Friday, June 30, 2023

Decades before Frank Abegnale

Several weeks back TCM had an evening of movies dedicated to Tony Curtis, which included a movie I hadn't heard of before, The Great Impostor. The plot sounded interesting, so I decided to watch it while it was still on the Watch TCM app.

The movie is based loosely on the life of Ferdinand Demara, a real life impostor who eventually got caught out in the early 1950s, went to prison for it, and sold his life story, since in those days there weren't really yet laws about not being able to profit from telling the story of your criminal activities. In the late 1950s a book was written about Demara's story, and with the popularity of that book came a movie. Tony Curtis plays Demara, and at the start of the movie it's the early 1950s. He's been working at a school on an island off the New England coast, and seems to be a fairly popular teacher too. But his past is catching up to him again as the authorities come for him. This causes him to reflect on that past....

During the Depression, Ferdinand had been the son of a small-town movie theater owner (Gary Merrill) who unfortunately lost the theater because of the financial situation. Young Ferdinand drops out of school to try to earn money to help the family, and eventually leaves the family to join the military. Ferdinand is quite bright, and would be a natural of Officers' Candidate School, but there's one catch: you have to be a high-school graduate to apply to OCS. The GED wouldn't be developed until World War II, so Ferdinand doesn't have any way to go back and get that diploma or certificiate to enable him to become an officer.

To get around that little problem, he takes on somebody else's identity, until he learns that the military also does background checks of would-be OCS members. Now that he knows he's going to be caught, Ferdinand decides to fake his own suicide and get out of the military, instead joining a monastery with the intent of becoming a Trappist monk. Their vow of silence will also keep the authorities from finding him for quite some time.

Unfortunately, the abbot who is the head monk at the monastery determines that Ferdinand doesn't really have what it takes to be a Trappist monk, so it's back into the real world for Ferdinand, meaning that his crimes will be discovered. However, he uses prison as an opportunity to learn how to become an assistant warden, with some help from a little more identity theft. Of course, he'll eventually get noticed again, leading to the final act as a naval surgeon in Canada during World War II.

If you can get past the idea that the timeline seems all wrong here and the questions of how he was able to evade detection for so long over and over again, there isn't a bad little movie in The Great impostor. Unsurprisingly, the sort of smooth operator role that Curtis had recently played in Operation Petticoat and Some Like It Hot comes naturally, and works well for The Great Impostor. The movie is also aided by a couple of pretty good supporting performances courtesy of Edmond O'Brien, Raymond Massey, and Karl Malden.

The Great Impostor seems to be free with ads on the Roku Channel for now. It's definitely worth a watch.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Briefs for June 29-30, 2023

I'm not going to be taking part in the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon this go-round, largely because I can't really think of three good TV shows that fit the theme of "Revenge". I have a feeling there are more of those shorter-run TV series on cable and now streaming over the past few years that would fit the topic, but I still don't do any of the premium/subscription services outside the basic if you will of YouTube TV. There's still enough on the various free streaming platforms that I don't see myself getting through for ages to come. Where's that cartoon about the guy announcing to his wife that he's finally reached the end of the internet?

Tonight on TCM is the final night of Katharine Hepburn's turn as TCM's Star of the Month. And then on Friday, we get some more summer/beach/island movies, including Where the Boys Are at 3:30 PM. I have to admit that I've never actually seen this one in its entirety. I've turned on TCM in the middle of the movie and watched parts of it, but never the whole thing. I set the YouTube DVR to keep me a copy the last time it was on, but I haven't gotten around to watching it yet since I didn't pay attention to the fact that it was going to be on the schedule so soon.

On the other hand, I did watch one that I thought was going to be on the FXM schedule this week, the Debbie Reynolds western The Second Time Around. It doesn't come up again until next week, so that's when you're going to get the full-length post on it. Other than that, I don't think there's anything comming up on FXM that I haven't mentioned before.

I should probably mention The Last American Hero on FXM on July 2. That's mainly because of the presence of Valerie Perrine. I hadn't heard about her health problems -- she was diagnosed with Parkinson's around 2016 or so -- and a documentary filmmaker did a shortish (around 30 minutes) documentary on her then-current struggles that was released in 2019. I watched that a few weeks back on Watch TCM because they ran it, but if you want to put down $3.99 it does seem to be available for rent on Amazon, Google Play and Apple TV.

I should probably mention the passing of actor Julian Sands, who graced a wide range of movies like A Room With a View and Leaving Las Vegas. I tend to pay more attention to the obituaries than to the celebrity gossip, so I hadn't heard that he went missing back in January hiking in the mountains north of Los Angeles. I only heard about it because they finally found his body. Sands was 65.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Raise the Titanic

With the Titan submersible accident being in the news, I found myself thinking of movies that might be relevant. If I wanted to be dark bordering on offensive, I'd probably suggest "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure as the theme song. There's also The Neptune Factor, which I blogged about five years ago. But then I noticed that Raise the Titanic is on some of the streaming services, so I decided to watch that and do a review on it here.

The movie has a bit of a prologue with a man someplace in the Arctic who, in a cave, finds a dead body that's been saved because it's been frozen for 65 years and undisturbed. That body was of a US Army officer, surprisingly enough. And then as the man coms out of the cave, is pursued by another man who shoots him before a third man rescues him.

Cut to Washington DC, where we learn about exactly why everybody was on that island. Apparently, there are places in that part of the Arctic that are disputed territory, with the strongest current (at least in the view of the movie, which was released in 1980) claim being that of the Soviets. The Americans are trying to build a defense system that would make them invulnerable to nuclear missiles, but need a big power source for that. The only source that could do it would need some mineral called "Byzanium" (totally made up for the purposes of the movie), and the man who was shot was trying to determine whether there was any Byzanium on the island.

Now, where that dead American comes in is interesting. Apparently, he was part of an expedition all those years ago that was looking for Byzanium, a mineral little known even to scientists in the movie's world. More importantly, they apparently found it, although it's no longer on the island. Some research determines that they got it off the island and down to Britain, where they were pursued by the Russians, the Soviet Union not yet being a thing back in 1912. And as you can guess from the title of the movie, they got all the way to Southampton, where they put the mineral in shipping crates bound for America. They put those crates on a ship called... the RMS Titanic.

Jason Robards plays Admiral James Sandecker, who is part of the Navy's plan to build that defense system, together with defense contractors like Gene Seagram (David Selby). When they learn what happened to the Byzanium, they realize that the option is not to look for a new source of Byzanium, but to get the one that they already more or less know the location to... on the bottom of the Atlantic where the Titanic sank all those 70 years ago. Unfortunately, because of the depth at which the Titanic rests, they can't send divers to get the Byzanium. They also don't have submersibles that can use a mechanical arm or whatnot to retrieve it from the ship. So their ridiculous plan is... to raise the ship all the way off the seabed and then tow it to the US where they'll salvage the Byzanium.

Even though they're the Navy, they're going to need somebody who knows about complex salvage operations, and that someone is Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan). He eventually agrees to the mission, and everybody heads to roughly where the Titanic was last known to be (apparently, the two ships that rescued the survivors and the Titanic itself in its distress calls all reported slightly different positions that are a few dozen miles apart, making finding the ship even more complex). Meanwhile, it's pretty damn obvious what the Americans are looking for when they send a flotilla out to that particular location, and the Soviets, being no dummies send a ship to monitor the situation. They don't want the Americans to get that Byzanium....

Raise The Titanic presents a scenario that's interesting, but wildly implausible. At the time the movie was made, it was still a half dozen years before researchers found the exact location of the Titanic on the seabed, at which point it was conclusively determined that the ship did not go down quietly, but broke up into a pretty large debris field, making raising the ship an impossibility. But author Clive Cussler, who wrote the book, and the filmmakers, had no way of knowing this. But even if the ship hadn't broken up in the sinking, raising it two and a half miles is highly unlikely.

The bigger problem the movie has, however, is that the script is unbelievably slow. The start of the movie presents a reasonably good espionage thriller idea, but then the movie gets bogged down in the technical details of trying to salvage a ship. And it goes on, and on. Eventually they do get back to the Cold War thriller aspect, but the way that's handled is perfunctory at best.

So it's easy to see while watching it why Raise the Titanic was panned by critics and a box-office bomb in its day. However, there still are things to recommend it. The visuals are surprisingly good for a movie from 1980, and if you're interested in the idea of the deep ocean and salvage, there's that. But Raise the Titanic really gives off the vibe of being a movie that could have been so much better than what we actually have on screen.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023


There are some movies out there that have a cult status and that I'd never actually seen before. Another example of this particular genre would be the 1980s low-budget horror movie C.H.U.D. I noticed that it was on one or another of the streaming platforms, so recently I sat down to watch it.

The movie starts off with an establishing scene that gives the viewers a bit of information that the characters in the movie don't have. A woman is walking her dog in New York when suddenly, something comes out of one of the manhole covers and absconds with the woman into the blackness of the subway/sewers/whatever is beneath the streets. Of course, there is a lot going on down there, and one of the people who has been documenting it is photographer George Cooper (John Heard). He used to be a prominent fashion photographer, but he quit that game when he did what was supposed to be an exposé on the homeless population in the city, specifically those who have found nowhere else to make a home than below the streets.

ALso interested in what's going on beneath the surface is A.J. Shepherd (Daniel Stern). He's got the nickname "Reverend", which is because he's taken to running a soup kitchen that serves that underground homeless population, peppered with his own flavor of street preaching. And there's Capt. Bosch (Christopher Curry), an officer in the NYPD. It turns out that the person we saw getting disappeared in the opening scene is Mrs. Bosch.

