Thursday, August 31, 2023

Flaxy Martin

Another of those movies that seems to show up fairly regularly on TCM since it was produced by Warner Bros. back in the 1940s is Flaxy Martin. The title was always enough to notice it, but for whatever reason I never actually got around to watching it. So when Eddie Muller picked it for Noir Alley a few months back, I finally made a point of recording it in order to be able to watch and do a review here.

Flaxy in the context of the movie is a woman's name, and that part is played by Virginia Mayo. But we don't see her for a bit. Instead we see Walter Colby (Zachary Scott), who's really the lead here. Colby is a lawyer for mobster Hap Richie (Douglas Kennedy). One night, Colby is called out of bed on an urgent matter. There's been a murder, and Hap needs Walter to get the guy off, since the man picked up for the murder is one of Hap's hired thugs, and guilty as sin.

Where Flaxy comes in is that she's Colby's girlfriend, although he doesn't realize that she's seeing Hap on the side. Colby goes to see Flaxy, telling her that this time is going to be it and that he'd like to become a respectable lawyer. Good look with that thanks to the Production Code. Flaxy is smart enough to know it'll never happen, and devious enough to keep it from happening. She's about to need that deviousness.

The paid witness who helped Colby get Hap's thug found not guity on the murder charge has decided she didn't get paid enough, and threatens to squawk. Flaxy goes to see her and is too obvious not to be noticed, which is one of the risks of going through life looking like Virginia Mayo. The thug also shows up, and kills the witness, but that leaves Flaxy as the one everyone's going to accuse.

And now here's where Colby gets stupid. He decides that he'll get Flaxy off by telling the authorities that he was the one to kill the witness, since he knows there's no evidence. Somehow a jury will clear him, as long as nobody double-crosses him, and you know somebody is going to double cross him. The only way Colby can clear his name is to escape from prison and solve the case himself, with the help of a Hitchcock blonde-type woman, Nora Carson (Dorothy Malone), who rescues Colby and hides him at her place just because. (Maybe she's sex-starved, although of course the Production Code wouldn't let the writers say that.)

Flaxy Martin is a hot mess in terms of the twists and terms of the story, although thanks to the cast and Warner Bros.' professional production, it's interesting enough for one watch. But it's really more the sort of movie you watch just to be a completist, and not something that would ever be considered the best movie of anyone in the cast.

Thursday Movie Picks, August 31, 2023: Female Investigators (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV-themed edition of the blogathon. And in keeping with the theme from three weeks ago, it's about women in the workplace, specifically women investigators. I could easily think of a couple of shows, but some of them I had already used, so in the end I wound up going with three shows that I've never really seen:

Police Woman (1974-1978). Angie Dickinson. Enough said. OK, maybe not enough said; I get the impression that this was considered tough back when it was made, but I have a feeling I'd have a different view of it watching from today.

Rizzoli and Isles (2010-2016). Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander play the title characters respectively, a Boston police detective and medical examiner investigating a series of cases that are copycats of a notorious serial killer, or would-be serial killer. This one kept showing up on one or another of the digital sub-channels that I'd turn on when making dinner for Dad before we moved out of the old place and moved to streaming TV.

Get Christie Love! (1974-1975). A few months back I was looking through the streaming channel guides, and saw what looked like an interesting blaxploitation movie called Get Christie Love!. It seemed surprisingly tame and the film quality looked off (and panned-and-scanned), and it was only on doing a bit of research that I discovered I was watching a TV movie that was more or less a pilot. Teresa Graves plays the titular character police detective. The reason the movie and show seem so tame is that star Teresa Graves found God around that time, eventually leaving acting all together, and wanted storylines that wouldn't be considered so offensive.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Don't Think I've Forgotten

I think I've mentioned a group blog that I read where one of the posters once a week "recommends" mostly schlocky stuff that's available to stream for free on Tubi. A few weeks ago the guy picked a movie that's so raunchy that I won't name it here. But I mention that because in looking for the title, Tubi's search algorithm gave me a documentary I'd never heard of but which sounded interesting: Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll. Naturally, being intrigued by the subject matter, I decided to watch it.

As you can figure from the title, the documentary covers the music, most of it pop, if not quite the harder rock and roll, that was developed in Cambodia in the years after it gained independence from France in the early 1950s up to 1975, when the Khmer Rouge won the Cambodian Civil War and and basically destroyed the entire urban population in their drive to create an agrarian paradise. Many -- but not all -- of the musicians profiled in the movie were killed during the nearly four-year reign of terror, and some of the surviving musicians are interviewed along with a host of other people from western historians to people who were just plain fans of the Cambodian pop of the era. Also needless to say, but a lot of that music gets played over the course of the movie.

But you can't discuss a topic like Cambodian pop music without discussing the political situation that developed the music. King Norodom Sihanouk had learned French during his childhood when the country was a French colony and had some sympathy for western culture, to the point that when he became king of an independent Cambodia after the French left, he set about trying to modernize the country which included musically, with a fusion of traditional Cambodian singing patters and western (not just French but Latin American and eventually US American) rhythms and melodic structures. The led to a flourishing of live bands, recording being a nascent thing in Cambodia until the national radio set up a recording studio.

However, politics was never far away, especially after the French left Vietnam and that country split in two. The movie charitably portrays the King as trying to walk a tightrope, and this portrayal made me think of King Mongkut from Anna and the King of Siam, a man who was trying to modernize his country against the backdrop of outside forces who want in along with a domestic elite that may not want modernization. That domestic elite doesn't seem to be quite present in Cambodia, although I would think that's in part because Cambodia had had almost a century of modernization that Siam hadn't had.

Sihanouk also officially tried to keep the country neutral between the US and France on one side, and the various Communist countries on the other, although in reality he also had some sympathy for the Communists. But his political party was officially non-Communist and set up a one-party state. However, when the army leader Lon Nol led a coup in 1970 that deposed Sihanouk, he went into exile in the PRC and supported the Khmer Rouge.

Meanwhile, Cambodian music was developing throughout this turbulent period combined with the war in Vietnam that eventually spilled over into Cambodia. Cambodian singers picking up American musical ideas from Armed Forces Radio and integrating that into the genre is mentioned and interesting, as when one of the popular singers does a mostly-Khmer rendition of James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend". The widening of the Vietnam War eventually doomed the Lon Nol regime, leading to the Khmer Rouge takeover that killed quite a few of these singers.

The documentary is fascinating, although it does have one minor problem. I was reminded of the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time, and how it showed a bunch of clips that expected viewers to already know who the actors on screen were. Don't Think I've Forgotten doesn't go quite that far, although at times I got the impression it might have been a bit helpful to know a bit about some of these musicians before seeing the movie. As for the music, I'm generally somewhat intellectually curious in that I find shorter looks at completely different musical genres to be interesting, although I'd probably go nuts if I had to live with such a genre being the dominant style of music. Cambodian pop is definitely that way. But for the length of a documentary like this, it works, and Don't Think I've Forgotten is one you should definitely seek out.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Angie Sinned

Today's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Woody Strode, a supporting actor in a bunch of interesting movies in the late 1950s and 1960s. I had one of those roles on my DVR, so when I saw that it would show up in Summer Under the Stars, I decided I'd watch it so I could do a post on it today. That movie is The Sins of Rachel Cade, which concludes Strode's day at 3:30 AM (so, the early hours of August 30).

Once again, Strode is not the star, and he's certainly not playing the role of Rachel Cade. That honor goes to Angie Dickinson. As the movie opens, Rachel is on a train in the Belgian Congo in 1939. Now, if you remember your history, you'll recall two things. One is that up in Europe, the Nazis are about to invade Poland, kicking off the European theater of World War II, with the conquest of Belgium not far behind. The other is that Belgium had a reputation for being even worse to the locals than other colonial powers were in Africa, but surprisingly that bit is almost entirely overlooked.

Rachel gets off in the backwater town of Dibale. She's a missionary nurse, and a Protestant American one at that, which is equally surprising since Belgium was a largely Catholic country and I've have thought the Belgians would only allow Catholic missionaries. Running the local district, or at least the town, is Col. Derode (Peter Finch), who isn't very religious and certainly doesn't think having a woman at the mission is a good idea. He knows what the locals think of the missionaries.

Rachel is about to find that out as she makes her way to the mission to meet her nominal boss, Dr. Bikel (Douglas Spencer). Bikel desperately wants the supply of drugs that was sent along with her, in part because it includes his heart medicine. But that's not going to be necessary much longer, since Dr. Bikel drops dead mere moments after he first meets Rachel. I guess Angie Dickinson's beauty was too much for the old man's heart to take. Rachel and any westerner understands that Bikel died of a heart attack.

The locals, however, would beg to differ. The locals in this part of the interior believe in a religion that has a god up at the top of a sacred mountain which Dr. Bikel tried to climb, a big no-no. As such, the local chieftain, Kalanumu (Juano Hernandez), put a curse on Bikel that seems to have come true with his death. Rachel, meanwhile, tries to go on practicing western medicine, which brings the ire of both Kalanumu and medicine man Muwango (Woody Strode in a horrendous wig at least part of the time).

What Rachel really needs is another doctor to help run the mission clinic. But with a war on, fat chance of that happening. At least, not until a miracle literally falls from out of the sky. An RAF plane crashes, and on that plane was badly injured survivor Paul Wilton (Roger Moore). Paul happens to be a doctor, and, quite surprisingly, an American (pay no attention to Moore's intermittent attempts at an American accent) who's hoping to become an orthopedic surgeon in Boston after the war. He can do basic doctor stuff while he's recovering! As he recovers, he begins to recognize his biological needs, and Rachel is the only white woman around for hundreds of miles.

