Tuesday, October 31, 2023


Today marks 97 years since the death of magician and escape artist Harry Houdini. His life story was loosely turned into a movie in the early 1950s with the unsurprising title Houdini. That movie is available on demand on Pluto TV, so I recently watched it since I figured Halloween was a suitable time to do a post on the movie.

Tony Curtis plays Harry Houdini (1874-1926), and as the movie opens he's working the carnival circuit as part of a show run by Schultz (Sig Ruman). Schultz doesn't necessarily care for Houdini's desire to do magic on stage, having hired him for other reasons. One evening at the show, in the audience is Bess Rahner (Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis' real-life wife at the time). Bess is infatuated with Harry, and keeps going to his shows, with him eventually getting her to realize that the two are in love, leading to an elopement, much to the chagrin of his mother (Angela Clark).

The two do traveling revues since Harry absolutely wants to make it as a magician, while Bess would be happy with him settling down and taking a normal job. After some abuse from a bunch of miners out west, Harry agrees, working in a lock and safe factory. But Harry still has the itch to do magic, so he takes his wife out to a gathering of the magicians' society for dinner. There, he goes up on stage to put on a strait-jacket, from which he's the only one to escape. His magic career is on its way.

Houdini's specialty becomes escape acts, escaping from handcuffs, locked boxes, submerged boxes, and a lot more. The career also takes him to Europe, where he hopes to meet a reclusive magician who supposedly learned the secret of dematerialization.

But them Mom dies, and Harry goes into a funk, not performing in public for years, wanting to make more contact with his mother. But Harry knows that the spiritualists who claim they can contact people on the other side are a bunch of fakes, so he decides he's going to debunk them publicly.

History tells us, however, that Houdini would die on Halloween in 1926. Houdini died from a ruptured appendix that wasn't diagnosed until too late, actually doing some shows with a high fever before dying in hospital. Not that this sort of death would be cinematic, however. So the movie portrays his death in a slightly different way....

Unsurprisingly, as with other Hollywood biopics of the era, this isn't the only liberty the movie takes with the truth. Despite the inaccuracies, Houdini is certainly an entertaining enough movie. Tony Curtis is a natural as Houdini, and Janet Leigh is appealing enough as his wife. The movie is also photographed in lovely Technicolor. In short, Houdini is good old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment.

Monday, October 30, 2023

The Learning Tree

One of TCM's recent spotlights was on coming of age movies. A film that was selected for the spotlight and has a prominent reputation, but that I had never seen, was The Learning Tree. With that in mind, I made a point of recording it to be able to do a post on it here.

Gordon Parks was a prominent still photographer and later cinematographer who grew up in Kansas in the 1920s. He wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about it in the early 1960s, and then turned that into a screenplay, which he was also tapped to direct. Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson), presumably based on Parks himself, is a black teen growing up in Fort Scott, Kansas, in the late 1920s, a time and place that was not as bad as the Jim Crow South is stereotypically portrayed as being, but also a world with a fair amount of racism from white people directed at blacks. Newt and a group of friends, including Marcus Savage (Alex Clarke), try to enjoy the summer. But part of that includes picking a few too many apples from the orchard of a white farmer, Jake Kiner (George Mitchell). Kiner is understandably unhappy and confronts the adolescents. Marcus beats Jake badly, and when the police pursue the group, they shoot another black man who had nothing to do with the crime.

Marcus gets sent to prison, while Newt tries to stay on the good side of the law. He's a bright young man with dreams of college, although his white teacher, claiming to have been prompted by a principal from 20 years earlier, suggests that blacks aren't college material. To try to make it up to Kiner, Newt offers to do work around the Kiner farm unpaid. This is going to come back to haunt Newt later in the movie. One day, Newt is eating lunch up in the hayloft, when he sees Kiner and another white guy come into the barn and get into a heated discussion that turns into a fight and the other man getting knocked out. But at the same time, Marcus' father Booker shows up and shoots Kiner dead. Police obviously presume that this other guy did it, and put him on trial for capital murder. Newt is the only witness to the crime, but does a young black man want to do something that's going to get a white guy off and a black guy strung up for murder?

Another subplot involves a young black girl, Arcella, to whom Newt takes a liking, and the feeling is mutual. But white Chauncey, the son of the judge, has other thoughts about it and knocks Arcella up, which is obviously a problem since she doesn't want to admit the truth of what really happened and everybody suspects Newt for understandable reasons.

The Learning Tree is a nice enough movie, but one that feels a bit meandering at time, which I think is largely because Gordon Parks handled so many duties on the movie, directing, writing, and doing the music. It's the sort of thing you could expect if you were watching an independently-produced film, but Parks had the full backing of Warner Bros. Still, there's a lot more to like than not to like, and The Learning Tree is definitely worth watching.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Winner Take All

I recently recorded a couple of early James Cagney movies that I hadn't seen before. Among them was Winner Take All. I've got enough movies "recorded" to my cloud DVR that it took a while to get around to watching it, and as always, the reviews are getting scheduled a good deal in advance now that I'm more able to watch a whole bunch of movies.

Cagney plays Jimmy Kane, a New York boxer who is loved by the fans. Or a former boxer, as the announcer at the current fight tells the crowd that Kane is going west for a cure, presumably for his heart but just as much because he's been spending too much time with women and illicit booze. So Jimmy goes to a ranch out in New Mexico.

Now, there wouldn't be much of a movie if that were all that happens, so of course Jimmy meets someone of note at the ranch. That someone is Peggy (Marian Nixon), who had worked in Texas Guinan's joint, which is where she briefly met Jimmy. Peggy is in New Mexico with her son Dickie (Dickie Moore), who is really the one who needs to be out there for his health. As you can guess, Jimmy and Peggy become good friends. But Peggy is having trouble paying the bills, leading Jimmy to take up boxing across the border in Mexico to raise the money to pay Peggy's bills.

Jimmy is able to return to New York, and meets Joan (Virginia Bruce), a woman who is of a much higher social class than Peggy could ever hope to be. Jimmy is too darn stupid to realize that Peggy is the right one for him, and decides that he's going to impress Joan by taking elocution and etiquette lessons, as well as getting plastic surgery to get his face fixed, not that this is what Joan wants. She's just slumming and now that Jimmy has a normal nose again, she doesn't like it.

And yet Jimmy is still too stupid to realize that Joan is trouble and should be avoided. He starts fighting again, but does so in a way to try to protect his nose, which isn't what the fans want at all. Jimmy's trainer Pop (Guy Kibbee) brings Peggy back from New Mexico, but even this isn't enough to get Jimmy to see the error of his ways. How is Jimmy going to learn his lesson so that we can all get to the requisite happy ending? For that you're just going to have to watch.

James Cagney had already made The Public Enemy before making Winner Take All, so he was already a star and it's a bit of a surprise that Warner Bros. would put him in a movie with as slight a story as this. I'd assume that the audiences were looking to see Cagney in this sort of role. It's not terrible, but there's a reason Winner Take All is decidedly lesser Cagney. You could do worse, and it's only 67 minutes so it's not like it's a hugh time investment, but you could do a lot better too.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Halloween 2023 on the movie channels

Halloween is this coming Tuesday. TV channels have been airing horror-themed stuff all month, of course, but as the actual day gets closer the amount of stuff increases. TCM is doing a whole marathon. For some reason, I thought that the marathon was starting on Sunday afternoon immediately after the repeat showing of Experiment in Terror on Noir Alley. But in fact it looks as though the more traditional horror doesn't begin until the prime-time lineup on Sunday evening, October 29. The afternoon lineup is frightening suspence, and four pretty good movies, but not stuff that would normally be called horror in the TV listings.

Sunday night's lineup is a double-feature of horror comedies, or comedic horror films, one featuring Abbott and Costello and the other the Bowery Boys, with a Laurel and Hardy short in between. There's still Silent Sunday Nights (an early version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring John Barrymore) and TCM Imports (two Japanese horror films that I have to admit I'm not familiar with). Monday night brings a bunch of stuff from the 1960s and 1970s, while the daytime lineup on Tuesday reverts back to more classic fare from the 1930s, including the 1931 Frankenstein at 3:45 PM. Finally, on Tuesday night we get another set of movies reminiscent of the Sunday afternoon lineup, a mix of frightening thrillers that might not be true horror (eg. Sorry, Wrong Number) and a few closer to traditional horror films (Carnival of Souls).

FXM isn't doing anything on Tuesday, at least not in the FXM Retro portion of the lineup that us classic movie fans would like. There will be horror movies on Monday night and Tuesday night, however, with a bunch of commercials. A bit surprising, there is a block of older horror movies on Monday, four of them starting with House of the Damned at 9:05 AM. I've blogged about all of those before, but none of them is without merit.

Briefs for October 28-29, 2023

Halloween is coming up, although I'm going to have a separate post on that later today. Instead, I've got a separate post with briefs today in part because I wanted to mention the not-really noir movie that's showing as part of Noir Alley tonight just after midnight and again tomorrow that I blogged about back in 2012: Experiment in Terror. Sure, I don't think it's really a noir movie, but it's a pretty darn good film and definitely should be seen if you haven't seen it before. Immediately preceding that on TCM is a double bill of both versions of Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much: the remake is first at 8:00 PM, followed by the 1934 original at 10:15 PM.

The star of the Noir Alley feature, Experiment in Terror, is Glenn Ford. I mention that because FXM has one of Ford's movies pulled out of the vault to go into the rotation: Heavan With a Barbed Wire Fence, tomorrow (October 29) at 6:00 AM. 24 hours after that, at 6:00 AM October 30, is another very fine movie that's only recently been brought back to the rotation: The Prisoner of Shark Island, about Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth and paid for it with a trip to federal prison in the Dry Tortugas off the Florida Keys.

