Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Another one of our aircraft is missing, somewhere north of the 49th parallel

Errol Flynn was TCM's star of the Month earlier this year, which gave me the chance to record a couple of movies that I hadn't blogged about before. Among those movies is Desperate Journey. Recently I watched it, so now you get a post on it.

A multinational crew is given the task of bombing an important railway junction in what, before the war, was the very eastern part of Germany near the border with Poland. Among them are Brits Lt. Forbes (Errol Flynn) and Sgt. Hollis (Ronald Sinclair), and American Johnny Hammond (Ronald Reagan). Two other members of the crew are presumably American, Sgt. Edwards (Alan Hale Sr.) and Officer Forrest (Arthur Kennedy). (From doing a bit of reading, it sounds like the script was written before the US entered World War II, so the Americans were presumably intended to be the sort of volunteer like the ones who went to Europe in 1916 to fly in World War I.)

The bomber goes on its run, but the weather is bad and the cloud ceiling is low, so to complete the mission, they have to fly low enough that it gives the Germans a good shot at knocking the plane out of the sky, which they summarily do, or else we wouldn't have a movie. All five of the men survive, although Hollis is substantially injured, which isn't surprising since he's the one played by the least-known of the actors, at least by Hollywood standards. The others don't want to leave Hollis behind to die, or worse, to get picked up by the Nazis and tortured for information. In any case, the result is that the Nazis pick them up as a group, and it's up to Maj. Baumeister (Raymond Massey) to interrogate them.

The major is a bit of an idiot in that he doesn't have anybody aruond him for the interrogations. This allows Lt. Forbes to get in a fight with him and win it, allowing the men the time to search the office and then escape. Of course, they now have to figure out how to get the hell out of Nazi Germany, even though they don't really know anybody and have the entire might of the Nazi state gunning for them.

Amazingly, however, they're able to get first on a railcar heading for Berlin with a lot of wounded German soldiers. And once in Berlin, they actually meet Käthe Brahms (Nancy Coleman), who is part of the relatively passive resistance. She works for a doctor who also opposes the Nazis, and that gives the flyboys another chance to escape when the Nazis come calling. Käthe has parents in Münster, which is rather further west, and would allow them to get closer to England. Somehow they make it to Münster, and as part of the Nazis catching up to them in Münster, they steal Maj. Baumeister's car, which allows them to get to the Netherlands. That was of course occupied by the Nazis at the time, but at least theoretically had a lot more people who hated the Nazis than Germany proper did. Not that we meet many of these people. Instead, the plot deals with the Germans having repaired a downed British bomber which they're hoping to fix and then use on a bombing raid since the RAF wo't notice until too late that it's not the Brits flying this plane.

While watching Desperate Journey, it was hard to escape the similarities to a couple of British movies, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing and 49th Parallel. Unfortunately, I think both of those movies are superior because they go for intelligence, while Desperate Journey goes for entertainment and the sort of dehumanizing the enemy propaganda. The coincidences in Desperate Journey also seem more far-fetched than the other movies. Still, it does entertain well enough, and fans of old Hollywood World War II movies will certainly enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A couple of brief thoughts on B movies

Over the summer, when I wasn't blogging because I was taking care of Dad with his hip fracture, I watched a several movies off my DVR that I don't think are on DVD at all, figuring I'd probably never blog about them anyway. I actually have a couple of features that I watched recently that are on DVD that I could blog about, but thanks in part to doing more overtime at work and then the time difference of the World Cup soccer havnig me record the US matches and watch them when I get home, there have been a couple of days that I haven't felt the energy to do a full-length post on something I watched recently. So instead, I'll more briefly mention a couple of movies that probably ought to be on box sets. Either that, or whoever has the rights to Warner Home Video ought to put everything in the Warner Archive in part of some streaming service, and then include movies like these that aren't going to make much money otherwise.

The first is Don't Tell the Wife, which is in many ways a great example of the sort of B movies that RKO made back in the days before World War II, when B movies were a big thing. There aren't really any stars here, although some people went on to become big. Lynne Overman is nominally the male lead, as a man married to a woman (Una Merkel) who is sick and tired of his schemes to get rich quick. Unfortunately for her, sme of his friends, who are clearly on the wrong side of the law, have come up with another one. These include character actors Guinn "Big Boy" Williams and William Demarest. They get Overman in on the scheme, and bring in a dupe (Guy Kibbee) to play the part of the honest company leader who doesn't realize he's got a bunch of crooks backing him. It's all over in a little over an hour. There's nothing particularly great about it, but there are all those character actors. One I haven't mentioned is Lucille Ball, who has a small role as a secretary at the company.

I also watched Boulder Dam, which was made over at Warner Bros. and is fairly typical of the sort of B movie that Warner Bros. put out in the mid-1930s. The star here is tragic Ross Alexander, in what isn't a light romantic comedy role for him. Instead, he's playing a mechanic at a car company in Detroit. He gets in a dispute with his boss, and as in Days of Heaven, Alexander's character accidentally kills his boss, sending him out on the road. Alexander eventually ends up near Las Vegas, where the Hoover Dam is being built. Since they didn't have Social Security at the time the dam was being built, it was easier for him to get a job on one of the many work crews without being recognized as a wanted man. He even winds up with a girlfriend (Patricia Ellis). But then somebody from his past shows up and his happiness is threatened. Being a post-Code, things are resolved somewhat differently than Warner Bros. might have done in the pre-Code era. But there's still some understated social commentary in this one.

Both movies are definitely worth a watch, and it's a shame that there's rather less interest in streaming so many of these old movies, considering you'd think they're not going to make any money just sitting in the vaults. I wonder if there are issues with converting them to a format suitable for streaming on any of the subscription sites -- the format that would have been required for running on TV 10 years ago in the days before streaming internet might not be something that would work so well with streaming. After all, the conversion for showing on TV isn't just a DVD. But then, I think a lot of these old movies show up in the Watch TCM app after airing on TCM, which means it probably shouldn't be as big of an issue to have them in a library for a subscription streaming site.

Monday, November 28, 2022


I've mentioned DVRing a fair amount of movies over the Thanksgiving weekend since DirecTV has a free preview of the premium movie channels. One movie that I recorded over a previous free preview weekend is Belfast. I notice that it has several showings over the next week or two, starting with today at 3:25 PM on HBO2, so I watched it over the weekend to do a review on it here.

The movie starts off with a brief aerial view of the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland as it is today, or at least sometime in late 2020 or early 2021 when the movie was filmed. The camera then pans over a wall, and the footage goes into black-and-white. We're also sent back into the past; specifically, August 15, 1969. This is just about the time that the "Troubles" began, depending on which event you want to count as beginning them. August 1969 was the start of the first larger-scale rioting between Protestants and Catholics.

Buddy (Jude Hill) is a Protestant boy of about nine years old who lives on an ethnically-mixed street with both Catholics and Protestants, which is too much for some of the more radical Protestant groups. They riot, breaking the windows of houses and businesses owned by Catholics, something Buddy doesn't really understand since he's a bit young and hadn't known anything about the political grievances of the various groups. But the rioting is a big deal for Buddy's mom (Caitriona Balfe) and dad (Jamie Dornan), who is away a lot as he works over in England. Indeed, Dad has a pretty good job, and his boss even offers him a raise and a housing allowance that would enable the family to live in England, which would get them away from the Troubles. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

Buddy tries to enjoy life as much as a young boy can despite major and stressful political events going on around him, much like the young boys in a movie like Hope and Glory. He's got loving grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds), and even becomes friends with a Catholic classmate, Catherine. But the real world is bound to intrude, and is in fact brought to him in part by his own cousin, who gets him to do the sort of petty mischief kids do -- except that she knows members of one of the local Protestant gangs.

This leads to an incident where the gang breaks into a supermarket and loots it, with young Buddy stealing a box of laundry detergent. Mom is aghast, and realizes that the family has to get away from Belfast, even though the idea horrifies Buddy, who can't quite comprehend how serious the situation is.

Kevin Branagh directed Belfast, which is semi-autobiographical as he was born in Belfast and his family left for England during the Troubles. It's a labor of love, and one that is mostly successful. As the movie focuses mostly on young Buddy, it's fairly episodic, not that this is a bad thing. Jude Hill does a good job as little Buddy, helped by a fine supporting cast around him.

If there was one problem for me, it's that as with some more recent movies, there are times when the camera seems intrusive, as directors move the camera around in different ways than they could with the cameras they used in the studio days. People who watch mostly modern films may not notice, but for me, as someone who watches a lot of old movies, I definitely pick up on it. This is, however, a mild flaw.

Belfast is a fine "little" movie that deservedly got a lot of attention when it was released. If you haven't had the chance to see it yet, definitely record it if you can.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Defiant Ones, but with women and exploitation

TCM is running a podcast on Pam Grier, and last month ran a couple of nights of her movies to promote the podcast. This gave me the chance to record a couple of her movies that I hadn't seen before, including Black Mama White Mama.

