Friday, March 31, 2023

Briefs for March 31-April 1, 2023

I actually have a couple of movies watched, but haven't had the time to do a real post today; that's something which should change for the weekend and, with any luck, I should have a bit more time when I finally convert to working from home. Having said that, it's amazing the amount of Underground-like stuff is available with commercials on the various streaming platforms. I bought a Roku device to use as the interface for YoutubeTV, and in addition to the Roku Channel, stuff like TubiTV and PlutoTV have so much stuff out there where rights owners are clearly looking for a way to squeeze a few extra pennies out of the rights. It's how I watched The Warriors, and have a blaxploitation movie coming up to blog about. The dog, at least, is beginning to settle in:

FXM Retro continues to trundle along. I see that Somewhere in the Night is on the schedule for tomorrow (April 1) at 6:00 AM. I'm not certain if this one is entirely new to the FXM rotation, or if it showed up earlier this year. But I didn't mention it as being back in the rotation, and think I would have if I had seen it show up before.

TCM's schedule for April is going to be something completely different. Instead of a normal Star of the Month or the other spotlights, they're honoring one studio -- Warner Bros. -- as it's the studio's 100th anniversary, depending upon how you count. I'm presuming is what Warner Bros., or whoever owns the place now, considers the official centenary. Of course, as a fan of old movies I'm reminded of the 1930 short that they made claiming it was Warner Bros.' silver jubilee. Every movie on TCM in April is going to be one produced at Warner Bros. or one of its subsidiaries, or else a documentary about the studio. One thing worth mentioning early in the month is Lights of New York (Apr. 2, 5:00 AM), which is generally considered the first feaure-length all-talking picture. You may recall that The Jazz Singer was only a part talkie. Lights of New York is more or less a standard-issue picture in the genre of small town people go to big city and get mixed up with crime, but then I don't think the tropes had been set yet back in 1928.

I only noticed after getting off work today that today is Christopher Walken's 80th birthday. Walken won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Deer Hunter, and has been in a whole bunch of interesting movies over the past 50 years, with one of my favorites being At Close Range. I also learned that he's been married to the same woman since 1969.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, March 30, 2023: Book/TV show pairings

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the final Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV-themed edition of the blogathon. The theme for the previous edition was pairing books with movies, so it's unsurprising that this time around the theme is pairing TV shows with books. I, needless, to say, decided to go with my offbeat sense of humor once again:

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, paired with The Joy of Painting (1983-1994). Somehow, I can't imagine James Joyce writing about happy little clouds.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, paired with The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon (1966-2010). When Jerry Lewis hosted the telethon out of Las Vegas to raise money into research for muscular dystrophy, the telethon ran roughly 21½ hours, from 9PM ET on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend through to 6:30 PM Monday. However, a good 15 minutes or more of every hour was for the local affiliates carrying the show to raise money for local interests. A lot of flavors of the day showed up, along with some people who were on the way down from fame, before changing tastes and Lewis' advancing age finally made the MDA decide to change the format. The 1976 telethon did produce this memorable moment:

The Big Book, paired with Cheers (1982-1993). You know everybody, not just Sam, was an alcoholic to spend that much time at a bar.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Four months before Edge of Darkness

One of the box sets I've mentioned a couple of times is my Mill Creek set of war movies produced and/or distributed by Columbia. One of the movies in the set that I hadn't seen before was The Commandos Strike at Dawn, so I recently popped it into the DVD player to watch and do a review on.

The movie starts off in the summer of 1939 in a small village in Norway. It's a happy time as there's a wedding going on, but if you know your history you know that it's not going to be happy for long. September 1, 1939 is right around the corner, meaning the Nazis are about to invade Poland. And it wasn't all that long after the invasion of Poland that the Nazis turned their eyes to countries on the other side of their border. Norway woould be about to fall, although we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

As the movie opens with that wedding, the widower Eric Toresen (Paul Muni) is celebrating with a visiting British woman, Judith Bowen (Anna Lee). She's set to return to the UK where her father (Cedric Hardwicke) is an admiral, making him fairly high up in the British navy. It's a fortuitous coincidence, and something that will provide the romantic angle to lighten the mood in what is about to become a fairly dark movie.

As I mentioned, the Nazis invade, so the middle of the movie is a fairly long section in which the Nazis, led by a local commander played by Alexander Knox, start to visit all sorts of indignities upon the locals, down to little things like taking all the blankets. After all, the Germans need to stay warm, too. Questioning what the Nazis are doing is of course dangerous, as Johan Bergeson (Ray Collins) finds out. But the Norwegians are more independent-minded than some nationalities who were more accepting of the Germans, or at least more passive. Eric is among the townsfolk who think there should be some sort of resistance, and he's willing to be more or less the leader.

But he has to become a fugitive after stabbing one of the Nazis. Hiding out in the forest, he discovers that the Germans are planning to build an airstrip in the vicinity that's going to allow them to attack Britain more easily. Eric has to get to England so that he join the Norwegian resistance there just as there were Czech (Dark Blue World) and Polish (To Be or Not to Be) pilots based in the UK. Once he does, a plan is ut in place to destroy that airfield.

As I was watching The Commandos Strike at Dawn, I couldn't help but think of Errol Flynn as part of the Norwegian resistance, as he starred in a similar movie, Edge of Darkness. But on looking it up, I found that The Commandos Strike at Dawn came first be a couple of months. It's a fairly formulaic resistance movie, as it was made during the era when audiences on the home front needed the morale boost that movies like this would likely have provided; that boost was more important than innovative storytelling.

But the cast does well, and the story is very competently told. As you watch the opening credits, you'll see a lot of people with RCAF titles. That's the Royal Canadian Air Force, as the movie was made in no small part on Vancouver Island which was able to provide something relatively close to resembling Norwegian fjords. The acting is professional if nothing spectacular; the movie is not going to be at the top of the list of anyone's best movies but none of the cast would have had anything to be ashamed of in making this movie.

In short, The Commandos Strike at Dawn is the sort of movie that's perfect to include in a modestly-priced box set, and certainly worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Project X

One of the few movies currently in the FXM Retro rotation that I haven't blogged about before is Project X. I was able to record it from my shiny new YoutubeTV account, and since it's on again tomorrow (Mar. 29) at 1:10 PM, I decided to watch it now to do a post on.

The movie opens with a brief establishing scene of a bunch of monkeys being captured in Africa, to be sent to the US for various forms of scientific research. One of the monkeys, eventually named Virgil, is sent to the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin, where Teri MacDonald (Helen Hunt) is a graduate student studying the teaching of sign language to chimpanzees, which is why she needs a chimp like Virgil.

Teri is a dedicated researcher, and does a good job in the first year that she has custody of Virgil. However, Virgil isn't hers; he still belongs legally to the National Science Foundation. And they only dole out such research animals on a one year at a time grant. So at the end of one year, they inform Teri that as she's got enough empirical results for her dissertation, the NSF will not be renewing her grant and they will be taking back Virgil. Teri rather naively believes it when she's told by her thesis advisor that Virgil will most likely be going to a zoo.

The next shot is of an air force base in Florida bordering the Everglades, so it's fairly obvious that Virgil was not in fact sent to a zoo. Among the people stationed at the base is Airman Jimmy Garrett (Matthew Broderick). He's the son of a man who was a very good and well-remembered pilot for the USAF, now deceased, which is how Jimmy got pushed into the Air Force. But Jimmy himself isn't well suited to the military. He's already been drummed out of the Air Force Academy, and now he's in trouble for taking his girlfriend up in one of the planes.

Instead of giving Garrett a dishonorable discharge, his superiors order him to a restricted facility on site that's doing research. As you can probably guess, that facility is involving the chimpanzees. Specifically, they're looking to see what sort of extreme situations the chimps are able to endure during flight, situations that human pilots are going to have to face in case there's a nuclear war. (The movie was released in 1987, before the demise of the Soviet Union.) Virgil is one of the chimpanzees in the experiment, and unsurprisingly Jimmy spots Virgil's intelligence and takes to Virgil fairly quickly.

It's not, however, until Jimmy sees a PSA on TV that has a sign-language interpreter on it that he realizes Virgil has to ability to understand some sort of sign language. He gets a copy of The Joy of Signing to figure out what Virgil is trying to tell him. As it turns out, Jimmy doesn't have much time. He learns that one of the experiments is for the brass to figure out how much radiation pilots will be able to take if they have to fly over a nuclear explosion. It would obviously be unethical to subject human pilots to this, and who would want to waste trained pilots on it. Chimpanzees, however? The military has no compunction about that.

By now, Jimmy has learned that Virgil had been taught up at the University of Wisconsin, and has made an anonymous call to Teri, which is a dangerous thing to do since the project he's assigned to is top secret. Teri compounds the problem by flying down to Florida to try to find the man who informed her about Virgil. Needless to say, Teri does find Jimmy, and the two of them have to try to save the chimpanzees.

As I said earlier, Project X was released back in 1987, so well before September 11, 2001, and squarely in the era when it was not uncommon for Hollywood to make conspiracy theory movies in which the government was the bad guy. So there's a lot in Project X that's fairly unsubtle. There's also a lot that's fairly far-fetched. Broderick and Hunt are both appealing, and do the best they can with the material, but in the end the material doesn't give them much help. Project X isn't exactly a bad movie, but it definitely doesn't rise much above mediocre.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Liz Taylor in blue

Another recent movie watch was the classical music drama Rhapsody.