You can probably guess how soapy it's going to get from here. Rachel wants to stay in the Congo even though she winds up pregnant and Paul is going to be called back to fight with the RAF, or maybe the Americans if the movie ever gets to December 1941. Derode serves as a sort of intermediary, trying to solve everybody else's problems even though he's got his own problems with that Nazi threat always on the horizon.

One of the reviews I read of The Sins of Rachel Cade suggested that the main storyline could have been set pretty much anywhere, and it would be easy to see it as a sort of early precursor to the TV show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The movie is a slow, plodding mess, and one where it would also be easy to see modern-day movie historians commenting very negatively on the portrayal of Africans, who seem to fit every stereotype westerners had in those days about the continent.

It further doesn't help that Roger Moore is badly miscast here, and doesn't even show up until halfway through the movie. Dickinson and Finch do the best they can to try to save the movie, but there's not much they can do.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Starting Over

Er, not quite

While looking through the movie channel listings on Pluto TV, I came across yet another movie I hadn't heard of on the 70s channel, and with Burt Reynolds in the lead, it sounded interesting enough to watch. The movie was Starting Over, so I hit the remote to start over (pun definitely intended) from the beginning.

Burt Reynolds plays Phil Potter, who at the start of the movie is married to Jessica (Candice Bergen), an aspiring singer-songwriter who has the problem that, well, she simply can't sing. Maybe she should try just writing songs for other people. But for whatever reason, she responds to her lack of success as a singer by announcing to her husband that she wants a divorce.

Phil, not knowing what to do, calls his brother Mickey (Charles Durning), who lives up in Boston with his wife Marva (Frances Sternhagen), who suggests that perhaps Phil should move closer to Boston. Phil does this, but since the movie was made well before the internet was a thing let along good enough to do work from home, Phil needs a way to make money to tide him over. He's able to get a bit of work teaching creative writing at the local community college, although he's never done any actual teaching before.

Along the way, Phil tries to get back into the swing of things by attending a support group for newly-divorced men (do such things even still exist?), which offers the movie a chance for a bit of humor to lighten the proceedings. Meanwhile, Mickey and Marva set Phil up on a blind date with Marilyn (Jill Clayburgh), who is working on her master's degree in elementary education.

Phil isn't too excited about being pushed into a blind date, but the relationship begins to blossom into something. Enough, in fact, that Phil feels comfortable having Marilyn and his brother's family all together for a Thanksgiving dinner. However, things get complicated when the phone rings and it's Jessica. Phil finds that he still has feelings for Jessica that aren't negtive, but he also likes Marilyn. Marilyn, understandably, wants to know that she'll be able to get a real relationship from Phil. The question of how Phil is going to navigate the two women dominates the rest of the movie.

Starting Over is theoretically supposed to be a comedy, although it's really more of a dramedy. The drama isn't heavy, but the comedy doesn't overwhelm the film. Clayburgh and Bergen are both quite adept at handling this sort of material; in fact, both of them received Oscar nominations. Burt Reynolds was big at the time for his previous comedies and southern-set action movies. He's somewhat miscast here, I think, although I can see why the producers (James L. Brooks and Alan Pakula, who also directed) would want to cast somebody like Reynolds since he had an obvious charm that should work here. That and the fact that the movie was intended to be a comedy. One can see glimpses that Reynolds could have real dramatic talent, something that finally showed up two decades later when he got an Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights, but a lot of the time he slightly sticks out. Not too badly, but just enough for it to be noticeable.

Starting Over isn't a bad movie by any sense of the imagination, and is definitely worth a watch. It is, however, one that probably could have been better. That and it's a bit of a product of its late 1970s era.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

I prefer coffee

Another of the movies that shows up reasonably often on TCM but that I had never seen before is Tea and Sympathy. So, the most recent time it showed up on TCM, I made a point to record it in order to be able to finally watch it and do a review on it here.

The movie starts off with Tom Lee (John Kerr) returning to the boarding school where he had studied several years earlier. For some people, such years were a happy time, but right from the beginning we get the sense that this wasn't the case for Tom. As he goes into his old room, we get the inevitable flashback....

Tom is a young man whose mother died some years back and whose father is one of those people seemingly more married to his work than to his now deceased wife, so Tom winds up getting raised by his maid, which has made him somewhat different from the rest of his classmates. Unsurprisingly, his classmates pick up on this, although he's not really helped in this regard by his father Herb (Edward Andrews), who consistently thinks the point of boarding school is to turn his son into a real man, whatever that means.

In the house where Tom lives, there's a housemaster and housemistress, the husband and wife pair of Bill Reynolds (Leif Erickson) and his wife Laura (Deborah Kerr, no relation to John). Bill is the sort of athletic, on the go man who seems just like the stereotype of someone you would expect to make a man out of a boy. Laura, however, is the only one who seems to have any real understanding of Tom. She sees him as bright and kind and sensitive, and thinks he's just as much of a man as the rest of the people at the school, thinking as well that it's absolutely cruel the way everybody else treats him.

Eventually, Tom decides that there's only one way to prove to everybody that yes, he is a real man, and that's to find a woman and bed her. To that end he sees the local prostitute, Ellie Martin (Norma Crane), but she treats him cruelly as well since he's clearly so naïve about sex. Tom's reaction to this sets the film's climax in motion before the flashback ends and we go back to the present day....

Tea and Sympathy was released in 1956, having been based on a play from a few years earlier, with all three of the film's leads reprising their roles. I haven't seen the stage play, but from what I've read -- it's obvious that where the movie version is dancing around the idea of Tom "being a man", that's really just dealing with the strictures of a Production Code that wouldn't allow the movie to deal with the question of homosexuality. The movie version doesn't dance around things so well, instead hitting the viewer over the head with the central conflict. The stereotypes are so crude that the movie becomes more tedious than sensitive or intelligent.

Some of the reviews I've read suggest that because of the handling of the topic to get around the Production Code, the movie has become dated, while others suggest that homosexuality and gender stereotyping is a timely topic even today. One thing that's decidedly not explored is the stereotypical expectations that gay men have for other gay men. I happen to know a handful of small-l libertarian gays who are extremely uncomfortable with the latter day movement focusing on Ts and Qs to the near exclusion of the LGB portion of the "community" (heck, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't like the idea of an LGBTQ "community" in the first place) or the idea that everything needs to be "queered", because to them "queer" in practice means fitting into a tediously restrictive political worldview.

So in that regard Tea and Sympathy probably is still relevant today, just not in the way a lot of people think. It's just too bad that the movie is too blunt in handling the issues.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Eating Raoul

Another of those movies I had heard of but never seen, largely because I was much too young to see it upon its original release, is the extremely dark comedy Eating Raoul. TCM ran it a few months back, which gave me the opportunity to record it and eventually watch it to do a review here.

It's the early 1980s, so just before the whole yuppie thing really kicked off, but the roots of it were certainly there. Paul Bartel, who also directed, plays Paul Bland. He lives with his wife Mary (Mary Woronov) in a Los Angeles-area apartment building. The two of them work lower-end jobs but have dreams of bigger things, considering themelves more cultured than the people around them and wanting to open up a restaurant.

But things go from bad to worse when Paul tries to dissuade a customer at the liquor store where he works from buying cheap plonk; this causes Paul's boss to fire him. Mary is also facing a good deal of difficulty in her job as a nurse as she's being treated badly by both her co-workers and the patients. And then the bank turns down her application for a loan to open that restaruant.

Things can still get even worse, but there's a silver lining about to show up. Other tenants in the apartment building where the Blands live host swingers parties, which horrifies the Blands, who are so chaste they don't even sleep together. At one of those parties, a man gets so drunk that he walks out of the party and right into the Blands' apartment, where he throws himself at Mary. Paul tries to defend his wife and in doing so, accidentally kills the intruder by hittng him over the head. And the same thing happens a second time. But the couple decide nobody will miss these men, so they pilfer the cash off of them and dispose of the bodies.

It's this that gives them the idea to turn the tables on the swingers. If they can find other such swingers, they can lure those men to their apartments, go on a killing spree, and take the money which will help them to open up the apartment. The meet the dominatrix Doris (Susan Saiger), who gives them the idea to take out ads in a Backpage-style magazine that has classified ads catering to the swingers.

Things start looking up for the Blands, but they need some physical security, so the call in a locksmith, Raoul (Robert Beltran), to install new locks. They don't realize until later that he's a scam artist, who installs locks such that he can pick them later and get into the apartments and steal people's valuables. But when Raoul does this to the Blands, he's caught out and everybody realizes they've got blackmail material on each other, since the Blands are in the middle of offing another swinger.

So the Blands and Raoul decide to go into partnership together, with the Blands killing the swingers for their cash, and Raoul disposing of the bodies and fencing their other valuables. As in any crime movie, however, you have to wonder when the scheme is going to go sour and the parties are going to turn on each other....

I'm always up for a good dark comedy, so it goes without saying that I loved Eating Raoul. It's like a much darker and more twisted version of Arsenic and Old Lace. But the much more open sexuality of Eating Raoul also makes it something where I can understand how people who are into stuff from the Production Code era may be a little put off by it. If you haven't seen it before, it's one that you probably should watch.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Ambassador Bill

Another of my recent DVD purchases was a box set of Will Rogers movies, in fact Volume 2 from Fox. Recently, I decided to fire up my DVD player and watch one of the discs off that box set, namely the film Ambassador Bill.

