Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Light posting alert

I started this blog back in 2008, about the time that my mom was diagnosed with dementia after a series of TIAs, or mini-strokes. Having screwed up my own life, I wound up helping Dad take care of Mom until she went into the nursing home not long before she died in 2015. So after that it was just me and Dad, an arrangement that suited us both emotionally and financially.

Of course, Dad is getting up there in years and recently took a bad fall that resulted in a fractured hip. Since I'm the only one of the kids who lives in the area, I've had to deal with all the fallout of it. I haven't hade much time to watch movies, let alone the desire. I sat down last night to watch Gate of Hell, a Japanese film TCM ran during 31 Days of Oscar and got through about a half hour before I felt I was just too damn tired to keep watching.

I thought about taking a long break from posting, but there's the Thursday Movie Picks to keep me going and, I assume, things will settle down into some sort of routine. But who knows how long that will be?

Monday, May 16, 2022

Midnight (1939)

A search of the blog reveals that I've never blogged about the Claudette Colbert film Midnight before. It was on TCM not too long ago, so I recorded it in order that I could do a review of it, not having seen it in ages.

Colbert plays Eve Peabody, who at the start of the movie shows up in Paris on a train from Monte Carlo and Nice. She's asleep in third class when the train stops, and the railyard worker who checks to make certain all the passengers have gotten off has to roust her to get her off the train. She also doesn't have any luggage with her, just the very fine gown on her back. Eve, you see, is a chorus girl who likes to gamble, and lost everything she had in Monte Carlo, to the point that she had to pawn her belongings to get to Paris.

Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) is a Hungarian émigré living in Paris and working as a taxi driver. Eve sees him, and makes him an offer. He'll drive her around to all the nightclubs listed in the want ads as looking for singers, and if she gets a job, she'll pay him double the fare; otherwise, he'll have to eat the fare since she doesn't have any money. We get a montage of nighclub neon signs, as Eve finds herself unable to procure employment. But Tibor is already smitten with her, as he buys her dinner and offers her a place to crash for the night as he works the night shift.

Eve has other plans. She escapes to a hoity-toity classical music recital that's by invitation only. Well, she escapes to the outside of it, as she doesn't have an invitation, of course. So when she gets in line to enter, she presents her ticket from the pawn shop, since the guy handling admittance isn't checking the invitations so quickly. They check after everybody is in, and Stephanie, the woman running the concert (Hedda Hopper in a small role) spots the deception, asking if anybody is Eve Peabody, or knows her. The real Eve, of course, says nothing, but another man spots her trying to leave, and takes her into another room.

These are actually several people who would prefer to play bridge than listen to this classical music, among them Marcel, who brought Eve into the room; Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore); Georges' husband Helene (Mary Astor); and Helene's lover Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer). George knows fully well that Helene and Jacques are lovers, but he's not going to grant his wife a divorce, instead looking for a way to break up the relationship. Meanwhile, Eve loses 4000 francs playing bridge, money she doesn't have. Eve, of course, hasn't told these people she's Eve Peabody; instead she claims to be the Baroness Czerny, taking Tibor's name.

Georges, however, does have many, and slips some into Eve's pocketbook. He even books a suite for her at the Ritz so that Jacques won't discover the deception. Of course, he's got a plan for her, and my synopsis giving a bit too much away, you might have figured it out, which is that Georges wants Eve to get Jacques to fall in love with her so that Georges will be able to get Helene back for himself. Eve accepts the offer, because she doesn't really have much choice.

Complicating things is that Tibor would like to find Eve. And he's got the power of thousands of Parisian taxicab drivers on his side, having put up a pool wherein everybody who antes up can get the whole pool by finding Eve. Eventually, he learns that Eve has gone to the Flammarion place out in the country for one of those weekend-long parties in a movie like Gosford Park. And when he goes out there, and finds that Eve is using his name....

If Midnight suffers from one problem, it's one that's not of its own making, but of having been released in 1939. Old movie buffs tend to consider 1939 Hollywood's greatest year, and there are a lot of movies from that year that are better remembered than Midnight, with probably the most notable one for the purposes of this blog post being another Paris-set movie, Ninotchka. It's a bit of a shame, because Midnight is generally a fine movie, although at times the production values feel just slightly less glittering than Ninotchka.

But, in general, the actors all do quite well for themselves, including Monty Woolley as a judge in a divorce-court finale, and the script is excellent too. This later even though the screenwriters, the pair of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, apparently had some problems with Mitchell Leisen's direction -- not that I found anyhing notably wrong with it.

In short, Midnight is one of the underrated films of 1939, and if you haven't seen it, definitely do yourself a favor and watch it.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Desperately Seeking Susan

Another of the movies that showed up during one of the free preview weekends was Desperately Seeking Susan. It's got multiple airings coming up over the next week, starting with early tomorrow (May 16) at 4:45 AM on The Movie Channel (or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed).

Susan (pop singer Madonna) is a woman who travels the world, doing God only knows what, at least that's what her friends know. We obviously know because we get to see it. As far as they're concerned, she brings chaos wherever she goes. As the movie opens, she's in Atlantic City with some guy who's not her regular boyfriend. As she's leaving the hotel while he's asleep, she pilfers some money and a pair of earrings from his coat. The guy gets shot for his trouble by gangsters.

Meanwhile, because Susan is traveling the world, she and her more-or-less regular boyfriend, Jim (Robert Joy), a rock musician who travels a lot, have taken to taking out ads in the personals letting each other know when they'll be available for a meeting. Apparently, some people actually read the personals, and not just the ones looking for dates. One of those people is Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette). She's a housewife living in Fort Lee, New Jersey, together with her husband Gary (Mark Blum) who has made a fairly good living for himself and his wife out of selling hot tubs and bathroom spas. But she's bored, and has a sort of fantasy life wondering about those personals.

One day, Gary needs Roberta to go in to New York City on a business errand. At the same time, Roberta has read that this is the day that Susan and Jim are going to having one of their trysts, in New York's Battery Park. So Roberta decides that she's going to go to Battery Park and see what it's all about, following Susan after the two split up and even buying a jacket that Susan trades in at a vintage clothing store. Roberta finds that the jacket has a locker key, obviously not knowing that Susan has hidden something valuable in that locker. Instead, Roberta takes out a "Depserately Seeking Susan" ad, knowing that this will pique Susan's interest and get her to show up at Battery Park and get the key back.

