Thursday, November 30, 2023

Easy to Wed

I recorded a surprising number of Lucille Ball movies that I hadn't seen back when she was honored in Summer Under the Stars, and have been watching them on an irregular basis. The most recent one that I watched is Easy to Wed, and now I'm getting around to doing the post on it.

The movie starts of with a scene of newspapermen trying to collect a bunch of copies of a newspaper out of circulation, and getting all of the early edition except for 40. The problem is that the newspaper published a story about a socialite that's not true, and the paper's publisher is worried that J.B. Allenbury (Cecil Kellaway), father of the socialite, is going to sue for libel. Sure enough Allenbury does sue.

With that in mind, the publisher calls his managing editor, Haggerty (Keenan Wynn) in. Haggerty isn't exactly happy, because he's about to get married to chorus girl Gladys (Lucille Ball). And if Haggerty isn't happy, Gladys is even more pissed, because this is just one more time that Haggerty has put the newspaper ahead of her. But Haggerty's job is going to be on the line, and he needs to come up with an idea to save the newspaper and his job quickly.

His idea is that, since the article that engendered the lawsuit claimed that Allenbury's daughter, Connie (Esther Williams), broke up a marriage, Haggerty will engineer a case where the paper can catch her actually doing so, and then sue her for alienation of affection. The big problem is that Haggerty doesn't have a reporter good enough to get the story, and one who's married. The best reporter would be a former reporter for the paper, Bill Chandler (Van Johnson).

Haggerty does eventually find Chandler, and somehow does convince Chandler to work for the paper again, although a large payday has something to do with that. The bigger problme is that Chandler is not actually married. Haggerty has just the woman for him however: Gladys. Not that Gladys really wants to go along with it.

Chandler gets in with the elder Allenbury, but as things go on you get the sneaking suspicion that Chandler is falling in love with Connie and doesn't want to hurt her to win the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Gladys and Haggerty are getting more and more displeased with Chandler. How is the script going to resolve all this in a way that makes the Production Code office happy?

If the plot sounds familiar, that's because Easy to Wed is a remake of MGM's earlier movie Libeled Lady. Needless to say, Libeled Lady, with its glittering cast, is rather the better movie. It also doesn't help that Easy to Wed is bogged down by a bunch of musical numbers. Still, Easy to Wed is not without its appeal, especially those who like the MGM gloss. Lucille Ball in particular is well cast as the brassy chorus girl and long-suffering girlfriend of Haggery. Keenan Wynn, it should be pointed out, is also a natural as the oily operator who came up with the nutty scheme at the heart of the movie. Easy to Wed was also filmed in lovely Technicolor.

So while Easy to Wed isn't as good as Libeled Lady, it's still definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The parade of wetness

One of those titles that I saw show up on TCM several times over the years, but that for some reason I didn't think I'd ever gotten around to watching, is The Wet Parade. So the last time it was on, I made a point of recording it, so that I could finally watch it. (In fact, I had never seen it before.) That viewing recently occured, so now you get the review.

The opening credits have multiple screens for the cast, one screen mentioning the southerners, followed by a second screen for the northerners. The action then opens, in Louisiana in 1916, the bucolic Louisiana of plantations, riverboats, and Stephen Foster music where everything moves a little more slowly. Roger Chilcote Sr. (Lewis Stone) is the head of one of those gracious mansions, except that the house is in a more parlous state than perhaps he realizes. The family is apparently heavily in debt, and Dad is exacerbating the situation by drinking heavily and then gambling away the family's savings. His daughter Maggie May (Dorothy Jordan) is terrified of what's going to happen to Dad, but son Roger Jr. (Neil Hamilton) cares more about the book he's working on. Eventually, Dad realizes what he's done financially and, because he's already been drinking himself to death, he's sick and decided to kill himself. Dad's friends want to drink to Dad one last time, but Maggie May is horrified.

Roger Jr. moves north to New York to work on his book just in time for the Great War to come calling, with Woodrow Wilson getting Congress to declare war. Roger Jr. takes a room in a rooming house run by the Tarleton family. Or, more precisely, it's run by Mrs. Tarleton (Clara Blandick) and her son Kip (Robert Young). Dad (Walter Huston) is there too, but like the father in the Chilcote family, he's taken to the bottle much to the consternation of Mrs. Tarleton and Kip.

As I said, the Great War comes, and one of the consequences is the belief in a certain portion of the population is that grain which could go to feeding the soldiers "over there" is being used instead to make all sorts of intoxicating distilled spirits, and that the natural way to deal with this is by the prohibition of alcohol. Woodrow Wilson wouldn't go along with this, so the states realized they needed to amend the Constitution, which of course does happen, bringing the Prohibition era to the land.

Of course, Prohibition didn't stop people from drinking alcohol; it just made doing so illegal, and brought in all sorts of crime to the provision of alcohol to those who still wanted to drink it. Against the backdrop of all this, Maggie May comes north to meet her brother, and falls in love with Kip because both of them hate the demon liquor and are consequently horrified by Roger Jr.'s drinking. Things get worse when Pow is drinking in the basement of the rooming house against his wife's wishes. She tries to stop him, and he responds by beating her to deaath. This leads to the final act of the movie in which Kip joins the Feds to fight bootleggers.

The Wet Parade is an odd little movie, or perhaps I should say an odd big movie because MGM brought out so many of its second tier of stars and gave it a two-hour running time. In addition to those I've mentioned, there's also Jimmy Durante as Kip's parter in the Feds, and Myrna Loy before she became a big star opposite William Powell, here playing a speakeasy boss.

The Wet Parade is also a bit odd in that it rather hedges its bets on what side it's taking in all of the issues it covers. Although on the one hand it has decidedly anti-alcohol lead characters in the two played by Robert Young and Dorothy Jordan, it also has no lack of sympathy for the idea that Prohibition leads to worse consequences than the negative outcomes of alcohol still being legal. All the way, however, it's a compelling movie and a good example of how pre-Code movies could show not just lurid sex, but violence as well. Definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The slaves revolt

Rhonda Fleming got a day in Summer Under the Stars this past August, and that gave me the chance to record a couple of her movie that I had never seen before, including one that she made in Italy later in her career: Revolt of the Slaves.

We don't see Fleming for a bit; instead the action begins in Rome some time before Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, so a period when Christians were still persecuted. A bunch of slaves are brought into a plaza, and one of them tries to escape, unsuccessfully. The punishment for that is getting one's hands cut off. This prompts Vibio (Lang Jeffries), another of the slaves, to try to escape. This slave is stronger and smarter than the first, and also as we eventually learn a Christian. Vibio too is caught, but he's fortunate: a patrician named Fabio has come to the plaza, and offers to buy Vibio in lieu of Vibio getting his hands cut off.

Fabio's daughter Fabiola (Rhonda Fleming) sees Vibio's toned body, and she immediately gets the physical hots for him, despite their class differences. Fabiola would like to see Vibio use that body to fight the other wrestler-slaves. Fabiola has him whipped. But her cousin Agnese has Vibio saved. Agnese is secretly a Christian, too, and she's got a powerful boyfriend, the tribune Sebastian. Unsurprisingly, Sebastian is another of the secret Christians.

Spying on them is Corvino (French singer/actor Serge Gainsbourg), working for Emperor Massimiano and a rabid anti-Christian. He warns the emperor that Fabio is a very powerful enemy, but the emperor isn't so sure. In any case, the Christians are going to have to flee yet again and find someplace else to do their worshipping. Fabiola doesn't have much love for the Christians either, at least not until she learns from Vibio that her cousin is one of them, at which point she has a bit of a conflict but is at least willing to help her family; blood being thicker than water and all that.

But of course Massimiano and Corvino are still out there, waiting to hunt down the Christians and have them martyred in the sort of ceremony that is a suitable spectacle both to all the Romans sitting in the stands of the arena, and people of the 20th century watching a movie that wants to think of itself as an epic. Vibio, however, has no desire to be martyred....

Revolt of the Slaves is an interesting little movie in that it has very high production values for the sort of Italian movie that was also intended to be distributed in America. Certainly the production values are a lot higher than in other Italian sword and sandal movies such as the Hercules movies with Steve Reeves or similar movies. On the other hand, the movie isn't that much better in terms of plot than those other Italian movies. Still, it's definitely worth one watch.

Monday, November 27, 2023

I didn't realize there were that many French and Indian War movies

I was looking through the listings on the Cinevault Westerns channel on the "Roku Channel" streamer. Coming up was a movie that sounded like it might be an interesting Revolutionary War movie, so I decided to stay tuned to watch it. That movie was Fort Ti.