Eventually, all three figure out that there's something bigger going on, and when a Geiger counter detects radiation, they know that something much bigger is going on. So the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is called in with Wilson (George Martin) leading the show. However, he's one of those stereotypical government flunkies who gives the distinct impression that he's hiding something. Of course he is, and that something is the titular C.H.U.D., which stands for "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller". But as I said, Cooper and company know that there's more going on than Wilson tells them, and they continue to investigate. And can they get anybody to believe their seemingly outlandish story that there are cannibals in the passageways under the streets of New York?

Of course, the main conceit of C.H.U.D is nonsense that in theory ought to require way too much suspension of belief. But then C.H.U.D. is one of those ultra low-budget movies that isn't really expected to be that believable. Instead, it's the sort of story where you just sit back and let yourself be entertained. And in that regard, it certainly succeeds in entertaining.

In reading a bit more about the movie, I see that it was panned by critics. That's unsurprising, because this is the type of movie that "professional" critics wouldn't love. Is it great? Certainly not. But is it a fun watch? Absolutely.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Shining Victory

One of the new-to-me programmers that I recorded when TCM had its 100th anniversary tribute to Warner Bros. back in April was Shining Victory, which is of course not to be confused with Bright Victory or Dark Victory.

The opening credits mention the movie being based on a play by A.J. Cronin, whom you might recall as the man who wrote the material behind the excellent doctor character piece The Citadel. Cronin was a real-life doctor, so as you can guess this movie also deals with medicine. The main doctor here is Paul Venner (James Stephenson), who at the start of the movie is doing research into dementia in Budapest in 1935, something that had to be mentioned since by the time the movie was made in 1941, Europe was already at war again. Venner discovers that his research material was used in a study published by his supervisor, Prof. Von Reiter (Sig Ruman), who only shows up in this opening scene which is I think only in the movie to do some character exposition as to why Dr. Venner winds up so bitter. In any case, Reiter is a powerful man, and sics the police on Venner, forcing him to flee the country without his research papers, since he's a British subject.

So Venner returns to his native UK, and wouldn't you know it, but he immediately runs into Dr. Drewett (Donald Crisp), who works at a sanitarium up in Scotland. It would be the perfect place for Vetter to go and do the money-making work that will enable him to spend his extra time doing that research which is what he really wants to do. Not only that, but the sanitarium is able to give him an assistant in the form of Dr. Mary Murray (Geraldine Fitzgerald).

However, that's not a match made in heaven by any means. Dr. Vetter doesn't necessarily want an assistant, and Dr. Murray insists that she's not a permanent assistant as she's preparing to do missionary work in war-torn China where her skills are really needed. Venner continues his research and shows himself to be that trope of the brilliant but difficult research scientist. He seems to be on the right track with his research, but the institute unsurprisingly wants results now since they're underwriting the research to a fairly hefty sum. And of course, Dr. Venner just has to fall in love with Dr. Murray. And then there's a plot twist....

Shining Victory is clearly a lesser film than The Citadel, I think, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. One is the obvious issue of Warner Bros. making a B-movie out of it in that none of their big stars was cast. But the plot also made me think not of Cronin, but of another author whose doctor-themed books were turned into movies, Lloyd C. Douglas. The problem i that Douglas insisted on inserting heavy-handed religious themes into his work, such as Magnificent Obsession. Cronin doesn't veer that far into Douglas territory, but it definitely felt like there was more heavy-handedness here than in The Citadel.

Still, all of the actors do the best they can with the material, and needless to say they're very talented and professional actors. In lesser hands, Shining Victory could have been a terrible movie, but thanks to Warner Bros. professionalism, it's at worst a misfire that doesn't quite succeed.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Random thoughts on this past week at TCM

I have to admit that I don't follow entertainment news as closely as some people who are fans of classic movies do. So I don't think I found out until Thursday about the layoffs of the top brass at TCM that happened on Wednesday, and how a lot of famous and not-so-famous names are deeply distressed by the news. I've been thinking about what it might mean for those of us who are fans of old movies. I don't claim to be an expert, and certainly am not plugged in to what's going on. I just read a lot (and came across TV-related stuff in a bunch of different areas over the past week) and try to think logically about things as much as possible.

First, I think everybody knows that cable channels in general are in a difficult state these days. Part of that is the general financial situation, and part of that is the surprisingly rapid move to streaming services, especially what I saw referred to as FAST (free, ad-supported streaming). YouTube TV sent me an email the other day announcing that as of the end of the month, it would no longer be carrying SNY, the regional sports network (RSN) that carries the Mets baseball games. Apparently, the RSNs around the country are as a group in a more difficult state than other channels on average, which I'd guess has to do with the carriage fees they want because they have to finance the sports they show.

There's also a reason various media conglomerates are trying to move to the premium subscription app model. With a lot of people cutting the cord, there's the thought that a provider that has a lot of content offer a cheaper alternative. Indeed, if you look at the various FAST services, it's amazing juts how much stuff they have on offer. It's all fragmented of course, but with FAST that's just an annoyance. With the subscription models, the fees add up. I remember on the old TCM boards people clamoring for an a la carte service, claiming they only watch one channel (TCM) and pay some high figure for it. I always thought then, and still believe, that a la carte was not only not going to save people money, but also leading to a lot of channels going bust. I may be wrong on the latter half: the old "linear" channels may be going bust, but are replaced by all those FAST services. But look at how much people are complaining about all those subscriptions are adding up. I could have told them, but no, they couldn't be bothered to listen.

TCM is in a rather weird market segment. It's nominally commercial-free (certainly within the movies, but between the movies a fair number of the promos are hawking TCM stuff or barters to get the rights to show films from non-Warners rights holders), but one that tries to stay in a lower tier of cable. It doesn't have a whole family of channels to go to a premium tier the way that Showtime, Starz/Encore or HBO do. However, it also has an insanely loyal fan base, which includes some people who in theory at least should be fairly influential in the entertainment world. Granted, not on the business side of entertainment, which is part of the problem. Economically, you can have a loss-leader, but there's always the pressure to produce some sort of revenue.

TCM in addition to catering to a niche interest (old/"classic" movies), is also paradoxically fairly commercial for the most part. After all, the bulk of the movies shown on the channel always came from the so-called "Turner Library" of MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO films that Ted Turner got in the 1980s. It's really only been the foreign films that delve into the pretentious and the mindset that it's actually better that the movies not be commercial especially if it pisses off the people who prefer conventional stuff.

So what sort of streaming could TCM do assuming the coupling of the Watch TCM app with the requirement to have a service provider went away? Well, it seems obvious that the old Turner library could easily form the sort of movie channel you can find on the FAST services, where they pick the schedule. But of course, that's ad-supported, which would piss a lot of people off. Especially because to me it seems like there are still issues with the ad placement. TV shows generally had natual ad breaks so that, when you put such a program on a streaming service, it should be easy to signal to the streaming app that ads go here. If the streaming ad model is anything like broadcast or traditional cable, there were ad breaks that were for the creator of the content (or the network), and breaks that were for the local broadcast affiliate or the cable service provider. (The fact that broadcast TV didn't have local ad slots for the cable services is why in the early days there was always the dispute over carrying the over-the-air channels.) People watching other cable channels, or streaming some old public domain Z-grade movie, don't seem to care about it; after all, there's no way these movies would see the light of day otherwise. TCM fans, on the other hand, would go apoplectic.

A premium service? I've brought this up before in relationship to things like the old Filmstruck service, that this is one area where I absolutely don't understand the economics involved. To me, it would seem that all those movies that were digitized for putting on DVD or Blu-ray for the Warner Archive should be ready-to-go for an on-demand service. And yet, most content rights holders don't want to seem to go the route of simply putting a ton of old (but not in the public domain) stuff and having one massive library. Instead, there's the insistence on "curating" (god I hate that word) it. The rental services like Amazon Prime Video may be different, although if you can get away with a fee for each individual viewing (I'm not a prime member so I don't know how much of the stuff not produced in-house is free to rent) that's different from the subscription model. Don't get me started on "buying" a streaming copy either; as we saw with Disney's censorship of The French Connection you're not really getting the movie but just a semi-permanent right to stream it as many times as you want.

So that's a lot to say about a topic that I really don't know much about. I have no idea where TCM as a brand, never mind as a cable channel, is going to end up. But things are certainly changing rapidly.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Mr. Majestyk

Of the various free streaming service, one thing that I really like about Pluto is the ability to go through the various movie channels and watch something that's already started from the beginning, in addition to whether or not it's available via on-demand. Their 70s movies channel has been running a title I had probably vaguely heard of, but certainly never seen before, Mr. Majestyk, so I eventually got around to having the TV on during one of the airings and rewinding it to the beginning to watch.

Vince Majestyk is a character played by Charles Bronson. He farms melons in what one would logically guess to be the Central Valley/Stockton part of California that was the filming location for quite a few movies, notably Fat City for the purposes of this post since the main characters spend some time becoming farm laborers in that one. However, the movie is actually set (and was filmed) in Colorado, which I wouldn't have associated with melon farmers, censorious puns not intended. Anyhow, Vince is looking for people to pick his melon crop, which has to be picked within days or else the melons will rot on the vines. He's perfectly willing to use Mexicans, since they're good and will work for less in spite of the work Cesar Chavez did to try to get them more. A couple of Anglo thugs don't want this, and try to intimidate Majestyk, ultimately calling the cops when they pull a gun and cause a scuffle.

The thing is, Majestyk has a criminal record and the thugs don't, and since he actually did shoot at the thugs' truck, he did technically commit a crime. It's off to jail for him, and that's serious because of that past criminal record. Majestyk just wants to get out on bail as quickly as possible so he can get back to getting that crop picked, which is all he really wants. But if you thought a Charles Bronson movie was going to be that sedate, you'd be very much wrong.