But the meeting doesn't go as planned. The gangster who shot Susan's partner in Atlantic City and has been following Susan shows up, although of course neither of them knows who this guy is. Also, Susan has been unable to make the meeting because she can't pay her cab fare. Jim, meanwhile, has sent his best friend Dez (Aidan Quinn) to the meeting because Jim read about the guy from Susan's trip to Atlantic City getting killed. Sound complicated? Well, it's about to get more complicated. As the gangster chases Roberta, thinking this is Susan, she falls in hits her head, losing her bag in the process. As happens in the movies, she winds up with a case of amnesia and Dez thinks this is actually Susan.

This causes all sorts of problems on the way to a fairly madcap ending, with Roberta getting accused of prositution and the normally staid Gary smoking pot with Susan, and a parody of bad nightclub musicians mixed in. The plot of Desperately Seeking Susan is one that probably ought not be analyzed too much; instead, just sit back and have fun.

Rosanna Arquett and Aidan Quinn both do good jobs. More surprisingly, Madonna, who selected this as her first big role as she wanted to get into acting, is also a lot of fun as the woman who causes destruction everywhere she goes. There's also several of Madonna's early hits on the soundtrack, as the movie is firmly but fabulously in the 1980s. (Of course, with cell phones nowadays, a plot like this couldn't work at all.)

So just enjoy the ride. Desperately Seeking Susan is quite the enjoyable ride indeed.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Across 110th Street

For the last several years, TCM has spent one night in late December running a night of movies featuring stars who died over the past year. This past December, one of those stars was Yaphet Kotto, who had died in March 2021. The movie they selected for him was Across 110th Street. Recently, I finally got around to watching it in order to do a review here.

The title refers to Manhattan's 110th Street, seen in New York City at the time as the dividing line between Harlem to the north and the more fashionable neighborhoods bordering Central Park to the south. It's also a fairly stark racial dividing line with blacks in Harlem and whites to the south. If there's one thing they have in common, however, it's a segment of the population engaging in organized crime. As we see in the opening, a white (specifically Italian-American) gangster is riding in his Cadillac toward an apartment in Harlem, where he and his partners are set to collect money from the numbers games. However, a couple of cops knock on the apartment door to inform the man about his parked car. Of course, they're not really cops, but rival crooks, who decide that they're going to bump off all these gangsters and take the money, totaling a good $300K, for themselves!

Unsurprisingly, pretty much nobody is happy with seven people having been murdered in one go, never mind if they were criminals. Nick D'Salvio (Tony Franciosa) is the head of the Italian-American mafia that was going to be getting this money, and as you can guess, he wants it back. But being a criminal, he can't quite rely on the police since they won't just give him that money should they recover it. Meanwhile, the black gangs are led by Doc Johnson (Richard Ward), who is no dummy, as we'll learn later. He owns a livery company which is really a front for the crime business.

And then there are the police. Lt. Pope (Yaphet Kotto) is a young detective who was called in to the murder scene and basically put in charge of it while the other cops come and go. And then showing up is Capt. Mattelli (Anthony Quinn), a much older cop approaching retirement but without all that much to live on, as again we'll learn later. He outranks Lt. Pope, and of course he's white, so he naturally believes he should be in charge of the crime scene, having no qualms about telling Pope this.

Meanwhile, we have the two crooks dressed as cops, Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin) and Joe Logart (Ed Bernard). They've gotten into crime in no small part because they see no other economic opportunity for themselves, especially considering one of them was already a criminal who'd never get a good job. They use Henry Jackson (Antonio Fargas) as their getaway driver, and it's Jackson who screws up first, mostly by being much too flamboyant and drawing attention to himself. D'Salvio and his men find Jackson first, and then the search is on for the other two.

Across 110th Street is a gritty, unrelentingly violent movie that was greatly helped by its use of location shooting. The lighting has a consistent blue-white glow, and is often rather dim, as befits the locations. Most of the locations, including the police precincts, are also quite shabby; the movie was made in 1972 which I refer to here as the era from just before Gerald Ford told the city to drop dead. The racial tensions add to a portrait of a city falling apart.

Reading a bit about Across 110th Street suggests there was a surprising number of poor reviews from contemporary critics. Part of that seems to be because of the violence in the movie, while another reason given is that the movie isn't really breaking any new ground. That may well be true, but what the movie does it actually does quite well. It fits in with any of the other crime movies from the first half of the 70s and holds its own, thanks to the good performances and verisimilitude. It's definitely more than worth a watch.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Strange Justice (1932)

Unfortunately, I've got a lot of movies on my DVR that aren't on DVD, and even not on streaming. I've recently done a few posts on films that seem to be on streaming services somewhere or other although the DVD is out of print, but I generally prefer to do posts on movies that readers have the chance to watch for themselves. But because of all those movies taking up space on the DVR, I'm going to have to start doing the odd post here and there on old films that don't currently seem to be available anywhere. (However, as I mentioned when the old Filmstruck service shut down, I don't understand why Warner Home Video or whatever corporate entity runs the old Warner Archive now can't take all those movies from the library Ted Turner bought and make them a streaming service, since the Warner Archive selections have to have been digitized for putting on DVD or Blu-ray.) In any case, today's post is one of those movies, Strange Justice.

Kearney (Richard Bennett) is a lawyer in New York who meets a friend, banker Henry Judson (Reginald Denny), at a club where Rose (Marian Abbott) is the hat-check girl. Rose has a boyfriend named Wally (Norman Foster) who recently got out of prison and is trying to reform his life and go straight. Meanwhile, Henry seems to like Rose, so she tries to see if he wouldn't be willing to give Wally a job as a chauffeur. Indeed, Wally does get that job, but they don't all live happily ever after.

The problem is that, at the bank, Judson is embezzling money! And he's just been found out by another guy at the bank, Waters (Irving Pichel), who decides that that the thing to do about an embezzling colleague is to blackmail the co-worker. Nice people, aren't they? Meanwhile, Wally nearly jeopardizes his job when he spots Judson putting the moves on Rose, and thinks that perhaps the think to do is to slug his boss. In another odd twist, Judson basically says "Oh well" and wishes Wally and Rose happiness in their marriage.

But there's still that embezzlement going on. Waters and Judson come up with a scheme in which Judson will fake his own death and make it look as though Wally killed him through reckless driving, and have Wally caught with some of the embezzled money that he can't quite explain how he got, or at least not with any corroborating witnesses. This being a 1930s movie, it sends Wally not only back to prison, but to death row. However, since he's not guilty of anything more than being a dope, we will eventually get a happy ending.