We're getting to that portion of the year when foreign countries' film acadmies start announcing what films they're going to send to the US to compete for the nomination for Best non-English-language film, or Best International Film, or whatever the category is currently called, since I don't follow the Oscars that closely. Radio Prague recently did a feature on the film the Czech Republic is nominating, one called Brothers that sounds interesting because it's based on a real incident from the early days of the Communist era. Of course, this is the sort of movie that's never going to make it to the theaters where I am, so I have no idea when I'd ever be able to see it.

Finally, it's time to mention a few more obituaries. Most notable is Richard Roundtree, who will always be remembered for playing John Shaft in the iconic movies of the 1970s, not that that's the only thing that was in his career. Roundtree, who died on Tuesday, was 81. I didn't realize that TV star Richard Moll, who played Bull the bailiff on TV's Night Court in the early 80s as well as doing a lot of game show appearances, was 80 when he died on Thursday. I would have guessed he was maybe early 30s when Night Court started, so maybe a decade younger than he actually was.

Friday, October 27, 2023

What happened to the first 35 hells?

The FAST services have a lot of stuff that I'd have to guess has fallen into the public domain, or else is extremely cheap to get the rights to. And because it's fairly old and/or British stuff, it's things I've never heard of. One example that sounded interesting was Private Hell 36, so I sat down to watch it in order to be able to do a review here.

The movie starts with a pre-credits sequence of an elevator door in a New York apartment building opening up, to reveal that somebody's been murdered, and the murderer is trying to get away. A voiceover informs us that the motive for the murder was money, as some $300,000 in cash was stolen. A year has gone by, and that money hasn't shown up. But now, some of it is beginning to show up all over the country.

Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran) is a sergeant with the LAPD. One night, he foils a crime at a drugstore. The police investigate, and find out that one of the prescriptions was paid for with a $50 bill, which isn't that ridiculous, except that a trace of the bill reveals that it's one of the bills stolen in that elevator murder/robbery a year ago. In some ways that's good, but in other ways it's bad, because Bruner's commander, Capt. Michaels (Dean Jagger), sends Bruner and his partner, Sgt. Jack Farnham (Howard Duff) out to do the boring legwork of finding out who originally passed the bill in Los Angeles.

The two wind up at a bar where the bartender claimed to get the bill from lounge singer Lilli Marlowe (Ida Lupino). She can't remember who gave her the $50 tip, not so much because she doesn't like the police. In fact, in one of those common Hollywood tropes, she's going to wind up falling for Bruner, and the feeling gets mutual. At least Farnham has a wife (Dorothy Malone). Anyhow, she gets roped into going with Bruner and Farnham to the racetrack every day since that's where the suspect is most likely to try to pass off the bills, considering how much cash goes through a racetrack.

Eventually Lilli recognizes a face, and that eventually leads to a chase through the hills above Los Angeles. However, the guy they're chasing loses control of his car, crashing down the mountain and getting killed in the fall. The two detectives investigate, and find a box containing something like $80,000 of the money from the robbery. But there's a lot of wind, and that begins to blow the bills out of the box and into the surrounding canyon. Bruner, now having a girlfriend with expensive tastes, decides he's going to pocket some of the money. After all, he and Farnham are the only ones who might know how much money was in that box.

Of course, there's a Production Code, so we know that Bruner is never going to get away with it. But how exactly is he going to get caught, and how is Farnham going to deal with things? For those answers, you'll just have to watch Private Hell 36.

Private Hell 36 is a movie that was independently produced by Ida Lupino's company The Filmakers, together with her then-husband Collier Young. That may be why I hadn't heard of it before. It's a fairly low budget affair, which probably limits just how truly great it could become. But for what it does, it's quite successful, which probably shouldn't be a surprise considering the level of talent on offer. In addition to the cast, there's a dialogue coach named David Peckinpah, who would eventually start using his middle name Sam. There's also fine direction from Don Siegel, who would go on to much bigger and better things.

Private Hell 36 is still available, with ads, on TubiTV, and is definitely worth watching.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

A Bell for Adano

I think I've mentioned in passing a couple of times over the years about how I'd seen Fox's World War II movie A Bell for Adano, but it was long enough ago and didn't seem to be showing up anywhere to do a post on it. With the refreshing of the FXM rotation at the start of Octber, the movie is not back in the schedule, so I made a point of putting it on the DVR so that I could watch in anticipation of the next FXM showing. That next showing is finally here, tomorrow (October 27) at 9:35 AM.

The movie starts with a US Army jeep pulling up in what looks like a fairly deserted town that has a lot of rubble. That town is Adano, on the Italian island of Sicily, which was the starting point of the Allied invasion of Italy. In the jeep are Maj. Joppolo (John Hodiak), an Italian-American whose parents came from the northern part of Italy, along with Joppolo's two subordinates, Sgt. Borth (William Bendix) and Captain Purvis (Harry Morgan, in the early part of his career when he was still being credited as Henry). Maj. Joppolo is to be the temporary military governor of Adano, at least until the situation stabilizes and civilian rule can be brought back to places like Adano after 20 years of Fascist rule.

Joppolo is looking for somebody he can liaise with, but has a difficult time of it because all he gets is toadying and the same kind of guff John Wayne's character gets at the beginning of The Quiet Man. However, after quite a bit of discussion, he finds a couple of things. One is the sort of usual concerns about the people running low on food in part because the bakery is only open intermittently and in part because the fishermen can't go out to fish what with the war on and Mussolini having extorted them up to now. But a lot of the people also complain about the lack of a bell in the bell tower of the municipal hall. Everyone in town ran their day by that bell, at least until Mussolini ordered it removed and melted down to make more munitions for the war effort. Getting it back would be a sign of faith from the new authorities, as well as a signal that the rebuild is truly on.

Joppolo tries to do what he can, although getting a new bell seems like a bit of a fool's errand. After all, who has a spare bell lying around. And there are more practical concerns, like trying to get those fishermen back out to sea so that the town can eat better. Through the head of the fishermen Tommasino, Joppolo meets Tommasino's daughter Rosa (Gene Tierney with a horrendous and out-of-place blonde hairdo). They begin to develop feelings for each other, even though Joppolo has a wife back in the States and Rosa has a boyfriend who went off to fight.

Joppolo does the best he can for the locals, in part because it's a better way to gain their loyalty than trying to force them into submission. People higher up the chain of command, however, are unable to see (and in some ways need not to be focused on) the situation in a small town like this and how a general order might affect them. So when the distant General Marvin orders the Adano locals off the main road and to use side roads, there's a problem. The locals have no side roads, and need to use the main road to get to the water and fuel sources as well as the lands they farm. Joppolo wants to let them use the road, but countermanding a general's order is serious business.

On the bright side, when some naval officers stop in Adano, they inform Joppolo that they know a ship that carried off a bell that would be just the thing for Adano. They can probably even get it to Adano and installed, but will they be able to do that before Gen. Marvin figures out what's going on?

A Bell for Adano is one of those movies where you can see why audiences of 1945 would like it. It's mostly a feel-good story that the US needed even with the war winding down. It's also loosely based on a real story. On the minus side, nowadays you look at the depiction of the locals and somebody would be complaining about stereotypes. Overall, howeer, A Bell for Adano is a solid war movie effort and a movie that definitely deserves a watch. Definitely better than something like The Secret of Santa Vittoria.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Final Countdown

Well, not quite, but always worth watching and listening to

For no particular reason, I wound up watching several movies that have at least a tangentil relationship to World War II in relatively close proximity. One that I watched because it sounded like it had a really interesting premise was The Final Countdown.

The movie starts off in 1980, which was the present day from the point of view of when the movie was released. Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) works for Tideman Industries, a company that helped design the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. He's about to board the Nimitz, sailing out of Pearl Harbor, in order to liaise with the Defense Department and figure out ways to make the operations of the ship run more efficiently and smoothly. Captaing the Nimitz is Capt. Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas).

The voyage runs relatively smoothly, at least until dark clouds appear on the horizon. Yelland is annoyed, largely because there was nothing in the weather forecast to indicate that they might be running into foul weather. But the weather continues to deteriorate, until some sort of odd lighted circle that looks like some sort of atmospheric vortex or the special effects for a wormhole shows up. The Nimitz is unable to avoid getting swallowed up by the vortex, but when they go through it they discover that the weather is fine on the other side.

Things also seem a little strange, since they can no longer contact Pearl Harbor. Cut to a yacht sailing out in the middle of the Pacific not far from Hawaii. This yacht is carrying prominent US Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning), chariman of an equivalent of the Armed Services Committee. He's there with his executive secretary, Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross). Meanwhile, Yelland has sent a couple of planes to do reconnaissance, and the come up with some shocking photos: the memorial for the USS Arizona is no longer in Pearl Harbor where it's supposed to be.

Chapman knows, because he doesn't need to be told, not having gone through the vortex, that the date is December 6, 1941. In addition to being a Senator, he's considered a candidate to be nominated for Vice-President, since people close to Franklin Roosevelt were terrified by the views of then Vice-President Henry Wallace, which were even more Communist than the rest of the Roosevelt administration and were looking to replace Wallace on the 1944 ticket.

As it dawns on Yelland and the rest of the Nimitz crew what day it is, that they've traveled back in time, and what is supposed to happen the next day in the timeline they've entered, they face the conundrum of what to do. Obviously, there's a lot to be said for saving the lives of all those killed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. But in that case, the Americans wouldn't have entered World War II and would have had to wait until much longer to get involved against Germany, which would have completely changed the course of the war in Europe.

