Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Devotion (1931)

Another of the movies that had been sitting on my DVR for a long time before I finally got around to watching it was a new-to-me early talkie called Devotion. Note that this is not to be confused with the 1946 Devotion about the Brontë sisters; I notice that the date of that post is April 2021 which means that I had today's movie on my DVR for a good two years.

In this one, Ann Harding stars as Shirley Mortimer, daughter of an upper-middle-class London family who seems on her way to becoming a spinster, which seems like a bit of a surprise because it's not as if Ann Harding is homely or unlikable. Coming to the Mortimer house for dinner one evening is David Trent (Leslie Howard), a well-to-do London barrister. Shirley immediately falls for David, which is a problem for a bunch of reasons. One is that she's shy, but the bigger problem is that David is still technically married as his wife won't grant him a divorce, even though he has custody of the son.

But this gives Shirley an idea. She'll make herself look older, and get a job in the Trent household as the governess to David's son, since the son needs a governess. All Shirley needs to do is put on a wig and glasses and take a fake name, and certainly there's no way anybody would ever recognize Shirley, now going as Sylvia. You'd think Richard Basehart in Tension saw this movie and came up with the daft idea to switch out his glasses for contacts so that nobody would recognize him.

Yeah right nobody's going to recognize her. David might have suspicions, but he's not letting on, and can't prove it anyway, at least not without violating all the rules of etiquette that people in his social class have to adhere to. Not being in quite the same position is Norman Harrington (Robert Wililams). Norman is a painter, but also one of David's clients, having been the defendant in a murder trial who is acquitted thanks to David's brilliant defense. After the trial, Norman sees Shirley/Sylvia, and sees a few strands of hair peeking out from under the wig. Norman immediately figures things out, and draws a sketch of "Sylvia" that looks remarkably like beautiful Shirley.

This confirms David's suspicions. He's more than willing to fall in love, but as mentioned, he's still got that estranged wife, and you just know she's going to show up. Meanwhile, Norman has decided that Shirley would be a perfect model for him. As he's sketching her, he realizes that he's falling in love, but isn't so certain he wants a wife since his trial was for the murder of his previous wife. It wouldn't do to take a new wife so quickly, even if Norman didn't know Shirley until after the trial. But because he won't marry her, Shirley goes running back home, now with neither David nor Norman as a love.

Eh, you can probably figure how this is going to wind up. Devotion is the sort of movie that, from the one-sentence synopsis, made me wonder if it was going to be another knockoff of the Madame X story line. The synopses, after all, involve a woman disguising herself and seeing a man's son. But beyond that, Devotion is nothing like Madame X. Instead, it's a competent enough early talkie. However, it's also the sort of movie that, while watching it, is easy to see why it's one of those movies that's largely gone forgotten. The sort of societal values depicted here went out of date with the Depression, and if not then, then certainly during World War II. And the story is also a bit far-fetched.

It's not that high up Leslie Howard's filmography, or even Ann Harding's, although she wouldn't go on to have quite as distinguished a career as Howard. And spare a thought for Robert Williams. He does well here, and would do even better in his next film, Platinum Blonde. But he developed a case of appendicitis that killed him at the end of 1931. No film career for him.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Briefs for February 27-March 1

March begins on Wednesday, and that means the start of 31 Days of Oscar on TCM. Apparently, this year the movies are going to be grouped by genre, although looking at the schedule I don't get all of the genres at first glance. It's also mildly interesting that the Oscars are back in March, which is the reason the programming feature was called 31 Days of Oscar in the first place. I'm guesing that when the Oscars moved to February it was cheaper for TCM to keep the rights to use the Oscar trademark if they kept calling the feature by 31 days, even though it would be longer than a month. That, and they'd been using "31 Days" long enough that there was some collective consciousness of the term.

I looked ahead to the first several days of the FXM schedule in March -- of course one can only go ahead two weeks through the various listings sites -- and didn't see anything noteworthy being brought into the FXM rotation, although there's a movie or two like The Blue Max that I hadn't seen yet, such as The Manhattan Project. I don't know when or if I'll be getting to those, however, becasuse...

It looks like my move is getting a lot closer. We had a bunch of legal stuff to go through to sell the old house which was in a family trust and make certain the new place would be in the trust, and then get the trust set up to handle disbursing money since downsizing to a new place meant the new house cost less than we sold the old one for. I'm not the trustee of the trust -- one of my more responsible sisters is -- so I haven't been that involved in all this. But we closed on the new place a few weeks back, and have slowly been moving small stuff over the past few weeks until the trust can pay movers to move all the furniture and big stuff. I've actually freed up the DVR to almost 20% free, and a bit of what's on there is sports and a week's worth of Jeopardy! episodes, but there's no way I'm watching everything on the DVR before the move. I've actually got a couple of movies watched and not posted on yet, so there may not be any hiatus in posting as a result of the move.

A couple of notable passings. Producer Walter Mirisch died over the weekend at the venerable age of 101. Mirisch actually won the Oscar for producing In the Heat of the Night, and was one of the founders of the Mirisch Company, which produced a number of other famous films, including another Best Picture winnner, The Apartment. However, Mirisch wasn't the official producer of that movie, so he didn't get the statuette. I actually thought it wasn't until the mid-1960s that they stopped giving the award officially to the studio, but the Academy's database has the first named producer (as opposed to a studio) back in 1951, with Arthur Freed winning for An American in Paris.

Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent also died over the weekend; he was 92. A stage, screen, and television actor, Pinsent's best known role might be in the movie Away from Her, where he's the husband of Julie Christie, who has Alzheimers and falls in love with another patient in her nursing home.

Finally, in non-human deaths, there's the end of TCM Underground, which aired its last installment this past Friday/Saturday. It was going to be taking March off for 31 Days of Oscar, but won't be coming back in April. In some ways, this isn't much of a surprise considering that programmer Millie De Chirico was let go at the end of last year. That having been said, I wonder just how many people it would take to program Underground. The feature also kind of sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of what's on TCM, although I happen to think there's a place for a lot of that stuff when discussing the heritage of the movies.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Max of color

One of the movies that's in the current FXM rotation that I haven't blogged about before is The Blue Max. I happen to have it on DVD as part of a box set of four Fox war films, and since it's coming up again -- today (Feb. 26) at 12:25 PM and tomorrow (Feb. 27) at 3:20 AM -- so I recently popped the DVD into my DVD player and watched it to do a review here.

The movie starts off in 1916, which is the middle of World War I. Bruno Stachel (George Peppard) is a lieutenant in the German army, suffering the indignities of trench warfare and decidedly not part of the officer corps which was dominated by the nobility at the time. Bruno decides that the best way out of it is to try to get into the nascent air corps, training to become one of the flyboys although of course the Germans wouldn't have used a word like flyboy.

Fast forward to early 1918, and Stachel is indeed in the air corps. The best pilot in Stachel's squadron is Willi von Klugerman (Jeremy Kemp), who also happens to be the nephew of a big-time general, Graf von Klugermann (James Mason) back in Berlin. Willi is close to getting 20 confirmed kills, whould would make him eligible for a medal officially called Pour la Mérite, although it's commonly called the Blue Max because it's blue and the highest medal one can receive. Stachel sees this, and decides that he's going to set his aspiration on earning the Blue Max himself..

There's immediately a conflict between Stachel and von Klugermann for multiple reasons. First off, there's the fact that Stachel is a commoner, which von Klugermann, and to a similar extent their commanding officer von Heidemann (Karl Michael Vogler) considers gauche. Indeed, at one point Stachel seems to be spending more time trying to find a British plane he shot down instead of mourning German dead, although Stachel, in his defense, points to his time in the trenches and how nobody in the officer corps cared for all those dead soldiers in the trenches. And regarding that plane he shot down, it brings up the issue of "confirmed" kills. To get the Blue Max, you have to have those 20 kills confirmed, and there was difficulty confirming Stachel's first kill. That, and there's also a disupte over a kill that might have been by either Stachel or von Klugermann, and who can claim it.

But Stachel is a good pilot, and gets close to those 20 confirmed kills necessary for the Blue Max. All of this brings Stachel to the notice of some high up people in the military (and, by extension, the nobility). Notably, there's the General, who has some sympathy for Stachel but more because the General is smart enough to realize having a commoner do so well can be used for propaganda purposes. Meanwhile, the general's wife (Ursula Andress) has been having an affair with her nephew-by-marriage, and starts carrying on an affair with Stachel as well. Von Heidemann, however, sees the issue of who can claim the kills as a means to get rid of Stachel. On top of all that, the entry of the Americans into World War I is slowly turning the tide against the Germans, bring a whole different set of problems to the German military....

The Blue Max is a long movie -- 156 minutes on the DVD, including an intermission; since the first FXM showing is in a 155-minute slot I don't know if they're going to be including the intermission. It's also an uneven movie. The Ursula Andress character (not her fault, to be fair) and the whole sexual intrigue slows the movie down at several points. The flying scenes are lovely to look at, and I'm sure that fans of vintage aviation will highly enjoy this portion of the film, even if for me a few of those scenes went on a bit long. James Mason in his supporting role is unsurprisingly the best of the actors here, although the nature of the story doesn't demand that much of the rest of the cast for much of the movie.