Also in jail with Majestyk is Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). He's a big time mobster who has enough money to be able to hire lawyers to get him off every time he's been arrested and/or brought to trial. Right now, he's in jail awaiting transfer to someplace with more security, and doesn't seem to like the idea of Majestyk just wanting to be left alone. Both of them along with several other prisoners are set to be transferred, but Renda has been able to hire a bunch of men who start a shootout with the police during the transfer attempt, leaving Renda and Majestyk alone on the prison bus.

Majestyk's plan is to turn Renda back over to the police in exchange for getting the charges against himself dropped. It doesn't take much to figure out that Renda has no plans of letting that happen, to the point of killing Majestyk if need be. Majestyk is actually able to escape Renda and head back to his farm, the police willing to use him as bait to lure Renda. They know that Renda has a terrible desire for revenge and will want to get Majestyk himself....

If you like the sort of action movie Charles Bronson made, you're really going to like Mr. Majestyk. It's not necessarily my favorite genre of movie, not that I dislike the genre. And I have to say that I decidedly enjoyed it. The setting is different enough that it allows for some off-balance plot turns. Bronson may not be the world's best actor, but he was just fine in the action movies he did. Al Lettieri is a very good villain and unfortunately died much too young about a year after this movie. Linda Cristal plays one of the Mexican farm workers who has some sympathy for Majestyk, sticking by him even though she knows the danger.

If you haven't seen Mr. Majestyk, definitely be on the lookout for it and give it a watch.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Why is love making these faces at me?

One of TCM's programming features, at least in June, is "Summer Camp". In this case, it's not going off to the sort of camp that boomer kids did, but the sort of campy, trashy fun that a certain sort of movie offers. On Friday nights, TCM is running a block of that sort of movie. This week, for example, includes Lana Turner in The Big Cube (overnight tonight at 2:15 AM), in which Lana Turner plays a woman whose stepdaughter slips her LSD. I reviewed it quite a few years back, and it's delightfully awful. Anyhow, I mention that movie because I recently watched another movie from the "Summer Camp" series which stars Lana Turner: Love Has Many Faces.

Turner is clearly the star here, although we don't see her for a few minutes. Instead, with the opening credits showing the beautiful side of Acapulco, backed by a song from jazz singer Nancy Wilson, we eventally pan to a group of local kids who find... a dead body washed ashore! The police, led by Det. Andrade, figure out that it's an American "beach boy", the male equivalent of a gold digger who comes down here looking for lonely but rich middle-aged women to try to wheedle money out of.

Cut to Kit Jordan (that's Lana Turner, as if you couldn't tell), who is on a nice-sized boat together with her husband Pete (Cliff Robertson). Andrade comes to the boat to ask the Jordans what they know about the dead guy. The reason for this is that the guy just happened to be wearing a bracelet that had been a gift from Kit. Kit, however, decided she'd rather be married to a different beach boy, a man named Pete Jordan. So Pete is clearly living off of Kit's wealth, and the question of how much he loves her is an open one. They also would both have had motivation for wanting the dead guy dead.

A couple of other beach boys feature, although you could be forgiven for thinking they might be having the sort of relationship Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood have. Hank Walker (Hugh O'Brian) is trying to seduce Margo (Ruth Roman), although he'll also have no qualms about trying to seduce Kit. He's also got a companion in young Chuck (Ron Husmann) who's nominally going after Irene (Virginia Grey), but as I said sometimes it seems as if the two guys might be using the women as beards or something.

And then flying down from Detroit is young Carol (Stefanie Powers). She was the girlfriend of the guy who washed up on the beach, and she wants to know what happened. She also finds herself getting pursued by Pete, although who wants what from whom gets ever more complicated as the story goes on. If that's not enough, Andrade finally claims that the guy washed up on the beach had written a suicide note, so he's no longer important to the story, which has another half hour to go and takes a turn into the world of bullfighting.

Love Has Many Faces is an absolute mess, and it's easy to see why it would be selected for a TCM programming spotlight on "Summer Camp". It veers all over the place both in plot and in tone, while giving Lana Turner the opportunity to wear a series of glamorous outfits and the guys to wear fairly little. Thankfully, they're at least in square-cut swinning trunks instead of speedos, since they're really all too old to be beach boys. The various twists and turns are more ludicrous than mysterious, but that also serves to make the movie fun if not very good. Perhaps it's not quite as good in that regard as, say, Violent Saturday, but it's certainly entertaining enough.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

D.H. Lawrence meets The Children's Hour

Another of the movies that I recorded because the synopsis sounded interesting was The Fox. (Surprisingly enough, the titular fox is an actual fox.) Recently, I sat down to watch it.

The movie is set somewhere in Canada (a scene near the end is set at a train station a bit north of Toronto although I don't think the movie reveals any more than this), in a cold farming area. Jill (Sandy Dennis) inherited some money, which she's used to buy one of those old farms, together with her partner Ellen (Anne Heywood) whom she met in her school days. Not that the two of them are particularly good at farming, but being in the middle of nowhere allows them to have the relationship they do without much harassment from anybody else.

Well, not from other people; there's a fox that keeps trying to get into their henhouse, and one of the recurring themes of the movie is Ellen's inability to shoot the fox. Not because she's a bad shot, but because once she sees the fox she seems unable to pull the trigger. As for Jill, she's doing the indoor work because she's probably even less suited for farming than Ellen is. But somehow, the two of them keep going on, because they have each other, and that's some comfort on those cold winter nights.

The mildly idyllic life could go on at least until Jill's money runs out, but of course we wouldn't have much of a movie in that case. As with The Egg and I, we know there's going to be a stranger showing up at the farm to shatter Jill and Ellen's peaceful existence. That stranger is Paul (Keir Dullea). Paul is a merchant marine, and he also happens to be the grandson of the man who owned the farm up until his death. Presumably Paul was at sea when Grandpa died, and now he's showing up because he wants to see the place one final time. As I said, it's a shock for the two women, but at the same time they could also use a bit of the sort of labor that a big, strong man (or even just Keir Dullea, who's at least bigger than the two women) could provide them.

Of course, you also know that Paul is going to fall in love with one of the two. In a twist from The Children's Hour, Paul doesn't fall for the one who more closely fits the Hollywood stereotype of beauty (that would be the Sandy Dennis character) the way that James Garner is set to marry the Audrey Hepburn character and Shirley MacLaine is made up to be more butch. Instead, it's Anne Heywood's character who fits the more butch stereotype, and Paul falls for her, which naturally presents all sorts of complications. It's too bad both women aren't bi, or else they could have a ménage à trois and everybody could live happily ever after.

The Fox is a somewhat slow-moving movie, and like Long Day's Journey Into Night it's one that's got a very limited number of characters and a relatively small scope in terms of setting, although at least the farm here is bigger than the Tyrone house. I haven't been the biggest fan of some of the other adaptations of D.H. Lawrence's work, notably Women in Love, so when I saw his name in the opening credits, I had some trepidation. However, I wound up not disliking the movie.

I will add, however, that The Fox is another of those movies that's definitely going to be an acquired taste. I think the sort of people who dislike the stereotypical foreign film from the days where foreign films that reached America were disproportionately seen as pretentious arthouse stuff are probably going to be less likely to appreciate the movie. But for those who are a little more adventurous, The Fox is definitely worth a watch.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Northern gothic

Katharine Hepburn has been TCM's Star of the Month this month, which gave me the chance to record one or two of her movies that I hadn't seen before. One of these was the adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play Long Day's Journey Into Night.

The play deals with the Tyrone family, and one day in their life in the summer of 1912. The story is loosely based on Eugene O'Neill's own family, and set at a time when he would have been in his mid 20s. Here, that character is the younger brother Edmund, played by Dean Stockwell. Edmund has spent his adult life trying to escape the long shadow of his family, mostly doing so by becoming a merchant marine. He's recently returned home to the family's summer place in Connecticut, and there's some worry that his persistent cough is in fact tuberculosis, often referred to in those days as consumption.

Hepburn plays Edmund's mother Mary; she doesn't want to hear of her son having consumption. Understanding this and trying to protect Mary is dad James Sr. (Ralph Richardson). He was a stage actor who's reaching the age where he should retire and try to live off his savings. Not as though an actor can have that much savings, so he's always trying to save a few dollars wherever he can. This is another source of rancor between various pairs of family members, as it also leads to Dad's distrust of doctors that may have consequences for Edmund, and definitely already did for Mary.

Part of Mary's backstory is that she had a difficult pregnancy with Edmund and the postpartum issues nearly killed her; as a result she was prescribed morphine. The only thing is that she got herself addicted to the morphine, and the rest of the family is dancing around that fact trying to keep her off the drug while she thinks (not entirely wrongly) that the rest of the family is spying on her.

And then there's elder brother Jamie (Jason Robards), who is enough older than Edmund that he's had a much more mature look at the breakdown of the family and how each parent's different view of the two sons has also caused all sorts of problems with the brothers' relationships with their parents along with the two brothers' relationship with each other. So there's a lot of pent-up resentment here and opportunity for them finally to get all that resentment off their chests.

And boy do they spend a lot of time getting that resentment off their chests. They talk, and talk and talk some more, and when they're done talking, well, they're never done talking and getting to -- and going past -- the point of no longer caring whether they piss off the rest of the family by revealing uncomfortable truths.

It's that talkiness -- and director Sidney Lumet decidedly felt that the original play should be edited as little as possible for the movie -- that may make the movie a tough slog for many viewers. It goes on for well over two and a half hours, and the characters are, like the ones in Sweetie, not particularly sympathetic. If you know that going in, and you're up for a movie that's more of a master-class in acting, then you'll probably highly enjoy this adaptation of Long Day's Journey Into Night. If that's not your thing, then consider this review a warning.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023


Another of the movies that I watched because it was about to expire from the Watch TCM app and because it had an interesting synopsis was Sweetie.

