Monday, October 31, 2022

Mark of the Vampire

Today being Halloween, I wanted to do a post on a horror movie, so I picked one that TCM ran earlier this month, the quickie Mark of the Vampire.

In a small village somewhere in the rural part of either Bohemia or Moravia, what would now be the Czech Republic, the residents have a fear of vampires, to the point that people put some plant they call "batthorn" (something that as far as I can tell is totaly fictitious) on their doors and windows to keep away the vampires. That, and a lot of people don't want to go out after dark. Things get worse when one of the wealthy villagers, Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) is found dead at his desk in the study of the old castle where he lived. This just before the planned wedding of his daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) to Fedor.

The townsfolk are practically in a panic, and they believe the killing was done by a vampire -- specifically, Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) or his creepy daughter Luna -- because the dead man has marks on his neck that sure look like they could be fang marks, and because he was drained of all his blood. Obviously, men of science don't believe this sort of stuff, and the authorities send in someone from the big city, police inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill), to investigate.

Also coming in is Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore), who hopes to disprove the notion that it was a vampire that killed the elder Borotyn. Together with Irena's guardian, Baron Otto (Jean Hersholt), they start investigating. Time is of the essence, because Count Mora seems to be menacing poor Irena, and nobody would want to see her turned into a vampire. She starts acting erratically, scaring the bejeezus out of poor Fedor.

Even though Mark of the Vampire has Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi, it feels like it's not even up to the level of a programmer. I think a lot of that is down to the script, with an ending that feels like a deus ex machina and some actions that seriously require suspension of disbelief. The tone also feels mixed, like it's too much of a comedy at some points and a serious film at others. Looking at Wikipedia suggests that MGM's original intention may have been for an 80-minute programmer-length movie that got cut down, something that certainly seems plausible.

Still, Mark of the Vampire is an interesting enough misfire, and if you do watch it, you've only spent an hour of your life on it.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

If you ever looked at lists of Oscar winners in reference sources, there are some movies that have always shown up on TV a lot less than others. One of the less common movies, in my view, would be Jose Ferrer's Oscar-winning role in 1950 for Cyrano de Bergerac. TCM ran it back in March as part of 31 Days of Oscar, and not having blogged about it before, I recorded it. Recently, I finally sat down to watch it.

The basic synopsis of the story is probably known. Cyrano (that's Jose Ferrer, obviously), is a nobleman in 17th century France who is in love with his beautiful cousin Roxane (Mala Powers). But because he has a nose that would put Jimmy Durante to shame, he knows that Roxane will never return his affection. Indeed, she's in love with military officer Christian (William Prince). Cyrano decided to befriend Christian and help him win Roxane by writing love verses for Christian to recite to Roxane, in order that Cyrano himself may remain close to Roxane.

There's a lot more to the story, of course. Cyrano's flamboyancy, combined with the desire to win Roxane and his own sense of honor, gets him into trouble repeatedly, winning a duel in the first act and then developing powerful enemies over the course of the rest of the movie. There's also Christian's commanding officer, the Comte de Guiche (Ralph Clanton), who is also in love with Roxane and even plans to push her into a marriage that she clearly doesn't want. Cyrano schemes to get Roxane married off to Christiane just before he and de Guiche are to go fight the Spanish, leading to tragedy.

Cyrano de Bergerac is a bit of a tough movie to judge, because it's based on Edmond Rostand's play in the French form of blank verse, with most of the screenplay for this movie coming from a translation that kept the blank verse pattern. Shakespeare, of course, famously wrote in blank verse, but he was writing in English, and he's rather more famous than Rostand. So Hollywood viewed the project with some trepidation and the result was a movie produced by United Artists on a much more modest budget. The print that TCM showed reminded me of watching the Luis Buñuel version of Robinson Crusoe; it's murky and looks like a bad TV print.

Also not helping the movie is the extent to which Ferrer utterly dominates the proceedings. It's not hard to see why he won the Oscar, but at the same time everyone else comes off too pale by comparison, especially Powers and Prince as the two lovers.

So Cyrano de Bergerac is one of those movies that's not necessarily the easiest movie to sit down and watch and just be entertained by, but it's also one of those movies that deserves to be seen.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

For some values of "call" and "wild"

I think I mentioned at the end of September that one of the movies that was returning to the FXM rotation is the 1935 version of the Jack London story The Call of the Wild. I recorded one of the airing since I apparently hadn't blogged about it before, and watched it when I noticed that it's on the schedule again tomorrow (October 30) at 6:00 AM.

Clark Gable plays Jack Thornton, who shows up in Skagway, Alaska, in 1900, since there's that gold rush going on in the Klondike. Except that he's on his way back to civilization, having earned his fortune panning for gold. Unfortunately, he's stupid enough to gamble those winnings and loses them. But his friend Shorty (Jack Oakie) is also in town, and knows of a map that will lead to a mining location that is sure to produce gold.

There's just one catch: Shorty came across that map by illicit means, from a prospector who died but sent the map to his son, one Mr. Blake. Shorty didn't get to hold on to the map, and the two men are going to make it to the secret location by Shorty's imperfect memory. Oh, and they need provisions. Having gotten the dog Buck who is the focus of the Jack London story, Jack and Shorty set off.

One night they hear wolves, and the next morning they find that the wolves were stalking a nice young lady who's alone out in the woods, Claire Blake (Loretta Young). Of course, she didn't get there by herself; her husband was the Mr. Blake to whom the old prospector sent the map. He had to leave Claire in camp to forage for food and never returned, and is presumed dead. Jack and Shorty intend to leave Claire in Dawson, the next big town they're going to get to, but they discover that she knows the parts of the map that Shorty has gotten wrong. So she's in on the scheme.

Unsurprisingly, Jack and Claire are going to fall in love along the way, as they're the two leads and this was the movie on which Clark Gable knocked up Loretta Young, leading her to step away from the public for several months and claiming she just "adopted" a daughter, which everybody knew was nonsense because of the daughter's Clark Gable-like jug ears. But none of that was the focus of the movie.

It's not going to be a bed of roses for Jack and Claire, however. Mr. Smith (Reginald Owen), whom Jack had already met and who is known by Jack to be a nasty guy, has found that Mr. Blake is not in fact dead and gets Blake to lead him to the mining site, strangling Mr. Blake just before getting there. Smith then holds up Jack and Claire so that they won't be able to file an official claim on the property. The other complication is that Blake cheats death for a second time, being discovered later by Jack not realizing that this is Claire's husband.

If the movie had been called anything other than Call of the Wild, it would be a competent if unspectacular programmer, notable mostly for the Gable/Young relationship. That, and the fact that there was some location shooting done in Washington state, at a time when the studios weren't venturing that far out of California. The third mildly notable thing is that this was one of the final movies released by Twentieth Century pictures before the merger with Fox. The print FXM ran has the "Fox" fanfare with the 20th Century-Fox logo at the beginning, although the title card has the 20th Century Pictures logo. That all is explained by the end credits, which tell audiences to buy their war bonds at this theater today. So the print FXM is running is obviously a re-release print from World War II. IMDb says the movie was re-released in 1945.

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Miser's Heart

I didn't have anything planned to blog about today, so I went in the closet where I've got a bunch of my DVDs packed up and pulled out both the cheap Mill Creek box set of John Wayne films, and the two-disc set of D.W. Griffith Biograph shorts. Since the shorts are, well, shorter, I watched one of the movies on that disc that I hadn't seen before, The Miser's Heart.

There are multiple stories going on here, although they all come together. Kathy is a little girl living with her mother, who falls ill, leaving Kathy to play on her own for the day. Kathy lives downstairs from the titular miser, who seems to be a bit less of a miser and more of a man who just doesn't trust banks and keeps his money in a safe in his apartment. But that's a target for thieves, and two men are going to come looking for that money.

Meanwhile, Jules (a young Lionel Barrymore) is a thief who steals a bag of food from a working class man, and runs off with the bag, winding up in the courtyard behind the building where Kathy and the miser live, so he meets Kathy and their stories intertwine first that way. But then, something more dramatic happens when the big-time thieves come, looking for the miser's money. Kathy happens to be in the miser's room at the time, so the thieves more or less kidnap her and hold her hostage outside, hanging from a second-story window!

Jules sees Kathy and is able to save the day, in what is an interesting little two-reeler that already shows Griffith's growing command of techniques like inter-cutting and how to build up suspense. The acting (which according to the cast list on IMDb and Wikipedia, as the movie has no credits, also includes a young Donald Crisp), is not much to write home about, since movies were still early enough and being churned out fast enough that learning the techniques for effect movie acting were still taking a back seat. But the movie is still entertaining enough.

One other thing to note is the presence of the American Biograph logo on the stairwell, which I presume was included as an extra attempt to maintain copyright, since the copyright laws still hadn't been updated to facilitate copyrighting entire movies.