Matters come to a head, considering that a couple of Japanese Zeros attack Chapman's yacht, and then a Japanese airman is among the survivors rescued from that attack by the Nimitz. The airman naturally tries to escape his newfound captivity, while Yelland tries to figure out a way to keep history right, never mind the fact that the Nimitz is not at war with the Japanese yet.

The Final Countdown is certainly an interesting premise, and one that the writers try to handle as intelligently as possible. When it comes to time-travel, however, especially when travelling to a past that's not only already happened but excedingly well known, that's going to be difficult. The resolution of the time-travel paradox is a bit of a mess that I don't want to reveal. But at least the rest of the movie is entertaining, and definitely worth a watch.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Sometimes I'm in favor of the sky

A movie that sounded somewhat interesting from the TCM synopsis was Men Against the Sky. So I put it on my DVR, and recently got around to watching it.

Richard Dix gets top billing, although one of the plot threads has him absent for a fair bit of the movie. We see him at the start, however: he's Phil Mercedes, a stunt pilot who used to do the mail route in the days when pilots flying air mail was considered adventurous and romantic. But Phil drank too much, which is why he's reduced to barnstorming. Not only that, but he's stupid enough to get in the cockpit drunk, crashing his plane and gettin his pilot's license suspended. Perhaps his sister Kay (Wendy Barrie) can get a job to support the both of them.

Cut to the McLean aircraft company, owned by Dan McLean (Edmund Lowe). The US government is looking at re-arming, since there's a war going on in Europe, and they're interested in trying new aircraft designs. It would be a lucrative market, if only the McLean company could come up with anything that the government is interested in buying. If they can't get any good planes for the government, they'll go bankrupt.

The two plots come together in two ways. First, Kay has been studying drafting, and she tries to get a job working on technical drawings for the McLean company, working under engineer Martin Ames (Kent Taylor). The other way is that when Phil learns about the problems that McLean has. Phil has ideas, even though he's just a (former) pilot and not really an engineer. Still, he's able to come up with drawings that Kay can present to Martin and perhaps the company can try them.

The company is desperate enough that they are willing to try the new design. But as the test pilot is putting the plane through its paces, he realizes that it has a fatal design flaw if it goes through certain stresses. At this point, Phil comes out of the woodwork because he wants his idea to go through, and gets in the plane after the test pilot says it's not airworthy. Phil flies it, only to discover that the test pilot was right. One of the wings is shorn off during a dive, and Phil has to parachute to safety.

Now, Men Against the Sky is the sort of movie that you know is going to have at least a somewhat happy ending, so you might be asking yourself how the movie gets to that happy ending. I'm not going to reveal the answer here, other than to say that the plot contrivance they use is a bit ridiculous and strains all credulity. It also doesn't help that the special effects for the aerial scenes aren't very special, even by the standards of 1940. But then Men Against the Sky was a B movie.

One interesting thing to note is the screenwriting credit for Nathanael West. West was better known as a novelist, and his works Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust have both been turned into films. He was also married to Eileen McKinney, who was the Eileen in My Sister Eileen. I think I mentioned it at the time I wrote a post on My Sister Eileen, but the two were killed in a car crash not long after the release of Men Against the Sky on their way to F. Scott Fitzgerald's funeral.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Brothers Rico

I was looking through the offerings on TubiTV and noticed that one of the things that is leaving the platform at the end of October is The Brothers Rico. I had watched the movie not too far back and planned to do a post on it when I got through the rest of the backlog of stuff I've got, but seing that the movie is leaving TubiTV soon, I decided to move up the post so that the rest of you could have a chance to watch it too.

Richard Conte plays Eddie Rico, who at the start of the movie is the owner of an industrial service laundry living in Florida with his wife Alice (Dianne Foster). Eddie is doing well, well enough in fact that he's able to afford to go through all the paperwork necessary to adopt a child. But there's a catch, which is that he's got a past, and that past is about to catch up with him. Indeed, it happens right at the beginning of the movie when he gets a phone call in the middle of the night, from a guy named Phil. Phil works for one of the syndicate bosses, and Eddie did too in the past. Eddie thought that past was behind him, but they're pulling him back in. And Alice is none too pleased with it.

Eddie's got a mother who loves him, and two brothers, Gino (Paul Picerni) and Johnny (James Darren). Gino shows up unannounced one day at Eddie's laundry, in a state of panic. It seems that the three brothers were low-level operatives in the syndicate. Eddie wanted to get out, which is why he moved to Florida and opened up the laundry. Gino wanted to move up, which is why he got involved as the hired gun in a murder-for-hire as part of the gang wars. Worse, Gino had the bright idea to have Johnny be the driver of the getaway car. Even worse than that, Johnny has disappeared in the couple of weeks since the killing. Much as with Claude Rains at the end of Notorious, the gang seems to want information from Geno that he thinks will lead to him getting killed.

Eddie's getting pulled back in further. The phone call at the beginning of the movie was to get Eddie to give a job to a different hired killer. And then the head of the syndicate insists that Eddie fly down to Miami right now to meet with him. The syndicate is pissed that Johnny disappeared. Johnny had recently gotten married, and the wife has a brother who hates the syndicate, enough that he's willing to testify to whatever grand jury the prosecutors are willing to empanel. So the syndicate wants Eddie to find Johnny and "persaude" him to come back, before the brother-in-law can get Johnny to testify too.

Of course, "persuade" means "kill if necessary". Eddie's smart enough to realize that, and of course Johnny is eventually smart enough to figure that out too. And Johnny also understands that if Eddie shows up, other hired killers aren't going to be far behind, hoping to pull off the job in case Eddie can't. That's part of why Johnny has left New York City....

The Brothers Rico is another of those competently-made 1950s crime programmers that feel like they might have been influenced by the noir genre, but aren't really in the noir box. (Unless, of course, you're someone like Eddie Muller who would find a way to put Can't Stop the Music into the noir box.) It's not the sort of stuff that will ever make anybody's Top 10 list, but it's certainly successful in entertaining, and fills a niche. Nowadays, it's the sort of thing that would probably be made cheaply by Netflix or another of the similar content providers. It's definitely worth a watch before it disappears from the streaming services.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Famous Ferguson Case

One more movie that I noticed showing up again on the TCM schedule that I had recorded was The Famous Ferguson Case. Its next airing is tomorrow, October 23, at 2:30 PM, so I sat down to watch it in able to be able to do a post on it here.

The movie starts off with a "foreword", one of those scrolling establishing walls of text that were not uncommon in silent movies and then the first few decades of talkies (The Famous Ferguson Case was released in 1932). This one tells us about how some "journalists" didn't really care about "news", but sensationalism and reporting on things long since worthy of public discussion. Of course, we know nowadays that most journalists are sensationalists and panic mongers, and it's the honest journalist that's in the severe minority.

Cut to the town of Cornwall, somehwere in upstate New York (there's really a Cornwall-on-Hudson not too far north of New York City, but this Cornwall is presumed to be somewhere north of Albany based on a comment from one of the characters). We first meet the local denizens of Cornwall: Marcia Ferguson (Vivienne Osborne) is married to wealthy banker George (Purnell Pratt), who works down in the City and spends quite a few nights down there. To compensate, Marcia is having an affair with Judd Brooks (Leon Ames), who works as a teller at the local bank and has a wife of his own. They meet at the train station; also showing up is local cub reporter Bruce Foster (Tom Brown), who has a girlfriend of his own in Toni (Adrienne Dore), one of the secretaries at the local newspaper. She dreams of bigger things, and is busy pushing Bruce to advance his career and get a job in the big city.

And wouldn't you know, but Bruce gets the story of his life falling into his lap when he hears from the telephone operator that a call has been placed from the Ferguson residence to the sheriff's department. Bruce rushes over to investigate, and discovers that Marcia has been bound and gagged, with George having been shot to death.

Even if George hadn't been a wealthy banker in New York, this sort of lurid case would have brought a bunch of reporters, and sure enough, every paper in New York City sends one of their reporters north, led by Bob Parks (Kenneth Thomson). He's one of the yellow-press types, although as it turns out not all of the reporters in the gaggle are as manipulative as him. Martin Collins (Grant Mitchell) has his heart in the right place, but the heroine of the piece is Maizie (Joan Blondell), the one lady reporter in the bunch, and she's Lee Tracy-level cynical here.

Most of the reporters set out to manipulate the DA because that would make for a more "interesting" story. They've figured out that Marcia was seeing Judd, and get the DA to have Judd arrested and put on trial for the murder. Bruce, meanwhile, starts doing his own investigation, the sort of journalistic work that the big-city types no longer do because "prestige" reporting means letting the little people do all the grunt work while they hobnob with the powerful. Much like the press release-driven journalism of today. Bruce discovers that....

The Famous Ferguson Case is the sort of thing that Warner Bros. did exceedingly well. Blondell is unsurprisingly quite good as the cynical female journalist; this is no light Torchy Blane movie. Tom Brown as the naïf who learns a lot over the course of the movie is suprisingly good as well, and Grant Mitchell provides his usual good support. So do the rest of the cast, a bunch of names you'd recognize if you watch a lot of early 1930s movies but that are sadly largely forgotten today. The movie as a whole is one of those that's fallen through the cracks, in part because it wasn't one of Warners' prestige movies and in part because movies of today just aren't made like this.

That's a shame, because The Famous Ferguson Case is definitely worth watching.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Not to be confused with Any Number Can Play

A movie that I had on my old DVR but never got around to watching was the British film Only Two Can Play. I noticed that it was on Tubi, so I decided to watch it, although I have to say that it no longer seems to be on Tubi.