Now the first thing I noticed is that the print used opens up with the Fox Fanfare, which was added much later, since Fox and 20th Century didn't merge until a good four years after this movie was released by the Fox Film Corporation. But that has no bearing on the rest of the movie. Rogers plays Bill Harper, an Oklahoma cattleman who has just been named the new American ambassador to Sylvania, one of those fictional countries somewhere in Central Europe (or more specifically in this case the Balkans which pop up in a lot of movies from this era. His job is to help the Americans secure a contract to develop Sylvania's infrastructure, which is going to be difficult given the country's political situation.

As Bill is flying in, he counts the shots from the cannonade, thinking he doesn't merit a 21-gun salute. But then a 22nd shot goes off, and his pilot Lothar (Ray Milland) informs him that the country is going through one of its regular revolutions. You'd think an ambassador would know a bit about the country he's being posted to.

One of the first things a new ambassador is supposed to do is to present his credentials to the country he's representing, and that's where we learn more about the country's complicated political situation. Sylvania is a kingdom, but the current King Paul (Tad Alexander) is only about 10 years old. That means he's got a regent, and the regent is the Queen Consort, Vanya (Marguerite Churchill). However, the real power behind the throne is the Prince Polikoff (Gustav von Seyffertitz), who engineered the abdication of the King.

Wouldn't you know it, but that king is... Lothar, who piloted Bill into Sylvania and then shows up unannounced at the American embassy late one night to tell Bill the "true" story. Bill, meanwhile, has taken a liking to the poor boy king, seeing that Paul doesn't have any chance to be just a boy or to learn how to become a man. In what would seem like a major breach of diplomatic etiquette, Bill becomes a sort of foster father to Paul, teaching him baseball and rope-handling and the like. He also becomes a bit close to Vanya, who still holds a torch for Lothar.

Polikoff, for his part, has cards up his sleeve to play, and tries to entrap Bill with a honeypot, the Countess Ilka (Greta Nissen). This ultimately leads to another revolution. Since it's a Will Rogers film, you can guess which side wins.

Will Rogers was a big star in the first half of the 1930s up until his tragic death in a plane crash in the Alaskan bush, and watching movies like Ambassador Bill, it's easy to see why. He comes across as affable with an easy charm, and his homespun humor is always gentle. Ninety years on, his style may not be to everyone's taste and the material may not have aged well, but I think it's still important to see movies like this to see what America had a taste for in the early 1930s and what the phenomenon of Will Rogers was. Rogers may not have been the prototypical Hollywood star, but a star he most certainly was.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Torpedo Run

In looking through my scheduled recordings on Youtube TV, I noticed a couple of movies that I recorded the last time they were on TCM. Ernest Borgnine is the star being saluted tomorrow (August 25) in Summer Under the Stars, and I just happen to have one of his movies on the DVR already that I haven't blogged about yet. That movie is Torpedo Run, which shows up at 6:00 PM on August 25. With that in mind, I sat down to watch the movie in order to be able to do a more timely review of it here.

Technically, the star of the movie is Glenn Ford, in yet another World War II movie, although this time it's most definitely not a service comedy. Ford plays Lt. Cmdr. Barney Doyle, commander of the Greyfish, a submarine plying the Pacific. As the movie opens, it's late 1942, and Doyle gets orders to try to destroy the Shimaru, a Japanese aircraft carrier that was part of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Meanwhile, everybody on the sub, led by Doyle's second-in-command Lt. Archie Sloan (Ernest Borgnine), is worried about Doyle because of his family.

Flash back to December 1941. Doyle and his wife (Diane Brewster) are living at one of the US military bases near Manila; recall that the Philippines were an American colony at the time. It's also on the other side of the International Date Line, so technically the attack on Pearl Harbor would have happened in the overnight hours between Sunday, Dec. 7 and Monday, Dec. 8 Manila time and the military people in the Philippines probably would have been woken up to the news of the attack, not at a garden party of the sort that's portrayed here. Doyle has been wanting his wife to head back to the States to save her and the kid, but she was born in Manila and considers it her home, so she's going to stay.

Of course, Japan took the Philippines over during the war and interned the westerners. In the context of the movie, Doyle is informed when he gets the order to go after the Shimaru that the Japanese have two destroyers guarding it, as well as a ship carrying a bunch of POWs -- which would include his family since they were on the base -- from the Philippines to Japan. There's a pretty good chance that when Doyle tries to destroy the Shimaru that he might also destroy the ship carrying his own wife.

Sure enough, that happens; worse, the Greyfish goes into Tokyo Bay where it pretty much gets trapped with a limited number of torpedoes and has to try to figure its way out of the bay and back to Pearl Harbor. Doyle has a crisis of leadership with Sloan tries to paper over in the hopes that he can prevent Doyle from being relieved of active command and stuck behind a desk for the duration of the war.

Since the movie is only half over by the time they get back to Pearl Harbor, we know that the Greyfish is going to have another chance to go after the Shimaru. Complicating matters is that Doyle's commander, Adm. Setton (Philip Ober), wants to give Sloan a command of his own as Sloan is one of the best first officers in the fleet.

I've argued before that there's only so much you can do with a submarine movie thanks to the inherent spatial limitations on a submarine. Torpedo Run has that issue; as a result there's not all that much original here. It's not to say that Torpedo Run is a bad movie, more that you've seen it before even if you haven't. If you want a World War II movie you haven't seen before, then Torpedo Run isn't a bad choice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

1980s Buddy Cop Comedy #57847680758945265113

I grew up in the 1980s, so I heard a lot of pop hits that came from movie soundtracks where I was too young to see the movie in the theater on first release. One such song was Michael McDonald's Sweet Freedom, which came from a movie called Running Scared. I recently noticed that the movie was on one or another of the streaming platforms, so I sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

In Chicago, Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines) and Danny Costanza (Billy Crystal) are a pair of cops partnered and working on the north side of the city to find illicit drugs. Despite trying to make nice with the law-abiding citizens, everybody knows they're cops even when they're undercover, and don't seem to do much to help them. They've got word of Snake (Joe Pantoliano) bringing in some drugs for the higher-level drug dealer Gonzales (Jimmy Smits), and use the sort of unorthodox tactics typical for a movie like this to try to get at Snake. Needless to say, such tactics get them in repeated trouble with their superiors.

The two cops try to turn Snake against Gonzales, and even get him to wear a wire as part of an undercover drug bust, but what they don't realizes is that the Feds are already working on a case against Gonzales, and they've got their own officers on that case. So when extra people show up when Snake is wired, Ray and Danny don't realize that some of these are Feds trying to bring down Gonzales and all hell breaks loose.

Their supervisor responds by putting them on a forced vacation, which at least isn't as bad as administrative leave. Still, if they get their time in they'll be eligible for that fat government pension that's bankrupting states and municipalities and which we have to pay to those ingrateful bastards. Anyhow, Ray and Danny vacation together in Key West Florida; since it's winter, they like the change of climate. Enough, in fact, that they think about retiring then and there even though they only have a year or two left before they can claim that sweet sweet pension.

Even if they want to retire, however, they can't just up and quit as they've got cases with loose ends, including the Gonzales case. And wouldn't you know, they're going to have to train up the two officers they first met in that undercover incident where Snake was wearing the wire. Things get more complicated when Ray and Danny wind up with a shipment of cocaine Gonzales was bringing in from Colombia, and Gonzales responds by kidnapping Danny's ex wife.

The plot to Running Scared isn't quite so important, since in a buddy-cop movie like this a lot of the movie is about the chemistry between the two cops. Here, Hines and Crystal actually have pretty good chemistry. Sure, the plot is formulaic, but it's just about entertaining enough to watch if you want something that's not overly demanding. Better still, get a couple of friends and a bowl of popcorn and have a nice evening in watching this one. It's cheaper than going out to today's movies, and not a comic book superhero movie, either.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Where the Boys Are

Another of the movies that shows up on TCM often enough but that I had surprisingly not seen before now is one of the first of the "beach" movies, Where the Boys Are. The last time it was on TCM, I finally got around to recording it so that I could do a review on it here.

The movie starts off at Midwestern Liberal Arts College, a school where one of the popular degrees for women is the Mrs. degree, or so the old joke goes about co-eds. Merritt (Dolores Hart) is one of those students, and has rather shocking, at least for 1960s, views on sex, namely that she thinks women should try it before marriage so that they can know whether the man they're doing it with is the right man for them. This causes her problems with the administration, and with her grades she might have to stay up north over spring break to study. Miss out on all the fun down in sunny Florida?

Well, she and her friends have rented a place in Florida to stay for the week or two of spring break, and even if any of them need to stody or have nasty colds, it's off to Florida anyway. In addition to Merritt there's Tuggle (Paula Prentiss), who wants love first and then maybe she'll have sex after marriage; hockey player Angie (singer Connie Francis, who also handles the opening credits song and gets a musical number in the middle); and Melanie (Yvette Mimieux), a naïve freshman. Along the way to Fort Lauderdale, they come across a young man looking for a ride, and pick him up in part because he can drive: "TV" Thompson (Jim Hutton). Nowadays, we'd know that he and Tuggle are going to hit it off, since the two stars playing the characters would get cast together in several more movies, but back in 1960 we didn't know it yet.