The Miser's Heart is in the public domain now anyway and you should be able to find a copy on your favorite video site.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #433: Horror scores (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We've reached the last Thursday in October, which means that we have one more horror-related theme to go, and that it's a TV edition. The month started off with movies that have famous scores, so the month ends with TV shows known for there scores. I kind of cheated and went with one that's only horror from time to time, and other that's more paranormal than horror, and a third that doesn't have as well-known a score:

The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). Rod Serling's anthology series that has been revived several times over the decades, although the original is the best and really does have an iconic theme.

Dark Shadows (1966-1971). As I understand it, this was a conventional soap opera until low ratings gave the writers the inspiration to add a character that was a vampire, at which point ratings picked up and it became a cult classic.

The X-Files (1993-2002). The truth is not out there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

London by Night

There are a couple more movies on my DVR that are on TCM's schedule tomorrow that I didn't notice until this afternoon. So after dinner I sat down to watch the short programmer London by Night since it's airing tomorrow at 5:00 PM.

George Murphy plays Michael Denis, a reporter working in London who's about to take a vacation in Paris. But before that can happen, the barmaid Bessie (Virginia Field) at the pub where Michael is having a drink claims that she saw a dead body in the tobacconist's shop across the way. Everybody runs to investigate, and finds... nothing. Well, not quite nothing. A mysterious man with an umbrella has somehow been able to flee the scene, but the police are able to follow him down ot an embankment, where he shoots the cop that's following him.

So now everybody's looking for a man with a black umbrella, which could be a lot of people since it's not as if men in London carried fancy umbrellas. Indeed, Michael thinks his dog has found the mystery man, and when Michael and the dog find the man, it turns out to be Squires, the butler to wealthy Sir Arthur Herrick (Montagu Love) and his daughter Patricia (Rita Johnson). Obviously a dead end, since Squires has an alibi for the previous events.

But, as you can guess, Michael and Patricia begin to fall in love, even though her dad is none too happy about it because of the big social class differences. A socialite marrying a newspaperman? The horror! By now, Michael's postponed his trip to Paris to investigate, help Scotland Yard and Inspector Jefferson (George Zucco). There's still another attempted murder or two, however, before the case is solved....

London by Night is little more than a B movie, and one that made me think of The Mystery of Mr. X even though the two have a whole lot of differences. With the exception of some stock footage of London used in rear-projection photography, everything is done on sets and the backlot. But being MGM, they just about have the class to take this little trifle and turn it into something that's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but would have entertained the people looking for a movie at the bottom of the bill on their night out at the theater.

Pam Grier night

TCM's new "season" of its podcast is about actress Pam Grier, and it looks like the first episode was just released, going by all the news stories of Grier plugging the podcast. Unsurprisingly, TCM is going to be doing some promotion of its own, by having a night of Grier's movies, with her sitting down with Ben Mankiewicz to present them. Heaven only knows how many times the podcast will be mentioned.

Grier's two most iconic roles, or at least the ones that made her a star, were in Coffy and Foxy Brown, and those, for whatever reason, are in the middle of the lineup, at 10:00 PM and midnight respectively. The night begins at 8:00 PM with a new-to-me movie, Sheba Baby from 1975).

And, finally, at 2:00 AM, is a movie I thought I had seen an blogged about before: Black Mama, White Mama. The synopsis reads:

Two intimidating female prison inmates have an ongoing feud and are bound together by chains and transferred to another location for the purpose of keeping the peace but along their journey they continue to clash and provoke a gory shootout.

Now, that sounded familiar to me, but in looking up Grier on my blog, I saw that I had done a post on a different movie, The Big Doll House. But that one is also a women-in-prison movie, and was also made on the cheap in the Philippines. There's also Women in Cages and The Big Bird Cage. No wonder why these movies sounded familiar to me.

For whatever reason, TCM isn't concluding the nighttime lineup with a fifth Grier movie, even if she wouldn't be around to talk about it with Ben. Instead, at 4:00 AM, there's another women-in-prison movie, Caged.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Age of Consent (1932)

Looking through the TCM schedule a few weeks back, I came across a movie that had an interesting-sounding premise, so I decided to record the movie in order to be able to do a review on it here and see if it was as interesting as it sounds. That movie was The Age of Consent.

The plot hinges on a cultural norm that would have been a thing back in 1932 when the movie was released, but not today, that being that college was not for married people. It's an attitude that began changing with World War II and married GIs returning home from the war and wanting to better themselves with a college education, something we see in a movie like Apartment for Peggy. But apparently, back in the day, it was get married and leave college to start working life. Mike Harvey (Richard Cromwell) is a college student in love with co-ed Betty Cameron (Dorothy Wilson), and theirs is the sort of relationship you could see as a sort of long-term engagement if it were another movie of there era where only the man is off at college.

Betty, like most people in those days, isn't thrilled with the idea of sex outside of marriage, but also doesn't want to get married to Mike just yet. Wait until they both get out of college, at which point Mike will have much better career prospects. Mike, on the other hand, is actually thinking about dropping out to marry Betty, who is apparently only at school for the preverbial Mrs. degree. He says he's even got a friend out in California who has a job all lined up for him, something which is a pretty big deal since the movie was released in 1932 when there was a depression going on.

Complicating matters is a pair of professors the students really seem to look up to. David Matthews (John Halliday) and Barbara (Aileen Pringle) are spinsters now, but back in the day when they were both college students they were in love with each other. They decided that they were going to wait until graduating from college to get married, but they discovered that by the time graduation came around, what they had had between them had drifted away, and now they were only friends. So they really understand both sides of the situation. And then there's Mike's friend Duke (Eric Linden), who might just be willing to pick up Betty on the rebound should things ever go south between her and Mike, or at least be a shoulder to cry on and maybe she'll fall in love with him while crying on that shoulder.

Disappointed by Betty's saying no to marriage, at least for now, Mike goes to one of the eateries popular with college students and meets Dora Swale (Arline Judge). She's always had a thing for the college guy, specifically Mike, and decides to take him back to the house where she lives with her father (Reginald Barlow), who won't find them because he works the night shift. Except that Dora and Mike fall asleep together, and in the morning, Dad comes in to find them. With Dora's honor on the line -- apparently she isn't yet whatever the age of consent is in the state where the movie takes place -- for Mike it's either go to jail for corrupting the morals of a minor, or uncorrupt her by marrying her. Poor Mike has to dump Betty, and that's when things go south.

Age of Consent is an interesting film, even if in terms of its production it's not quite so good. It's nowhere near as flawed technically as many of the talkies from 1930 and 1931, but it doesn't feel anywhere near as vibrant as the better pre-Codes out there. And the ending is fairly ridiculous, as though the screenwriters didn't know how to resolve the plot entanglements they had created for themselves. Still, as a time capsule, it's definitely worth a watch, because it's just that different.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Why was I reminded of One Million BC?

I bought a cheap box set of Columbia sci-fi films from the 1950s and 1960s a while back, and still having a pair of movies on it that I hadn't watched before, popped in one of the DVDs to watch a new to me movie, Valley of the Dragons.

The movie is based on a story by Jules Verne, and a narration at the beginning of the movie even tells us of that, before going to Algeria in 1881. There, Frenchman Hector Servadac (Cesare Danova) and Irishman Michael Denning (Sean McClory) are about to take part in a duel because they hate each other for having a disagreement over some woman who plays no other part in the movie other for the two of them to mention the disagreement later in the movie. Suffice it to say that the most important thing is that these two men are at each other's throats.

Well, that's about to become the second most important thing. During the duel, it looks like the sun is acting the same way as in that climactic scene from The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, except that it isn't really the sun. There's an earthquake and other phenomena that threaten to wipe everybody literally off the face of the earth. Servadac and Denning seem to be the only two left in the area after everything quiets down.

So the two begin to walk back to civilization, wary of each other since they were still thinking about shooting each other. That is, until they realize they don't recognize any of the landscape and that there are some supersized animals around in what looked to me like the producers were trying to channel the original version of One Million BC. Of course, these animals are dangerous, and the two men are going to have to put their differences aside and work together to survive.

Hector eventually comes to the conclusion that what happened is that a comet passed by during the duel, and that comet picked up a pocket of the earth's atmosphere as well as the two duelists. And it's a comet with periodicity, which means that it's passed right by the earth before, which is why they found animals. These are the descendants of animals that would have roamed the earth 100,000 years earlier. (Never mind that a passing comet of that size would have had severe gravitational effects long before the duel.)

And not only are there animals on this comet, there are other humanoids, both neanderthals and descendants of Homo sapiens who have not evolved beyond the stone age the way the species did on good old Mother Earth. Through gestures, both men are able to find women, Hector winding up with Deena (Joan Staley) and Michael with Nateeta (Danielle De Metz) respectively. There's even a fairly racy by the standards of the day swimming scene showing a shocking amount of cleavage.