Elizabeth Taylor plays Louise Durant, who serves as hostess for her presumably widowed father Nicholas (Louis Calhern), one of those wealthy businessman types living in Europe. But that's not what Louise wants out of life. She'd like to see if she could make it as a pianist. Not only that, but she's fallen in love with a violinist, Paul Bronte (Vittorio Gassman), who's a student at the conservatory in Zürich. So Louise runs off with Paul to Zürich, where she'll be able to live off of Daddy's money even if she's nowhere near as talented or driven as the other musical students.

When they get to Zürich, Louise takes a well-appointed apartment simply because she can. The other students can't necessarily do so, much like the Robert Mitchum character in the recently-reviewed Not As a Stranger. One such student is a fellow pianist, James Guest (John Ericson), and he has to take a garret apartment in the same building as Louise. He sees Louise, and immediately falls in love with her, having to be told by Paul that she's already taken.

I mentioned earlier that not having the drive will keep you from succeeding. For Louise, however, the bigger problem is that the other people around her have that drive while she doesn't, and that's going to affect the way people respond to her. First off is Paul. He's an extremely good violinist, to the point that he's going to be able to have a career as a violin soloist after he graduates conservatory. But he's also driven, and wants that career, to the point that he makes Louise wait around while he goes out and gets what he wants, as his career is more important than her. It's a personal choice, and not necessarily wrong, but obviously it's not what Louise expected out of life.

Louise responds to this by trying to off herself by overdosing on sleeping pills. Obviously this move doesn't succeed, or else we'd have a movie with an ending most audiences would have hated and one with a pretty short running time. Instead, she survives, and finds that Guest is nursing her back to health. He loves her, and he's willing to sacrifice her career to help her get better. Since she's on the rebound, she decides to marry him, but doesn't yet know how to be in a truly equal relationship. So she spends the next third of the movie miserable while Guest drinks himself out of any possibility of a career.

And then Bronte shows up again. He and Louise still have a thing for each other, and even tries to get Louise to divorce Guest and return to him. But Louise and her father both know that kicking a man when he's down is a problem, so she tries something even more devious, which is helping Guest recover and get his chance at a musical career.

It's nice that Rhapsody is filled with great classical music -- notably Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and Rachmaninoff's violin concerto -- because the plot is pure melodrama. Indeed, don't pay so much attention to the plot because it might have you rolling your eyebrows. Taylor is gorgeous to look at, and does the best she can with the subpar material she has. Calhern is classy; Gassman shows he has talent; and Ericson comes across as a bit of a cipher. Among the supporting characters, there's Michael Chekhov as a professor at the conservatory, but the minute he opened his mouth I couldn't help but think of his role as Ingrid Bergman's med school professor in Spellbound, which isn't quite appropriate here.

All in all, Rhapsody is a fairly good example of the studio system as it was once television came around. There's a stable of professional stars; lovely color and scenery that TV couldn't yet really offer; but a movie that seems a bit too old-fashioned.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Not the former Postmaster General

The UK has long had its share of entertainers who, for whatever reason, never really became successful on this side of the Atlantic. Among them was a man named Will Hay, who made about 20 movies in the UK in the 30s and the early years of World War II. Some time ago I came across one of his movies on Youtube, and only recently finally got around to watching it: Oh, Mr. Porter!.

Will Hay plays William Porter, who works for one of the railways (this being before World War II, Clement Attlee hadn't come around to nationalize the railways yet), but not as a porter. Instead, he's a wheeltapper, who job it was to make certain the steel wheels and axles hadn't deformed through overheating. But Mr. Porter isn't very good at his job, in fact only having it because his sister is married to one of the railway's executives. He screws up again, however, and the other executives want to fire him. His sister says that means living with her and her husband, something the brother-in-law obviously doesn't want.

With that in mind, the bosses look for some sort of suitable out-of-the-way make-work job for Mr. Porter, finding that most of the jobs with the railway are ones he's tried already and failed spectacularly at. Finally, the railway finds something. There's a station in Buggleskelly, Northern Ireland, that basically gets no passenger trains stopping at it, but still needs a station master to handle the odd whistle-stop passenger as well as the limited goods traffic that stops in Buggleskelly. It'll keep Mr. Porter away from Britain in any case.

So they send Mr. Porter over to Buggleskelly, where he finds a ramshackle station house along with two workers, old Jeremiah (Moore Mariott) and young Albert (Graham Moffatt). Still, Mr. Porter wants to do the best job he can, even though in his case he's not competent enough to do anything. In this case, that means trying to get the station in good working condition and getting it to be a place people will want to stop. But of course, everything he tries goes badly wrong. The threat of his being fired and having to go live with his sister still hangs over his head.

At the same time, there's a legend that a ghost haunts the track in the Buggleskelly area, which might go some way to explaining why the station keeps needing a new station manager. Porter investigates, and his nosing into things he probably shouldn't winds up with his coming across a group of gun-runners. They take Porter and the other two employees hostage, forcing them to run the train to get away from the approaching authorities.

This is the first Will Hay movie I've seen, and I don't know how many more of them are available for viewing. I do have to say that Hay is a bit of an acquired taste. The humor is also very much of the pre-war era. If I had to compare Hay to anybody, I think I'd come up with a bit of Joe E. Brown's character from Earthworm Tractors, although that's more because of the heavy equipment being a big part of the plot. There's also a bit of Norman Wisdom, and maybe a bit of Jerry Lewis. But if you like 1930s movies and working-class humor of a bygone era, you'll probably like Oh, Mr. Porter!. The other group it will appeal to are railway buffs, as it shows railroading in a way that no longer exists.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Stanley Kramer makes a medical drama

Whether producing or directing, Stanley Kramer was known for making "message pictures" dealing with important social issues. Sometimes, his style was blunt enough that the message came across as more important than the picture. One good example of this is Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. This was something I kept thinking about as I was watching his debut directorial effort (although he had already produced several movies), Not As a Stranger.

Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) is a medical student at Big City Medical School, studing under Dr. Aarons (Broderick Crawford) and lightening the mood with his best friend, Alfred Boone (Frank Sinatra, and yes, everybody is pushing 40 and much too old for the parts they're playing). Watch also for a young Lee Marvin as another medical student, although he's not part of the second half of the movie. Marsh is highly driven and pretty darn intelligent, but this causes him to clash with the established doctors. To be fair, part of this is that they may not be up to date on the latest medical techniques.

Also causing problems for Marsh is his father (Lon Chaney in a small role). Marsh's mom died some time back and left him a fair amount of money which should help pay for medical school. But Dad is an alcoholic, and drank away the money, leaving Lucas with no money to pay his upcoming tuition. Thankfully for him, however, he does meet somebody who has a little bit of money saved up. That's nurse Kirstina (Olivia de Havilland), who has been saving up money, and who for some reason is part of the Swedish immigrant community along with Oley (Harry Morgan), forcing her to essay a ridiculous Swedish accent for no discernible plot reason. Lucas marries Kristina for her money.

Eventually everybody graduates from medical school and does their internship before going into practice. Alfred decided to go the route that Robert Donat did for a while in The Citadel, of becoming a wealthy doctor in private practice, although he's going to remain Lucas and Kristina's friend and show up when necessary to advance the plot. Lucas, on the other hand, decides to go to a small town that looks partly like a studio backlot and partly like a smaller city than a small town. There are some farmers around, and Lucas will certainly be serving them, but there's also a surprisingly well-equipped hospital and some ritzy areas.

The ritzy areas and farm life come together one evening when Marsh goes out to attend to a farmer who got kicked by his horse. The farmer's wife says that Miss Lang (Gloria Grahame) wants to see him, even though it's 1:00 AM. Now when you see the name Gloria Grahame in the credits, you can guess that the character is a bit of a vamp, or a femme fatale. Well, more than a little bit. Lang lives in a big house with a sort of hobby horse-raising concern attached to it, and she leads a lonely life drinking more than she should. You can guess that Lucas is going to find himself falling in love with her, and that this is going to cause a problem with his marriage to Kristina.

I mentioned at the beginning that Stanley Kramer made a bunch of message pictures, and boy does he try to insert as many of the medical drama tropes as he can to get The Message across. At times this makes the movie become unintentionally funny. There are montages of the doctors treating patients which look like they could have come from a medical issue of the week TV drama. Worse, or more hilarious depending on your point of view, is Kramer's use of horses when Marsh finally falls and becomes unfaithful with Lang. There's also the blatant foreshadowing. Kristina talks so much about having a family that you know that she's going to get pregnant, and it's obvious way before we see the scene of Dr. Boone telling her that it's already happened.

The casting is also interesting. Robert Mitchum is clearly miscast, much like epileptic research scientist Ronald Reagan in Night Unto Night. And as I mentioned, why Kramer made de Havilland and Harry Morgan take on Swedish accents was beyond me. On the other hand, Broderick Crawford shows he could play more than tough guys. Charles Bickford plays the elderly small-town doctor who takes Marsh into his practice, and he does well too.

Overall, Not As a Stranger is a movie that's more interesting for how it lets The Message dominate the movie than it is for being any sort of truly great movie. But it's still worth a watch.

Friday, March 24, 2023

To the Last Man

Another recent watch off the Watch TCM app was To the Last Man. The print TCM ran said that it had been preserved by the Museum of Modern Art; supposedly there's a public domain print out there under the title Law of Vengeance.

The first thing about the movie that's interesting is how it introduces each of the main cast members, putting up the actor's name and character at the bottom of the screen the first time they appear. Now, some early talkies used a convention of showing the main characters with a shot from the movie right at the beginning. And there are also some silent films that would put the name of the actor in an intertitle when introducing a new character. But I hadn't seen it done quite like this before. Randolph Scott is the star here, and it's a bit odd to see his name show up on screen only when he first appears 20 minutes or more into the proceedings.