Now, being from New York, I know a bit about Fort Ticonderoga and the Battle of Saratoga and that portion of the Revolutionary War. What I didn't know is that the fort had a history before the Revolutionary War, going 20 years back to the French and Indian War (known in Europe as a portion of the Seven Years War). The fort was actually built by the French, and at the time of the movie's action in 1759, the fort was still French. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

At the time the movie begins, we see Albany, NY, which was more or less Britain's northern outpost in New York. Riding into Albany is Capt. Jed Horn (George Montgomery), a member of Rogers' Rangers, who were most famously depicted in a Spencer Tracy movie released back in 1940. Horn is looking for General Amherst, leading the British forces in the area since this is not far from the border with the French colony of Quebec.

Meanwhile, Jed has a brother-in-law Mark Chesney (James Seay), whose wife and kids have been kidnapped by the French. They're being held at Fort Ticonderoga (then Fort Carillon, although I don't recall the French name being used in the movie), mostly as a pawn to ensure that Mark does the French bidding. They want someone to spy on the British so that they know when and exactly where the attack on the fort will come from. The Brits suspect something might be up, and it's up to Jed to figure out what's really going on.

Rogers and his rangers set off north, with Mark in the party, and along the way they find a lone woman. Her name is Fortune Mallory (Joan Vohs) and she claims that she escaped from the fort three days earlier and that she hasn't eaten since. So she falls in with the rangers as well, although she could be a spy just like the possibility of Mark being a spy; the thinking being that the French might have "released" her from the fort. After all, how in the mid-1750s was a pretty woman like this going to survive out in the woods for three days?

The most notable thing about Fort Ti is that it was released in 3-D, something that might be noticed not just from the opening credits, but how short of a time it takes to throw something literally at the camera. Unfortunately, that's about the only notable thing about the movie. Director William Castle must have decided that it was more important to have 3-D effects than to have an entertaining plot, because there's surprisingly little going on here considering how much potential there is in a movie about a battle for a fort in a very picturesque part of the country. There could have been so much action instead of talk and the spy and romantic stories.

As I said, Fort Ti showed up on Cinevault Westerns. Unfortunately, nothing in the Roku Channel's (I really hate the name the picked because they have a ton of channels) lineup shows schedules more than a day or two in advance, so I can't tell you the next time it's going to be on.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

TCM's William Friedkin tribute, part 2

TCM ran a programming tribute to director William Friedkin, who died in August, back in September. I mentioned then that there was actually a second part to the tribute coming up in November. That half is tonight, a double feature of the documentary Friedkin Uncut at 8:00 PM and The Exorcist at 10:00 PM.

With that in mind, I decided to watch one of the Friedkin movies that I had recorded from the first night of the tribute in order to be able to do a review on it today, figuring that would be appropriate. The movie I picked was To Live and Die in LA.

After opening credits that look fairly firmly planted in the 1980s -- the movie was released in late 1985 -- we get an establishing scene. Richard Chance (William Petersen) is a youngish Secret Service agent partnered with Jim Hart, who is nearing retirement. President Reagan is coming out to Los Angeles, and Chance and Hart are part of the team providing the security, since that's what the Secret Service is known for these days. Chance finds that there's a terrorist with what looks like dynamite strapped around his chest, and chases the guy to the roof. But unfortunately, the guy falls off the roof before Chance can apprehend him and remove the explosive belt.

In order to get away from the stress of having to defend the President -- and obviously, dealing with a guy with explosives strapped to him is stressful -- Chance and Hart are reassigned to what was the Service's original duty, that of rooting out counterfeiting. And they're about to get a doozy of a case.

It's about this point that we first see Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe), who has learned how to counterfeit and is pretty darn good at it, although there's always the question of how to offload the money and pass it into general circulation since that's the real point in counterfeiting. Masters is working in an old abandoned warehouse out in the desert, and the pickup is going to be in one of the dumpsters. Hart goes to investigate, but he's caught out in the dumpster, and for his trouble gets shot to death. At least he was obviously on the right track.

But Chance also needs a new partner, so at this point he's assigned young agent Vukovich (John Pankow). It's also about this point that we learn that Chance is corrupt, as he's bound to take down Masters even if it kills him. He's got a girlfriend Ruth, which is totally normal, except that Ruth is an informant who seems to be on probation or something so could get sent back to prison if she doesn't cooperate. And Chance has no compunctions about exploiting Ruth to get information.

As the movie goes on, we also learn that Chance has no qualms about taking evidence and even taking large sums of money to use to try to get at Masters. Vukovich is worried by this, but Chance being manipulative, he uses Vukovich's desire to be loyal to get Vukovich to remain silent about Chance's breaches of protocol. Vukovich at least tries to do the right thing in other ways, like getting an attorney to turn state's evidence. But things spin further and further out of control....

To Live and Die in LA is reminiscent of The French Connection in many ways, only 15 years later and on the other coast. It's a fairly complicated movie, one that really demands the viewer's attention, but it's also a pretty damn good movie. If you haven't seen To Live and Die in LA before, it's definitely one you should seek out an watch.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

More Ferenc Molnár

Hungarian writer Ferenc Molnár wrote a lot of works, mostly plays, that have been turned into movies on multiple occasions, as we most recently saw with Blonde Fever. A movie that I had recorded not knowing that it was based on yet another work by Molnár is The Bride Wore Red. Having finally gotten around to watching it, now's the time to do the review on it.

In Trieste, Italy, two upper-class gentlemen go slumming, the Count Armalia (George Zucco) and his friend Rudi Pal (Robert Young). The restaurant they go to has a bunch of women who are barely scraping by in life working there, and Armalia suggests that, Pygmalion-style, he could turn one of these women into a proper lady with the right clothes, grooming, and accent. Needless to say, we're going to find out if that is in fact the case, as the scene cuts to a singer at the club.

That woman is Anni Pavlovitch (Joan Crawford), and after her number, the count calls her over to give her the chance to test his theory, unbeknownst to Rudi. He'll get some good clothes for Anni and come up with a new identity for her, and then send her off to a resort in South Tyrol, which is part of Italy but has a large German population thanks to it having been part of Austria until the end of the Great War. Anni agrees to the proposition, giving her two weeks at a hoity-toity resort, but on the agreement that the count get her a red dress that will be hers to keep.

Cut to the train to the resort, where Anni, now named Anna Vivaldi, gets off, greeted by the telegraph operator/chauffeur Giulio (Franchot Tone), who was of course Joan Crawford's real-life husband at the time. Giulio is a relatively simple man, and you can guess that he's going to fall for her and that Anni is going to have mixed feelings about which man to choose.

OK, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, but you know there's going to be another man. Before that, however, we learn that there's going to be at least one person at the resort who knows Anni's secret, that person being one of the chambermaids (not Armalia, who isn't there), which is a big problem since Anni is supposed to be a different social class from the chambermaid. As for the other man, that unsurprisingly turns out to be Rudi, who is at the resort together with his fiancée Maddalena and her father, an admiral (Reginald Owen).

You'll note I mentioned that Rudi is engaged, which presents further plot complications as it won't do for an engaged man to fall in love with one of the other guests at the resort. At the same time, however, it comes up with an interesting dilemma, which is whether Rudi will still love Anni if he finds out she's a working girl, or whether Anni will run off with Giulio. Quite a few of the comedies of the late 1930s had rich guys falling for working women where we knew they were supposed to wind up together in the final reel.

That having been said, The Bride Wore Red doesn't quite sparkle for some reason. I'm not quite sure why, considering the provenance from Ferenc Molnár, together with a very creditable cast. It's also the sort of material that was well-suited to MGM and their production values. But for whatever reason, it consistently feels slightly off, probably because Joan Crawford is never really convincingly Italian.

That's not to say The Bride Wore Red is bad; it's more that everybody in the cast had other stuff that they could point to as better. Still, Joan Crawford fans will definitely like this one, and it's another good example of how MGM seemed more able to put glitz on a movie than possibly any other studio in the golden age.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Generic naval service comedy #34095667843461, this time with music

A movie I've briefly mentioned several times in conjunction with what FXM will be showing for one of the military holidays is All Hands on Deck. I added it to my DVR the last time it aired so that I could do a full-length post on it the next time it aired. That next airing is coming up tomorrow (Nov. 25) at 11:45 AM.

The movie starts off with opening credits superimposed over a navy vessel plowing through the ocean on one side, with a picture-in-picture of the movie's star, Pat Boone, singing the film's title song. After the credits, the print remains in the proper Cinemascope aspect ratio, which is a nice thing, with a narrator telling us about the navy yards in Long Beach, CA. One of the ships in for repair is the one on which Boone's character, Lt. Vic Donald, serves as a junior officer under Lt. Cmdr. O'Gara (Dennis O'Keefe). O'Gara seems to take being on a ship as a reason to fish from the railing, constantly trying and failing to get a fish; Donald is still on board because he's partly responsible for Christmas for those who can't get leave to go home.