But there are multiple tribes on the planet, and that threatens to become full-scale war. Will our two earthling heroes be able to survive it all?

Valley of the Dragons is pretty silly stuff, and as I said, it made me think of One Million BC. What I didn't realize until after watching the movie and then looking for information on it is that the producers actually held the rights to One Million BC and liberally used footage from that movie. It doesn't help much, as they had to blow up the footage to fit the new aspect ratio.

Combine that with the poor story and no dragons in spite of the title, and you get a movie that probably deserves to be panned, but is so dumb that it winds up being a bit of fun, like a lot of those other cheapie sci-fi movies that second-tier production companies were making in those days. You could find a lot worse ways to spend 80 minutes than to sit down with some friends and enjoy Valley of the Dragons.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Nazi Agent

I mentioned the other day that I had multiple movies on my DVR that were coming up on TCM that I hadn't watched yet and would like to do posts on them. Two of them show up back-to-back tomorrow on TCM. The second, Desperate Journey at 9:15 AM, is one that last I checked is available on DVD, so I'm going to mention the other one that doesn't seem to be: Nazi Agent, at 7:45 AM. So that's the one I made a point of watching to do a post on.

Conrad Veidt plays Otto Becker, a seller of old books and stamps in New York City in the time just before the US wound up in World War II, helped out by assistant Miss Harper (Dorothy Tree). (The movie started production before December 7, 1941 but didn't finish until just after, and was released in January 1942.) Coming into the business one day is the new consul from Nazi Germany, Baron von Detner (also played by Conrad Veidt). The baron being a Nazi, of course he's pure evil, but more than that, he's also Otto's brother. Otto fled Nazi Germany, and now his own brother is here to tell him, no, you're going to work for the Nazis. Otto protests, but it turns out that he didn't quite have all his papers in order to enter the US, and the baron is going to use that to blackmail Otto. Not only that, but Miss Harper is a Nazi agent who will keep Otto in line.

Otto comes up with a reasonable enough plan, which involves enlisting the help of one of his customers who, he knows, shares Otto's dislike of the Nazis. But since we're fairly early in the movie, we know this is going to be a futile gesture and that the Nazis are more than one step ahead of Otto. Otto gives the customer a letter to take to the police, but the Nazis engineer a traffic "accident" before the man can get to the police.

The baron shows up to put some more pressure on Otto, this time bringing a gun to force Otto to do the baron's bidding. But there's a struggle between the two, and it's Otto who winds up shooting the baron. Since both characters are played by the same actor, Otto comes up with the sort of idea that only works in the movies: he's going to cut off his beard and slick his hair back, and pretend that he's the baron and that it was Otto who was killed. Never mind that there are all sorts of things Otto can't possibly know, such as the combination to the safe at the consulate, he's going to try to get away with it!

Amazingly, Otto is able to get away with it, with one key exception. That is Fritz (Frank Reicher), the family's old butler, who stayed with the family with Otto fled for America but has held anti-Nazi tendencies himself. So he's going to keep Otto's secret safe. Inside the consulate, there's all sorts of espionage going on, climaxing in an attempt to bomb a ship as it goes through the Panama Canal. Otto would like to stop it, but he has to deal with a devoted Nazi, Kurt Richten (Martin Kosleck), and a female agent who might not want to work with the Nazis, Kaaren De Relle (Ann Ayars).

Nazi Agent features a good acting job by Conrad Veidt, which is unsurprising. It also features a highly implausible plot, and an ending that I didn't think made much sense, and those definitely take the movie down a couple of notches. Then again, Nazi Agent wasn't conceived as a particularly big movie, but obviously second on the bill behind one of MGM's prestige movies that would have come out at the beginning of the year, and by the time the movie came out, audiences would have wanted movies showing good Americans defeating the evil Nazis, and Nazi Agent certainly does that.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Hang 'Em High

I've got multiple movies on my DVR that are coming up on TCM in the next few days, and I haven't watched all of them yet to do reviews on here. Regardless, the first of those movies is Hang 'Em High, which will be on overnight tonight at 1:45 AM (which, of course, is still late this evening out on the west coast).

Clint Eastwood, fresh off his success in the so-called "Dollars" trilogy, plays Jed Cooper, a would-be rancher in Oklahoma just after the land rush. He's bought some cattle and has the receipt to prove it, but is stopped by a group of men who know that the cattle's previous owner had been killed and the cattle rustled; they determine not that Cooper had the bad luck to buy the cattle from the murderer, but that he's actually the killer himself. So the men, led by Captain Wilson (Ed Begley) resort to immediate justice, putting a noose around Cooper's neck and startling Cooper's horse away, leaving Cooper to hang until he is dead, dead, dead.

Except that none of these people are professional hangmen, so the positioning of the noose only results in a lingering death unlike the near-instantaneous breaking of the neck that professional hangman is supposed to achieve. This means that when the next person, Marshall Bliss (Ben Johnson), shows up on the scene, Cooper is still not dead. Bliss puts Cooper in the 19th century old west version of a paddy wagon, and takes Cooper back to the territorial courthouse.

Cooper is in a bit of luck, as he comes before Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle), who has a reputation for being a hanging judge but in this one case is able to determine that Cooper is in fact innocent. The bad news, however, is that Fenton isn't about to let Cooper go free, willy-nilly. If he did that, Cooper would obviously hunt down the men in the posse who hanged him and kill them all. Instead, Fenton is insistent that this be done judicially, probably because he wants to be the one to have the men hanged, and not just see them shot in some distant backwater. With that in mind, Fenton suggests that Cooper become a marshal himself, especially since he had already been a lawman before coming to Oklahoma.

Cooper, not really having much choice, accepts. But as part of his search for the other men, he comes across a man and two adolescent boys who have rustled cattle and killed a man. Even though only the adult, and not the two teens, killed the guy, Cooper returns to town and sees Fenton display a blood lust that won't admit any dissenting voice, and certainly not Cooper's plea for the two boys. Instead, Fenton schedules a mass hanging which is sure to turn into a circus.

Meanwhile, Wilson and the rest of his posse have cottoned on to the fact that Cooper is trying to arrest them, not having died, so they're going to try to kill Cooper, and this time make certain that he's really most sincerely dead. This will lead to the ultimate showdown between Cooper and Wilson....

Hang 'Em High is a movie that feels like there's nothing terribly original going on, while at the same time being a movie that's very competently made. Eastwood does a good job, helped out by a cast of mostly character actors, along with a few people who would go on to become much bigger. Pretty much everybody is solid, with Hingle as the judge having the biggest of the supporting roles.

Hollywood made a lot of westerns in the 1950s and 1960s; for whatever reason many of them, even the ones that were A movies at the time, are relatively forgotten. I'd guess it's that the spaghetti westerns and then The Wild Bunch at the end of the decade changed the genre. But if Hang 'Em High weren't an important film in the career of Clint Eastwood, I think it's another one that would have fallen through the cracks. And that would have been a shame, because it, and a lot of the other westerns, don't deserve that fate.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Briefs for October 21-23, 2022

I probably should have mentioned some of the obituaries earlier in the week. The one fams of English-language movies would most recognize is Robbie Coltrane. If you watched the Harry Potter movies (I didn't), I assume you'll known him as Hagrid. He was also in a couple of the more recent James Bond films, but I'll think of him for his part in Nuns on the Run. Coltrane was 72.

For the fans of foreign films, you might recall Josef Somr from the movie Closely Watched Trains, playing the station agent who uses the rubber stamp on one of the women's butts, which brings the authorities down on everybody. I have to admit that Closely Watched Trains isn't my favorite Czech film -- I much prefer Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball from that era -- but a lot of people like Closely Watched Trains. Somr was 88.

A couple of movies that I didn't mention in my post at the end of Septeber on the change to the FXM rotation showed up today, and they'll be on again in the not-too-distant future. First up is Destination Gobi, which I blogged about almost 11 years ago. That one gets its next showing on Sunday (October 23) at 8:55 AM. There was also the heist film Seven Thieves, a better Edward G. Robinson heist film than The Biggest Bundle of them All, which I mentioned back in September. Seven Thieves doesn't show up again until late next week, at 1:15 PM Thursday.

Back on TCM, I haven't been paying attention to how long the Tarzan serial in the 9:30 AM slot has been running, or how many chapters are left. In the slot after the Popeye cartoon, so just after 10:00 AM, there's not a Bowery Boys movie, but instead a movie I haven't heard of called Private Buckaroo with a young Donald O'Connor among others, according to the brief synopsis. But it's the movie that follows the matinee block that I wanted to mention, Stranger on the Third Floor, at noon. This disturbing proto-noir is absolutely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Finally, at the TCM website it was announced that they're going to be closing down their message boards. It's a shame, and it's unfortunately a sign of the times that that sort of message board seems to be a lot less popular in favor of social media sites that make finding information and interesting conversation a lot more difficult.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #432: New Home

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We've got two more Thursdays in October, today and Oct. 27, which means there's two more Halloween/horror-themed editions of the blogathon. This time, that theme is "A New Home", and I have to admit that I'm cheating a bit in that one of my choices is, I think, technically not a permanent home. But it fits into the theme fairly well, so I'm using it anyway. And I think I might have used one of these movies last year, but I'm using it again anyway.