Strange Justice is decidedly a B movie, from RKO, who didn't have as good B movies as Warner Bros., nor as polished as MGM. Still, Strange Justice is an interesting little effort from the pre-code era.

I can see, however, how it never made its way to DVD. Nobody would have thought there was much potential for it to sell in the pre-MOD days, and even once the Warner Archive started, there were a lot of other movies that would be more deserving of a MOD release. There's also no real star here to build a box set around (even if I think I saw a Universal Reginald Denny set once), so those old four-movie sets that Warner Home Video were putting out wouldn't do, either.

In fact, Strange Justice is the sort of movie that would be great for a streaming service, even one of the ad-supported services like TubiTV. But then, I don't know much of anything about the economics of the ad-supported streaming services.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #409: Related actors with the same relationship in both real life and the movie

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 one that sounds more complicated when trying to write it down than it is when actually picking the movies. Each of this week's three movies are supposed to have people who are members of the same family in real life, and in the movie they have that same family relationship. Now, there are several cases of real-life husbands and wives playing a married couple in a movie, but I've already used The Guardsman (Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne) before, as well as The Clock (James Gleason and his wife Lucille). In the end, I only used one husband-and-wife combo:

Room for One More (1952). Cary Grant was on Wife #3, Betsy Drake, and they star together in this movie. Betsy plays a woman who is willing to take in stray dogs, and even foster children, without consulting her husband (obviously played by Cary Grant). Two of the kids are particularly difficult cases, although this is the sort of movie you just know is going to have a happy ending.

In the Goold Old Summertime (1949). OK, I'm cheating a bit on this one. The movie is a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, with Judy Garland playing the shop girl who has a pen pal she falls in love with, not realizing that the pen pal is Van Johnson, her co-worker with whom she decidedly does not get along. At the end of the movie, Judy's character is seen carrying her daughter in her arms, and that daughter is played by one Liza Minnelli in her first screen appearance.

Five of a Kind (1938). The Dionne quintuplets were born to a French-Canadian couple in Ontario in 1934, and were the first surviving set of quintuplets. As the Dionnes already had a bunch of kids, and would go on to have a couple more(!), the province of Ontario decided to step in and make them wards of the state and turning them into a tourist attraction, which included putting them in a couple of Hollywood movies, here playing a group of quints called the Wyatts. The plot involves their heroic doctor (Jean Hersholt), and the two reporters (Claire Trevor and Cesar Romero) who find out about the quints and try to get the scoop. Of some interest is that the then-new technology of television is used to display the "live" footage of the quints to an audience watching in a theater.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Chickadee of size

Not certain what to do a post on, I noticed that on my Mae West box set I had one movie left that I hadn't done a post on, My Little Chickadee. So I put that in the DVD player and watched it to do a post on here.

Mae West plays Flower Belle Lee, who at the beginning of the movie is riding a stagecoach somewhere in the Old West with the other passengers including one Mrs. Gideon (Margaret Hamilton), who seems slightly more pleasant than the character Hamilton played the previous year in The Wizard of Oz, if only because she doesn't have green make-up and isn't actively trying to kill a little girl and her dog. Anyhow, a Masked Bandit waylays the coach, forcing everybody to get and taking the gold. The Bandit absconds with Flower Belle, because who wouldn't abscond with such a voluptuous lady? And it's not as if you'd abscond with Mrs. Gideon.

But because of this, and because the Bandit shows up again at the home where Flower Belle is staying, she's run out of town, the other townsfolk thinking she might be a woman of ill-repute and in cahoots with the Bandit. So she makes her way by train to Greasewood City, in the hopes of starting a new life. Waiting along the tracks to get a ride to Greasewood City is one Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields).

The train is waylaid by Indians, with Flower Belle and Twillie saving the day. Also, Flower Belle sees a large stash of cash in Twillie's carpet bag. So she marries him in the hope of having a rich husband and one who's respectable, while Twillie is willing to marry Flower Belle because, again, she's voluptuous, and he hopes he can score with her. This, even though Flower Belle is pretty open about it being a marriage of convenience (especially once she finds out that the cash isn't legitimate).

In Greasewood, two men vie for Flower Belle's attention. One is the newspaper publisher Wayne Carter (Dick Foran), while the other, Badger (Joseph Calleia), is clearly the sort of guy westerns portray as the "owner" of the town, also responsible for permitting the vice if not owning it outright. Badger has been selecting the sheriffs on the basis of who is too incompetent to be sheriff, much like Tom Destry from Universal's release the previous year Destry Rides Again. Badger sees Twillie, and it's obvious that he'd make a suitable sheriff, at least in terms of what Badger wants. There's still a Masked Bandit out there, and it should be pretty obvious who it will be once the mask is removed, but we've got a little ways to get there yet.

My Little Chickadee is an odd little movie. W.C. Fields and Mae West were both sui generis, and pairing their different styles together is something that has the potential to go badly wrong. Mostly, it doesn't go wrong, but it doesn't hit the high notes it could considering the caliber of the two leads. The big thing is that large parts of it feel more like Fields sketches, and other sections feel like West sketches, with the perfunctory plot being bolted on. It also definitely doesn't help how much the Production Code neutered West.

So My Little Chickadee is an interesting curiosity, but it's certainly not the best movie in either Fields' or West's career.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

[gets up during the soliloquy to see Vivien Leigh]

It wasn't all that long ago that the 1953 version of Julius Caesar showed up on TCM and, as I had it on my DVR, I watched it to do a post here. I've got another Shakespeare adaptation that TCM ran during 31 Days of Oscar, and now it's on again about two months later: the 1948 version of Hamlet, tomorrow (May 11) at 10:30 AM.

This is the Laurence Olivier version of the movie, and as you can guess, he plays Hamlet and even directs himself. I assume most people already know the plot of Shakespeare's play. Hamlet was the crown prince of Denmark, son of the king, but while he was studying in what is now Germany, his father died and his uncle Claudius (Basil Sydney) not only took the crown, but married Hamlet's mom Gertrude (Eileen Herlie)! Ballsy. However, something that looks like it could be the ghost of Hamlet's father has been walking the castle parapet at night. Hamlet, having returned home, is the only one who can hear the ghost, and it tells him that yes, this is the ghost of his father the former king and that Claudius killed him, so you Hamlet must avenge my death!