They get to their efficiency in Fort Lauderdale, and find the place crowded. So crowded, in fact, that they have trouble getting to the beach, as the place is loaded with other students from all over the country also on spring break. Indeed, the local police chief (Chill Wills) informs his men not to be too hard on the students as they're only temporary and don't really mean harm but the city needs the tourist money they bring. My how times have changed over the past 60 years.

While Tuggle is being coy with TV, who's at heart a decent guy even if needs to figure that out by screwing up first, the other women meet men as well. Merritt meets Ryder (George Hamilton), a senior at Brown, and fabulously wealthy. He comes from old money and the family has a vacation house down in Florida as well as a yacht. Merritt thought she was looking for sex, but now she's not so sure, and Ryder is similarly not sure about how far to go. One day on the beach, the girls see one of those beatnik-type jazz combos that were a trope of teen movies of this era, led by Basil (Frank Gorshin). Since Angie and Basil both have some musical talent, they wind up together as well.

And then there's poor Melanie. She meets a Yalie -- another Ivy Leaguer! -- and thinks she's in love. She doesn't realize that he only wants her because she's willing to put out, and that's going to cause big problems first for her, and then for the group of friends as a whole, threatening to break up relationships.

The interesting thing about Where the Boys Are is that although it really started the beach movie phenomenon of the 1960s (OK, I think Gidget was actually a year earlier), it's really quite atypical compared to the rest of the later beach movies. It's a lot more complex than just a light beach movie, especially with the Melanie story line. That, and it's rather shocking in how open the young women are about sex and love for a movie from 1960, and especially MGM, which didn't normally do such strong social stuff.

You might go into Where the Boys Are thinking it's just another beach movie and a time capsule of 1960. But in addition to being that time capsule, it's actually a pretty good movie.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Three of the Musketeers

Tomorrow's (Aug. 22) star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Geraldine Chaplin. I happen to have recently watched one of her movies that's not part of tomorrow's tribute. But then, I noticed that I happen to have one of tomorrow's movies on my DVR, so I made a point of watching that: the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers. You can see it at 12:30 PM.

Chaplin isn't the star here, and she's certainly not one of the musketeers. Top billing goes to Oliver Reed as Athos, and to Michael York as d'Artagnan. This version of Dumas' story presents d'Artagnan as a naïf from the countryside during the reign of Louis XIII who gets the crazy idea that he could become one of the King's Musketeers. So he sets off for Paris, eventually running into the three men we know from the book: the aforementioned Athos, Porthos (Frank Finlay), and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain). And wouldn't you know it, but d'Artagnan immediately gets himself challenged to duels by each of them.

However, they're interruped by some of the guards representing Cardinal Richeliue (Charlton Heston). Richelieu was the power behind the throne in 17th century France, and wanted to consolidate that power even more, so he had a thing about the Musketeers and wanted to destroy them. The Musketeers and d'Artagnan win the battle with Richelieu's men, and the other three make d'Artagnan an honorary member of their merry band. On to Paris and the king and queen (that's Geraldine Chaplin playing the part of the queen).

In addition to the adventure, there's a lot of love in the movie, as this version of the film is more true to the original novel and thanks to the end of the Production Code even bawdier than previous versions could be. D'Artagnan has started an affair with the queen's dressmaker, Constance (Raquel Welch), while the queen herself is about to get involved with an old boyfriend, the English Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward). As a token of remembrance, the queen gives the Duke of Buckingham an old necklace that the king had given her but that she doesn't wear anymore.

What the queen doesn't know is that Milady (Faye Dunaway), one of her ladies-in-waiting, saw this, and Milady lets Richelieu know, so that he can get one over on the king by putting him in an embarrassing situation involving the necklace that's no longer there. It's up to the Musketeers to get the necklace back to the queen, but the Duke of Buckingham is already back in England and Richelieu's men are waiting along the way to kill the Musketeers....

When director Richard Lester started shooting The Three Musketeers, the producers' original plan was to make an epic film. But the producers realized that wouldn't work and decided to split things up into two features (which ticked the actors off no end since they sure didn't get paid for two features). As such, it feels like there's some plot missing. Or, at least a lot of what would be plot is instead replaced by ever more elaborate set-piece swashbuckling. What's left isn't exactly bad, but it does feel slightly off, as if it's both too complex and having gaps at the same time.

The swashbuckling, however, means that the action rarely stops, and if you like swashbuckling, then you're definitely going to like this movie. Also, the second movie made from the rest of the material, The Four Musketeers, follows at 2:30 PM. I haven't seen it yet; maybe it will fill in some of the gaps from the first movie.

Sunday, August 20, 2023


In looking through the backlog of films I've got posts written about but haven't actually posted here, I notice that the next few in terms of when I watched them are similar in tone to other movies I've fairly recently blogged about. With that in mind I decided to elevate a post about a completely different movie, Lisztomania.

The title is a portmanteau of the composer Franz Liszt, played here by Roger Daltrey of the progressive rock band The Who; and the -mania suffix, the word having been coined by 19th century German writer Heinrich Heine because apparently people went wild over the composer and his piano playing. In theory the movie is a biopic, but it's a rather fanciful one, and deliberately letting us in on the idea that the movie doesn't have so much basis in reality.

The movie starts off with Liszt trying to bed a woman who was not his wife, but instead married to another man. That man finds the two together and threatens to kill Liszt. But the man's wife doesn't want to be left without Franz, so hubby puts the two together inside a grand piano and leaves the piano on railroad tracks! It's just the first of many odd scenes that go back and forth through the composer's life.

We then flash back to a young Liszt meeting some of the other great composers of the era, notably Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas), this being notable because Liszt's daughter Cosima would go on to marry Wagner. Much later in the movie, Liszt meets Wagner again, this time in a scene that plays on Wagner's noted anti-semitism as well as his Aryan sensibilities.

Liszt also spens time in Russia, where he's been asked to give a command performance for Tsar Nicholas I. There, he meets Princess Carolyn (Sara Kestelman), who would go on to be a major influence on Liszt for the rest of his life. Carolyn's influence is also seen as sexual, in a sequence that never would have been able to have been filmed just a few years earlier.

It goes on like this, in a bunch of increasingly bizarre scenes that may or may not fit together. It wasn't until after watching that I realized that the director of Lisztomania, Ken Russell, had also made The Boy Friend a few years earlier. That one is also a fantasy musical, albeit one that's a bit more grounded in reality than Lisztomania. If you're a fan of classical music, you may be horrified by Lisztomania as in many ways it's almost blasphemous in its treatment of Liszt's life, and the movie is really more about the idea of how celebrity can warp people than it is about classical music.

It would also help if you liked The Boy Friend, which I think is an easier movie to get into. I didn't hate The Boy Friend, but it certainly wasn't my favorite. I'm also a fan of more traditional classical music, so Lisztomania was decidedly outré for me. But give it a try; you just might like it.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

What! No Beer?

Buster Keaton signed a contract with MGM near the end of the silent era, and it proved to be a disaster in many ways. Part of that was his own fault, as he was in a failed marriage and started to drink even more heavily. But it didn't help that MGM's creative control didn't mesh well with Keaton's style of humor and moviemaking. To see how badly things went wrong, one can watch a movie like What! No Beer?.

Keaton plays a taxidermist, Elmer Butts. It's presumably late 1932, as there's an election coming up and one of the key issues is whether the keep the state "dry", which of course means in the sense of alcohol. Presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt had as one of his campaign planks repealing the 18th Amendment. Elmer doesn't seem particularly political, attending a "dry" rally only because a woman he'd like to pursue is going. Not so Elmer's good friend, the barber Jimmy Potts (Jimmy Durante). He's a committed wet, and since Elmer is apolitical, it doesn't take too much to convince Elmer to vote wet.

The wets win the election, although with the 18th Amendment still not officially repealed -- that would take another year -- it's not yet legal to produce and distribute alcohol. Not that Jimmy cares. He has an idea of buying a former brewery that had to close with the onset of Prohibition, and start making beer again, not that he knows anything about beer brewing. He also needs seed money, which he doesn't have. Ah, but Elmer does have it. Not that Elmer has a strong desire to go into the brewery business, but he wants to make enough money so that the woman from that dry rally will respect him and marry him.

Meanwhile, the bootleggers who have been producing illicit alcohol are none too happy with the new upstarts. Butch (John Miljan) happens to be the boyfriend of that woman Elmer dreams about, and is also one of the bootleggers. He meets with his nominal rival Spike (Edward Brophy) to figure out how to handle this new supply of beer that Jimmy is putting out.

That's the basic gist of What! No Beer?, and that's as far as it goes before falling off the rails. To me, there were a whole lot of problems. The first is that Durante and Keaton don't really mesh, and that's something MGM should have seen having made two earlier movies with the two in the cast (although apparently not working quite so closely as they did here). And then there are Keaton's gags, which are stale, with a beer keg scene that felt like it was a total rip-off of Seven Chances. The plot doesn't really work, either.

It's a shame that Buster Keaton would hit such lows in his career. He really deserved much beter from MGM.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Murder by Illusion

A few weeks back, Tubi TV kept throwing up messages that among the movies to be leaving the platform at the end of July was one that I'd heard of on release back in the mid 80s, but was obviously too young to watch at the time: F/X. It's available to rent on other platforms, but I made a point of watching it on Tubi before it left so that I could write up this review and eventually get around to posting it.