The enlisted crew take the time to go see a movie, which happens to be standard-issue cowboys and Indians stuff. There's one Indian among the enlisted men, Shrieking Eagle Garfield (Buddy Hackett, and yes, the thought of Buddy Hackett playing a member of the Chickasaw is ridiculous), and he's proud enough of his heritage that he gets angry at the negative portrayals of them on screen. Angry, enough, to cause a ton of damage to the theater and require Donald's attention. In trying to corral Garfield, Donald and his men accidentally bowl over someone else. That someone is a reporter... and a woman: Sally Hobson (Barbara Eden, with a terrible tightly-curled hairdo). Needless to say, despite this inauspicious first meeting, Vic and Sally are going to fall in love.

But their route to winding up together in the final reel isn't going to be so straightforward. Although Vic is land-based for now, eventually the repairs to the ship are going to be finished and they're going to be putting out to sea again, for a fairly substantial tour. And to make matters worse, Garfield decides that he's going to bring a live turkey aboard for reasons that make no real sense although he and Donald pass it off as the ship's new mascot, which gets some positive attention from at least one admiral.

Not all of the admirals, however, as O'Gara's commanding officer, Adm. Bintle (Gale Gordon), wants to fail O'Gara on a surprise inspection since O'Gara's ship -- well, specifically Garfield -- cause all sorts of trouble for Bintle.

The material is decidedly second-rate. Pat Boone isn't the world's greatest actor, but the uniform suits him and he's exceedingly photogenic here. He gets a bunch of opportunities to sing, and while none of the songs are memorable, they fit his vocal stylings. The producers did pick a cast adept at comedy; in addition to those I've mentioned there's also a small role for Ann B. Davis as Sally's friend. But ultimately All Hands on Deck is one of those movies to see once and then not again, having crossed it off the list of movies sitting on the DVR.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The St. Louis Kid

I've long argued that Warner Bros. made the best B movies that I've seen, although I suppose you could argue that with the caliber of stars appearing in some of the B-length movies, they really ought to be thought of as programmers instead of B movies. An excellent example of this is The St. Louis Kid.

Cagney stars as Eddie Kennedy, a trucker at an interstate company based out of St. Louis. He and his best buddy Buck (Allen Jenkins) drive together, presumably so one can drive while the other sleeps, keeping the truck on the road longer. Buck has a way of getting into fisticuffs, but somehow it's always Eddie that winds up taking the rap for it, in the sense of needing to get bailed out of jail for it. Indeed, they nearly get into a fight when they block a car in the company parking lot, not realizing that car is owned by their new boss.

For their trouble, they're put on the St. Louis to Chicago run, this being the days before interstate highways; worse, they're forced to load the truck themselves. Eddie drives like a madman to get to Chicago more quickly, but he also has a tendency to stop suddenly, and one time in doing so, he gets rear-ended by a car driven by Ann Reid (Patricia Ellis). She lives in the small town of Ostopolis, a town that largely caters to the dairy farmers who live in the area. Ann gets Eddie brought to trial for causing the accident, but Eddie is clever enough to have read the local paper, and takes the side of the dairy farmers who comprise the jury in their fight against the local dairy collecting the milk to process it and sell it to the big cities, something that gets him the attention of Benson (Robert Barrat), one of the heads of the farmers.

Eddie said in court that he's even thinking of retiring to a life of farming, something you can't see James Cagney doing full time, but then this is a Hollywood movie. Of course doesn't get to live happily ever after on the farm at this point because we're maybe a third of the way through the picture. Instead, the bosses as the trucking company where Eddie works have gotten into a contract with the milk distributors to transport the milk that the farmers aren't getting a good enough price for. And Eddie and Buck are given that same route through Ostopolis that they had at the beginning of the movie!

When Eddie and Buck can't get the milk through, their bosses decide to use a little bit of muscle, bringing in what are essentially armed goons to bully the local farmers. And one of those goons eventually gets in a scrape with Benson, shooting Benson dead. Ann even drives up as it's happening, witnessing the crime, leading the goons to kidnap her and make it look for all the world as though Eddie is the guy who shot Benson.

To be honest, The St. Louis Kid is the sort of movie that shouldn't hold up if you look too closely at it and try to evaluate it the way you might evaluate a prestige movie. Indeed, one of the humorous errors is when Eddie breaks out of jail. The police description of him is "American", 24 years old (Cagney was a good decade older at the time), and five foot ten. Ain't nobody finding a fugitive Cagney if they're looking for someone 5'10". But it's the sort of movie that Cagney and the rest of the cast make worth watching through their sheer energy. For all the plot holes it has, The St. Louis Kid is just a heck of a lot of fun to watch anyway.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Thanksgiving programming on the movie channels

If you think about it, there aren't that many movies that are about Thanksgiving itself, certainly not like Christmas-themed movies. It being a time when families get back together, and hopefully don't have a bunch of family drama. (For me, the day is going to be just me and my elderly father, and I'm pretty much OK with that.) So holiday programming, beyond football, tends to be warmer family-oriented stuff.

TCM, unsurprisingly, is getting into the idea, with a bunch of family-friendly movies all day, or at least starting with the 6:00 AM broadcast day start that TCM has traditionally had. The morning and afternoon are more children's stuff, starting with Jack and the Beanstalk at 6:00 AM and including classics like National Velvet (3:00 PM). Prime time is still decidedly family friendly, but as much stuff that feels like it would have been marketed to parents rather than children, starting at 8:00 PM with Spencer's Mountain, the same material that would become the TV show The Waltons in the 1970s.

FXM isn't doing quite so much for the holiday. Sure, there's a pair of Shirley Temple movies starting at 6:00 AM with Baby Take a Bow followed by The Blue Bird, but the afternoon/evening schedule is two of the Deadpool movies, and overnight there's a back-to-back airing of the 2019 version of Black Christmas.

As for other channels? Well, I'm sure somebody will consider something like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (9:00 PM on StarzEncore Classic) to be a family film.

At any rate, happy Thanksgiving to all the Americans reading this.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

With Thanksgiving coming up, it's one of the busiest travel holidays in the US. With that in mind, I scheduled a post on a movie that's set around Thanksgiving and that I saw in one of its numerous airings on PlutoTV (I think on their 80s channel, although it might have shown up on one or another of their movie channels): Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. As of this writing it's also available on their on-demand service, although of cours it has some ad breaks.

THe movie opens up in New York on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Neal Page (Steve Martin) is an advertising man based out of Chicago who is in New York with a business associate trying to do some sort of deal, that is unfortunately going longer than expected. Del has been hoping to get on the 6PM flight home to Chicago and his wife and family. Because the meeting runs long, he has to rush to get a taxi, and everybody else has the same idea, with another guy basically stealing what Neal thinks is his taxi.

Eventually Neal gets to the airport, and whom does he run into but the guy who took his taxi. That guy, Del Griffith (John Candy) is a traveling salesman in the field of bathroom fixtures, specifically shower curtain rings. Worse, the two are on the same flight to Chicago, and wind up being seated next to one another because Neal can't get his usual upgrade to first class. And for poor Neal, he finds that Del is exceedingly chatty, much too much for Neal's tastes.

And if things aren't bad enough, they're about to get much worse. A snowstorm has come up, pounding O'Hare Airport in Chicago, and forcing the closure of the airport and the consequent diversion of all flights to the airport. The flight that Neal an Del are on gets sent to... Wichita, KS. Now, you'd think they'd land early, someplace east of Chicago, but no. Who knows when the weather is going lift, allowing flights to take back off and head for Chicago? It might just be easier to drive there.

But it's also late at night, and none of the car rental counters are going to be open on such short notice, and even if they are, they wouldn't have enough cars for everybody on the flight to get one and drive to Chicago. So people are going to have to spend the night in Wichita, and wouldn't you know it, but Neal and Del wind up heading to the same motel. And there's only one room left at that motel, so they're going to have to share a room.

It's the beginning of a long series of adventures that sees the odd couple mostly together trying to get back to Chicago, with Del being well-meaning but in many ways incompetent, to the point that he's seriously pissing Neal off, never mind putting the two of them in serious danger at times. Everything that can go wrong does, comedically so, but in this sort of movie you have to expect that the two of them are going to wind up having some sort of reconciliation.

It's easy to see why Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was a big box-office hit when it was released back in 1987, and why it has so a strong reputation. As with movies like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and M. Hulot's Holiday, it takes a topic with which everybody has experience -- including experiences that are bad at the time but are remembered almost fondly in later tellings -- and takes those problems to absurd proportions for comic effect. If the movie has one problem, beyond the suspension of disbelief required to accept so many disasters befalling the same two people, it's that John Candy's Del is the sort of character that a lot of people are going to have trouble sympathizing with, since despite his being well-meaning he can also be exceedingly obnoxious.

But don't let that put you off; Planes, Tranes, and Automobiles is a fine 90 minutes of laughs for the Thanksgiving holiday. Just be happy you're already home for the holiday.

Edited to add: in looking through the programming listings for the premium (cable, not streaming) movie channels, I see that Planes, Trains, and Automobiles has a couple of airings on Friday, first overnight on The Movie Channel Xtra, and then at 8:00 PM on Flix (if memory serves the two channels are part of the same package).