As you can guess, Pam Grier is the black mama in the movie, a character named Lee Daniels. She's not actually a biological mother, but a prostitute who's been sent to a women's prison in some tropical island country that may or may not be the Philippines. (This one and a couple other Grier movies from the same period were filmed in the Philippines, and there are times when the Philippines flag shows up, but at other times the script seems to want us to believe that the movie is in some unnamed tropical country. And why would there be this many non-Asian people in the Philippines anyway?) Having the movie open up in a women's prison gives the moviemakers the chance to use all the tropes of the genre to good effect, such as food fights or women showering together, as well as the inmates trying to navigate the system.

One of Lee's fellow prisoners is Karen Brent (Margaret Markov), a white woman who is a revolutionary for reasons that aren't quite clear. She's got friends on the outside who can spring her, and she's planning to join up with some gun-runners in order to buy weapons from them to give to her fellow revolutionaries. The authorities would obviously like to know what sort of information Karen has. They transport her to a higher-security place. The warden has a thing against Lee because Lee spurned her sexual advances, so the warden has Lee transferred as well. And since these are two dangers criminals, they're chained together for the transfer.

Of course, you can guess what happens next. Some of Karen's revolutionary friends have found out about the transfer and come up with a scheme to get the convoy stopped so that they can spring Karen. That obviously haven't heard that Karen is chained to another prisoner. And the escape doesn't quite go to plan, either. Oh, the two women escape, but they're not able to hook up with Karen's revolutionaries. So they have to make their own way, while still chained together. This is a problem, because Karen is supposed to get the guns on one side of the island, while Lee has a contact much closer, but in the opposite direction. Karen points out, however, that it's her friends who freed them so perhaps her needs should trump Lee's.

So the two women have understandable reasons to dislike and distrust each other, although it didn't feel to me as though their being different races was as big a deal as it was for Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones. There's still no getting around the fact that the two are going to have to work together if they can't figure out a way to get those chains off of them, and as they work together, they begin to develop a grudging respect for one another.

But there are still all sorts of people looking for the two women, and those all have competing interests too. The army hires the criminal gang headed by Ruben (Sid Haig) to find the women, while Lee's pimp is looking for her since she's hidden money that she extorted from the pimp.

But to be honest, the plot here is really secondary. This is a straight up exploitation movie, like the other women-in-prison movies Grier made in the Philippines, and we watch for the fighting and the skimpy outfits, not for social issue plots like in The Defiant Ones. As such, Black Mama White Mama succeeds in entertaining, understanding that it's not going to be a great movie by tackling important social issues. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. It's a pretty darn fun one.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Annie Hall

Another of the movies considered an all-time classic that I haven't blogged about here before is Annie Hall. I recorded it back in March when TCM ran it as part of 31 Days of Oscar, but never got around to watching it. I noticed in looking through the schedule that is has two airings on TCM in the coming week, one tomorrow (Nov. 27) at 6:15 PM, and the other on Dec. 2 at 1:45 PM, so I figured now was a good time to watch it and do a post on it.

Annie Hall is, I think, really the blossoming of Woody Allen playing neurotic New York types, with more emphasis on the neurosis than on the comedy surrounding his character the way that things like Bananas or Sleeper did. Here, Allen plays Alvy Singer, a comedian obsessed with death and still thinking about the love of his life that he lost, one Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). As Alvy starts thinking about Annie, cue the flashback....

Well, not quite. Annie Hall isn't a straight flashback story, although a lot of it is in what would normally be considered a flashback. However, it doesn't feel like a normal flashback in that the story of the relationship isn't told in a straight line from meeting through to breakup. Instead, the flashbacks go back and forth in time, while they're frequently broken to return to Alvy in the present day breaking the fourth wall and talking either to the viewer directly or to people on the street.

As I said, Alvy is a New York comedian, with a best friend in Rob (Tony Roberts), a comedian himself who ultimately gets an offer to do a TV show out in Los Angeles. That's a place that, as we'll see later in the movie, is much different from New York. As for Annie (Diane Keaton), she's originally from Wisconsin and still has family out there, but she's come to New York to make it as a singer mostly; she eventually gets discovered by another singer, Tony Lacey (Paul Simon) and moves out to Los Angeles, putting a strain on the relationship.

In and around all this, we see how the two actually met (at a tennis club), how they decided to move in together, and then how they decided to move apart before the ultimate breakup and then, like the end of The Way We Were, running into each other by chance some time after the breakup.

Annie Hall is the sort of move that I think isn't quite for everybody, but more for people who are really into the whole idea of the art of making movies, especially less commercial movies. If you look at it that way, it's easy to see why critics and the in-the-industry people who make movies and vote on the awards would love this. There's urbane humor and situations for mature people, along with the techniques of breaking the fourth wall and the non-linear storyline that demands the viewer's attention. For people who consider themselves more casual fans or, like myself, non-film school types, I think I'd recommend other of Allen's work first. Other films, where Allen playing a neurotic character doesn't take over the film, work better.

Friday, November 25, 2022

My Cousin Vinny meets Reversal of Fortune

I mentioned the other day that DirecTV is running its annual Thanksgiving weekend free preview of all the premium movie channels. As a result, I've already recorded several movies, and even watched one of them since it's going to be on again tomorrow. That movie is Legally Blonde, which gets another airing at 11:30 AM Nov. 26 on The Movie Channel Xtra, as well as frequent further airings over the course of the next few weeks.

Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, who at the start of the movie is a senior majoring in fashion marketing at a state school out on the west coast, holding down a 4.0 GPA while also serving as the president of the sorority of which she's a member. She's got a boyfriend in Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), although I'm not certain why they're an item at the start of the movie considering the differing personalities. Indeed, Warner dumps Elle fairly early on because his family has plans for him that involve his going to Harvard Law School and eventually running for political office. A stereotypically ditzy blonde like Elle is certainly not part of that plan.

Elle, for her part, still loves Warner, so she decides that she's going to try to win him back... by getting accepted to Harvard Law School, even though she hasn't previously shown any big desire for law school. Still, she takes the LSAT and does well enough that, combined with the GPA and breaking the stereotypes for what sort of person should go to law school, the addmissions committee decides to take a flyer on her.

Elle gets to Harvard Law School and finds that Warner already has a new girlfriend in the form of Vivian (Selma Blair), and that she doesn't fit in with the other people there in general. To add to that, she hasn't prepared for law school at all, as she shows in her very first class, where Prof. Stromwell (Holland Taylor) summarily dismisses her for not having read the material. Obviously Elle never watched The Paper Chase before heading off to Harvard.

One of Elle's other professors is Callahan (Victor Garber), who, like Alan Dershowitz, does real legal work on the side, although the movie implies that his law firm is more important than his professorship, which I don't think is the case for most real-life law professors. Callahan has a partner at his firm in the form of former student Emmett Richmond (Luke Wilson), who still can be seen around campus.

Prof. Callahan is running some sort of internship scheme as well, and Elle decides she's going to apply herself and try to get accepted for that in order to impress the rest of her classmates. Indeed, she does, along with Warner and Vivian, who are none too pleased about it. And here is where Elle starts to get her chance to shine. Prof. Callahan is taking the defense of one Brooke Taylor-Windham (Ali Larter), a wealthy socialite who married a much older man and who is now on trial for the man's murder, which she insists she did not committ. Much like Alan Dershowitz's students in Reversal of Fortune, the interns are going to help with the defense.

Brooke, like Elle, happens to be a Delta Nu sorority sister, although several years before Elle, and that gives Brooke reason to trust Elle when she's not so willing to trust anybody else. Brooke does have an airtight alibi for why she couldn't commit the murder, but it's one that would ruin her business reputation, which is why she's reluctant to reveal it to anybody but Elle. But Elle's intuition, combined with some of the things that make her the stereotype of the ditzy blonde, wind up working in her favor when it comes to the murder trial of a rich young socialiate.

This, however, is where some people might also have some problems with the movie. All along, it's the sort of movie that requires some serious suspension of disbelief, but once we get to the trial, which like a lot of Hollywood courtroom scenes bears little resemblance to reality, the disbelief ramps up several notches. For me, however, the bigger issue was in the directing and editing, which seemed slightly off to me. Not to the extent that a movie like Darkest Hour was, but still, something about it gave me the vibe of a moviemaker trying to be different or edgy, when traditional camera techniques and editing were all that was necessary.

At the heart of the movie, however, is a fairly light comedy that largely works even though it's definitely a different sensibility to studio-era Hollywood. That's a result of a very good performance by Witherspoon, who handles the material well, with good support in the second half of the movie from Luke Wilson. It's also a movie that's trying to be entertainment first and, if it has any message about breaking stereotypes or presenting strong women, doesn't really let them override the entertainment.

It's hard to believe that Legally Blonde is already over 20 years old. But if you want light entertainment, give it a watch, as it definitely succeeds in that regard.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #437: Non-English (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is the last Thursday of the month, which means that it's time for another TV-themed edition. This month, that theme is non-English-language TV shows, which I have to admit is a bit difficult for me in that I don't watch much episodic TV. Well, I suppose it's not difficult per se so much as it is difficult for me not to repeat stuff. I think I avoided repeats, however:

Der große Preis (1974-1993). Part quiz show, part variety show, all German. I got to see one episode of this when I visited my German relatives back in 1989, and let's say that as a game show fan, I much preferred the faster-paced Die Pyramide.