The movie opens up with what looks like some sort of mob hit, but it's fairly obvious from the way it's carried out, as well as the title of the movie (if you didn't already know the synopsis), that this hit is actually part of a movie that's being filled. Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) is the special effects artist responsible for making the hit look authentic, and he's pretty darn good at his job. Indeed, it's what's brought a visitor to the set.

The visitor, Lipton (Cliff De Young), is a producer who would like to hire Rollie for his next project. Or at least, that's the story Lipton gives Rollie at first. In fact, Lipton works for the FBI, and he's in charge of the witness protection project surrounding Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach), a mobster turncoat who is set to testify against his former colleages. Lipton wants to fake DeFranco's death before the real Mob can get him, with the implication that DeFranco might be able to come back from the "dead" to testify at the trial, which to me doesn't make sense as it seems like claiming this valuable witness isn't really dead would cause a mistrial. As for Rolly, the reason he's being contacted is because Lipton wants the death to look realistic and Rolly is just the man to do that.

Rolly is understandably alarmed, and should be even more alarmed when Lipton's boss, Col. Mason (Mason Adams), suggests that Rolly be the one to actually pull the trigger in the fake shooting. You have to think Rolly is being set up for something, but what? And who's going to perform the autopsy anyway, since it seems to me signing off on a fake autopsy would be a serious violation of medical ethics. Then again, the FBI probably has people on its payroll to do just such a thing.

At any rate, Rolly takes the job, and at first it seems to go off without a hitch. But after the hit, Lipton picks him up in the getaway car and makes a comment about there being no loose ends. Rolly understands, a second too late, that this means Lipton intends to kill him too. Rolly is resourceful, however, and is able to engineer a crash of the getaway car, allowing him to call Mason for help. But he's also smart enough to realize Mason may not be all he seems, and sure enough, a car comes up to the phone booth where Rolly called Mason and someone gets out to shoot the next person in the booth.

Rolly is on a flight to prove his innocence in the grand style of Alfred Hitchcock's "wrong man" movies. He doesn't realize it, but he does have someone who will wind up being on his side, in the form of Det. McCarthy (Brian Dennehy). McCarthy has been investigating DeFranco, but more than that investigating the people who have gotten murdered since the phony hit on DeFranco, notably the deaths of the hitman brought in to kill Rolly, and Rolly's girlfriend whom the hitman mistakenly killed instead of Rolly.

F/X was apparently not intended to be a prestige movie, but became a surprise hit. That's because, despite some of the predictable plot holes, the script is fairly intelligent by the standards of a 1980s action movie, and has a somewhat more plausible rationale for the protagonist staying one step ahead of the authorities: as an effects master, he's an expert in disguises and fooling people.

Having said that, action movies like F/X are less about being intelligent, and more about the entertaining action. And in that, F/X absolutely succeeds. Whatever imperfections it might have, it will definitely entertain you for the running time of the movie. Definitely watch this one if you get the chance.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Roaring Twenties

I'm pretty certain I had already seen the movie The Roaring Twenties once before, and I even thought that I had blogged about it here. But a search of the blog suggests that while I've mentioned the movie in passing a couple of times in conjunction with either Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney, and even posted the trailer. But apparently I'd never done a full-length post. That's why, when TCM ran the movie again recently, I made it a point to record it so that I could finally rewatch it to do an appropriate review here.

As you can guess, Cagney and Bogart are the two lead stars, with Cagney being the lead since this was released in 1939 and Cagney hadn't been eclipsed by Bogart movies like The Maltese Falcon and then the changing public tastes with World War II. And since the movie was released in 1939, there's no mention of any upcoming war, instead starting off with a scene set toward the end of the Great War. Cagney plays Eddie Bartlett, serving alongside George Hally (Bogart) with whom he's become a bit of a friend. The third friend in the group is Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn). All of them talk about what they're going to do when they get home from the war, with Eddie talking about a girl he's corresponded with, actress Jean Sherman.

The war ends in November 1918, but it takes until 1919 to get all the soldiers home. Eddie returns to his best friend from the pre-war days Danny Green (Frank McHugh), working as a taxi driver. Eddie plans to return to his job as a mechanic, and hopes to open his own garage, but when he returns to the business he finds his job has been given away. You can't really blame the manager for not being financially able to hold a job open for two years. Worse, 1920 was a year of an economic downturn, making it hard for Eddie to get a job in general and forcing him to drive second shift on Danny's taxi. Worst of all is that Eddie mees Jean (Priscilla Lane), who exaggerated her talents and is little more than a recent high-school graduate working girl.

In addition to the economic crisis I mentioned, 1920 also brought Prohibition to the US, along with the rampant attempts to get around the law. Eddie gets caught up in it when he's asked to deliver a package not realizing that it's liquor. But the club owner to whom he delivers it, Panama Smith (Gladys George), befriends him, and the two wind up going into business together. Eddie has been trying to open his own taxi business, and realizes that using the taxis to deliver hooch would be a good way to make money on the side.

Unsurprisingly, he gets hubris. He meets Jean again and still carries a torch for her, getting her a job singing in Panama's club even though she's really not much of a singer. And he steals a shipment of booze from Nick Brown (Paul Kelly), a competing gangster. This brings George back into a business partnership with Eddie, and George is eventually going to stab him in the back. Eddie brings in the one lawyer he knows, Lloyd Hart, to keep him "clean", but Lloyd is eventually going to chafe at that, falling in love with Jean along the way.

The Roaring Twenties is a very good film, but it was released in 1939, Hollywood's annus mirabilis in which so many all-time classics were made that it's so easy to overlook the movies that were only very good. I think it also doesn't help that with the US not too far from entering World War II, this sort of gangster movie was soon to go out of fashion with the viewing public. That's a shame, because Warner Bros. knew how to make a good 1930s gangster movie and had absolutely no difficulty churning out a top-notch movie with its big stars like Cagney. The Roaring Twenties is definitely a film that should be better known, and one that you should absolutely watch if you get the chance.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A Chorus Line

I've never seen a stage production of the long-running Broadway musical A Chorus Line. Some years back, I was flipping through TV channels and briefly landed upon the 1985 movie version of A Chorus Line, and distinctly remembered the one scene I saw. So when I noticed that the movie would be running on TCM a few months back, I decided to record it to watch later and do a review on here.

As with 42nd Street fifty years earlier, the movie deals with the creation of a new Broadway musical, and isn't that much about the musical itself, although both movies have one big production number presumably from the musical-within-a-musical to round out the movie. This version of the backstage musical centers on all of those struggling dancers who simply want a shot in the chorus line, at least as a possible chance at becoming bigger even though that's extremely unlikely. Just noticing how many dancers are on the stage as the movie opens compared to how many get selected for the chorus line -- never mind the percentage of chorus line members who graduate to bigger and better things -- should give one pause.

Overseeing the auditions is Zach Michael Douglas, the musical's choreographer, who has a reputation of being a difficult taskmaster, and that's after you've been selected for the chorus line. One can only imagine what the winnowing out process is like. As with All That Jazz, Zach has a bit of a complicated love life in the form of former lover Cassie (Alyson Reed). She left Zach some time back to try to go out to Hollywood and make it big there. But she didn't, and has returned to Broadway. Worse, she's willing to start at the bottom again, and that means auditioning for her former boyfriend, even though she's showed up late to the audition.

Eventually, Zach does whittle the throng down to a manageable number. But that's just the start of the difficulty for them. They're not in the chorus line yet, not by any stretch of the imagination. And to get that spot, they're going to have to be interviewed by Zach, but in front of all their fellow candidates. Not only that, but Zach has a way of asking very personal questions about why they want the job, when they first got the realization they wanted to be dancers, and even their sex lives. This being a movie about Broadway from after the Production Code disintegrated, you know at least one of the men is going to open up about when he learned he was gay. (Surprisingly, at least some of them seem to be straight.) The audition goes on like this, punctuated by a surprise or two along the way, until the final few members of the chorus line are selected.

I haven't seen a stage version of this, as I mentioned at the beginning. However, I've read a bit about it and can see why people who saw the stage version had some problems with the movie. The big one is that in the stage version, Zach is an unseen interlocutor. And to be honest, I can see how that would work better. It's bad enough to have to go through the process; it's worse not to be able to see the person humiliating you in front of an entire group. Apparently some of the songs from the stage show aren't in the movie, but that's an area I can't really comment on.

So is the movie version of A Chorus Line any good? I've always stated I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, but I have to say that A Chorus Line certainly isn't a bad movie. Just be aware of the opinion of those who have already seen the stage show.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Bhowani Junction

I mentioned recently that MGM was good at literary adaptations, especially when the studio got the chance to be glossy. As the 1950s and Cinemascope came around, they also weren't bad at location shooting. A film that fits into the latter category is Bhowani Junction.

The opening titles inform us that MGM would like to thank the government of Pakistan for allowing the studio to use one of Pakistan's railway lines as well as a regiment of the Pakistani army. The movie was made a bit less than a decade after India gained its independence from the UK and was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Since the region in the 1950s wasn't that cinematically interesting, we go back to 1947, or just before independence. Stewart Granger plays Rodney Savage, a colonel in the British Army who has just been called back to the UK. He's trying to get a mixed-race woman, Victoria Jones (Ava Gardner), to go back to the UK with him, and as he steps onto the train, cue up the flashback as to why he wants to take her back to the UK....