The Stepford Wives (1975). Katharine Ross and her family move into the seemingly idyllic town of Stepford, CT. But as she and her new best friend Paula Prentiss pal around town, they find that something isn't quite right, and all the wives wind up like some sort of subservient stereotype. Will she figure out what's going on before it's too late? And why don't these women know the meaning of the word "archaic"?

Burnt Offerings (1976). Oliver Reed is a writer working on a new book, so to get some peace and quiet for the summer he takes his wife (Karen Black), kid, and aunt (Bette Davis) to a big old house that's got a surprisingly good rental price. The only thing is, they have to deal with the owners' old lady relative who supposedly lives up on the top floor and who they seem to be abandoning for the summer because reasons. It all begins to have a strange effect on the renters, especially Mom.

The Amityville Horror (1979). Supposedly based on a true story, although there's controversy over how much of what appears in the original book is true, this one stars James Brolin and Margot Kidder as parents who find a nice house out on Long Island to buy, except that the house has a past in that a family was murdered in the house in a fairly notorious crime. Still they buy the place, only to find out that it might possibly be haunted.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The writing is on the wall

I've mentioned in the past that there's another movie blogger out there -- I don't remember which one -- who started something called the "Blind Spot" series, in which bloggers come up with 12 well-known movies they haven't seen yet, and watch one a month over the course of a year. I've never participated in it, mostly because I don't have my movie viewing planned out that far in advance. But if I did participate in it, the sort of movie that would be liable to show up on the list is American Graffiti. TCM ran it over the summer, and it's also in the Flix (part of the Showtime family of channels if memory serves) rotation, including an airing tomorrow (October 20) at 8:00 PM. So with that in mind, I sat down to watch it.

I knew going in that American Graffiti isn't a movie with a traditional straightforward plot, but instead something that looks at one night in a bunch of people's lives, much the way Dazed and Confused does, only with a different time and place. In the case of American Graffiti, that time is August, 1962. So instead of the start of the summer, or even the 4th of July as in Ah, Wilderness!, we have a much bigger time of transition, as some of the graduating class of 1962 is about to go off to college.

The two are Steve (Ron Howard), who has a girlfriend in the form of Laurie (Cindy Williams); and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), who got a scholarship from the local lodge and is under much more pressure to go to college and make something of his life. Both are part of a circle of friends in Modesto, CA, but both have been accepted to school in the east, with flying all the way across the country a somewhat bigger deal than it is nowadays. Curt is having second thoughts about flying to coop, feeling as though he's living the life other people want for him, and not the one he wants for himself. It's going to be up to Steve to convince Curt to go to college.

The third friend in the group is Terry (Charles Martin Smith). He doesn't have a car, which is a source of frustration, as cars are increasingly becoming a status symbol among the teens, who like to cruise up and down the main streets listening to the music of the day (well, actually, some of the songs are from the late 1950s) played by disc jockey Wolfman Jack. Rounding out the main crew is John (Paul Le Mat), who does have a car, an old hot rod that has given him a reputation for being the fastest man around, and someone that Terry really looks up to. But John's life isn't all it's cracked up to be, not least because he gets stuck with a bratty kid in the form of Carol (Mackenzie Phillips before the drugs).

Along the way, the various teens have a bunch of different adventures, such as trying to find places where they can be alone in order to make out, or trying to score alcohol even if they're underage. Curt gets waylaid by the "tough" gang headed by Joe (Bo Hopkins), while Terry borrows Steve's car, only for it to be briefly stolen. But soon enough the morning is going to come, and what future is each of these people going to have?

American Graffiti was an early film from director George Lucas, before Star Wars typecast him as the director of big budget effects films. The movie was in many ways personal for Lucas, he himself having grown up in Modesto, and it shows that he really could have been a lot more than the typecasting turned him into. There's something for pretty much everyone to look back on, even if most of us didn't have that specific experience.

If you haven't seen American Graffiti before, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Sorry, but there's no sexy sidewalks here

A few weeks back, Eddie Muller's selection for Noir Alley was a movie I had never heard of before, The Naked Street. I wanted something a bit shorter than what I had been watching, so recently I sat down to watch it.

Farley Granger plays Nicky Bradna, a small-time gangster who, at the start of the movie, is on death row in Sing Sing for having killed a man. He clearly did it and if you believe in capital punishment, probably deserves it, which brings up the interesting question of how the Production Code is going to handle the rest of the movie. But that's not important right now. What is important is Rosalie Regalzyk (Anne Bancroft), the kid sister of a much higher-up gangster, Phil Regal (Anthony Quinn).

Phil loves his sister, and wants what's best in life for her, and will stop at nothing to get that, which is going to mean breaking the law if necessary, something he has no compunction about doing. And Phil is greatly distressed when he learns that Rosalie had been the girlfriend of Nicky. Partly because he'd like Rosalie to escape the sort of life he has, and more importantly because she really hasn't. Indeed, she's gotten pregnant by Nicky, and the thought of Rosalie giving birth to a bastard child horrifies Phil.

So Phil does what any good big brother would do, which is to engage in some good old witness intimidation so that the witnesses who saw Nicky commit the murder will say no, they really didn't, and get Nicky sprung from prison in time for him to marry Rosalie and make a respectable woman out of Rosalie. Phil also gets a decent job for Nicky, but that's not out of the goodness of his heart. Instead, he wants to be able to keep close tabs on Nicky and make certain that Nicky stays on the straight and narrow and does right by Rosalie.

Nicky is thrilled to be out of prison and not have death hanging over him, so he accepts this bargain, and even seems to be a fairly good husband. At least, until disaster strikes in the form of the unborn child strangling itself to death on the umbilical cord. A devastated Nicky starts seeing other women, as well as taking up gambling and other stuff. It's only a matter of time before Phil discovers what's going on and vows revenge on Nicky.

The Naked Street is a movie with a plot that strains credulity, and for once that's not because of any script gymnastics the screenwriters have to do to deal with the Production Code. Instead, the idea of all of this happening in the real world seems a bit far-fetched. However, the movie is saved by good performances, to the point that you don't think that much about the unrealisticness of the plot. Also in the cast is a young Peter Graves, as a reporter who's been trying to bring down Regal and who provides the narration.

The Naked Street certainly isn't one of the all-time classics of the noir cycle, and it's also not the best movie of any of the main stars. But it's one that entertains successfully enough to be worth a watch.


Monday, October 17, 2022

So Ends Our Night

TCM's daytime lineup for tomorrow is a bunch of movies starring Margaret Sullavan. One of them is a movie that was new to me when I first saw it on the TCM schedule a few weeks back: So Ends Our Night. I recorded it then because it sounded interesting, and since it's on the schedule for tomorrow at 5:45 PM, I decided to sit down and watch it to be able to do a review on it here.

Sullavan isn't the star here; that honor goes to Fredric March although the movie is somewhat more of an ensemble cast. March plays Josef Steiner, a dissident in Nazi Germany who's been forced to flee the country, leaving behind a wife Marie (Frances Dee in a tiny role), and leaving behind his passport. This means that Steiner is a refugee, and like many of the other refugees from Nazi Germany, unable to obtain work or legal permission to stay in whatever country he's fled to.

Steiner isn't the only one in this predicament; there are lots of Jews like Ludwig Kern (Glenn Ford in an early role) who at the start of the movie are in detention for having been picked up as illegal aliens. Sometimes they can get temporary work permits; sometimes they work under the table; but eventually they're found out and picked up by the police, being placed in detention until they can be deported into another country for the process to be repeated all over again. Nobody wanted them as refugees, in part because they were all recovering from the depression and had trouble creating enough work for the people who were born citizens of their countries.

It's around the end of 1937, a few months before the Anschluss in which Nazi Germany absorbed Austria, and Kern and Steiner have both been thrown out of Czechoslovakia into Austria. Steiner, only being a dissident, has a slightly easier time getting a false passport. Kern meets chemistry student Ruth Holland (that's Margaret Sullavan), who like Kern is Jewish and has fled Germany, studying chemistry where and when she can under a professor who himself is a fellow refugee.

Ludwig and Ruth are eventually found out and forced to leave Austria, this time heading for Switzerland, where they're able to hide for some time, although they're trying to make it to France since rumor has it that it's easier to get work permits there than in other European countries. (Obviously they wouldn't have known that the Nazis were going to overrun France in two years' time.) They do get to France, only to find out that it's not that much easier in France than anywhere else they've been. Steiner also makes it to France, which is where he gets a letter informing him that his wife is terminally ill back in Germany.