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Johnny O'Clock

One more movie that's currently available on Tubi through the end of November is Johnny O'Clock. Since it's leaving soon, I wanted to make certain I could watch it and give you enough of a heads-up to catch it yourself.

Dick Powell, having made the transition to darker movies, plays the titular character, a man who runs a casino and lives in what seems like one of those apartment hotels adjacent to the casino. As the movie opens, we learn of an alleged gangster who was shot to death resisting arrest, something that brings police detective Koch (a young Lee J. Cobb, although this movie hows he never looked young) into the case, and eventually closer and closer to Johnny's life.

Johnny manages the casino for his business partner Guido Marchettis (Thomas Gomez, who for some reason gets credited as S. Thomas Gomez). Their relationship is a bit more complicated, however, as at some point in the past Johnny had been in a relationship with Nelle (Ellen Drew), who is now Mrs. Guido Marchettis. Nelle still holds some sort of torch for Johnny, however, as she sends him a fancy fob watch that's engraved on the back. Johnny, fairly horrified by this, gives the watch to the hat-check girl, Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch), so that she can arrange to have it returned to Nelle.

The watch never gets returned to Nelle, however. Harriet is found dead of a suicide in her apartment, having stuck her head in the gas oven and turned it on. She was in a relationship with Chuck, a cop who turns out to have been corrupt, and also goes missing. Eventually, he too is found dead, and that gives Koch the idea that either Johnny or Guido must be responsible for the killing. Worse, it's later discovered that Harriet had poison in her stomach, leading Koch to believe she was murdered too, with the oven thing designed to make it look like she had committed suicide.

As has happened several times in movies, especially in movies of the 1940s, the dead girl has a sibling who suddenly comes to the big city to try to find out what happened to her sister and hopefully win justice in the case. In this movie, that sister is Nancy Hobson (Evelyn Keyes). Making things more complicated, Nancy finds herself falling in love with Johnny. Johnny eventually finds the same is happening with him, not that he wants it, as he's smart enough to know how much danger this will put Nancy in. So he tries to put Nancy on a plane out of town for her own safety, only to become a victim of a drive-by shooting just as he's heading out of the airport.

It's a bit of a complicated plot that Johnny O'Clock has, and to be honest that's not always to the movie's benefit. Thankfully, everybody in the cast show themselves to be quite good at the sort of material they're given, making the movie better than it probably has a right to be. It's stylish, and definitely a nice entry to the noir cycle, something that Eddie Muller should probably show if he hasn't done so already.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Convict's Code

One more movie that I had on my DVR is coming up again soon: Convict's Code. This is another of those movies that TCM ran during their spotlight of B movies some months back, and now it's on the TCM schedule again, tomorrow (Nov. 21) at 10:00 AM. So as always, I made a point of watching it to be able to do a post on it here in conjunction with the upcoming airing.

Robert Kent plays Dave Tyler, a former college football star who apparently was unable to parlay that success into a business career in the days when pro football was frowned upon. Instead, he fell in with the sort of people who would frame you as having driven the getaway car for a bank robbery, and bribing half a dozen witnesses to testify to that, even tough Tyler claims he was nowhere near the bank. But he got sent to prison for a long stretch.

Eventually he gets paroled, but there are all sorts of conditions on the parole: he has a nightly curfew; he can only get married if his parole officer Bennett (Victor Kilian) approves; he's not allowed to drink; he has to carry his parole card at all times; and so on and so on. Who's going to want to employ somebody like that, Tyler wonders.

But he is able to get a job, with a guy named Mr. Warren (Sidney Blackmer), who says he remembers Dave from his college football days and wants to give Dave a second chance. Warren is apparently some sort of moderately successful businessman, enough to be able to afford a chauffeur, so he gives that job to Dave, even though Dave has never been a chauffeur before. What Dave doesn't know is that Warren is really the mastermind behind the bank job for which Dave was sent to prison, and that he's hired Dave to keep him close by and stop Dave if he asks questions to try to clear his name.

Dave's first assignment as a chauffeur is to pick up Warren's sister Juile (Anne Nagel). They meet, and it's love at first sight. This is a big problem for Dave, since he's a parolee, and can't go too far in the relationship without Bennett's approval. And Dave doesn't want to admit the truth to Julie, in part because she might reject him, and in part because he doesn't want to hurt her by saddling her with a parolee.

Meanwhile, Dave does start trying to find the six witnessess who testified against him at the trial, only to find out that they're either dead or have fled the country. Warren is good at getting rid of people, not that Dave knows this. Eventually, he is able to find one man who claims to be able to help Dave, but the quid pro quo is that Dave is going to have to do a lot of things that violate his probation to get that help....

There's a reason Convict's Code is nothing more than a throwaway B movie. It's not exactly bad, but pretty much every second of the brief running time belies its provenance as a cheap B movie from Poverty Row. Blackmer is probably the best of the lot here, together with Maude Eburne, who plays the landlady of the rooming house where Tyler gets a room. Hers is the sort of woman who doesn't see anything because she doesn't want to see anything. As long as she gets her rent on time, what else goes on isn't her business.

Convict's Code is definitely worth one watch, and I believe it even fell into the public domain to be able to get a DVD release at some point. (The print TCM ran was a British release print with a distributing company I'd never heard of.)

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Le casse

I was looking through TubiTV's list of on-demand movies that are about to leave the platform at the end of the month, and one that I saw that looked interesting was The Burglars. So, I made a point of watching it now while I still could, and moving up the post on it so that the rest of you could have the chance to watch it too if you want.

The movie opens up with some lovely shots of Athens, and somebody doing surveillance on something, but exactly who and what aren't so important to the rest of the movie. After the credits, the movie switches to nighttime Athens, and a 1970-vintage nondescript European sedan of the sort that looks like a wonder it was able to stay together. The driver and his three passengers drive off to some place that's in one of the leafy, well-to-do suburban districts. Since the movie is called The Burglars, you know that there's going to be some burgling, so....

Two of the passengers: Ralph (Robert Hossein) and Renzi (Renato Salvatori) get out of the car and ring the doorbell, waylaying the man who opens the door. They then make their way to a safe located inside the house, and proceed to set about using sophisticated (for 1970, at least) electronics to crack the safe and remove a case full of emeralds, which is supposedly valued at $1 million. Meanwhile, the driver, Azad (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and the female passenger, Hélène (Nicole Calfan) remain outside as guards and to send signals if it's OK to proceed with the robbery.

They get the emeralds and all live happily ever after. Yeah, right. This is a heist movie, so you know that something is going to go wrong with the heist. Or, in this case, two things. The first is that a police car shows up in the neighborhood. Since the crap car parked outside the house is severely out of place, our cop, Abel Zacharia (Omar Sharif), has good reason to suspect that something might be wrong. He gets out and questions Azad, but eventually leaves. The bigger problem comes the next day. Ralph's plan had been to pay big bucks to the captain of a freight ship to ferry the four thieves out of the country, so the four make their way to the port of Pireaus in order to get on that boat and board it. However, when the ship reached port, the captain knew that he was going to have to put in for some unscheduled repairs to make the ship seaworthy again.

Even worse is that Zacharia shows up at the port, watching the burglars from a safe distance, before getting in a car chase with Azad. At this point, Zacharia knows there's something more going on, so he decides to use the lovely model Lena (Dyan Cannon) to get at Azad. Azad is trying to stay clear of the cops so that he can eventually get back to Hélène, who is biding her time at a resort on one of the Greek islands. Zacharia is trying to get proof that these people really did commit the crime, but there's also more going on with Zacharia and his unorthodox methods than he's letting on....

I was wondering as I was watching The Burglars how much of the movie was dubbed in post-production. What I didn't realize until looking up the movie afterwords is that, as with Hollywood in the early days of talking pictures, there were actually two versions of the movie made, one in English and one in French. It's also based on a novel from the early 1950s that Hollywood had already filmed in the late 50s, also titled The Burglars and starring Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield. I haven't seen that version; I don't know if it's available anywhere.

As for this version of The Burglars, at least it's lovely to look at. Athens, even in the off-season, is beautiful, with the Greek islands (IMDb says Corfu was used for the island resort) being even more beautiful. It's just a shame that the plot couldn't have been executed better. The opening heist and the car chase each go on much too long, while we're not really given enough context to make the characters' motivations (especially Zacharia) comprehensible. In the end, The Burglars is a passable exemplar of the glossy heist films of the 1960s and 1970s, and OK enough to pass the time with. But it feels like there could have been so much more here.

If you go to Tubi's website for the week and a half or so that the movie is still available and do a search, you can find it and watch for yourself. I didn't include a direct link mostly because it's presumably going to go dead soon.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Deering Hood

One of the movies that's back in the FXM rotation and that I had never done a post on before is Son of Robin Hood. So, when it showed up recently, I added it to the DVR so that I could do a post on it for the next time it would air. That next airing is coming up on FXM tomorrow, November 19, at 10:00 AM, so now's the time for the post on it.