Britain had always used locals to help run their colonies, and with the sheer number of political subdivisions in India, this made things fractious. Things became even tougher for the Brits once they were sucked into World War II, and the Indians, under Gandhi, took their opportunity to step up the pressure on the British. Col. Savage is stationed at Bhowani, site of an important railway junction. This is where he meets Victoria, who's father is a British railway engineer who married a local woman and had a mixed-race child.

Victoria meets one of the superintendents at the railway station, Patrick Taylor (Bill Travers), who like her is mixed-race. Both of them realize the problems this presents for them, as they get the sense that they won't fit in to the new India once it becomes independent, while at the same time they know that the upper-class British represented by people like Col. Savage will look down upon them should she go to England after Indian independence. And especially so in Patrick's case there's the dilemma of whether to be faithful to his employer in the railroad, or to throw his lot in with the independence activists who are trying to disrupt the railroad. Savage has a lot fewer qualms about who to treat those who would disrupt the railroad.

And then one of Savage's men, Capt. McDaniel, runs into Victoria one night. He too is taken with her beauty, and tries to force himself on her. Victoria tries to defend herself, but winds up killing McDaniel in the process and finding herself in need of protection by the other Indians. The independence campaign grows more violent, and now they have a pawn in Victoria....

Bhowani Junction is a movie that's beautifully filmed, although one wonders how much resemblance it bears to the real situation in India just before independence. There's also the question of casting Ava Gardner as a mixed-race Anglo-Indian. Some people hew to the idea that a mixed-race character can only really be played by someone of the non-white half of the race. I'm not really one of those people, but at the same time I recognize that some stars would be much less plausible than others trying to play mixed-race. (Imagine if MGM had tried to cast Debbie Reynolds as Victoria.)

The story in Bhowani Junction is absorbing enough for what it is, although again I have a feeling some people are going to have a decided problem with the way it tackles (or sidesteps; this is MGM, after all) difficult issues. At the same time, Hollywood of the mid-1950s was probably never going to come up with something truly authentic. In that light, Bhowani Junction definitely succeeds within its genre. Whether that genre is to your particular case is another issue.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Exorcist

I mentioned recently that I had recorded The Exorcist when it aired on TCM a few months back. Director William Friedkin died recently, and that prompted me to watch the movie so that I could do a review on it here in memory of Friedkin.

The movie starts off in Iraq, where Catholic priest Fr. Merrin (Max von Sydow) is on an archeological dig in Nineveh, an important Old Testament location. However, he finds an artifact that's clearly from a much later period, meaning it's a portent of... something. But nothing else of note happens to Merrin during his time in Iraq, beyond another bit of foreshadowing of him taking pills for his heart health.

The action shifts to Washington DC. Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is an actress filming a movie on location in the city, and she's rented a house so that her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) can live with her while the filming is taking place. Also in Washington DC is another Catholic priest, Damien Karras (Jason Miller). He's a transplant from New York, where his elderly mother lives alone, something that causes some mental distress for Fr. Damien.

Regan has found a ouija board in the basement of the house, and has apparently been playing with it just for fun. In showing her mom the board, it's revealed that Regan has imagined some spirit named "Captain Howdy". But of course nobody really believes in ouija boards and the nonsensical ramblings it produces, right?

This being a movie, well of course the ouija board is going to be foreshadowing stuff. First Mom starts hearing noises coming from the attic, which could well be rats, or maybe if you believe Regan it's Captain Howdy. But then Regan starts having incidents that look like some sort of violent seizure. This obviously worries Mom, who takes Regan in for all sorts of medical tests and diagnostic procedures, in the belief that Regan might have a lesion on her brain that would be a plausible cause behind the sort of seizures she's suffering.

Unfortunately, the seizures don't stop, and Regan becomes more violent. Also, the primitive (no MRI or CT scans in those days) imaging procedures make it look like there's nothing physical in Regan's brain to cause the seizures, certainly not those lesions the doctors had previously theorized. So consultation with a psychiatrist is recommended and, when that doesn't seem to work, the doctors come up with the radical idea that if either mother or daughter is religious, to try an exorcism. The doctors, mind you, don't believe in the religious parts of the exorcism, but that it works for those who do believe in religion.

This is where Fr. Merrin comes in again. Fr. Damien has never done an exorcism, while Ft. Merrin did a decade or so ago, so he's located having come back from Nineveh and brought down to Washington to perform the exorcism with Fr. Damien assisting. And this is where the horror really kicks in.

The movie version of The Exorcist was released at the end of 1973, and quickly entered the public consciousness. Fifty years on, the extent to which The Exorcist did become a cultural force is something that makes it a bit hard to review. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with the movie; it's more that you can't not know about some of the tropes it created, such as Linda Blair's head spinning. That, and all the parodies it engendered. In this sence, The Exorcist is a sort of victim of its own success, through no fault of its own.

At the same time, it's extremely easy to see why the movie because such a huge hit in the winter of 1973-74. The images presented were something new and daring at the time, and the potential for some to see it as blasphemy created a controversy that naturally drove ticket sales. It's quite good, although it would, I think, be the sort of movie that loses impact upon repeated viewings since the horror won't create quite as much capacity to shock people. But if you haven't seen The Exorcist before, then it's one you absolutely need to see.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

The decisive valley

Another of those movies that I saw a bunch of times in the TCM schedule but never got around to watching for some reason was one of MGM's prestige films from the mid-1940s, The Valley of Decision. It aired some time back so I watched it before it left the Watch TCM app, writing up this review and waiting for it to show up on TCM again so that I could finally do a review of it. Well, that next TCM showing is coming up tomorrow (August 14) at noon as part of Greer Garson's day in Summer Under the Stars, which means that now's the time to schedule this post.

Garson was probably MGM's biggest star at the time this movie was made, as it was just after Joan Crawford's contract was not renewed and before post-war stars started to make names for themselves. Garson plays Mary Rafferty, a young woman from the poor part of Pittsburgh in the 1870s. Steel was king in Pittsburgh, and Mary's father Pat (Lionel Barrymore) worked for many years at one of the steel mills, at least until getting injured in a workplace accident and requiring the use of a wheelchair. As a result, Dad hates the Scotts, the wealthy family that owns the mill where he worked.

Pat being an adult woman without a husband, needs to go into work, and there weren't all that many jobs available for women in those days. Two of the biggies were teaching and being a servant, and Pat has possibilities of a job in that second field. The only thing is that her employers would be... the Scotts, which pisses Dad off to no end. But she needs a job, and takes it after the matriarch of the family, Clarissa (Gladys Cooper), takes a liking to Pat.

Pat walks into a house where she discovers a family that's somewhat divided over the family business. There's an old saying of going from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations, and the younger generation is the third generation. Patriarch William (Donald Crisp) inherited the business and has run it as well as he can, intending to bequeath it to at least one of his four children. The only thing is that the four children have different views on what they want for the business. Daughter Constance (Marsha Hunt) doesn't particularly care since women weren't expected to be titans of industry in those days; she ends up marrying a titled Englishman. Youngest son Ted (Marshall Thompson) is a bit of a drifter; and, as the youngest, probably isn't intended to be the inheritor anyway. That leaves Paul (Gregory Peck) who has an interest in metallurgy, and William (Dan Duryea), who's hard-nosed and doesn't care much for the workers unlike Dad and Paul.

Things get complicated when Paul and Pat fall in love with each other. Since they're from totally different social classes, they really can't marry each other, so Pat leaves with Connie to go to the UK and work as maid to Connie and her husband when those two get married. But during her time in the UK, there's terrible labor trouble brewing at the industry. Pat's father and some of the other more militant men want to form a union, but William is staunchly opposed to that idea. Pat eventually returns to the US just in time for all the labor strife.

The Valley of Decision is another of those movies that's of a type MGM did well, at least if you don't think too hard about the labor strife section that probably would have been handled a lot differently at Warner Bros. Garson is way too old for the role at least at the start of the movie, but I don't know that MGM had a younger actress with the heft to play it. Lana Turner was on her way up at MGM, but she would have been terribly miscast in any of the female roles. This was made not long after Gaslight, but I don't think Angela Lansbury would have been able to carry Garson's part. Duryea is playing yet another of his bad-guy characters and Peck is pretty good as the good brother. Lionel Barrymore badly overacts, but at least his overacting is entertaining enough.

If you like glossy period pieces from the studio era, The Valley of Decision will be right up your alley.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Rachel, Rachel

Paul Newman is being honored tomorrow in Summer Under the Stars, and TCM has decided to include one movie where he doesn't appear, but one that he directed: Rachel, Rachel, which concludes his day at 4:15 AM Monday (August 14), so a little bit more in advance than I'd normally post an upcoming movie. But I'm also recommending one of the movies for tomorrow's star and that post comes tomorrow since the movie is fairly early in the day.

Rachel, Rachel was Paul Newman's directorial debut, and he made the film to give his wife Joanne Woodward a good starring role. Rachel Cameron is a teacher in a small Connecticut town where school is just about to let out for the summer vacation. Rachel is the old trope of the spinster teacher, but in Rachel's case it's more complicated. Her father (played in flashbacks by Donald Moffat) was the town's undertaker and died relatively young, leaving behind a sickly widow (Kate Harington) in an apartment over the funeral home. The man who bought out the funeral home lets mother and daughter stay on, although that's in part because he seems to want to put the moves on poor Rachel.

