Saturday, December 31, 2022

Franchot Tone loves trouble

Another movie that was sitting on my DVR for a few months was one I hadn't heard of before Eddie Muller plucked it out of obscurity for a showing on Noir Alley: a 1948 movie called I Love Trouble, not to be confused with the 1990s movie that has the same title but a completely different plot.

Franchot Tone stars as Stu Bailey, a Los Angeles private eye who one day gets a visit from an up-and-coming politician named Ralph Johnston (Tom Powers). Johnston has a wife, but she's gotten a blackmail letter and subsequently gone missing. So Johnston wants Stu to figure out what it is in Jane's past that would cause somebody to blackmail her, as well as to find who's doing the blackmailing and where Mrs. Johnston is.

That sounds simple enough, but it all gets a lot more complicated. Before the war, Mrs. Johnston was working at nightclubs under the stage name Janie Joy, and that she was originally from Portland, Oregon. One of the nightclubs is run by Keller (Steven Geray), who has a couple of henchmen working for him in the form of Herb (Raymond Burr) and Reno (John Ireland). Keller is suitably odious and dangerous for Bailey, but he's not the only possible suspect in what's going on.

There's also Buffin, who knew Jane before she left Portland, and who is now running a restaurant that's even more out of the way than the one near the climax of 99 River Street. Who on earth would ever visit a place like this to eat. Thankfully, we can deduce fairly quickly that Buffin is in fact not a suspect, but that's only because he gets shot and killed.

And then there are the women. One, Norma (Janet Blair) claims to be Jane's sister, although the camerawork makes it ridiculously obvious that she isn't since her monogram doesn't match Jane's last name. There's also Boots (Adele Jergens), who married into money and is involved somehow, as well as a mysterious third woman I won't go into too much detail about lest I give away too much about the plot, other than to say Bailey figures out someone's trying to frame him.

Well, it's in part that I don't want to reveal plot twists, and partly because I Love Trouble is a fairly confusing movie, with an origin that Eddie Muller very helpfully explained in his intro and outro to the movie. The writer, Roy Huggins (who would go on to a very successful career writing and producing for TV), wanted to hone his writing skill by writing a character that emulated private eye Philip Marlowe very closely. To this. Huggins also added a lot of cynical humor. This humor was tailor made for Glenda Farrell, who plays the part of Bailey's secretary/girl Friday. Unsurprisingly, she runs with it.

I Love Trouble is decidedly lesser noir, but it's definitely watchable.

New Year's programming briefs

It's hard to believe that another year has come to an end, and that it's about a month until the blog celebrates its 15th anniversary. This year saw fewer posts than usual, largely because I took a break over the summer after my father fractured his hip and was laid up. I won't be surprised if there's another smaller break in 2023, since we've been trying to move to a smaller house in a more accessible area, and it's looking as if that move is finally going to take place in a few months. I'm probably going to lose whatever is on my DVR and have to start over with whichever cable provider we end up going with, if we don't cut the cord entirely. I'm intending to put up a full-length review later in the day, which should be the 300th and final post for 2022.

But, programming still goes on. TCM is doing two programming ideas for the New Year's Eve holiday that it's done quite a few times before. First, starting at 11:00 AM, they've got all of the That's Entertainment! movies, along with That's Dancing. Then, for prime time, we get all six of the Thin Man movies, probably because the first one is set in the Christmas/New Year's season.

I'm always astonished by how long the FXM Retro programming block has trundled along, and it looks as though that's continuing into 2023. There are, it looks like, a couple of movies coming up in the first week of 2023 that I don't think were part of the previous programming rotation at the beginning of October. There's a Three Stooges movie I hadn't heard of, Soup to Nuts on at 6:00 AM on January 3. The following day, we get Sink the Bismarck!, a pretty good British co-production about the World War II attempt to find the German battleship. And somebody had the good though to string together The House on 92nd Street, House of Strangers, and The House on Telegraph Hill on Thursday, January 5.

I've mentioned quite a few times how I'm a soccer fan, so of course I noticed the passing of Pelé. But of course, he also had a movie connection, in the fun if messy movie Victory (also known as Escape to Victory, about a group of World War II POWs playing a game of soccer against the Germans:

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Another movie that's been sitting on my DVR for a little while and that I'd always wanted to see is The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. I think it was run in October as part of the whole Halloween thing, and while the movie opens up on Halloween, it isn't really a horror movie at all, but more of a quiet thriller.

Jodie Foster, who was 13 at the time she made this movie, plays Rynn Jacobs, a 13-year-old girl living in a rented house in a small seaside town in Maine with her father, who coincidentally seems to be absent all the time. It doesn't take much to figure out that Dad is actually dead, and that Rynn is remarkably independent and mature for her age, and a shockingly good liar, even though pretty much everybody around her seems to suspect that something isn't right. After all, she doesn't go to school, and as mentioned, her father is never around.

Among the people who know something is up and want to talk to Dad is Cora Hallett (Alexis Smith), who owns the house and has rented it out to the Jacobses. Now, she rented it out to them before Dad died, as Dad was apparently able to pay three years' rent up front, as well as leaving Rynn a substantial sum of money that she has in the form of travelers' checks in a safe deposit box in the bank. But Cora unsurprisingly still wants to know what Rynn is up to all day.

Also showing up, and curious about Rynn, is Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen). He's Cora's son, and he has a back story that is hinted at and slowly revealed over the course of the movie, although it's pretty clear from the outset that Frank is a fairly malevolent figure. And just wait and see what he does over the course of the movie! But we're getting ahead of ourselves, and this is something I don't want to give away.

On one of Cora's visits to the house, she's looking for some drinking glasses, and decides to look in the basement, which is accessed via a trap door. On her way back up the stairs, Rynn lets the door hit Cora on the head, killing her! Rynn knows she's in danger of being found out, as in Our Mother's House about a decade earlier, and doesn't want to face the consequences of this until she's an adult at least. But now with Cora dead, Rynn has a whole new set of problems.

Fortunately, she meets an obliging young man who's willing to help. Not Frank, of course, but Mario (Scott Jacoby), who came down with polio as an infant before being able to get the then-new vaccine, and walks with a stick and severe limp as a result. Mario makes some money as a magician doing shows, but as a fellow outcast like Rynn, he feels simpatico with Rynn, which is why he's willing to help her. Of course, he's also willing to get her into bed with him even though she's only 13, in one of the film's more controversial scenes. (Jodie's adult sister was used as a body double.)

Frank misses his mother, which is why he comes back to the house. And he must have found his mother's house keys, since he's able to get in and discover enough evidence to know that there's a pretty horrible truth being hidden. It's a game of cat and mouse between Frank and Rynn.

For a film with a low budget, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is quite a good one. Jodie Foster's character may be a bit grating at times to some people (me included) thanks to all the lies she has to tell, but that's certainly not her fault. And, in this case, the lies are really more necessary than in some films. This is also not a mystery but a suspense, so figuring out pretty quickly tht Rynn doesn't have any parents around and won't isn't an issue -- think of Alfred Hitchcock's dictum about suspense. The producers also did a very good job creating a small town atmosphere by finding a small town in Quebec to substitute for the village in Maine. (Well, except for some of the seaside shots.)

All in all, if you haven't seen The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, it's definitely one you should make it a point to see.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

No Time for Love

Many years back, TCM ran the movie No Time for Love. I watched it, but a search of the blog claims I never did a post on it. Anyhow, a few years back I bought a box set of Claudette Colbert movies, and No Time for Love was on it. I remembered the plot, although not the title; now that I've watched it again recently, it's a good time to do a post on it.

Colbert plays Katherine Grant, a photographer who works for one of those Life-type magazines: human interest photojournalism and the like. She's a very good photographer, if unorthodox in her shot and framing selections, and that quality is why her publisher Fulton (Paul McGrath) has kept her around and fallen in love with her to the point that they're thinking of getting married.

Katherine's next assignment is to go underground, where a tunnel is being built and photograph the blue-collar men making that tunnel. It's difficult work, as the tunnelers have to go through a compression chamber on the way in and out to help keep mud from seeping in to the works while they're underway. (Washington Roebling, who designed the Brooklyn Bridge, got a serious case of the bends when an emergency forced him to leave one of these chambers early.) Anyhow, these men, led by Jim Ryan (Fred MacMurray), are the sort of rough-and-tumble men you'd expect at a worksite like this.

Indeed, their manners seem quite coarse to Katherine, who eventually tells Jim she's got a bedroom chair with more character than him. But when their work hard, play hard attitude results in letting off some steam with fisticuffs. Katherine takes a picture of it, thinking it would be a visually arresting addition to the magazine story. Jim objects, since getting in a fight like this will likely get him suspended from his job.

Katherine agrees not to publish it, but she doesn't destroy the negatives, and somehow a copy of the photo makes its way to the editors, who understandably like it and publish it not realizing the consequences. Poor Jim gets suspended, and Katherine feels bad about it, even though the two supposedly don't like each other.

I say supposedly, because Katherine is clearly taken by Jim's masculinity, as we see in what is probably the movie's highlight, a ridiculous dream sequence in which Katherine imagines Jim as some sort of superhero. She's falling in love with Jim but doesn't want to admit it. To try to disabuse herself of the notion, she decides to hire Jim as an assistant, telling herself that she's doing him a favor by giving him a job during his suspension.

It's fairly predictable where No Time for Love is going to end up, but it's certainly a well-enough made movie from all involved. It's only programmer length at about 83 minutes, so it doesn't overstay its welcome. But Colbert and MacMurray are appealin together, while the supporting cast does OK, including Ilka Chase as Colbert's sister and June Havoc as a chorus girl who seems more like the social class of person the MacMurray character would be interested in.