The movie is set something like 20 years after the traditional Robin Hood story we know from movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood, and in this story line, Robin has been dead 10 years or so. The denizens of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest are still subject to depredations, since John became King of England. John died in the middle of a civil war in 1216 and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son Henry III, but in the movie the crown prince who is supposed to succeed to the thrown is depicted as an adult, the Earl of Chester (Marius Goring).

Some of the nobility don't want the Earl of Chester to take the throne, led by the Duke Des Roches (David Farrar), while the now aging Merry Men who had thrown in with Robin side with the Earl of Chester, who is pursude by Des Roches and his men. In fact, they have him cornered in a farm cottage in Sherwood Forest, since somebody in or close to the old Merry Men is spying on them and getting information back to the Duke. The Merry Men know, however, that Robin Hood has a son, Deering, living in exile in Spain, and that if only Deering could come to England he'd be the savior of the peasants and the Earl of Chester would take his rightful place on the throne.

Arrangements are made for Deering to show up in the then relatively small town of Liverpool, but of course Des Roches' men know about this, and go to pick him up. So when a small rowboat is rowing in, they naturally asssume it's Deering, and waylay the man (David Hedison, still going by Al in those days). This "Stranger", later revealed to be named Jamie, is outnumbered but eventually helped by another mysterious person who needs a bit of care after the incident. Jamie takes this person to an inn, only to find that it's a woman!

And then Little John goes to the room where Deering is supposed to be, and finds that woman that Jamie brought here. It's only then that we learn that that woman (June Laverick) is in fact Deering! Oh my goodness, the good peasants of Sherwood aren't going to be able to rally under a woman! The horror! This even if she is a good shot with an arrow. Joan of Arc was not yet a thing. However, after Little John and Deering are accosted by some of Des Roches' men, they knowing Little John even if they don't know Deering, Jamie shows up to return the favor. Now Jamie finally learns that the young woman is Deering, and we learn that Jamie is the younger brother of the Earl of Chester.

Since the Duke Des Roches doens't know Jamie, he's able to pass himself off as a French nobleman, bringing his "wife", that part being taken by Deering, to the castle where Des Roches is stationed. From there Jamie will try to free the Earl of Chester, while the Merry Men will try to infiltrate the castle some other way. But being right in the middle of the wolf's den is always dangerous....

Son of Robin Hood is, to be honest, a sub-par movie, largely because it doesn't have a first-rate cast or anything else first-rate in the production, like a script that works well. It also doesn't have enough action, and the climax doesn't feel all that climactic. While boys may enjoy the Errol Flynn Robin Hood, this one is too talkie and it always felt like there was an "Ewwww, a girl!" factor that you can imagine young boys having.

On the bright side, the movie was filmed in Cinemascope, and the print that FXM ran retained the proper aspect ratio, which I have to admit surprised me; I expected it to go to either 4:3 or 16:9 after the opening credits. The color is also still in great shape in this print. So if you want a time-passer to have on in the background, Son of Robin Hood will definitely do.

Friday, November 17, 2023

There's no Michael Shayne here

I've got a couple of movies that have been on my DVR for a bit coming up in quick succesion, so the first of them is getting a blog posting a bit further out from when it's airing than I would normally do for movies. That movie is the 1980 Brian De Palma film Dressed to Kill, which will be on TCM at 1:45 AM on Nov. 19, which is still Saturday evening out in the Pacific time zone.

Angie Dickinson, pushing 50, plays Kate Miller, a Manhattan wife on her second marriage to what must be a fairly successful man, considering the apartment they live in. Kate lost her first husband in Vietnam and left her a widow with a young son, Peter (Keith Gordon), who is now high school age and a science whiz. But both of them have figured out over the years that Stepdad isn't the World's Greatest Dad. Not that he's a bad person; in fact, we don't see all that much of him beyond him and Mom having sex that is very unsatisfying for her.

In fact, Kate feels so unsatisfied that, like a lot of bored upper-middle-class housewives, she's decided to get herself an analyst, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine). She pours out her problems to him, and he tries to remain a neutral observer since that's the ethical thing to do, even if it is difficult when she asks him if he's attracted to her.

After leaving her appointment with Dr. Elliott, she heads off to the art museum, where she has experiences that could be straight out of multiple Alfred Hitchcock movies like Vertigo and Topaz. Eventually, she drops one of her gloves, and a strange man picks it up. She finds the man in a taxi outside the museum, and they proceed to have sex in the taxi on the way to his apartment. Unfortunately, Kate discovers that the man has recently been diagnosed with a venereal disease, so she drops him like a hot potato, although she forgets her engagment ring.

This last bit is important because she has to go back to the apartment to retrieve it. On the elevator the second time is a woman in a really bad wig and sunglasses trying to look like the Karen Black character from Family Plot or something. This mysterious woman proceeds to take out a straight razor and stab Kate to death reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho. Unfortunately, when the elevator doors open, there's a professional escort standing outside the door with the man she's escorting.

That escort is Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), and she's in danger. She stupidly picks up the razor, leaving her fingerprints on it and making her a prime suspect for police detective Marino (Dennis Franz years before NYPD Blue). It's also got Dr. Elliott's prints on it; apparently it's one of his patients who stole the razor from his home office. And Dr. Elliott has a patient who would be a prime suspect, a "Bobbi" who is a man with gender dysphoria and would like gender reassignment surgery except that Dr. Elliott won't sign off on it.

Liz is in trouble as Bobbi knows she's a witness. Thankfully, Peter wants to know who killed his mother and, being that science whiz, is more than ready to start using 1980-vintage surveillance technology to try to find the killer. And Det. Marino would love to get his hands on Dr. Elliott's appointment book to find out more about Bobbi.

Dressed to Kill was apparently a controversial movie even back on its release in 1980, because of the way it portrayed trans people. The portrayal probably wasn't politically correct then, and certainly isn't correct now that they've hijacked the LGB coalition and are only allowed to be portrayed as more perfect than anybody else. Sorry, but the gays I know hate how the Ts are in their view arrogating accpetance of gays and lesbians to force everybody to celebrate the trans above everybody else. That, and how the self-styled "leaders" of the LGBT... coalition kowtow to this and try to force the coalition into an extremely narrow political box. Woe betide all those gays who just want to be left alone.

Never mind the political rant; Dressed to Kill also has the problem that director Brian De Palma seems as interested in his homage to Hitchcock and the stylistic decisions this forces him to make as he does in having a good plot. The movie is either much too slow at times (the whole museum scene) or giving us unneccessary stuff such as an entire coda at the end. I think I get what De Palma was trying to go for; he just doesn't really succeed at what he was trying to do.

Still, you should probably watch Dressed to Kill once just because of the homage and how controversial it was.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Donovan's Reef

Another movie that shows up a lot on one or another of Pluto TV's movie channels -- I think Paramount Classic or whatever that channel is called -- is the John Wayne movie Donovan's Reef. I'd never seen it before, so recently when it was on I once again used Pluto's option to start the movie from the beginning in order that I could finally do a review of it here.

Somewhere in French Polynesia, a sailing ship is plying its trade among several of the islands. Nearby is the island of Haleakaloha, where one of the passengers, Gilhooley (Lee Marvin), is hoping to get off. That's because he wants to see his old friend, Donovan (John Wayne), who lives on the island and runs a dive bar. But the boat wasn't planning to stop there, so Gilhooley starts a fight to be able to jump ship and swim to the island. Shows you what type of person Gilhooley is. And Donovan isn't much different.

After about 20 minutes of their monkeyshines, the action suddenly shifts to Boston. That's the headquarters of the Dedham Shipping Company, a venerable company founded in 1763 that has somehow survived for 200 years. The company is tightly held within the family, mostly old spinster/widow aunt types, although there's a young lady among them, Amelia Dedham (Elizabeth Allen). She's technically not an orphan, although she's never seen her father, who fought in the South Pacific in World War II and never returned to Boston after the war. One of the old shareholders in the company has just died, bequeathing a bunch of shares to Amelia's father. The rest of the family doesn't want this, so they send Amelia out to the South Pacific not to punish her, but for her to get information on her father that would let the rest of the family assert he's violated a morals clause in the will and thereby forfeit all those shares.

Amelia is hoping to get to the island without the islanders -- especially her father -- knowing who she is at first. Dad (Jack Warden), it turns out, served in the medical corps in the Navy during the war, and when he found out that his wife (and Amelia's mother) had died, he decided that the people of Haleakaloha and the neighboring islands needed a doctor like him far more than Boston did, and that Amelia was in better hands with her Boston family than with him. So he stayed behind on the island. Of course, we don't learn all of this at first.