Meanwhile, advising Claudius is Polonius (Felix Aylmer), who has two kids. Laertes, his son, is sent off to France, while Ophelia (Jean Simmons) is in love with Hamlet, and the feeling is mutual. But to make certain that Stepdad doesn't suspect him, Hamlet feigns insanity until he can find out for real whether or not Claudius killed his own brother in order to usurp the throne. Hamlet concludes that yes, it did happen, but he still can't bring himself to kill Stepdad because, as Olivier tells us in an opening monologue, this is a play about a man who can't make up his own mind.

Since the major Shakespeare plays all have well-known plots, there's more to discuss than just the plot when talking about an adaptation. The first thing is what gets removed. Shakespeare's plays being so well-known, and having a lot of fans, taking stuff out to simplify things for a movie audience is likely to cause problems. Imagine if somebody tried to do Hamlet without the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, or Romeo and Juliet without Juliet on the balcony. But the play itself would run a good four hours if nothing is edited. As it is, Olivier edited it down to a little over two and a half hours in part by getting rid of Fortinbras on one hand, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on the other. Also, if Olivier delivered the "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King" line, I must have missed it. So some purists may not like the edits.

Then there's always the chance you'll get actors who are good in normal movies, but not necessarily up for the difficult early 17th century Shakespearean dialogue. I mentioned this in the earliest days of the blog when I discussed Warner Bros.' 1935 adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which makes the inspired choice of putting the studio's comic actors into Bottom's acting troupe. Whether you think James Cagney does well with the material is a different question. (I happen to think he does OK, although the British stars are more natural.) And let's not talk about Edna May Oliver and Andy Devine at the beginning of the MGM adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

However, Olivier is unsurprisingly quite good himself, and mostly gets good performances out of the others. Sydney and Herlie are, I think more of stage actors than movie actors as I didn't really recognize them from anything else. Simmons was at the beginning of her career, and I read some reviewers who think she's a weak point here, but I didn't notice that. Terence Morgan as Laertes, is a particular standout in a good way among the supporting cast. And watch for Peter Cushing and Anthony Quayle in small roles.

Then there's the staging. Olivier had made Henry V in Technicolor, but reverts to black and white here, which actually suits the material well with the brooding shadows of the ghost among other things benefiting.

Some people might want a complete presentation of a Shakespeare play, but if you've never actually seen a production of Hamlet before, the Laurence Olivier version isn't a bad place to start.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Another movie sitting on my DVR was the 1935 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical Roberta, so I recently watched it to do a post on here. Interestingly enough, even though the pairing of Rogers and Astaire had become successful already, and they had starred together in The Gay Divorcee, they're not the stars here.

That honor goes to Irene Dunne, and to a lesser extent Randolph Scott, even though he gets biling below the other three. But the movie starts off with Fred, here playing a man named Huck Haines, leader of a band called the Wabash Indianans. They've made their way to Le Havre, the port that serves Paris, because they've been booked by the owners of one of the nightclubs. However, that owner (character actor Luis Alberni) that he was going to be getting Indians (as in feather and all the other stereotypes), not Indianians, so he cancels the contract on the spot.

Huck's friend John Kent (Randolph Scott) was going to go to Paris anyway to see his aunt Minnie, who goes by the pseudonym Robert (Helen Westley) because she runs a fashion house in Paris that apparently would be more successful under the Robert name than under the Minnie brand. Working for Roberta is Stephanie (Irene Dunne), who also does the designs and likely has an option to buy the business should Roberta retire. Unsurprisingly in a movie like this, John falls in love with Stephanie, even though he has an old flame Sophie (Claire Dodd) who is going to be coming over to Paris to join the fun.

I haven't mentioned Ginger Rogers yet. At one of the nightclubs John and Roberta are trying to get Huck and his band a gig at, one of the singers is the Russian émigrée Countess Schwarenka (Rogers). Except, Huck knows that's an act because he knows the alleged countess, real name Lizzie, from back in the States. The two wind up having a relationship a lot like the one that James Cagney and Joan Blondell had in their movies over at Warner Bros., and not one complicated by misunderstandings.

Those misunderstandings are for John and Stephanie. Sadly for all involved, Roberta suddenly drops dead; without a will, the fashion house goes to the nearest relative, which happens to be John. This even though he knows nothing about fashion design or this sort of business. Sophie, having heard about the inheritance, shows up, and it's up to Huck to make certain that John ends up with the right woman.

Among the interesting things here is that Fred and Ginger (and decidedly more so Ginger) are not the stars of the show, although they certainly get some dance numbers. And Randolph Scott gets the girl rather than playing the second banana in all those other romantic comedies.

And then there's the music. Roberta was based on a stage show with songs by Jerome Kern, including a tune that's gone on to become a standard, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". The bad news is that the script has Irene Dunne's character sing it, and her Jeanette MacDonald-like voice is, I think, entirely wrong for the song. That may, of course, be because like a lot of younger people, I would have heard the Platters' 1950s version on one of the oldies stations my parents would have listened to before seeing the movie. Other songs in the movie have also become standards, such as "Lovely to Look At".

Roberta, being stuck squarely in the 1930s, may not be for everybody, and certainly younger viewers are most likely not to appreciate something seemingly old-fashioned. But for anybody who likes the 1930s style of musical, Roberta should be right up your alley, and definitely worth a watch.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Triple indemnity

Another of the more recent movies -- well this one "only" about two dozen years old -- that I had the chance to record during one of the free preview weekends was A Simple Plan. It's going to be on the Cinemax family of channels multiple times over the next couple of weeks, starting with tomorrow (May 9) at 12:24 PM on Cinemax (and three hours later if you only have the west coast feed).

In a small town in central Minnesota, it's the festive season between Christmas and New Years. Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) works for the local feed mill, keeping the books. It's not exactly the most remunerative job, but it pays the bills and has enabled him to have a wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) and support a baby on the way, at least with the help of Sarah's job as the town librarian. Unfortunately, the rest of his life isn't the greatest, as his now-deceased parents lost the family farm, and his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) has some sort of learning disability that has left him working odd jobs and being mostly dependent on welfare.

Worse for Jacob is that he's gotten in with the wrong crowd, at least in that his best friend is the town drunk, Lou Chambers (Brent Briscoe), who is basically living -- if you can call it that -- as the kept husband of his wife. Jacob and Lou stop by Hank's house and pick him up for a joyride in Jacob's beat-up pick-up truck.