Anyhow, the plot itself starts off just after the end of the Civil War, with a newspaper etching informing us of Lee's surrender -- I don't think the technology to print photographs in newspapers was around in the 1860s. We then move to Kentucky, where Mark Hayden (Egon Brecher) is returning from the war. Mark's son Lynn (Jay Ward, but not the one who would go on to create Bullwinkle) witnesses Grandpa getting murdered, by one of the Colby gang, patriarch Jed (Noah Beery Sr.). The Colbys and Haydens have been feuding, but Mark doesn't want the violence to go on, having seen too much in the war. So instead of taking blood revenge, Mark gets Jed sent to prison for 15 years. The Haydens go west to Nevada to escape the feud, with Grandma taking care of young Lynn, she refusing to go west.

Those 15 years pass, and Jed is just about to get out of prison. During his time there, he made friends with fellow prisoner Jim Daggs (Jack La Rue), who got out a few months before Jed. Jim has raised a stake for him and the Colbys to go to Nevada to follow the Haydens, as Jed wants revenge for having lost 15 years of his life, not realizing it was his own damn fault. Jed also has an adult daughter, Ellen (Esther Ralston), who follows Dad and Jim out to Nevada.

Jed certainly attempts revenge, but things get complicated thanks to the presence of Ellen. Jim expects that Ellen is going to marry him, but who should show up from back east but a now grown up Lynn Hayden (Randolph Scott, but of course you'll figure that out from the credits). He first runs into Ellen as she's swimming and being menaced by Jim, and he saves Ellen, the two not realizing who each other are. When Ellen finds out this is another Hayden, she's pissed and wants nothing to do with Lynn. But Lynn doesn't want the feuding either even though it's unavoidable, and you can probably guess that Ellen is ging to fall in love with Lynn by the last reel.

What surprised me about To the Last Man was the sort of violence. The climax took an unexpectedly dark turn, and I found that this raised the level of an otherwise standard-issue 1930s western quite a bit. To the Last Man is interesting for a whole bunch of reasons, and definitely worth a watch if you can find it.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Warriors

Now that I'm getting settled into the new digs, I'm finding that I have a bit more time to watch stuff, as well as see what all is available on the various streaming services. I noticed that one of the channels was running The Warriors, one of those movies that I know has a bit of a cult following but that I had never seen before. It's nice that streaming lets you start from the beginning without having had to record it first, so even though it was in the middle of a showing, I was able to sit down and watch from start to finish, along with the same three or four ads over and over.

In New York City, there are a lot of small competing gangs, of the sort that are about as tough as the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story. One of those gangs is the Warriors, who are based in Coney Island. A small group of Warriors are on their way to Manhattan, where a bigger gang leader, Cyrus, has assembled all the gangs. Cyrus wants them to band together, since together there's a lot more of them than there are police. However, somebody, not one of the Warriors, has smuggled a gun into this meeting that's so secret it's being held right out in the middle of a public park and nobody notices but the assembled gang members. That guy shoots poor Cyrus dead.

Worse, Cleon (Dorsey Wright), the leader of the Warriors, got a good look at the guy who shot Cyrus. And, the killer Luther knows that Cleon saw it. So the killer takes the initiative and claims -- totally wrongly, of course -- that it was Cleon who killed Cyrus. Luther would have shot Cleon too, but the police show up just in time for everybody to skedaddle.

It's bad news for the Warriors. Since they're a gang, and wearing their "uniform" of an unbuttoned vest with nothing underneath, because of course everybody goes out in public undressed like this, all the other gang members are going to be able to spot the Warriors. And the gangs believe in collective punishment, because what would be the point of the gang otherwise. The Warriors are unarmed, like everybody else but Luther, and since they're not back on their home turf, they're in serious trouble. And with Cleon presumed dead, there's a power vacuum between second-in-command Swan (Michael Beck) and number three Ajax (James Remar).

Masai (Dennis Gregory), Cyrus' second-in-command, wants revenge, and tries to get out word to all the other gangs to stop the Warriors if at all possible. Now, this is in the days before cell phones and social media, so Masai has to use a friend in radio, the DJ (Lynne Thigpen), to get the word out. So the other gangs are aware that the Warriors are trying to get back to Coney Island, and are in pursuit. The Warriors have to take on a serious of increasingly absurdist gangs to get home. (Seriously, it got to the point that I was hoping the tennis mimes from the end of Blow-Up would be one of the gangs.)

It's easy to see why The Warriors has become a cult classic. That having been said, it's really not that good of a movie if you decide to stop and think about what you're watching. There are a lot of plot holes and other stuff that just doesn't make much sense or strains credulity. One of the gangs was on roller skates, for example, and this made me wonder whether this was how Michael Beck got the idea to open a roller disco in Xanadu. If you want another movie reference, Lynne Thigpen's DJ character made me think of Vanishing Point. And for New York supposedly being the City that Never Sleeps, the New York depicted here was surprisingly empty. But if you turn your brain off, it's a lot of fun.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Bad Boy (1925)

I'm sorry to say that I don't have much time to write a real post today, so I decided to go looking for a Youtube video of a Charley Chase silent. I figured they'd all be in the public domain by now, although there's always the question of the a new music score, which wouldn't be in the public domain.

In the end, I found the 1925 two-reeler Bad Boy, a new-to-me movie uploaded by the musician who wrote the score that accompanies the movie. It's a fresh way to put out a portfolio of one's work, I suppose. And the movie is directed by Leo McCarey, who would go on to have considerable success in the sound era.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Martha's affairs

I've argued before that MGM had a lot of polish in its pictures, and sometimes that was too much polish for its own good. I think that's the case with a B movie I watched recently, The Affairs of Martha.

The movie stars off by telling us it's set in the town of Rock Bay on Long Island, one of those ritzy rich towns with all the proper decorum. So proper, in fact, that the town tut-tuts if anybody's too loud. But the town is about to get in a tizzy, because somebody is going to violate that decorum. New York gossip columnist Joel Archer (Allyn Joslyn) informs the fine people of Rock Bay, and the rest of the region, in one of his columns that a new book is about to be published. That book has been written by one of the maids in Rock Bay who, like Grace Metalious a dozen years later in Peyton Place, used the people in town as a model for her book. No wonder the upper-class populace of Rock Bay is in that tizzy.

The likeliest family to have a maid that would write such a book are the Sommerfields, with parents Melville Cooper and Spring Byington, and daughter Virginia Weidler. They're one of those less-than-normal families that you'd find in screwball comedies like the recently-mentioned Joy of Living, although this isn't really a screwball comedy. The family also has two maids, McKissick (Marjorie Main) and Martha (Marsha Hunt). As you might be able to guess by the title, Martha will turn out to be the one who wrote the book, and the rest of the town is going to learn this in the final reel.

Of course, Martha has much more going on in her life. The Sommerfields do, too. They've also got a son, Jeff (Richard Carlson), whom I haven't mentioned before simply because he hasn't shown up yet. He's studied anthropology, and is currently on an expedition to the Arctic to study dementia in the eskimos, who were not yet called the Inuit by polite society. He hasn't even come back for the start of the war; although the film was released in June of 1942 it feels like it was set some time before the war because there's no mention of any sort of outside affairs other than Jeff's being in the Arctic.

Jeff is about to return from the Arctic though, and this makes Martha very happy. You see, before Jeff left for the Arctic, the two of them got drunk at some sort of a party that resulted in the two of them getting married with almost nobody -- other than Archer -- knowing about the marriage. Jeff and Martha agreed that she was going to get an annulment while he was in the Arctic, but she couldn't get the time off work to go to Reno to get that divorce. And she decided she was going to write a book to show Jeff that she was as much a part of the intelligent people as all those upper-class people she and her class have been working for.

Unfortunately, Jeff wasn't counting on any of this. On his way back from the Arctic, he met Sylvia (Frances Drake) and immediately fell for her, to the point that he returned home engaged to her, and with her in tow. But because Martha hasn't annulled the first marriage....

The big problem with The Affairs of Martha is that it feels like the screenplay goes all over the place. The opening, and the synopses, all deal with the fact that a maid has written that book. If the movie stayed there, it could have mined the vein of comedy in movies like Theodora Goes Wild, and yes, I know Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas have a romance in that one. Here, however, the romantic conflict comes in out of nowhere, making the movie feel like it's doing too much for a 66-minute B film. On top of that, there's all the antics of the family in the third act. Somebody could have written a tighter script for The Affairs of Martha, and we would have gotten a pretty good B movie. Instead, we get a bit of a muddle, with MGM trying to cover it up with its production values.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Life joy

Another movie that I watched off of the Watch TCM app was the 1938 romantic comedy Joy of Living.

Irene Dunne stars as Maggie Garret, the elder daughter in a family of actors. Mom and Dad (Alice Brady and Guy Kibbee respectively) spent years toiling in vaudeville, while Maggie's kid sister Selina (Lucille Ball) unfortunately doesn't have quite as much talent as Maggie, although the parents would like her to go into showbiz too. Maggie's the one who's successful, having made it into the starring role of a musical. (Irene Dunne being a singer, it's unsurprising the script would give her a bunch of opportunities to sing.)