Now, when Amelia gets to the island, Dad is one one of his tours of the outlying islands, giving whatever medical care he can to the residents of those islands. On the island, he had remarried and fathered three more children, Amelia's half-siblings, but because he's away at the time Donovan takes it upon himself to suggest that he's the widowed father of those kids. It's clear that he and Amelia are going to become closer, although it's going to be a difficult road to get there. Meanwhile, the French colonial governor of the island, the Marquis de Lage (Cesar Romero), wouldn't mind starting a relationship with her.

Donovan's Reef is in some ways an amiable movie, of the sort that doesn't really have the plot you might think, but is instead more about the relationships between the characters and everybody's story of personal growth as Amelia learns more about this island of seeming racial harmony while Donovan and his friends finally mature a bit. Once you get past the fact that the plot is a bit thin in the telling, it's not exactly a bad movie. The other issue, however, is that this is directed by John Ford, and his movies with John Wayne, and their friendship over the years, have a decided reptuation. If you've ever seen the TCM Word of Mouth piece that Maureen O'Hara did about having to take a drunk John Wayne to his club on John Ford's orders, you'll know what I'm talking about. And the movie has that attitude in spades. If that's not your thing, you might have some issues with Donovan's Reef.

Overall, however, Donovan's Reef is a fine little movie with lovely location shooting in Hawaii that's definitely worth a watch.

Things on my DVR I've already blogged about

One of the nice things about Youtube TV's cloud DVR comes with how it "records" every repeat showing of a movie you mark to have recorded. Obviously, this doesn't take up space per se, and stuff only remains on the DVR for nine months. But the important thing in this regard is that when a movie I've saved once is airing again, I can see when the upcoming recording will be because there's a separate header called "Scheduled Recordings". This is useful to see when stuff I haven't watched yet is coming on so that I can finally watch it to do the post, and indeed I've got multiple movies like that coming up over the weekend. But some of what I've blogged about not too long ago is also coming up again, and now is a good time to mention some of that stuff, much like I do from time to time mentioning stuff back in the FXM rotation.

Indeed, a fair bit, but by no means all, of what is getting mentioned is going to be on FXM, with a couple of movies also showing up on TCM, so I'll start off with a few things on FXM. First up, tomorrow (Nov. 17) at 7:35 AM, is another showing of A Bell for Adano.
Concluding the FXM Retro portion of Friday's schedule is The Manhattan Project, which did not get removed from the rotation in the recent changes, at 1:00 PM.
Moving over to TCM, I'm not certain if Between Midnight and Dawn is on DVD. So since it's going to be on TCM at 8:00 PM on November 17, today is a good time to mention it.
I've got Glenn Ford in a service comedy coming up in a week or two with Teahouse of the August Moon, but for another one, you can try another airing of It Started With a Kiss. That will be on TCM at 7:45 AM on November 20.
And, one which aired during October for Halloween is back: House on Haunted Hill, at 4:00 AM on November 25. Maybe they should have run it on Thanksgiving for those not spending the holiday with much of family.

As I said at the beginning, I have several other movies that I'm not mentioning in this post simply because the full-length reviews are coming up starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Touchez pas à Eliot

Another of the movies that I had surprisingly not gotten around to seeing before is Sean Connery's Oscar-winning turn in The Untouchables. I noticed that it's been showing up on one or another of the movie channels in the Pluto TV streaming service, and since Pluto allows you to watch any of the currently-airing movies from the start, I decided to watch it. (It also happens to be availble on demand.)

The movie starts off in 1930 in Chicago, where Prohibition has resulted in the rise of the Mafia even more than in some other cities; here it is of course led by Al Capone (Robert De Niro). Capone controls much of the alcohol distribution in Chicago, and when bars or other providers of under-the-table alcohol don't want to get it from Capone's outfit, he has no qualms about bombing people into compliance, even if it kills little girls.

One such bombing pisses the people off enough that the feds finally send somebody in to try to bring Capone down, and that person is of course Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner). Ness is portrayed as one of those people who's straight-arrow honest, and will enforce the law as written simply because that's the law, even if it's something he might not agree with. Of course, he's also an egotistical dick. He brings the press on an operation to interdict one of Capone's shipments from Canada, so that he can get the publicity shot and look good. But the corrupt police tipped Capone off, leaving Ness with crates full of Japanese umbrellas. Ness treats the reporter who photographs this like dirt.

But the operation also leads to the key meeting with the one honest Chicago cop. Ness is despondent and standing on an el platform, and noticing that is Jim Malone (Sean Connery). Malone notices Ness' gun, not recognizing Ness as the federal agent he is. It takes some time, but eventually Ness gets the idea that he needs to trust a somebody who knows Chicago, so he makes Malone a federal agent. They then go to look for another honest man, concluding that they need to draft a recruit who hasn't actually served yet. Eventually the find "George Stone" (Andy Garcia), who was born Giuseppe Petri but doesn't want to be an Italian in the Chicago police force seeing how micks like Malone hate wops.

It's still going to be hard to take down an alcohol-smuggling operation, however, regardless of how much force the feds are able to bring to bear on Capone's outfit. Thankfully, they discover that Capone hasn't filed an income tax return in four years, so they use the tax law to go after Capone. Capone is still going to have quite a bit of influence, however, in trying to bribe the necessary authorities to get the case to go his way.

The Untouchables is another of those well-made movies, and it's easy to see why it got the very high reviews it did. If it has one problem, however, it's the same issue that I had with the recently-recommended Cry Baby, which is that the direction (by Brian Palma) can be a little too stylized at times. I don't know exactly how true to real history the story is, but the version of history presented here is more than entertaining enough.

If you haven't seen it before, The Untouchables is decidedly worth watching.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Dead Man's Eyes

About two years back, I mentioned a movie called Inner Sanctum that took its name from a popular radio show from the 1940s telling stories in the genre of a mild precusor to Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone. In fact, an entire series of B movies based loosely on the idea of that radio show was made back in the 1940s. When TCM had its salute to B movies some months back, They picked an Inner Sanctum movie as part of the spotlight: Dead Man's Eyes.

Dave Stuart (Lon Chaney) is an artist who isn't yet truly successful, but has a lot of potential. He's currently working on the painting that will presumably be his masterpiece and make him a household name, using the model Tanya (Acquanetta), who acts as though she expects Dave to be in love with her. In fact, Dave has a fiancée, Heather Hayden (Jean Parker), who has a decidedly well-to-do father (Edward Fielding).

Meanwhile, Dave has done something extremely stupid: he has eye wash in his medicine cabinet, which isn't the stupid thing; no, what's stupid is that he keeps it next to a bottle of acid that looks very similar and which will blind anyone who uses the acid as eyewash. So you know that somebody is going to use that acid on their eyes. Indeed, Tanya rummages around the medicine cabinet for whatever reason and switched the bottle of acid and the bottle of eye wash; whether it's accidentally or on purpose is part of the later mystery of the movie. But when Dave goes to use the eye wash again, he picks up the acid and blinds himself!

Now Dave won't be able to finish that painting, and as a result he takes pity on himself, breaking off the engagement with Heather because he doesn't want to be dependent on her. However, there is a slim chance that Dave's eyesight could be restored, thanks to a then-revolutionary new procedure called a cornea transplant. (Apparently experimentation goes all the way back to the early 20th century, broader explanation of the procedure in the 1930s.) And in a really wacky plot twist, Dad Hayden says that when he dies, Dave will be more than welcome to inherit the corneas for the surgery.

It's such a bizarre plot twist that you just know Dad Hayden is going to get murdered and that of course Dave is going to be one of the prime suspects. Unfortunately, this being a B movie, The filmmakers didn't have the money to have Perry Mason solve the case in a courtroom tour-de-force. Instead, Dave is going to have to clear his name himself, but only after undergoing the surgery that may or may not restore his sight. To be fair, however, there is a police detective, Drury (Thomas Gomez), working on the case.

Dead Man's Eyes has a really nutty premise, but as far as B movies go, it's not a bad little film. It's definitely entertaining and full of enough twists to keep you guessing.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Beach Blanket Bingo

With the days getting shorter and colder weather finally having arrived to my portion of the world, I decided to the other of the beach movies that I had on my DVR, Beach Blanket Bingo.

Once again, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are romantically paired, this time as Frankie and Dee Dee. I haven't seen all of the beach movies, so I don't know all the supporting characters, but apparently several of the cast members from previous beach movies return, albeit not quite in the same roles that they played in other movies. Among their beach bum friends is Jody McCrea as Bonehead, even more of a beach bum than anybody else in the cast and slightly off, but in a good way.

The basic plot, if you will, since I don't the plot is really the point of American International's beach movies, has a skydiver jumping out of a plane over the beach and parachuting into the ocean. The kids on the beach see a boat, and figure that the boat will pick her up, which is probably safer than all of them going out to rescue her. The boat does pick her up, but there's a catch. Bonnie (Deborah Walley), the jumper, is replaced by an identically outfitted Sugar Kane (Linda Evans, yes that Linda Evans), who jumps back into the ocean. It's all a publicity stunt. Sugar Kane's manager, Bullets (Paul Lynde), is trying to promote Sugar's new record, and needs somebody to "rescue" her for the stunt.