While on that joyride, they see what looks like a fox having caught a hen from the henhouse running off into the woods. So they get out and chase after it. What they find instead is an airplane that crashed fairly recently, or at least recently enough that it's not completely buried in snow. Inside the plane, they find a dead pilot -- and a bag containing cash. Lots of cash, bundled together in groups of $100 bills with each bundle being $10,000. Ultimately, on counting out the money, they discover it comes to $4.4 million.

Hank's first thought is a sensible one: notify the authorities, because certainly someone is going to be looking for the plane, as well as the missing money. Jacob isn't so certain, and Lou is even more adamant about not doing that, because, frankly, he needs the money. Now, of course, there's the question of what everybody is going to think if these three guys suddenly show up with a bunch of money. But as it seems fairly obvious that Lou and Jacob would come back for the money anyway, Hank agrees that they'll keep the money at his house for safekeeping, at least until the spring when the snow melts and the plane will be found. If anybody wonders about the missing cash, he can burn it at that point.

That's big mistake number 1, as Lou is going to get insanely jealous over the course of the winter, seeing as after all he really needs the money while Hank and his wife have to this point able to make a pleasant if modest life for themselves. Lou will probably be able to convince Jacob to take his side, as Jacob could use the cash to get the family farm back, which is what Jacob would most like to do. Mistake number 2 involves Hank telling Sarah, although to be fair, Sarah probably would have found out from Jacob anyway. Sarah winds up being just as jealous and desirous of the money as Jacob and Lou.

Worse, her ideas to Hank as to what to do always seem to turn out to be the wrong ones. When she suggests Hank put some of the money back so there will be less suspicion once the plane is found -- after all, who would pass over a half million dollars in a downed plane? -- Hank and Jacob are spotted about to head out to the plane and Jacob causes a farmer's death. So now they'll all be up for murder. And it's only going to get worse before the story ends.

A Simple Plan is a well-enough made movie, telling a good morality tale about the dangers of greed and dishonesty. Billy Bob Thornton is excellent as Jacob, and earned an Oscar nomination. Bridget Fonda is pretty good tooonce she starts getting jealous herself. Briscoe has the unenviable task of playing the least sympathetic character, and Paxton is good as the moral center of the film. I did, however, find one thing that seemed to be a gaping plot hole regarding the feds getting involved in the search for the plane, although I won't give that away.

Despite that flaw, A Simple Plan is certainly a movie worth watching if you haven't seen it before.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

I Killed That Man

I recently got out my fifty-film Mill Creek noir/crime box set and popped in another DVD to watch another of the movies off the set, I Killed That Man.

Frankly, the title is misleading, but more on that later. The movie opens up with what looks like it could have been a scene of the reporters' gatheing in His Girl Friday, only on a much smaller budget, since the film was distributed by Monogram. But sure enough, it's a bunch of reporters having assembled for the execution of murderer Nick Ross (Rolf Haralde). Up to this point, Nick has remained silent about the details of the murder, leading people to believe that he's keeping a secret for some powerful person. But now that he's about to be executed and has no more consequences to face, he decides that he's going to spill the beans, and starts telling the assembled reporters what really happened.

However, as he's dishing out secrets, he suddenly stops and collapses, having died! And it's quite clearly murder, as the district attorney discovers some sort of poison dart in Nick's neck. So the DA orders the place sealed off and investigates everybody who was in the room. He quickly concludes that Lanning, who was a character witness in Nick's trial, is the killer, and has Lanning arrested. However, since all of this occurs in the first 15 minutes of the movie, it seems likely that Lanning will turn out not to be guilty and that the DA is letting everybody else out so that the real killer will suspect nothing.

Meanwhile, Geri Reynolds (Joan Woodbury) is a lady report at one of the newspapers who sent a male reporter to cover the execution. That male reporter hasn't returned, and the editor is wondering what is going on. So he sends Geri over to the state prison to get the scoop, in part because Geri had a previous relationship with the assistant DA, Rogert Phillips (Ricardo Cortez). As you can probably guess, the two of them are going to investigate the case more or less together and figure out who really killed Nick. Since this is a cast of mostly B-list people, with Iris Adrian as Nick's girlfriend being the closest to an A-lister outside of Cortez back in the 1930s, anybody could be the killer.

And to be honest, the actual mystery isn't so important in a movie like this. Instead, it's more about how we get to the main characters figuring out who did it and what dangers they face along the way, as well as their chemistry together. But other than Nick's monologue near the beginning, there's really no focus on the "I" who killed that man, especially if you assume that "that man" is supposed to refer to Nick.

I Killed That Man is B-movie all the way, and unfortunately, the print on the Mill Creek set isn't particularly good. I have a feeling, though, that it's not as if there are any particularly good prints out there for a movie like this. The movie moves at a reasonable pace and everybody is enjoyable enough, even if there's nothing particularly memorable. It's the sort of film that would be perfect for TCM's Saturday matinee programming block. One also gets the impression that it did what it set out to do, which is to entertain audiences of the day (just before the US entry into World War II) cheaply enough to turn a profit for the producers. A decade later, material like this would start showing up on episodic TV, but for now, it still had to be made as a B movie, and a modestly successful one it is.

Briefs for Mother's Day 2022

It was only last month that I mentioned the documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story. I hadn't looked up the TCM schedule for May at the time, so didn't notice that it's actually on the TCM schedule, overnight tonight at 2:15 AM. It's fitting that, as Harold Michelson storyboarded the shot of Dustin Hoffman being framed by Anne Bancroft's leg in The Graduate, this movie should follow at 4:00 AM.

Tomorrow (May 8) is Mother's Day, and very surprisingly, TCM doesn't seem to have Mildred Pierce on the schedule. I Remember Mama, however, is another movie that quintessentially fits Mother's Day, and it's understandable that this one is includes as part of TCM's schedule for the day, at 8:00 PM Sunday. Somewhat more interestingly on TCM's schedule is Bunny Lake Is Missing, which I suppose is about a mother looking for her missing daughter that nobody else even knows exists; that one can be seen at 4:00 PM Sunday.

FXM is not getting into the Mother's Day hoopla. I don't see any way that The French Connection (3:00 AM and 1:15 PM) could be considered a Mother's Day movie. Ditto Frank Sinatra in The Detective (11:20 AM). However, all of the movies FXM has tomorrow morning are interesting, and definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen any of them.

Getting back to TCM, there seems to be an error in the monthly schedule I downloaded. Their Silent Sunday Nights lists a pair of Harold Lloyd films preceding a Harold Pinter movie called Butley that I've never heard of for Imports at 2:30 AM. In fact the revised schedule, and my set-top box, lists the four-hour version of Greed at 12:30 AM, followed by the Pinter film Butley at 4:30 AM.