Maggie is so successful, in fact, that she routinely has throngs of adoring fans waiting for her outside the theater every night. In that crowd is Dan Webster (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. doing is best Melvyn Douglas impersonation), who is frankly forward enough that it frightens Maggie into thinking he might be a stalker, although apparently in the late 1930s they used the word "masher" instead. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, as there's one other issue. Despite the fact that Maggie is successful, everybody else in the family has been preying upon her success, to the point that her large even for 2023 salary is about to get attached to pay off all the debts that the family has accrued.

And boy are they an annoying family, in the mold of any number of screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey. That obnoxiousness makes Maggie's next actions nearly plausible. Dan keeps showing up and making life a bit of a pain for Maggie, to the point that she finally decides to press charges. She figures that he's going to get a nominal fine and maybe a restraining order. But the judge shows no mercy and gives Dan a six-month sentence, horrifying poor Maggie. She pleads with the judge, who comes up with the only-in-the-movies scheme to have Maggie serve as a sort of probation officer, keeping Dan responsible in exchange for Dan getting a suspended sentence.

It's fairly obvious where the movie is going to go from here, as Dan and Maggie fall in love, and the movie reaches the climax in which Maggie's relationship with Dan is going to come in conflict with the relationship she has with the rest of her family. It's also fairly obvious which relationship she's going to put first in the finale.

And that's the big problem I had with Joy of Living. The cast is all appealing enough and certainly talented, but they're let down by material that's been done too many times. That, and the script felt like it had scenes that went on much too long so there was even less there than the programmer-length running time would have you believe.

Ultimately, Joy of Living isn't a bad movie; it's just that it's well down the list for all the main players as well as being down the list of screwball comedies. There's just so much better out that that you could show to introduce people to any of the stars or genre.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Another set of briefs for March 19-21, 2023

31 Days of Oscar continues on TCM through the end of the month. As I've mentioned before, the movies this time around are being grouped by genree. There was only one year of silent films at the Oscars, so when TCM lumps the silent films together, which is happening Monday in prime time. One of the movies is The Last Command at 9:45 PM; for some reason I thought I'd blogged about this one before. But a search of the blog claims that I haven't done so.

Another movie a blog search says that I haven't mentioned in some time, although I have blogged about it, is No Highway in the Sky. This one stars James Stewart as an aircraft engineer who gets the distinct suspicion that the airplane he's flying on is going to suffer a catastrophic failure through metal fatigue. But can he convince anybody of this. I blogged about it in the early days of the blog, when it got one of its airings on the old Fox Movie Channel. It's been back in the FXM rotation for the last little while, and has an airing tomorrow (March 20) at 7:40 AM.

Looking through some of the premium movie channels, it seems that there was a remake of Papillon back in 2018 that I never noticed. If you've got StarzEncore Classics, you can find it there, as if 2018 is a classic. Looking through the schedule, it looks like the oldest movie they've got running is from the early 1980s, although as of now that's already 40 years old. Back when TCM started, 40 yeas earlier would have been 1954, and I don't think anybody would have said at the time that there were no classic movies from the 1960s.

The move is continuing and we're in the new house, although there's a fair amount of the old house that needs to be cleaned out, along with a ton of unpacking here. However, as I think I've mentioned I've already set up the high-speed internet, and have been able to watch more movies on the Watch TCM app. The other nice thing about the streaming TV is how many of the channels allow you to go back to the beginning of a program that's currently airing. Just to see if that feature was working, I decided to sit through the first five minutes of Three Days of the Condor, although that's a movie I've already blogged about. I have no idea how many commercial breaks the movie had.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Dillinger (1945)

Many years back, TCM ran a night of Lawrence Tierney films, including the 1945 version of Dillinger. I sat down to watch it, but unfortunately a thunderstorm screwed up satellite reception and I never got to see the end. I noticed that it's on Watch TCM through the end of the month, and even got an Oscar nomination so TCM could run it in 31 Days of Oscar, so I finally sat down to watch the movie.

The movie opens up with an establishing sequence of what looks like an audience at a picture show, watching a newsreel about John Dillinger and his gang. But it's really more of a public lecture, as John Dillinger's father strolls out onto the stage after the movie and tells the assembled audience that little John started out like any normal boy in Indiana farming country, but didn't want to be tied down to the farm, so he went off to Indianapolis to try to make it big.

Dillinger (that's Lawrence Tierney if you couldn't figure it out) claims to be a stockbroker, but he sounds like he's more talk than action, considering the speakeasy where he's chatting up a girl and the class of waiter serving them. When the waiter wants cash up front for drinks, Dillinger walks out and goes into the nearby grocery store, where he holds up the cashier for a whopping $7.20, which wasn't all that much even in the mid 1920s.

Unsurprisingly, Dillinger gets caught and sent to prison, where he's put in the same cell as Specs Green (Edmund Lowe), a much older man but one who commands the respect of the other prisoners as he's a more intelligent criminal mastermind and not a hothead like Dillinger. But this Dillinger is no dummy, and decides to learn from Specs. The rest of Specs' gang is also in prison with them: Kirk Otto (Elisha Cook Jr.), Marco (Eduardo Cianelli), and "Doc" Madison (Marc Lawrence). Dillinger has a shorter sentence than the other guys, having committed a lesser crime, and gets out before Specs' gang. By this time, he's gotten into Specs' good graces, and promises to spring the rest of the gang.

Once out of prison, Dillinger returns to a life of crime, starting by holding up a movie theater box office. However, he flirted with the cashier, Helen Rogers (Anne Jeffreys) before holding her up. This little bit of flirting is enough to make her fall in love with him, so she doesn't identify him in a police lineup, enabling him to go free and break Specs and the gang out of jail.

The rest of the movie is in some ways the standard crime movie arc of a younger guy getting into a gang and then deciding to take it over, all while going on a crime spree, before the man's hubris gets the better of him. Of course, in the case of John Dillinger, we know the real ending, as he was exiting the Biograph Theater in Chicago after a showing of Manhattan Melodrama. (Surprisingly, Monogram was able to get the rights to show a Disney short from 1933 as part of the scene showing Dillinger's night at the Biograph, but MGM had no desire to let a movie like this use Manhattan Melodrama. Instead, we get made-up audio clips.)

The ending may be the only part of this version of Dillinger that's accurate. Having looked up biographical information on John Dillinger, it seems that most of the screenplay bears little resemblance to reality. However, the screenplay is more than entertaining enough for a B gangster picture, and Tierney was born to play a gangster like Dillinger. This one is definitely worth watching.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The possible hiatus is here

I've been dropping hints for a while that I'm moving out of my current residence to a place that's smaller and more centrally located, largely for the benefit of my father's health, as he really shouldn't be trying to take care of such a big place any more. Well, that move is finally here.

I've already got the internet set up, and it's nice to finally be a part of the 21st century with legitimate high-speed internet. Nothing from TCM on my DVR (well, Youtube TV library) yet, but I should still be able to stream the Watch TCM app.

I've written this post up a day or two early, and tried to get more posts written up early, but with all the packing I didn't get as far ahead as I would have liked. So although I mentioned Tucker: The Man and His Dream a few days back as a post I'd be doing, I still haven't actually gotten around to writing that yet. So there might still be a day or two without any posting while computers and TV sets get set up in the new digs.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The night of length

One more movie that was sitting on my DVR for a long time is one that I'd seen part of many years before, but had never gotten around to seeing all of: The Long Night.

I knew the basic story of The Long Night, as I knew it was a remake of a French movie called Le jour se lève, also known as Daybreak. I've seen that one ages ago but never done a post on it. Anyhow, The Long Night starts, as a lot of noirs do, in the present day, in the top floor of an apartment building. Suddenly, we hear a man get shot and fall down the stairs, quite dead! It's obvious where the shooting occurred and that whoever is in the top floor apartment must have done it, so the police surround the place, hoping that the person in that apartment won't jump to his death or force them to shoot him.

That man is Joe Adams (Henry Fonda), a working man of modest means in a small industrial town about halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland back in the days when the midwest was a more important part of the country than it is today now that these are all Rust Belt places. Joe has always been sensitive about his lot in life, largely because he was an orphan. But as with a lot of noirs, flash back to get the rest of the story....

One day, in a flower shop, Joe runs into a nice woman called Jo Ann (Barbara Bel Geddes). They strike up a conversation, and find out that they were both in the same orphanage! Joe has a connection with somebody know, and he begins to fall in love with her. But it's not going to be an easy relationship, in no small part because of Jo Ann's personal life. One night, at a local club, Joe sees Jo Ann go in, and he goes in as well, where a magician named Maximilian the great (Vincent Price) is performing.

And this is where things begin to get really complicated. Max is clearly a rival with Joe for Jo Ann's affections. But it's also intimated that they may have some other familial relationship! Meanwhile, Max has a former girlfriend Charlene (Ann Dvorak) who was also Max's partner in the stage show before their breakup. Charlene serves more or less as the Greek chorus to this tragedy, playing the voice of conscience and revealing an important plot or two.

But because the movie is told in flashback, we can pretty much guess where it's going to end up, although the question is exactly how it's going to get there. It's a story that's told about as well as one can, given the fact that it's a Hollywood movie that's working within the strictures of the Production Code. As I've said, it's been ages since I've seen the French original, but it was able to be more open about the themes explored. (Wikipedia also claims that a restored version put on DVD after I saw the unrestored movie has French actress Arletty naked in a scene. Hollywood obviously could never do that in those days.)