Peter Sellers plays John Lewis, working as a librarian in what seems to be one of those small working-class towns that dotted British movies of the period, this time in Wales. It's not much of a job, but somehow he's able to support a wife Jean (Virginia Maskell) and a kid. For some values of support, since they don't get to go out much. John has dreams of being a writer, writing some reviews for the local paper.

And then Liz Grufydd-Williams (Mai Zetterling) walks into his life. She's much more glamorous than Jean, and is married to someone with higher status, one of the local town councillors, who has some say over the library's budget and staffing. John is somewhat interested in Liz, even though he shouldn't be, and the feeling is mutual, even though they have to see each other in secret to keep from being spotted, which is the basis for quite a bit of the movie's humor.

A promotion opens up at the library, and both of the women in John's life want him to apply for the job. In Jean's case, one can assume that it means a position with both a better income and more status. For Liz, however, it's because she can use the possibility of John's getting this position to exert greater control over their relationship. If John goes for it, that may make him a kept man, which is going to cause problems for him back at home.

Meanwhile, Liz is also involved with the local amateur repertory company, putting on plays as was the sort of thing in the post-World War II era when people didn't have as many interests vying for their time as they do today. Perhaps John could be persuaded to write a better review of the play that their company is going to put on. And he doesn't even have to go see the play as Liz could help him with a synopsis and make everybody look good if need be. They could have one of their assignations while everybody else is at opening night. Unbeknownst to them, one of the cast causes a fire on opening night, forcing the cancellation of the rest of the play. Anybody who was there would know about it and there would be no need for a review....

Only Two Can Play is a rather gentler comedy than the Sellers movies that would follow, as I've always stated my view that there was a big change for Sellers starting with Dr. Stranglove, when he goes way over the top and basically nobody keeps him in check any longer. This isn't as good as some of Sellers' other early movies, particularly Two-Way Stretch and even more so I'm Alright Jack, in part because it is a bit slow. It's around 105 minutes and should have come in around 90. But if it ever shows up anywhere, it's definitely worth one watch.

Friday, October 20, 2023


A couple of years back, FXM had the Akira Kurosawa movie Kagemusha in the rotation. I recorded it, but never got around to doing a review on it before Dad and I moved and I had to get rid of the old DVR. Recently, FXM put it back in the schedule and I recorded it again. Since FXM runs most of their movies in the rotation a lot, it's getting a couple more airings in quick succession, with the first of those being tomorrow (Oct. 21) at 12:20 PM.

Kagemusha is set in a period of Japanese history I didn't know much about. I had heard about the Tokugawa era, a long era of peace and isolation from the early 1600s until the US Navy forcibly opened up the country in the 1850s (you may recall the movie The Barbarian and the Geisha set in the 1850s). Before that was a period of warlords and clan warfare. Takeda Shingen (Takeda is the surname) is the head of one of those clans; his brother Nobukado recently found a thief who was supposed to be put to death but who Nobukado realized bore an uncanny resemblance to Shingen, leading to Nobukado sparing him. This could somehow be useful.

Sure enough, it does become useful. Shingen goes off to war, besieging one of Tokugawa's castles. However he gets fatally shot. (Japan had known Chinese-style firearms for a few centuries, and about 30 years prior to the action in the movie, the Portuguese had introduced western-style firearms to Japan.) Before he dies, he tells his subordinates to keep his death a secret for three years. Nobukado figures that this is where that thief who's a doppelgänger would come in quite handy. Perhaps they can have the thief impersonate Shingen, since very few people know that Shingen actually died.

It seems like a daft idea, and of course there's the question of whether the thief even wants to do it. But it's not as if he has much choice, so he agrees to it. Enough excuses are put to the powerful that they're able to go along with it without much disbelief; it often seems to be the case in real life how much crap people are willing to put up with to try to get more power in the end. The one person who disbelieves at first is Shingen's grandson. Shades of The Emperor's New Clothes.

Things get a lot harder when Nobukado marches off to war. The thief probably doesn't know much about military tactics, so in theory can just let Nobukado make all the decisions. But in the fog of war in the era when leaders actually went off to battle, things happen, and the thief is forced to take command of some of the troops. He's surprisingly successful, but this is also a pyrrhic victory as his getting high on power ultimately screws up the whole plan to keep the real Shingen's death a secret....

Kagemusha shows up on FXM because of the arrangement in funding that got the movie produced. Kurosawa was filming for Toho in Japan, but fell short of funds to finish production. So Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas stepped in, convincing 20th Century-Fox to fund the rest of the project in exchange for the international distribution, which is why you see references to the international version of the movie. Coppola and Lucas also get executive producer credits.

As for the movie, I'm sorry to say I think it's something that wouldn't have any recognition if it didn't have Kurosawa's name tied to it. The print FXM ran was 159 minutes, although I've read that other prints are from 162 minutes to a restored version of 180 minutes. And that long run time is also rather slow in developing. This is material that I think really would have worked better in miniseries format or some other form of limited-run TV series instead of one long feature film. I think that people who don't speak Japanese (that includes me) could also benefit from more exposition about the period of Japanese history in which the film is set.

For anybody who doesn't know much about Kurosawa, there are quite a few of his movies I'd introduce them to first. But for people who have seen a bunch of his movies, or people who are into Asian warlord movies, they might like to give Kagemusha a try.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Non-FXM briefs for October 19, 2023

You may note that I haven't been taking part in the Thursday Movie Picks series this month. That's more because they're all horror-related, and specific subgenres of horror are a type of movie I'm not that good at. I don't think I'll be taking part in the movie theme for the beginning of November either, maybe just doing the foreign-language TV theme for the end of November and the December movie post ("Day" or "Night" in the title).

Somebody's got a twisted sense of humor in the programming department at TCM. The theme for the daytime tomorrow (October 20) is movies with "Star" in the title. They've put cheek-by-jowl The Star Witness, an interesting little pre-code starring Grant Mitchell at 11:30 AM, following it at 12:45 PM with Star 80. At least with the new intros they're not doing Chet Baker's "Look for the Silver Lining" before Star 80. (Incidentally, that's one reason I never really warmed to that intro: it seemed way too cheery for any downbeat movie or anything with murder in it.)

This being October, there's supernatural movies this Friday night, starting off with one that TCM got the rights from Fox (or Disney, since I think they own the rights to the old Fox movies now), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir at 8:00 PM. If you haven't seen this one, it's really worth watching.

I probably should have mentioned the death of Piper Laurie earlier; she died on Saturday at the age of 91. She got I think three Oscar nominations but never won. She was also supposed to be one of the guests of honor at one of the TCM Film Festivals that got cancelled due to the panic over coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns.

Suzanne Somers died over the weekend as well, just shy of her 77th birthday. Of course she's better remembered for her TV work, specifically Three's Company and her acrimonious departure from the show, but she also showed up early in her career in American Graffiti.

I have to admit I don't really remember the name Joanna Merlin; she died on Sunday aged 92. She did some acting, especially on Broadway, but also got into being a casting director. Among her movie roles were smaller parts in All That Jazz and Fame.

Oct. 19, 2023 FXM update

I mentioned at the beginning of the month that FXM seemed to have changed up its rotation the same way it did last October. In looking through the schedule, I notice that tomorrow, Friday October 20, is a day with a bunch of movies all of which haven't been on the schedule in a while. But I think I've blogged about all of them before, so you get a bunch of links to the old posts:

3:00 AM Pirates of Tortuga, a pirate cheapie made during the wait to get Cleopatra finished;
4:40 AM Born Reckless, from John Ford's early days at Fox;
6:00 AM Immortal Sergeant, starring Henry Fonda as a Canadian serving with the British in World War II;
7:35 AM Captain from Castile, starring Tyrone Power as the captain who winds up with Cortes fighting the Aztecs in Mexico;
10:00 AM Prince of Foxes, another Tyrone Power period piece that really needed to be in color;
11:50 AM Prince Valiant, based on the comic strip and giving a lot of people like Robert Wagner and Janet Leigh horrendous hairdos; and
1:35 PM Man in the Attic, the umpteenth version of The Lodger which posits who Jack the Ripper might have been.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Back from Eternity

It's been over 14 years since I blogged about the Lucill Ball movie Five Came Back. I knew that it was remade in the 1950s, and that the remake, titled Back from Eternity, showed up a lot on TCM because both versions were made at RKO. But, for whatever reason, I had never watched Back from Eternity before. So the most recent time it showed up, I finally recorded it so that I could do a post on it here.

Having already seen Five Came Back, I already knew the basic plot of the movie. Robert Ryan stars as Bill Lonagan, pilot for an airline that's reduced to flying Americans down to some tinpot little South American country, in this case with the fictional capital city of Boca Grande. On this particular flight, he's got a new co-pilot in Joe Brooks (Keith Andes). There's also the motley assortment of character types on this particular flight, all of them with back stories, but with those stories not always being the reason they're on the flight. The Spanglers (Beulah Bondi and Cameron Prud'Homme) are the elderly couple where the husband is a college professor taking a research trip; Jud (Gene Brooks) is a wealthy businessman engaged to Louise (Phyllis Kirk); young Tommy is the son of a gangster who has just been killed, with one of the gangster's underlings, Boswick (Jessie White) taking him out of the country to shield young Tommy from the news; Rena (Antia Ekberg) is the requisite woman of ill repute being sent to South America; and Vasquel (Rod Steiger) is a political revolutionary wanted in Boca Grande and who is to be delivered there by Crimp (Fred Clark).

The various passengers already start having interactions on the way down to Boca Grande, such as one reading a newspaper that has a story on the death of Tommy's father. Prof. Spangler also mentions the natives they'll be flying over, a bunch of headhunter types who have a way of shrinking the heads of the people they capture and turning them into talismans. The exposition is also a form of foreshadowing, as you might be able to figure out even if you hadn't seen the movie Five Came Back and didn't know the plot synopsis of the movie. Soon enough, the plane hits rough weather, and you know that's going to drive the plot.