Surprisingly, there's a significant number of birthdays worth mentioning today. Oscar-winning actor Gary Cooper was born on this day in 1900, as was Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter -- well, she was born in 1923. I think, though, that if I had done a full-length birthday post, I would have done one on Gabby Hayes, who wsa born on this date in 1885. Hayes was an interesting presence in all those B westerns, and doesn't get the mention that lead actors and actresses do.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Tall Story

The college basketball season may have ended a month ago, but it was only recently that I watched Tall Story, the movie that introduced Jane Fonda as a movie actress.

Fonda plays June Ryder, a groupie -- not that they use the word, but she's pretty honest about what she's doing -- who enrolls at Custer College, a school known for its basketball program. She's a home economics major looking for a husband; there was a belief back in the day about women going to college to get an Mrs. degree, and Jane tells the two professors she runs into that she picked Custer because she's tall and they have that top-flight basketball team. In fact, the two professors she ran into with her bike are just the two she's looking for. Prof. Osman (Marc Connelly) is a chemistry professor, while Prof. Sullivan (Ray Walston) is hoping to get tenure in the philosophy department with his courses on ethics.

June wants to see these two because she has room in her schedule for one elective, and she somehow knows that star basketball player Ray Blent (Anthony Perkins just before Psycho) is taking an elective from each of them, and she wants to be in a class with Ray as she's decided that he's going to be the man she pursues as a husband. Ray isn't just tall; he's the star of the basketball team. Through some finagling with the dean, June is able to get into both of the electives that Ray is taking.

As you can guess, the two fall in love. Now, this being the Code era, they're not yet allowed to have sex, so we can't learn if the old wives' tale about athletes having sex just before the game is bad for performance. In any case, Blent and the rest of the team are preparing for the big game against a Soviet team that's been doing a barnstorming tour of US universities in the name of international good will.

However, some shady character gets a hold of Ray through his work-study job for the college-run taxi company, offering him big money to throw the game against the Soviet team. This is an ethical dilemma, but things get even worse for the basketball team when Ray actually fails his test in the ethics course he's taking! This one test somehow makes him academically ineligible. Most of the people at the college want Prof. Sullivan to give him a make-up test, but Sullivan actually has ethics.

Tall Story is a surprisingly limp movie, considering the caliber of talent that went into this movie. Even though it's Fonda's debut, she's already a capable enough actress, not helped one bit by the material here. Perkins was a good actor too, and the poor guy has to get this script which is full of plot holes. It feels like material that would work better for a half-hour sitcom where the writers had to come up with wacky new ideas week after week. Drawn out into a 90-minute movie, it just doesn't work. But, as always, judge for yourself.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #408: Cinephiles in the Movies

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is "Cinephiles in the Movies", and I have to admit I had to do a bit of thinking before I came up with three movies that fit the theme. And surprisingly enough, all three are movies that a search of the site claims I haven't used before:

Merton of the Movies (1947). Red Skelton plays Merton, an usher in a small town movie theater during the silent movie era who idolizes actor Lawrence Ruprecht (Leon Ames). When Merton foils a crime thanks to something he learned in a Ruprecht film, he's brought out to Hollywood for the PR value, but he thinks he's going out there to be turned into a star. He's a terrible actor, and only good for comedy, which he doesn't want to do. Stunt double and eventual girlfriend Virginia O'Brien gets him a job in a spoof with leading lady Gloria Grahame. But what happens when Merton learns it's a parody and not a serious movie?

Garbo Talks (1984). Estelle Rolfe (Anne Bancroft) is a fan of old movies, specifically the movies of Greta Garbo. She gets terminal brain cancer, and her son Gilbert (Ron Silver) decides that he's going to fulfill Mom's dying wish, which is to meet Greta Garbo. Of course, Garbo famously wanted to be let alone, so who knows if Gilbert is even going to be able to find her, let alone convince her to meet his mother? Director Sidney Lumet wanted to use Garbo, but never got a response from her, using songwriter Betty Comden as a stand-in instead.

Cinema Paradiso (1988). Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) is a movie director living and working in Rome but who grew up in a small village in Sicily during and after World War II. His girlfriend tells him that his mother called with the news that Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) has died; obviously since it's just a first name Salvatore should know who it is. Sure enough he does; Alfredo was the projectionist at the movie theater in the village, and Salvatore thinks about growing up with a love for the movies.

TCM Star of the Month May 2022: Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong dancing as a scullery girl in Piccadilly (May 12, 8:00 PM)

Once again, we're into the first full week of a new month, which means that it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM. This time, that star is Anna May Wong, and her movies will be appearing on TCM on Thursdays in prime time. Or at least, the first half of prime time, since she didn't make that many movies and TCM only has 13 of them, along with at least one documentary tonight about the portrayal of Asians in old Hollywood.

Tonight kicks off at 8:00 PM with Toll of the Sea, a shortish (about an hour) silent which is generally more remembered for being the earliest known surviving Technicolor feature, made all the way back in 1922. In it, Wong plays a woman in China who saves an American. They have a relationship that produces a baby, but he leaves for home before he learns that she's pregnant. Some time later, he returns with his wife, who knows about his past. Things get complicated. It's a bit of a shame that it's more remembered for the two-strip Technicolor, since Wong actually does well here.

Piccadilly, pictured above, kicks off the lineup on May 12 at 8:00 PM, which also sees Wong opposed Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express at 10:00 PM. The final night of the spotlight, May 26, includes a couple of smaller parts; I didn't even mention Wong when I did my post on Impact (May 26, 9:15 PM) three years ago.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022


I haven't been mentioning quite so much over on FXM, largely because there hasn't been so much in the rotation that I haven't already blogged about. One movie that does fit the bill is the animated Wizards, which gets two airings tomorrow (May 5), at 3:00 AM and 11:35 AM.

Wizards is set in a distant future, after a nuclear war which took 2,000,000 years to deal with all the radiation. In some places, there are horrible mutants, while in other places, the land is ruled by fairies, dwarves, and elves. One of the fairies, the queen, in fact, gives birth to twin wizards. One of the twins, Avatar, is pure good, while the other, Blackwolf, is pure evil.