I personally think I'd prefer The Blue Max if the screenwriters had come up with a way to fit the story to run around two hours rather than two and a half. Other people may have differing opinions, and in any case the movie is definitely another one that's worth a watch.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Shepherd of the Hills (1941)

During the last free preview weekend I had, over Thanksgiving, I recorded a bunch of movies. A lot of them were more recent, but off of StarzEncore Westerns I recorded the 1941 John Wayne version of The Shepherd of the Hills.

The movie is based on a book from the early part of the 20th century and had already been filmed at least once before, as a silent, although Wikipedia says there are substantial plot changes from the book which, in any case, I haven't read. John Wayne plays Matt Matthews, a man in the Ozarks who spends a lot of his time mourning his dead mother, and cursing his absent father, since Dad was nowhere to be found when Mom got sick and died so Matt blames the missing father for Mom's death. But this conflict comes up a bit later in the story.

This being hillbilly country, there's not a whole lot of respect for the government, specifically the revenuers, who harass the poor people for liking the wrong sort of alcohol -- they should drink wine instead like the good rich folk do. Jim Lane is one of the many moonshiners, living with his adult daughter Sammy (Betty Field). He gets shot at by one of the revenuers, but, in a stroke of good luck, another man just happens to be pasing through. That man, Daniel Howitt (Harry Carey), saves Jim's life and decides that he's going to think about settling down in this neck of the woods.

After Matt's mother died, his Aunt Mollie (Beulah Bondi) and Uncle Matt (James Barton) took over the old homestead where young Matt's mom and the rest of that part of the family lived. They haven't done much with it, however, because of young Matt's continuing to mourn for his beloved mother. Aunt Mollie, for her part, tries to point out that she did a lot of the taking care of he sister, since young Matt was too young to do so at the time. But I bring all of this up because when Howitt lets it be known that he'd like to buy some land here, Sammy suggests buying what had been young Matt's home.

This would also serve the purpose of giving young Matt a little bit of money to get started in life, which in Sammy's view would be perfect because she's in love with Matt and this would enable him to marry her. Matt, for his part, is aghast at the idea, because in his mind he can't escape the past and has no intention of ever selling his mom's house. (The one thing you can argue in his defense is that the house might be a good place for newlyweds to start married life, although it would have to be a different set of newlyweds from Matt and Sammy. Matt is going to continue to curse the world, especially Daniel, whom he sees as an interloper.

Everybody else, for their part, sees Daniel as a kind and generous man, willing to overpay for that house and even willing to donate money to see that Granny Becky Matthews (Marjorie Main) can get cataract surgery to restore her eyesight. That brings about the final dramatic conflict of the movie, which you might be able to see (no pun intended) coming a mile away.

The Shepherd of the Hills is a rather different movie for John Wayne. He had spent almost all of the 1930s making B westerns on Poverty Row before being made a star again with Stagecoach. It's easy to see why a movie like The Shepherd of the Hills would wind up on a westerns channel, although it's not a traditional western. There's also a magical nature to the movie that isn't like Wayne's work up to that point. But because of the nature of the story, that unreality -- like a story not bound by place or time -- mostly works.

Wayne, I think, is not quite rightly cast here; he does well with his material but after Stagecoach he always looked a little older than he was and the story really needs somebody younger. Young Matt needs not to have been an adult when his mom died, and the timeline doesn't seem to work here. But again, Wayne does well, as do the other actors. They're also well served by the Technicolor photography, which I think was a first for Wayne.

As I said earlier, I haven't read the book, and I haven't seen any of the other movie versions either. But this version of The Shepherd of the Hills stands on its own and is definitely worth a watch.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Get me that Stone Woman

I mentioned in one of the recent Thursday Movie Picks that I had just watched the movie < a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088011/">Romancing the Stone, and it fit the theme of that week, so I decided to use it and would be doing a fuller-length post on the movie soon. I'm actually a bit ahead in watching movies, so this post is sitting in draft for a little while before going up.

Kathleen Turner plays Joan Wilder, a woman who is successful as a romance novelist, but not so successful in romance in her real life. She lives alone -- well, with her cat -- in New York and cranks out those novels that are surprisingly big sellers, but doesn't have a man in her life. She does, however, have a sister, and one day she hears that her sister has been kidnapped down in Cartgena, Colombia, this being the era when cocaine exports from Colombia were much more in the news than they are now. Whoever kidnapped the sister wants to ransom her, and Joan is just the one to do it since she's presumably got the money from her books.

However, except for the money, Joan really isn't the person to do it. She's not street-wise, and doesn't speak Spanish, and she certainly doesn't know how to deal with the locals in a place like Colombia. And it doesn't help that there are people who know that she's arrived, such as Ralph (Danny Devito). He's looking for some sort of treasure, and apparently Joan unwittingly has information that will lead to finding the treasure, and this is something Joan's sister was involved with.

The best way to deal with it is to waylay Joan and get that information from her. TO that end, the destination plaques on the buses are changed so that when Joan thinks she's getting on the bus for the 20-hour trip to Cartagena, she's really getting on a bus that's going somewhere in the jungle. Joan obviously doesn't know at first that she's on the wrong bus, but it's certainly full of Hollywood's stereotypes of the sort of people who live in the rural section of a poor Latin American country. Eventually, the bus is stopped, and there's shooting.

But Joan is saved! There's an American soldier of fortune, Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), who's in Colombia for reasons that don't really matter to the plot, and he happens to be there presumably searching for whatever information Joan has. In any case, he saves Joan and they set off into the jungle to get away from both the criminals who want what Joan has, and the Colombian military, or maybe a paramilitary.

It turns out that Joan has a map that utterly improbably leads to the location of a cave where some ridiculously large gem has been buried. You can only find the cave if you fold the map just right, the sort of thing that might work in a Hollywood movie but again I can't imagine it working in real life, but there we are. They find the gem, but once again, but the criminals and the military are in hot pursuit, forcing Joan and Jack to go their separate ways and hopefully meet again in Cartagena.

Don't try to analyze the plot to Romancing the Stone. Instead, it's the sort of movie you should just sit back and relax as you watch it, preferably with some friends and a bowl of popcorn or whatever snack you prefer. This is a movie that's designed to entertain rather than to be some sort of high art. And it certainly does entertain, even if it does feel formulaic at times. Turner and Douglas work well together, and Danny DeVito is good as the bumbling henchman.

As for the title of this post? Well, Romancing the Stone was a popular movie when it was released, and Hollywood wanted to cash in on it. There was a more or less sequel made, Jewel of the Nile, while other studios made knockoff movies. Menachem Golan at Cannon did a remake of King Solomon's Mines, and one of his missives to the people actively involved in production was "Get me that Stone woman". They figured this meant a new young actress, Sharon Stone, and signed her, although a lot of the people involved with King Solomon's Mines claim she was difficult to work with. It was only later that they found out Golan really meant "Get me that 'Stone' woman", referring to Kathleen Turner from Romancing the Stone!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, February 23, 2023: Romance tropes: Friends to lovers (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's the final week of February, which means that we have one more romance-themed entry to the blogathon; and, because it's the last Thursday of the month, that means it's a TV edition. This time, the theme is "friends to lovers". It was a theme that I have to admit was a bit difficult at first, but ultimately I came up with three shows:

Frasier (1993-2004). Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) moves from Boston after the cancellation of Cheers back to his home town of Seattle, where he lives with his father (John Mahoney), who is retired on disability. Dad's physical therapist Daphne (Jane Leeves) and Frasier's brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) fall in love over the course of the series, and if memory serves they got married after Niles' divorce from his never-seen wife, although that would have been after I stopped watching regularly.

I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). Astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) finds a bottle that just happens to contain a genie named Jeannie (Barbara Eden) who is happy to serve her new master, but who seems to keep getting her master into all sorts of comedic predicaments. The two finally got married halfway through the show's final season.

Grace and Favour (1992-1993). Better known in the US as Are You Being Served? Again!, the series starts off with the death of old Mr. Grace, bequeathing the few people (the mens' and ladies' wear departments from the original series, naturally) still working at the store a country hotel in a rural part of England. The place is next to a working farm, and the farmer's daughter Mavis falls in love with Mr. Humphries (John Inman) along the way. During an appearance Inman made on US public TV during one of the many pledge drives stations have, he suggested that if there had been a third series of episodes produced, Humphries and Mavies would have been married which would have given Inman one more chance to dress up as Mr. Humphries' mother.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Another movie I had never heard of until I saw it show up on TCM and recorded because of an interesting plot synopsis was Brothers. Recently, I finally got around to watching it.

Bernie Casey plays David Thomas, a man who has some minor involvement in an armed robbery and gets sent to prison in Mendocino, CA, as a result. This is the early 1970s, at a time when racial tensions are quite high, and the black prisoners understandably chafe at the treatment they get not only from the white prisoners, but from the guards, who might be even worse. David isn't much of a radical at first, but he shares a cell with Walter Nance (Ron O'Neal), who is rather more radical. Thanks in part to Walter's presence and in part to David's witnessing of the racial abuse he and his fellow black prisoners suffer, he begins to beome more radical, helping to publish a clandestine newsletter for the black prisoners.

David's younger brother Josh wants justice for David, and thinks that the way to get it is to have help on the outside from a more respectable source. To this end, he approaches black college professor Paula Jones (Vonetta McGee). She reads up on the case and starts visiting David in prison, and takes up David's cause. Unfortunately, she also begins to get too close to David for the good of his case.