So Ends Our Night is another of those movies with an interesting premise. I mentioned quite a few years ago how Hollywood was for a long time unwilling to take on the issue of Nazi Germany's human rights problems, since Germany was still a big market for them. There was also the issue that a lot of Americans were still weary of the Great War and didn't want to get involved in another European war. Indeed, in the second half of 1941, Congress started hearings on the subject of those Hollywood movies that did dare to call out the Nazis, although of course those hearings would go by the wayside once the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Most of the other movies that did deal with Nazi Germany either had westerners getting caught up in the country, or Nazi spies in America. Even The Mortal Storm didn't mention Jews.

So Ends Our Night is more unflinching, although it's in some ways unrelentingly grim, in that we get it after the second or third time the characters are forced back into hiding. The ending also seems unrealistically upbeat. But the main characters all give good performances, and as a look at how Hollywood tried to be daring before actually going to war with Germany, it's a movie that's absolutely worth a watch.

One note, however, and that's that the print TCM showed a few weeks back wasn't in the best of shape, being slightly wavy, almost as though whatever source material had been used for the transfer wasn't quite flat. It's not jumpy, but the scenes do have a sort of uncomfortable sway to them.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Cable Hogue's Ballad

Another of the movies that I recorded the last time it showed up on TCM is The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Recently, I sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

The movie starts off somewhere in the desert of eastern Nevada, at the beginning of the 20th century. Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) is propsecting for water, something even more important than gold, with two of his friends, Bowen (Strother Martin) and Taggart (L.Q. Jones). The only thing is, these two aren't really his friends. They realize that the men no longer have enough water for three, but still do for two, so they basically attack Cable, take his water, and leave him for dead.

Amazingly, however, Cable is able to find the one watering hole in the area just before he's about to die of thirst. He sets about to develop it, and realizes that he might be able to make money by charging stagecoaches and other travelers going through this desolate area for the water. And it's not long before he gets his first paying customer, the self-styled minister of a church of his own revelation, the Rev. Joshua Sloan (David Warner). Sloan points out to Cable that if he hasn't staked an official claim at the land office, it's not going to be long before a whole bunch of people from town are going to find out about the water and make their own claims on the land.

With that in mind, Cable goes into town, although he's only got enough money to put a legal claim on two acres. That, however, is enough, as apparently the watering hole is very localized and nobody outside those two acres is going to be able to find water. In town, Cable decides he's going to cavort with one of the women of ill repute, Hildy (Stella Stevens). She's eventually going to follow Cable back to his place, now dubbed Cable Springs, although she really wants the life in a big city married to a wealthy man.

Cable is relatively successful running Cable Springs, but in a fairly obvious plot turn, who should show up looking for water but... Bowen and Taggart? They think Cable must have a bunch of money on the premises somewhere, and are out to find it and screw Cable over again, but this time Cable has a trick or two up his sleeve.

The Ballad of Cable Hogue is the sort of early 1970s western that has a differentl look at the genre than a lot of the older westerns, instead looking at a frontier that's closing, as horseless carriages show up for the movie's climax. It's a fairly gentle western, certainly by the standards of its director, Sam Peckinpah, who was known for his more violent films like his previous one, The Wild Bunch. There's certainly violence here, although the overall tone is somewhat lighter and more comedic.

That having been said, it's also way too leisurely. It's the sort of material that would make a nice 90-minute film, but unfortunately has been stretched out to a shade over two hours, thanks in part to some bad songs that look like Peckinpah had "learned" from the "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" sequence in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That sequence was a bit out of place, but in this movie those songs are even more out of place.

If a good screenwriter could figure out how to tighten the material up to a 90-minute movie, there could be a pretty good remake to be made. As it is, The Ballad of Cable Hogue is a bit of a mixed bag.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Eastwick Witches

It's just a matter of coincidence that I've been watching multiple 80s movies lately, although one of the reasons for yesterday's pick of a Wheeler and Woolsey movie was because of the surfeit of more recent movies. But I watched another 80s film recently: The Witches of Eastwick.

The movie begins in Eastwick, the sort of New England small town that you might have seen in a studio era movie as the sort of idyllic place where everybody knows everyone else and there's a lot of civic pride with the students also taking part in that, here in the form of the school band conducted by cellist Jane Spofford (Susan Sarandon) at a speech given on the front lawn of the school given by the principal. It's a boring enough speech that Jane and two of her friends: sculptress Alex Medford (Cher) and newspaper reporter Sukie Ridgemont (Michelle Pfeiffer) are all bored out of their minds. Suddenly, however, a surprise thunderstorm breaks out.

Now, because the title of the movie is The Witches of Eastwick, we can take an educated guess that these women are likely to be witches. However, in the context of the movie, they don't realize it. Nor do they realize that their witching power is amplified by being together; they'll learn these thing over the course of the film. Instead, the three friends get together and talk about their sexual frustrations over their failed marriages, going into fairly explicit detail over the type of man they'd like as Mr. Right. Little do they know that by doing this, they're actually casting a spell that will bring said Mr. Right to Eastwick.

Everybody in town is talking about the mysterious stranger who has bought the mansion on the edge of town, a mansion that has lore in the town's history for its involvement in its own Salem-like witch trial 300 years earlier. They all know the man is charming, even if for some weird reason they can't remember his name. The only person who sees through all of this is Felicia Alden (Veronica Cartwright), the wife of the newspaper editor (and Sukie's boss), Clyde Alden (Richard Jenkins).

That strange man is Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), who by this age isn't exactly a sex symbol, but is at least the sort of good-enough well-to-do man that a woman desirious of stability would want. But because it was the three witches who were responsible for Daryl's coming to Eastwick, it turns out that he's also a warlock himself, more or less a spawn of the devil. Daryl sets about charming the three witches, while also trying to remove the threat that he sees in Felicia. Will the witches figure out how much of threat Daryl is before it's too late?

The Witches of Eastwick is based on a novel by John Updike, one that has a very interesting premise. For the most part, the movie handles the premise well, at least in terms of the script. The performances are also uniformly strong, notably Nicholson, who was quite good at playing the sort of charming character he has here. Some critics at the time had a problem with the climactic battle of good and evil, suggesting that it was almost cartoonish. I can understand why somebody would have that sort of criticism, although it's not one that I found myself having.

For me, the big problem is that this is another movie with intrusive direction. I get that portraying magical powers is sometimes going to require special effects, and that with special effects not being quite so good 35 years ago the effects might not always look right. But here the problems were more with camera movements and shots that were overdone; two scenes that come to mind are a string of pearls breaking up and the tennis match. This camerawork wasn't as obnoxious as, say, Darkest Hour, but every time it showed up it was jarring.

Still, The Witches of Eastwick is an interesting movie, and one that definitely deserves to be seen.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Peach O'Reno

I've mentioned RKO's comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey before. I had two or three of their movies on my DVR, so I recently sat down to watch one of their earlier efforts, Peach O'Reno.

We don't see the pair (Woolsey, as always, is the one with the glasses and cigar) until several minutes into the movie. It starts off at a 25th anniversary party for the Brunos (Joseph Cawthorn and Cora Witherspoon). However, a mishap occurs at the dinner, and that escalates to a shouting match, with the couple deciding on the spot that they both want a divorce. The two daughters, Prudence (Dorothy Lee) and Pansy (Zelma O'Neal), are both convinced that this is nuts, and want to stop the divorce.

Now, in those days, the quickest way to get a divorce was to go to Nevada, which had much more liberal divorce laws than the rest of the country. So both of the parents head off to Reno, with the two daughters not far behind. When the train gets to Reno, a who bunch of women are put on a bus headed to the law firm of Wattles (Wheeler) and Swift (Woolsey), who are making a killing in handling quickie divorces on the cheap. It ticks off the other lawyers who have been charing more, as well as at least one husband who wants to kill Wattles for getting the man's wife a divorce.

Wattles and Swift's method for ensuring a cause for divorce is to have the spouse who wants a divorce seen with another person, usually a man since they generally handle the wives' side of the divorce. However, both of the Brunos come to the firm looking for the divorce, with Wattles taking Mrs. Bruno's case and Swift taking Mr. Bruno's, and not realizing it for quite some time. To make certain the spouses will be seen with the co-respondent, the two lawyers turn their place into a speakeasy at night, complete with dance numbers that aren't up to Busby Berkeley standards, but then this was before 42nd Street.

To be honest, there's not that much of a plot to Peach O'Reno, mostly because it runs along at a very breezy 63 minutes, and has to put in a couple of songs and dances along the way. That short run time necessitates a sudden ending in the form of the divorce trial, which doesn't quite work by virtue of being too wacky. Of course, a lot of Hollywood comedies from those days get the courtroom badly wrong.