Avatar is also a bit of a bohemian, drinking and smoking cigars while teaching the daughter of the president, a busty young woman fairy named Elinore. (Yeah, this isn't exactly mindless kids' stuff.) However, Blackwolf has found where Avatar and the rest of the good inhabitants live, sending a robot to kill the president. Worse, Blackwolf has come up with a new way to fight the war against the non-mutants: technology. He's discovered a movie projector and a stash of Nazi propaganda, and uses it to make a weapon that makes soldiers stop in their tracks, terrified of the Nazis, even if 2,000,000 years hence they don't know what the Nazis stood for. It must be those boss uniforms.

Avatar has to set out on a mission with Elinore; the robot who killed her father, whom Avatar turned peaceful; and a dwarf warrior named Weehawk to get inside the castle where Blackwolf has his headquarters and defeat Blackwolf in a final battle of good versus evil.

There's nothing particularly new in the story that Wizards presents, with the quest and the battle of good and evil being two of the oldest stories known to man. Taking animation and making it more adult wasn't really new either, in that the Looney Tunes cartoons definitely had in-jokes that the grown-ups would get, but it's certainly taken to a new level here.

As for the technical aspects of the animation, those are interesting because there's not one specific look throughout. Parts of the movie look like one of those Ken Burns documentaries where he's panning over sepia-tone images and giving narration. Others look as professional as Hanna-Barbera stuff that was quickly churned out for Saturday morning TV in high volume. And some of it combines live-action backgrounds and other visual effects.

It all adds up to a viewing experience that's certainly interesting enough for one go, but not any sort of masterpiece, and in some ways stuck in the late 1970s. It's definitely worth a watch, but not the sort of thing I'd make a point of looking to get on DVD.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Baby Boom

Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the free preview weekends was Baby Boom. It's going to be on again, tomorrow (May 4) at 6:31 AM on 5Star Max, so as always I made a point of watching it in order to be able to do a post here.

After a brief introduction telling the viewers about the contributions of modern women to the work force and how they can do any job they set their minds to, we're introduced to one of those modern women. JC Wiatt (Diane Keaton) is a management consultant in Manhattan getting close to becoming an executive at the firm run by Fritz Curtis (Sam Wanamaker). This being the 80s, she's a yuppie, and the sort that back in the day wuld have been called DINKs -- dual income, no kids. She lives with, but is not married to, boyfriend Steven (Harold Ramis), who is in a similarly demanding job.

One night as they're in bed, the phone rings, and it's for JC. There's a bad connection, but apparently what she gleans from the conversation is that some distant relative has died and JC was mentioned in the will, so she's going to have to sign for the bequest, with the busy lawyers traveling through Kennedy Airport. Now, this isn't the way wills work in real life, but if the writers had gone with real life, we wouldn't have much of a movie.

We also wouldn't have much of a movie if JC displayed the sort of acumen that allowed her to get to where she is in the business world. The woman she meets at the airport gives her documents to sign, and JC signs them without reading them. Sorry, but I was yelling at this terrible plot hole. Anyhow, the bequest JC receives is... a baby, a little girl named Elizabeth! Apparently, the deceased relative had no other close relatives, which again makes no sense, and just decided to give custody to JC without having seen her for years and not discussing JC getting custody of the baby should this be necessary.

JC continues her out-of-character stupidity by not fairly immediately going to her bosses and explaining the situation, but instead trying to take care of the baby and in such a way that it really screws up her work. It also screws up her home life, as Stephen was committed to not having a baby. Thankfully, the terms of the will allow JC to put the baby up for adoption if things don't work out. However, when she meets the couple who are going to get custody, she balks.

Still, JC tries to balance both work and personal life, losing the handling of a big contract in the process to a young co-worker (James Spader in a small role). So she decides she's going to get out of the rat race, even though she seems to have no clue about what she's going to do to make a living.

With that in mind, JC buys -- apparently sight unseen, or without asking a home inspector to do an examination -- one of those old country homes in Vermont that are a trope in movies about small-town New England. JC and Elizabeth go there alone, with Stephen not appearing in the rest of the picture. JC finds that she made an incredibly stupid decision, as the house needs a lot of work, and being a city girl, she doesn't know the first thing about country living, knowing only the gauzy brochure pictures.

The only thing the house has going for it is an apple orchard, but she can't get itinerant labor or a trainee doctor who grew up in an orphanage to pick apples for her. She does get a doctor in her life, however, in the form of local veterinarian Dr. Cooper (Sam Shepard), who tends to JC when she faints one day and he's the closest doctor around.

JC uses those apples to make gourmet baby food for Elizabeth, which she barters at the local stores as apparently everybody in small-town Vermont barters. One day, however, a bunch of yuppie tourists who think they can pull one over on those hick Vermonters -- indeed, JC is the sort of person who just a year earlier would have been one of those tourists -- sees the baby food and thinks its a great product to buy. JC, despite the stupidity she's shown a bunch of times up to this point, isn't that stupid, and realizes she might have a money-maker on her hands, selling overpriced trendyfood to gullible rich people. Heck, Starbucks has made billions doing just that.

The business becomes a success, and soon enough, national businesses come calling, specifically, the food conglomerate whose contract JC had been handling back in New York.

Baby Boom is an amiable enough piece of fluff, although you're going to have to suspend disbelief to watch it. It's hard to believe JC could make the dumb decisions she does at so many points. And then there's the stereotypical view of Vermonters. On the other hand, the movie is enough of its time that it's worth a watch just for another look at how the 1980s saw itself.

If you're looking for something that's not particularly demanding, and want to share a bowl of popcorn with some friends, you could do a lot worse than Baby Boom.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The FBI Story

Another of those movies that has been sitting on my DVR for some time is the James Stewart movie The FBI Story. Recently, I sat down to watch it and do a review on it here.

As you can probably guess, this movie is a story about the US Federal Bureau of Investigations. James Stewart plays Chip Hardesty, a career FBI agent who at the start of the movie is giving a lecture to a bunch of FBI agents about the history of the agency, starting from a relatively recent case in which a disgruntled man (Nick Adams) plants a bomb in his mother's luggage for her to take on a plane, with him taking out one of those airport insurance policies on her. The plane explodes, killing everybody on board, but the diligent FBI puts all the evidence together and captures the bomber.

It's only at ths point that we finally meet Chip in the flesh, as he takes the story back to 1924, and the time that J. Edgar Hoover (briefly playing himself) is named to head the agency. Hoover wasn't the first head; he was just the extremely long-serving head who eventually used the agency for his own political aims, just like other heads before him did, and heads after him, continuing right up to this day. But in 1959 when the movie was released, there was no way a Hollywood movie would say one cross word about Hoover or the FBI as a whole. Chip is working in the agency's office in Knoxville, TN, together with his friend Sam Crandall (Murry Hamilton) when they get word to head off to Washington where they find out about the reorganization of the agency along more professional lines.