I'm glad that a movie like No Time for Love wound up on a box set. It's definitely a nice little romantic comedy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

American Ninja

About a year ago, I did a post on the documentary Electric Boogaloo, a movie detailing the Cannon studio when it was owned in the 1980s by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus. One of the movies the documentary discusses is one that I hadn't actually heard of before seeing the documentary, American Ninja. TCM showed it earlier this year in TCM Underground, so I recorded it for a chance to watch it.

The action is set in the Philippines, reminiscent of some of Pam Grier's early movies as I mentioned a few weeks back. There's a US military base there that the locals have a love-hate relationship with, as some of the locals harass the Army men when they leave the base on official duty. In the film's opening scene, a convoy is transporting various things, including the base commander Hickock and his daughter Patricia (Judie Aronson), when the convoy is ambushed in a seeming plot to kidnap someone, maybe Col. Hickok's daughter. Taking some initiative is Pvt. Joe Anderson (Michael Dudikoff), although he's not exactly following orders. The people doing the ambush start shooting, and Joe whisks Patricia off to try to save her.

Joe does indeed save Patricia, and as you might guess she winds up falling for the reasonably fit top-billed guy. But Joe isn't well-liked back at the base, since a couple of the soldiers died in the incident. However, he earns their respect when he shows off his fighting skills, which he learned as an adolescent even though he doesn't quite remember how he learned them. He was a nasty little juvie, apparently, as a judge gave him the opportunity of going into the army or going to jail.

Meanwhile, when he takes Patricia out for a clandestine date off-base, he's discovered by Sgt. Rinaldo. This is a problem in and of itself in that it's a breach of the rules. However, it's a bigger problem in that Rinaldo is there to meet Victor Ortega, a black marketer fencing weapons Rinaldo takes from the base and selling them for a higher price. No wonder Rinaldo doesn't want Joe learning about this.

Rinaldo has Ortega's men try to bump off Joe. Ortega's men are... ninjas, trained by the best of them all, the Black Star Ninja! But of course they're going to be no match of Joe since he's the hero of the movie and you can't imagine Golan and Globus giving audiences a sad ending. But it's going to get more complicated along the way. Patricia believes Joe when he tells her what's going on, since after all she saw part of it herself. But what she doesn't realize is that her father is in on the black marketeering!

American Ninja is ludicrously bad, but you can see why it was a financial success for Cannon as it's just so much fun despite -- or more really because of -- it's badness. Dudikoff can't act; the fight scenes aren't all that much; and the plot strains credulity even more than Pam Grier's Philippines movies did. But I found myself laughing at how ludicrous it all was, which is a good thing.

That having been said, American Ninja is probably the sort of movie you'd want to watch together with a bunch of your friends so you can have fun together laughing at how bad it all is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

TCM's National Film Registry night

I mentioned a week and a half back that I missed the Library of Congress' announcement of which films were being selected for the National Film Registry this year by a couple of days. TCM has for several years had a night of programming dedicated to highlighting some of the films selected that year. This year, that programming is tonight.

TCM has selected five of the movies to show, and unsurprisingly, they've decided to go with a somewhat more commercial selection, with the three movies closest to classic Hollywood, and two older documentaries; none of the more recent stuff, although I have a feeling they wouldn't have been able to get the rights to the Marvel Comics movie Iron Man which was selected. The five choices are:

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade, at 8:00 PM;
Titicut Follies, a documentary about an institution for the criminally insane, at 10:00 PM;
The blaxploitation movie Superfly at 11:30 PM;
Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, a look at the coming out stories of gays and lesbians a half century ago, at 1:15 AM; and
Jose Ferrer's Oscar-winning turn in Cyrano de Bergerac, which pretty much every news story I saw mentioned Ferrer ticking off the right demographic box, at 3:45 AM.

TCM's page mentioning this year's selections doesn't mention tonight's programming at all; I'm assuming it was written before they decided which movies to show. It also doesn't mention whether anybody involved with the Registry will be sitting down with Ben or whoever is hosting to talk about the selections. TCM ran a documentary a few years back about the selection process.

In semi-related news, I don't think I saw any night of movies this month dedicated to people who died during 2022 the way they've done in past years; that is, people who weren't necessarily worthy of an entire night's tribute of their own during the year each getting one of their movies spotlighted.

Monday, December 26, 2022

After the Fox

Another person who was honored in Summer Under the Stars this past August was Peter Sellers, which gave me the chance to record a couple of his movies that I had not seen before. Among these is After the Fox, which I recently watched.

After an opening credits sequence that confirmed my suspicion that the titles were designed by Maurice Binder, we get into an establishing scene to set up the main part of the story. Among the great heists ever committed is an Egyptian bullion robbery, masterminded by a man named Okra (Akim Tamiroff). However, having robbed the bullion, there's a problem: How do they actually move it so they can get the money that it's worth? Interpol is on the case, and they know that the robber is going to need somebody to get it into Europe. The criminal who would seem to have the greatest capacity to do it is Aldo Vanucci (Peter Sellers), nicknamed "The Fox", but he's currently in prison.

Not for long, His gang breaks him out, and he goes home to his mother and his sister Gins (Britt Ekland, who was Sellers' real-life wife at the time). There, he finds out that his sister has a scandalous job -- she's an actress, horror of horrors! However, this and another event helps give Aldo an idea.

Aldo has decided to take on the job of smugling the bullion into Europe because he wants to give his sister a respectable job, yet doesn't know how to do it until he sees another actor, Tony Powell (Victor Mature). Tony is the stereotype of the American who is better known for his name than being a truly good actor, and going to Europe for the big pay check. When Tony goes out on the streets of Rome, he's mobbed by Italians who are fans of old Hollywood movies and have seen Powell's work. (The movie actually uses snippets of one of Mature's old movies, Easy Living to show Powell's old work.)

Aldo, having seen this, realizes that he can smuggle the bullion into Italy under the guise of making a movie about smuggling gold! Everybody else involved will think that they're acting out a scene from a movie, not knowing that what they're handling is real gold and not prop gold. Posing under the name of Federico Fabrizi, Aldo goes to a small seaside fishing village where the boat carrying the bullion can anchor offshore, and gets pretty much the entire population of the town to play extras in the movie. After all, they're so star-struck that they want to be in the movie. Likewise does Tony Powell, who thinks it will be great to be in something so avant-garde.

The only person who realizes the obvious is Tony's agent, Harry Granoff (Martin Balsam). You'd think that the residents of this little Italian town would have heard of a "Federico Fabrizi" if there were an actual famous director by this name and recognize that this is an impostor. But for whatever reason they go along with the con, with only Harry suspecting Fabrizi might not be real. The question then becomes whether those Italian authorities from outside the village, not involved with the fake movie, will find out what's going on and catch Aldo before he can get away with robbery.

I've long felt that from Dr. Strangelove on, a little bit of Peter Sellers goes a long, long way. That's certainly the case here. The comedy is designed to be mostly a farce, with a bit of social commentary courtesy of director Vittorio De Sica (who even appears as himself) about greed messing up "art". But Sellers has a tendency to be too forceful in his comedy to the point that for me at least, it can become grating and obnxious. Martin Balsam follows along in this line. Perhaps surprisingly, the acting honors go to Mature, parodying his own image. Like Broderick Crawford a decade later in A Little Romance, Mature looks like he's having a blast skewering the idea of the Hollywood star.

After the Fox may not be for everybody, especially if, like me, you're not the biggest fan of Peter Sellers. But if you do like Sellers' work, then I think you'll enjoy After the Fox.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Long Voyage Home

Another movie that's been on my DVR for a while is The Long Voyage Home. Recently I sat down to watch it.

It's the start of the European theater of World War II, although the US is not yet involved in the war. The Glencairn is a British merchant ship which, at the start of the movie is in the British West Indies, about to make a trip up the coast to the US. The crew hails mostly from the British Isles, with Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell) being the sort of leader of the gang, if you can call a group of friends like this one that has a leader. There are also a couple of Swedes in the crew, Axel (John Qualen) and Olsen (John Wayne).

The movie is based on four one-act plays by playwright Eugene O'Neill, so the movie is more of an episodic movie than one that has a fully-fledged plot. The first of the episodes involves the crew trying to get womenfolk on board because even seamen need intimacy with women once in a while. After that, the ship picks up its cargo, and the captain does something the sailors don't like, which is telling them all shore leave is being cancelled. That's because the cargo is munitions, and it's imperative that the Germans don't find out about the munitions. With the war on, German U-boats are goin gafter British shipping, and frankly any shipping that might be headed for the UK.

Obviously, the sailors don't like the danger, but there's not much they can do about it. Or maybe there is. Smitty (Ian Hunter), one of the sailors, is acting suspiciously, going into the radio room, seemingly not keeping the blackout, and keeping a secret locked box underneath his mattress. So the other crewmen think that perhaps Smitty might be a spy. They confront him and find out.... Well, I'm not going to give that part of the story away.

Eventually, the ship does make it to the UK, where Olsen says that he wants to get back to Sweden and dry land, because he grew up on a farm and hasn't been back home in ten years, having spent his life on the open sea. Now would be a good time to go home, especially with the war on. But ship owners need crew, especially with a war on, and they try to get the sailors to sign up again for the film's final act.

I mentioned before that The Long Voyage Home was based on four one-act plays, which Eugene O'Neill wrote about his experiences during World War I. Director John Ford moves the action forward to World War I, which is a good move, since it keeps the action more current, at least in terms of what contemporary audiences would have been watching. For me, the episodic nature of the movie didn't quite work, although it's a movie that is extremely competently made. The performances are good, and Ford's direction is good as well. I just wish the script were more of a coherent whole.