What does work is a scene when that scorned husband comes looking for Wattles. Wattles handles it by... dressing in drag in order to be a co-respondent in a case, and along the way hiding from the scorned man! It's the highlight of the movie, and Wheeler is surprisingly entertaining playing the woman.

Wheeler and Woolsey may not be to everyone's taste, but when they click, it's a sight to behold. And for the most part in Peach O'Reno they do click.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #431: Last Girl

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're still in October, which means another horror-inspired theme for the blogathon. This week, that theme is "Last Girl". Now, I can think of any number of "last man alive" movies, notably The Last Man on Earth which if memory serves was remade as The Omega Man and then got more remakes, although I may have the order of the movies wrong. "Last Girl" was rather tougher, although in the end I came up with one obvious horror, one movie that's generally thought of as sci-fi although I think it fits the horror genre, and one that's not normally thought of as horror:

The World, The Flesh, and the Devil (1959). If you think nuclear war is a horror, then this movie fits the genre, although it really plays out as a straight drama. Inger Stevens plays the "last girl" here, a survivor of nuclear war, although we don't see her first. That goes to Harry Belafonte, who survived the war too. He finds Stevens and begins to fall in love with her, race no longer mattering since it's not as if there's anybody else around to care. That is until white Mel Ferrer shows up.

House (1977). This Japanese horror movie tells of a high school girl who has a grandmother living out in the country in a big house. The young student invites six of her friends to spend the summer with her and her grandmother, but strange things start happening as the girls get killed off one by one. The movie has a dark premise, but it's presented in an almost campy fashion with everything being over the top, and is definitely an interesting viewing experience.

Alien (1979). Sigourney Weaver plays the "last girl" this time, being on a spacship that stops to investigate a transmission, only to realize too late that they've picked up an alien life form intent on killing the humans on board, Weaver being the last survivor. In space, no one can hear you scream.

Marsha Hunt note

Several days ago, I was going through the extended schedule on my satellite box to see what was coming up on both TCM and FXM, especially to see if there were any more movies being brought back to the FXM rotation. Anyhow, I saw the documentary Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity coming up overnight tonight at 1:00 AM (or late this evening if you're on the west coast). I wasn't paying close enough attention to the schedule, and was thinking that this was on the schedule as part of a 105th birthday salute, or what would have been her 105th birthday if she hadn't died a few weeks back.

But no; Hunt's birthday is October 17, so the salute would have been on Monday if there were one. Instead, this is part of a series TCM is doing on the Hollywood Blacklist, because that's a subject they obviously haven't covered enough. The series is running for the next three Thursdays this month, starting with a short documentary about High Noon (an anti-blacklist allegory, and on at 8:30 PM) and On the Waterfront (director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg both fingered Communists; the movie is on at 10:30 PM). The documentary gets three airings, at 8:00 PM, 10:00 PM, and 12:30 AM.

Following the Marsha Hunt documentary, there's one of her feature films, Carnegie Hall, at 3:00 AM.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Angela Lansubry, 1925-2022

Angela Lansbury in Gaslight (1944), which earned her an Oscar nomination

The death has been announced of actress Angela Lansbury, about a week shy of her 97th birthday. Lansbury had a long career starting off with a bang in Gaslight as the maid that Charles Boyer is interested in. It earned her an Oscar nomination, although she lost to Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart. There's a "Word of Mouth" piece that TCM has run with Lansbury talking about those early days and saying it probably worked out for the best that she didn't win that Oscar, because there would have been a good chance it would have resulted in her being typecast.

Instead, she would continue to make a wide variety of films, as well as working on the stage, where she might be considered even more successful, since she won a handful of Tony awards. And then, when she was getting close to 60, she would turn to TV in what is probably one of the roles most 30- and 40-somethings would remember her for, that of mystery writer J.B. Fletcher on the series Murder, She Wrote. For us fans of old movies, Murder, She Wrote is interesting in that Lansbury brought in a bunch of her old friends from her early days in Hollywood to do guest roles on the show, and in one case, even worked the old movie Strange Bargain into the show, with the movie's three stars playing the same characters with scenes from the movie being used for flashbacks to the 1940s. The show led to the meme that Fletcher was really a serial killer since everywhere she went, another murder happened. And I've seen jokes that the murder rate in Cabot Cove just suddenly dropped. I'd like to think Lansbury got a kick out of those jokes.

While some younger people may remember Murder, She Wrote, others might recognize her voice from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, or other singing roles. Although these later roles gave Lansbury an image of the kindly grandmother type, she was a good enough actress that she has quite a few memorable roles as villains. I've already mentioned Gaslight, but there's also the 1950s remake of Kind Lady, as well as another memorable role, that of the evil mother in The Manchurian Candidate:

One other movie of hers that immediately sprung to my mind is a small role, but a key one as the woman Glenn Ford is supposed to be marrying in Dear Heart, at least until Ford meets Geraldine Page. It's the sort of movie that's really for more mature viewers, but a fine and underrated movie.

I haven't seen yet when TCM will be scheduling a programming tribute to Lansbury, but since she started her career at MGM and because of how well known she'd become, I'd guess that she'll get a substantial tribute.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Falcon and the Snowman

Actress Eileen Ryan died on Sunday just shy of her 95th birthday. She had small roles in lots of movies and TV shows, but is probably better known for being the mother of actor Sean Penn and his two brothers. I had just watched one of Penn's earlier roles, in The Falcon and the Snowman, so now's a perfect time to do a blog post about it.

The star and lead here is not quite Penn, but Timothy Hutton, who has the more important role and of course had already won his Oscar for Ordinary People, before his career plateaued. Hutton plays Christopher Boyce, who at the start of the movie is just quitting the seminary returning to, among other things, his interest in falconry, which is how he gets his nickname. It's the mid-1970s, and Boyce came from a well-to-do family in Southern California where his dad (Pat Hingle) had worked for the FBI. Dad's able to pull some strings and get Chris a job at RTX, one of the many defense contractors that dot southern California.

Before going to work, Christopher meets with his old friend Andrew Daulton Lee (that's Sean Penn). The two had been altar boys together back in the day, but they went in opposite directions. While we've discussed Christopher's life, Daulton used his parents' money to buy drugs, to the point that he's gotten arrested on multiple occasions and has a serious coke habit, hence the handle "Snowman". Probably not the sort of best friend you'd want if you were getting a job at a defense contractor and about to get the sort of security clearance that requires a background check.

Boyce's job involves reading classified cables, and what he reads shocks him. The movie is set in the 1970s -- and based on a true story -- and set in the 1980s when the prevailing belief in Hollywood was that the CIA was evil and involved in overthrowing other governments nilly-willy, as opposed to now when it and the FBI are being used to spy on and destroy evil wrongthinkers like Donald Trump supporters. In the movie, the government about to fall is that of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (Whitlam did apparently hope to get permanent US bases out of Australia, but the political wrangling that led to his losing his job is from what I read much more complicated, and he did get a shellacking in the general election that immediately followed).

All of these CIA machinations lead Boyce to become disillusioned with government service. However, he doesn't feel he can go to the press like Daniel Ellsberg did with the Pentagon Papers. So he thinks about selling the secrets to whoever might buy them, which in reality means the Soviets or maybe the Communist Chinese. And that's where Daulton comes back in to the picture.

Daulton is in trouble with the law and in quasi-exile in Mexico, so when he hears from Boyce about the secrets, he decides to make a beeline for the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City, meeting Alex (David Suchet), who will be buying the secrets from Daulton and who will more or less be Daulton's handler. It's Alex, knowing only that Daulton is getting the secrets from someone else but not knowing who that someone is, who has Daulton engage in the sort of ridiculous cloak-and-dagger stuff that you see in other spy movies.

Daulton is using his share of the money to fund his drug habit, with the hope of being able to decamp to Costa Rica and build a house for him and his family, Costa Rica being at the time a country that didn't have an extradition treaty with the US. But it's that drug habit which is eventually goin to become the downfall of both Daulton and Boyce. It leads to a split between the two men, with Daulton taking increasing risks as well as trying to blackmail Boyce. But he's really an amateur and has no idea what he's gotten himself into.

The Falcon and the Snowman is, as I said, based on a true story, and that's a good thing, because there's something about the movie that would really defy belief otherwise. But there's a lot to like about this movie. Hutton gives a very good performance as the man who understands he's bitten off more than he can chew but doesn't really know how to get out of it. Penn is also quite good, although his role is written to be obnoxious enough at times that you want to smack him. However, I think I'd have to give acting honors to Suchet as the old hand who can't believe what amateurs he's having to deal with.