Sweetie was the debut feature film effort by Jane Campion and from the opening credits I got the vibe that it was going to be a bit of a personal story. Kay is a young Australian woman who comes from a working-class background and is in the sort of job that doesn't seem like it would allow one to get very far ahead in life. She meets Louis, who is the boyfriend of somebody else who works in the same building, at least until Louis and Kay start having a relationship. That relationship is a bit volatile, however, because the sex is no good and they have a serious dispute over planting a tree where it's going to have to come down in a decade or two when the roots threaten the foundation.

To be honest, however, it feels as though Kay and Louis could figure out a way to work out their problems and have a modestly happy life together. At least, until Kay's sister Dawn, who has the nickname Sweetie, comes in. I mean, she literally comes in in the sense that Kay returns home one evening to find that Dawn has shown up unannounced, together with her apparent drug-abusing boyfriend Bob. Kay has obviously seen all of this before. Sweetie has some sort of mental illness of the sort that can be more or less kept under control with the right drugs, except that Sweetie doesn't want to take the drugs. Showing up like this with a no-good boyfriend, whom she refers to as her "producer" since she has delusions of being able to make it in some facet of the entertainment world, is the sort of thing a mentally ill person would do.

Not only Kay has seen it, but Kay and Sweetie's parents have seen it as well. Neither of them knows how to handle Sweetie, and whatever they've done for Sweetie, it obviously hasn't been the right thing or else Sweetie wouldn't be horning in on Kay's home with her POS boyfriend. If Kay doesn't know how to deal with it, it's worse for the parents, who have reached the point of a trial separation, with Mom moving out to points further west. Eventually, everybody loads up the family car in search of Mom to try to have some sort of reconciliation with Mom and to see if they can get Sweetie better.

Part of the problem I had with Sweetie is that to me it comes across as another of those movies where none of the characters, with the possible exception of Louis, is particularly sympathetic. The other thing is Jane Campion's direction made me feel like I was watching somebody like David Lynch. A lot of the shots felt highly stylized, with the focus being put on some particular object foregrounded for no good reason until the focus moved to the actual action in the scene. Some people may enjoy this sort of camerawork, but for me it felt like it didn't work here.

Having said that, it is also easy to see that here's a director who had some potential and might be able to go on to bigger things. In Campion's case, she got to direct The Piano, and as a result some are going to want to look at this earlier work. But there are probably dozens of would-be directors out there who made debut movies that don't quite work and then never got the chance to go on to more commercial and successful things.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Kansas Pacific

For those who like those old B westerns that have fallen into the public domain, I recently came across one that is definitely worth a wath. That film is Kansas Pacific.

The movie is set in the beginning of 1861, after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president but before the actual fighting began in the US Civil War. It is, as you can guess, set in Kansas, which had a reputation at the time as "Bloody Kansas" because as it was still a territory, it was unclear whether it would become a state as one that allowed slavery or one that didn't. With the territory bordering the slave state of Missouri, it was not a surprise that people on both sides of the slavery issue flooded into the territory and that violence ensued on both sides.

Meanwhile, as the US included a contiguous landmass from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the race was also on to build railroads and telegraph lines that spanned the continent, along with serving the forts that the federal government had been putting up on territorial land to deal with the Native American tribes that were understandably unhappy about the encroachment by the white man. Confederate sympathizers especially were unhappy with the building of railroads that in theory would enable a non-slave state like California to transport men to the east much more efficiently, so they tried to sabotage the building of railroads like the Kansas Pacific.

As for the actual plot of the movie behind the history, this one involves Cal Bruce (Barton MacLane), a construction foreman for the railroad who is out in Kansas with his adult daughter Barbara (Eve Miller) and an engineer with whom he has worked since the early days of railroads, a man nicknamed "Smokestack". They're trying to get the railroad built, but southern sympathizers, led by William Quantrill (Reed Hadley), are trying to sabotage it. (Recall from any number of movies about Jesse James or the Civil War in the Missouri-Kansas border area that William Quantrill was a real figure leading guerilla groups including the James and Younger brothers.)

The federal government back in Washington is concerned about the sabotage, since they want the rail line built to connect to their forts in the Colorado territory. But because the war is not officially on, they can't sent active duty military to build the rail line. So Gen. Winfield Scott sends a man undercover, Capt. John Nelson (Sterling Hayden) to help oversee the project and stop all the sabotage going on.

It's a fairly basic plot, and as you can guess, the presence of Barbara is so that the hero will have a love interest (and, I suppose, some female beauty for the male demographic to enjoy). It's all fairly predictable, but all well enough done, especially for those who like the less complex westerns or movies with old trains. The landsacpe doesn't look anything like Kansas as far as I'm aware, but that sort of geographic accuracy isn't the point of a movie like this. It's more a film you're just supposed to sit back and enjoy.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Invasion of Astro-Monster

Another of the movies that I recently watched because it was about to leave the Watch TCM app was one of the lesser Godzilla movies, Monster Zero. I have to admit to not having seen all that many of the Japanese monster movies, and since the synopsis sounded intriguing, I decided to watch it.

The first thing I noticed is that the opening credits were in Japanese kanji, but without English subtitles. That's because the movie was made in Japan in late 1965/early 1966, and then dubbed (and apparently a bit of post-production) into English for ultimate distribution in the US, with the English-language version not being released until 1970. After the credits, we're treated to a World Space Agency, which has found a "Planet X" that was hitherto unknown to Earth because it was hidden by Jupiter, never mind that this would seem to violate all the laws of physics about how the gravitational field of such a body would perturb the orbits of other bodies in the solar system. (Or, like the asteroids, the mythical Planet X could have broken up under influence from Jovian gravity.)

The World Space Agency is organizing an international mission to the planet, with two astronauts: Japanese Fuji (Akira Takarada), and American Glenn Amer (Nick Adams, who was in the Japanese original; this isn't like Godzilla, King of the Monsters where Raymond Burr's character was inserted for American audiences). Meanwhile, Fuji is protective of his kid sister Haruno who works at the space agency. She's got an inventor boyfriend Tetsuo who her brother thinks is not going to amount to anything so Haruno should be looking for someone better. Of course, we know the two plot strains are going to come together by the end. Tetsuo, for his part, is about to become a success while the mission to Planet X is going on, as a little-known educational toy company offers to buy one of Tetsuo's inventions.

The two astronauts reach Planet X, where they're fairly quickly absconded by the inhabitants of the planet, who live underground due to the presence of the monster Ghidorah. The "Controller" of Planet X tells the two earthlings about this and requests Earth to send Godzilla and Rodan to Planet X to destroy Ghidorah. In exchange, Planet X will send Earth a formula to cure all disease.

Now, all of this should set off alarm bells in any rational human being. And, to be fair, Glenn wants to explore around the subsurface digs on Planet X. But it's not as if they have much choice as the Controller could easily destroy the two of them. So they go along, and find out what the real truth is, which is that Planet X is intending to take Earth over as a colony. And the humanoids of Planet X have even already sent some of their number to Earth, where they're mind-controlling a small number of the Earth population. (At least that would explain UFOs.) If Earth doesn't go along with it, Planet X will send Godzilla and Rodan back to Earth to wreak havoc.

I have't seen enough of the Japanese monster movies to know where Monster Zero fits in with the rest in terms of quality, but apparently this is seen by the fans as a lesser effort. It certainly does have the feel of a lower-budget movie, as though a studio that originally started a series decided to abandon it and a different studio with lesser financial means taking it over. (In fact, the Toho logo is still up there.) The plot isn't much, although for the Godzilla movies I'd think it's more the monsters you'd want to see and not so much the plot. And in that regard, there's not so much of the monsters either.

But Monster Zero is still fun enough even if it's not terribly great. Bigger fans will probably suggest other movies to those who don't know much about the Japanese monster films, but Monster Zero certainly isn't one to be avoided.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Belle of New York

I've suggested in the past my belief that MGM made quite a few "little" movies in the early 1950s that seemed made to turn enough of a profit to finance all those Freed Unit musicals which were clearly the studio's prestige pictures at the time. Recently, however, I saw a Freed Unit musical that was surprisingly modest: The Belle of New York.

The titular belle, played by Vera-Ellen, is named Angela Bonfils. She works for a Salvation Army-like organization at the turn of the previous century (well, from our standard) together with her friend Elsie (Alice Pearce). But even in those modest dresses women -- especially women trying to promote good Christian morality -- wore in those days, all the men can see that Angela is gorgeous.

Cut to the film's other star, Fred Astaire. Although he's much too old for the part, he plays Charlie Hill, a notorious playboy who has a bad and expensive habit of finding chorus girls and falling in love with them before deciding that he'd rather continue being a playboy than getting married. This requires his aunt (Marjorie Main) and her attorney Max (Keenan Wynn) to come up with the money to pay for settlements to the women Charlie is jilting. Needless to say, auntie is none too pleased with any of this.

The rest of the plot is not very difficult to figure out. Charlie is going to see Angela and immediately fall in love with her, but she's going to be rather cool to the idea at first; after all, she's supposed to be an upright Christian. Charlie tries to prove to Angela that he can do honest work in a series of humorous interludes that show he's not suitable for the working-class jobs he thinks constitute honest work. And then she's going to fall in love, but a series of misunderstandings is going to cause the relationship to nearly break up, at least until the film's final reel.

The Belle of New York also has an odd conceit in that true love is proved by being able to dance on air, leading to special effects that don't always work, which is a problem considering that one of the reasons for watching a Fred Astaire movie is for the dancing. The plots are normally secondary to the dance numbers, and that's even more so in the case of The Belle of New York.