Sure enough, the plane is forced to crash land, and the plane is somewhat damaged. The radio, for example, is no longer working, while one of the engines went out. However, it's not so damaged that the plane is irreparable. They might be able to fix it just enough to get off the ground again and go to their destination. And they're going to have to do that too, since they're way off course and nobody is going to know exactly where they went down in the storm.

Time is of the essence, as they didn't pack enough food for the reason that they didn't expect to be in the jungle for possibly weeks. More importantly, though, are those headhunters they only expected to be flying over. You have to know that they're going to figure out these Americans are in their midst, and they're not going to let the Americans stay there peaceably. And to make matters worse, the characters begin to have conflicts with one another. Louise looks like she might like co-pilot Joe more than she does her fiancé, while Jud, Vasquel, and pilot Bill don't see eye to eye on who should be in charge.

And then when the plane does get repaired, there's a catch. It's been damaged enough that the plane will only be able to take five passengers to Boca Grande. And who should have the power to make those life and death decisions?

Back from Eternity isn't a bad movie, and it would probably have a better reputation if it were an original story instead of being a remake of a movie made in Hollywood's annus mirabilis of 1939. It also has a bit of a TV movie feel in terms of production values, having been made near what was the end of the road for RKO. Still, the acting is pretty good, and the movie is definitely worth a watch.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023


Recently I noticed that one of Pluto's movie channels had another of those early 80s comedies that I was too young to see on original release and never got around to seeing: Stripes. Since Pluto has the benefit of being able to re-start a program currently running from the beginning, I decided to watch it. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to be available on demand on Pluto, but there are other services where you can stream or rent it.

Bill Murray plays John Winger, who's in a dead-end job as a cab driver. It doesn't really pay the rent, it doesn't keep his girlfriend happy, it isn't fulfilling, and he has to deal with a lot of passengers who make life difficult for him. John has a best friend in Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) who works a job that is theoretically more fulfilling, as a teacher of English as a second language to immigrants. However, the immigrants in his class also make his life difficult. So over pizza one night, Winger gets a brilliant idea: why don't the two of them drop everything and enlist in the army? It's a chance to see the world and make a better life for themselves.

Yeah, right. At least this was at the height of the Cold War, not nowadays with all of the political nonsense, although at least there's no longer the chance of being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. They get assigned to a stereotypically tough drill sergeant in Hulka (Warren Oates, again doing comedy), who finds that he has problems with Winger because of Winger's less than dedicated attitude to the army. Winger and Ziskey also discover that they're not the only ones trying to escape personal problems, as there's Ox (John Candy), who in the real world would probably have failed his army physical, although here's portrayed as wanting to get into shape to be better accepted by women.

Winger, Ziskey, and the rest of the platoon have the sort of shenanigans you'd expect out of basic training in any service comedy, with love interests thrown in too for good measure. One of the scenes has Hulka's commanding officer, Capt. Stillman (John Larroquette) screw up and order the men to do something that winds up getting Hulka injured. Somehow, the platoon is able to finish basic anyway, and this impresses the general, who sends them on a mission to Europe to guard the prototype of a new assault vehicle.

Needless to say, the platoon makes a mess of things because Winger and Ziskey abscond with the vehicle to visit their girlfriends, now stationed at a base in West Germany. They wind up driving into communist Czechoslovakia by accident, and have to get out.

Stripes was a commercial success when it was released, and it's easy to see why. Although in many ways there's nothing really new here compared to the decades of previous service comedies, the material is universal enough and there's enough different stuff to make something that seems fresh if done well. Unsurprisingly, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis were experts at this sort of comedy, along with the supporting cast, making Stripes a very fun ride to take with them.

Monday, October 16, 2023

I don't recall that much rain

TCM did a spotlight on Southern movies a couple of months back, and one of the movies where I might have seen the title before but never actually saw the movie was Baby the Rain Must Fall. So, as always, I made it a point to record it so I could watch later and do a post on it here.

Lee Remick plays Georgette, who at the start of the movie is on a bus with her daughter Margaret Rose, heading for the town of Columbus, Texas. An older woman gets on the bus, mainly so that we can have an expository scene in which the viewer understands that Georgette is going to Columbus to see her husband Henry (Steve McQueen) for the first time in years. Indeed, the young daughter claims she's never seen her father, which would be because he's been away in prison and Mom has been trying to protect Margaret from that uncomfortable fact.

Cut to Columbus, where we finally meet Henry. He fancies himself a singer, and has been performing rockabilly music in bars to try to get himself noticed, not that anybody is going to notice him in a place like this. And it's not as if he's thinking about his wife and daughter either. So with that in mind, Henry is quite surprised when his friend, local police officer Slim (Don Murray) takes Georgette and Margaret to see Henry.

Henry decides he's going to try to make a go of the marriage and the whole family thing, but of course he's got that past. He's a parolee who violently stabbed another man, but that's not the only thing in his past that's troubled. Henry's parents died young, and he was raised by an aging woman who is getting pretty close to the end of her life now. She beat young Henry pretty badly, and there's the old trope of children who were abused growing up to become violent themselves. Not only that, but she's got enough power that she could tell the authorities Henry has violated the terms of his parole.

So much of the movie develops slowly, with Henry getting a house just outside of town and not near anything and trying to raise a family, even getting a part-time job, but not getting anywhere fast. And things go quickly downhill when his foster mother dies....

Baby the Rain Must Fall is the sort of movie that's not going to be everybody's cup of tea. Not only is it a movie where there's not a whole lot happening, it's a movie with fairly difficult subject material as well as a fair bit of the sense of Southern gothic about it. Now, it's not as severe as the Tennessee Williams movies or something like Wise Blood, but those who don't care for the southern potboiler style, especially as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, are going to have some difficulty with the movie.

That having been said, the performances are all well done; it's just that you wish Baby the Rain Must Fall offered better material for everybody to be giving these performances. If this is the sort of material you're into, then you'll definitely like Baby the Rain Must Fall. If not, well, you've been warned.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Well, technically not *my* wife

I was looking through the streaming services recently, and noticed that the Roku Channel's Cinevault Classics channel (which is mostly, if not entirely, the Columbia library) had a new-to-me movie called Our Wife coming up, so I sat down to watch it. Unfortunately, the sub-channels on the Roku Channel don't seem to have schedule listings that go out more than a day in advance, so I don't know when it's going to show up again.

The Drakes -- a college-professor father (Charles Coburn), his adult son Tom (John Hubbard) and adult daughter Susan (Ruth Hussey) are on vacation taking a cruise down to Cuba and nearby Caribbean islands in the days before World War II when Americans could still get to Cuba easily. They meet composer/musician Jerome "Jerry" Marvin (Melvyn Douglas) on board, and then meet him again later on the island, drunk and looking like he's about to miss getting back on the boat. So they do the human thing, which is to look after him enough to get him back on the boat.

Except that they find his cabin is now occupied by someone else. Apparently, Jerry had a one-way ticket and the possibility of a job he was only going to take because he needed the money. Susan keeps trying to come up with a way to get Jerry to take one of the rooms in the suite the Drakes booked; as you might guess, along the way she's going to begin to fall in love with him, although that takes a little while longer than expected. Jerry repays the Drakes by letting them stay in his place in Westchester when they get back to the States.

Jerry, it turns, out, is in the middle of getting a divorce from first wife Babe (Ellen Drew), one of those divorces like in The Awful Truth where the judge has more or less signed off on it but it won't become legal until after a cooling-off period. That period still hasn't passed. And wouldn't you know it, but Babe shows up again, thinking that perhaps there's still a spark left.

Jerry comes up with an idea, which is to have Susan pretend that she and Jerry are engaged, since Jerry's divorce is going to happen anyway, what with it just not being finalized yet. This only serves to make Babe more jealous, and more desirous to win Jerry back. And she sees the perfect opportunity to do so when she suffers a fall on the stairs in Jerry's house, winding up with leg paralysis and having to stay in bed for several weeks. Susan, however, is convinced that Babe is just faking it. And Susan is going to start trying to prove it....

Our Wife is one of those movies from just before World War II (it was released in August 1941) that, had it been made a few years earlier, would have been written as a screwball comedy in the vein of something like The Awful Truth that I mentioned earlier in the post. Columbia may have tried to bill it as a comedy, but it's really more of a light drama than a comedy.

Unfortunately, the main flaw of Our Wife is that it develops slowly, with not a whole lot happening and being way too talky. Reading up on it, the movie was based on an early 1930s play, and the second half of it really belies the stage origins of the material. The material might have worked better on the live stage, and the stars here do the best they can with the material, but the whole time it feels like there's something missing. And then, the movie doesn't know how to resolve the conflict, doing so in a wacky way that I didn't think fit the rest of the movie.

Still, Our Wife isn't terrible, and fans of Melvyn Douglas will find it a mild diversion. I just wish I could point out when the next airing would be to give you all a heads-up.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Milagro Beanfield War

Another of the movies that was on my DVR that I noticed is getting another airing is The Milagro Beanfield War. Its next airing is on TCM overnight tonight at 2:00 AM (so that's Oct. 15 Eastern Time, but still late on the 14th in Pacific Time).

The movie opens up with a montage of night descending on the town of Milagro, NM, a series of images that informs the viewer that this is a Quirky Town, full of Quirky People. Among those people is Joe Mondragon (Chick Vennera), a farmer who isn't very successful, largely because he's lost his water rights along with everyone else in town who had been farming. He gets in his truck and nearly runs into a construction crew. They're working for Ladd Devine (Richard Bradford), who has bought up a lot of the land to build a development of second homes for the ultra-wealthy. And having political interference with the governor (M. Emmet Walsh), he was able to get the water rights from the locals, which is part of why Milagro is a dying town.