It's a shame that The Falcon and the Snowman isn't so well remembered, because it's a darn good film in the spy movie genre. I think that's because of a relative lack of star power, even though Penn would go on to bigger things. But's it's a lot better than stuff like The Kremlin Letter or even The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Don't call them hillbillies

Many years ago, I think back when I was in college, I saw Highlander on VHS when one of my friends rented it (remember VHS tapes and movie rental stores?). So it's been a good 30 years since I had last seen it. When it showed up in one of the free preview weekends that DirecTV likes to offier, I recorded it in order to be able to watch it again to do a post on. It's showing up again tomorrow, Oct. 11, at 12:16 PM on HBO Zone, so now is as good a time as any for the review.

The movie starts off in the present day, or late 1985 since the movie was released in 1986. A man named Russell Nash (Christopher Lambert) is watching pro wrestling at Madison Square Garden when he seems to spot somebody he knows. The two men end up in the parking garage, where the other guy pulls out a sword! Russell, fortunately, has a sword of his own, and the two start a swordfight in which Nash wins by decapitating his opponent, after which special effects mayhem ensues.

Flash back to the highlands of Scotland in the year 1536. Connor MacLeod (also Christopher Lambert) is about to go to battle for the first time against a rival clan. But the other clan has brought in a guy called Kurgan (Clancy Brown) who specifically wants to behead Connor. In the battle Connor gets stabbed in a way that would kill normal people, but not beheaded. The result is that he survives his injuries, which horrifies his clan who believe Connor must be in league with the devil to be able to survive an attack like that.

Connor and his girlfriend are banished, and it's there that Connor learns thow whole story, thanks to a traveling Egyptian named Juan Sánchez Villalobos Ramírez (played with an obviously non-Spanish or Egyptian accent by Sean Connery). Juan tells Connor that the both of them, as well as the Kurgan, are part of a group of people called the Immortals, who are more or less immortal as long as they don't get beheaded. Connor is apparently young enough that he hasn't learned any of this, while Juan is 2400 or so years old. It's the fate of the Immortals that the surviving ones are going to meet someplace distant in the future to have a fight to the death. Connor has to learn swordfighting so that Kurgan won't be the last Immortal remaining.

It's not too difficult to figure out what happens next. Back in 1985, New York is clearly going to be where all of the Immortals meet. But because one of them has just been killed in a very public way, the police are investigating the case and suspect Nash because of the way he drove out of the parking garage as though he was trying to get away. When forensics figures out that the dead man was decapitated by a sword, Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) is brought in to help investigate. Nash learns about her, and the two fall in love over their shared love of old swords (MacLeod as Nash is posing as an antiques dealer).

The problem, of course, is that Kurgan is still out there, and there's no way he's not finding out what MacLeod's alias is, leading to the final battle of good versus evil.

Highlander bombed at the box office, and it's not too difficult to see why. It's the sort of daft action film with constant flashbacks that is likely to put critics off. However, thanks to videotape, the movie was eventually able to find a cult audience that wanted an action movie that's pure dumb fun. And if you're in the right mood it certainly can be fun enough. Just don't expect anything close to classic movie-making.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

This Sporting Life

Another of the movies that I'd never done a blog post on that showed up on TCM several months back was This Sporting Life. As always, I recently sat down to watch it in able to be able to do that blog post.

The movie is more of a character story, although there is somewhat of a plot in the form of the main character's romance. That main character is Frank Machin (Richard Harris), who is a miner in one of those grimy northern England towns that helped fuel the UK's industrial rise but would fall in economic status in the decades following the making of the movie. Frank is an "angry young man" reminiscent of other kitchen sink movies like Look Back in Anger or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Frank doesn't have much of a life, living as the tenant of the widowed Mrs. Margaret Hammond (Rachel Robert), a woman with two children whose husband used to work at the same mine where Frank now works. Frank is interested in Margaret, but she's not so sure she wants to get back in another relationship.

Part of Frank's anger is directed at the upper-class people who still run the country even though Britain's class system was beginning to collapse by this time. However, Frank also takes it out on some of the rugby players from the local rugby league team, which gains him the notice of the team's owner, Mr. Weaver (Alan Badel). Even though Frank isn't that much of a rugby player, his agression is something Weaver wants for the team, so he signs Frank to a contract.

This contract, along with Frank's rise within the team, gives Frank a fair bit of money, something he's never really had in his life. However, it doesn't give him any upgrade in his social class, or even any class period. Frank has made the decision that he's going to keep acting like a boor, just because he's so darn angry with the rest of the world. He doesn't seem to see, or care, how much it's turning off everybody around him. This includes Margaret, who has to face all the scorn from the other women in her life because she's got a boyfriend who's just so déclassé.

Most of the critics of the time had good things to say about This Sporting Life, and it's easy to see why. It's the sort of movie that at the time would have been a breath of fresh air, considering the sort of thing Hollywood was making and even a lot of what the UK was making. The movie also has two very fine performances from Harris and Roberts, with both earning an Oscar nomination.

However, the movie is not without its flaws. One is that the movie runs rather longer than it probably should. It's the sort of story that should clock in at the 90-100 minute mark, I think, but actually runs 134 minutes, and feels like a slog at times. It doesn't help that much of the first half is told in flashbacks. The other issue is that Frank is at times such an unlikeable character that it makes it hard to have sympathy for him. This certainly isn't Harris' fault; the character is written that way. But it is a bit of a mistake on the part of the writer and director.

Still, people who want something different and out of their comfort zone would be well advised to give This Sporting Life a watch, both for the performances as well as the look at the northern England of the early 1960s.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Shop on Main Street

I had The Shop on Main Street sitting on my DVR for a while, I think since 31 Days of Oscar, and recently watched it to do a post on it, not having done a post on a foreign (well, non-English-language) film in a while.

First, a bit of history. People probably remember how the Nazis demanded the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1938, several months later, Nazis marched into the country, turning the Czech lands -- Bohemia and Moravia -- into a protectorate, which is how Reinhard Heydrich wound up in the country to be killed in Operation Anthropoid as depicted in movies like Hangmen Also Die. As for the Slovak third of the country, it was turned into a puppet state that was probably even less independent than the communist states after World War II would be. Needless to say, Slovakia was going to have to implement the same anti-Jewish and other racial laws that Nazi Germany already had.

In a small town somewhere in the eastern part of the country, the process of "Aryanization" is beginning to go into full swing. The fascist authorities are insisting that Jews can no longer own businesses, expropriating the property and giving it to Aryan (well, Slavs, since as I understand it the Nazi Germans considered Slavs not as good as the "pure" Aryan Germans) owners. Tono Brtko (Jozef Kroner) is a poor carpenter in town who has a brother-in-law in a position of power with the town's authorities. The brother-in-law informs Tono that he is to be given control of a local notions store run by the elderly Jewish widow Lautmannová (Ida Kamińska), not that Tono knows anything about running a store, especially not this kind of store.

Tono is more the sort of person who just wants to survive, not really wanting to work with the fascist authorities but also not wanting to join any resistance. More importantly, he still has a conscience. What he finds when he sets foot in the shop surprises him. Lautmannová is going deaf and is also probably in the early stages of dementia, not understanding why she's getting someone to run the shop, and certainly not understanding the danger she and her fellow Jews are in. Tono also discovers that the shop is a money-losing proposition, with Lautmannová living off donations that the rest of the Jewish community gives to her. So much for the hopes of Tono's wife, who would like an income stream.

So Tono takes his job seriously, trying to repair things in the house, and even trying to be a co-worker, not that he as a man knows the first thing about sewing notions. He also grows to like poor Lautmannová, even if he can find her exasperating at times, as anybody who has had to deal with a relative with dementia would know.

But change is coming even to this relatively isolated corner of the world, as can be seen throughout the movie by the progress being made on the building of a tower dedicated to the glory of the new government. And soon enough, the local government, which is anti-Semitic in itself althoguh it's also following orders from the central government, brings in a bunch of rail cars that are an obvious sign to anyone with half a brain. The government is going to deport the Jews to what they're calling "work camps", although it's obviously a concentration camp and more likely an extermination camp. After all, what would a work camp want with an old lady like Lautmannová?

Tono doesn't know what to do, but tries to hide Lautmannová. She, on the other hand, won't have any of that, since this is all happening on Shabbat wen all the Jews are supposed to be doing no work, and because with her dementia she can't really perceive of the annihilation of the Jews. She's perfectly happy just staying in the house, not realizing that it would require the authorities dragging her out at gunpoint. And Tono begins to think that perhaps his brother-in-law deliberately gave him control of the shop so that when he tried to stop the deportation, it would get him arrested and allow the brother-in-law to take it over then, something he apparently couldn't do directly.