So it's easy to see why The Belle of New York was neither a critical nor box office success when it was released back in the early 1950s. However, that's being a bit harsh, since the movie is really harmless enough fluff. It's just that Astaire had already done so much stuff that was so much better.

Friday, June 16, 2023

For those who like John le Carré

The 1960s was a time of dark, cynical spy movies, in no small part thanks to writer John le Carré and the movie adaptation of his book The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Recently, I came across another movie based on one of le Carré's books that I hadn't heard of before: The Looking Glass War. So I sat down to watch it in order to be able to do a review on it here.

The movie starts off in Finland, a country that was nominally neutral in the Cold War because of the conditions imposed upon it by the Soviets after Finland lost in its little part of World War II. At the airport, a pilot hands over a roll of film in exchange for some cash; the goy who receives the film gets hit by a car walking from the airport to his hotel. (They make a point about his not having taxi fare, but not even bus fare?) We then learn that the roll of film is supposed to have photos suggesting that East Germany was building missiles based on the old Nazi V-2 rockets, with help from the Soviet Union.

This information, unsurprisingly, is concerning to the intellegence community and people like Leclerc (Ralph Richardson). They need to find out whether the information on the film is real or whether they're doctored images. That means getting a physical asset on the ground since they apparently didn't have good enough satellite imagery in those days. But whom to risk? Fortunately, they find somebody they can sacrifice easily if necessarily.

Leiser (Christopher Jones) is a Polish sailor who because of his job has had the ability to move about the world. On a previous occasion when he was in the UK, he knocked up a woman (Susan George, whose character only seems to be credited as "The Girl"). Now, he's like to stay in the UK to raise the baby. But there are immigration laws, and no certainty that Leiser would be admitted to the UK, so he does the logical thing, which is to try to enter the country illegally. Unfortunately for him, this was an era when there weren't a whole swath of NGOs and media outlets actively campaigning for people like him to enter the country illegally, so he was summarily arrested and put in detention to be deported. Leclerc has found out about all this, and so approaches Leiser with the proposition that if he goes on this spy mission, Leclerc will help him get UK citizenship.

However, during the training for the mission, Leiser learns that his girlfriend has had an abortion, so no no baby for him. This sours him somewhat on the mission, but he still undergoes it, going to East Germany where things immediately start to go south.

The problem with a movie like The Looking Glass War is that in the end, it's hard to really care for any of these characters or whether the missiles are real. It's as though the movie is trying so hard to show a dark, cynical attitude that it's too much of it for the movie's own good. Jones as Leiser is too much of a cipher, and it felt to me like there were too many plot holes.

I should add, however, that I'm not the biggest fan of these cynical spy movies from the 1960s; I've never particularly warmed to The Ipcress Files either. So people who like the works of John le Carré and the other movies in the 60s spy cycle will probably have a more positive reaction to The Looking Glass War than I did.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The sun around a walk

One of the movies that TCM seems to show fairly often when they need something for the Memorial Day or Veteran's Day programming blocks is A Walk in the Sun. I hadn't actually seen it before, so this year I made it a point to watch to be able to do a review on it here.

The action takes place in late 1943, as the Allies are about to make the jump to the European continent by invading Sicily after which they will work their way all the way up the peninsula. The story deals with one small platoon's place in that invasion. They're waiting to make the sea crossing, and it's not an easy one since the Axis powers know it's coming and have defensive weaponry ready to try to repel it. Indeed, one of the shots from the shore severely injures the head of the platoon, forcing them to select a new commander, who also gets killed fairly early on. Ultimately Staff Sgt. Tye (Dana Andrews) is going to lead the platoon.

Their objective is a bridge that crosses a river on a key road that the Axis powers have been using to transport troops, so their job is to destroy that bridge until the Allies can secure the area and replace the bridge. However, the bridge is guarded, more or less, by a farmhouse that holds the high ground in the area, and the Germans and Italians are sure to have a lot of men stationed there.

But to be honest, the mission is more of a macguffin as the movie is really about the men themselves and how they react to being in war and the stresses that produces, and how they deal with that stress. If you're looking for action, there's not all that much, although there is an assault on the farmhouse at the end. This may disappoint some viewers.

On the other hand, he have a cast of people who were all relatively early in their careers, with some going on to pretty big things (Lloyd Bridges and Dana Andrews), while others did well but achieved varying degrees of stardom (Richard Conte and John Ireland. Sterling Holloway is probably the veteran of the cast as a medic embedded with the platoon who gets killed off early.

So is A Walk in the Sun a good movie? I'd say it depends on what sort of movie you're looking for. There are those who say that war is a lot of hurry up and wait, with short bursts of action punctuating long periods of nothing much happening. If you're up for that and a movie with an ensemble cast, then I think you'll definitely like A Walk in the Sun.

Briefs for June 15-16, 2023

I mentioned each of the past two weeks that tonight (June 15) is the night that TCM is going to air Katharine Hepburn's four Oscar-winning performances, although they won't be in chronological order, as Morning Glory is relegated to the overnight slot. The highlight of the four for me is The Lion in Winter at 10:00 PM.

There have been any number of passings that I failed to mention over the past few weeks, starting with Jim Brown, who retired from football in order to go into the movies. Most recently was actor Treat Williams, who died in a motorcycle crash at the age of 71. I very much enjoy The Ritz, made very early in Williams' career.

A different sort of passing is that of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which for many years organized the Golden Globe awards. The awards ceremony has been sold off to Dick Clark Productions, which means the awards are likely to become an even bigger joke than they were before, in the sense that there's no real organization doing the voting to determine the winners, much the way DCP's American Music Awards weren't a truly competitive awards show. All the news stories mention the kerfuffle from a couple years back over the supposed lack of diversity among the voters, although I have to admit I didn't pay attention to why it suddenly became an issue when it did, or how non-diverse they were. Supposedly, they were originally foreign reporters in Hollywood, but how many of them were really reporters, or foreign? I can't help but think somebody had an axe to grind to make it an issue when it became one, not that I ever cared about the awards.

Now that I've got good high-speed internet and have been streaming a lot of movies, I've actually got a backlog of stuff to do blog posts on. I've also got a long weekend from work this weekend and another for July 4, so I should finally get to writing some extra posts over the long weekend to have saved as drafts for the future.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Do Not Disturb

There are a couple of movies in the FXM rotation that I don't think I had gotten around to seeing the previous time they were in the rotation. So now, I made a point to record the couple I hadn't seen before so that I could do reviews of them when they show up on the schedule. One such movie is Do Not Disturb. It's got a pair of airings tomorrow (June 15), at 3:05 AM and 1:15 PM.

Doris Day is the star here, as Janet Harper, an American who's having difficulty adjusting to the UK since this is before the decimalization of the currency. She's only in London because her husband Mike (Rod Taylor) is there for business. He works for an apparel company that makes woolen goods, and trades in ideas from fashion shows as well as showing off ideas of the company's own. This means he has to do a fair bit of travel, which is going to cause issues later in the movie.

But in the early stages of the movie it's purely Janet who's causing all the problems. Since they've just moved to London, they're being put up temporarily in the middle of town on the company dime, not far from the office and all the business engagements Mike is going to be involved in. Mike wants Janet to find a place not far away for the two of them to rent, but she decides to do her own thing and rent a house out in county Kent complete with housekeeper Vanessa (Hermione Baddeley). This unsurprisingly ticks Mike off, since the commute is going to be a bitch and keep him away from Janet.

Janet does other things to tick Mike off, like screw up his commute and take in a bunch of stray animals without even consulting Mike about it. She, meanwhile, is worried that he's going to forget their wedding anniversary. And she's also afraid that Mike might be having an affair with his personal assistant Claire (Maura McGiveney). Mike has to go off to Edinburgh and Paris for business meetings, and when interior decorator Paul (Sergio Fantoni) shows up, that gives Janet the idea to follow Paul to his other office in Paris without telling Mike.

As you can guess, Janet and Mike are going to find each other in Paris, and it's going to lead to more complications since Mike's more experienced colleague Simmons (Reginald Gardiner) knows that everybody at these fashion shindigs doesn't want wives along for the ride. It's sexist nonsense, and Simmons knows it, but that's just the way the culture is. (On the one hand you can argue that these men are supposed to be working, so the wives shouldn't be close at hand but seeing the sights if they're non-working women. But that of course is not the way the men mean it.) Once again you can guess that Janet is going to get the idea to pose as Claire and be at the big function in Paris, leading to a conclusion in which Mike and Janet find out that everything's been a big series of misunderstandings.

Do Not Disturb is the sort of movie Doris Day had made several times by now, especially with Rock Hudson. Now it's old hat, and worse thanks to a subpar script that writes Janet as a character who's really not that likable in the first half of the movie, even though the script expects us to think her quirks are charming. I mean, if you're posted to London for business and tell your spouse to get a flat near where you're working, aren't you going to be pissed if your spouse without telling you rents a place out in the country?

If you haven't seen any of Doris Day's romantic comedies, there are a lot that are better to start with, such as Pillow Talk. Save Do Not Disturb for later.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Southern Gothic all'italiano, Part 2

I mentioned not too far back that I had watched a pair of movies not realizing that they were both based on works by Tennessee Williams, and that they both involve major characters of Italian extraction. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is actually set in Italy, while the other film deals with Italian immigrants to the US south. That movie is The Rose Tattoo.