In frustration, Joe kicks the valve on one of the irrigation pipes, breaking it open. The water runs down onto one of his fields, and Joe realizes that he can grow beans on this little plot of land, at least in part as a protest against Devine and his property development company. The locals, most of whom are many generations descended from the Spanish who colonized the area in the 1500s, begin to take Joe's side.

Meanwhile, several Anglos also come in to take sides. A lot this has to do with the Devine company; in addition to Ladd he's got an adult daughter Flossie (Melanie Griffith) who gets involved. The Devine side also realize that they have to do something to get Joe to stop growing those beans, which is why they bring in Kyril Montana (Christoper Walken), a sort of hired gun who knows how to use plausible threats of violence to get his way.

On the side of the locals, there's white lawyer/publisher Charlie Bloom (John Heard), who moved to Milagro some time back and has been an activist ever since, presumably fancying himself a white savior. And suddenly showing up one day is Herbie Platt (Daniel Stern), a young idealist working on his Ph.D. in sociology who decided to do a study on Milagro, embedding himself in the town for six months to do it.

The Milagro Beanfield War has a lot to like about it, mostly thanks to the ensemble cast of mostly supporting players who come together. There's also the cinematography; it would be hard to make this part of the country not look good. Also worth noting is the score, which won Dave Grusin an Oscar. On the other hand, the movie is also a bit of a mess, largely down to the script. It makes the characters too damn quirky for their own good, along with requiring a bit too much suspension of disbelief. The characters at times seem more like archetypes than fully fleshed-out characters.

However, The Milagro Beanfield War is not without its charms, which is why it's definitely worth at least one watch, at least to decide for yourself what to make of it.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Technically, it stopped a musical career dead in its tracks

I had always heard about the disastrously bad movie Can't Stop the Music, co-starring the disco group The Village People, but had never been able to find it to watch it. Recently, I noticed that it's streaming on the Fawesome service, so I decided that I was going to sit down to watch it and see just how bad it really is.

The print, unfortunately, starts off both letterboxed and pillarboxed, which is a good sign that the opening credits were blocked for widescreen but the rest of the movie is going to be panned and scanned, which sure enough does happen. Steve Guttenberg, early in his career, plays Jack Morell, an obvious pseudonym for Jacques Morali, the music producer who founded the Village People. Jack works in a record store, but he has dreams of being a songwriter and a DJ, if only he could get a gig as a DJ or get someone to listen to his songs, just like Krush Groove. Finally, Jack does get a substitute gig at a hot discothèque, and quits his job to take his chance.

Meanwhile, Jack has a platonic friend in former commercial model Samantha (Valerie Perrine) who co-rents an apartment with him and tries to help him out in his career in any way she can. She's got an odd group of friends, including Felipe, who wears the male short shorts, an Indian headderss, and pretty much nothing else. Jack's song goes over well, and since Samantha knows people in the music industry from her modeling days, she gets him a chance to play his demo. Jack is going to need real singers to put it over, however. Thankfully for him, Felipe the "Indian" has a bunch of wacky friends who are all interested in singing and perform one of Jack's songs at a backyard party.

Showing up at the party to deliver a cake is lawyer Ron (Bruce Jenner before he became a freak), and Ron and Samantha become romantically involved. Ron being a lawyer, he may also be able to offer some help in getting a band together. But everybody is going to have to make sacrifices if they want their art to be successful. Will they be willing to do it? Well, we know that the Village People became successful and this movie is loosely based on the story of how they became successful, so we know that it's going to have a happy ending.

Unfortunately for all involved, however, the movie was released in 1980, ju as disco music was beginning to slow down and lose its popularity while what remained morphed into various other forms of dance music. The Village People shtick was becoming passé, and none of them can act. They're not helped by a thoroughly unoriginal story and terrible direction (by Nancy Walker of all people), with the result being a box office bomb.

That's a bit unfair, because the musical numbers are energetic if badly staged and filmed, and the movie winds up being a fun disaster for anybody who enjoys disco. It's not as spectacularly bad as The Apple, but it's still fun, and definitely worth one watch. Just don't expect anything good.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Two on a Guillotine

Not too long ago, I recorded the movie Two on a Guillotine because it sounded interesting. I probably should have known that it would get an airing again in October because of the horror-adjacent themes. But I didn't realize that it would be in the middle of a bunch of other movies I had recorded and which would just happen to show up in close succession. Anyhow, the next airing of Two on a Guillotineis tomorrow (October 13) at 3:00 PM, so I made it a point to watch the movie in order to be able to do a post on it.

The movie starts off wih a brief, pre-titles introductory scene of a prominent Los Angeles-based magician, Duke Duquesne (Cesar Romero), who uses his wife Melinda (Connie Stevens) in his act, while their daughter Cassie stays in the dressing room with nursemaid/general assistant Dolly (Virginia Gregg). Duke is planning a new illusion involving a guillotine and putting Melinda's head in it. But the trick goes wrong, and it's Melinda's head that really does get chopped off!

Fast forward through the credits and to a good 20 years later, and Duke finally dies. After Mom's death, Duke sent Cassie (played as an adult by Connie Stevens) east to live with an aunt and uncle, and she's finally returning for the funeral, never having seen Dad since the night Mom died. Dad, being a magician and a famous personage, comes up with some odd terms for his funeral, which involve him being put in a coffin with a glass viewing window, which he'll have locked with a prop lock and chain, having announced in the funeral arrangements that he was going to come back from the dead. The funeral is attended by a bunch of press, which really pisses Cassie off, since she'd like her privacy.

Seeing Cassie at the funeral and not revealing himself to be a journalist, but interested in the case, is another journalist, Val Henderson (Dean Jones). In talking with a more senior reporter, the elder guy tells Val this would be a great story to get for their newspaper. A good place to start would be at the reading of the will which is very much in the open: Duquesne, already having been revealed to be a bit odd, directed that the will be read at the Hollywood Bowl.

The will requires that Cassie spend a week at Duke's old house and, more importantly, overnight there -- she can go out during the day like a normal working girl. If she does so, she'll get the estate, valued at $300,000 in mid-1960s dollars which I have a feeling even after adjusted for inflation wouldn't pay for a house like the one in the movie. If she fails to follow the terms to the letter, Dolly and Duke's PR man Buzz (Parley Baer) will split the estate.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happens next. Duke, having been a magician, has wired the house to display all sorts of magic/horror effects to unsuspecting guests. Of cours, Cassie shouldn't be such an unsuspecting guess, so why should she scream when she sees a skeleton on a wire? And of course since Buzz and Dolly stand to gain if Cassie fails, you'd expect them to try to sabotage things. And indeed Val is bright enough to have that idea, especially once Dolly shows up at the mansion and thinks she's seen Duke alive, inside the house, that very evening.

The big problem with Two on a Guillotine is how the viewer is expected to think the characters are unable to figure out everything going on inside the mansion is the result of a magician's props and preparation and not because the house might be haunted. The movie is entertaining enough if you're willing to laugh at parts that aren't really supposed to be funny. But I think the producers really expected this to be seen as horror, and in that regard it doesn't work. So definitely give Two on a Guillotine a watch, just because it is fun. Just to expect to be scared by any of the putative jump scares.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Forever, Darling

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made three feature films together. I already did posts on Too Many Girls and The Long, Long Trailer ages ago, but never got around to the third film, Forever, Darling. TCM ran that movie back in August when Lucille Ball was honored in Summer Under the Stars. Not having seen it before, I decided to record it so that I could do a post on it the next time it aired. That airing comes up tomorrow (October 12) at 12:30 PM, so I made a point of watching it off of my DVR so that I could do the post.

As in The Long, Long Trailer and like their TV show I Love Lucy which was still running at the time Forever, Darling was released, Lucy and Desi play a married couple, with a brief establishing scene at the beginning showing them getting married. This time, however, the couple are named Susan and Lorenzo, and Lorenzo is not a musician (although he does get a few chances to play the concertina and sing the movie's theme song). Lorenzo, instead, is a research scientist working for a chemical company trying to produce a new miracle insecticide that will make agriculture easier and benefit public health since mosquito-born diseases are a pain in the ass.

Time passes, however, and in the second brief scene, we see that the couple are hitting the marital doldrums well before the seven year itch. Part of it is that Lorenzo is spending so much time working on that insecticide that he doesn't have time for Susan. It's a chicken and egg question, though, because Lorenzo would tell you that he's sick of having to deal all the time with Susan's cousin Millie (Natalie Schafer) and her even bigger drip of a husband Henry. This leads to a big argument that will make you wonder whether the marriage is on the rocks.

Except that Susan comes from a family in which one side has always had guardian angels, and the other side has always seen things that aren't really there. You just know that's going to come together, when a man comes from out of the blue, or really out of the glowing light. That man is Susan's guardian angel, who looks suspiciously like James Mason, partly because that's going to be a running joke, and partly because that's the sort of man Susan would like to have if she couldn't have Lorenzo. It's the guardian angel's job to get Susan to put things right between her and Lorenzo, although that's going to take some doing.

The first issue is that Susan has a hard time telling people what's going on, in no small part because nobody is really going to believe her and everybody is going to think she's going crazy. And she just knows that Lorenzo wouldn't understand. Never mind that the angel suggests to her that if Lorenzo had a similar guardian angel, that angel would look like Ava Gardner. And sure enough, Lorenzo tells Susan one morning that he's had a dream involving him and... Ava Gardner.