Other people, however, aren't going to have a problem with the episodic nature of this one. I certainly didn't have any problems with another episodic film based on an O'Neill play, Ah, Wilderness!. So definitely give this one a watch.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Woman Who Shot Liberty Valance

Raquel Welch was honored in Summer Under the Stars this past August. One of her movies that I hadn't seen before was Hannie Caulder, so I recently sat down to watch it in order to be able to do a review on it here.

Welch plays Hannie Caulder, a woman who lives in an isolated part of the old west with her husband, who manages one of the changing stations for a stagecoach company. The Clemens brothers: Rufus (Strother Martin), Frank (Jack Elam), and Emmett (Ernest Borgnine) are an outlaw gang robbing banks. After one of their heists goes wrong, they make a getaway, which is how they wind up at the Caulder station. That's very bad news for the Caulders, as the Clemens brothers kill Hannie's husband before raping her and leaving her for dead when they set the place on fire.

Although they leave her for dead, you know she's going to survive, since all of this happens in the first reel of the movie, and we wouldn't have a movie if Hannie dies right at the beginning. Or, at least, we'd have a much different movie than the one we do. Hannie survives, after which she meets Thomas Price (Robert Culp). Price is a bounty hunter, which means that he has to use a gun to capture the bad guys. So that's two skills Hannie would like: how to find bad guys, and then how to kill them. Because, having been raped by the Clemens brothers, she sure wants revenge, and who can blame her.

Price isn't too sanguine about the idea, since Hannie doesn't know how to use a gun. He also knows that the sort of quest she wants to go on is something that's going to change her, and not for the better. But Hannie isn't to be stopped in her desire to get the Clemens brothers. With that in mind, Price takes her to a coastal cottage where Bailey (Christopher Lee) lives. Bailey is a gunmaker, and Price recommends using Bailey to make the gun that Hannie can then use to try to kill the Clemens brothers, she needing a gun specifically designed for a woman's physical needs. Price also tries to teach Hannie how to act in a gunfight, since it requires different skills from just target shooting.

Still, Hannie has difficulty with all of this, as we see when a different gang approaches the house, resulting in a gunfight in which Hannie does not acquit herself well, at least not by Price's standards, which to be fair to him are a life and death matter. You do want to survive the gunfight after all, don't you?

The Clemens gang are still around, and when Price and Hannie find out where they are, both of them follow the gang for the final showdown, ending the movie in a fairly compact time just under 90 minutes.

Having said that, Hannie Caulder feels a lot like something that would have worked better as an episode of something in one of those old TV westerns where a main character teaches a guest-starring Welch how to win a gunfight. It feels like there's surprisingly little going on in the movie. Not that it's a bad movie, just that it's fairly lightweight. Raquel Welch felt she never got good enough opportunities because she was typecast as a sex symbol, and she and her then husband made this one independently in order to showcase her in something more serious. Welch does show that she's a more capable actress than she's often given credit for, and, given the right script, probably could have been successful at least in supporting roles in more serious stuff.

Hannie Caulder isn't a great movie, but it's certainly a watchable enough movie.

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Muppets Take Manhattan

TCM ran The Muppets Take Manhattan a few months back, and I recorded it, never actually having seen it before. The Epix family of channels has it now, and tomorrow (Christmas Eve) at 1:15 PM would be a good time for a family to watch it.

The movie starts off with the ,uppets in college, which seems a bit odd considering that the TV show had them as backstage stage performers and then the first movie was if memory serves the back story of how they got famous. But then, I don't think there's supposed to be much continuity in these movies from one to the next anyway, other than the relationship between Kermit and Miss Piggy. Kermit has written the senior revue, Manhattan Melodies and all the muppets perform it for the human students who all love the revue. They graduate, and Kermit thinks it would be a good idea to try to make it in New York with this revue.

To be honest, the revue reminded me of one of the early musical numbers in 42nd Street, where the producer or one of the assistants tells the cast that the way they're performing one of the songs would be good... for 1905. Manhattan Melodies is something that would have fit right in in an earlier generation before someone like Andrew Lloyd Webber. But don't that let stop Kermit and his friends.

What does stop them is the need to eat in order to survive. They wind up at a Manhattan diner, run by Pete (Louis Zorich) with his daughter Jenny (Juliana Donald) as waitress and, surprisingly, a bunch of muppet rats as fellow staff. The muppets don't really have the money to pay for the food, and that ultimate lack of money means the group is going to have to split up and get regular jobs while Kermit tries to sell the musical to a Broadway producer, at which point he'll bring them back together to do the show.

Surprisingly, Jenny, who is studying fashion design, takes a friendly liking to Kermit, and Pete is even more surprisingly sympathetic. He lets Kermit work at the diner, while Jenny and the rats come up with schemes that might get the musical noticed but wind up backfiring. Miss Piggy, meanwhile, is the only one of the group who has stayed in New York, where she spies on Kermit, being jealous of his relationship with Jenny.

Amazingly, there is a producer who likes Manhattan Melodies. Well, not quite. Bernard Crawford (Art Carney) is a famous producer who apparently told his son Ronnie (Lonnie Price) that he would help fund Ronnie's first attempt at producing a musical. Ronnie sees the script to Manhattan Melodies and likes it, even though Dad realizes it needs a lot of work. Still, there is that promise, so Ronnie gets to greenlight the musical, except that it has to go on stage in two weeks.

Worse is that after Kermit calls to get the band back together, he gets hit by a car, resulting in a case of amnesia. Will he be reunited with the other muppets in time for opening night? Will he ever remember who he is? Well, since this is a muppet movie, you have to expect a happy ending.

To be honest, the plot is surprisingly thin, with more of the script being given over to sketches portraying the individual muppets' development after they strike out on their own. That, and a couple of sequences involving the Kermit/Miss Piggy relationship. Still, the movie mostly works. As always, there's going to be a lot for kids to enjoy, but also enough grownup humor that the adults will enjoy but will go over kids' heads. Jim Henson had an acerbic sense of humor, if you've ever seen the Wilkins Coffee ads. Plus, there are cameos that kids probably didn't recognize 40 years ago, and almost certainly won't today. And, thankfully, the movie doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Muppets Take Manhattan is a nice entry in the muppet series, and one that definitely deserves watching.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #441: Winter Sports

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the first day of winter, the theme is Winter Sports. It's another one that's not overly difficult, with the biggest challenge being whether or not I've used the movies before. In one case, I did have to check. But you also get a bonus short this week.

I Met Him in Paris (1937). Claudette Colbert is engaged to Lee Bowman, but wants to take a trip to Europe before settling down and marrying. In Paris, she meets Robert Young, who is married but doesn't tell her, and Young's friend Melvyn Douglas, who keeps trying to sabotage Young's plans to be with Colbert. Douglas eventually falls for Colbert too, with Bowman showing up for the climax. When Colbert gets bored of Paris, she goes to the Swiss Alps, with Young and Douglas following her and engaging in various sporting events, notably a bobsled run.

Downhill Racer (1969). Robert Redford plays a downhill skier who is trying to make the US Olympic team, although he's a bit of a renegade, the sort of trope we've never ever seen in a movie before, have we. Or the romantic interest (Camilla Sparv) who could derail Redford's chances. At least with all those scenes in European mountain resorts, we have some nice scenery to look at.

For Your Eyes Only (1981). Probably Roger Moore's best outing as James Bond, with the main story being about the attempt to get a British submarine nuclear guidance system from a sunken sub before the Soviets do. There is an extended section in the Italian Alps where Bond meets a young figure skater, and where they watch the biathlon where the East German competitor is really a hired hitman whose job it is to get Bond, leading to the obligatory ski chase.

And for the short, TCM just re-ran Snow Gets in Your Eyes (1938) the other day, about a department store worker (Roger Converse) who tries to win his would-be girlfriend (Virginia Grey) by entering the store's promotional contest -- an indoor ski jump, in an era when department stores had several floors and apparently high enough ceilings to run an indoor ski jump contest.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Joan Crawford doesn't quite meet Stephen King

A few months back TCM had a birthday (I think) programming salute to Margaret Sullavan. One of her movies I hadn't seen before was The Shining Hour, so I recorded it in order to be able to watch it later.

Joan Crawford is the nominal star here, not Sullavan, although it's a bit more of an ensemble cast as the two male leads are just as important and we see one of them first. That one is Robert Young, playing David Linden. The Lindens must have become wealthy enough for them to be famous just for being famous, as David is flying cross country having heard the news of yet another marriage for his brother Henry (Melvyn Douglas). Indeed, it's the gossip among some of the other passengers on the plane, and the sort of marriage to an alleged chorus girl that David wants to stop.

In fact, the supposed chorus girl isn't quite a chorus girl, but still a performer. Olivia Riley (that's Joan Crawford) does the sort of finer dancing that you see when movies of this era visit a high-class nightclub and have a couple perform a ballroom type dance. They're nowhere near as good as Vernon and Irene Castle, or even Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but they're good enough to get gigs like this club where Henry saw Olivia and fell in love with her. Olivia, for her part, likes Henry as a friend, and likes his positive attitude. It's easy to see, however, why other members of the family might not approve of the marriage.

That especially goes for Henry and David's nasty sister Hannah (Fay Bainter), who you might think is channeling Judith Anderson's performance as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, except that this movie came out two years before Rebecca. But you wonder if Hannah ever loved a man, and that's why she's so damn bitter. Anyhow, she does her best to make Olivia feel unwelcome. The one person who has complete sympathy for Olivia is David's wife Judy (Margaret Sullavan). Judy feels that they're in the same situation, as Judy is in a marriage that in her view has become the sort of loveless marriage that is a trope of movies like this.