The acting is also about as good as you can expect; Vincent Price makes a suitable villain, or as much of a villain as you're going to get since a lot of this is the fault of Joe's naivete. Fonda as Joe was always capable of playing characters with an inner darkness although I think he might be at his best when he plays characters who are more the moral conscience. If there's a weakness, it's that Jo Ann isn't fleshed out enough to give the viewer a reason why there would be such a romantic rivalry for her. But then, in a small town, sometimes such things just happen with the nice girl.

All in all, The Long Night is a good enough film, although there are certainly better noirs and better movies in each of the stars' filmographies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Never Say Die

Since I'm not certain how many movies I'm going to be able to watch off my DVR before the big move, I also put in a DVD to watch, and selected from my big Bob Hope box set a film called Never Say Die.

Hope plays John Kidley, who's at one of those Swiss mountain resorts because he thinks he's quite sick. Indeed, he's a hyopchondriac, and while me may or may not really be sick, he's actually going to have good reason to believe he's sick. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Kidley also came to this resort to get away from a woman he'd met earlier on his travels to Switzerland, Juno Marko (Gale Sondergaard). She's a widow, and has decided she's fallen in love with Kidley and thinks that he loves her, too. And she's not going to take no for an answer.

Meanwhile, at the resort, another patron isn't sick himself, but has a dog who is sick. The guy being rich, he's getting all sorts of lab tests performed on the dog, which will eventually indicate that the dog is in perfectly normal health for a dog. The problem is that what's normal for a dog is not normal for a human. And somehow, the lab report on the dog doesn't seem to indicate that it's for a dog, or even the name of the patient in an obvious enough place to obviate the next part of the story. As you might be able to guess from what I've written, Kidley's doctor winds up with the report for the dog thinking that it's actually for Kidley, which leads him to believe that Kidley has some sort of acid condition that's basically going to eat away Kidley's body and kill him within a month or so.

Meanwhile, at the resort but apparently not sick is Texan Mickey Hawkins (Martha Raye, who worked with Hope on several films early in his career). She's here trying to get away from Prince Smirnov (Alan Mowbray), a Russian émigré who has fallen in love with Mickey and is fully expecting her to marry him, even though she doesn't want that at all. And he's been hunting her to the ends of the earth. So since she's about to get trapped into a marriage she doesn't want, and Kidley is trying to avoid a marriage he doesn't want, he comes up with a brilliant idea. As he has good reason to believe he's terminally ill, why not have a quickie marriage between him and Mickey which will obviously dissolve, pun fully intended, when he dies.

Of course, we know that Kidley isn't really sick. And further messing things up is the entry of an old flame of Mickey's from back in Texas, Henry Munch (Andy Devine). He's hoping Mickey can marry him, and is understandably miffed to find that Mickey's gone and gotten herself married to someone else. Also, Juno and Smirnov are still around, with Smirnov trying to hasten Kidley's death by challenging him to a duel, leading up to the inevitably conclusion....

The more I get to watch Paramount programmers, which isn't as often as I'd like since TCM doesn't get to show as many of them thanks to Universal holding the rights, the more I find how much I tend to enjoy them. Bob Hope isn't always my cup of tea, but he works well with Martha Raye and the script is fairly good. (I wasn't paying attention and missed Preston Sturges' name as one of the co-writers.) They've also got good production values for the sorts of programmers they were making, without looking inappropriately polished the way certain MGM films do.

In short, Never Say Die is the sort of movie that's great to have on a box set and one that probably deserves more attention, both for Hope, and for Raye when she was younger before she really became known as the "big mouth".

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

A couple of 90th birthdays

In order to get through the time around when I'm moving so as not to have too much of a hiatus, I decided to look ahead a couple of days and see if there was anybody whose birth anniversary was worth mentioning. I saw director Henry Hathaway, but searched and found I did a birthday post on him back in 2015. And then I noticed that there were two birthdays of people still living, and both were born on the same day: March 14, 1933, which will make today their 90th birthdays.

First up is Quincy Jones. He's probably somewhat better known as a music producer, considering how many Grammys he won, but for about 20 years from the 1960s through the 1980s he wrote a bunch of movie scores. Among the more memorable ones are Walk, Don't Run; In the Heat of the Night; The Italian Job; and The Color Purple. Not only that, but over the course of the film scoring portion of his career, he received seven Oscar nominations. He never won a competitive Oscar, but he would eventually be given the Jean Hersholt Award for his humanitarian work.

I mention The Italian Job among Quincy Jones' scores because, by an interesting coincidence, one of the cast members of that movie was also born on March 14, 1933. That would be the film's star, Michael Caine. Caine, who announced his retirement a couple of years ago, had a long career with a bunch of memorable roles, although for all the good British movies he made, it wasn't until some of the supporting roles he took that he finally won the Oscar. In fact, Caine would go on to win twice, for Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules. Among the movies in which he was playing a more-or-less lead role was The Man Who Would Be King, although you could argue that it's really Sean Connery who's the lead. I'd say they're 1A (Connery) and 1B (Caine). But I picked that movie because the role of the Afghani queen in that movie was played by Caine's real-life wife Shakira (née Baksh). According to IMDb they're still married, and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Bride's Play

Marion Davies was TCM's Star of the Month not too long ago, and I recorded some of the silent movies that TCM aired. Unfortunately, I recorded Beauty's Worth which I'd already done a post on. But I'd never seen The Bride's Play before, so I recorded it and recently watched it.

As you can guess, Marion Davies plays the bride, although the wedding doesn't come until most of the way into the movies. Davies is Aileen Barrett, a young woman in a rural part of Ireland that still seems to hold on to a lot of traditions. She lives near the local lord, Sir Fergus Cassidy (Wyndham Standing). He's had a thing for her for some time, and the two would probably have made an ideal couple if they had grown up together. It's a lot like the sort of couple you see in older movies, people who are small-town neighbors and friends before adulthood draws them closer enough together that they should meet the resposibilities of adulthood together by marrying. Think Harold Russell and Cathy O'Donnell in The Best Years of Our Lives. But Aileen is in her 20s and Sir Fergus in his 40s. There were a fair number of such marriages in the old days, but you can understand why a modern woman in the post-Great War era might have second thoughts about it.

Of course, there's another reason for Aileen to have second thoughts about it, which is the presence of dashing Bulmer Meade (Carl Miller). He's a romantic poet, and close enough to Aileen's age that she unsurprisingly falls for him, having trysts with him at the local wishing well and romantic for the early 1920s stuff like that. Eventually, however, she learns that Bulmer would rather play the field, and indeed, that's what he's been doing. He doesn't love her in the way she needs. So she dumps him.

Fergus, as I've implied, does love Aileen in that way, so she agrees to marry him. But there remains the question of whether she really loves him. And that's a problem as the Cassidy family has had a long tradition of having a sort of test of love at the wedding, which it the "Bride's Play" of the movie's title. In this tradition, the bride asks a bunch of men in the receiving line if they're the one she loves best. They're supposed to say no, although sometimes everybody will have a bit of fun with it. When the bride gets to the groom, of course he's the one she loves best.

But once upon a time, there was a groom that the bride didn't love best. In a fantasy sequence, we see Davies as Enid of Cashell, who is set to marry one of Sir Fergus' ancestors. But she had another love in her past. When she goes down that receiving line, the past love shows up out of nowhere and literally sweeps Enid off her feet, with the two presumably living happily ever after. It doesn't take much guessing to figure out what sort of conflict is going to occur in the film's final reel.

William Randolph Hearst took a lot of interest in Marion Davies' career, sometimes too much for her own good as he preferred to put her in costume dramas like this and not so much the comedies at which she's really quite good. The costume dramas, however, afforded the opportunity to give viewers a more lavish spectacle and what are supposed to be exotic locations. I'm not certain exactly what part of California is substituting for Ireland here, but it doesn't much matter as the atmosphere is certainly there.

The Bride's Play as a whole, however, has the feel of being not quite as good as it could have been. I'm not quite certain what it's missing, but it just kept giving me the sense of missing something. As a result, I think it's more the sort of movie that people who are already fans of silent movies will like a whole lot more than anybody you might be trying to introduce to the genre.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Thoughts on They Live

Some months back, when TCM Underground was still a thing, one of the movies they aired was They Live, which I knew a fair bit about because of how much of it has entered popular culture. Surprisingly, however, I had never seen it in its entirety, so I recorded it and made certain it was one of the movies I watched before I get rid of the current DVR in the upcoming move.

Professional wrestler Roddy Piper plays Nada, a guy with a shady past who winds up in Los Angeles working as an itinerant laborer in the construction industry. Since he can't afford anyplace else, he winds up at an encampent that's across the way from one of those street-corner churches that preaches an individual mashup of various strains of American Protestant theology that lean heavily on Revelation and the idea that the end might be nigh. At the same time, TV broadcasts are being broken into by grainy images of of a speaker telling everybody to wake up and that what they see around them might not be real.

Two things happen to change Nada's life. One is that the encampment is attacked by the police, Soylent Green style if you remember the scene where the police deployed bulldozers to deal with the food riots. The other is that the church is also raided, as the church was apparently a hive of anti-government activity. Nada makes his way into the church, and finds that among the things the church administration, if you can call it that, has dumped hastily is a box of sunglasses. Nada puts on one of the pairs of sunglasses, and is shocked at what he finds.

This is where the movie gets to the part that is much better known. Nada sees a whole bunch of subliminal messages. Behind billboards and magazines are messages such as "OBEY" and "NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT", also telling people to CONSUME and REPRODUCE. That's bad, but the glasses also reveal that there's a substantial minority of the people who are apparently not really human, as they have skeletal heads with no skin or hair and bulging eye sockets. Some people in very high places know about this, and no wonder they're trying to keep it a secret.