But the James Mason angel's suggestion to Susan is that the show some more interest in Lorenzo's life. He's trying to show that the insecticide really can work, and that will involve going out into the field for a real-life test of it, somewhere in the relative middle of nowhere (actually filmed in Yosemite National Park). Susan decides to follow along, and sure enough, like an episode of I Love Lucy, everything that can go wrong does.

Forever, Darling is, I'm sorry to say, the weakest of the three Lucy/Desi movies. I think that's partly because the script is wrong for them. After the success of The Long, Long Trailer, MGM wanted them to make more movies. But they didn't have a good script, and took something off the shelf that had been written several years earlier for some other screen team (I've seen references to William Powell and Myrna Loy as well as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn). Desi is all wrong as a research scientist, and Lucy is getting more into the shrill phase of her career. James Mason isn't given much to do, although I get the impression he was having fun doing broad parody.

All three of the Luci/Desi movies were put out on a box set together, but I'd definitely recommend the other two (especially The Long, Long Trailer) before this one.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Hawaiians

Edited to note: I originally had this post scheduled to run early on October 11, in conjunction with a movie airing in the overnight hours between October 11 and 12. Only later did I notice another movie on my DVR that was getting another airing on TCM in the mid-afternoon hours of October 12, or too early for me to put up a post to go very early on October 12. Given the choice of having multiple feature-length posts per day for the next few days -- there are several more movies on my DVR scheduled to air in the next few days and I have a feeling that Kagemusha isn't getting a full-length post until later considering that it's on DVD and will probbly get at least one more airing on FXM -- or moving posts around, I decided to do the latter. Thus, a post for a movie that's not airing for another 36 hours.

I mentioned last week with the post on Charlton Heston being Star of the Month that there were a couple of his movies I had on the DVR but hadn't blogged about before. The Four Musketeers was one; I didn't notice until after composing that post that TCM was actually starting the salute in the daytime of October 4. The Heston programming only kicks off in prime time on Wednesday (October 11), but includes a movie I hadn't blogged about before, The Hawaiians, overnight at 1:30 AM (October 12 in the Eastern time zone and October 11 in the Pacific). As always, with an airing coming up I made a point of watching it to do a post on in conjunction with the upcoming airing.

I knew that The Hawaiians was based on a novel by James Michener titled Hawaii, and of course knew that Michener's novels are mostly, if not all sprawling. I didn't recall that this is the second movie based on that novel. The first, Hawaii, was made a few years before The Hawaiians and deals with an earlier part of the novel. I haven't read the book or seen the movie Hawaii, but I can say that you don't need to have done so in order to follow the story and characters here.

Heston plays Whip Hoxworth, grandson to the main character of Hawaii and one-quarter Hawaiian. It's probably about 1870 or so (the movie spans close to 30 years and ends sometime after the 1898 annexation of the islands by the US), and Grandpa has just died, so everybody's gathering for the reading of the will. Whip has spent his time at see sailing and transporting Chinese (well, actually Taiwanese Hakka, who are decidedly not Han Chinese) across the Pacific to work as laborers in Hawaii. This has made Whip unpopular in the family, such that his cousins inherited the good stuff and Whip only gets a bunch of unproductive land on an island where getting enough water is going to be tough.

Whip hires a well-driller to try to find water, and amazingly, the guy does, making Heston's plantation salvageable and, with enough work, giving Whip the potential of becoming a wealthy man, even though neither the whites nor the native Hawaiians care much for new money. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the movie, a woman was found among the laborers Whip was transporting, Nyuk Tsin (Tina Chen). She's saved by another laborer, Mun Ki (Mako), claiming she's his wife; Whip's own wife Purity (Geraldine Chaplin) makes Whip take the two on as house servants.

Nyuk Tsin and Mun Ki become trusted advisers to Whip, and both wives have children at close to the same time. Whip and Purity have a boy, Noel (adult Noel played by John Philip Law), while Nyuk and Mun have a daughter. Since this is one of those sprawling stories and the two families spend a lot of time together, you can guess that the two kids wind up falling in love with each other once they reach adulthood and that this is going to be a problem because of the differing racial backgrounds.

Meanwhile, as I said above, Whip having a plantation and water, he needs something to grow. At the time, sugar cane was the big thing, but the old money that hates Whip don't want to help him. So he goes off to French Guiana to smuggle some pineapples out of the territory since they ought to grow well in equally tropical Hawaii. Sure enough they do, and that's how Whip makes his money.

As I said a couple of times, The Hawaiians is one of those would-be epics, so there's a lot more going on here. It's easy enough to follow, and more than adequate entertainment, but it also not the world's greatest movie. The material really feels more like it the screenwriters should have written with the idea of a TV miniseries in mind, where commercials can be put in at the appropriate points. Of course, I don't think that sort of miniseries really took off until Roots later in the 1970s.

Still, The Hawaiians is definitely worth watching, and now is your chance.

Monday, October 9, 2023

New York Confidential

Another of the movies that I had somewhat surprisingly never heard of before I noticed that it was available on Tubi was the 1950s crime film New York Confidential. Since it sounded interesting and had a pretty good cast, I decided I'd watch it to be able to do a review on it here.

The movie starts off with a narration (Marvin Miller is the narrator) about a killing that was dirty enough that it was going to point to the New York syndicate, which is the head for the syndicate in the country as a whole. That's not a good thing, and the syndicate is going to have to do something to make certain it doesn't happen again. Charlie Lupo (Broderick Crawford) is the head of the syndicate, and to deal with his problems, he and the rest of the syndicate brings in hired hitman Nick Magellan (Richard Conte) from Chicago.

Charlie knew Nick's father, and wants Nick to work for him, not so much for the syndicate in general. Nick has to this point been working for a subhead of the syndicate, Achilles (Onslow Stevens). Nick doesn't want to switch allegiances, at least not until being told that Achilles is actually OK with it. Nick becomes Lupo's bodyguard, ultimately living for a time in the Lupo house.

Lupo has a devoted mother, as well as a college-aged daughter Kathy (Anne Bancroft). Kathy knows what her father does, and doesn't like it, largely because everybody else knows too, and Kathy wants to be seen as decent and respectable. She's at the point where she's willing to try to run away, even though Charlie would go to the ends of the earth to bring her back. Kathy also starts falling for Nick, apparently not getting that he's a hitman.

Further complicating matters is that we've got another of those "good government" types who wants to go after the syndicate. For the most part, the authorities keep being able to get the small-time folks, while the heads go off unscathed. But this group of crusaders apparently has some witnesses in higher places, and that's going to require the syndicate to do something about it. The bad news for them is that the hitmen -- not Nick -- that they hire to do it botch the job such that they're obviously going to be noticed. It's up to Nick to deal with that. As the violence spirals out of control, it threatens to engulf everybody....

New York Confidential isn't a bad little movie, at least not by the standards of non-prestige movies of the 1950s. Broderick Crawford has the sort of role he could play in his sleep, but he does it well. Ditto Richard Conte. Anne Bancroft is on her way up, but does an OK job. Bigger and better things were to come for her. The ending is a surprising one in a way, in that it somewhat satisfies the Production Code, but in other ways you'd think the Code Office would have had issues with it.

New York Confidential isn't the greatest movie, either, but it's one that's definitely worth a watch for anybody who likes movies of that era.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Briefs for October 8, 2023 and beyond

I had a post written that I had planned to post earlier this week about some upcoming films on FXM that, somehow, never got scheduled. I was very disappointed in this in that one of the movies I was going to mention was Together Brothers, which I blogged about back in 2015 and which so far only seems to have that one airing that's passed. I'm assuming it will show up again, but with the FXM schedule, who knows?

In that post, I think I also mentioned Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha which was apparently distributed by Fox on its original release. That one gets another airing on October 13, but I'm not going to be doing a post on it just yet. The reason is that this wee sees a bunch of other movies in quick succession that are going to be on one or another movie channel and that I had on my DVR. Some of them are coming close enough to each other that I couldn't really schedule all the movie posts to land far enough apart. As an example, The Hawaiians is coming up this week as part of the programming for Star of the Month Charlton Heston, but the post on it is going to be a good 36 hours before it airs.

Speaking of Kurosawa, two of his films are part of TCM Imports overnight tonight, although I don't think I've seen either of them so I can't comment that much on them. Now it's off to set my DVR to record them. There's also a Japanese silent, Kurutta Ippeiji, at midnight. (TCM's listings have that Japanese title; I'm guessing the last time it was on the listings or the title cards had a translated title which is why I used the title A Page of Madness.)

I also missed the 100th birthday of actress Glynis Johns this past Thursday. Surprisingly, I only found it out because I was looking at Wikipedia's list of "famous" living centenarians (at least, people famous enough to have a Wikipedia entry for something other than their longevity) on Thursday and noticed it listed Johns as 100 years and 0 days. Happy belated 100th birthday to Glynis!

And now to write and schedule a post on another of those movies that's airing on TCM later this week....

True Cross

One of those movies that I had seen show up here and there in the listings, but had never gotten around to watching, is Vera Cruz. It looks like Pluto TV has the rights to it among the streaming services, and when I noticed it was one one or another of their movie channels, I decided that I'd finally watch it so that I could do a review of it here.

The movie starts off by informing us that at the same time the US Civil War ended, Mexico was going through a war of its own. The French had sent Maximilian (George Macready) to be a puppet ruler of Mexico in France's interest, and needless to say the Mexican people mostly didn't like this. Benito Juárez (not seen here), led the revolt against Maximilian. More important, however, is that a modest number of Americans, especially those who had fought for the Confederacy, streamed southward into Mexico to make a new life for themselves or to try to make a fortune to regain what they had lost in the US Civil War....