Meanwhile, the Lindens own a bunch of land and farm it, with Henry planning to subdivide some of it so that he and Olivia can have a nice house of their own. While that house is being built, one of the workers, Benny Collins (Frank Albertson), tries putting the moves on Olivia, which is a big mistake. Worse, it's David who spots this and stops it, which leads to him developing feelings of his own for Olivia, which may be mutual. That's bad for the marriage between David and Judy, and bad for the marriage between Olivia and Henry. But worst of all is that Hannah is still there, waiting for the right opportunity to drive Olivia away. And you won't believe how Hannah tries to do it.

Joan Crawford, as I understand it, felt like MGM was deliberately giving her poor roles in her last few years to try to get rid of her, which is why she felt Mildred Pierce, her first film at Warner Bros., was so important. Having watched The Shining Hour, it's easy to have sympathy with Crawford. The movie is a thoroughly silly potboiler, and I don't mean silly in a good way here. Well, maybe I do for Hannah as a character since she's so nuts. But everybody else is weighed down by the material. I wonder if that's because one of the screenplay credits goes to Ogden Nash of light verse fame. I wouldn't expect him to be good at writing this sort of movie. The actors do the best they can with the material, however. And, since this was made at MGM, it has extremely high production values. But if anything, it's the sort of movie that should be watched to study how films can go wrong.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Key (1934)

Another of the box sets that I picked up some time back is a four-film set of William Powell at Warner Bros., films he made before going over to MGM in 1934 and becoming a really big star with Myrna Loy and The Thin Man. At any rate, the last of the movies Powell made at Warner Bros, and the last of the four I watched off the set, is The Key.

The movie is set in Dublin in 1920, which if you know your history you'll know was during Ireland's war of independence from the United Kingdom. The British Army was brought in to try to quell the uprising, and Powell plays Capt. Tennant, a career officer in the British army. The British are looking for a man named Peadar Conlan (Donald Crisp), a leader of the rebels more in the political leader mold rather than the military leader mold, that is, somebody who would be an option to become the country's president after independence. It's no surprise the British want custody of Conlan.

To that end, the British have resorted to a curfew, hoping that if they can control the people's movement at night they might be more effective in their search for Conlan. One of the other officers who will be involved in enforcing that curfew is Capt. Kerr (Colin Clive), who is also an old friend of Tennant's and seems more like a spy than a military officer, in that he's got an apartment in Dublin where he lives with his wife Norah (Edna Best), and seems to spend a lot of time on patrol by himself.

Wouldn't you know it, but Capt. Tennant gets billeted in the apartment just below the Kerrs' place. Then again, it seems likely that the British would own the building and put a bunch of officers up in it, although it's much more glamorous than the officers' quarters you'd see in most movies. It's nice that Tennant will get to meet his old friend again, but there's a catch. Tennant also knows Mrs. Kerr, as they had a torrid affair before she married her husband. But she and Capt. Tennant still hold a torch for each other, and one night when Capt. Kerr goes out on patrol, Tennant and Mrs. Kerr rekindle their relationship.

Capt. Kerr finds out, and he's none too pleased, so he goes running out into the night all by himself and in plain clothes. This is especially problematic because the British have finally captured Conlan and sentenced him to death, so you know the Sinn Fein are going to be looking for reprisals. And having a British officer like Kerr running around town in a state of despondence is the the sort of person the Sinn Fein would have no difficulty picking up and using as a political pawn.

I have know idea if Warner Bros. already knew that Powell was going to be leaving for MGM, or whether they just never knew what they had in Powell. But The Key is yet another of his pre-MGM movies that has the feeling of being little more than a programmer. Not that it's a bad programmer by any means, but Warner Bros. didn't really give Powell the prestige treatment that he would get almost immediately at MGM being cast opposite Clark Gable in a movie like Manhattan Melodrama the same year this one came out.

Powell does well with the material he's given, although the Dublin portrayed doesn't seem anywhere as dangerous as the Dublin of later movies set during the Irish war of independence, even John Ford's The Informer just the next year. Unsurprisingly for Hollywood movies of this era, there's also a nice set of charactor actors in the supporting roles. All in all, The Key isn't Powell's greatest movie by a long shot -- those would come later when he moved to MGM -- or even his best movie at Warner Bros. But it's still an eminently watchable programmer.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Speak of the devil

It was only last Friday when I, not having much else to write about, mentioned that I hadn't seen the TCM Remembers piece for 2022. Wouldn't you know, but it was finally released on Sunday. I've tuned in a couple of times in the breaks between movies when I thought there would be enough time for it to air, but so far, I haven't caught it. It is, however, on Youtube:

I also mentioned the Library of Congress announcing the films selected for the National Film Registry this year. Several years back, TCM started doing a tribute to it. The first few years, this aired the night that the list was announced, which means they had to embargo the list. I don't know exactly how far in advance the interviews with the Librarian of Congress were recorded, but I don't think they were live. In any case, after two or three years of this the tribute got moved to either the end of December or early January. It looks as though this year the tribute is going to be five movies in prime time on December 27; I should have a post on that when the day comes.

I apologize for not having more to write about, but work has been crazy and I've been working obscene amounts of overtime, resulting in less time to watch movies to blog about, and less energy to blog about them.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Uncle Tony

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to blog about two movies that TCM happens to be showing back to back. The second of those movies is Mon oncle Antoine, which will be on tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM.

The setting is a rural Quebec mining town in the mid-to-late 1940s. Quebec audiences of the time the movie was made (1971) would have understood a lot more about the social and cultural milieu in which the movie is set than modern audiences, especially Americans, although Mon oncle Antoine is a movie that's easy enough to enjoy even if you don't know any of this stuff; it just won't have quite so deep a meaning.

In that town Jos Poulin is the patriach of a family, working at the mine which was the major employer and economic engine of the area. But he pisses off the English-speaking boss, which causes him to quit his job and leave his family behind for a logging came where he's going to work over the winter.

Fast-forward to the Christmas season. Benoît (Jacques Gagnon), not one of the Poulins, is an adolescent boy whose parents have died and who lives with his uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) and aunt Cécile (Olivette Thibault). They run the town's general store, which seems to be the only game in town. In addition, Antoine serves as the community's undertaker while Benoît is an altar boy at the local Catholic parish, in a time and place where the Church dominated social life. Benoît is growing up, and finding himself interested in women, notably young Carmen, who has been forced by circumstance to work at the general store just like Benoît has. There's also another adolescent boy who wants to watch a woman try on a corset and get Benoît to watch, too.

But the tone of the story really changes when Mme. Poulin, who lives out in the sticks even compared to the middle-of-nowhere town, tends to her sick eldest son Marcel on Christmas Eve. She discovers that Marcel isn't just sick, but he's died. So she calls Antoine, he being the undertaker, and asks him to fetch the body to prepare it for the funeral. Normally, Antoine would go with his assistant Fernand (Claude Jutra, who also directed) to fetch the body, but since Benoît is growing up, he wants to go along on the job.

It's Christmas Eve and a snowstorm picks up, making it difficult to get out to the Poulin place, especially since they go by horse-drawn cart, not being well enough off to have a hearse. Antoine keeps himself warm by drinking, and Benoît begins to realize that Antoine actually has a pretty severe drinking problem. It gets to the point that Anotine passes out from the drinking, and Benoît has to drive the horse back home. He pushes the horse to hard, and physics causes the coffin to fall off the back of the cart. Anotine is too passed out to help with picking up the coffin, and Benoît isn't strong enough to pick it up itself since there's a dead body inside. Worse, when Benoît gets back to the store, he walks in on Cécile and Fernand having an affair.

If that's all the movie was, Mon oncle Antoine wouldn't be a bad coming-of-age story. But there's also a substantial subtext, as I implied at the beginning. Back in the 1940s, English-speakers, especially in Montreal, were at the top of the economic class structure in the province (you may recall that several English-speaking Hollywood stars, including Glenn Ford and Norma Shearer, hail from the Montreal area). This explains the boss at the mine speaking English to the workers, and Jos commenting that he doesn't speak English. Politically, the province was dominated by a man named Maurice Duplessis (eagle-eyed viewers will notice the bathroom graffiti cursing Duplessis), who sided with business interests and was notoriously corrupt. He was also allied with the Church which, being the days before Vatican II, was very socially conservative.

There was a lot of chafing from the Francophone working class, although they were powerless to effect much change until the miners struck in the late 1940s, a move which drove a wedge between Duplessis and the Church. Duplessis would live and rule Quebec for another decade after that, and his death sparked what would become known as the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, which ultimate brought the idea of Quebec separatism and Francophone absolutism to the fore, at the extreme expense of anybody not a French speaker. (I have an acquaintance who's a member of Montreal's Italian community, who is seriously looking to join the exodus of non-Francophones out of the province one his children grow up, realizing that he's a second-class citizen.) This process was partly underway but by no means fully completed at the time of the making of Mon oncle Antoine, but as an outsider looking in it seems to me that the social changes of the early 1970s are clearly informing this view of the late 1940s.

In any case, Mon oncle Antoine is an excellent movie that should be easily understood even by those who aren't fans of foreign-language films, not being anything like the stereotype of a pretentious movie. It's one you absolutely should see if you get the chance.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

TCM is getting into its Christmas movie marathon starting tomorrow, December 18. It turns out that two movies on my DVR are coming up one right after the other on TCM, which is why the first post is coming a full day in advance. That movie is Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, which will be on at 2:45 AM on Dec. 19, which is between Sunday prime time and Monday morning.