Frankie is the one that rescues her, and they briefly become a romantic item, not that Frankie is really interested in Sugar. And the teens really should have been more cynical and realized that this was a publicity stunt from the way Bullets talks. Instead, they're wowed by her jumping, and vow to take up jumping from jump school operator Big Drop (Don Rickles), his instructor Bonnie, and pilot Steve (John Ashley, who in real life was married to Deborah Walley at the time the movie was made). Bonnie wants more attention from Steve, so she pretends to like Frankie to try to get him into a love triangle that will get Steve to stand up for Bonnie.

As for Sugar, she and Bonehead become friends when Bonehead gets rescued out in the ocean by what he thinks is Sugar. Instead, it's actually Lorelei (Marta Kristen), a mermaid, and yes, with a tail and everything, but one who can fake legs and spend half a day or so out of the ocean on dry land. Naturally, nobody believes Bonehead really saw a mermaid. And Sugar Kane and Bonehead being a bit of an item gets Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck), leader of the biker gang, jealous. They, with the help of South Dakota Slim (Timothy Carey), kidnap Sugar Kane, leaving everybody to believe that Bonehead accidentally left Sugar to drown out in the ocean.

Yeah, the plot is nutty, but then I don't think people watched the beach movies for the brilliant plots. Instead, the teens watched it for the music, although I think by the time Beach Blanket Bingo was released tastes were radically changing thanks to the British Invasion. Any grown-ups who might be part of the audience would watch for the cameos, which included Buster Keaton here, in his end-of-life comeback. Frankie Avalon is talented, but the song he's given to sing is really quite dated, sounding more like a late-50s ballad.

Still, Beach Blanket Bingo succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is to provide an hour and a half or so of light fluff and the opportunity to think about another summer coming up.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Trzy kolory: Biały

I don't know if the movies Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors trilogy made it to my neck of the woods on original release; they were probably in one of the art theaters but I never saw them. Some time back I saw Three Colors: Blue when it was a TCM Import or maybe on one of the premium channels' free preview weekends. Then, a few months back, TCM ran Three Colors: White, so I recorded that in order to finally be able to watch it and do a review of it.

Karol Karol is a Polish barber who emigrated to Paris not long after the Communist regime fell in 1939, and married a French woman, Dominique (Julie Delpy). However, due to his impotence, he was incapable of consummating the marriage and, as a result, Dominique has filed for divorce. This being a French court and Karol not speaking French very well, the court sides with her, giving her everything and leaving Karol destitute and with no means of supporting himself.

Now, you'd think the court would just have Karol deported back to Poland, but for some reason he's not put on a plane and immediately sent back to Warsaw. Instea, he becomes a beggar in the Paris Metro which is where he meets fellow Pole Mikołaj. Mikołaj smuggles him back to Poland, but things go awry and Karol winds up in the middle of nowhere beaten by men who thought they were getting something valuable in the suitcase that actually held the smuggled Karol.

Karol goes back to work with his brother as a hair stylist, but takes a second job working for a black-market money exchanger, this being the early 1990s when all of the former Iron Curtain countries had a sort of Wild West feel to them, Karol is no dummy, eavesdropping on his bosses and realizing that they've got a plan to purchase a bunch of land where some of the new money is planning on developing it, the bosses' plans being to resell that land to the developers at a huge profit. Instead, Karol goes out and buys the land himself, foiling his bosss' plans.

Having discovered that he's able to function the the shady underside of the economy, Karol sets about getting his ultimate satisfaction: revenge on poor Dominique. To do this, Karol has to figure out a way to get Dominique to come to Poland to see him. The plan is that, when Dominique is in Poland, Karol is going to fake his own death, with a will having everything go to Dominique which will get the Polish authorities to believe Dominique murdered Karol. Now, you'd think it would be hard to prove murder without a body, but that's just one of the many plot holes in Three Colors: White.

I can see why a lot of people would like Three Colors: White and give it high scores, but I have to admit that I had difficulty seeing past all those plot holes that made me feel like there's no way any of this could have happened in real life. So Three Colors: White is definitely one of those movies that you're going to need to watch and judge for yourself.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Full Metal Jacket

I've mentioned the "Blind Spot Challenge" several times in the past. In it, a movie blogger picks 12 "essential" movies that you'd think most film buffs would have seen, but that for whatever reason the blogger hasn't. Then, the blogger blogs about one of them a month over the course of a year. I've never taken part in that largely because I don't have planned out far enough in advance what movies I'm going to be watching (or finally getting around to watching) over an entire year. But one of the movies that was one of my blind spots up until now is Full Metal Jacket. TCM finally premiered it when they did their 100th anniversary salute to Warner Bros., and that gave me a chance to record and watch it.

The movie is in many ways two discrete halves, although some of the important characters are in both halves of the movie. The first half is set at Parris Island, SC, which is home to the other big US Marine Corps base, the other being Camp Pendleton which I mentioned yesterday in conjunction with The Big Caper. A new class of recruits is there, although this being 1967 and the Vietnam War, you wonder whether any of these recruits are actually draftees. One that you could be forgiven for thinking is a draftee and not there by choice is Pvt. Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio) -- but more on this in a bit.

One of the tropes of Hollywood military movies is that the drill sergeants who take the raw recruits at the beginning of the movie are notoriously tough on those recruits. In some ways, that's necessary, as you have to have unit cohesion, and you're going to be trusting those other members of the platoon (or members of similar platoons) with your life if you're going out to a war zone, which most of these men were going to be if they could make it out of basic training. Unfortunately, the DI here, Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), isn't just tough on the men; he comes across as downright sadistic and almost sociopathic. He's particularly tough on the aforementioned Lawrence, whom he renames Pvt. Pyle after Gomer Pyle. Pyle is overweight and terminally incompetent; ultimately Hartman's plan is to issue collective punishment for each of Pyle's misdeeds, in the hope that the rest of the platoon will be able to get him to straighten up and fly right.

Given particular responsibility for that is Pvt. Davis (Matthew Modine), renamed "Joker" by Hartman because Davis tries to come up with a way to rebel against Hartmann that still stays within the very narrow rules that DIs set up. Hartman thinks Davis might have some leadership material in him, which is why he gives Davis the task of giving "extra" help to Pyle and seeing Pyle through basic training. Eventually, after all of the basic training, it's time to give the men their first assignments. Davis is sent into the journalism corps, while Pyle, well, you'll have to see the movie to see what happens to him at the end of basic.

In the second half of the movie, the Marines are sent to Vietnam, and almost the first action they see is the Tet offensive of February 1968. Joker, writing for Stars and Stripes, is given the task of putting a positive spin on the offensive, as well as writing other stories that keep of the morale of the enlisted men in uniform. But he's also a Marine, which means that he's going to need to fight if called on to do so, and you know that not only is that going to happen, but it's going to be the sort of fight that remains seared in one's memory....

I'm not the biggest fan of military movies, and certainly not a fan of Hollywood looking back on the Vietnam War, which seemed to be a thing for those Boomers who were subjected to the draft, as well as those people who weren't Boomers but also weren't old enough to fight in World War II. (Director Stanley Kubrick was born in 1928.) It's this second group that's probably more responsible for the revisionist obsession with the 1960s, since they were old enough to have real influence at the time but hadn't really had any chance to earn a high-status place in society the way the "Greatest Generation" had by fighting World War II. With that in mind, however, I still have to point out that it's easy to see why Full Metal Jacket is a high quality movie, and one that most other people would rate even higher than I would. It didn't leave me as cold as, say, Kubrick's earlier A Clockwork Orange, but it's definitely not one that I'll revisit the way I do some other movies.

Friday, November 10, 2023

The Caper of Size, or: Rory Calhoun Does Noir?

TubiTV seems to have quite a bit of old black-and-white crime/noirish movies in the On Demand section. One that recently showed up in the main list of movies, at least for me since it's probably based on what else I watch, is one I'd never heard of before, The Big Caper. Since I'm up for this sort of 1950s crime movie, I decided I'd give it a chance and watch it.

The star here is Rory Calhoun of all people, someone I think is generally much more associated with westerns. He plays Frank Harper, a small time hood who is stupid enough to gamble his money on the horses and lose it all, as he informs his nominal boss, at least in the gang sense, Flood (James Gregory). Frank needs to make more money, and getting a legitimate job just won't cut it. So he has to come up with some other way, and thinks he has just the right idea.

Camp Pendleton is a military base for the Marine Corps. There are a lot of marines stationed there, and while the pay isn't exactly great, they all get paid in cash, this being the days before direct deposit, and there are a lot of marines. The US government has to bring in a lot of cash to pay all those marines, and the cash needs to be stored somewhere until the government can pay out the marines. And Frank knows which bank they use and what day the money is actually in the bank's vault.