One person who wants to help Rachel is a fellow teacher and also single, Calla (Estelle Parsons). Calla, unlike Rachel, has a lot of friends, although all of them are in a fairly tight social circle as they're all members of the same church congregation. And this isn't one of those movie trope New England mainline Protestant churches, but a revivalist church that's rather more energetic. Calla thinks that perhaps introducing Rachel to her church might help Rachel, but Rachel is so repressed thanks in part to her mother that it's overwhelming.

So when an old childhood friend, Nick Kazlik (James Olmos), returns to town for a bit, Rachel jumps on the chance to meet him again. And when he wants sex, she's only too happy to do it because she's never really had love before and she knows this would really shock her mother. Rachel doesn't realize that Nick is just looking for a one-night stand, but things get even worse when Rachel doesn't have her period after sex with Nick.

The only good thing is that all of this has given Rachel the seed of a thought that perhaps she might finally want to move away. She's got a sister living out on Oregon who escaped Mom's clutches, and perhaps Rachel can move closer to her sister and start life anew....

Rachel, Rachel is really more of a character study than a movie with a fully-fleshed plot, although that's not to say the movie is plotless by any stretch of the imagination. It's more that I didn't realize going in that it was a character study, and if I had known, that probably would have tempered my disappointment somewhat as to me this was the sort of movie where I felt there's a whole lot of nothing going on, much like The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter from the same period. People who like less traditional movies will probably love Rachel, Rachel.

Paul Newman does a pretty good job directing although the movie does sometimes have the feel of a vanity project. The acting, however, is quite good throughout, especially from Woodward, but that shouldn't be surprising. Rachel, Rachel may not be fore everybody, but for the type of person who is into this movie, they'll definitely like it a lot.

Friday, August 11, 2023

De Lift

Some months back in looking through Wikipedia's obituaries page, I saw a name for some Dutch actor among whose films listed on the obituaries page was something called De Lift. I had obviously never heard of the movie before, but clicked for the synopsis and found a movie that sounded like it might be a fun low-budget horror movie. After moving and gettnig reliable high-speed internet to watch all those streaming services, I saw that one of them had De Lift, so I searched it out and watched it.

Now, the first thing I need to point out is that the print in question was dubbed, not subtitled, and some of the voices sounded a bit off in terms of not displaying the right emotional timbre. So if that's an issue for you, I apologize. Anyhow, as for the movie itself, it opens up in a high-rise building, presumably in Amsterdam, where a party of four is finishing up a late-evening dinner in the swanky penthouse restaurant. They take the titular elevator down to the ground floor to go home, and.... a bolt of lightning hits the building while they're in the elevator. This presumably causes the elevator to go haywire, as it stops and the lights go off. The four people can't get the emergency phone to work, and worse, the ventilation system fails, leving the cabin stiflingly hot. Eventually building staff is able to get the power back and get the elevator to the ground floor just in time to save the four passengers.

Understandably, the building management is distressed, and call up Deta Liften, the company that installed the bank of elevators. These are relatively new elevators, and are supposed to be state-of-the-art, with the latest in microchip technology. Deta send their technician who has been responsible for maintenance on this particular set of elevators, Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel). Felix investigates, and can't really find anything wrong at first. But there's obviously something still wrong with the elevator, as is suffers a set of increasingly macabre malfunctions, such as a blind man falling down the shaft, or another man getting decapitated. We being the viewers of the horror movie immediately think that perhaps the elevator might be developing a consciousness or some such, but of course the people actually in the movie wouldn't know this.

Having heard about the strange goings-on is Mieke, a reporter for one of those tabloid-style magazines for which a scandal like this would be a big thing. She pumps Felix for information, and the two begin to investigate together, to the detriment of Felix's wife in a not quite necessary subplot involving her thinking he might be unfaithful. Felix begins to wonder whether there's a cover-up going on when he discovers that the elevator's service record is missing, before being reassigned from maintenance on this particular elevator. Maike, meanwhile, sneaks in on Felix's interview with the head of the company that supplied the chips, since she had a college professor who knows a few things about computer science.

Now, I should point out that De Lift was released in 1983. Although there were already home computers by this time, microprocessor technology was still primitive enough that some of the theorizing that goes on is forgivable. That portion of the movie may seem ridiculous 40 years on, but at the same time it's not that hard to suspend disbelief here.

De Lift isn't the world's greatest movie, but when it comes to low-budget horror, it's entertaining enough. There's a bit of gore albeit not nearly as much as slasher movies, and just enough dark humor to keep things life. It's the sort of movie that is definitely worth watching if you want something you probably haven't seen before and want to be entertained with a bunch of friends. Hollywood would remake the movie in 2001; that remake goes under two different titles, Down and The Shaft. (I haven't seen the remake.)

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, August 10, 2023: Workplace, the Female Experience

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is the female experience in the workplace. Even though I'm generally a fan of older movies, you'd be surprised how many older movies could fit thi theme, in no small part because of all those intrepid lady reporters portrayed on the screen. OK, those movies probably weren't that realistic, and in the end I decided to go with a different set of movie, with one pre-Code and two more recent movies:

Female (1933). Ruth Chatterton plays the owner of the family automobile company, who just can't find the right man because everybody's intimidated by her. And then she goes slumming and runs into George Brent, only find out afterwards that Brent is really the automotive engineer that she's been trying to woo (professionally, not romantically) away from a rival company. Women are probably going to hate the ending to this movie.

Swing Shift (1984). Goldie Hawn plays a housewife living in Los Angeles with her husband (Ed Harris) in late 1941. Sure enough December 7 comes along, and hubby goes off to fight the war. Goldie and her best friend (Christine Lahti) go off to work in one of the aircraft plants. Goldie meets Kurt Russell, who's working in the factory because he's 4F and can't fight, and the two start a romnce, which is of course an issue since Goldie is already married.

Working Girl (1988). Melanie Griffith stars as a secretary at a stock brokerage trying to better herself by getting a business degree, eventually winding up as executive assistant to Sigourney Weaver. There, she finds that her boss is stealing her ideas and passing them off as her own. So she tries to turn the tables, but things get complicated when she falls in love with the guy (Harrison Ford) who's part of her scheme.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery

Another of the movies I had never heard about before seeing it show up on one of the streaming TV services -- I think it was Tubi, but I'm not certain -- was an early Steve McQueen film called The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery. (Apparently some prints omit the word "Great" from the title.) Since the plot sounded interesting and it was a completely new film to me, I decided to sit down and watch it.

Other than McQueen, I didn't recognize most of the names in the opening credits. The credits also reveal that this movie is based on a real bank heist that happened in St. Louis in 1953, and that, in docudrama fashion, they've used real locations as well as hiring policemen who were involved in foiling the original heist to play cop extras. At least that's a promising sign. Anyhow, getting into the real action, John Egan (Crahan Denton) is the leader of a criminal gang and a man who's approaching retirement age. So he'd like to do "one last heist" and use the proceeds from that to retire to Mexico because of the difficulties in extraditing someone from Mexico back to the US.

John has a close partner in Willie, and a not so close partner in Gino, who has a history of being in and out of legal trouble and needing some money pretty quickly to hire a competent defense attorney for his latest legal issues. The gang needs a driver, and this is partly where Gino comes in. He's got a sister Ann, and she had an ex-boyfriend named George Fowler (that's Steve McQueen in case you couldn't tell) who is a college dropout and could certainly use the money to go back to college if that's what he wants out of life.

John meets George, and decides that George would make a suitable getaway driver, in part because he doesn't have any criminal record and in part because he seems like a nice enough guy. This is going to cause all sorts of problems. First, there's Willie, who gets incredibly jealous and doesn't trust Gino and George. And then there's Ann, who isn't too thrilled to see George back in her life, especially because one of the first things he does when he meets Ann again is to ask her to borrow money. She suspects that something's up, and if she finds out that George is part of a plot to rob a bank, she's going to be none too happy.

Meanwhile, Gino has a drinking problem and Willie has that jealousy, things which are going to make the impending bank robbery a dicey affair. Things get much worse when Willie puts his foot down and insists that he be the getaway driver instead of George. George took the job because he expected that all he would do would be to drive a car; he wants no part of the actual violence, never mind that he knows the other three will be committing a substantial amount of violence anyway. Of course, with the Production Code still in effect, you already knew that the bank robbery wasn't going to go off without a hitch....

Watching The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, it really had the look and feel of something that was made for television, although as far as I can tell, it was a theatrical release. The low budget and lack of name actors definitely bring the production down a notch or two, but it's easy to see on watching this that Steve McQueen had great potential (although, to be fair, he had already made The Blob). The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery isn't a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's definitely one worth seeing as an early stepping stone on Steve McQueen's path to stardom.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Man Wanted

I'm always up for watching another Kay Francis movie. One that I hadn't seen before and showed up on TCM a little while back was a pre-Code film called Man Wanted, so I made a point of recording it and watching it.

Francis obviously doesn't play the man, but the woman who more or less winds up wanting the man. She plays Lois Ames, a woman who is actually in the world of business, editing a high society magazine called The 400. Perhaps more surprisingly is that she's married, although her huband Fred (Kenneth Thomson) seems more interested in living the good life and being a bit of a playboy, including stepping out on his wife. Lois, for her part, seems more married to her job, but that's probably as much Hollywood making a moral judgment about women that high up in the working world as it is the truth. It's to the part that her long-suffering secretary is sick of having to work nights.