Chip already has a girlfriend in local librarian Lucy (Vera Miles), and not being certain about what he's going to do with his career, he decides to get married to her before they have to go off to Washington, at which time he's already thinking about giving up his career. However, he's convinced to stay on, something which should have been obvious since the opening scene had him late in his career giving that lecture. Along the way, Chip and Lucy have a son and two daughters, and parts of their personal story are interspersed with Chip's professional life.

The professional life is episodic, with another five crime stories being told:
First, Chip and Sam get sent down south to deal with the Ku Klux Klan, although the Klan as seen here only threatens a white newspaper publisher rather than threatening any bloack people.
After that, Chip goes to 1920s Oklahoma, where somebody's killing a bunch of Indians who hold oil royalties. We see how the FBI has a bunch of records on various types of typewriters, something that would become a staple in later movies like Jagged Edge or Misery.
By the time we get to the 1930s, the gangsters are a big thing, and the fact that FBI agents are not armed is a problem. Some, like Lucy, however, worry that arming them will make them a bigger target, as the gangsters will be more likely to shoot instead of getting shot by an armed agent. Indeed, poor Sam gets killed.
Then we get to 1941, when Chip's daughter has an Honor Society meeting around noon on a Sunday, telegraphing things that this is December 7 and the US is going to get into World War II. Chip's son joins the Marines, while Chip goes to South America to check on those agents who are spying on the Nazis, the OSS (forerunner to the CIA) not yet being a thing. One of those agents is Sam's son George.
Finally, after the war, the Communists become the bad guys and Chip solves the case of a half-dollar that has some microfilm inside.

The FBI Story, having been personally approved by J. Edgar Hoover, is pure propaganda, and a lot of people will probably be quick to pan the movie because of what we now know about J. Edgar Hoover. However, it should be remembered that the FBI, along with the spy agencies that would be formed out of World War II and later, have always been inherently political, as all government is. And a lot of the people who hate J. Edgar Hoover would probably praise the FBI and the other three-letter agencies for their actions over the past five years going after the Trump admistration stemming from the obviously bullshit Christopher Steele dossier. (This isn't to speak well of the Trump administraion, but more to point out the incredible number of Will Ropers who are happy to set up government agencies that are going to spin out of control because they think some individual is evil.)

Being a mostly episodic movie, at least in terms of the crimes presented, it becomes a lot easier to look at The FBI Story in the same light that one might look at any police show, be it from the 1950s or still from today, and how much deference the police are still given in shows like the Law & Order franchise. (But dammit, they're going after the right people! Not people who allow us to turn policing into a racial issue!) The various episodes presented in The FBI Story could in fact fit in with almost any police show from the past 60-plus years, in that they're not badly executed, even if they are in service of propaganda. With a star like James Stewart and a director like Mervyn LeRoy, should one expect any less?

So The FBI Story is an interesting historical document if you will, albeit one that will probably frustrate a lot of people. One only wishes it would lead people to become frustrated with journalism's propagandistic treatment of the three-letter agencies of today.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

All That Jazz

I've briefly mentioned All That Jazz a couple of times in conjunction with my not getting a recording of it on my DVR to do a review on here. One time the recording was interrupted; one time I just plain forgot to set the DVR, and so on. But TCM ran it again as part of 31 Days of Oscar, and this time I got a good recording of to do a post on.

Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, a stage and screen director who is clearly modeled on the movie's director, Bob Fosse. Gideon is working himself to an early grave, as we can see from his morning routine of eye drops for his bleary eyes, chain-smoking, and stimulant pills. During the day, he's got two projects he's working on. One is directing a stage play, which we see starting from the mass auditions, before it eventually gets to choreographing the musical numbers. This includs Audrey (Leland Palmer), who is Gideon's ex-wife, the two also having a precocious daughter together, Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi in her only screen appearance).

Also, Gideon is working on the editing of a movie called The Stand-Up, which even more than the musical is a reflection of Fosse's real life when he was directing and editing the movie Lenny about the comic Lenny Bruce. The comic in the movie does a routine on death, riffing on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' then recent "five stages of grief". It's fairly clear even if you didn't already know the plot that this is a metaphor for Gideon's own mortality; indeed, we see one brief shot of him with an oxygen mask.

And then there's Gideon's personal life. I mentioned that he has an ex-wife, but he's also got a girlfriend, the dancer Kate (Ann Reinking), who gets along well with Michelle with the two of them doing a dance number to "Everything Old is New Again" for Joe at one point. Meanwhile, Joe is keenly aware of his own mortality, as he has dream sequences with the hazily-photographed Angelique (Jessica Lange).

Eventually, that mortality catches up with him in a big way, as he starts having attacks of severa angina that are a symptom of a pending heart attack. The doctors tell him that he's going to need bypass surgery, something that was pretty risky in the mid-1970s and is going to require an extended period of convalescence. This puts the Broadway show in jeopardy, and the producers learn that, paradoxically, they would be better off financially if Joe dies and they have to cancel the show as that's the one way they'll get the insurance bond.

Joe goes through the surgery, but during the convalescence he begins to have more and more vivid dreams, all set to elaborate musical numbers, about the possibility that he is in fact going to die I'll stop there, as I don't want to reveal the ending.

In reading about All that Jazz, I found that my initial thoughts mirrored what I was reading. There are some reviews that praise the movie very highly. Bob Fosse unsurprisingly has inspired direction and choreogarphy, while Roy Scheider is excellent as Bob's alter ego Joe Gordon. Both of them were nominated for Oscars, among the many nominations it received. And it's pretty darn easy to see on watching the film why it got so many nominations and why it gets some extremely positive review.

However, there are other people who call the movie self-indulgent at best and muddled at worst. And this is something I can understand too. It took a while to figure out exactly what was going on with Angelique, as well as figuring out which of the musical numbers were real and what was part of a dream sequence being all in Joe's head. It doesn't help that some people are going to find Joe Gideon to be a less than sympathetic character. There's also the insular world of Broadway. I'm not a particular fan of Broadway, so I always see movies like this as being a sort of outsider looking in as opposed to the center of the universe.

So I think in the end that All the Jazz is the sort of movie that's going to divide opinion very sharply. And that's the sort of thing that makes it even more necessary that you watch it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.