Things take a turn for the worse when the prisoners riot after one of their own number is killed. A guard is killed in the riot, and David is one of the prisoners assumed to have taken part in the killing, so he's put on trial. Josh compounds problems by showing up to the hearing with a gun and taking the judge and DA hostage, getting all three of them killed in the process. Paula has to flee California because she bought the gun (ostensibly for her own protection) that Josh took and used in the abortive hostage-taking.

I didn't know it as I watched it, but apparently Brothers is based relatively closely on the real-life story of Angela Davis (the Paula Jones character) and George Jackson (the David Thomas character), who founded a prison gang called the Black Guerrilla Family in order to deal with the white gangs he and other black prisoners faced. There's probably a very good movie to be made about the events, but it's something that's difficult to do because of the highly polarized nature of the story even 50 years after Jackson's death.

It would be all too easy to have the polemical nature of the story overwhelm the narrative of the film, and it's a trap that I think Brothers falls into at times. There are obvious points to be made about prison brutality, but sometimes they feel too obvious. It also felt to me as though the budget skimped on the screenplay, which is the weak part of the movie.

Brothers is definitely worth watching if you can find it, but it's also a flawed film.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Down to Their Last Yacht

Some of the B movies studios made could be really bizarre, sometimes delightfully so. Recently I had the chance to watch Down to Their Last Yacht.

The Colt-Strattons: Dad Geoffrey (Ramsay Hill), mom (Marjorie Gateson) and daughter Linda (tragic Sidney Fox) are a family who were in the Social Register in 1929. Of course, that was the year of the stock market crash that caused a depression. So like a lot of formerly rich people, they've been impoverished, having to get real jobs and biking to work. The only possession they have left is their old yacht which must have been paid for.

The Colt-Strattons have a yacht but no way to sail it. Nella Fitzgerald (Polly Moran) has a ship's captain, "Sunny Jim" Roberts (Ned Sparks), but no ship for him to sail. So it should be a match made in heaven. Nella plans to rent the yacht and invite a bunch of newly rich people who apparently need to get out of the United States to go on a cruise of the Pacific. There are any number of character actors here (I thought I recognized Tom Kennedy and IMDb says he was indeed uncredited as one of the passengers), but the only passengers we really need to worry about are Barry Forbes (Sidney Blackmer) and his companion Freddy Finn (Sterling Holloway). Nella doesn't want them on the cruise, but Barry has been pursuing Linda, so she lets him come on the cruise.

Barry doesn't really have any money, but comes up with the brilliant idea of having a casino night with Freddy gaming the roulette table so that the house -- in this case the Colt-Strattons -- can win and Barry and Linda will have enough money to get married. But just as Barry is getting caught at his deception, Captain Jim runs the yacht aground on a sandbar of one of the Polynesian islands.

The only thing is, this isn't any ordinary South Seas island. How it survives economically is anybody's guess, but this island, Malakamokalu, has a decidedly white Queen (Mary Boland) who's a bit daffy and seems to have various forms of death penalty for even the smallest of infractions, at least those infractions that displease Her Majesty.

Captain Jim deliberately ran the yacht aground, as his idea was to take off at high tide with none of the passengers on board, but all of their cash still on the yacht. The Queen, however, isn't about to let Captain Jim get away with that. She plans to get everything for herself and make the passengers effectively her slaves, with the exception that she's going to marry Barry and make him her king. Barry decides the punishment for one of the passenger's infractions shouldn't be the death penalty, but deportation by means of going back on the ship. The Queen agrees, but surreptitiously decides to have the boat rigged to explode because she wants to see an explosion (and presumably because the passengers deserve capital punishment).

In and among all this, there are several musical numbers. Most of the songs are sung by the cast as a more or less whole, with one or two characters at a time getting a sardonic verse. The finale on the island involves the islanders and not the passengers, and made me think of a very tame version of "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" from The Gang's All Here what with the swaying palm frond.

You can probably infer from all of this that Down to Their Last Yacht is pretty odd. There isn't much plot, considering the movie runs about 64 minutes including all the songs. Part of the Queen's hospitality for the passengers involves having them wear island clothes while doing their new jobs, so we get to see a bunch of paunchy middle-aged guys in wraps only covering the bottom half of the body. Who wanted to see that? The songs don't fit in, and the movie ends with most of the plot left unresolved.

So if you're looking for something coherent, you most certainly won't get it in Down to Their Last Yacht. But if you're looking for something bizarre by the standards of 1930s Hollywood, you might want to give it a try.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Hell Drivers

Another movie that's been sitting on my DVR for several months, which apparently got a DVD release in the UK but not in the US that I could find, is Hell Drivers. Recently, I watched it in order to do a post on it here.

Hell Drivers has a whole bunch of names that you'll recognize in the opening credits, but a bit surprisingly, the top-billed nominal star of the movie -- and certainly the movie's protagonist -- is played by Stanley Baker. Baker plays Tom Yately, a man who's been away for a year and looking for a job. To that end, he goes to Hawlett's, a trucking concern managed by Cartley (William Hartnell). Cartley is a tough boss, running trucks to take gravel for the quarry to the concerns that need it, expecting the drivers to put in a good dozen runs a day driving over roads that aren't particularly good. It also pays a low hourly wage, but with a piecework bonus, encouraging drivers to take risks to get in more runs. But it's the sort of job you could get in those days if you had a bit of a shady past. And Tom has that shady past, having actually been in prison instead of being abroad as he claims.

The head of the drivers is Red (Patrick McGoohan), a man who makes more runs than anybody else mostly because he takes a shortcut that everybody else considers too dangerous. Tom decides that he's going to challenge Red's record of runs in a day, and the conflict between Tom and Red is what drives much of the movie. They're clearly not friends; instead, Tom becomes friends with Italian-born driver Gino (Herbert Lom). Gino is pursuing the secretary Cartley's office, Lucy (Peggy Cummins), although he doesn't realize that it's a futile pursuit.

Meanwhile, Tom is hoping that he can make enough money from this job to provide some extra support for his mother and kid brother (David McCallum, in a small role), but Tom has a rather complicated family situation. He's also not making as much money as he'd like because Cartley keeps lookin for reasons to dock the drivers pay for treating the trucks too roughly. As it turns out, that's not the only way Cartley is stiffing the drivers, but that other info comes out as part of the film's climax.

Tom still vows to break Red's record, but Red is willing to stop at nothing, including sabotaging other drivers' trucks, in order to keep that from happing. This leads to tragedy not for Tom, but for another driver, and then leads to that climax.

Hell Drivers is the sort of movie the British were better at making than Hollywood was back in the 1950s. That's because, in my opinion, Britain didn't have the extensive studio backlots that Hollywood did, so while a lot of Hollywood stuff still looks studio-bound even while having a higher budget than British movies, those British movies have a rawer, more realistic look about them. Unfortunately, the lower budget also means that a bit too much time in the movie is spent on transport scenes that look like material was recycled as the drivers are going down the same roads.

I also mentioned the cast of well-known names. In addition to Lom, McGoohan, and McCallum, you can also find a young Sean Connery in one of his earliest roles as another of the truck drivers. There's also a bit part for Jill Ireland as a barmaid.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Top Speed

One of the movies that's been on my DVR for a while that I'm surprised never seemed to make its way to either the Warner Archive or one of those old four-film box sets they used to put out is the early Joe E. Brown movie Top Speed. Recently, I got around to watching it in full; as I mentioned ages ago I came across the end of the movie on TCM one time and immediately recognized Brown and his facial antics.

Brown plays Elmer Peters, who works at a clerk of sorts at a stock brokerage. He's not pulling down the big bucks but instead filling orders for the people who make the big money. He and his friend and co-worker Gerald Brooks (Jack Whiting) decide to go on vacation somewhere. But Elmer makes a mistake by going fishing in a land management area where fishing is forbidden for various reasons. This gets a sheriff on his case, and Elmer and Gerald have to escape, to a resort that they clearly can't afford and have had to scrimp and scrape for.

As a result, they have to pass themselves off as wealthier than they are which isn't that difficult to do since they can claim to be stockbrokers. They get to the resort more or less at the right time to help a couple of nice girls out. Virginia Rollins (Bernice Claire) is looking to meet up with her father, and taking her friend Babs Green (Laura Lee) along for the ride. However, they develop trouble with their car. Elmer takes them to the resort, but the two girls don't have a room, so they take Elmer and Gerald's room.

Meanwhile, both young men develop various problems in their lives. Elmer already has the sheriff on his tail, but he's also got some bonds on him that he's supposed to deliver for a client. By this time, his boss back in the big city has figured out that the bonds have gone missing, and will be alerting the law. If Elmer can't find the actual physical bonds, he's going to be in big trouble.

As for Gerald, he passes himself off as somebody who can drive a boat, impressing Virginia's father. Her dad has been thinking of entering his boat in a race, but the owner of the other boat is trying to get the driver to throw the race. Gerald takes over, but that other owner discovers that Gerald is just a lowly clerk instead of an upper-class stock broker who can take time off to do gentlemenly things like race boats.

In and among all this, some of the characters sing a song or two and do a dance or two, but that's where Top Speed shows some of its problems. I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog in conjunction with musicals released before 42nd Street that those early musicals were creaky, to the point that the musical became relative box office poison. Some of the musical numbers in those movies are incredibly static. Top Speed was originally conceived as a musical, and actually started off on Broadway as a musical. But with the decreasing popularity of the genre, Warner Bros. decided to cut some of the musical numbers, leading to some obvious and very clumsy cuts.