Anna Magnani plays Serafina Delle Rose, an Italian immigrant married to fellow Italian immigrant Rosario, with a teenaged daughter Rosa (Marisa Pavan). What Serafina doesn't know is that her husband is stepping out on her with another woman, who gets the titular tattoo to match one that Rosario has. But that's not going to matter shortly, as Rosario gets killed trying to evade the cops since he's smuggling contraband. Serafina is left to try to make a livnig as a seamstress doing alterations and contract work for her fellow immigrants.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Rosa is about to graduate high school. Being in a coastal town, she's also met some of the men from the nearby naval base who head into town in the evenings. She's even fallen in love with one of them, Seaman Jack (Ben Cooper), something which horrifies Mamma because she knows what men can be like. Jack, for his part, does eventually truly love Rosa, although he is of course a seaman and, one presumes somewhat older than Rosa.

I mentioned that Serafina knows what men are like, but it's only now that she learns that Rosario was just like that himself, which enrages her and sends her to the parish church to try to find out from the priest if it was true, not that he should violate the sanctity of the confessional. Anyhow, it's there that Serafina runs into a fellow trucker, Alvaro (Burt Lancaster). Alvaro helps bring Serafina out of the shell that she had been in since the death of her husband, but at the same time it's a volatile relationship that befits the other romantic entanglements Tennessee Williams wrote about, replete with histrionics, especially when Alvaro decides to get a duplicate of that tattoo not knowing the significance it has for Serafina.

I'm not the biggest fan of the works of Tennessee Williams, so as you might guess I had quite a bit of difficulty with the characters here. None of them is particularly likable, and the amount of histrionics that they go through is taxing for an outside observer after a while. It doesn't help that Burt Lancaster's accent comes and goes (Magnani's, of course, is authentic). So overall The Rose Tattoo wasn't my cup of tea. But I can see why people who like Tennessee Williams and other Southern Gothic literature would love this stuff.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Big Bad Mama

Er, once again not quite

I was browsing through one of the streaming services on my Roku box, and it recommended to me a movie that I had never heard of before: Big Bad Mama. But the plot sounded like it could be fun, reminiscent of the Shelley Winters vehicle Bloody Mama, and the cast was also intriguing. So I sat down to watch it.

The movie starts off in small-town Texas in 1932, which as you can guess is the middle of the Great Depression, and also around the time when Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow first started robbing banks together with the rest of their gang. Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) is a single mother raising two daughters, Billie Jean and Polly, and more or less living off what she can make working with her lover Barney who is a bootlegger. Wilma wants more for her daughters, however, to the point that she breaks up the wedding of one of them who is would in Wilma's view be sentenced to a life of poverty.

Unfortunately, since they work with a bootlegger, it means repeated chases with the police. Eventually, the police get Barney, although at least they don't get the booze as well. This gives Wilma the idea of doing Barney's delivery routes and keeping whatever money Barney would have earned for herself and the two daughters. The cops, however, cotton on to this and confiscate all of Wilma's money in exchange for keeping her and the daughters out of jail.

Wilma has to resort to other schemes, and when she tries passing phony checks, she runs into Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt). He's a bank robber, and it's only natural that the two crooks start working together. Never mind that it cuts overhead. Wilma and Fred fall in love, although as the movie progesses the two daughters also reveal their rapacious sexual desires.

And then during another con job they run into crooked gambler William Baxter (William Shatner), and he joins their crime spree. However, having two grown men put togther with one mature nubile woman and two other nubile people who are technically adult women but not that mature causes all sorts of tensions. Worse is that one of their cons involves kidnapping, which causes much more serious problems.

If you were just to look at it objectively, you'd have to admit that it's not a notably good movie. There seems to be more sex than plot, and the acting isn't always top notch by a country mile. It has the definite vibe of being produced for the drive-in crowd, although apparently it was a September release and not in the summer. In any case, although the movie isn't particularly good it's enormously entertaining if you're in the right sort of mood for such a film especially if you want to watch with friends and yell at the screen.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Sky High

Oh wait, that's a different movie

A couple of weeks back, TCM's Silent Sunday Nights feature was acutally a double feature of two relatively short Tom Mix movies. Now, most people have probably heard the name Tom Mix; I know for me I remember the name from crossword puzzles all the way back when I was a kid many years ago. (Ida Lupino was another common name in older crossword puzzles.) Mix was a silent screen cowboy and star of westerns, and because of most of his movies being silent and vault fires and the like, most of them are no longer known to be extant. The two TCM showed were restored and given new scores, with the first of the two being the 1922 movie Sky High.

Sky High is technically not quite a western to the extent that other movies were; it's somewhat cloesr to the singing cowboy concept of the western in that while there's horseback riding and the west, it's also set in the present day. Mix isn't even playing a cowboy, but Grant Newbury, an immigration official trying to track down illegal immigrants in the Southwest, the district running from at least El Paso in the east to Californa in the west. In those days, it wasn't Mexicans and people from further south in Central and South America trying to cross the border illegally; at least, that's not what the movie would have you believe. Instead, it's smuggers trying to bring in Chinese immigrants, presumably because it's easier to go through Mexico than through the Pacific ports. Grant captures a smuggler trying to bring a carload of them in through Arizona, before getting sent to Calexico, on the border between California and Mexico.

Meanwhile, back east in Chicago, Estelle Holloway (Eva Novak) is finishing up another year in college. Her parents have apparently died, as she's the ward of an uncle who lives somewhere out west. He's telegraphed Estelle to stay in Chicago for the summer and he'll get there when he can, but she wants to see him. Fortunately for her, her best friend Marguerite hails from the west coast and is rich enough that her family can put Estelle up for the summer, or at least long enough until they can meet the guardian and hand Estelle over to him.

Now, it doesn't take much to figure out how the two main characters' plots are going to intertwine. Sure enough, Estelle's uncle Frazer (J. Farrell MacDonald, who would go on to become a dependable character actor well into the sound era) is the ringleader of the gang trying to smuggle Chinese immigrants into the country. They've decided to keep the immigrants under wraps in a camp in the middle of the Grand Canyon, it being somewhat more inaccessible if you want to get down close to the Colorado River. Grant is going to track the gang to the Grand Canyon, while Estelle's party is going to stop at the Canyon along the way.

But it's more dramatic than that. Estelle has a dispute with Marguerite's brother when he tries to put the moves on her, so she runs off and decides to explore the canyon herself, which really should be a big no-no; don't go off trail! She gets lost and Grant rescues her. Grant unsurprisingly doesn't know of the relationship between Estelle and Frazer, while Estelle doesn't know that Frazer is a criminal or that Frazer isn't that far away. Eventually, Grant gets his man, but not after some dangerous chases through the Grand Canyon.

And it's the chases through the Grand Canyon that are the highlight of the movie. A good portion of the movie was filmed on location, and even in 100-year-old black and white, the canyon looks quite impressive. More than that, however, there's also aerial photography as part of the chase is from an airplane flying through the canyon, which was pretty risky.

So while the story in Sky High is nothing out of the ordinary, the chance to see Tom Mix as well as the historical footage of the Grand Canyon make the movie one you should definitely watch.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Three taped ghosts

Another of the movies that I watched because it sounded like it had an interesting premise was the 1936 film Three Live Ghosts. It's the third, and so far last, movie version of a novel that was then turned into a stage play, and I have to admit that it's not hard to see why nobody's thought to make a fourth version of it.

The movie opens up around Armistice Day in 1918. Three soldiers who fought for Britain before getting captured by Germany and becoming POWs are returning home: Gubbins (Charles McNaughton); Spoofy (Claud Allister); and an American who had reasons for signing up with the British before the US entry in the war, Bill Jones (Richard Arlen). However, when the three make it to an army personnel office, all three discover that they've been declared killed in action!

This causes some problems, although not necessarily the ones that you might think of in movies like Too Many Husbands or Enemies: a Love Story. Nobody got remarried after becoming a widow. Instead, they return to London where Gubbins lived with his stepmother (Beryl Mercer) and Bill's girlfriend Ann (Cecilia Parker) live in the same apartment building. As for Spoofy, nobody seems to know much about his past, including Spoofy himself, which might have to do with shell shock and being left a little touched in the head.

The big problem for Gubbins is that his step-mom accepted his death, more so because it meant she'd get a nice allotment check from the government for having sacrificed a child, even if it was a stepchild, to the cause. Spoofy doesn't know where home is, and Bill finds that there's an American detective who's crossed the Atlantic looking for him, as he has some sort of criminal history that caused him to flee and fight for Britain in the first place. The British, unsurprisingly, don't have any issues with extraditing Bill.

At least, they wouldn't if there's no possibility that Bill has legal problems in the UK. And he's about to. Spoofy, having some sort of mental issue, goes off and gets involved with the Brockton jewels, in an era when jewels had names and apparently everybody knew about certain jewels the way people know gossip about celebrities today. Worse is the fact that the Brockton kid gets kidnapped. The police are fairly quick to trace everything to the apartment building where the three men are living. Mrs. Gubbins, meanwhile, is happy to turn Bill over to the police, since there's a reward that could have her financially set for the rest of her life.

Even thought there's apparently a novel underlying Three Live Ghosts, it really feels like a stage play, and one that was dated even for 1936. Perhaps it all seemed fresh and new immediately following the Great War, but by 1936 I don't think it was. And the director doesn't do much to draw the action out, although this was also a decided B movie. Finally, the story ends with what feels like a bit of a deus ex machina, as though the writers didn't know how to resolve it. What they came up requires quite a bit of straining of credulity.

Still, the idea of somebody being declared dead only to be discovered very much alive a substantial amount of time later is always going to be interesting. It's just that Three Live Ghosts doesn't handle it very well.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Once Upon a Honeymoon

When the US entered World War II in December 1941, Hollywood joined the war effort, and there were a lot of films from 1942 that give the feeling of either being rushed into production or as though events of the day overtook the events of the film. One such movie that made a bit more sense to me as I was thinking about people in Hollywood wanting to do their part for the war effort is Once Upon a Honeymoon.

