control of the game, until they could get a commissioner who would be their mouthpiece in more recent years starting with Bud Selig. The eight players who knew about the fix were banned for life, although Weaver and Jackson maintained ther innocence.

Eight Men Out is a pretty good telling of the events, although if the movie has one big problem, it's that it really spends too much time on the actual games, with the trial and eventual banning of the players seeming almost like an afterthought. Still, Eight Men Out is definitely an interesting movie and one that's worth watching even by people who aren't fans of baseball. One doesn't really need to know the sport to follow what's going on in the movie.