The disparate plots also don't always gel, either, and the Laura Lee character gets one extended scene where she engages in one of those comedies of lies that I am generally not a fan of. So Top Speed is an interesting artifact of the early sound era, but it's not exactly the greatest movie. Fans of Joe E. Brown's antics may like it, but there are other of his movies that I'd definitely recommend before this one.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Patsy

Stella Stevens died yesterday, and the obituaries mention that she was the bombshell in the Jerry Lewis movie The Nutty Professor. That movie happens to be on the box set of Jerry Lewis movies that I have, but unfortunately, I just very recently watched a different movie off that set to do a post on here: The Patsy.

Jerry Lewis is again the star, and since this is one of his later movies, the director as well. But we don't see Lewis at first, at least not after the opening credits. Instead, we hear about some popular comic actor who dies in a plane crash in Alaska. We then meet the people around that deceased actor: his manager, press agent, and the like, played by a cast of mostly character actors. These include John Carradine, Ina Balin, Keenan Wynn, Everett Sloane, Phil Harris, and Peter Lorre who looks like death warmed over largely because he died shortly after shooting and before the movie was released. Now that their nominal boss is dead, they're technically out of a job.

The handlers are meeting in the dead actor's penthouse suite at the Beverly Hilton, and who should come in but bellboy Stanley (that's Jerry Lewis, as if you couldn't tell), very incompetently trying to serve them their drinks. Instead of getting him fired on the spot, the handlers come up with the insane idea that perhaps they could turn Stanley into a star. At least they'd have somebody pliable whom they could keep mooching off of. And since all these people were repping a big star in the past, they've got an in to the movers and shakers in Hollywood to try to make Stanley a star in his own right.

There's just one catch, however. They need somebody with talent, and, well, that's one thing Stanley doesn't seem to have. They try to dress him up in fine clothes (watch for a cameo from George Raft), get him elocution lessons (with Hans Conried, whose character also collects antiques), have him cut a record, and do a press availability with the columnists of the day that turns into a sketch involving Hedda Hopper and her hat. But can they make Stanley a star?

As with a lot of Jerry Lewis' movies after the split between him and Dean Martin, The Patsy is shorter on plot and longer on a series of sketches that serve a threadbare framing story. But it's also an excuse to get all sorts of Hollywood stars in one-scene cameos. I mentioned George Raft and Hedda Hopper, but there's also Ed Sullivan, Scatman Crothers, Richard Deacon, and a whole bunch more, some credited and some not.

But do the sketches work? Some do and some don't; the original The Bellboy is probably the best of the Lewis sketch comedy movies in that the greatest proportion of the sketches work. Here, the Hopper scene is great in part because her hat is so ridiculous and everybody is supposed to act like they're in The Emperor's New Clothes and not notice is. Stanley is the only one to notice is, and acts like we're all thinking. The song Stanley records is terrible even without his singing (or in drag as a trio of back singers), and wouldn't be rescued by a competent recording artist -- but it's supposed to be bad. Some of the other scenes are just too manic. I didn't care so much for the scene with Conried, or the one where Stanley goes on an American Bandstand-like show. (Presumably they couldn't get Dick Clark for a cameo.)

Overall, The Patsy is the sort of movie Jerry Lewis fans will like. But if I were introducing people to Jerry Lewis, I'd still start with either The Bellboy or his movies with Dean Martin.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Thoughts on Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch in 100 Rifles

By now, you've probably heard about the death of actress Raquel Welch on Wednesday at the age of 82. The conventional wisdom is that Welch was one of those actresses cast for her looks -- and yes, she was good looking -- but that she wasn't the greatest of actresses. I think that's a bit unfair, as I can think of quite a few European types that got brought in to Hollywood over the decades and turned out not to be the next big thing, and Welch was no worse than any of them.

I haven't seen anything on TCM's website about a programming tribute for Welch, and I haven't been watching the channel enough to see if they've already got a TCM Remembers piece up for her. I would guess that TCM would probably want to wait until April, after 31 Days of Oscar, to do whatever tribute they're going to do. In theory, FXM could do a tribute to her, since a lot of her 1960s movies were made at Fox, but I don't know how many of those movies are currently out of the vault. A quick search shows Lady in Cement will be on FXM this coming Tuesday. Before that, StarzEncore Westerns has a couple of airings of Bandolero! starting on Sunday.

For a slightly different look at Welch, there's this Twitter thread from David Burge with a lot of pictures of Welch and cars, some of them from before she became a movie star.

And, another blogger I read point out that the famous scenes of Welch in the fur bikini in One Million Years BC came after she had her two children. Way to lose the baby weight.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, February 16, 2023. Romance Tropes: Forced Proximity

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're still in February, which means another romance-themed edition of the blogathon. This week, the theme is characters who fall in love through forced proximity. I'm using two movies that I'm pretty certain I've already used, and a third that I just watched the other day and will be doing a full-length post on in the near future. Or, in other words, sorry for the fairly lazy post:

The 39 Steps (1935). Robert Donat is handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll for a good portion of the movie, and the two kinda-sorta fall in love along the way. Well, technically, Carroll really only learns Donat is worth falling in love with after she gets out of her handcuff and overhears the bad guys saying things that confirm the story Donat has been giving her. This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's first great thrillers, certainly in the "man on the run" genre.

The African Queen (1951). Humphrey Bogart takes Katharine Hepburn down the river in east Africa of 1914 in order to get away from the Germans at the start of World War I. The two hate each other at first because he's an alcoholic and she's a missionary who nowadays would be called a Karen, but as they have to work together to survive, they begin to fall in love.

Romancing the Stone (1984). Kathleen Turner plays a romance novelist whose sister gets kidnapped in Colombia. She goes to pay the ransom, and gets involved with a quest for a missing jewel along with soldier-of-fortune Michael Douglas. The two have to stay together to stay one step ahead of some other bad guys and the Colombian military (and/or rebel groups).

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

You are not Number Six

Another of the box sets that I picked up some time back was an set of "war movies" released by Columbia. One of them isn't really a war movie, but it's a movie that really deserves more attention: The Prisoner.

In an unnamed eastern European country sometime after the end of World War II and the Communist takeovers in those countries, an unnamed Roman Catholic cardinal (Alec Guinness) is presiding over Mass. The Communists were officially atheist, although the extent to which various Communist countries suppressed organized religion varied from country to country. It's fairly obvious why the Communists would see the Roman church as a threat, and sure enough, the Communists in this country see the Cardinal as a threat. So after Mass, the Cardinal is arrested.

Now, the government could simply put the Cardinal in prison on trumped-up charges and let him languish there. That, however, presented a substantial political problem. The Catholic church still had a substantial following, and imprisoning the Cardinal would turn him into a cause célèbre at best, or a martyr at worst. This would be even more the case if the government summarily executed the Cardinal on whatever charges. No; the government realizes that they need a show trial in which the Cardinal can be forced to "confess" his "sins" against the state, much like the Costa-Gavras movie The Confession that I blogged about some time back. Now, in that movie, the defendants were all already devoted communists who couldn't understand why they had been put on trial, so it was easier for the state to get the confessions they wanted. With a devout Catholic like the Cardinal, that's going to be much more difficult.

To that end, the government brings in an unnamed Interrogator (Jack Cardiff), a devout communist who can probe the Cardinal's mind and figure out what to use as a wedge to crack it open and get that confession. The Cardinal and the Interrogator also have a past together, having jointly been part of the resistance against the Nazis during the war, although they didn't always resist in the same way. The Cardinal had even been tortured by the Nazis, which is why the government knows they can't simply torture a confession out of the Cardinal. The Interrogator knows all of this, and has to come up with more subtle measures. And, he's a pretty darn smart man himself, so he has a bunch of tricks of his own up his sleeve.

In between all of the verbal sparring between the Cardinal and the Interrogator, the Cardinal is sent back to his prison cell, where he's attended to by a Jailer (Wilfrid Lawson), whose plot purpose is more to be somebody neutral and release the tension of the plot. (I have a feeling that in real life, the government would have used a jailer who was more or less spying on the Cardinal, much like in the US Army's World War II training film Resisting Enemy Interrogation.)

That's pretty much all there is to the plot of The Prisoner, as the movie is as much a character study of the two main characters (and especially the Cardinal) as it is a traditionally-plotted movie. And if The Prisoner has one weakness, it's in that scanty plot. It feels a lot like a plot that starts somewhere a bit past the beginning, and ends somewhere before the end. The characters know each other and know what was going on before the events of the movie, but we don't.

The movie also requires a bit of knowledge of history above and beyond what I mentioned about the anti-clerical nature of the eastern European regimes. It's based on a play (if you couldn't tell from the relatively small number of sets) that was loosely based on real events. The Cardinal is most likely based on Hungarian Jószef Cardinal Mindszenty. He was arrested in 1948 after the Communist takeover of Hungary; at the time of the play and movie he was languishing in prison. He would be released in the abortive revolution of 1956, but after the Soviets invaded Mindszenty was forced to take refuge in the US embassy in Budapest, where he'd spend the next 15 years. European audiences of the 1950s probably would have recognized Mindszenty as a human rights prisoner; modern-day audiences, especially an ocean away, perhaps not so much.

However, the plot we do have works, and the performances are outstanding. I don't think anybody should be surprised by Guinness' performance. But those who don't know Jack Hawkins, since he isn't as well remembered by people who aren't film buffs, might not realize just how good an actor he could be. And The Prisoner is one of his best roles.