Expedition: Robinson (1997-2005; revived several times since then). The Swedish original of what would be licensed in the US as Survivor, a show that I don't much care for.

Le maître du Jeu (2022). The Quebec version of Taskmaster, a British comedy game show I haven't seen and which apparently aired for one season here in the US on Comedy Central.

A Royal Scandal

I mentioned last week that A Royal Scandal is one of the movies that recently got added to the FXM rotation and that a search of this blog claims I haven't done a post on before. So I recorded it and recently watched it, since it's going to be on FXM tomorrow (Nov. 25) at 8:05 AM.

The royalty in question is Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia (played by Tallulah Bankhead). Catherine is, or desires to be, an absolute ruler, mostly because of the situation in Russia that got her onto the throne in the first place. Her husband Peter III had been an unpopular emperor, and their marriage was not a happy one, with both partners taking multiple lovers and Catherine keeping up that process after Peter was overthrown and killed in a coup. But the action in the movie takes place some time after that.

Catherine is worried about the people around her plotting possible coups, such as Gen. Ronsky (Sig Ruman); about the only person she trusts is her chancellor, Nicolai Illytch (Charles Coburn). She's also known for her violent temper, and for treating her ex-lovers at least a little bit better than Elizabeth I of England did in that she lets them live, if at least a retirement in internal exile. She's also so dictatorial that she has no problem making people wait interminably to get an audience with her, such as the French ambassador (Vincent Price essaying a ridiculous accent; if you don't recognize him by sight with the wig you'll still recognize the voice even with the accent).

Into all of this walks Lt. Alexei Chernoff (William Eythe, whom Fox was obviously trying to groom for stardom but for reasons that should be obvious on watching this movie didn't quite make it). He's got information about the parlous state of the Russian army and how there are people plotting against Catherine; to that end he has to sneak into the palace to see the Empress which is dangerous since the Chancellor and Catherine are liable to see him as an intruder which he technically is. It turns out that the information Alexei has is the stuff about Ronsky that Catherine already knows. But Catherine finds Alexei handsome, so she lets him stay, even promoting him because she wants him around as her latest lover.

But there are any number of complications. One of the big ones is that Alexei is already engaged to be married. And, the fiancée is one Anna (Anne Baxter), who just happens to be a lady-in-waiting to Catherine. Meanwhile, there's enough palace intrigue that being the new guy in the place, suddenly elevated above one's station, is going to be dangerous for anybody. Alexei doesn't help matters by letting power go to his head and coming up with all sorts of reform plans. The Chancellor doesn't like the proposals and wants to resign, but Catherine doesn't let him. And if Nicolai has made a minor miscalculation in the palace intrigue, Alexei makes major mistakes.

The opening credits list Ernst Lubitsch as a producer, with directing credits going to Otto Preminger. Therein lies what I think is the big problem with the movie. Lubitsch presumably was going to direct, but he fell ill and couldn't do so after rehearsals. It's the same sort of thing that happened with That Lady in Ermine, except that in the latter case Lubitsch actually died. Still, one gets the sense that Lubitsch would have liked this material to be a lighter comedy, and that this is a genre to which Otto Preminger is wholly unsuited. So the final result is a mismatch of styles and an overall mess.

Having said that, I also think that with the movie having been released toward the end of World War II, it was also a victim of changing societal tastes. The "Lubitsch touch" worked well in the 1930s, but I think it was always going to grow old eventually, with World War II hastening that, much as it hastened the retirements of certain stars (Norma Shearer and especially Greta Garbo come to mind). And then there's Eythe, who I think is too lightweight to fit in this role. I'm not certain what actor would have been best for the role; probably the best person I can think of who would have been contemporary was Gregory Peck fresh off of Fox's Keys of the Kingdom.

A Royal Scandal is, however, still an interesting misfire, if in part just to see how it misfires.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The House of Color

Some months ago, TCM ran The Red House, and since it had an interesting synopsis and cast, I decided to record it. Unfortunately, it aired on a day when the DirecTV box guide screwed up the schedule, so I recorded the wrong thing. And then I noticed that I have a copy of it on one of my Mill Creek box sets -- the movie having been produced by United Artists, it presumably wound up in the public domain after 28 years. So I put that DVD in and watched the movie.

The movie is set in one of those rural areas where there's a small town, and a lot of farm types on the outskirts of town that send their kids to the school in town, only the movie is current enough that everybody goes to school by bus. One of those farm families is the Morgans, who have a farm far enough out that not a lot of people come to visit, as well as a fair amount of forest that Dad wants to keep everyboy off of. That may be a bit odd, but there's more to the oddness about them than that. Father figure Pete (Edward G. Robinson) and mother figure Ellen (Judith Anderson) adopted Meg (Allene Roberts) when she was just an infant and her parents suddenly picked up and left to go work on farms in the south during the Depression, leaving the kid behind. The parents died not long after, so Pete and Ellen eventually adopted little Meg.

As you can probably guess, there's more going on than meets the eye. And about to come into the family and find that out is Nath Storm (Lon McCallister). He meets Meg on the school bus one day, and takes a liking to her, although he's already techincally got a girlfriend in Tibby (Julie London). But Nath winds up working for the Morgans, and seeing Meg more often, he finds their relationship deepening.

I mentioned that forest earlier. Pete has hired another young man, Teller (Rory Calhoun), to watch for trespassers and keep them off, with a shotgun if necessary. And Pete pretty much means everyone, including Meg. Meg has heard rumors of a red house somewhere deep in the woods, and wants to know if there really is one. Not only that, but she wants to know why her adoptive father wants to keep everybody away from that red house. Nath is willing to help her, or at least help get her out of jams, but doing so is going to put him in danger too. But you know everybody is going to wind up at the red house for the movie's climax, where the plot will finally be resolved.

The Red House is an interesting movie in some ways, in that it combines gothic drama with a bit of a thriller. Considering Edward G. Robinson being in the lead, it's unsurprising that he gives another competent performance. But as I was watching it, I couldn't help but feel as though there was a lot less going on than meets the eye. I think it's the sort of movie that had it been made back in the 1930s, it probably would have been made strictly as a B movie. But with more independent producers and a star of Robinson's caliber, they obviously wanted to make something more serious, extending the movie to about 100 minutes, which makes it a bit too slow.

Still, The Red House is definitely worth a watch, especially if you can find a better print than on the Mill Creek DVD.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Coming attractions on TCM

Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the States, so I might get a little more movie watching in. Unfortunately, I've been a little busy, so even though I have a movie I just watched waiting for me to do a post on it, I've been getting home from work late enough that I don't much feel like writing. And then I looked at TCM's schedule for tonight: movies about the Automat, the old coin-operated cafeteria-like restaurant that was a thing back in the 1930s. I saw Sadie McKee on the schedule at 4:15 AM, and thought about doing a post on that, but noticed that I already did one two years ago.

A movie that shows up on TCM rather less since it was done at Paramount is Easy Living, which I posted about near the beginning of the blog. That one airs at 1:00 AM, or late this evening if you're out on the west coast.

In between, at 2:45 AM, is Thirty-Day Princess, which for some reason I was thinking was a Carole Lombard movie when it is, in fact, a Sylvia Sidney movie. I'm probably getting the title mixed up with The Princess Comes Across, which does indeed star Carole Lombard.

Today is the birth anniversary of Hoagy Carmichael, and I did a post on that back in 2019. But I notice that tomorrow's TCM schedule includes To Have and Have Not, at 4:00 PM, with Carmichael supporting Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Finally, I see that TCM is running a spotlight on royal leaders on Wednesday(s). This Wednesday night includes The Last Emperor at 10:30 PM, a movie I mentioned a few months back since it was airing on one of the premium channels.

Speaking of the premium channels, it's time for DirecTV's annual free preview of the movie channels over Thanksgiving weekend which, from the email I received, should be starting tomorrow and going through Sunday. I actually have a bit of space on my DVR, too.

Monday, November 21, 2022


During one of the previous free preview weekends, I had the chance to record the movie Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. It's going to be on again this week, first tomorrow at 12:06 PM on ActionMax, and again on Friday, so I recently watched it to do a review on it here.

Now, most of us probably have certain ideas in mind when we think of Tarzan: athletic figures like Johnny Weismuller and the cheesy sets of the 1930s, or the even more muscle-bound actors of the 1950s. But this movie is more of an origin story for Tarzan, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' book Tarzan of the Apes. The movie starts off with a brief establishing scene in equatorial western Africa (these scenes were filmed in Cameroon) in 1885, before switching to Scotland just before those establishing scenes. In Scotland, the 6th Earl of Greystoke (Sir Ralph Richardon in his final role, as he died not long after filming wrapped) is seeing his son and daughter-in-law off. They're going to Africa, presumably one of the British colonies. But their ship is shipwrecked, and the husband and wife are the only two survivors.

Well, not quite, as the wife is pregnant, eventually giving birth to a baby boy. In order to survive, the husband has built a Swiss Family Robinson-type house in the rainforest canopy. But one day apes overrun it, finding the mom having just died of malaria (well, not that the apes know what malaria is) and killing the dad, leaving only the little baby as the survivor. One of the apes has just lost her own offspring, so she takes the human baby as her own. It's highly implausible, of course, but without that we wouldn't have much of a movie.