The story opens in Vienna in early 1938. As always, if you know your history this was the time when Austria "decided" (not that they had much choice) to merge with Nazi Germany in what is known as the Anschluß. The movie begins just before Austria voted itself out of existence, and surprisingly there are ex-pats who seem oblivious to what's going on. Namely, that's Kathie O'Hara (Ginger Rogers), a showgirl from Philadelphia who wound up in Vienna and fell in love with a German Baron, von Luber (Walter Slezak) and is planning to marry him in spite of the political situation.

Someone more clued in to the political situation is American correspondent Patrick O'Toole (Cary Grant), and his nominal job is to get an interview with O'Hara because of the wedding. Kathie is famously not giving any interviews, so O'Toole has to get up to all sorts of ruses. The baron, however, is wise to all of this. Meanwhile, the political merger is completed, and the baron is called off to business in Prague, capital of the then still independent Czechoslovakia. Kathie obviously goes with him, while O'Toole follows.

History tells us that the Czech part of Czechoslovakia was the next to fall, with the Sudetenland being annexed outright in the fall of 1938 and the rest of Bohemia and Moravia becoming a protectorate in early 1939 with Slovakia being a nominally independent puppet state. After all these events, von Luber goes off to... Poland! Baroness von Luber and O'Toole follow, with O'Toole finally having figured out that wherever the Baron goes, another country is bound to fall, and that the Baron is obviously a no-good Nazi. But can O'Toole get Kathie to become a good American and turn on the Baron?

Obviously, since the movie was released in 1942, you know that Kathie is going to wise up and do her part for her country, although with the number of countries that fall to the Nazis, she's also going to have to do quite a bit of moving around Europe with her husband. O'Toole, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how to expose the true nature of the shadowy Baron. Along the way, O'Toole and O'Hara get mistaken for Jews and sent to the Warsaw ghetto, and then get directly get clued in to American intelligence when they're in Paris.

I read quite a few negative reviews of Once Upon a Honeymoon, and it's easy enough to see why somebody would draw that conclusion about the movie. Much in the same way that the characters have to wing it in moving around Europe, so it feels tht the screenwriters were writing as events dictated, even though everything that happened in the movie would have been a good two years before the movie actually started filming (IMDb says filming started in June 1942, which is a good six months after Pearl Harbor).

It's also definitely not the best film any of the principals involved with the movie made, although I'd also say it's decidedly not the worst. It's just a bit of a mess because it feels like the morale boost is the thing here, above and beyond any story line, which is a bit of a shame, because there are movies out there which do a much better job of giving a great story first and then the morale boost (To Be or Not to Be comes to mind).

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, June 8, 2023: Seasons in the title

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time out, the theme is a fairly easy one, and one that really calls for doing four movies: Movies with a season in the title. In the end, I decided on three movies, with a sort of cheat for the fourth season:

The Lion in Winter (1968). Katharine Hepburn won her third Oscar playing Eleanor of Aquitaine, the estranged wife of Henry II of England (Peter O'Toole). Over Christmas in 1183, the two and their surviving sons have a family reunion which devolves into a heated debate over who should succeed Henry II as king: Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins) is Mom's choice (and Anthony Hopkins did a great Star of the Month piece on Hepburn for TCM some years back, discussing this movie quite a bit as it was Hopkins' first big role), while John (Nigel Terry) is Dad's choice.

Autumn Sonata (1978). I think I've picked this movie before, but it's Ingrid Bergman's final feature film and earned her one final Oscar nomination. She plays a concert pianist, widowed for the second time, who decides that she's going to take a break from performing by visiting her daughter (Liv Ullmann). Her daughter, however, isn't a particularly good musician which dismays Mom, having decided to give up any attempt at a musical career to marry a country priest as well as take care of her sister since the two siblings have been estranged from Mom. It doesn't take long to understand why the daughters became estranged from Mom.

Summer Holiday (1948). A musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!, this movie stars 27-year-old Mickey Rooney as a young man at the turn of the century about to graduate high school and go off into the big wide world, even though he doesn't know that much about greater world out there or about being an adult. In the 1935 version of Ah, Wilderness!, Rooney played the kid brother.

Finally, I'd like to mention, The Devil and Miss Jones (1941). That's because of the presence of character actress Spring Byington. Charles Coburn stars as a wealthy businessman who learns of labor unrest in a forgotten corner of his business empire, a department store, and decides to go undercover in the shoe department to learn for himself what's going on. Byington plays one of the clerks who winds up becoming a love interest to Coburn not realizing his true identity. The real star is Jean Arthur as another clerk; she's got a love interest in the form of union agitator Robert Cummings.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Friends

Another movie that was on the Watch TCM app that I hadn't heard of before was a spaghetti western that got distributed in the US largely because of the presence of Anthony Quinn in the cast. That movie is Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears.

Apparently, the movie is based on real events, as Erastus Smith (played by Quinn) was a real person and, like "Deaf" Smith in the movie, was a deaf mute. The movie is set in 1836, not long after the Americans who streamed into Texas from points further east (ie. from the southern US) had gained Texas' independence from Mexico. However, there are a still people in Texas who don't care for the new regime, and some of them are apparently plotting a coup against president Sam Houston. So Houston calls upon Smith, and his interpreter nicknamed Johnny Ears (Franco Nero) to go south and investigate.

What they find is that an envoy from somewhere in the German-speaking lands -- the movie says Germany although it would still be a couple more decades before Germany was unified -- is trying to agree with the rebels on the importation of materiel for the rebels, led by Gen. Morton, to use against Houston. Meanwhile, Gen. Morton has killed the people he thinks are the spies giving Houston the information about the possible rebellion, and this includes his own father-in-law. This makes his wife interested in helping out Smith and Johnny Ears when they show up trying to find out what Morton's plans really are.

It wouldn't be a western without a love interest, and that is provided by a prostitute named Susie (Pamela Tiffin), who is bedded by Johnny Ears and eventually runs away with Deaf and Johnny after they defeat Morton. Or at least, that seems to be what happens, as the action is fairly muddled.

And that's the big problem with the movie, that it seems like there's a whole lot of nothing going on, without much in the way of character development. The print TCM showed was dubbed into English, although I'd guess that it was the production company's intention to have all the dialog redone in both Italian and English versions in post since that was not uncommon for spaghetti westerns.

I didn't much care for Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears, but perhaps people who like other spaghetti westerns will like it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The File on Madeleine Stowe

In looking through the streaming service movie channels, I find quite a few movies I've never heard of, although a lot of them are more recent and not necessarily of the greatest interest to me. One that's already about 30 years old that sounded like it had an interesting premise was China Moon, so I recently sat down to watch it.

Ed Harris plays Kyle Bodine, a police detective in a Florida city that seems about the same size as whichever Florida city William Hurt inhabited in Body Heat. Kyle doesn't have an exciting life, living quietly apart from investigating cases with his partner on the force Lamar (Benicio Del Toro).

Rupert Munro (Charles Dance) is a wealthy businessman married to Rachel (Madeleine Stowe) and insanely jealous, worried that his wife is cheating on him and trying to get pictures of her in compromising positions to prove it. It's a loveless marriage, giving Rachel good reason to cheat on her controlling husband. He abuses her, which leads her to call the police. As Kyle and Lamar happen to be the closest police car, they drive over to investigate.

Kyle is immediately taken with Rachel, which he ought to realize is a huge no-no especially if he's seen any noir movies, because god knows there are a whole bunch of noir movies where a guy who would be violating professional ethics to get involved with a particular woman still gets involved with her any way. The two start seeing each other secretly; he because it's a bad look to be seen in a relationship with somebody who was the subject of a domestic violence call, and she because she's got that jealous husband.

Things get bad enough for Rachel that she decides to leave the house for a weekend to go down to Miami and get away from Rupert. She then decides during the weekend to go back to the house to grab some belongings in preparation for a permanent break from Rupert. He's supposed to be out at some function, but he returns home and gets in a heated argument with Rachel. She's already bought a gun for self-defense that nobody else knows about, and now she pulls that gun out, leading to Rupert being shot twice.

Rachel doesn't know what to do, figuring she'll be subject to a murder trial even if it is self-defense. So she calls Kyle. As I said earlier, Kyle obviously hasn't seen any noir movies, because he makes the thoroughly stupid decision to tell Rachel what would be the best way to cover up the killing and make it look like somebody other than her shot Rupert. Of course, this means that there are going to be discrepancies, and those discrepancies are going to start leading to Kyle. Worse, it's not so much the cover-up as the apparent twist that it was actually his gun that fired the bullets that killed Rupert.

I've mentioned twice now that Kyle doesn't seem to be that familiar with noir. If you too aren't familiar with noir, or you're trying to introduce somebody who doesn't care so much for black-and-white cinema to noir (or more technically neo-noir), China Moon really isn't a bad movie. The problem, however, is for all of us who are film buffs and have seen at least a reasonable amount of noir. In that case, China Moon comes across as a pastiche of the genre, with so many plot points that seem like they're lifted straight from other movies. It's why I mentioned Body Heat and The File on Thelma Jordon already, and why I could easily have mentioned movies like Fred MacMurray's Pushover or Van Heflin in The Prowler or any of a dozen other similar movies.

Still, the three leads all give professional performances, and the movie is entertaining enough even if not quite original. If you're looking for something that's likely new to you for a lazy movie night with friends, China Moon wouldn't be a bad choice. Just don't expect anything groundbreaking or truly classic.

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Flame Within

I've got an acquaintance on a non-movie internet forum I frequent who's a psychiatrist of some reknown. One time, I accidentally compared him to a psychologist, and a fair bit of humor ensued over the idea that anybody would do something so scandalous as referring to the guy as a psychologist. Anyhow, I bring this up because I couldn't help but think of that acquaintance as I was watching the movie The Flame Within.