If you want a thoughtful movie with good acting, The Prisoner is one I can recommend in spades.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Don't Talk

If you're not up for a romantic movie on Valentine's Day, then you could do a lot worse than to watch a Crime Does Not Pay short. The one I saw most recently was an interesting little short from World War II titled Don't Talk.

If you've seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie Saboteur, or any of a bunch of other World War II movies set in part at defense plants, you'll know that the US was full of fifth columnists who wanted to get information. Loose lips sink ships, as they say. And these folks often looked like everyday Americans, just like you and me, at least the propaganda from the movies would have you believe.

Anyhow, in the context of this short, there's a defense plant that seems to be having difficulty getting its stuff shipped without the saboteurs finding out about the shipping plans. So the authorities start doing surveillance, staring with the place closest to the plant, a little diner where a lot of the workers eat after their shift. It seems like they talk amongst themselves enough that somebody could come in and overhear them.

This being a two-reeler, we know that the authorities are right, and the waitress/clerk at the place, Beulah (Gloria Holden) is actually working the the bad guys. The only question is how is she getting the information out. The authorities are pretty thorough in trying to find out how, looking through garbage, breaking up excess food to see if anything is being hidden in bread or cakes like the stereotypical file, and even tailing Beulah. But it takes them a while to find out, and the way they do find out seems a bit serendipitous.

However, their discovery coincides with the head of the defense plant (not part of the saboteurs) changing up the delivery from trains to trucks to keep the bad guys from finding out the change of plans. They do, of course, and the last portion of the movie is a question of whether the saboteurs will get away with their plans or not.

Don't Talk is a fairly typical Crime Does Not Pay short, which means that it's not bad, although it does have the function of delivering a moral message in general and wartime propaganda in particular, as it was released in February 1942. The shorts are definitely worth a watch, and I believe the Warner Archive released all of them in a set.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Mary Burns, Fugitive

One of the 1930s actresses who gave a lot of fine performances but doesn't really get enough love is Sylvia Sidney. One of her films that's been sitting on my DVR for quite a while now is Mary Burns, Fugitive. So recently, I sat down to watch it.

As you can probably guess, it's Sidney who plays Burns, as she's got top billing. And she becomes a fugitive, although she's not one at the start of the movie. Instead, she's working as the owner of one of those small roadside diners that dotted rural America back in the day, kind of like the Aline MacMahon character in Heat Lighting, only Mary isn't escaping a past as far as I could tell and doesn't have the motor hotel either.

She makes the best coffee around, and one of the people who has repeatedly come through to partake of the coffee is "Babe" Wilson (Alan Baxter). Other than possibly Babe Ruth, it seems to me that a man with the nickname "Babe" back in those days was bad news, or at least so in movies. But Mary doesn't know she's in a movie, so she doesn't see the threat. Instead, she's kind of fallen in love with Babe. So one day, when Babe and a friend show up, she doesn't know how her life is about to change. Babe says he has to go to Canada on urgent business, and wants Mary to marry him and go to Canada. In fact, Babe is a criminal fleeing the law with a bunch of stolen money. Before the police can get to Babe, he shoots his partner and makes an escape, but not with Mary in tow.

The police, unsurprisingly, believe that Mary is Babe's moll, and that she knows where Babe was fleeing to. She doesn't know that second half, and since she can't give the police the information they want and didn't exactly stop Babe from leaving, they consider her an accessory to the crime and have her put in prison for 15 years. She could get a much reduced sentence, however, if only she would tell the authorities where Babe went. (As if he went one place and stayed there all this time.)

Mary can't give the authorities what they want, so they try a different tack. They arrange it so that another prisoner, Goldie Gordon (Pert Kelton), will break out of prison and take Mary with her. Mary, of course, doesn't get that it's all part of a plan by the higher-ups, who think that with Mary out of prison, Babe and his gang will find where Mary is and Babe will take the bait, allowing the authorities to catch him.

Eventually, Mary takes a job as a nurse in a private hospital, where she gets the task of tending to notoriously cantankerous patient Barton Powell (Melvyn Douglas). He's a professional explorer, going to places and then doing speaking tours. But he's had an eye operation that's left him with bandaged eyes, and being ticked at all the other nurses and their lousy coffee. Remember, as I mentioned at the top, Mary is known for her good coffee, so when Barton tries is and likes it, the two fall in love. Perhaps Mary could have a relationship with Barton, if only it weren't for Babe....

Babe and his underlings have found where Mary is, and decide to sent Babe's associate Spike (a young Brian Donlevy) to bring Mary to Babe. This is finally going to give the cops the chance, but it's also going to put Mary in some danger....

Mary Burns, Fugitive is one of those great old programmers that studios churned out in the days before television might have made stuff like this fodder for TV episodes. It's an engaging story, if nothing spectacular or ground-breaking, with good performances from all three leads and a few surprises along the way. It's definitely worth watching if you can find it.

One interesting thing is that the print TCM ran had both a Universal and a Paramount opening sequence. Now, it's well known that Universal (well, MCA) got the TV rights to Paramount's talkies up through 1949, and there are any number of movies that have a modern Universal opening before the old-fashioned Paramount opening. Mary Burns, Fugitive, however, had the old early 1930s opening from before the mirrored-ball. Kind of an odd surprise.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

My Fellow Americans

I had a free preview weekend over Thanksgiving, back when I wasn't certain when I'd be moving into the new digs, so I recorded a whole bunch of movies more recent than most of what TCM shows. Not that they're terribly recent, as my next selection was released over a quarter of a century ago: My Fellow Americans.

The movie starts off with a brief establishing sequence that gives us half of the main conflict. A newscaster tells us of the tight election battle between Republican Senator Russell Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and Democratic Governor Matt Douglas (James Garner). Kramer wins. Fast forward four years, and the two men square off against each other, with Douglas winning. But Douglas only serves one term as well, being defeated by the Republicans' new ticket of William Haney (Dan Aykroyd) and Ted Matthews (John Heard). The two ex-presidents both go off to the lecture and public appearance circuit, which is really little more than an after-the-fact influence peddling scheme, much like today's presidential memoirs where no publisher is going to make back the advance. In and among all this, we also learn that unsurprisingly, the two ex-Presidents aren't exactly friends.

Anyhow, we're now three years into President Haney's administration, which means that it's about time for the next presidential campaign to get started. And there's a reasonable chance that the Haney administration could come crashing down. The head of the Democratic National Committee, Joe Hollis (Wilford Brimley), has heard about something called "Olympia", which appears to be some sort of defense procurement scandal. Hollis suggests that an ex-President like Douglas would be a perfect person to sniff around and do some investigation; in exchange, Hollis might be willing to help Douglas get renominated.

Meanwhile, the calculating President Haney has learned that Hollis has heard about Olympia. Haney knows it would be curtains for him, but what if he could figure out a way to fram ex-President Kramer for the scandal, even though Kramer knows nothing about it and was not involved at all. Kramer gets word of this, and starts poking around, just like Douglas.

Douglas is the first person to get to the defense contractor in question, but just as Douglas is about to get the scoop, the contractor is shot dead by a sniper, putting Douglas' life in danger. Not only that, but it puts Kramer's life in danger as well. The two have to team up together and go on the run to try to get to the bottom of the story.

My Fellow Americans is the sort of movie that has the potential to make some really trenchant commentary about the American political system, but never really does so. Instead, it trades in the sort of 1970s conspiracy theory tropes that aren't really realistic, as opposed to those things that are real, namely the permanent civil service acting in its own interest, actively trying to thwart anybody who could be perceived as an outsider and threat to the civil service's (and by extension the permanent state's) power. It's a theme that was brilliantly explored in the British sitcom Yes, Minister, while the six years since the election of Donald Trump showed that there's a similar permanent state with a lot of power. Nothing like shooting down Marine One is necessary.

My Fellow Americans also subordinates the plot to what is effectively a series of set pieces as the two ex-Presidents try to escape, in a sort of way lesser Alfred Hitchcock "wrong man on the road" movie. These set pieces do more or less work individually, helped by the fact that Lemmon and Garner feel like naturals in their roles, but together add up to a lot less than the sum of the parts. The movie is entertaining and amiable enough, but ultimately forgettable and leaving the feeling of something that the stars made to take on a fun job that comes with a nice paycheck, too.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Glass Wall

I've got too many movies on my DVR to get through before I move, so I've been trying to watch as many as I can. One of my recent watches was a Noir Alley selection, The Glass Wall.

The movie was released in 1953 and was set sometime in the recent past, although it doesn't specify exactly when. The US is still taking in refugees from World War II, but there are also people who haven't gone through official channels. One of those is Hungarian Peter Kaban (Vittorio Gassman) who spent some time in a concentration camp, and apparently helped some Americans after liberation. However, we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Peter decided to stow away on one of the refugee ships, so when the ship gets to New York, Inspector Bailey (Douglas Spencer) of the customs service/INS predecessor rejects his application. This even though Peter claims to know a jazzman in New York named Tom who could vouch for his story. Good luck finding "Tom" in a city of eight million.

And yet, that's precisely what Peter plans to do. He tries to escape from the brig, not even having been permitted to leave the ship. He fractures a rib jumping ship, but somehow makes it to midtown Manhattan with little money or knowledge of the city. The police are hot on Peter's heels, of course, with an ability only seen in Hollywood movies to make this insignificant case front page news on newspaper extra editions and get Peter's face plastered across every TV news broadcast.