The movie proceeds slowly from here, showing several stages in the young human boy's development, when in the real world he would have either been killed directly by the apes or left to starve. But the boy grows, finds where his parents died althogh he doesn't realize these were his parents, and eventually grows up. After about 20 years of this, a party of British game hunters looking for specimens for a British museum comes through, led by a Belgian ship's captain Philippe d'Arnot (Ian Holm). African natives ambush the expedition, killing everybody but Philippe, who escapes until he is discovered by the now adult grandson of the Earl of Greystoke (played by Christopher Lambert).

After a fair bit of time, Philippe is able to put all the pieces together, and discover that this young man who rescued him is the heir to British nobility, so he gets the name John after his late father. John is also a natural mimic, being able to mimic a whole bunch of animal sounds but also human words, which is how he's able to pick up languages (even though that wouldn't happen either in real life if the right part of the human brain isn't developed by a certain age). Philippe is eventually able to recover, and he takes John back to Scotland.

Of course John doesn't know anything of civilization, but his grandfather is thrilled to see him. The Earl also has a ward, Jane (Andie MacDowell), who is about the same age as the young John. Jane takes a liking to John, trying to teach him to socialize, which is difficult for John. Some of the other people around the Earl of Greystoke see John more as a novelty, but also expect him to become civilized and either don't see or don't care why John has the issues he does. Things become more tougher for John when he learns how the British treat the apes, and when the Earl dies in a tragic accident....

This version of the Tarzan story is, as I said, quite different from most previous film versions. It's beautifully made, in line with the cycle of period pieces coming from British producers of the era; indeed, the director here, Hugh Hudson, had previously done Chariots of Fire. The characterizations are also well done. But boy does the movie move at a sedate pace. (And Wikipedia claims there was a fair bit cut before release.) That slowness is something that might make Greystoke a bit difficult for some people to sit through.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

TCM's Angela Lansbury tribute

Angela Lansbury (l.) and Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (6:15 AM)

Angela Lansbury died last month a few days before her 97th birthday, and TCM, as usual, takes a little while to schedule a programming tribute so that they can do something a little bigger. (Besides, they're not the channel with the rights to the old Murder She wrote episodes so they can't simply do a marathon of that like some other channels can.) In the case of TCM, the tribute is coming up tomorrow, November 21, starting at 6:15 AM because the TCM Import runs a bit past 6:00 AM. TCM will be airing a dozen of Lansbury's movies, right through to 6:15 AM Tuesday. Those movies are:

National Velvet, a vehicle for a very young Elizabeth Taylor, at 6:15 AM;
The Three Musketeers, starring Gene Kelly, at 8:30 AM;
Tenth Avenue Angel, a mawkish Margaret O'Brien movie I personally don't much care for, at 10:45 AM;
If Winter Comes, with Lansbury playing wife to a much older Walter Pidgeon, at noon;
All Fall Down, seeing Lansbury married to Karl Malden and mom to Warren Beatty and Brandon de Wilde, at 2:00 PM;
Dear Heart, with a smaller role for Lansbury as the fiancée to Glenn Ford, at 4:00 PM;
The Harvey Girls, which sends Lansbury out west with Judy Garland, at 6:00 PM;
The Manchurian Candidate at 8:00 PM;
Gaslight, which was Lansbury's breakout role, at 10:15 PM;
The Picture of Dorian Gray, based on the story by Oscar Wilde, at 12:15 AM;
Kind Lady, which has Lansubry gaslighting (pun intended) Ethel Barrymore, at 2:15 AM; and
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at 3:45 AM.

And a note about the TCM website. Their front page has that big rotating carousel of programming features at the top. On of those is, right now, the salute to Lansbury. But the "Learn More" link, doesn't link to an article about her, but TCM's daily schedule. And not the schedule for Lansbury's tribute, but the current day. So it'll work tomorrow, more or less, but not today. Also, something that I probably mentioned when I first brought up the design change to the TCM site is that TCM's broadcasting day begins around 6:00 AM, in that things like "Monday at 2:00 AM" means the overnight between Monday and Tuesday. But: the daily schedule page runs from midnight to midnight.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The first Dangerous Liaisons movie

In 1782, a French author wrote a book called Les liaisons dangereuses about romance games in Louis XVI-era France. The novel was turned into a play in the mid-1980s, which would explain why the source would eventually get turned into two movies in the late 1980s. I blogged about Valmont back in 2018; that is apparently based more on the book. More based on the play is a movie that came out one year earlier, titled Dangerous Liaisons. Not actually having seen Dangerous Liaisons, I recorded it when it showed up on TCM. It's got multiple airings coming up over the next week, starting with tomorrow 2:11 PM on Starz Cinema, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a review on it.

Having seen Valmont, I more or less knew the story. The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) are a pair of manipulative people in 1780s France. The marquise has an ex-lover she wants to get revenge against. He's going to be married to the virginal Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), so the marquise would like Valmont to deflower Cécile before the marriage so that when the ex-lover goes to consummate the marriage, he'll find Cécile is no longer a virgin.

Valmont doesn't plan to do this at first, as he's more interested in going after Mme. de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is a friend of Valmont's aunt (Mildred Natwick in one of her final screen roles). She's married but utterly loyal to her husband, so bedding her is going to be quite difficult. But then Valmont has a change of plans as he learns that Cécile's mother (Swoosie Kurtz) has Valmont down to a T. That makes Valmont want to deflower Cécile not to help Merteuil, but to get back at the elder Volanges.

It turns out that Valmont isn't the only person pursuing Cécile. While all of these machinations among the adults have been going on, Cécile has met another obliging man close to her age, young Danceny (Keanu Reeves). Among other things, he teaches music, and starts tutoring Cécile in order that he can be closer to her, even though he can never have her in a licit relationship since he's not of noble background.

Things get a lot more complicated by two things in Valmont's life. One is that he's finally able to seduce Tourvel, although he falls in love with her, which he hadn't intended. The other is that he more or less rapes Cécile, knocking her up in the process. Now it will really be obvious that she isn't a virgin. All of this leads the film to its denouement....

Both Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont are well-made movies, and which one you like more will probably depend on which one you see first. That's part of the reason I somewhat prefer Valmont. However, there are other reasons not so related to having seen Valmont first. One is the casting of John Malkovich as Valmont. I didn't care for it, and thought that Colin Firth as Valmont in the later movie works well as he's better as portraying the sort of dashing Casanova attitude that I think is needed for the role. Malkovich is too cold and calculating. Keanu Reeves is also not really well-suited to period pieces like this, although at least his is decidedly a supporting character.

But none of that is to say that Dangerous Liaisons is a bad movie by any means. If you like period pieces, I definitely think you'll enjoy Dangerous Liaisons.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Briefs for November 18-20, 2022

This time, with videos!

One of the movies that FXM pulled out of the vault this autumn that I didn't mention in any of the other recent posts is A Royal Scandal, a comedy about Catherine the Great (Tallulah Bankhead) and a young officer. I thought I had blogged about it before, but a search of the blog claims I haven't. At any rate, it's airing tomorrow at 11:30 AM, with repeats on Nov. 20 and Nov. 25, so it looks like I'll be recording it to do a post on next week.

I don't think I mentioned that new programming theme on TCM of putting a musical right after the Saturday matinee slot. I seem to recall many years back that they had a programming block called "Syncopation Station", which was on Sunday mornings up until late 2006, from what I could glean from an internet search. Wouldn't you know it, but the intro is currently up on Youtube:

One of the international broadcaster radio news podcasts I listen to mentioned yesterday that it was the 80th birthday of director Martin Scorsese. Note that the spelling has three S's; it's not uncommon for people to misspell it Scorcese. For some reason, that makes me think of this unrelated scene:

In another incident that doesn't really have much to do with the movies, One of the radio stations here that as far as I know doesn't go all-Christmas in the run-up to December 25 played a Christmas song today, that Mariah Carey song that gets way too much airplay. Again not for any good reason, but I suddenly thought of a song that's incongruously about Christmas, and incongruously in a movie that got a Christmas release although, in the context of the movie, the song is being played for the summer school holidays:

Although, for some reason, I thought that song was by the Marvelettes.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #436: Book Adaptations

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is a fairly easy one, Book Adaptations. The bigger issue is picking three movies that I havent used before. Yesterday, I did a post on the movie Giant, which is based on a novel by Edna Ferber, so I decided to be a bit lazy and pick three other movies based on novels by Edna Ferber. And I didn't even pick what are probably the most famous movies, she has that many to choose from:

So Big! (1932, although I could have picked the 1950s version instead). Barbara Stanwyck plays Selina, who takes a job as a teacher in a Dutch immigrant farming community after she's orphaned. She gets married and has a son (Hardie Albright), but when he grows up he leaves for the big city to try to make a fortune, leaving Mom unhappy until he realizes there's more to life. Bette Davis has a supporting role as an artist hired by Albright to create an advertisement.