Now, of course, the question becomes one of whether Nada can convince other people of what's going on, which seems like it might not be that difficult if he can get anybody to put on the sunglasses. But that's difficult enough, and made more difficult by the fact the authorities are on his trail. There doesn't seem to be much of anywhere Nada can turn to.

A lot has been said of the idea that They Live is prescient. I have to admit that over the past several years my opinion on the conspiracy theory movies that go back to the 1970s and the Watergate era has in many ways changed. I think that's in no small part because of the broader changes in society in general. The people putting out the conspiracy theory movies of the 1970s were fighting "The Man", and in many ways they became "The Man", which will certainly change your perspective on the idea of questioning authority.

One other difference is that a lot of the conspiracy theory movies suffer from a form of "Top Man Syndrome", which is the idea that it's not the system that's a problem; just the people running it. Government is running for the benefit of Evil Big Business, and if we could only get the right people in who would run it for The People, everything would somehow be so much better. A good argument can be made that the government is really in it for itself first. There's a reason why I've made reference on a bunch of occasions to the British sitcom Yes, Minister and how the civil service seems to be as much if not more the ones running things than the elected officials. The past seven years have shown a pretty big disconnect here in America between the government class, and anyone who doesn't share the worldview of the government class, with the government class feeling it needs to do anything necessary, no matter how unconstitutional, to destroy the people who disagree with them.

One thing that I think a lot of conspiracy theory movies get wrong is to give government the wrong sort of power to keep people in check; I think I mentioned this not too long ago in my review of My Fellow Americans where the state is somehow able to get to Jack Lemmon's presidental library to alter records, along with bringing ridiculous amounts of overt force. To be fair, the latter looks good on film and gives the opportunity for explosions and action scenes. In reality, the power is more likely to be used to kill people through the death by a thousand cuts: politically-motivated tax audits; pressuring banks and other intermediaries to stop doing business with wrong-thinking companies (see One America News or Tucker Carlson); and the like. But that doesn't look good on screen.

They Live certainly falls into that trap, although at least director John Carpenter had the sense of making the back story, if you will, being one of aliens using Earth as a sort of Third World labor pool and coopting the wealthier and high-status people into being masters in a gilded cage. No wonder the government has the powers it does; these are alien powers.

Carpenter also doesn't get particularly heavy-handed in telling the story, letting the action unfold in a more entertaining way. I think that's part of the reason why the movie works and overcame its low-budget status to become a cult classic, while other conspiracy theory movies seem to be liked more by the critics and people who might like more arthouse-type movies

And if you think I haven't talked enough about politics, I'm sorry to say you're going to get more, and probably more controversial, when I get to a post about Tucker: The Man and His Dream sometime this week.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Your semiannual Daylight Savings Time reminder

For most of us in the United States, we'll be moving our clocks forward by an hour at bedtime, at least those clocks which don't automatically reset themselves. This always seems to cause problems with people programming TV schedules.

In the case of TCM, it's interesting and fortuitous. I looked at one of the online guides, Titan TV, and it helpfully has an hour early Sunday morning grayed out. However, they have the movie Fiddler on the Roof starting at 12:45 AM and running in a 2:15 slot. Now I know that Fiddler on the Roof runs about three hours (Wikipedia says 179 minutes; IMDb says 181), so it really needs a 3:15 time slot, especially if there's a host intro and outro. In a morbid coincidence, actor Chaim Topol, who plays Tevye, the leading role in the movie, died earlier this week at the age of 87.

Anyhow, following Fiddler on the Roof is Cabaret, which Titan TV says is starting at 4:00 AM and will be in a 3:15 time slot. Cabaret runs 124 minutes so should only need a 2:15 slot. I presume that Fiddler on the Roof runs through the time change (well, except in the Pacific Time Zone) to 5:00 AM, and that Cabaret will run in a 2:15 slot to 7:15 AM, at which point all the schedules will synch up again.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Maybe you could if there weren't a Production Code

A few months back, when I posted on the movie Invisible Stripes for its airing in honor of TCM Star of the Month Humphrey Bogart, I mentioned noticing a movie poster for a film called You Can't Get Away With Murder. It turns out that one is a real movie too, also starring Humphrey Bogart. That one aired as well during Bogart's time as Star of the Month, so I recorded it and watched recently.

Although Bogart is the star, we don't see him at first. Instead we see pretty shop assistant Madge Stone (Gale Page), who is engaged to security guard Fred Burke (Harvey Stephens) and raising her kid brother Johnnie (Billy Halop) as the two apparently lost their parents, something that seemed to be not uncommon in films of the 1930s. Just think of Sylvia Sidney and the brother young enough to be a son in Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage. Madge worries that her kid brother might be hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Of course he is, and unsurprisingly, this being a movie in the early part of his career before Bogart got to start playing good guys, the bad guy Johnnie looks up to is Frank Wilson, played by Bogart. And Frank is quite the piece of work. He gets Johnnie to drive what is going to be a getaway car while the two head off toward Atlantic City, stopping to rob a gas station along the way. But things get worse when Frank says he needs a new gun for the next robbery, and Johnnie looks up to Frank enough to want to help Frank.

Frank, as you can probably guess, has no desire to help Johnnie. Johnnie has just the gun for Frank: Fred's gun. And when Frank shoots the gun in the crime, he kills a pawnbroker and drops the gun so that Johnnie won't be able to return it before Fred finds it missing. And apparently Frank didn't leave any fingerprints on the gun. He, and Johnnie, did leave fingerprints elsewhere, so they get arrested and convicted. But because it was Fred's gun and he doesn't have a good enough alibi, he gets sent to prison too.

Worse, Fred is sentenced to death because the authorities believe he was the one who pulled the gun. Frank or Johnnie could tell the truth, but there's no way Frank is going to do it, since it would sentence him to death. The question then is whether Johnnie is going to come to his senses and tell the truth. Thankfully, in prison he winds up with somebody better to look up to in the form of Pops (Henry Travers). Pops has been in prison long enough that it's the only thing he knows, although you have to wonder what Henry Travers could ever have done to wind up with such a long prison sentence.

Frank is trying to prevent Johnnie from telling the truth, while at the same time trying to organize a prison break, and it's that prison break that forms the climax of the movie, with Frank remaining slimy to the end.

You Can't Get Away With Murder is one of those movies that has as its problem the fact that it was made during the production code. Since we know who did and who didn't commit that crime at the pawnbroker's place, we know who has to pay for their crimes and who doesn't, which means there's really only one ending. However, Warner Bros. was always good at making this sort of crime programmer, and they have a pretty good cast to boot.

You Can't Get Away With Murder might not be as good as Warner Bros.' bigger crime movies from that era, but it's certainly watchable.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, March 9, 2023: Books to pair with movies

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week the theme is an interesting one: picking books to pair with the movies. This doesn't have to be books adapted into movies, and certainly not the book version of a movie. In the end, I decided to go with my typically weird sense of humor and pick three, well, interesting combinations:

Book: 2021 International Building Code Illustrated Handbook. Movie: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). Anybody who's built their dream house, or renovated, will appreciate Blandings. The movie may be 75 years old, but it's still fresh and funny because it's true, as I learned from when my parents renovated the old place and again now that we're moving. My dad was a building inspector but retired at least a dozen years ago now, so I'm not certain what the new code says about lintels:

Book: A People's History of the United States (Howard Zinn, 1980). Movie: Wilson (1944). Two bigger steaming piles of shit from a history standpoint you'll have a hard time finding. Despite what a loathsome, odious creature Woodrow Wilson was, at least Alexander Knox brings life to the movie and should have walked away with the Oscar if the Academy hadn't been on some sort of drugs thinking that Going My Way was good in any sort of way.

Book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Julia Child, 1961). Movie: Soylent Green (1973). Yes, I know there was the movie Julie and Julia. But I think this is a more interesting pairing.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Briefs for March 8-9, 2023

Preparations for the big move continue apace. It looks like the movers are coming sometime next week for all the furniture. With any luck, this weekend I'll be getting TV and internet squared away. I'm probably going to go with Youtube TV, which has most of the channels I want, including TCM and FXM; the various premium channels seem to be there although I don't know if I'll be buying those. But having real high-speed internet without data caps is going to be nice, and probably increase the range of movies I can blog about. As of now, I've got a Thursday Movie Picks post for tomorrow, and then enough movies to get me through the weekend, although I'll probably watch a few more off the DirecTV DVR over the weekend before I cancel the service.

I probably should have mentioned the passing of Tom Sizemore last week, a couple of weeks after he suffered a ruptured aneurysm. He appeared in a lot of movies, although his troubled personal life meant he didn't get to be as big a star as one might have hoped. Before things went downhill, however, there were ome fairly big films like Devil in a Blue Dress and Saving Private Ryan.

Apparently the Oscars are this weekend; shows you how much I've been paying attention to it. I did listen to a story on one of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's podcasts about the nomination for Amanda Riseborough in a fairly obscure movie, thanks in part to a coordinated word-of-mouth campaign from some movie stars. Whatever rules the Academy puts up, studios are always going to try to go right to the edge of them to campaign for nominations or actual statuettes; from what little I've read I don't think that any of the ruels were actually broken in this case but again I don't follow the Academy much.

It wasn't all that long ago that I did a post on This Sporting Life. It's going to be coming up on TCM at 12:30 AM Friday (which is still Thursday evening in more westerly time zones) as part of an evening of sports films, so now's your chance to watch it.