The first person Peter finds can't help him very much. Maggie (Gloria Grahame) is similarly down on her luck, resorting to trying to steal somebody else's coat. But since she and Peter are now both fugitives, Peter helps her escape, and she repays his kindness by taking her back to her apartment and trying to tend to his medical issues without revealing hs presence. Of course it's not going to work.

Peter doesn't want to stay there, continuing to look for "Tom" in a race against time: if he can't prove his worth to the US before the boat he was on sails back to Europe, he'll be in really big trouble. So he makes his way back to Times Sqaure and where the jazz clubs are, in the hopes he'll be able to find "Tom".

This being a Hollywood movie, and knowing that Peter is being portrayed as a Hitchcockian good guy with circumstances conspiring against him, you can guess that the movie is going to have at least a satisfactory ending. So it's more about how the movie gets there. The Glass Wall certainly has some plot problems in that there are just too many coincidences that keep the plot running to its inevitable conclusion.

On the other hand, the performances are good, and there's a lot of nice footage of New York as it was in the early 1950s. Jazz fans will also like the presence of some of the actual stars of the New York jazz scene of the time. (At least, I think they were stars of the scene, not being a big jazz fan myself. I vaguely recognize the name Jack Teagarden, but don't know the other jazz names presented here.) As a result, The Glass Wall is definitely worth a watch as a sort of document of the time, although there are better overall movies out there.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Briefs for Feb. 10-11, 2023

Tonight has a bit of a weird lineup on TCM. Normally, TCM Underground starts around 2:00 AM between Friday and Saturday. But tonight's prime time lineup on TCM is three of the 1940s Dick Tracy movies (I can't remember if that's all of the 40s Dick Tracy series, or if there were more). But that's only enough time to get to 12:15 AM. The 105 minutes between then and what would be the regular start of Underground is a series of shorts from avant-garde filmmaker Curtis Harrington, whose best known mainstream would would probably be Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and What's the Matter With Helen?. I thought the name sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. I haven't seen any of the shorts, so I can't comment on those. The "regular" Underground slot includes Harrington's Queen of Blood at 2:00 AM, and a movie related by title only, Queen of Outer Space at 4:15 AM.

A couple of deaths worth mentioning. The one everyone's more likely to have heard of is that of composer Burt Bacharach, who wrote a slew of pop hits from the 1950s through to the 1980s. A lot of the versions you know best are actually remakes. As an example, I didn't know that the Carpenters weren't the first to do "(They Long to Be) Close to You"; instead, it was actually actor Richard Chamberlain of all people! Bacharach unsurprisingly has a connection to classic cinema, or at least some great movies of the era after the death of the Production Code. He won two Oscars, for writing the song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as "Arthur's Theme" from the Dudley Moore movie Arthur. Bacharach was 94.

The lesser-noticed death would be Hugh Hudson, who died earlier today at the age of 86. Hudson earned an Oscar nomination for directing Chariots of Fire, and also directed Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. Movies you've definitely heard of even if you don't remember the director.

And in happier news, yesterday was the 80th birthday of actor Joe Pesci. One of the things I hadn't known but learned in some of the reports I heard is that Little Joe Pesci started off as a singer of all things:

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, Feb. 9, 2022: Romance Tropes: Cinderella Stories

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're still in February, which means another romance-themed edition of the blogathon. This week, that theme is Cinderella stories, defined as a poor(ish) girl getting selected by a rich guy. With that in mind, I went with three films that have that basic theme, although large parts of all three are darker than certainly the ending of Cinderella:

Possessed (1931). Joan Crawford plays a small-town girl who sees a bunch of rich folks partying on a train stopping in town, and decides she wants to be with the rich people. Eventually she does make it to New York, where she's introduced to wealthy lawyer Clark Gable. She becomes his mistress, although things get mighty complicated when a old boyfriend from her hometown (Wallace Ford) shows up and then when Gable decides to run for governor. This is not to be confused with the 1947 movie Possessed, also starring Crawford but having a totally different plot.

Hot Saturday (1932). Nancy Carroll plays a bank teller in a strait-laced small town where the big excitement for the twentysomethings is to go to the dance pavilion on the lake on weekend evenings. One night there, her boyfriend Edward Woods gets too handsy with her, so she escapes across the lake, winding up at the vacation house of wealthy playboy with an undeservedly bad reputation Cary Grant. He's a gentleman to her, but he's also seen dropping her back off at her house, so Woods decides to start some nasty gossip about her. A young Randolph Scott plays a geologist Carroll's family would like her to marry. This is an extremely pre-Code picture.

Forever Amber (1947). Linda Darnell plays Amber, an orphan in provincial England during the Cromwell era who, wanting better things, escapes to London just in time for the Restoration. There, she meets and falls in love with a privateer (Cornell Wilde) who unfortunately can't shake his love for the sea. She also becomes one of the mistresses of King Charles II (George Sanders), all while rising through London society until her dark past comes to light.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Gentleman Jim

Errol Flynn was Star of the Month last year if memory serves; I recorded several of his movies to watch later. Among them was Gentleman Jim, which is back on TCM tomorrow (Feb. 9) at 6:00 AM.

The Jim in question is James J. Corbett, a name you might recognize as one of the early heavyweight boxing champions of the world. In many ways he was the first modern heavyweight champion, as this was the time the Marquess of Queensbury was codifying new rules to make the sport less unsafe. Also, Corbett was one of the first boxers to train the way modern boxers do. As you can probably surmise, Flynn is playing Corbett, since it's tough to imagine Flynn not being in a starring role at this stage of his career.

The movie opens up in San Francisco circa 1887, which was before Corbett's boxing career. In fact, with no standardized boxing rules and bare-knuckles boxing being the thing, the sport was illegal in a lot of places in much the same way that it took a long time for certain jurisdictions to legalized mixed martial arts. San Francisco was one of the places, at least according to the movie, an Corbett, who works as a bank teller when that was considered a moderately good job for people who want to move up in the world, goes to an illegal fight together with his best friend Walter Lowrie (Jack Carson). The fight gets raided by the police and a bunch of the spectators arrested; this even includes a judge. Corbett's quick thinking when everybody's in custody together gets them off as the judge plans to institute amateur boxing at the Olympic Club.

The judge is also on the board of the bank, so Corbett thinks he's going to get fired, but no. Indeed, the judge and another Olympic Club member help Corbett get a membership too. Buck Ware's daughter Virginia (Alexis Smith) comes to the bank to get some silver currency for Dad's poker game, which Corbett takes over to the bank. There, he sees the gym and gives an impromptu training session to some of the would-be boxers. It's also the start of a love Corbett has for Ware that takes a long time to be requited, but since Flynn and Smith are the two leads, you can expect them to wind up together at the end of a movie like this.

Corbett's boxing skill takes him places, as does his drinking. He and Walter wake up one morning in Salt Lake City seemingly not remembering how they got there. Corbett meets boxing manager Delaney (William Frawley), who gets Jim a fight in order for Jim to be able to pay his way back to San Francisco. Corbett wins, and this among other fights turns him from a banker to a professional boxer.

Corbett rises through the ranks, and when the more-or-less recognized champion of the world at the time, John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) shows up in America, you know that Corbett is going to fight Sullivan. (Of course, this happened in real life.) But negotiations between the camps were difficult then as now, perhaps even more so then since the challenger had to come up with financial banking. It's not as if they could expect a windfall from pay-per view as that simply didn't exist in the early 1890s.

I have no idea how much of Gentleman Jim is based on the truth. Supposedly, it's based on a serialized autobiagrphy Corbett wrote at the height of his fame in the 1890s, although who knows how much of that is true, either. (I haven't read the autobiography.) It's definitely got all of the hallmarks of a studio-era biopic, with as much if not more emphasis on a good dramatic story than on the unvarnished truth.

But Gentleman Jim also has all the character actors Warner Bros. could bring to a movie like this, and that only serves to add to the entertainment value. It also calls for the sort of bravado and charisma that Errol Flynn was quite adept at displaying; I can't imagine anybody else in Hollywood at the time taking on the role.

So despite any issues with accuracy, Gentleman Jim is a fine example of early-1940s Hollywood entertainment.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Terror of Tiny Town

Some films have a reputation that precedes them. A lot of the time, it's because the movie is known for being extremely good, such as Citizen Kane. Other movies, like Plan Nine from Outer Space, are known for being extremely bad. And then there are films with well-known gimmicks. A movie which fits into this last group, and which is a bit hard to review objectively as a result, is the 1938 western The Terror of Tiny Town.

The gimmick, here of course, is in the casting, which if you somehow don't know of this movie you might be able to deduce from the title. Producer Jed Buell decided to cast a movie entirely with midgets; at least, that's the word that appears in the opening title cards, people today might find the word "midget" offensive. Apparently, the original idea was for an entire series of movies in this vein, but only The Terror of Tiny Town was produced.

The Terror of Tiny Town is a western, and it has a plot that feels fairly standard for a B movie western. Buck Lawson (Billy Curtis) is the son of rancher Pop Lawson. Pop finds that somebody has been rustling his cattle, and when he and the ranchhands scare away a gang of rustlers, they leave a branding iron behind. That iron has the mark of the ranch owned by Pop's long-time rival, Tex Preston. So it seems fairly obvious to Pop who is responsible.