Tom Conti plays Mr. Lawrence, actually a lietenant colonel in the British Army who is now a prisoner of war in Java in 1942, presumably having been sent there from Malaya or Singapore since those were British colonies while Java was part of Dutch Indonesia, not that that really matters for the course of the story. The nominal commanding officer of the POWs is Capt. Hicksley (Jack Thompson), although Lawrence has just as high a status since he's the one western POW who can speak good Japanese so he can converse with the camp commandant, Capt. Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto). Lawrence, however, is closer to Sgt. Gengo Hara (Takeshi Kitano) among the Japanese officers.

One day, the Japanese capture a British major, Jack Celliers (David Bowie), reminiscent of bringing Steve McQueen into the German POW camp in The Great Escape. Well, except that the prisoners don't really try an escape, since there are no neutral countries to go to, and this isn't an action movie at all. Yonoi plans to have a trial for Celliers and then have Celliers executed, but finds that Celliers seems to have the same sense of honor that Yonoi has.

That sense of honor is fairly strict adherence to the old samurai code, so when one of the guards screws up, Yonoi decides that the punishment should be death by seppuku, and that the western POWs are going to watch. Seppuku involves not only stabbing oneself in the stomach, but having a second ready to behead you if anything should go wrong, which seems like a really terrible duty to have to pull, honor be damned. The POW's actions at the seppuku, which they're forced to attend, ultimately results in Celliers and Lawrence both being put into separate confinement apart from the rest of the POWs and threatened with execution again.

Life goes on this way, with the feeling that perhaps everybody could ride out the war with Yonoi respecting Celliers, Lawrence and Hara having some respect for each other, and hopefully the POWs avoiding the sort of serious death march that other camps had. But Yonoi gets relieved of duty and the new commandant certainly doesn't like the way things are going.

As I said, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence isn't an action movie at all but more of a character study. This may make it less appealing to some viewers. It was also directed by Nagisa Oshima, a Japanese director who, as I understand it, was considered somewhat of an avant-garde director among the Japanese, and certainly generally less accessible to Western audiences who prefer mainstream movies than, say, Akira Kurosawa.

But for those who are more into foreign films, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a fine choice, filled with excellent acting performances, including (or maybe even especially) that of David Bowie, which may also surprise some people.

If I were going to recommend an Oshima movie to people, I'd probably start with Cruel Story of Youth, which I think generally has a story that's easier to get and has more going on. But Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is definitely worth watching too.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Briefs for December 16-17, 2022

I had been wondering when the Library of Congress was going to announce which films were selected to the National Film Registry, not having heard anything about it. It turns out the announcement was made on Wednesday. A few vintage films from the studio era got picked, notably Cyrano de Bergerac and Charade. There are a lot of selections that tick off one demographic box or another, and at least one that amounts to somebody's home movies, in this case jazz great Cab Calloway. There's also footage from the Mardi Gras of... 1898, which was found in a Dutch museum and restored:

I haven't seen TCM's annual parade of the dead, better known as TCM Remembers (2022). I'll also admit to not really having looked to see when there's most likely a suitable break between movies for TCM to run it. I did look on Youtube, and I don't see it there; nor do I see it on the TCM site. I assume it'll show up in the relatively near future.

Among the people who would be a last-minute addition to it would be Stuart Margolin, a prolific supporting actor on TV and in film, who died on Monday aged 82. He played Little Joe opposite Telly Savalas' Big Joe in Kelly's Heroes and, if I read the Hollywood Reporter article correctly, was the mill foreman who gets killed by Richard Gere at the beginning of Days of Heaven.

And in something that's not quite film-related, but still of interest to those of us who like old movies, I was somewhat surprised to hear a report on Radio Prague's English service last month, and repeated again the other day, about a book that has enduring popularity in the Czech Republic than it does in America, where the author is from: The Egg and I. The report does mention the movie version, including a brief audio clip from the trailer. The link above is a rough transcript of the report and has the option to stream the audio there. If you'd rather listen to the 10-minute piece, a direct audio link is here.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #440: Flowers in the Title

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 "Movies with flowers in the title", which is another one that's fairly easy. I had several films in mind, and decided to search the blog to see whether I had used them before. This got rid of a couple of films, but I still had enough left to do a post this week:

The Blue Gardenia (1953). Surprisingly, a search of the blog claims I haven't even done a full-length post on this movie, let alone use it in the Thursday Movie Picks. Anne Baxter plays a woman who, jilted by her husband, goes on a date with another man (Raymond Burr). She gets so drunk that she doesn't remember much of that night other than trying to defend herself from Burr's sexual advances. The problem is, Burr's body is found the next morning, leading Baxter to think she might have killed him.

Lilies of the Field (1963). Another movie that I'm somewhat surprised not to have used in the blogathon before. Sidney Poitier plays a handyman traveling through Arizona on his way to California. There, he gets waylaid by a group of nuns (led by Lilia Skala) who are refugees from East Germany. They think they've found just the man to build them their new chapel out in this desert they've relocated to. Poitier is skeptical, but of course they've got God on their side.

The Name of the Rose (1986). Sean Connery plays a 14th century monk who arrives at an Italian monastery for a religious conference together with his novice (Christian Slater). They arrive to the news that there's been a mysterious death just before their arrival that may have been suicide, but then again it may have been murder. Connery investigates, even though there may be quite some danger to him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022


Another of the movies that I recorded over the Thanksgiving free preview was Idiocracy. It's on Starz Comedy tomorrow at both 4:29 AM and 8:00 PM, as well as at least once next week. So I made a point to watch it and do a post on it here.

Idiocracy is another of those movies where you probably know the basic outline of the story. Goodthinkful people have feared for a long time that the underclass has more children and as such will outbreed them and take over the world. Over a century ago, for example, Lois Weber directed Where Are My Children?, which deals directly with the poor folk being given info on "family planning" so they won't have so many children, and the rich women having casual sex and then getting illegal abortions. In the scenario set up in Idiocracy, the result of the poor having so many children is that the collective IQ of the world goes down, which I suppose is a contoversial topic if you posit that intelligence is inherited.

In the present day of the movie, Cpl. Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) is a librarian in an obscure part of the Army who likes his job because it allows him to draw a paycheck while doing the least amount of work possible. But the Army has decided that Bauers is utterly average in every way, and that's just what they need for their latest top secret experiment. That experiment involves putting Bauers and a woman into suspended animation, Planet of the Apes-style, for a year. Bauers can't really protest, since he's got no family who will miss him, and has to take orders anyway. The problem is that the Army doesn't have a suitably average woman in their ranks. So they get Rita (Maya Rudolph), a prostitute who has some legal issues hanging over her, and pay off her pimp to get control of her for the experiment, in exchange for expunging her record. Rita is obviously even more unsure of this than Bauers.

Sure enough, the experiment goes wrong. The man who was running it gets arrested on sex charges, and since the program was so hush-hush, it doesn't get taken over by anybody, leaving Bauers and Rita to remain in suspended animation. Society evolves, or devolves, until future America, having no idea what to do with its garbage, has let it pile so high that the result is a garbage avalanche in the year 2505. The avalanche unearths the two suspended animation pods and opens them up, with Bauers and Rita looking surprisingly none the worse for wear. Wouldn't they have run out of nutrition?

Anyhow, Bauers tries to find out what's going on, and runs afoul of the law while doing so, which puts him in serious difficulty until a prison aptitude test reveals that Bauers is the most intelligent man left in America. This brings him to the attention of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews), who needs help with serious problems, most especially the food shortages. Apparently, corporations have taken over much of America, with one producing a Gatorade-like drink called Brawndo using that to water the fields, because Brawndo has what plants crave, namely electrolytes. Unbeknownst to everybody, Brawndo has such a high saline content that they're actually salting the earth so that nothing can grow. It's going to take an average man like Bauers to figure out the obvious solution, to use water on the plants.

But to get there is going to take some time. One problem is that Bowers wants to get back to what for him is the present day, figuring that sometime in the intervening 500 years somebody woul have figured out how to make a time machine. Frito (Dax Shepard), in whose apartment Bauers' pod crashed, is asked by Bauers to help him and Rita find that time machine. And, of course, Bauers is wanted by the law, especially when it takes more time for plants to start growing than an impatient populace wants. Rita, not having wanted to take part in the experiment in the first place, isn't so sure what to do, although she begins to like Bauers during the course of their time together. It wasn't Bauers' fault all of this happened.

But what the movie Idiocracy is really known for is the satire and the pop-culture references. Most of it works, and I was surprised at how many things in the movie are still catchphrases I hear. It's no surprise that Idiocracy has become a cult movie over the past 16 years since its release. It also has the good sense not to overstay its welcome, running well under 90 minutes.

If you haven't seen Idiocracy before, you definitely should. Just make certain you watch it on a premium channel. I first tried to watch it quite a few years back on one of the lower-tier cable channels with commercials, and so much had to be edited for content it was ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Private Buckaroo

Just about a month ago, I did a post on the Bob Hope movie Caught in the Draft. I was thinking about that movie as I watched Private Buckaroo recently.

The movie starts off at a nightclub where popular bandleader of the early 1940s Harry James is performing, together with the band's singer, Lon Prentice (Dick Foran). It's an excuse to introduce one of the movie's many musical numbers, but it also gives us an excuse to see the comic relief of the film, "Muggsy" Shavel (Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges) and Bonnie-Belle Schlopkiss (Mary Wickes), who are a couple, strange as that may seem. It's early 1942, so unsurprisingly Harry gets drafted into the Army, with most of the band following along because it's their patriotic duty. (You'd think that like Glenn Miller, the Army would have James leading an Army band, but nope.)