One of thos men is Ben Trane (Gary Cooper), whose horse pulls up lame after the opening titles. Ben is going to have to destroy the horse and get a new one, and he arrives at a small place owned by another American who has multiple horses, Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster). Joe is a bit wary of strangers, even if they're fellow Americans, and you wonder whether Trane is going to be safe with Erin.

Eventually, the two, with a band of American mercenaries in tow, wind up meeting Maximilian and his solders, led by Marquis Henri (Cesar Romero). Maximilian has an important job for them. The Countess Marie (Denise Darcel) needs to get to the port of Veracruz and from there to France, presumably to rally the French in support of Maxilimian. But with Juárez's men all around, that's going to be difficult. So perhaps the Americans could form an armed escort to get Marie to Veracruz. Maximilian, of course, plans to have the Americans killed which would get a bunch of his problems out of the way.

But there's more to the convoy than just the countess, and both Trane and Erin figure out what that something is. The Countess' carriage seems to have a lower clearance than expected, and when they investigate, they realize that the carriage is carrying a whole bunch of gold. That money is going to be used to get more men and arms from Europe for the fight against Juárez. It also goes without saying that once Trane and Erin find that gold, they act like they'd want it for themselves, and not necessarily to share between the two of them.

But still, they're going to have to get to Veracruz so that they can abscond by boat with that gold. And the Juaristas are going to be chasing them all the way. Perhaps they'll kill the Americans before they can turn on each other....

Vera Cruz was made by Burt Lancaster's production company, so it's unsurprising that he gets the showy part. Of course, he was also in that earlier stage of his career where, in action movies like this, he'd really mug it up for the camera. Thankfully he doesn't have Nick Cravat with him this time to be even more obnoxious. But Lancaster comes across as less likable, and for me it wasn't just the way the script was written.

Vera Cruz was also filmed on location in Mexico, which is a big plus for the production; up to this point Hollywood westerns hadn't really been filmed south of the border even if they were set in Mexico. The motley crew of American mercenaries also gave some future stars fairly early roles, such as Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson (still credited here with his birth name Buchinsky).

All in all, Vera Cruz is a well-made western, and not a bad one, although there's a reason why it doesn't have the reputation that some of the other westerns of the era have.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

One of the FXM offerings not just pulled out of the vault

Back in 2019, I did a post on the Fox movie My Friend Flicka, which I didn't care for. The movie was popular on its release in the middle of World War II, however, and Fox decided to spring for a sequel. That sequel, Thunderhead, Son of Flicka, has been in the FXM rotation for a few months now. Being one of the few FXM offerings that I hadn't blogged about before, I decided to record it. It's going to be back on FXM tomorrow (October 8) at 4:40 AM, so I recently watched it to be able to do a review on it.

Most of the main cast of My Friend Flicka returns, with the main star being Roddy McDowall as Ken McLaughlin, son of a horse rancher. Apparently, the horse ranchers let their horses run free during the winter months, gathering them back together in spring. Ken goes out to get his favorite horse, Flicka, and discovers that Flicka has finally given birth to her foal. But that foal has white hair, which might seem odd considering that neither Flicka nor the putative father, Banner, have white hair. Ken plans to rais the foal to be a racer and win lots of prize money.

Meanwhile, Dad (Preston Foster) invites a couple of people over to talk shop: neighbor Mr. Sargent and cavalry officer Maj. Harris, who buys a bunch of the McLaughlin's horses. The adults talk about an albino horse that invades the various ranchers' herds, absconding with a bunch of mares. The obvious assumption is that this albino raped poor Flicka but didn't take Flicka with him back to wherever it is that Albino runs wild. Or ran wild, since nobody has seen Albino in years.

Ken's foal, first named Goblin, is tough to break, which lends more credence to the idea that Goblin is the son of Albino, even though Ken later claims that he took Flicka over to the Sargent place and engaged in a bit of illicit animal husbandry, getting one of Sargent's stallions to copulate with Flicka and knock her up. But Goblin can run fast, and that gives Ken the idea of turning Goblin, eventually renamed Thunderhead, into a racehorse. This goes badly, however, as Thunderbird balks midway during a race and picks up a leg injury that really ought to have the responsible adults shoot the horse dead, although they only retire Thunderbird.

That's important to the plot because, wouldn't you know it, Albino finally shows up again to lure away more of the mares for his harem. Thunderbird runs off, and one hopes that he's like Luke Skywalker looking for an Albino taking on the Darth Vader role. That's not quite what happens, of course.

As you can probably tell from my description of the action as equine rape and referring to the original Star Wars trilogy, I didn't care for Thunderhead, Son of Flicka any more than I cared for My Friend Flicka. I didn't even get into the presence of Hildy, young daughter of one of the ranch hands. She's developed into a particularly obnoxious brat stereotype, with probably my favorite exchange of the movie occurring early on. Ken asks her, "Can't you mind your own business?", to which Hildy responds, "I can, but that wouldn't be as much fun." A budding Karen in the making.

Thunderhead, Son of Flicka is supposed to be a family film, however, so all of the adult themes aren't handled anything like the way I described them. Perhaps if they had been handled that way, the movie might be more fun.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Some people would say all women are expensive

Another one of those pre-Codes that I don't think I'd heard of before the last time it ran on TCM is Expensive Women. Maybe I'd seen the title before, since it's a Warner Bros. movie, but I certainly hadn't seen the movie. In any case, I decided to record it and watch it to be able to do a review on it here.

Dolores Costello, one of those pre-Code actresses whose career didn't survive very long, stars as Connie, a woman of means who is somehow able to live in a good apartment with a maid and spend her time partying with the smart set, and continue doing this even though there's a depression going on. Not that she particularly cares for this lifestyle, as we see almost immediately when her obnoxius drunk friend Bobby shows up, trying to get her to go to another of those parties. Eventually she relents, going to a party where she meets pianist/composer/music teacher Neil (Warren William), declaring to him that she's one of those "expensive" women.

Neil can somehow afford to get invited to such parties too, but, like Connie, he doesn't really care for the lifestyle. So the two leave the party and go back to Neil's apartment, where the two talk together like Nancy Carroll and Cary Grant in Hot Saturday, wither her spending the night at Neil's place. Bobby figures out what's going on, and is a complete dick about it. Meanwhile, Bobby, Connie, and Neil keep going to the same sort of parties.

Attending one of those parties is Arthur Raymond (Anthony Bushell), who is returning from the UK after working their for a while in the company's London office. Connie falls for him too, since he's what Hollywood tried to pass off as a desirable man for 1930. He apparently knows Neil, but more importantly for the plot, he falls in love with Connie, and the feeling is soon mutual.

Even more importantly for the plot, Arthur is married, but in one of those loveless marriages where Arthur would really rather get a divorce if only his wife would let him. Well, not just his wife, but his father, Melville (H.B. Warner). Dad isn't stupid, and knows that dumping the first wife for Connie would be bad news for Arthur. Eventually, Dad forbids Arthur from seeing Connie again, and Arthur, being a milquetoast, goes along with it.

But then Bobby invites Connie to another party, and it just happens to be at the Raymond place. Arthur tries to talk alone with Connie, but Bobby finds out and threatens to gossip about it, leading to a gun being drawn, and....

Expensive Women is one of those movies that people who aren't into old movies are going to find extremely dated. It's difficult to understand some of the character motivations, and looking at things from the cultural standards of 2023, one want to take the characters by the neck and shake them until they get some sense. It's also got less of the things that make pre-Codes so seemingly transgressive. A lot of that is provided by Molly (Polly Walters), Connie's best friend. In one scene, Neil has arrived at a party by taxi, and tells Molly to patronize the driver. "Oh, he's been patronized", Molly responds. "Now he wants to be paid!" Oh my.

So Expensive Women is probably more likely to be enjoyed by people who are already fans of pre-Codes. For people who don't know so much about pre-Codes, I'd start with one of the more "shocking" ones.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

More than just the two of us

I have a reasonable command of German, so I'm always interested to find more comment in German. So when came across a movie that was relatively recent by my standards, You & I, I still decided to watch it.

Jonas is a photographer who lives in Berlin and has a girlfriend whom we never see, although we hear her on Jonas' answering machine as Jonas basically blows her off. Jonas is basically planning on taking a small working vacation out to the Uckermark, a sparsely populated (at last by German standards) district northeast of Berlin and full of lakes and bucolic landscapes. Jonas spent some time in London, living there for a year with a Brit named Philip, and Jonas has invited Philip to come visit him and spend some time together on vacation, including an old manor house Jonas' uncle owns.

Philip is gay, and definitely not shy about it. You wonder if he's the sort of person who would take part in a pride march fairly undressed considering how comfortable he is letting Jonas take candid nude photos of him (think coming out of the water from skinny dipping and the like, not posed in the studio). It's to the point that you might find yourself wondering whether Jonas is really gay but in the closet, or maybe bi-curious, and that tension is part of what makes the movie tick.

And then, to make things more tense, the two pick up a Polish hitch-hiker named Boris. He seems really repressed at first, and is very uncomfortable with Philip's openness and lack of body issues. But when he finds that Philip and Jonas had spent a year together in London, he asks whether the two of them are a gay couple, which is met with laughter. It's enough for Boris to open up, and we find that he may be the one that's been in the closet all this time.

To be honest, there's not all that much going on in You & I, but for me, that's one of the things that made the movie more enjoyable. These feel a lot more like real people than the cardboard cutouts we get when people want "representation", not fitting any stereotypes. The story, what little of it there is since in some ways this is closer to a slice of life movie, intelligently asks the viewer to fill in the blanks. And the resolution of the story isn't necessarily what you'd expect.

So if you can find You & I -- I came across it on one of the streaming platforms although I don't recall right now which one -- definitely give it a watch.