But wait just a minute. Tex is having some of his cattle rustled, too, and when it comes to the branding, he discovers that they've got the brand of the Lawson ranch. Now, since the viewer gets to see both sides, it's obvious to us that somebody other than Lawson and Preston is responsible, and trying to get the two of them to come to an all-out range war. That somebody is Bat Rhodes ("Little" Billy Rhodes). The question is whether Haines can keep up this ruse long enough to get the result he wants, or whether somebody -- Buck, since he's the one keeping a cool head -- can figure things out.

Complicating matters somewhat is that Preston's lovely niece, Nancy (Yvonne Preston) has come from back east. Buck meets her, and falls in love with her, although along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, neither father is particularly happy about it. Still, this is this sort of western you expect to have a happy ending.

Is The Terror of Tiny Town as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Not really. It certainly does have some problems, in no small part thanks to the gimmick. I think I've mentioned once or twice regarding the all-black "race movies" that being forced to draw from a small talent pool, and having a smaller budget, can easily result in some of the actors not having quite enough talent. In the case of The Terror of Tiny Town, Jed Buell was drawing from an even tinier (no pun intended) pool of talent as there are a lot fewer little people.

Having people of below average height be the entire cast was a mixed bag in other ways. There was the opportunity for some sight gags, such as people walking under the swinging doors of saloons, which may be either funny or offensive depending on your point of view. Buell also included several musical numbers, which are a weak point in that the cast all have too reedy of voices for really good singing. No Deanna Durbins here, not by a long shot.

On the positive side, the plot in The Terror of Tiny Town is really no worse than the plots of any of the many, many B and singing cowboy westerns that Poverty Row was churning out in large doses in the late 1930s. Have a cast of normal-sized people, and the movie would be serviceable Saturday matinee fare.

If you haven't seen The Terror of Tiny Town before, you probably should watch it just for the novelty value.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Let No Man Write My Epitaph

Another of the stars honored in last year's Summer Under the Stars was Shelley Winters. One of her movies that I hadn't seen before is Let No Man Write My Epitaph, and since the movie sounded interesting, I decided to record it.

The movie was released in 1960, although there's an introductory scene set in the Chicago of 1950. Nick Romano Jr. is a nice young boy who has a lot of Damon Runyonesque friends that he meets on the street, in what is clearly a poor part of Chicago. There's the "Judge", Bruce Sullivan (Burl Ives), who sells stuff from a pop-up stall and lives in a flophouse; amputee newsstand operator Wart; former prizefighter "Goodbye" George (Bernie Hamilton); and would-be nightclub singer Flora (Ella Fitzgerald). They're all friends of Nick's mom, Nellie (that's Shelley Winters, as if you couldn't tell), who works at one of the bars.

It's Christmas, and Nellie goes and gets herself fired from the bar, so her friends try to cheer her up by bringing an impromptu party to her tenement apartment. The Judge in particular is worried about young Nick, however. He knows Nellie's past, and that Nick's father went to the electric chair for killing a cop, something that Nellie hasn't told young Nick yet. She probably subscribes to the same theory as the folks in Close to My Heart that knowing about a kid's bad ancestry dooms the kid, so she's going to do everything she can to make certain he never finds out.

Not that there's very much she can do. Fast-forward 10 years, and Nick (James Darren) is a high school senior. Mom has scrimped and saved so that Nick can have piano lessons, and Nick has become a pretty good pianist. Perhaps good enough to go to music school. Mom dreams of him becoming a concert pianist, although music teacher would probably be a more likely outcome, not that that's a bad outcome. Still, all the people at the high school seem to know about Nick's dad, and they bully him constantly and pick fights with him for it just because, even though Nick has no real desire to fight. It doesn't help that they also tease him over how Nellie earns her living, which isn't exactly reputable.

One of those late-evening fights sees Nick set upon by multiple gang members, and Goodbye George coming to Nick's defense. This gets everybody hauled off to night court, with the Judge showing up for good measure too hoping to defend him. (Whether the Judge really ever was a lawyer who got disbarred for alcoholism or something else is never fully answered.) Also showing up is Louis Ramponi (Ricardo Montalban), who decides to pay Nick's fine to keep him out of jail. This is really because he's interested in Nellie, having known the elder Nick. Nick's business card has the address of a florist's shop, but that's a front for rather less legal business.

Young Nick notices an alarming change in Mom after she starts seeing Louis, although he thinks she's just becoming an alcoholic, as bad as that may be. Everybody else begins to see it too, but things are going to get a whole lot worse when Nick finds out what's really going on.

Let No Man Write My Epitaph feels like it's the sort of movie that's trying to be a message picture while softening that hard edge through the use of the Runyonesque characters. However as I was watching it felt to me as if the screenwriter had little idea either how to write a message picture, or how to write Runyonesque characters. The characters feel mostly like caricatures, and the message gets way too heavy-handed at times. The one saving grace is that at a lot of other times, the movie feels more like an unintentional comedy. Burl Ives chews the scenery, and Shelley Winters is, well, Shelley Winters. James Darren doesn't quite have the emotional heft necessary to pull this one off.

Unfortunately, the print of Let No Man Write My Epitaph that TCM ran is another one that was panned-and-scanned down from 1.85:1 to 4:3.

Sunday, February 5, 2023


Back in August, Constance Bennett was selected for Summer Under the Stars, and I pointed out that I had watched one of her movies scheduled that day, Rockabye, some time back, with the plan of watching it again for the next time it showed up on TCM. Well, it's on again tomorrow (Feb. 6) at 9:00 AM as part of a day of Joel McCrea's movies, so now is a good time to do a longer post on it.

Constance Bennett is clearly the star here, not McCrea. She plays Judy Carroll, a stage actress with a complicated personal life. She's hoping to adopt a child, but she's made the mistake of having an affair with a corrupt politician, Al Howard (Walter Pidgeon in an early role). He's now on trial, and her testifying against him causes her to lose custody of the child she was hoping to adopt. Her manager, Antonie (Paul Lukas, also in an early role), suggests that she go off to Europe for a while until the scandal dies down. She's got a public that will forgive her, an dafter a suitable absence she can go back on the stage. Another of the complications in Judy's personal life is that Antoine has always held a flame for Judy, even though Judy has apparently seen the relationship as professional, not personal.

While in Europe, Judy reads a play called Rockabye, and thinks it would be perfect for her, although Antoine doesn't really hold the same opinion. Judy gets the reasonable idea of contacting the playwright, Jacob van Riker Pell (Joel McCrea); perhaps he can help convince Antoine that Judy is right for the part. Jacob is hesitant at first, although as more of Judy's back story is revealed, he begins to realize that perhaps Judy might be right for the part after all.

But we need some more personal complications for Judy, and the obvious one is that Judy is going to begin to fall in love with Jacob, and this time, the feeling is mutual. Here, though, there's another catch. Jacob is married, although it's a loveless marriage, and Jacob is trying to get a divorce. Perhaps once the divorce is final, Judy and Jacob can get married, and then they'll have a nice respectable relationship.

In any case, rehearsals for the play Rockabye go on, and eventually the play has its premiere on Broadway, even though Jacob doesn't show up for the after-show party. That's because there are yet more complications in Jacob's relationship....

Rockabye the movie is one of those movies that to me feels like a decided product of its time. Not so much 1932 as part of the pre-Code era, but 1932 as before even World War II started liberating women, never mind the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The film's central conceit, that Judy's personal life is somehow career-ending scandalous, seems a bit quaint 90 years on. Nowadays, I don't think people would care that much if a Judy-like actress had a complicated personal life and then fell in love with a married playwright.

Having said that, however, the performances are adequate, and Rockabye is certainly an interesting look at a time that was completely different. As they like to say, the past is like a different country.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Joker Is Wild

Er, not quite....

Another movie which was sitting on my DVR for quite some time is The Joker Is Wild, which got a TCM airing back in September 2021 in honor of Mitzi Gaynor's 90th birthday. In a very nice move, they even aired the interstitials Gaynor did with Robert Osborne back in 2014, which were a hell of a lot more worthwhile than Ben Mankiewicz's "insights", but that's a topic for another day.

The movie tells the story of the story of Joe E. Lewis (Frank Sinatra), not the heavyweight boxer but a singer-turned-comedian (and part-time actor) whose career started in the 1920s in Chicago. Now, as you can probably guess from the place and date, that's during Prohibition, and the Mob is involved in some way. In Joe's case, that means the club where he's performing is owned by the Mob, and the contract he's signed is one that it's going to be difficult to get out of unless his bosses explicitly send him away.

Those bosses have no such desire, while Joe wants to go off on his own, so since his contract is coming to an end, he decides to take another offer despite the bosses' plans to renew the contract whether he likes it or not. When Joe doesn't get the hint, the boss sends a couple of thugs to rough up Joe, which they do by beating him and slashing him, scarring his face and severing his vocal cords in the attack. I thought it was surprising that all of this would happen in the first 30 minutes of what would be an over two-hour movie, but in looking up the real story Lewis was slashed in the late 1920s and his career success would in fact come many years later.

In the real world, Lewis wound up with a gravelly voice, but that wouldn't do when your star is Frank Sinatra, so the movie doesn't have Sinatra change his voice all that much. Instead, it focuses more on his journey to burlesque, doing what would basically have been the bottom rung of vaudeville back in the 1920s. In burlesque, he's discovered by Sophie Tucker (playing herself uncredited), and that gets him into a career doing the nightclub circuit.