Come and Get It (1936). Edward Arnold plays a would-be timber baron in Wisconsin, who marries for money instead of love. His old friend (Walter Brennan, winning the first Supporting Actor Oscar) marries the girl Arnold was in love with, and a generation later, Arnold and his son (Joel McCrea) meet Brennan's adult daughter (Frances Farmer) and fall in love with the adult daughter.

Saratoga Trunk (1945). Ingrid Bergman plays a woman who has a past in New Orleans but has returned to find a rich husband, where she meets Texas gambler Gary Cooper. He doesn't have the money she wants, so they go their separate ways. Some years later, they meet in Saratoga Springs, where Bergman is now, still looking for that rich husband. By now, Cooper has made some money in the early railroad business, and he and Bergman team up together to defeat another would-be railroad baron. Or something. Ferber's books were generally epic in nature, and some of the movie versions have the feel of cutting a lot out; Saratoga Trunk is certainly one of those.

A heads-up on The Viking

A year or so ago, TCM ran the silent The Viking, which I very briefly mentioned before another airing many years ago. I watched it during my blogging hiatus, but didn't blog about it because I don't think it's available on DVD. I notice that it's getting another TCM airing tomorrow at 9:15 AM, so here are my several months old slightly hazy thoughs on the movie.

Donald Crisp, who would become an elder character actor once sound came, plays Leif Ericsson, but more on him later. The Vikings, as you may know, raided various coastal areas, notably in England. On one of those trips an English nobleman, Lord Alwin (LeRoy Mason) is captured. When they get back to the Norse lands, Alwin is bought by Helga (Pauline Starke), who also happens to be the nominal foster child of Leif, although she's old enough that she could be considered an independent adult, at least in the modern days. I don't know what widowed or spinster Viking women did.

In any case, since Helga is the lead woman in the movie, all the men of a marriageable bent wind up in love with her. This includes not only Leif, but also Alwin, who by now has already shown his courage and could be useful if he had been born a Viking; third, there's Egil the Black, who is the sailing master on Leif's ocean voyages. Egil is the bad guy of the piece, getting involved in a sword fight with Alwin early in the movie, and another one with Leif as part of the film's climax.

The other plotline involves Leif Ericsson and his father, Eric the Red. Eric hates Christians, and has vowed to kill any he meets. He's also got a fairly prominent place in Norse society, having discovered Greenland. Leif would like to go farther than Greenland (as you probably know from history, he wound up on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland), but needs resources for a voyage. He's about to get them from Dad... until Dad finds out that Leif has converted to Christianity! Not only is Dad going to disown him, but he's going to have to beat a hasty retreat. Not only do Egil and Alwin go on the voyage, but Helga stows away too.

If you don't know much about this movie, that probably has to do with the fact of who produced it: the Technicolor Corporation. They were constantly trying to perfect their color film processes, and in addition to licensing their cameras for use by the normal studios, they made a few films of their own in order to advertise the improvements. Becky Sharp was one, which introduced the three-strip process to feature films; there's also the short The Flag about Betsy Ross. But the company weren't movie distributors, and so had to get a studio to distribute it for them, in this case MGM, hence the MGM lion at the start. But as I understand it MGM didn't get ownership rights, which would explain why it doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release that I can find.

As for the movie, it's a fairly silly story, but certainly entertaining enough. The color is up there with all the other two-strip Technicolor movies, which means that the print is in OK shape, but Technicolor hadn't perfected the process yet. Anything other than red or blue-green will look off. In any case, it's definitely worth at least one viewing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Edna Ferber movies Cimarron down to Texas

Another of the movies that would have been on my "Blind Spot" list if I were taking part in that blogathon is Giant. It was on TCM during Summer Under the Stars as part of a day of Elizabeth Taylor movies, and I recorded it then. It will be on again tomorrow at 4:30 PM, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

Rock Hudson plays Joradn "Bick" Benedict Jr., who inherited a giant ranch from his father in Texas. However, at the start of the movie he's on a train to Maryland because he's looking to buy some horses from one of those southern gentlemen of a type, Dr. Lynnton (Paul Fix). Dr. Lynnton has two daughters, but for the purposes of our story the important one is Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor). She's being pursued by a young Britsh diplomat (Rod Taylor in a small role), but when she sees Bick, she immediately falls in love with him. She's also quite open about speaking her mind. The feeling between the two winds up being mutual, so Leslie marries Bick and goes back to Texas with him on the train.

There's shades of The Sea of Grass here, as Leslie has never been on a ranch, and doesn't yet know how to run it even if she is now technically the mistress of the ranch. Heretofore, running the ranch house and working well with Bick has been his elder sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge). Unsurprisingly, it's going to be a rough adjustment for both of the women, although thankfully for Leslie Luz dies off about a third of the way through the movie.

Working for Bick on the ranch is Jett Rink (James Dean), the sort of person polite society sees as uncouth and who bristles at being looked down upon. When Luz dies, she's bequeathed a small plot of land to Jett. Bick doesn't want Jett anywhere near the ranch, and offers to buy Jett out, but this is only going to make Jett angrier and determined to become a success as he prospects for oil on that small plot of land. This really ticks off Bick as the land is supposed to be for cattle, not oil. Eventually, of course, Jett does find that oil, and vows to show everybody just how big a guy he really is.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Bick and Leslie have obviously been busy having sex because Leslie first has twins who grow up to be Luz II (Carroll Baker) and Jordan "Jordy" Benedict III (Dennis Hopper), followed by a third child. Bick loves Jordy and doesn't really care for Luz, but that turns out to be better for Luz: Bick is raising Jordy to inherit the ranch, and Jordy would much rather become a doctor than a rancher. In fact, it's the third child, Judy, who would rather get into farming, although when she marries young ranch hand Bob, they would rather work their own land. This being a sprawling epic, World War II intervenes about here.

After the war is when Jett really becomes fabulously wealthy and, Charles Foster Kane-style, wants to use it. Young Luz, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Jett, because women apparently think James Dean is gorgeous, even when he has a horrible pencil moustache. Bick and Leslie don't know about this relationship, and are horrified when they learn about it.

For me, the big problem with Giant is that it veers too wildly from one plot line to the next, being the sort of story that probably would have worked better as a TV miniseries rather than a movie that, at 200 minutes without any sort of roadshow presentation like an overture or intermission, is way too long. I didn't even mention the racial tolerance part of the plot that's especially tacked on at the end: Leslie has been trying to help the poor Mexicans living in a shantytown on the ranch throughout the movie, while Jordy marries a young Mexican woman.

Even with the flaws, Giant is a memorable movie, thanks to excellent production design and good performances from all of the members of the elder generation. Among those I haven't mentioned in smaller roles in that generation are Jane Withers and Chill Wills; Sal Mineo plays a Mexican of about Jordy's age who gets killed in action in World War II. And I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who will like the movie more than I did. So definitely give it a watch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Unsuspected

Back in September, I used the movie The Unsuspected in an edition of Thursday Movie Picks, not realizing at the time that the movie would be on TCM later that month. I knew I hadn't blogged about it before, so I recorded it to watch and do that review.

Claude Rains plays Victor Grandison, who hosts a true-crime radio show in New York. His secretary Roslyn works in out of his study/office at his nice home up in Westchester. One night, as Victor is coming home from the show, Roslyn gets a call from Victor's cousin Althea (Audrey Totter). But during the call, we see Roslyn get strangled by somebody, with the killing then disguised to look like a suicide! And Althea doesn't bother to tell the police.

We then learn that it's technically not Victor's house. The house belongs to Victor's niece (apparently by another sibling, different from Victor and whoever begat Althea) Matilda, and Victor has been her guardian ever since her parents died. Or, at least, the house did belong to her. She went off to Portugal for some reason, and the boat sank, killing her. And if you think that's not complicated enough, things are about to get a whole lot more complicated.

First, we meet an obliging young man, Steven Howard (Ted North, whose on-screen career didn't go anywhere after this movie, and who is credited as Michael North). He shows up in the middle of a party, claiming that he had gotten married to Matilda just before she set off for Lisbon. Victor naturally suspects that Mr. Howard is after Matilda's money, but it just so happens that he's got wealthy parents of his own. But then even nuttier is that, as in My Favorite Wife, Matilda (played by Joan Caulfield) informs everybody that she was picked up by a trawler which returned to Brasil, so she's going to be flying up from Brazil.

And that's only half of the insanity. Steven wants to be the first to greet his wife when she arrives at the airport, so he goes alone. And when she sees Steven... she doesn't recognize him at all! So Steven could in fact be after Matilda's money after all. Or maybe it could be Althea. She's trapped in a loveless marriage with Oliver (Hurd Hatfield), and is decidedly resentful at having to live off the good graces of Matilda.

And we still haven't answered the question of who killed Roslyn, and why. Eventually, we do learn the who, although the killer is revealed enough before the end that the movie turns into a suspense movie instead of a mystery. Also, Victor discovers that Steven has a love photograph from Roslyn in his wallet. So why did he marry Matilda? Or is that a ruse, too?