Ann Harding plays the psychiatrist in question, one named Dr. Mary White, although she really does seem closer to the popular perception of a psychologist, and the amount of stuff that could have passed for pop psychology decades later surprised me. There's a fellow doctor, Dr. Gordon Phillips (Herbert Marshall), who loves her and wants to marry her, but the movie was released in 1935 and everybody thinks marriage means Mary would have to give up her career which she's reluctant to do because psychiatry is a cutting-edge field and she wants to be a pioneer. (Who can blame her?)

Into this comes a patient, which ought not be surprising since these people are after all doctors. That patient is the idle rich young woman Lillian Belton (Maureen O'Sullivan), who has just tried to commit suicide, which is a decided no-no under the Production Code. Only evil people would do that. Lillian is brought to Dr. White's posh upper-story apartment/office, and in the course of one session tries to commit suicide again by jumping out the window! It turns out that Lillian was in Paris last season, and met another idle rich man, Jack Kerry (Louis Hayward). She immediately fell in love with him, although he only saw her as a friend at most. His true love is alcohol. Lillian thinks she can reform Jack and wants him to be with her instead of the bottle.

So Drs. White and Phillips get in touch with Jack and get him to have a session with Dr. White. And over the course of several sessions, Dr. White finally convinces Jack to stop drinking and to try to get a job, in this case in airplane design although the job seems to have more to do with the passenger cabin than what we traditionally think of as aerospace.

The only cath is what in pop psychology would be called, if memory serves, transference. Dr. White having helped Jack, he thinks she's the right woman for him, not Lillian! And so naturally he starts gettin the hots for Dr. White and that makes Lillian unhappy. Now perhaps if Dr. White had been a psychologist she would have understood all this. But she's supposed to be a psychiatrist, so she doesn't see any of this. And while she doesn't actively try to take Jack away from Lillian, she doesn't actively try to stop his pursuing her while being married to Lillian. At least, not until Dr. Phillips has an intervention with her.

I suppose there might have been an interesting idea at the core of The Flame Within. But boy is that brought down by the script. On the bright side, it all comes crashing down so hard that the movie is unintenionally funny at times. The ending is pure Production Code and might enrage some people, but I saw it as just another symptom of how much of a mess the movie is. All of the actors try their best, but the can't overcome the turkey of a script.

Thankfully, The Flame Within is programmer-length, so watching it crash and burn won't take too much of your time. And it really is worth one watch if you're in the mood to watch the sort of movie that crashes and burns.

Sunday, June 4, 2023


Another of the movies that I watched because it was about to leave the Watch TCM app was one that sounded like it had an interesting premise, and turned out to have a far more interesting, if flawed ending than the rest of the movie: Rollover.

The movie is set in the world of high finance, with the opening credits over shots of one of the trading floors at Boro National Bank in New York at night, when there's no trading going on. Boro National Bank is in a spot of financial difficulty, as they've got a bunch of international accounts, and the holders of their accounts want to repatriate their holdings, leading to a sort of run on the bank. Meanwhile, over at competing First New York Bank, the executive Maxwell Emery (Hume Cronyn) seems to be OK with this, as it will allow his bank to purchase a distressed asset at rock-bottom prices, much like buying a foreclosed house.

Also worried about the state of Boro National is Charlie Winters, head of a petrochemical company and one of the biggest American accounts at the bank, one that has no need of repatriating its accounts. Charlie is doing a bit of financial digging, and determines that money is being moved from places like Boro National to a mysterious account #21214 at First New York. But that's as far as he gets, because he's murdered.

Charlie leaves behind a widow, Lee (Jane Fonda) who, like Joan Crawford before her, was a Hollywood actress. Unlike Joan, however, Lee doesn't go back to acting and putting product placement of petrochemicals in her movies. Like Joan, however, she gets named to the board of the company, in fact becoming head of the company. She's no dummy, either, and has found a Spanish company whose assets would be perfect for her company, except that she's going to need financing through Boro National.

Maxwell, of course, is trying to get control of Boro National, and to that end sends executive Hub Smith (Kris Kristofferson) to work there to investigate the soundness of the underlying assets. Hub isn't so sure, and as he investigates of course he too is going to learn about that account #21214. Lee is going to discover it too, although in her case it's because she serendipitously finds a surreptitious recording her late husband had made talking about the account.

Eventually, it's discovered that the account is for another repatriation account, this one for Arab oil producers. They've been putting mid-seven-figure amounts of dollars into the account on a monthly basis, which is fairly substantial by early 1980s standards but not enough to cause bank runs. However, the Arabs have enough money that it could cause a run if they all decide to pull out their dollars in one fell swoop, and even Emery doesn't want that.

It's all an interesting premise, but one problem that a movie like Rollover faces is trying to present the world of high fiance in a way that's cinematically interesting, while also being intelligent and entertaining. One of the things Rollover does that doesn't work is to create a love interest between Lee Winters and Hub Smith. Rollover also posits an outcome of a liquidity crisis that to me didn't seem quite so realistic. Some might look at the politics of Jane Fonda and director Alan Pakula and blame this for the movie's conclusion, although I think that's a bit harsh.

Still, Rollover is interesting, at least as speculation and a look at how people saw the world of high finance circa 1980. It apparently got a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, and can be streamed on at least Amazon Prime Video.

Upcoming programming alerts, June 4-6, 2023

I was looking through the TCM schedule for stuff to put on the DVR, since there's a movie or two I missed that didn't show up on the Watch TCM app. (And, I learned the hard way that if you try recording something partway through it on Youtube TV, there doesn't seem to be a way to record from the start.) I noticed that one of this week's TCM Imports is Before the Rain, which I blogged about in 2017 and which is still in print from the Criterion Collection. It will be on overnight tonight at 2:00 AM. The other import, at 4:00 AM, is Three Colors: White. I have to admit that so far I've only seen Blue out of the Three Colors trilogy.

Tomorrow morning and afternoon on TCM brings up a bunch of wedding-related movies. As I scrolled quickly through the schedule, I saw that the picture associated with Father of the Bride at 4:00 PM was of Steve Martin, which suprised me until I looked closer. It seems that both versions of Father of the Bride will be on TCM tomorrow: the original with Spencer Tracy at 10:00 AM and the Steve Martin remake at 4:00 PM. I always enjoy The Bride Came C.O.D., which shows up at 2:00 PM.

It's not that long ago that I blogged about The Life of Jimmy Dolan. That one comes up again soon, at 7:30 AM on Tuesday.

I looked through the FXM lineup, and it doesn't seem that any of the stuff that I recorded but haven't yet blogged about is coming up soon. So I guess I won't be watching those off the DVR for a little while longer yet.

There should be a full-length review coming up in the afternoon, and I've got enough of a backlog of stuff that I should really be writing multiple reviews a day and putting some of them in draft.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Where There's a Will (1955)

If you look up Tod Slaughter on this blog, you'll see that I got two of his movies in one of the box sets of British B movies that I picked up some years back. I've bought a couple more sets from the same outfit: one or two sets of British noirs from the 1950s, and a second set of British B movies. Off of that second set of British B's, I watched another completely new to me movie: Where There's a Will.

The movie starts off amusingly enough, with a farmer in Devonshire, in the southwest of England, walking in his field and getting blown to smithereens when he accidentally steps on an unexploded land bomb from World War II. The guy died, which is bad enough, but worse is that he didn't have any direct descendants. This is a much bigger problem for his devoted housekeeper, Annie Yeo, who figured she was going to inherit the place, except that there's no will that can be found. So the search is on for any other relatives, who are ahead of poor Annie in the line to inherit.

It turns out that the old guy had a sibling who had kids, who are now all grown up and will be inheriting the farm. There's two nieces, Amy who's married Fred and Maud who is a widow with an adult daughter June. There's also nephew Alfie. All of them live in London and travel down to Devon to see the old farm and look to sell it since, even splitting the property three ways, it should bring them enough to give them a somewhat more comfortable standard of living than what they all currently have.

Unfortunately, Alfie decides that he likes the fresh air and being out of London, and decides that perhaps he'd like to take up farming. There's the question of how he's going to get the money to get his sisters' other two shares of the farm, as well as the question of whether he knows enough about farming to make the place a going concern. Meanwhile, there are neighboring farmers, the Stokes father and son, who could use the land. Young Ralph Stokes takes a liking to young June and thinks she shouldn't be tied down to the drudgery of a London typing pool girl doting on her mother.

And then there's the mortgage on the farm, and the government man who thinks the government knows better how to run farming and would be willing to put in its own manager. This is all light comedy, however, so eventually everything works out well for the right people. If they don't live happily ever after, at least they get the life of farm labor they choose for themselves.

You'll not that I didn't put the names of any of the stars in the cast. That's because as I was watching the opening credits, all of these were a bunch of names I had never heard of before, and some of them don't even have head shots on IMDb. But then, near the bottom of the credits, there was one name that looked familiar, as Ralph Stokes was played by a man named Edward Woodward. Sure enough, it's that Edward Woodward, known for movies like The Wicker Man and Breaker Morant, and, in the US< the TV series The Equalizer.

Where There's a Will is a mildly pleasant B comedy, and the sort of thing that would have been perfect for the old days when you had a full evening's entertainment at the movies including shorts, a newsreel, a B movie, and the feature. At the same time, it's not surprising that it's fallen into obscurity and shows up on the sort of cheap box set I got. Perhaps in the new world of free, ad-supported streaming, somebody will get the rights to a bunch of movies like this and put them out there that way, the same way I saw Death Goes to School several weeks back.