Among those who don't get accepted at first is Lon, since he's got a flat foot. On the other hand, young Donny (a 16-year-old Donald O'Connor) does enlist, lying about his age to join. Unsurprisingly, everybody gets sent to the same base for their basic training, with Lon eventually joining after getting his medical clearance somehow -- the movie is shorter on plot and much longer on musical numbers.

Among the women at the base are the Andrews Sisters, apparently either part of the WACs or doing USO-type stuff. There's also Joyce Mason (Jennifer Holt), niece of the base commander and living in the same house as her uncle; she winds up becoming a love interest for Lon who is the nominal male star of the proceedings.

Lon, for his part, has the same sort of attitude that Bob Hope did in Caught in the Draft, which I why I thought of that movie. Lon thinks military life isn't for him, and expects everybody else to adjust their expectations accordingly. And then he gets irritated when they send him to base headquarters instead of with the rest of the men in James' band!

That's more or less the plot, for what it is, which isn't much, and even thinner than a lot of the World War II musicals. There's also a running sequence of Harry James having difficulty playing the valveless bugle, including one with sheet music being held for him by Huntz Hall (his presence is why I'm guessing this got programmed in TCM's Saturday matinee slot in between all those Bowery Boys movies). And the musical numbers. The Andrews Sisters have several, including what is one of their most famous hits, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree". Surprisingly, they don't sing their other famous song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", even though that had already been written and premiered. One other musical surprises, to me at least, was the opening which had the song, "You Made Me Love You". Apparently the song was written all the way back in 1913, so Judy Garland's famous rendition sung to a picture of Clark Gable, was far from the original.

Is Private Buckaroo good? Well, it's a good example of a World War II B movie that was rushed into production to try to build morale. I can see audiences of the day really enjoying it. For people watching 80 years on, it's probably more of a curiosity, especially if they want to see what Harry James or the Andrews Sisters were all about.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Secret Ceremony

TCM recently put out a new book that's a tie-in to TCM Underground, and as part of the promotion, had the book's two authors on in prime time a few months back. One of the movies they showed as part of this block was Secret Ceremony.

Elizabeth Taylor plays Leonora, a woman who's been living in the UK for some time. Long enough, in fact, that her young daughter drowned in the country quite a few years ago. One day, while at the cemetery, Leonora meets Cenci (Mia Farrow). Cenci's mom died some time back but when she sees Leonora, she thinks of Mom. Cenci invites Leonora back to her house. Leonora figures out pretty quickly why she reminds Cenci of her mother when she sees a picture of Cenci's late mother. And, to be honest, Leonora finds herself thinking of her own daughter when she sees Cenci.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of complications. Cenci may have some sort of mental illness, as she's legally an adult but acts like she's much young, to the consternation of her two aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown), who look in on Cenci from time to time and aren't above taking some of the knick-knacks from the house. They wonder who this stranger is, and Leonora tries to pass herself off as a cousin of Cenci's mother.

And then there's Albert (Robert Mitchum), who is ostensibly Cenci's stepfather, in the mold of the Dirk Bogarde character from Our Mother's House. He may or may not have had an incestuous relationship with Cenci in the past, and Cenci seems not to want that to happen again. Albert, for his part, is a little bit rough with Cenci.

Things get really weird when Leonora takes Cenci with her to one of those fading British seaside resorts, and Cenci decides she's going to fake a pregnancy, a development that as far as I could tell came out of nowhere. And wouldn't you know, but Albert shows up again, leading to the movie's climax when everybody gets back to London.

Secret Ceremony made me think of some of those other late 1960s movies with older stars, made in a time just after the breakdown of the Hollywood Production Code when societal mores were really changing. Some of these movies, like The Big Cube, are gloriously awful and made more fun for wondering what the cast and crew were thinking as they made the movie. Secret Ceremony, however, commits a much bigger sin, which is that it's just plain boring. One gets the impression that the people involved thought they were making something deep and psychological, but instead it's just impenetrable.

Still, Secret Ceremony is a movie that developed a cult following, and you can see why some people might think they're part of a select club by watching this movie and talking knowingly about how great they think it is. So judge for yourself.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Play Misty for Me

Another of the box sets I've got is a seven-film set of Clint Eastwood movies that's apparently two sets in one: one of westerns, and the other of dramas. I've blogged about most of the films in this set, but hadn't done Play Misty for Me before, so I recently watched it to do a review here.

Clint Eastwood plays Dave Garver, a disk jockey at a small station in Carmel, CA, who has a nightly show taking requests from listeners and who apparently can afford a nice place on the Monterey peninsula thanks to this job. Well, actually, he does other work as a promoter, getting involved with the Monterey Jazz Festival and trying to get a gig financed by an older woman up in San Francisco.

Pretty much every night, Dave gets a call from some woman who wants him to play the old jazz standard "Misty", hence the title of the movie. One night after Dave's show, he goes to a bar where he knows the bartender well, and who shows up but that woman who keeps requesting "Misty", a woman named Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter). The two decide to go back to Dave's place and have a night of hot, steamy sex.

Little does Dave know that Evelyn is on the crazy side of the hot/crazy matrix, as she eventually starts doing things that anybody who's seen a movie like Fatal Attraction would recognize as giant screaming warning sirens. Unfortunately for Dave, it was still a good 15 years before Fatal Attraction, and crazy female stalkers must not have been quite the trope, so Dave doesn't get what's going on. (And to be fair, he has no idea Evelyn "borrows" his house key to make a duplicate.) The behavior gets worse and worse until Evelyn decides to slash her wrists in response to Dave's attempt to dump her.

Evelyn gets sent off to a mental hospital, and while she's in the hospital, Dave runs into a former girlfriend, Tobie Williams (Donna Mills). The two pick up their relationship where they left off, which is fine until Evelyn gets out of the mental hospital. It's obvious there's going to be hell to pay when Evelyn finds out that Dave is now involved with another woman. Hell, Evelyn even thinks Dave's maid is a threat to her and stabs the poor maid.

Dave is understandably worried for Tobie, not knowing just how much danger she's in. Tobie, you see, inherited her parents' house, and this being the Monterey peninsual, she can't afford the sort of house that Dave somehow can. Tobie has to take in roommates to help cover the expenses, and little does she know that her new roommate "Annabel" is actually Evelyn. Will Dave figure things out in time?

Play Misty for Me was Clint Eastwood's first movie as a director, and he already shows that he's a capable director, having learned how to do things by paying attention from all the movies he was on earlier in his career. The story is good, and original for its time, although it might seem a bit slow and dated with the intervening 50 years having turned up the heat on the genre. Walter in particular is enjoyable as crazy Evelyn.

While I said the movie is a bit slow, it might not just be because the stalker movie was a relatively new thing. In fact, there are a couple of sequences which pad out the running time and don't quite fit in with the rest of the movie. One is the sex scene played out over the Robert Flack song "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". I knew that the song had become a huge hit thanks to its use in the movie, but I didn't realize how it got used -- and misused, since the scene doesn't really fit in.

The other sequence is one that would have been great for its own movie. Eastwood was apparently able to get footage of the previous year's Monterey Jazz Festival, and inserts that into the movie with some cutting away to Dave as a music promoter. The jazz sequences would probably be great on their own as part of a documentary like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. Here, however, they don't fit in either.

On the whole, however, Play Misty for Me is a fairly good movie, and one that definitely shows Eastwood's promise. I'm glad it made its way to a box set.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

East of the River

I have a bit less that I've watched saved up to do posts on, only because I recorded a few things I planned to do posts on, only to start them and realized not only had I seen the movie, I'd already done a post on it. With that in mind, I looked through the films on my DVR and selected East of the River, which didn't seem familiar to me, at least not in the sense of realizing I'd seen it before. There are other ways in which it is familiar, of course....

The movie starts off in the late 1920s in New York. Mama Lorenzo (Marjorie Rambeau) is an Italian-American in New York who runs a pasta restaurant and has an adolescent son Joe who's always getting into some sort of trouble or another. This time, however, he's gone too far, and is threatened by the judge (Moroni Olsen in one of his many character actor roles) with being sent to reform school. Mama has an impassioned talk with the judge, who decides to give Joe one more chance. However, Joe got in trouble along with an orphan Nick, who is going to be sent not back to the orphanage, but to that reform school since he doesn't have a family to go home to. So Mama offers to adopt Nick and the judge amazingly enough agrees.

A montage shows that the two boys grow up, with Nick being grateful for his second chance in life, getting straight A's, and going on to college. Joe, for his part, continues his bad ways, eventually getting thrown out of school and heading west to California at 18, where he can continue a life of crime without his mother finding out about it. He's using the proceeds of his crime to help pay his brother's way through college, of course. (Warner Bros. had used this plot device in Invisible Stripes only a year before.

The law catches up with Joe (played as an adult by John Garfield), and he spends a fair bit of time in San Quentin. But he lies to Mama and Nick about where he is, instead getting his girlfriend Laurie (Brenda Marshall) to commit forgery for him so that he can keep sending money home. Eventually, Joe gets out, and just in time, as he's learned that Nick (played as an adult by William Lundigan) is about to graduate from college. So he and Laurie head to New York for the graduation.

Not that Joe is able to escape his life of crime. And he's in trouble, because the two guys who framed him are in New York. Joe is able to turn the tables on them, but this means he's a wanted man by them so he has to head back to California to lay low for a while, telling Mama he has to attend to the "honest" business he left behind. Joe makes the mistake of leaving Laurie behind, and as time passes, Laurie begins to fall in love with Nick, and ultimately decides to marry Nick. Joe finds out, and he's jealous. And a vindictive bastard. He threatens to reveal Laurie's criminal past to Mama (who loves Laurie like the daughter Mama never had) and scupper the wedding between Laurie and Nick if Laurie won't do Joe's bidding.