The big problem with The Unsuspected is that the plot is way too convoluted for its own good. And then, thanks to the presence of the Production Code, you know that the bad people are going to have to get their punishment in the end while the good people have to have their doings explained. This is done, but not in a particularly satisfactory way. I don't think the why of the Roslyn killing was ever mentioned; nor is it explained why Matilda went to South America instead of Portugal.

Still, this being a product of the Hollywood studio system with a classy star like Claude Rains and a top-tier director like Michael Curtiz, you know you're going to get a product that's well made in aspects of the movie apart from the messy script. Rains, unsurprisingly, does well, as does Totter. The other men in the proceedings come off relatively worse, or at least the two man supporting men. Veteran character actor Fred Clark is more than competent in a dramatic role as the police detective.

It's easy to see, however, why The Unsuspected is one of those movies that despite the star power has fallen through the cracks over the ensuing 75 years and is less remembered than other movies from that era of Hollywood. Still, it's definitely worth a watch.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Who's That Girl?

The other of the two movies on tonight's TCM prime-time lineup that I planned to blog about is a movie famous for being a bomb, Who's That Girl, which comes up at 2:15 AM.

The movie starts off with animated opening credits that are actually important in terms of establishing the plot, and not just a whimsical opening. Nikki Finn (played by Madonna) is a young woman in New York City who is given a key by her boyfriend Johnny, which she knows is to a safety deposit box, although she doesn't know what bank or what box number, or even what's in the box. She's on the run from some bad guys, and she gets into her car not realizing the bad guys have framed her by killing her boyfriend and putting his body in the trunk of her car. She's caught by the police, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison. (Why she never mentioned the key to her lawyers didn't seem to be mentioned as far as I could tell.)

Four years later, and with the movie switching to live action, Nikki is paroled, with a couple of caveats, notably that she's supposed to get on a bus immediately and go to her home town of Philadelphia, where she is to meet her parole officer. You'd think someone from the police or prison authorities would escort her to the bus station to get her on that bus, but somehow they expect somebody on the outside to do it for them.

Meanwhile, Loudon Trott (Griffin Dunne) is a tax attorney in New York who works for Mr. Worthington (John McMartin), father of Loudon's fiancée Wendy (Haviland Morris). Indeed, the wedding is supposed to be tomorrow, and you'd think most of the planning had already been done with everybody taking Friday off for the wedding. But then we wouldn't have a movie. Before Loudon can get back to dealing with wedding stuff, he's going to have to do two jobs for his future father-in-law. The first is to escort Nikki to the bus station, something which Worthington claims is part of the charity work the firm does. The other is to pick up a package for a client, wealthy Montgomery Bell (John Mills). Bell is taking delivery of a rare South American big cat as part of a repopulation scheme. The motorcycle deliveryman didn't realize the size of the package, or that it's a vicious-looking cat, so they'll need someone with a real car to deliver it.

As you can probably guess, Griffin picks up Nikki, and things immediately start going wrong. Nikki is pretty certain that there's evidence that will prove her innocence if she can get to that safety deposit box, but as I said, she doesn't know where that box is. Perhaps Griffin might have some idea, so she has him chauffeur her around Manhattan, trying to get to that box. Along the way, she's causing all sorts of chaos.

And she's also got people following her. There's Raoul the pimp and his assistant Benny, who are the ones who killed Johnny and framed Nikki, so they've got obvious reasons for wanting Nikki out of the way and getting the damning evidence themselves. But there's also a pair of police detectives who are the ones to have gotten Nikki out of jail, in the hopes that she could lead them to the evidence.

In true movie fashion, and most definitely not in real life fashion, Loudon hates Nikki at first, but finds himself falling in love with her along the way, especially once they complete Loudon's other job of delivering the panther to Bell. Everything eventually all comes together at the Worthington residence just in time for a wedding that goes haywire.

To me, it seemed fairly obvious that Madonna was trying to go for a screwball comedy vibe, with her success in Desperately Seeking Susan being more the model here than Shanghai Surprise, which had been a commercial failure. Critics at the time thought it didn't work, and savaged the movie. I can understand why, although I personally think the movie isn't nearly that bad. Nikki is annoying, but that's the way the character is written and not Madonna's fault. Most of the other actors are nonentities with the exception of Mills. And the movie is decidedly formulaic.

But even if you agree with most of the critics that Who's That Girl is terrible, you should watch and make that judgement for yourself.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Player

The vagaries of the TCM schedule are such that I wound up with a couple of movies on my DVR that are going to air in close proximity to each other as part of TCM's Monday (Nov. 14) night lineup. So I'm going to do a post on the first of the two today, rather more than a day before it's airing, which is not what I would normally do. That movie is The Player, airing at 10:00 PM on Nov. 14.

The movie starts with a long tracking shot of a Hollywood movie studio where, among other things, we see various people pitching story ideas to the producers who are bombarded with such proposals. (As we learn later, the studio claims it receives 50,000 ideas each year and can only greenlight a dozen of them, which is rather less than when the old studio system was running.) One of those producers is Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins). Griffin is facing a bunch of issues in his life, both personal and professional.

The first issue is purely professional. The rumor mill has it that the studio is going to be hiring a hot-shot young producer, Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), away from another studio, and this means that perhaps Griffin might even lose his job. The second issue is mostly personal. He's in a relationship with story editor Bonnie Sherow (Cynthia Stevenson), but it's becoming a bit of a one-way relationship in that Bonnie wants to go a lot further with the relationship than Griffin does. The third issue is a combination of the personal and the professional, as Griffin has been getting unsigned postcards and faxes from some anonymous screenwriter who suggests that Griffin screwed him over, and that Griffin's life and career might be at risk for this. Griffin receives so many story proposals that he has no idea who the screenwriter might be, but he's understandably alarmed by these missives from somebody who obviously knows his routine and follows him around.

After some thought, Griffin reaches the conclusion that the most likely person to be sending him the postcards is David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio) who, it turns out, lives out in Pasadena. Griffin approaches David's girlfriend, June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) to see if she can help him find David, as Griffin would like to pay off David with some sort of deal if it will cause those postcards to stop coming. This results in a meeting out in Pasadena.

However, the meeting doesn't go well, with David knowing that Griffin is in trouble at the studio, and not accepting David's offer. The two get in a fight in a back alley, and as a result of the fight, Griffin winds up killing David in what might or might not be self-defense. In any case, even if it were self-defense, it would result in a court case that would bring all sorts of bad publicity to Griffin personally as well as the studio. So Griffin gets the hell out of there.

Of course, the police out in Pasadena are able to start putting two and two together, at least to the point that they're able to determine Griffin was the last person known to have seen David alive. It's possible in their eyes that the murderer would have seen David later, but they have the reasonable idea that Griffin is the most likely suspect. Det. Avery (Whoopi Goldberg) interviews Griffin, while Det. DeLongpre (Lyle Lovett) is in the background, following Griffin to see if he makes any slip-ups.

Aside from the killing, Griffin still has those other problems in his life. He's beginning to fall in love with June, which is a serious complication considering that Bonnie still thinks she's in a relationship with him. And there's Larry Levy, although Griffin comes up with a scheme to try to deal with him, finding a pair of screenwriters who have a proposal that as it is is not quite workable. He'll give that proposal to Larry, and then, when the unworkable part comes to the fore, Griffin will come to the rescue to fix the troubled production. But the worst thing for Griffin is that David wasn't the screenwriter who was sending him those postcards, as they keep coming.

The Player is a movie that first and foremost is for movie buffs. There are lots and lots of cameos, which are only mentioned in the closing credits, although most synopses of the movie mention the existence of the cameos fairly prominently. Some of the famous names are openly mentioned, but others aren't, and part of the fun is trying to recognize them. There's also a plethora of vintage movie posters, some of which might be a bit difficult to recognize on first viewing although most get a second pass over by the cameras.

As for the story, I found myself thinking of another Altman movie, Gosford Park, as I was watching this. Both of them are very well-crafted technically, although complex enough that the technicality is noticeable, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Robbins gives a good performance, and since he's by far the main player in the proceedings, that is a decided positive.

If you're a movie buff, I'd definitely recommend The Player.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Caught in the Draft

Another box set I pulled out of storage is my Bob Hope set, which is really a repackaging of two sets, one of just him and one with six of the "Road" movies. Anyhow, I put one of the DVDs in and watched a new to me movie, Caught in the Draft.

Bob Hope plays Don Bolton, a Hollywood actor who has a fear of loud noises. This causes a problem because the film he's currently working on is a war picture; as you can guess there's all sorts of shooting of blanks where they can't just put the sound effects in in post-production. Meanwhile, visiting the set is Col. Fairbanks (Clarence Kolb) and his lovely daughter Antoinette (Dorothy Lamour). Bolton draws the erroneous conclusion that Fairbanks is just another extra. This starts him off on the wrong foot with the colonel, which is a problem because at the same time he experiences love at first sight with Antoinette.

Don plans to use any means he can to see Antoinette again, although she realizes what a phony he can be even if she does develop some feelings for him. There's a bigger problem on the horizon for Don, however. One morning at breakfast, he, his assistant Bert (Eddie Bracken), and his agent Steve (Lynne Overman) read in the paper that Congress is busy passing a law setting up a draft registry. (The movie was released about five months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, sending the US into World War II and obviating this sort of plot device.) Needless to say, he's worried that he's going to be drafted immediately, although that ought to be a load of nonsense as it would take time for the bill to be signed by the President and then registration to be set up. Never mind the reasonable probablility that he wouldn't be drafted at all.