Michael Shayne: Private Detective is back in the FXM rotation, with an airing at 4:40 AM Friday. In fact, it's not the only Michael Shayne movie in the rotation, as Dressed to Kill gets its next airing this coming Monday. And if you like Lloyd Nolan (who doesn't?), he'll also be on FXM in The House on 92nd Street a couple of times in the next few days. Over on TCM, he's got a smaller role in Ice Station Zebra, at 3:00 PM tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Cleopatra (1934)

It's been a little over a year since I mentioned the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton version of Cleopatra. The Egyptian queen's story has been told on screen multiple times, with another very famous version of Cleopatra having been made in 1934. That version will be on overnight tonight, or very early tomorrow morning depending on your point of view, at 3:45 AM.

A fair amount of the two stories are the same, since the movie is after all purporting to be a biopic. Cleopatra (played here by Claudette Colbert) is the co-ruler of Egypt, along with her brother, the latest in a long line of Ptolemys. But the two are fighting for control, and the movie opens up with Cleopatra and her advisor being banished to the desert, with the expection, Goldfinger-style, that she die.

Meanwhile, back in Alexandria, Julius Caesar (Warren William) shows up. Rome is the big cheese in the Mediterranean world, with Egypt being more or less a vassal. Caesar is told that Cleopatra has headed off to Syria, although we know that this is nonsense, and that she's going to show up. Sure enough, she does -- hidden in a carpet. Caesar sees Cleopatra, and is immediately taken with her beauty.

But, of course, there are a coupld of problems. One is that Rome isn't going to like the idea of having a nominally Egyptian (the Ptolemy line was of course from Greece) queen as Caesar's wife, since they're still technically a republic, although that's going to change in the near future. The other problem is that Caesar's wife Calpurnia isn't going to like the idea of Julius taking on Cleopatra as a wife. Beware the Ides of March, she tells him.

She is right, as we all know, since Julius got himself nice and stabbed to death by a conspiracy of senators. But what's a republic without a leader to do? Well, there was a triumvirate, although only two of the men really count. One was Octavian (Ian Keith), whom we know from history would go on to become an emperor, taking on the name Augustus. The other is Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon), who heads off to Greece since he drew the short straw of having to deal with that problem.

Antony, like Caesar before him, finds himself falling in love with Cleopatra, which is just as much of a problem for him as it was for Julius. It's going to end up disastrously for him at the Battle of Actium and, well, you probably know how the rest of the story goes.

Despite this being an "epic" directed by Cecil B. DeMille, it has a fairly short running time even for one of DeMille's standards of about 100 minutes. That's well under half the length of the Elizabeth Taylor version, but even a good deal shorter than DeMille's other movies. But what he gives up in the ability to draw out a story, he more than makes up in the visuals. The movie is stunning from the point of view of the sets and cinematography, even if the battles Antony wages at the end are footage reused from older movies. Right at the start we get a woman who sure looks naked with the credits over her, but that's just the way she's lit. And there's even some bombast in the storytelling, such as the scene where Cleopatra takes Antony on her barge and tries to woo him.

It also helps that Colbert gives a fine performance, as does Wilcoxon. Warren William is unsurprisingly miscast, but of course he drops out halfway through the proceedings. All in all, this version of Cleopatra more than holds its own, and is mercifully shorter than the later epic.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Invitation to the Murder

It's been a couple of months since I took out one of the DVDs from my ultra-cheap Mill Creek box set of crime movies, and this time, I selected another movie that, being from Monogram, was totally new to me. The movie in question is Murder by Invitation.

The movie starts off with a newspaper headline about the competency trial of one Cassandra Denham (Sarah Padden). She's worth millions, and getting up there in years, and her relatives, led by lawyer and nephew Garson Denham (Gavin Gordon) are worried about her and her increasingly erratic behavior. Or at least that's what they claim; Cassandra thinks they're in it for her money. At the hearing, newspaper columnist Bob White (Wallace Ford) shows up, because the case is interesting at least and good fodder for the papers.

Cassandra may be "pixilated", as the characters in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town might have said, but she's certainly not mentally incompetent, so she wins the case. But since her relatives have turned on her, she has to write somebody out of her will, and to that end she invites the relatives over to her house to decide who should inherit and who shouldn't. Graylock, the mansion where she lives with just her servants, is one of those big old places that goes back to the Revolutionary War.

And, like big old houses in B movies like this, it's also got all sorts of hidden passages. This enables someone to go through them, and then open hidden panels in paintings and whatnot, in order to spy on people in various rooms, although nobody catches this mysterious person. They just know something weird is going on. And things are only going to get weirder, because one of the guests winds up as a dead body.

It's obvious there's been a murder, and Cassandra's relatives begin to wonder whether she really invited them here with the purpose of killing them instead of just disinheriting them. The sheriff shows up, as does Bob, together with his secretary Nora (Marian Marsh). Bob is eventually going to be the one to help solve the case, albeit with a little odd help from Cassandra.

I say "odd" help because the movie is more of a comic mystery than a dramatic one. Cassandra, of course, is eccentric, and all those secret passages give the opportunity for absurd goings-on. Indeed, the movie even riffs on the whole idea of secret passages. As the movie goes on, the mystery itself and the identity of the killer matter less and less, with a finale that, if you think about it seriously, should make you wonder why Cassandra never had a serious conversation with her relatives.

Indeed, if you try taking Murder by Invitation seriously you're doing it wrong. It's OK for what it does, and to be fair it's only a B movie from a Poverty Row studio, and not even a programmer. Going in with such low expectations, one gets something that more or less entertains but is certainly never anything spectacular. But it's the sort of B movie that's nice to have on a box set.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Charles Laughton meets Abbott and Costello

I was looking for a shorter movie to watch recently, and I came across one that I hadn't seen before and that clocks in at a breezy 70 minutes, so I sat down to watch and do a review on. That movie was Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.

You can guess a fair bit about what happens in the first part of the movie from the film's title, as our two comedians do meet the famous pirate captain. Abbott and Costello play Rocky and Puddin' Head respectively. They work at the sort of dockside place that Marie Dressler's Min from Min and Bill might have run, except that it's the 18th century Caribbean instead of 20th century California. One evening before work, they're called to from a balcony by Lady Jane (Fran Warren, apparently better known as a singer as I'd never heard of her). She can't get out of her house, and wants the two of them to deliver a letter to her boyfriend Bruce (Bill Shirley, another singer probably best-known for providing singing voices in Sleeping Beauty and My Fair Lady) at the tavern.

Before Rocky and Puddin' Head can do that, however, their boss wants them to wait upon Captain Kidd (Charles Laughton). The problem with that, however, is that Kidd is notoriously irascible and will get very angry and physical with any waiter who screws things up in even the slightest way. And as you might guess, it's going to be tough for Puddin' Head to serve Kidd properly, although this provides quite a bit of opportunity for slapstick humor, which is really the point of an Abbott and Costello movie.

As for Kidd, he's in a difficult business meeting with fellow pirate captain Bonney (Hillary Brooke). The two of them are in a dispute over territory, with Bonney thinking Kidd has raided some ships in "her" territory. Kidd, meanwhile, has hidden the spoils from those raids on Skull Island, and has the map leading to the treasure. The two eventually agree to split the proceeds and go to Skull Island in a way that they'll have to trust each other.

But with Puddin' Head waiting on them in that meeting, things naturally go wrong. Lady Jane's letter and the treasure map are each in one of those cardboard cylinders, and wouldn't you know that Puddin' Head gets to the two cylinders mixed up. So when he goes to deliver Lady Jane's message to Bruce, he actually has the treasure map. Bonney gets not the map but the love letter, and thinks it was intended for Puddin' Head, which makes her curious about what Lady Jane saw in him. So Bonney pursues Puddin' Head for the rest of the movie.

Getting back to the voyage to Skull Island, Kidd takes Rocky and Puddin' Head along because they've got the map. Kidd, of course, plans to double-cross the two and kill them once he can get the map. Rocky and Puddin' Head also discover that Bruce has been shanghaied so he's on the boat as well. And then Kidd and Bonney's ships get in a skirmish with a third boat, which is how they kidnap Lady Jane, so all of our main characters wind up on Skull Island for the finale.

Abbott and Costello is less a movie that you watch for the nominal plot, and more one you watch for Abbott and Costello doing their routines. However, here they more than meet their match in Charles Laughton. Laughton was generally a quite capable actor, although he definitely had the tendency to play roles as larger-than-life when the script gave him the chance to do so -- and Captain Kidd certainly presents such an opportunity. I'm guessing the director didn't do much to discourage it either, letting Laughton ham it up opposite Bud and Lou. The result is that Laughton looks like he's having the time of his life getting to do straight lowbrow comedy, effectively stealing the show from Abbott and Costello.

My understanding is that a lot of fans of Abbott and Costello would say that some of their earlier movies are better, but if you want an introduction to them, seeing them with Charles Laughton is certainly not a bad place to start.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Radio Bugs

One of the movies I watched off my DVR had enough time left over on the broadcast that there was room for a short, and that short was one of the later Our Gang shorts, Radio Bugs.

The short starts off with Red Skelton (who, like what was left of the Gang by the time this short was made, was working at MGM) on his radio show getting big laughs. Froggy is listening with his family, and in bed that night, Froggy comes up with the idea that he could make a bunch of money in radio, just like Red Skelton. The only thing is, like all radio programs, he needs a sponsor.