I've mentioned before that going back to the pre-Code days, Warner Bros. was the studio that was best at doing social issue pictures. East of the River isn't quite that, but it certainly fits into the mold of the lower-class urban drama and crime movies that those social issue pictures evolved into by the end of the 1930s. Of course, in James Cagey, then Humphrey Bogart, and now John Garfield, they had the stars to pull it off more than some of the other studios did.

At the same time, however, it feels like there's no new ground being broken in East of the River, and a sort of sense that this is a movie being made because Warner Bros. needed something to go on the lower half of the bill. There's not exactly anything terribly wrong with it, mind you, other than a decided lack of originality. It's the sort of thing that, a generation later, probably would have been pared down from 74 to 44 minutes and turned into a TV episode for some show.

East of the River isn't the best work of any of the cast members, but I don't think it's anything any of them should be ashamed of, either.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Ernest Saves Christmas

I recorded a good dozen or so movies during the Thanksgiving free preview weekend. One that I hadn't seen in a good 20 years was Ernest Saves Christmas. So when I saw that on the schedule, I recorded it to watch something this Christmas season. It's got several airings before Christmas, starting with tomorrow at 4:50 PM on Showtime Family.

The movie doesn't quite start off with Ernest (Jim Varney), but with a man who looks surprisingly like Santa Claus flying south to Orlando on Dec. 23. The reason he looks a lot like Santa is because, well, he is Santa Claus (played by Douglas Seale). He's even brought the reindeer with him (in cargo; Santa's flying commercial) and has his magic sack of gifts.

Ernest, meanwhile, is a taxi driver working the airport route, which is how he runs into Santa, almost literally. Having run into something else, Ernest has to pick up a passenger, and picks up Santa. Santa is looking for one Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark), who is a bit of a local celebrity in that he did a kids' show on one of the local channels and does charity work at children's hospitals and the like. The real reason Santa is looking for Joe is that in this version of the Santa Claus story, Santa really does get old. But somehow Santa has some sort of special knowledge that allows him to know who's going to make the perfect next Santa Claus. The current one knows that Joe is the right man for the job.

Not that Joe knows this. He's got an agent who's trying to get him a chance at Hollywood stardom, with a movie script that offers the chance of sequels. And it's not as if most people are going to believe that this guy is Santa Claus. Indeed, Ernest is about the only one who does at first, because he just loves Christmas to the point that he almost makes it obnoxious for the people around him. Anyhow, they find where Joe is supposed to be, but Santa doesn't have any real money on him. That, or ID, so he gets arrested as a vagrant. Which is how Ernest is going to have to save Christmas.

But Ernest can't do it alone. While driving back home through Orlando, he once again nearly runs into someone. This time, it's a young girl named Harmony (Noelle Parker), who in one of those 1980s tropes was a teenage runaway. She doesn't have any place to go after stiffing a restaurant, so she climbs into Ernest's car to get away. Once Ernest finds out what's happened to Santa, Harmony helps him get the man out of jail and then reunited with the reindeer and sleigh as well as Joe to see if Joe won't be the next man to take on the part of Santa Claus.

As I was watching this, I couldn't help but think of Jerry Lewis since I just reviewed one of Lewis' films. Jim Varney's comedy is, like Lewis', a bit of an acquired taste. It would be easy to find him obnoxious. At the same time, however, Ernest is a good-hearted person who just doesn't realize how much he's irritating other people, somewhat like the Ralph Richardson character in The Wrong Box.

Indeed, Ernest Saves Christmas is a movie that, as a whole, has its heart in the right place. It knows that it's not great art by any stretch of the imagination, simply wanting to bring people some cheer for the Christmas season. And for the most part, it succeeds in doing just that.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #439: Retro Chic

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 "Retro Chic", or movies that are set in the present day -- at least when the movie was made -- but have a strong retro vibe about them. I came up with two examples right away, and had trouble thinking of a third, until I had a flash of inspiration:

The Brady Bunch Movie (1995). A search of the site claims I haven't used this one before, which surprised me. TV's favorite early-70s blended family is back and it's 1995. The only thing is, while it's 1995 for everyone else, the Bradys still act as though its the early 1970s. This gives the writers opportunity to do a lot of fish out of water stuff, while including fan service calling back to various episodes of the original Brady Bunch. The plot involves a developer trying to buy all the land on the Bradys' block to the point of stealing their tax bills, with the kids trying to come up with a way to get the money to pay the overdue property taxes.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). A brief prologue sees Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) cryogenically freezing himself in the late 1960s, with British spy Austin Powers (also Mike Myers) volunteering to do the same in preparation for the day when Dr. Evil has himself unfrozen. Three decades later, and that happens, with Dr. Evil trying to take over the world. Austin Powers comes out of cold storage, acting like it's still Swinging 60s London.

Man of the Century (1999). Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier) is a reporter in late 1990s New York reminiscent of Harold Lloyd, who lives as though it were the 1920s. He even gets involved in the sort of scrape that you would expect in a silent-era comedy, while getting the girl at the end because, well, that usually happened in the silent comedies. Once again, there's ample opportunity to use fish out of water humor. This is one that the old IFC used to air when they were commercial-free, and actually aired independent films, which is how I saw this movie.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Family Jewels

Another of the box sets I've got is a ten-film collection of Jerry Lewis comedies, mostly from after he and Dean Martin split up. I'm down to one or two that I hadn't blogged about before, so recently I cracked that set open again in order to watch The Family Jewels.

Jerry Lewis is Willard Woodward, chauffeur and nominal bodyguard to Donna Peyton (Donna Butterworth, a child actress whose acting career never went anywhere). In the film's opening scene, Willard inadvertently foils a robbery. Meanwhile, we learn that Donna has recently become an orphan with the passing of her father, and it's time for the reading of the will. Donna's father had a whole bunch of brothers, it seems, as the will specifies that Donna should go live with five of them for a while, one after the other. After she does that, she gets to decide which of the five will become her new foster father. The five are, in order of their appearance:

James Peyton, the captain of a ferry boat out in the harbor, who has a ridiculous walrus moustache;
Everett Peyton, a clown who has judicously saved up his money in a Swiss bank account and who deep down inside hates children. He plans to retire to Switzerland so he doesn't have to deal with children any more.
Julius Peyton, a commercial photographer who is just a bit too meticulous in his work, making the photo shoots a slog for all of his photographic subjects
"Captain" Eddie Peyton, who has spent his time restoring a commuter-sized airplane at the local airport. During his segment, a group of little old ladies miss their flight to Chicago on the big jet plane, and wind up paying Eddie for passage, which is a problem as Eddie doesn't have many flight hours and the plane may not be totally airworthy; and
Skylock Peyton, a private detective who has an assistant Dr. Matson (Sebastian Cabot).

Now, it doesn't take very long to notice that all five of these uncles are played by Jerry Lewis as well. And, there's also a sixth uncle, "Bugsy" Peyton, also played by Lewis and sporting a painted-on five-o'clock shadow. Bugsy is already a gangster, which is probably why he was written out of the will. He's miffed at that, so he consistently tries to kidnap little Donna and bump off Willard.

It's also fairly easy to see which uncle Donna is going to choose. Or, more accurately, the fact that it's not any of the uncles who is the right man to be the foster father, as nice as four of them (minus Bugsy and Everett) are. It's Willard who is clearly the person who should be the foster father, although that's not allowed in the will. So how is the movie going to get to that conclusion?

The Family Jewels is another of those movies that gives Jerry Lewis the chance to put his own brand of physical and visual comedy on the screen, as he also directed it. And therein lies the problem with the movie. There doesn't seem to have been anybody around to edit out the excessess, or at least edit it in the right way. As a result, the movie is very much hit-and-miss, and unfortunately misses more than many of Lewis' earlier pictures did. Some scenes are good; there's one dealing with the in-flight movie on Eddie's plane (featuring a cameo from Anne Baxter). The plane hits turbulence, and suddenly the dinner scene in the Baxter movie hits the same turbulence. There's also a well-directed and well-choreographed sequence with a ROTC drill team.

On the other hand, some portions, like the Julius segment, go on much too long, and a lot of the gags are telegraphed. So the final result is a movie that might appeal to the people who already like Jerry Lewis, as well as a movie that's nice to have in a box set. But it's not the best of Lewis' work by any means.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Briefs for Dec. 6-7, 2022

I haven't been paying attention to the TCM schedule at all, thanks to being swamped with work. I didn't notice until this afternoon that TCM is running a documentary on composer Max Steiner this evening. It's going to be on at 8:00 PM, although I doubt anybody is going to read this post before that. Thankfully, as with a lot of these documentaries getting a premiere on TCM, there will be the first airing at 8:00 PM, one feature movie, and then a second airing of the documentary. With that in mind, we get Casablanca at 10:15 PM, followed by the repeat of the documentary at 12:15 AM.

Tomorrow is December 7, which means Pearl Harbor Day and the anniversary of the entry of the US into World War II. TCM is marking the occasion as always, with a bunch of movies related to the Pacific theater of the war, or at least the war as it affected the west coast. One thing I don't think I've mentioned before is the short Victory Quiz at 10:45 AM. It's a Pete Smith short asking questions about the war and military inventions in general. As one of the IMDb reviewers says, it's probably more interesting if you can watch with other people and see who gets the most right answers.