In any case, Don wants to find a way to get out of the draft, and realizes that one of the ways would be to get a deferment for marriage. He's chased a lot of women in his life, although for one reason or another, none of them is suitable for this. Except for maybe Antoinette. She might be open to the idea of marrying Don, but not as a means of Don getting out of the draft. With that in mind, Don has a nutty idea of setting up a phony enlistment sergeant who will declare Don unfit to serve because of that fear of loud noises. Antoinette has already seen through this ruse, too, and beats Don to the punch.

So Don has enlisted, and for some odd reason both Bert (who at least would certainly have been draft-eligible) and Steve both enlist too. None of them have any idea of what being in the army really entails. Don, at least, comes around to the idea that he'll have to be a good soldier in order to win the colonel's permission to let him marry Antoinette. The bad news is that everything he tries backfires in his face and goes spectacularly wrong. But this being a light romantic comedy, it's fairly obvious that Hope and Lamour are going to end up together in the end.

Caught in the Draft is a fairly formulaic movie in the sense that you can pretty much expect a lot of what transpires in the movie. I mean, there are only so many situations you can get into in basic training, and only so many ways in which things can go wrong. Also, Bob Hope was building his "coward" persona, so there's a limit on how that can be developed in the context of a service comedy. Indeed, while watching this I couldn't help but think that somebody like Jerry Lewis could be plugged into the movie and you could have done just as well. (Indeed, Martin and Lewis did At War With the Army a decade after Caught in the Draft.)

None of this means that the movie is bad. It's a perfectly adequate programmer, doing more or less what it sets out to do in being reasonably entertaining, certainly for audiences of the day, although people who aren't so into old movies will probably find it old-fashioned. Hope is adept at comedy and comes off well here; Lamour is lovely to look at as the female lead in a role that presents no challenges. Caught in the Draft is the sort of movie that's perfect for a box set if not the sort of movie you'd want to pay standalone prices for.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Viva Zapata!

Marlon Brando was one of the people honored this past August in Summer Under the Stars. I already blogged about one of the movies TCM ran that day, The Missouri Breaks. Another that I hadn't blogged about before is Viva Zapata!. Recently, I sat down to watch it and do a review on it here.

Brando plays Emiliano Zapata, who in the movie is presented as a peasant from southern Mexico. In Mexico, as in a lot of other Latin American countries, the question of who holds title to the land is a vexing one, as the land had been given to gentry by Spain before the countries became independent. (This is the main plot point of the biographical film The Baron of Arizona, a movie that I have apparently never done a full-length post on.) The peasants planted what they believe is their land, but wealthy planters came along and abrogated those land right. So Emiliano leads a bunch of peasants to Mexico City to see the President, Porfirio Diaz.

Diaz is a dictator, having led the country for thirty-some years, and he fobs off the peasants by telling them this is an issue that takes time, time that the peasants feel they don't have because they need to plant crops at a set time and harvest them at another set time. All Zapata has done for himself is make some very powerful enemies. Indeed, when Zapata and his fellow peasants try to survey what they think is their land, Diaz sends out the army! So Emiliano and his brother Eufemio (Anthony Quinn) lead a bunch of men into the mountain forests to become a sort of Mexican Robin Hood-type band of outlaws and revolutionaries.

Writer and committed revolutionary Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman) is able to find Zapata and suggest that he team up with other forces trying to rid Mexico of the malignant presence of Diaz, as it will be more difficult for Diaz to deal with multiple fronts. As for the Zapata of this movie, all he wants is his rightful land as well has the woman he loves, Josefa Espejo (Jean Peters). Josefa's dad is none too happy with this, as he doesn't want his daughter to marry an illiterate peasant, he being a modestly well-off shopkeeper. Eventually, of course, Emiliano is going to win Josefa's dad over.

Getting back to the political situation, it's becoming increasingly complicated as one of those exiled intellectuals is hoping to become the new leader after Diaz is deposed, and he's using his surrogates in Mexico -- Pancho Villa in the north, and Zapata in the south -- to lead those revolutions. Diaz is eventually overthrown, and the question of what to do next comes up.

Zapata is a logical candidate, as he's seen to be more modest in his ambitions than the other revolutionaries. However, as in a movie like Crisis, a lot of the other revolutionaries aren't as modest, and they quickly become as corrupt as the people they just replaced. This includes Emiliano's own brother. Emiliano would still like to be with his wife, but politics just won't let him, and eventually he's seen as too important to be left alive.

I don't know how much Viva Zapata! comports with what really happened in Mexico in that turbulent decade, although the characterization of Zapata as virtuously modest struck me as phony. (Indeed, Wikipedia says the part about him being illiterate and taught to read by Josefa is untrue.) Marlon Brando is not my favorite actor, although people who like him will probably enjoy his performance more than I did. Quinn gives a good performance that earned him the Oscar for Supporting Actor.

Overall, Viva Zapata! is a movie that runs in the grand Hollywood tradition of hagiographic biopics that don't play completely fair with the truth. I generally don't care that biopics be 100% accurate, as long as the desire to put the subject in a certain light (either positive or negative) doesn't overpower the rest of the story. Unfortunately, Viva Zapata! comes fairly close to that line, leaving it a mixed bag as some of the supporting performances and the direction are quite good.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #435: Women's Revenge Movies

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 I hadn't thought much about before, Female Revenge Movies. It's one that didn't take me too long to think up three good titles fitting the category, either, and two of them are more recent than what I usually pick:

Baby Face (1933). This obviously isn't the more recent one. Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman working in her father's Rust Belt dive bar/speakeasy, until an amateur philosopher gives her a book of Nietzsche, telling her, "Use men to get the things you want!". After the place burns to the ground, Stanwyck goes off to New York, and sets out literally to sleep her way to the top, discarding various men (watch for a young John Wayne among them) along the way. She does get to the top and company executive George Brent, whereupon she finds that life at the top can be complicated.

Nine to Five (1980). Divorcee Jane Fonda goes back into the workforce, in big-business office clerical work, finding that boss Dabney Coleman dotes on buxom secretary Dolly Parton. One day, however, Fonda and co-worker Lily Tomlin discover that Dolly really doesn't care for the attention -- and that Colmean is embezzling money from the company. They set out to expose the criminality, except that their scheme doesn't quite go to plan.

Jackie Brown (1997). Pam Grier gets to play intelligent rather than just kickass like she did in her 1970s blaxploitation films. Here, she's a flight attendant on a small airline flying between Los Angeles and Baja California, smuggling money on the side for gun runner Samuel L. Jackson. When she gets caught because someone fingered her, it leads to her getting involved with bail bonsdman Robert Forster. Together, the two of them plan a scheme to take most of the proceeds of the planned smuggling of another half a million dollars.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Two days

One of the movies that I had sitting on my DVR for quite some time having recorded it during a free preview weekend is the original 48 Hrs.. I watched it, thinking for some reason it was coming up soon on one of the cable channels. In any case, Amazon lists it as getting a new 4K release next month. Not that I'm going to get it, since I don't know if my DVD player is capable of handling 4K. Certainly I don't need it with the old TV I have; 1080 is more than enough.

The movie is known for turning Eddie Murphy from one of the players on Saturday Night Live into a bona fide movie star, although we see neither Murphy nor the nominal male lead, Nick Nolte, at first. Instead, we get an establishing scene of a prison road works gang with the movie's main bad guy, Albert Ganz (James Remar). A truck approaches, needing water for the radiator, but that's just a ruse, as the truck is being driven by one of Ganz's associates. This results in a shootout, with the associate freeing Ganz and heading to San Francisco to bump off another associate.

Both of these events result in the San Francisco police getting involved in the case, sending out police detectibe Jack Cates (that's Nick Nolte) and a team to find Ganz and the associate. Unfortunately, the operation goes badly, with the two criminals ambushing the cops, killing the rest of Case's team and getting his revoler. So Case is going to be in some serious trouble.

Case decides to take a long-shot gamble. Ganz and his associates had stolen a large amount of money, but they haven't been able to get the money because the other guy in the robbery had hidden the money well before getting arrested, and if Ganz kills that guy, he'll never get the money. The guy in question is Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy), who got sentenced to three years in prison for his role. Case figures he might be able to get a weekend furlough for Reggie, who might possibly have some information on how to find Ganz and bring Ganz to justice. You might find that hard to believe it could be the case after three years, but criminals on the run often wind up being creatures of habit.

Reggie, for a whole bunch of obvious reasons, doesn't necessarily care that much for Case. Besides, Reggie has only six months left on his sentence, so maybe sitting in stir for another six months might be less dangerous. On the other hand, turning down the police presents its own problems. So Reggie goes with Case, and the two men go around San Francisco trying to find Ganz while dealing with their own severe culture clash.