The Shop on Main Street is a well-made story, although it does have some of the sorts of touches non-Hollywood movies do that may be a bit tough for people already put off by the thought of having to read subtitles. The additional fact Lautmannová has dementia also makes her act in a way that might at times aggravate viewers as much as it does poor Tono. It's also a bit slow, as the story probably could have been done in a brisk 90 minutes as opposed to the 128-minute movie we have. But these are all relatively minor flaws in an otherwise rewarding movie. That's definitely worth a watch.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Hal Roach remakes My Man Godfrey

Another of the movies that I recently watched off my DVR is Merrily We Live, which I think got a TCM airing during a Constance Bennett day in Summer Under the Stars. I'd never blogged about it before, which is why I made the point of recording it so I could do a post on it here.

We start off with the hired help, led by Grosvenor the butler (Alan Mowbray), being irritated because all the good silver is missing. That's because the lady of the house, Mrs. Kilbourne (Billie Burke), has had a bad habit of bringing in "forgotten men", not that this movie uses that term the way My Man Godfrey did, and trying to reform them. One of those tramps decided to walk off with as much of the silver as he could carry. So it's going to be a nice surprise for the family when they have their breakfast this morning and have to use whatever utensils are at hand.

In addition to Mom, there's the father (Clarence Kolb) who's big in business and trying to get in with the politicians who hold sway; an adult daughter Geraldine "Jerry" (that's Constance Bennett if you couldn't tell) who is as close to a rational person as you'll find in this family; adult son Kane (Tom Brown) who looks like he's never worked a day in his life; and the stereotypical bratty teenage kid Marion (Bonita Granville), a few years older than the Virginia Weidler character in The Philadelphia Story and not nearly as charming. At least they're all able to convince Mom not to bring in another tramp.

Cut to a winding mountain road that seems to be much too far away from the house where the Kilbournes live for the story to work. Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) is driving a jalopy up the road, and stops to get water for the car's radiator, at which point the car rolls backward off a cliff. Rawlins walks down the hill to call for help, and apparently the first house he finds is the Kilbourne place. He tries to ask if he can make a phone call, but Mom is so ditzy that she winds up hiring Rawlins on as a chauffeur before he can explain who he is and what he wants.

Jerry already has a guy pursuing her in the form of Herbert wheeler, but we see that he's pursuing her too fast and how Rawlins has to save her from Wheeler's advances. It's obvious that Jerry is going to fall in love with Rawlins by the end of the movie, although she doesn't know it yet. Meanwhile, Dad is going to be hosting an important dinner, but Marion decides she's going to be a jerk and bollix things by having Rawlins get invited to the dinner when everybody in the family thinks he's a tramp.

Merrily We Live is the sort of screwball comedy that wouldn't have been so bad if it came out two years earlier, before the release of My Man Godfrey, in which case it would be the sort of movie you could look at and see why My Man Godfrey was the better movie. Unfortunately, it came later, so it's hard not to think of producer Hal Roach as ripping off My Man Godfrey. The other problem Hal Roach had is that I don't think he ever really had a particularly big budget to work with. Everything here feels slightly threadbare.

Still, Merrily We Live isn't exactly a bad movie, it's just that there are so many classics of the genre, a standard which Merrily We Live doesn't quite reach.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #430: Horror movie scores

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're into October, which means that Halloween comes up at the end of the month. Unsurprisingly, that also means that the month's editions of the blogathon are all horror-related. For the first Thursday in October, the theme is Horror: movie scores, which I'm taking to mean horror movies that are well-known for their scores. In the end, I wound up picking two more recent (at least by my standards) movies, and an older horror-adjacent movie that got a musical update:

The Exorcist (1973). Known musically for the use of the progressive rock song "Tubular Bells", or at least part of the song, what I didn't know until I looked it up is what went into scoring the rest of the movie. Apparently director William Friedkin had hired Lalo Schifrin to write a score but rejected that score. Bernard Herrmann turned Friedkin down before Friedkin decided to use several 20th century classical pieces as well as some music by Jack Nitzsche.

Jaws (1975). John Williams' music is iconic here; just do the opening notes of the music accompanying the shark and everyone will know what it is.

Metropolis (1927/1984). Fritz Lang's classic silent film about a future with a wealthy society living above ground supported by workers forced to work and live underground is generally considered science-fiction, but because of the dystopic nature of the film it's somewhat horror-adjacent. As for the soundtrack, here I'm referring to the 1984 version of the film which was re-edited by music producer Giorgio Moroder, who also provided a new soundtrack including songs by popular recording artists of the day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022


One of the movies that I probably would have used in the "Blind Spot" blogathon series if I ever took part in it would have been Blow-Up. Not too long ago, I finally watched it in order to do a post on it here.

Blow-Up, like yesterday's selection of Two Girls and a Sailor, is a bit difficult to do a review on, but for a different reason. With yesterday's movie, it was a movie with a thin plot wrapped around a bunch of musical acts; in the case of Blow-Up it's a thin plot wrapped around visuals of 1960s London. David Hemmings plays Thomas, a fashion photographer in London who takes lots of pictures of clothes models, both women who are already models and women who would like to become models.

One day, bored with all that, he goes to one of London's lesser-known parks, or at least, someplace I'd never heard of that doesn't look all that big. There, he takes photos of young Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), and her older lover, whom she apparently doesn't want to be seen in public with, or at least not have their photo taken together. So Jane comes back to Thomas' studio to try to get the film. This gives Thomas the idea that there must be something more to the photos that Jane is worried about, since she looks worried about more than just being with her lover.

Thomas enlarges the pictures to such a ridiculous extent that everything ought to be just a blur, and finds one of the blurs looking like it could be a murder victim. Now, the park where he was taking those photos must not be very popular, because he goes out later that evening to the park, thinking he'll find more evidence. Surely if anything happened somebody else would have seen it.

In and among all this, we get scenes of Thomas doing things in the more swinging London, such as taking pictures of models in outfits that look really dated now, and going to a party where everybody is taking drugs. The next morning, Thomas winds up with a bunch of mimes, because large groups of mimes go to parks just to screw with normal people's minds.

Blow-Up is a movie that has a lot of images that look nice on film, but a plot that will probably frustrate a lot of people. The movie placing more of an emphasis on visuals than plot also means that it has a fairly languid pace, which will also definitely be a minus to some people. Indeed, Blow-Up is a movie that's decidedly not going to be to some people's tastes. While I didn't hate it, I didn't exactly love it, either. It's the sort of movie where I can say I'm glad I finally got it off my blind spot list, but not one that I'm going to go out of my way to watch again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Wartime Love Triangle #8470351207509

Another of the movies that was on my DVR that I recently watched was Two Girls and a Sailor. Having been produced by MGM, it's unsurprisingly made its way to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

The Deyo sisters -- Patsy (June Allyson) and Jean (Gloria DeHaven) -- are sisters born of vaudeville parents. They've grown up and their parents have died, so they decide to start a double act of their own, singing and dancing. Of course, vaudeville as their parents would have known it had more or less died by this point, but there's still a war on and soldiers and sailors to be entertained. The Deyos would like to open a canteen for the men going off to war, but of course, that takes money they don't have.

You just know somebody with money is going to come into their lives, and you can probably guess right away who that person is. An anonymous benefactor the sisters refer to as "Somebody" sends a lawyer their way to let them know they own the building next to their apartment, a heretofore vacant building that they can refurbish and turn into that canteen. The two sisters try to figure out who their benefactor can be, while dealing with romantic involvments from the servicemen.

John Brown (Van Johnson), about to go back and fight more with the Navy, is one of those servicemen. Patsy is really in love with him and Jean certainly likes him, with John first choosing Jean. It turns out, however, that Jean meets another serviceman, soldier Frank Miller (Tom Drake), and she could see herself with him, except that she doesn't want to hurt poor John. John realizes that he really prefers Patsy, but again, he doesn't want to hurt Jean, and this causes a whole lot of heartache for Patsy before we get to the big finale where the right couples wind up with each other.

Two Girls and a Sailor was released in the middle of 1944, so don't expect an original plot here. Instead, it was designed for the morale of the people on the homefront, combining a Hallmark Channel-type story with a whole bunch of musical acts, the latter being what people would have gone to see above the story. Indeed, there are a lot of people who get more or less their own title card, appearing as themselves. There's José Iturbi and his lesser-known sister doing a two-piano piece; Harry James leading an orchestra; Lean Horne singing; and Gracie Allen, without George Burns, making life a nightmare for José Iturbi and Xavier Cugat. She plays a piano number with one finger, over the objections of the two men, reminding them, "Don't you know there's a war on?"

One person not playing himself is Jimmy Durante, as a fellow vaudevillean whose wife walked out on him ages ago, leaving him to quit the business and live as a squatter in the building that the Deyos convert into the canteen. When everybody finds out who he is, he's going to be cajoled into coming out of retirement....

As I said, the plot is nothing to write home about. The musical numbers, however, are, at least for the sort of people who like movies of the 1940s and are interested in the sort of movies Hollywood was making during World War II to try to brighten everybody's day. People not into that sort of thing are probably not going to enjoy the movie all that much, other than as a sort of museum piece.