Enter Tommy Sherman (David Manners). He's a salesman working for an exercise equipment company in the days when exercise equipment was quite expensive. He actually goes off to clients' homes and offices to demonstrate the equipment, which is how he's about to meet Lois. Tommy, meanwhile, has a best friend in Andy (Andy Devine), and is engaged to Ruthie (Una Merkel), the perfect working-to-middle-class couple. At least, until Tommy meets Lois. It just happens to be on the very same day when Lois' secretary has finally gotten fed up with all those nights working, and quits right then and there. Tommy decides to offer himself up for the job, at least on an emergency basis.

Surprisingly, Tommy shows himself to be adept at the job of executive assistant, quickly making himself indispensible to Lois. This, as you can guess, causes all sorts of problems. Lois, after all, still has a husband, even if he is cheating on her and she's about to find that out once and for all. And now Ruthie is about to become similarly suffering. Worse for Tommy is that when Andy consoles Ruthie, he starts to fall in love with Ruthie and thinks about putting the moves on Ruthie himself!

Man Wanted is a movie that has a lot of potential, but one that I felt unfortunately couldn't figure out a good way to resolve all the plot developments it had built up. It's a pre-Code, so it doesn't have to adhere to the strictures that a post-1934 movie would, but the ending still seemed a bit anodyne to me. Worse is that it all comes across as so old hat and not particularly memorable compared to other pre-Codes, and I don't mean old-hat and dated simply because it's from over 90 years ago.

Still, fans of any of the principal stars here will probably find something to like about Man Wanted.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Obituaries I should have mentioned earlier

I've been getting a few days ahead in terms of posting movie reviews here, largely because I have a bit more time since moving to work from home and being able to watch streaming movies that I've been able to watch more movies. But one other thing that it's meant is that I haven't really been doing much in the way of the sort of "briefs" posts I have a tendency to do when there isn't much else to write about. And with that in mind there are a couple of recent deaths that I probably should have mentioned earlier.

First up would be composer Carl Davis, who wrote scores to several contemporary movies, but who might be better known to film aficionados as the composer who brought back the idea of writing new scores to old silent movies that needed a score, eventually scoring some 50 silent films. Davis was 86.

Today came the announcment of the death of director William Friedkin, who won an Oscar for directing The French Connection. Friedkin also directed The Exorcist, and I've got that sitting on my YouTube TV "DVR", not having watched it. I guess I'm going to have to get around to watching it soon and pre-empting some of the other stuff I've already watched and should have coming up. Friedkin was 87.

Then there's an Oscar-winning name I hadn't heard of but who deserves mention: Arthur Schmidt, who died on Saturday at the age of 86. Schmidt isn't as well known because he was an editor. There were editors in the past who went on to direction, like Robert Wise and David Lean, but I don't think Schmidt ever directed. Still, he won a pair of Oscars for editing Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump, and received a third nomination for his work on Coal Miner's Daughter.

Getting back to Friedkin for a minute, one of the movies reviews that's not going to be pushed back a day is Rachel, Rachel. I think we've all heard about Joanne Woodward's decline from Alzheimer's and, when it was released earlier this year that she was in hospice care, I think it was natural to expect her death to be announced shortly. With that in mind, I had watched her film Rachel, Rachel when it showed up on TCM a few months back and specifically held off on posting my review since I was expecting to post it in conjunction with Woodward's passing. It's going to be on TCM on August 13, so as of right now I have my review scheduled to run on Saturday.

The Fighting Seabees

Recently, I fired up Pluto TV, which has a bunch of movie channels and, more specifically, allows you to start watching whatever movie is currently airing from the beginning, unlike the Roku Channel. So I find myself tending to look through Pluto's offerings more. Anyhow, one evening one of the classic channels had the John Wayne movie The Fighting Seabees. Not having seen it before and not personally having it on DVD, I decided to watch it.

Never mind that the timing of events in the movie is all wrong; the movie starts off sometime relatively early in US involvement in World War II, but late enough that the US actually needs to build stuff on the Pacific islands it's taking. John Wayne plays Wedge Donovan, and at the beginning of the movie he's pissed. He runs a construction firm, and he's lost a bunch of workers to Japanese attacks which his men can't really respond to since they're unarmed. Lt. Commander Yarrow (Dennis O'Keefe), also on the ship back with Donovan's men, is the point man, and boy is Donovan going to give him a piece of his mind. This much to the chagrin of Yarrow's girlfriend, reporter Connie Chesley (Susan Hayward).

Now, as you might guess, the three leads are going to wind up in a love triangle, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. While Donovan wants to tell Yarrow off, Yarrow actually has a fair bit of sympathy for Donovan. The problems are practical. One is that if you have men who are armed and in a war zone but out of uniform, the rules of war say such people can be treated as guerrillas or spies, meaning summary execution. There's also the issue of arming the men without training in being soldiers. Sure, many of the men may already be good shots, but do they know how to fight a battle against a Japanese force that's advancing on them? If they don't it could be disastrous if they try to fight. (Again as you might guess, this is foreshadowing.) The other problem, of course, is that the training is going to take time, and Donovan wants his men able to defend themselves now.

The obvious solution is to come up with a unit that will train men specifically for construction and have them armed and in uniform, even if the training is going to take some time. The units get the official name of Construction Batallions, but it's fairly logical that they'd wind up referring to themselves as C.B.s, which gets renamed Seabees. Donovan's men get enlisted en masse, with Donovan being commissioned at the same rank as Yarrow to command his workers.

However, it's not all smooth sailing after that. Donovan still isn't that well-versed in military tactics, so when the Japanese attack his men are going to be in more danger than a normal battalion, and heaven forbid they get in the way of the full-time soldiers. And then Connie gets seriously injured and while delirious, declares her love for Donovan. The fighting goes on and Donovan and his men get another chance to show off their heroism against the Japanese.

The Fighting Seabees was made in late 1943 and released in early 1944, when the US was still a good 18 months away from winning the war in the Pacific. As such, the movie is full of the sort of wartime rah-rah attitude that served as a morale-booster for the audiences in America. From what I've read, the story isn't exactly accurate in terms of how the real Seabees were founded. It's the sort of movie that people who don't like John Wayne's politics would point to as being unthinking and not particularly good, but that is unfair, not even considering that the movie needs to be remembered as a product of its times.

That's not to say that The Fighting Seabees is a great movie; a lot of the movies actually made during the war fall into that pool. But it's certainly entertaining enough, and an interesting look at how Hollywood was doing its part to further the war effort during the war.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

It Started With a Kiss

Debbie Reynolds is today's featured star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, which in theory would have given you a chance to catch Athena again, although by the time most of you see this post it will have already aired. And since I've blogged about Athena already, I decided to mention another movie: It Started With a Kiss, airing tonight at midnight (so technically the very start of Monday, August 7 in the Eastern Time Zone, but still the evening of August 6 in more westerly time zones).

Reynolds plays Maggie, who's selling raffle tickets to help raise money for the Fresh Air Fund, a real charity that sends poor kids from New York City out to more rural summer camp-type places for a week or two in the summer. We actually had a similar camp near where I grew up, but it was run by the Boys' and Girls' Club instead, and is now owned by one of Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish communities as a summer camp for boys. But that's beside the point. The raffle tickets are for a designer car, and one of the people buying a ticket as a charitable deduction is an Air Force officer, Sgt. Joe Fitzpatrick (Glenn Ford).

Joe and Maggie get away from the fundraiser for a bit, and as they start talking, they suddenly start feeling the spark of romance, leading to a quickie marriage even though Maggie was saying she wouldn't get married at all. Unfortunately, just as the two get married, Joe learns that he's being transferred to one of the US air bases in Spain, since the Franco regime was a fairly substantial ally of the Americans during the Cold War.

However, Franco was a dictator, which meant that there was a substantial portion of the population that didn't care for him, not that this bit is mentioned in the movie. More importantly in terms of plot is that people consequently are ambivalent at best about the US military presence in the country, something that's been an issue pretty much everywhere the Americans have had bases abroad. The base commanders, on orders from well above in terms of Maj. Gen. O'Connell (Fred Clark), want the Americans to be seen as good neighbors, so there are all sorts of rules the American military has to follow, with a big one being no ostentatious displays of wealth.

You know this is going to be a problem from the way a big point is made of. Sure enough, if you remember that raffle at the beginning of the movie, it was for a Lincoln concept car (the car used in the movie would in real life be repurposed as the Batmobile of all things) that's worth quite a sum of money. And wouldn't you know, but Joe wins the car! Maggie is coming over to Spain to live with her new husband, and she's having the car shipped over as well, so you can see where the problems are going to come from.

Meanwhile, Joe is getting some less than stellar advice from his meddling friends, including Charles (Harry Morgan), so when Maggie shows up she finds more problems, leading her to declare marriage a trial marriage, with no physical contact. If that's not bad enough for Joe, the presence of that car -- and the taxes Joe is going to have to pay on it -- is a big deal. Further complicating issues is a bullfighter who falls for Maggie.

It Started With a Kiss is another one of those movies that has a good idea as the basis of it, but which doesn't quite live up to that idea in the execution. That's a shame, since the stars here are generally enjoyable to watch in a lot of their other movies. But everything feels contrived and predictable. Not that predictability is necessarily a bad thing on its own. There was some location shooting, at least for establishing shots, which is nice, but I couldn't help but feel walking away from this movie that it's the sort of thing that could have been a lot better.