48 Hrs. was one of the first buddy cop movies of the 1980s, setting up an entire subgenre after it became a huge hit. It's easy to see why it became a hit, although at the same time I don't think it's dated all that well. Still, having been on Saturday Night Live, Murphy fits the movie's comedy quite well, and does OK with the action, while in Nolte's case, it's the reverse in that he's good at action and does OK as the straight guy to Murphy. And even if the movie has dated in the past 40 years, sometimes a blast from the past can be fun.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Susannah of the Mounties

One of the movies that was recently added to the FXM rotation and which I had not seen before is Susannah of the Mounties. So I recorded one of last month's showings, planning to watch it and do a post on it the next time it shows up. Well, it's going to be on tomorrow (Nov. 9) at 6:00 AM and again on Thurdsay, Nov. 10.

As you can guess from an opening credits topped by Shirley Temple, it's Shirley playing Susannah. But first there's a little bit of scene-setting being done. It's the erly 1880s in what would now be Alberta or Saskatchewan, where the Canadians were building a railroad across their dominion, completing it in 1885. As with the more southerly locales in the US, the advance of white settlers meant conflict with various tribal peoples who were already on the land, in this case the Blackfeet (and indeed, Fox was able to get some real members of the Blackfeet for background roles, although of course the main Blackfeet adults were played by white guys). The Blackfeet have attacked one such group of pioneers, killing everybody but little Susannah, who hid under a barrell.

Susannah is rescued after the attack by Angus Montague (Randolph Scott), a member of the Mounties at a time when they were the law in this part of Canada and they didn't even have the army out there to keep order and pacify the Blackfeet. Indeed, it's the job of the Mounties to get the Blackfeet to sign a treaty. Needless to say, that's a controversial issue within the Blackfeet, with Chief Big Eagle (Maurice Moscovitch) more or less in favor and Wolf Pelt (Victor Jory) more or less opposed. But as a sign of good faith, Big Eagle sends Little Chief to stay at the Mounties' fort. One of the running subplots of the movie is that Little Chief and Susannah are going to become friends, but on his terms, which means Susannah is expected to act much the way a Blackfeet woman would. At the same time, Susannah becomes well-liked at the fort, because of course everybody loves little Shirley Temple.

The more grown-up plot involves the railroad being constructed in the area, with Harlan Chambers (Lester Matthews) managing the work crew. Some of their horses are stolen, which presents a problem, because it means there's a good possibility of renewed conflict between the whites and the Blackfeet. When Chambers discovers that the theft was done by Wolf Pelt, who was trying to sell Chambers back the horses he had stolen, Chambers threatens to call in the army to subjugate the Blackfeet. War is in the air.

The Blackfeet attack, kidnapping Montague in the process since they don't realize there's just as much infighting among the whites as there is among the Blackfeet over how to deal with the other side. Susannah is distraught, and actually sets out for the Blackfeet encampment to try to find Montague, leading to the film's climax.

Susannah of the Mounties has a lot of the formula that made Shirley so popular in the mid 1930s, although she was getting a little older and that formula isn't working quite so well. There's also a lot less singing and dancing than what you'd expect in most of Shirley's movies from her days at Fox. In fact, the scenes between Susannah and Little Chief are the best part of the movie, with Susannah learning about Blackfeet customs, even getting wasted after smoking a peace pipe. (I can't imagine little Shirley doing the "Dave's not here" bit, however.)

That's not to say that Susannah of the Mounties is bad by any means; it's more that it's not the first Shirley Temple movie I'd recommend to show people what she was really about. Note also that the print FXM is running is a colorized print. The color isn't bad, but the lack of Natalie Kalmus' name on the credits was a clear sign that this might not be real color.

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Candidate (1972)

Election Day is tomorrow here in the US, so since I had The Candidate sitting on my DVR since 31 Days of Oscar, I decided now would be a great time to watch it and do a post on it.

The movie starts off with a brief establishing scene that shows us professional political consultant Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) finishing up a campaign. It doesn't really matter where, or for what office. But with one election over, it's time for Marvin to find another candidate to back, and that's where the difficulty comes in. In California, Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) is a popular Republican running for re-election. So popular, in fact, that none of the big-name Democrats want to run against him since there's not much chance of them winning.

With that in mind, Marvin approaches young Bill McKay (Robert Redford). Bill is decidedly on the side of the little guy, working for a legal aid society and having strong positions in favor of things that were big issues in the early 1970s, like integrative school busing, legalizing abortion, or a nascent environmental movement that in those days was reacting to things like Cleveland's Cuyahoga River catching fire. So he's the perfect sacrificial lamb for the Democrats. Moreover, he's got built-in name recognition, because his father John (Melvyn Douglas) was a very popular governor back in the day.

Bill accepts the challenge, but with the proviso that he gets to campaign on his issues as he sees fit, not as any handlers might want him to look to the public. And it's the sort of idea that works with young first-time voters, especially those politically active enough to make up a disproportionate amount of the electorate in a party primary. That, combined with the McKay name, is more than enough to help him win the primary and become the Democratic nominee.

But then the problems come. Early polling suggests not just that McKay is going to lose, but that he's going to lose by a big enough margin that it will humiliate him and harm the legal aid work that he'd go back to doing after a losing campaign. So Marvin and the rest of the handlers suggest that he start moderating, as well as making himself look more telegenic (as if young Robert Redford wasn't telegenic enough).

It works, as the polls begin to get tighter as election day approaches. But Bill still has a fairly stand-offish view of electoral politics, and especially the grind of having to run a statewide campaign. It doesn't help that he wanted his father to stay in the background, and that his wife Nancy (Karen Carlson) is having an affair. Nor does it help that Sen. Jarmon isn't exactly a bad guy, just one who disagrees on the issues. In fact, compared to 50 years on there's a surprisingly low amount of negative campaigning.

But it's an atmosphere that's actually to the movie's benefit. It's an intimate look at the behind-the-scenes world of politics, once you get away from the world of actually governing. Reford and Boyle both give fine performances, with Porter and Douglas also doing good jobs in their smaller roles as elders at different points in their political careers. It helps that the screenwriter and several other behind-the-camera people had worked on this sort of political campaign earlier in their careers; apparently several of the scenes in the movie are based on things that really happened in campaigns.

And, although the movie is definitely making some political statements, not just on what would now be called TEAM RED versus TEAM BLUE, but also on the whole idea of how to market political ideas, it does so in a fairly gentle way that I don't think is going to alienate anybody who has a differing political viewpoint.

Robert Redford will definitely be more remembered for movies other than The Candidate, but it's definitely a movie that shouldn't be missed.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Battle Beneath the Earth

I didn't intend to do two low-budget sci-fi films from the 60s in relatively close proximity aftr Valley of the Dragons, but I noticed another such movie sitting on my DVR that's getting an airing on TCM soon: Battle Beneath the Earth, at 11:30 AM tomorrow (Nov. 7).

The movie starts off with an absurd scene. A couple of policemen patrol the Strip in Las Vegas when they find that their night is going to involve them going to a call for a "listening disturbance", whatever that is. When they get to the location of the call, they find a man claiming to be a scientist, Arnold Kramer (Peter Arne), with his ear to the sidewalk and claiming that he can hear some sort of tunneling going on beneath the surface, which of course nobody else is going to be able to hear considering how loud the Strip is. The cops obviously can't hear it, but at the same time Kramer isn't really breaking any laws. So the most they can do with him is stick him in a mental hospital where he'll be in a padded room.

Somehow, US Navy Commander Jonathan Shaw (Kerwin Mathews) hears about what's happened to Kramer. Shaw had worked in undersea tunneling, and from what he can glean of the details, he gets the feeling that perhaps there might just be something to what Kramer was claiming. This, combined with several landslides and mining disasters that are otherwise unexplainable, makes Shaw really want to find out what Kramer knows, so Shaw goes to visit Kramer, eventually getting Kramer released when he hears the full story.

The military starts doing a bit of digging of their own, pun intended, in a fairly ridiculous scene that involves getting pretty much all underground activity in America to cease so that the military can listen. (There's no mention of how much panic this causes in the general US population, or how they were able to keep it a secret.) What they discover is that Communist China (remember, the movie was releasd a year or two into Mao's Cultural Revolution, at a time when most western nations still didn't have diplomatic relations with the PRC), or at least renegade PLA general Chan Lu (Martin Menson), has tunneled all the way under the Pacific, and gotten to under the USA!

Now, this doesn't lead to an immediate declaration of war, or even a general mobilization of troops, but a small expeditionary group being sent into the tunnels to to to figure out what's going on without Gen. Lu finding out about it. Of course, Lu does find out, and captures some of the good guys. But he's also got a lot of hubris, so the good guys are going to be able to escape and save the day in the end.

Battle Beneath the Earth is, unsurprisingly, a totally ridiculous movie from start to finish. It's got so many plot holes that in theory, it ought to require too much suspension of disblief to watch. But that's not really an issue here. Instead, it's one of those movies that's so idiotic that it's fun to watch to see just how much dumber it's going to get. And believe me, it can get a lot stupider.

So although on an objective basis you'd have to say that Battle Beneath the Earth is terrible, it's one of those movies that gets things so wrong that it would be fun to sit down with a bunch of friends and laugh together at how shoddy the production is.