Slightly more surprisingly, FXM is also running a bunch of military-themed movies tomorrow, although not all of them are World War II related. The day starts with Thunder Birds at 7:10 AM, followed by the interesting Destination Gobi at 8:30 AM. Robert Wagner shows up for Between Heaven and Hell at 10:00 AM. Marines, Let's Go, at 11:40 AM, is set in Tokyo, although it's against the backdrop of the Korean War. Finally, there's Edgar Ulmer's final film, The Cavern, at 1:25 PM.

I was surprised and sadded to read of the passing yesterday of Kirstie Alley, at the age of 71. Alley was of course best known for her role on Cheers, but she was also a star of Look Who's Talking, one of those 80s movies that I have to admit I haven't seen before. She was also Lt. Saavik in the second of the Star Trek movies.

I actually do have movies to blog about for the rest of the week, or at least Wednesday and Friday, considering that I'll be doing a post for the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon on Thursday.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Buddy the Gee Man

I'm still busy, so I broke out one of my Warner Home Video released that I figured would have some extras on it to see if there was a short I hadn't done a post on. I picked the James Cagney film G-Men, and discovered both a one- and a two-reeler that I haven't posted about before. Since the two-reeler stars Bob Hope and I did one of his movies not too long ago, I decided to watch the one-reeler, a cartoon called Buddy the Gee Man.

The short was released in 1935, presumably as a tie-in to the Cagney movie which was released the same year although the print of G-Men we have today is from a re-release. Buddy, on having done a bit of research, was a recurring character who appeared in about two dozen Warner Bros. shorts up through 1935, so before the Looney Tunes characters we remember today. To be honest, I'd never heard of him, and with good reason, as I'll explain later.

In this short, Buddy is a federal agent, who is asked by the Department of Justice to go undercover at "Sing Song" Prison to investigate the conditions there and report back. Buddy takes his trusty dog, in a Sherlock Holmes costume, to the prison, which is populated by a lot of animal-like characters although Buddy seems fully human. Buddy finds that the current warden, Otto B. Kinder (get it?) is treating the prisoners terribly. And when Buddy reports back, Kinder gets fired and replaced by... Buddy!

Buddy then turns the prison into something more resembling a spa, with prisoners getting manicures and ice cream cones on demand, with the result that this is a prison people want to get into now. The end.

As I was watching it, I found it easy to see why Buddy and the other characters who predated Bugs Bunny and the rest aren't remembered. Well, part of it stems from which shorts wound up as part of TV packages. But it also has to do with the fact that, at least from this short, there's just nothing particularly memorable about Buddy. It's not just that these are 30s black and white cartoons; after all, Popeye from that era would become an enduring figure. There's just not much plot structure here, and the gags don't really work.

Having said that, it was interesting to see a forgotten piece of Hollywood's animation heritage. And at only 7 minutes, it's not like you're losing much time if you watch this.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Scent of a Woman

A movie that I've had sitting on my DVR for quite some time is one that's pushing 30 years old: Scent of a Woman. Recently, I finally sat down to watch it so that I could do a review here and free up some space on my DVR.

The Baird School is one of those tony all-boys schools in New Hampshire which have been around for well over a century and which has the scions of rich alumni making up a good portion of its student body. One person who isn't part of that crowd is Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell). He's from Oregon and his mother and step-father run a convenience store; Charlie had to win a scholarship and accept financial aid to be able to attend Baird. Other students, such as George Willis, Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman with even worse hair than he'd have later in life, and credited as Philip S. Hoffman), kind of put Charlie down as they're able to go off to a ski resort for Thanksgiving.

Charlie, however, needs to work over the holiday, hoping that he can earn enough to afford a plane ticket home for the Christmas break. To that end, he responds to an ad put up by Karen Rossi, one of the townies. She's looking for somebody to be a companion to her uncle Frank over Thanksgiving. Apparently, the Rossis are planning to visit the husband's family in New York, and Uncle Frank doesn't want to go as it's not his side of the family. But why is Uncle Frank living with his niece and her fairly young family anyway? And why does he need a companion?

Well, even if you didn't already know the plot to the movie, you might be attentive enough to notice that Frank has gone blind, for reasons that will be explained later in the movie. He's also an irascible bastard, although it's probably not the blindness that caused that. Nobody else has wanted to be Frank's companion for the holiday, and Charlie isn't so certain he wants to either. But then, he needs the money.

Meanwhile, back at Baird, Charlie also has some personal problems coming up. A couple of his classmates, who are much closer friends with George, decide to play a prank on the headmaster, Mr. Trask (James Rebhorn), which involves putting up a balloon on a lamppost. Charlie and George see these guys putting up the balloon, as does an older female employee who, because of her bad eyesight, isn't able to figure out what exactly is going on. But when the prank is pulled off, she knows that there were a couple of guys involved and that, more importantly, Charlie and George might be witnesses. So Trask starts putting the screws to Charlie and George to name names. George has a wealthy father and can possibly pull strings to get off, but Charlie doesn't have the power.

And if that's a downer to Charlie's Thanksgiving, it's going to get a whole lot more messy for him. Frank is Lt. Col. Frank Slade, US Army (Ret.), so he has a fierce sense of honor and duty, which includes not necessarily snitching on people. An in addition to being an irascible bastard, he's also a manipulative SOB. So before he knows it, Slade has arranged for a taxi to take the two of them to the airport to take the puddle-jumper to New York for a Thanksgiving weekend on the town that Karen knows nothing about.

And then there's the real reason for the trip to New York. Frank, having lost his eyesight thanks to his negligent handling of hand grenades, has decided that he's going to have one final blowout before shooting himself to death. When Charlie finds out about this, he's understandably horrified. But how can he stop a man determined to kill himself? Of course, this being a Hollywood movie, Charlie and Frank are going to learn from each other and, well, come to some sort of resolution.

The big problem with Scent of a Woman, and one that I see some contemporary reviewers had, is that the movie moves too sedately and goes on way too long. It's a little over 150 minutes before the closing credits roll, but is the sort of story that really should have been written to run under two hours. There's not as much here as the running time might have you think. It may not help, either, that Frank is a fairly obnoxious movie for much of the movie. It's no wonder nobody wanted to be his companion. Pacino won the Oscar, although I can't help but think it's more of a showy role than one that really required acting chops.

Still, there's enough to like about Scent of a Woman to make it worth a watch, especially Chris O'Donnell being appealing as the young man and nice cinematography. It's just that I can't help but think the movie could have been even better.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Flanagan Boy

I've mentioned before that there are quite a few British pictures from the 1950s that cast an American in one of the leads, presumably with the expectation that this would make it easier to get a distribution deal in the US. In fact, the Hammer studio worked out a deal with an American producer, Robert Lippert, to produce a bunch of these movies. There are a couple of box sets of the noirish films from this partnership that were released which I picked up. Recently, I watched one of the movies off one of the box sets, Bad Blonde.

American Barbara Payton plays the titular bad blonde, but we don't meet her for a while. The movie starts off at a carnival, possibly at one of those fading seaside resorts like we see in The Entertainer. One of the attractions there is a boxing show where the promoter offers average Joes the chance to earn a nice for early 1950s standards payday by lasting three rounds with one of the promoter's ringers. (Something similar is also a major plot device in the early John Garfield film The Made Me a Criminal.) Accepting that challenge is young Johnny Flanagan (Tony Wright). Johnny is a capable boxer. Well, he's actually more than that, as he knocks out the ringer. This gets the promoters' attention, and the pair of Sharkey (Sid James) and Sullivan (John Slater) decide to train him.

But if they had the ability to train a truly talented boxer for the big time, they wouldn't be toiling away in carnivals. They need money to put up to offer better training conditions and also attract the attention of the real prizefighters. Enter Giuseppe Vecchi (Frederick Valk), an Italian who somehow made it to the UK despite the two countries having been on opposide sides of that little war less than a decade earlier and who has the money. He buys a piece of Flanagan, and Johnny starts training at Vecchi's nice big house somewhere out in the country.

Vecchi has the money to train Johnny, but he's also got something else: a trophy wife Lorna (that's Barbara Payton). She being a Hollywood beauty (the excuse given for her being in the UK is that she was a taxi dancer), she turns heads, and it's not long before she turns Johnny's head. The fact that Mr. Vecchi says he can't dance and encourages Johnny to dance with Lorna only makes matters worse. Things get so bad, in fact, that when Lorna shows up to Johnny's big fight, he can't think about anything but Lorna's presence, and gets knocked out.

Lorna, for her part, married for money and found out that she didn't love the man she married. With that in mind and knowing her power over men, she fairly quickly sets out to get Johnny to murder Giuseppe, as if there were some chance she could get away with it. At least she has a halfway reasonable plan, which involves Johnny heading out from the country house, giving him an alibi, only to make a detour to the isolated outbilding on the pond from where he can scheme to overturn Giuseppe's rowboat, as Giuseppe can't swim. Thanks to the Production Code, however, you know that Lorna and Johnny aren't going to get away with it in the end.

The big problem that Bad Blonde has is how derivative it is. Multiple reviewers on IMDb mention The Postman Always Rings Twice, and there's certainly a lot of resonance between the two movies. There are some other movies mentioned in the IMDb reviews, and I've mentioned some connections in this post myself. The movie is clearly treading very familiar pathways.

Taken on its own merits, however, Bad Blonde isn't really a bad little movie. It holds up well as a programmer, but it's little more than that. It's nice to see the British twist on American noir, as well as the slightly grittier production values these second-tier British productions seemed to have, as those fit a movie like this well. And if you like the genre, I think you'll like the movie. Just don't expect anything groundbreaking here.