He tells the rest of the Gang about it, and they too know you need a sponsor if you're going to have a radio program, so they decide they're going to go looking for one in town. And the best way to get a sponsor is to show audition their material directly in front of the businessmen they want to be their sponsor.

Their first idea is to go to a dentist's office. Unfortunately, their jokes are groaners, and all of the patients are already groaning with pain, or else why would they be at the dentist. Needless to say, when the dentist comes out to the waiting room, he's none too happy with what he sees.

But the Gang gets another idea: at a bookstore, they meet a man woh does an impromptu performance of a Shakespeare soliloquy. Perhaps the gang could try drama instead of comedy! With this in mind, they brush up on their Shakespeare and get an impressive -- at least for kids in the single-digit age range -- array of props before going to the local funeral parlor to audition there. After all, where better to find solemnity? Of course, the Gang is about as adept at drama as they are at comedy, so their earnest performance doesn't have the intended effect.

Radio Bugs is a fairly weak Our Gang short, largely because it feels tired. I haven't looked up how many more shorts were made after this one, but it can't be too many. The idea that these kids get it wrong at both comedy and drama is one that has comedic potential, but the bad comedy doesn't work as well as it might.

I think it's with good reason that Radio Bugs isn't one of the better remembered Our Gang shorts.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Unclean Harry Returns

Clint Eastwood was honored last August in Summer Under the Stars, and among the movies they aired was Magnum Force. It being among the movies I hadn't posted about before, I decided to record it so I could watch and do a post on it eventually.

Magnum Force is a sequel to Dirty Harry, bring back Eastwood's character of Harry Callahan. Now, in the orignal Harry was a vigilante cop, but here he's somewhat less of a vigilante as we get to see somebody else play that part. The movie starts off with the trial of a mobster, or at least the verdict in that trial, as the mobster is found not guilty on what most people would consider a technicality. The mobster and his henchmen get to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after... except that the ever after isn't very long. Somebody acting like a traffic cop -- or perhaps it's a real traffic cop -- pulls over the car in which the men are travelling. So far, so good, except that the cop then pulls his gun and shoots everybody in ther very much dead!

Harry, being a San Francisco police detective himself, knows a thing or two about vigilante justice and acting outside of proper channels. The mobster may have been a bad guy, and a lot of people would be cheering his demise, but doing it like this is bit of a problem. Callahan investigates, to the costernation of his boss, Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook), because Harry and his partner are supposed to be on a stakeout, not investigating this crime.

Of course, it's not the only crime to have this modus operandi. A motorcycle cop -- perhaps the same one -- approaches a pool party and kills the bad guys in attendance at that party, along with some innocent people. And then, after a pimp kills one of his prostitutes in a rather shocking scene involving forcing drain cleaner down the woman's throat, another cop shoots the pimp dead. Perahaps the city has a serial killer on its hands.

It's actually rather worse than that. Harry keeps investigating, and gets the idea that there are multiple cops involved, since it seems that the pimp was killed by a patrolman instead of a motorcycle cop. This means that the police are colluding to kill people, even if again those are people that many would be happy so see dead. And these police have to have the protection of somebody higher up in the department. Investigating will definitely put Harry's life in danger.

Even if you haven't seen Dirty Harry or any of the films following Magnum Force in the series, Magnum Force holds up pretty well on its own. The movie came out at a time when America was beginning to learn that the police weren't the Dragnet-style good guys that Jack Webb would have had you believe. I'm not certain whether the movie precedes Serpico the movie, but in any case the real-life Serpico's exposé of the New York police department had already come out.

Clint Eastwood is generally good in both westerns and in action-type movies, and that holds for Magnum Force. There's a cast of young stars who would go on the slightly bigger things playing the young cops who may or may not be part of the group of vigilantes; among them are David Soul (later in Starsky and Hutch) and Robert Urich (later in Vegas). Hal Holbrook also does well, although this is definitely Eastwood's movie all the way.

Magnum Force is definitely worth watching, even if you do find it to be firmly rooted in the 1970s.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Citizen Kane, José Ferrer-style

Some time back, TCM did one of those month-long topic spotlights on radio in the movies. Now, talking pictures came about in the same decade as widespread radio, so the two media grew up together, so to say, and both faced the same challenges when television came along after World War II. One of the movies that TCM selected for the spotlight that was new to me was The Great Man.

Ferrer is not the great man; indeed, we don't even see the titular great man. Instead, Ferrer plays Joe Harris, a New York radio reporter who is popular in New York for his coverage of Broadway, at the end of an era when you could still have radio programs about Broadway, or, indeed, radio networks programming their own shows instead of syndication or anodyne music programming. Of course, Harris works for Amalgamated Broadcasting, which is getting into the TV game, this being the 1950s. The great man of the title is one Herb Fuller, who was a popular correspondent and later TV host. But Fuller died suddenly in a car accident.

Network boss Philip Carleton (Dean Jagger) wants to do a memorial radio program on Fuller's life, because of his status of being beloved by the public. Carleton brings Harris in for the job, and Harris accepts, knowing that putting together a good tribute could lead to a much bigger profile with Amalgamated Broadcasting. This latter fact isn't much of a secret, as people like Fuller's producer Sid Moore (Keenan Wynn) know it and may or may not want Harris to get that promotion. Harris starts looking for people who knew Fuller at various points during his career.

What Harris finds begins to trouble him. Starting with the viewing of the coffin, and continuing with people like Carol (Julie London), the singer on Fuller's show; or Paul Beasley (Ed Wynn), husband in a fairly religious marriage who with his wife gave Fuller his first big break back in the early 30s, Harris learns that a lot of the people who worked with Fuller didn't really like him. They tell him all sorts of things that the public never knew about Fuller and would be shocked to learn.

There's a problem, of course, in that if Harris were to relate these stories on air, it would likely jeopardize his chances of getting that promotion. And you better believe that's something that the people around him have figured out too. Who's trying to help Harris, and who's trying to hinder him?

To me, I think The Great Man had two main problems. One is the era in which it was made. The ending, which is a montage of people everywhere listening to the radio tribute to Fuller at 10:00 PM on a Friday, seems deeply unrealistic. By this time radio programs like this were dying and everybody would have been watching television, at least all those who had television sets. Perhaps the movie would have worked 20 years earlier as a serious programmer. Twenty years later, and the script would have been written to be about a TV host and the material made as a TV movie of the week as a perfect way to bring in a bunch of guest stars to play the various people who knew Fuller.

The other problem, surprisingly, is José Ferrer himself. He was not only the star of the movie, but also director and co-wrote the script, which might explain things. Ferrer the actor plays his character in too laid-back a manner, and Ferrer the director doesn't seem to have noticed this. Most of the rest of the cast gets their opportunities to shine, however, and aren't bad at all.

To sum up, I think I'd say that The Great Man is a movie with an interesting premise, but one that's not without some pretty substantial flaws.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

To live his/her/its life

French film director Jean-Luc Godard died at the end of last year, and when TCM ran a night of his movies as a tribue, one of the films they selected was Vivre sa vie, also known in the US under its release title My Life to Live. I'm not that big a fan of Godard's work, to put it mildly, but because of his reputation I felt it important to watch one of those movies and do a review on it here.

Although Godard was one of the main participants in the French New Wave that wanted to be seen as a break from conventional film-making, Vivre sa vie isn't as unconventional as some of the other movies from that period, although Godard tries to make it so by saying that the story is told in twelve tableaux even when the cards announcing each of the 12 segments wasn't really necessary. The material, however, is rather un-Hollywood in that I can't imagine the subject matter getting approved while the code was in effect.

Anna Karina plays Nana Kleinfrankenheim, a woman young woman whose name implies she might well have come from Alsace on the border with Germany. She's in Paris trying to make it big, claiming at various points that she's acted in real movies, but her current life isn't much of a success at all. She's broken up with her boyfriend, and taken work as a clerk in a record store, but that's not enough to make a living. When she gets arrested on a petty larceny charge, she even has no fixed address.

One day, Nana is walking down the street in an area known for its prostitutes, and one of the men in the area thinks Nana is a prostitute and propositions her. She needs the money, so she takes it, but the experience isn't exactly pleasant, not by a long shot. Still, Nana has a friend named Yvette who has also resorted to prostitution as a way of making ends meet, and Yvette offers to help Nana learn the ropes.

Yvette also introduces Nana to Raoul (Sady Rebbot), who is a pimp. This draws Nana deeper into the world of prostitution. She seems to make better money, although she doesn't necessarily care for being a prostitute and would eventually like to get out of the business. This, however, is much harder than Nana thinks.

The frank discussion of prostitution, as well as a small amount of female nudity, are things that I can't imagine Hollywood touching, at least not in a way as relatively unsanitized as Godard makes it. While that certainly makes for a different movie, does it make for a good movie? To be honest, I've seen a lot more pretentions and obnoxious in the various European countries' New Waves, although some of the bad aspects of the New Wave do show up here. One of the tableaux is a wholly unneccessary segment that has Nana talking to a philosopher. It's the sort of scene that plays to the old stereotype of foreign films being talky and not going anywhere, and in my mind doesn't add much to the story.

On the plus side, the rest of the story is mildly interesting and doesn't overstay its welcome. There's also a lot of nice and unconventiona by Hollywood standards cinematography of a side of Paris that Hollywood never visited. The closest I can think of Hollywood getting by this time might have been Paris Blues, but even that feels heavily sanitized compared to Vivre sa vie.

People who are already predisposed to foreign films are going to be much more likely to enjoy this than people who do think of those old stereotypes, but if you want to introduce somebody to Godard you could do worse.