Seeing him in burlesque is a slumming socialite, Letty Page (Jeanne Crain). She meets Joe after the show, and the two start an on-again, off-again relationship. Meanwhile, Joe rises through the ranks, thanks to a show that involves dancers and a piano accompanist, Austin Mack (Eddie Albert). The show also involves a lot of drinking, something to which Joe turned in much higher quantities to deal with the physical and emotional scars of having been attacked. Joe thinks of marrying Letty, but he can never quite bring himself to pull the trigger. World War II decides the issue for him, as Letty goes to Washington where her father has taken one of those dollar-a-year jobs, while Joe and Austin go on a USO tour.

One of Joe's dancers is Martha Stewart (the actress, not the domestic lifestyle expert), who is played by Mitzi Gaynor, thus the showing of this movie to honor Mitzi. Martha had become a slightly larger part of the act than the other dancers when she shows herself adept at comedy, but that's the extent of the relationship. That is, until Joe decides he's finally going to pull that trigger with Letty, only to learn she's already gotten married. So after the war he marries Martha, but they each have their own careers and Joe's drinking is getting progressively worse.

The Joker Is Wild is another challenging performance from the 1950s for Sinatra, who had wanted to change his image leading to take the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity back in 1953 and jump-starting his career. It gives Sinatra some chance to sing -- he even sings an Oscar-winning song, "All the Way" -- but it's much more of an uncomfortable character study at the same time it's a biopic. Synopses that refer to The Joker Is Wild as a musical are, I think, not quite accurate.

In any case, Sinatra is up to the task and gives another good performance. Gaynor and Albert are also pretty good in support. The only thing that would be nice would be to have color; it also doesn't help that Paramount provided TCM with a panned-and-scanned print. Still, The Joker Is Wild is definitely worth a watch.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Penny Serenade meets Room for One More

I recently watched a Gene Tierney movie I hadn't heard of before: Close to My Heart.

Tierney plays Midge Sheridan, a housewife who at the start of the movie learns that she is going to be unable to have children, something that unsurprisingly leaves her disappointed, especially because she and her reporter husband Brad (Ray Milland) had a room of their house that they'd always planned to be the nursery even if they never put any furniture in it yet since she'd never gotten pregnant. Then again, you still couldn't use the word "pregnant" in a Hollywood movie of those times.

So when Brad placates Midge by telling her that yes, he still does want to have children, Midge goes to the adoption agency run by Mrs. Morrow (Fay Bainter), seemingly without telling Brad first. Midge finds out that there are a lot of parents who want a nice healthy baby to raise, not being so willing to take an older, hard-to-place child as is the subject of Room for One More. Midge is going to have to wait up to two years, and even then it's possible she and Brad might not be deemed suitable parents.

But somehow through the women's gossip network, Midge hears that some woman just dropped off a baby at the police station, and police have been unable to find the woman. Midge gets the crazy idea in her head that she can jump the line to adopt this child, since a lot of parents are a bit hesitant about adopting a child when the agency doesn't know who the mother is -- I'd guess the more resonable thinking behind this would be the possibility of a hereditary illness. Mrs. Morrow informs Midge that there's still a lot to be done before Baby Danny can be adopted out, and even then, the Sheridans might not be considered suitable parents. Especially after Midge has already decorated the nursery to be for a baby named Danny.

Brad, meanwhile, decides to use his reporter skills to find out about the provenance of the baby, if he can. He speaks to a woman who is not the mother, but who know the baby's mother, who is apparently dead now; this woman doesn't know who the father is. But things really hit a snag when the son of a prominent town citizen gets arrested for robbery. The son was, it just so happens, not only adopted, but in one of those adoptions where it was only found out after the adoption that the boy's biological parents were of bad moral stock. So now Brad is going to worry that if Danny also came from such stock, Danny might be doomed to the same fate. Or, at least, that's what the movie wants us to believe. And Mrs. Morrow understands that holding that kind of attitude really makes Brad unsuitable to adopt Danny.

Close to My Heart felt a lot like the sort of programmer Dore Schary would have made when he took over for Louis B. Mayer at MGM. But, in fact, the movie was made at Warner Bros. This might explain why the movie consistently feels somewhat off in tone. I don't think it helps that it's Gene Tierny and Ray Milland cast as the couple. They don't have the greatest chemistry together, and I don't know that either of them is quite right for the role they're asked to play. Bainter, however, shines in support.

Close to My Heart is an interesting artifact of how Hollywood looked at adoption in the early 1950s, even if it isn't the greatest of movies.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, February 2, 2023: Travel Romance

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is my first time back after a little while, mostly because I couldn't think of any movies to fit the previous several themes. For February, the theme is romance in its various guises, and I should be able to come up with selections for the three movie-themed editions. Feb. 23, with its TV focus, might be a bit more difficult for me. Anyhow, the form of romance for this week's theme is "Travel romance". I had several ideas in mind, but thought about saving a movie or two for one of the other themes. Ultimately, I wound up with three movies from over 80 years ago, one of which I might have used quite some time ago:

One Way Passage (1932). William Powell plays a criminal who is being extradited from Asia back to America to face the death penalty. Kay Francis plays an heiress who is terminally ill. They're on the same boat, meet, and fall in love, each not knowing about the other's fate and not about to hurt the other by revealing their own fate.

They Met in Bombay (1941). Clark Gable is a jewel thief in Bombay trying to get one of those named jewels that were a big thing back in old-time movies. Rosalind Russell shows up, also with plans to steal the jewel. Although they're rivals, they have to help each other escape from India, which they do on Peter Lorre's steamer to China. Along the way, they fall in love. And then the Japanese invasion of China comes to them....

Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence (1939). A very young Glenn Ford decides he's going to beat the Depression by using the money he's saved up to buy some land in Arizona and become a farmer. However, he doesn't have enough money to get to Arizona, winding up as a hobo, which is how he meets Jean Rogers, a Spanish immigrant who is in the country illegally. By the time the two wind up at the farm in Arizona, they've fallen in love.

TCM Star of the Month February 2023: Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno and Treat Williams in The Ritz (Feb. 23, 8:00 PM)

We're into a new month on TCM, and this is another of those years where the Academy Awards aren't in February, which means we have a new set of spotlights instead of Oscar-nominated movies. That includes a new Star of the Month, and following Marion Davies in that role is Rita Moreno. Her movies will be airing every Thursday in prime time. To be honest, I didn't realize Moreno was in that many movies to let her be a Star of the Month, but there you are.

Moreno's best-known role, and the one that won her the Oscar, is in West Side Story, which you can see at 8:00 PM on Feb. 16. Another of her musical roles was in yellowface as Tuptim, part of the king's harem, in The King and I (8:00 PM, Feb. 9). But I think the movie that I really enjoy is The Ritz, which surprisingly shows up at 8:00 PM on February 23. Once again, this is the sort of movie I would have thought TCM would want to put in an overnight slot because of its fairly open comedic discussion of sex. Imagine all those families out on the west coast sitting down to dinner while this comes on....

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Swimmer

There are movies I blog about that I don't care for at all, and tell people that they should watch and judge for themselves, especially when it's a movie that has fairly high ratings. One such movie is The Swimmer.

Burt Lancaster plays the titular swimmer, a man named Ned Merrill who shows up one day wearing just his swimming trunks at the home of the Fosburghs, some people who live in the same suburban Connecticut town as he does. How he got there or why he's in just his swimming trunks is not really explained. But the Fosburghs live on a hill that gives a good view of a lot of the rest of town, and Ned sees a whole bunch of swimming pools. This gives him the bizarre idea that he could "swim" home, going from one set of neighbors with a swimming pool to the next, swimming through each of the pools.

Now, you'd think this sort of idea is nuts, and yet it's just the sort of thing that you could present in a not-so-mainstream movie and have the characters think it's brilliant. Or have a bunch of angsty teens who think everything is deep and profound fall in love with the idea. In fact, Merrill does meet one such teen, Julie Hooper (Janet Landgard), who is with a couple of her friends at one of the houses with the swimming pools. Ned remembers her having babysit for his two daughters, but that was apparently some time ago. Indeed, one of the recurring themes of the movie is that everybody but Ned seems to realize that quite a bit of time has passed since the last time they saw each other, while Ned doesn't.

And because of that, there are a lot of people who don't like Ned's presence. One of those is Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule), an actress with whom Ned apparently had an affair that ended badly. She remembers it ending badly but he doesn't, so she's none too pleased when Ned shows up. There's also a couple hosting a pool party who bought the Merrill's hot dog cart during a white elephant sale. Ned has no memory of this and is pissed; he wants his cart back. Good luck with that.

So does Ned make it home? And do we ever get to meet the wife and daughters Ned keeps talking about? Some explanation is implied by the end of the movie, but not an entire explanation. We do know that all those neighbors who recognized Merrill hadn't been around for a long time were right, but there's still no reason given for how Ned showed up here in the first place.

I suppose The Swimmer isn't supposed to make sense (or perhaps there's more exposition given in the John Cheever story, which I haven't read, on which the movie is basd), and that this is a good thing for some viewers who like a movie that's different and challenging, for me it didn't work at all. I find myself comparing it very badly to something like Two for the Road, which is spatially but not temporally linear. While that one is definitely challenging, it works because the characters are more realistic people and the explanation given for the plot hook of the couple having taken the same trip multiple times with the viewer seeing scenes from different iterations of the trip is a good one. Lancaster doesn't get much to work with as Ned Merrill, and way too much is left unexplained.

But, as I said, there are people who like The Swimmer, so as always, watch and judge for yourself.