Flood doesn't really need the money right now, but being a crime boss, he does have that admiration for a good crime scheme and this is one of those. So he decides he'll be willing to carry out the heist. But to be honest, a heist like this is going to take a lot of preparation. To prepare for it, Flood proposes sending Frank to the town just north of San Diego where the bank is, to play the part of a family man looking to open up a business in town. Of course, Frank doesn't have a wife, so standing in for the wife is Flood's girlfriend Kay (Mary Costa). Together, they pretend to be husband and wife, buying a gas station that's up for sale as well as a house to live in.

Of course, in a heist movie like this, since there's still that pesky Production Code, you know that the heist isn't really going to work. So how does it fail? There are several ways, but the biggest is that Kay decides she might just like the domestic life. She's got a sister back east who does the family thing, and even though their family isn't rich, they've got love. And that's the second half of the big problem: Kay begins to fall in love with Frank, and the feeling is eventually mutual, even though Frank doesn't really want to settle down in one place, and worse, even though Kay is supposed to be Flood's girlfriend. Flood is going to get exceedingly jealous.

And then there are the other people involved in the heist, since Flood and Frank can't do it alone. One is Harry (Paul Picerni), who is supposed to be the lookout. He brings his girlfriend along, and Flood is no dummy, realizing that the girlfriend will spill the beans. There's also Zimmer (Robert H. Harris), who has the job of creating diversions by setting off time bombs. Zimmer is good at that, but he's also both an alcoholic and a pyromaniac. And Flood tells Frank and Kay to put Zimmer up at their house passing him off as their uncle. There's also Roy (Corey Allen), who is apparently Flood's underling although Roy is written as a character who's probably gay except that the screenwriters couldn't make it explicit in the 1950s. Roy is violent and has a hair-trigger temper....

Most of The Big Caper is about the build-up to heist night, and less about the heist itself. As such, it's more about the relationships between the characters, which makes it an interesting little movie. However, the movie has a big problem in that it doesn't know how to resolve the plot, leading to a climax that makes no sense whatsoever. That's a shame, because the rest of the movie is a surprisingly good little 50s B movie. Rory Calhoun is actually fairly good in a non-western, and James Gregory is unsurprisingly good too. Definitely worth watching.

Thursday, November 9, 2023


TCM is running a triple feture of John Waters movies tonight (November 9), and that includes one that I recorded some months back when it showed up in the Saturday afternoon musical matinee: Cry-Baby, at 10:00 PM. Seeing it on the upcoming schedule tonight at 10:00 PM, I made a point of watching it in order to be able to do a review on it here.

The movie is set in director Waters' hometown of Baltimore, in 1954, as we see when, over the opening credits, a bunch of members of the Class of 1954 at one of the high schools is receiving their polio shots, since that was a new thing back in 1954. Obviously, the needles hurt a bit, and one of the students, Wade Walker (Johnny Depp), nicknamed "Cry-Baby", sheds a single manly tear.

Getting a shot at the same time as Wade is Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane), and her seeing that one solitary tear makes Allison swoon. There's only one problem, which is that the two come from completely different social strata. Cry-Baby is from a group calling itself the "Drapes", the sort of fake wanna-be tough guys who dress the part of the Marlon Brando biker gang from The Wild One, or John Travolta in Grease, the latter movie being a big influence on Cry-Baby. Allison, on the other hand, is one of the "squares", and the granddaughter of the grande dame of the local community (Polly Bergen). So naturally when Grandma hears that her granddaughter might like one of the Drapes, she's horrified.

While the squares look like the normal upper-middle-class stereotype of 1950s probity, dressing the part and going to charm schol and all that, the Drapes are totally different, and not just in dress. They also listen to the new sounds of rockabilly, the predecesor to rock and roll, and live a more bohemian life in the Turkey Point area where they all congregate. But the feeling between Allison and Cry-Baby is mutual, so he invites her to come out to Turkey Point, where some of the female Drapes give Allison a makeover and she gets to see Cry-Baby perform with his band.

This leads to disaster, however, as Allison's nominal boyfriend Baldwin (Stephen Mailer) finds out and brings his square friend to Turkey Point, where they harass the Drapes to the point that a riot breaks out. Because of the class differences, it's Cry-Baby who gets punished with a sentence to reform school until he turns 21. Cry-Baby hopes to break out, while the girl who thought she was Cry-Baby's girlfriend until Allison showed up, tries to drive a wedge between Cry-Baby and Allison.

It's easy to see why a movie like Cry-Baby became a bit of a cult movie, and why some people rate it so highly. It's a musical and a parody of both musicals and 1950s teen movies, and it has an incredibly infectious enthusiasm. It also has John Waters playing with convention and casting all sorts of people in roles you might not think of them as being suited for the roles they're given, like David Nelson, Troy Donahue, and Patty Hearst.

On the other hand, there's an air of artificiality that goes beyond just plain musical movie artificiality. While watching the movie, I couldn't help but think of things like David Lynch and the colors and camera angles he used at the beginning of Blue Velvet, or Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom. There's almost an air of kabuki theater at times in Cry-Baby, and that doesn't always work in the movie's favor as it's distracting to the atmosphere John Waters was hoping to create.

Still, for the most part, the successes outweigh the failures, so Cry-Baby is definitely a movie you should give a try.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell

Gina Lollobrigida died at the beginning of 2023, and a few months later TCM had a tribute to her with a night of her movies. With Veterans' Day coming up, I decided I'd finally get around to watching Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell and doing a post on it here.

As the opening credits play out over scenes of Mrs. Carla Campbell (Gina Lollobrigida) riding through the Italian countrysides in one of those snazzy convertible sports cars that seemed to be a thing in the 1960s. That, and a horrendously dated song sung by one of those sub-par singers I'd never heard of. Eventually, Carla drives into her home town of San Forino where she sees a banner reading in English, "Welcome Back". The joke is that she thinks the sign is for her, until a second banner under it is unfurled, welcoming the 293rd squadron of the US Air Force.

The squadron was stationed in San Forino when the Americans occupied Italy presumably just after the end of World War II, although the dates don't really work out. It's a big anniversary of their time in the country, and instead of having a reunion every year like other groups did, they decided to have one big bash and use the money to aid the locals in San Fornio with a chapel. Indeed, the movie cuts to a shot of a plane landing in Rome and introducing us to three of the Americans returning for the reunion:

Phil Silvers plays Cpl. Newman, who has a wife Shirley (Shelley Winters) and three children of the bratty, precocious type that is a standard if very annoying character type in movies like this. Lt. Justin Young (Peter Lawford) seems to have hit a difficult patch in his marriage to Lauren (Marian Moses), and then there's Sgt. Walter Braddock (Telly Savalas), who jokes that he begged his wife Fritzie (Lee Grant) not to come along. The fact that each of them has a family is a problem, as we really learn fairly quickly in the movie.

Carla has a daughter Gia (Janet Margolin), who was conceived while the Americans were occupying San Farino. And Carla slept around a lot, specifically with the three members of the squadron I mentioned above. The only thing is, she has no idea which one was the father, and she slept with them just before the squadron left, so by the time she found out she was pregnant, they had moved on and were unavailable to marry her, which is why they wound up with families in the States.

But Carla made lemonade out of lemons, telling each of the three men that she was pregnant, implying of course that they were the father, since none of the men knows the others slept with Carla. All three offered to provide child support, although you have to wonder how none of the wives knew their husbands were sending checks to Italy for 20 years or so. So all of the men also have to keep their wives from finding out the truth while trying to make amends with Carla.

Unfortunately, I have to say that I found Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell to be fairly dated and not nearly as funny as the premise might lead you to believe. Instead, pretty much everybody winds up a bit shrill and when the material tries hard to be funny, it's just too wacky instead of funny in a good way. Come September, which I reviewed earlier out of the films in the Lollobrigida tribute, is a much better romantic comedy and you should probably watch that one given the chance instead of Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

TCM Star of the Month November 2023: Gloria Grahame

We started a new month last week, but because of the vagaries of the schedule the new star of the month didn't come until tonight, November 7. That Star of the Month is Gloria Grahame, and her movies will be airing every Tuesday in prime time. This first Tuesday includes one of her early movies that I had on my DVR and hadn't blogged about before: Blonde Fever, overnight tonight at 1:15 AM (so technically November 8 here in the eastern time zone but still November 7 in the Pacific). As always, seeing such a movie show up on the schedule, I made a point to watch it so that I could do a review here.

The movie starts off with an establishing shot of the Café Donay, which is somewhere on the road between Reno, the divorce capital of the world, and Lake Tahoe. It's a way-too-upscale place for this part of the world, probably because the movie is based on a play by Ferenc Molnár which I'd bet was originally set somewhere else. But since Hollywood was making it and the movie was made during World War II, and the movie deals with divorce, the action had to be moved to Nevada.

Anyhow, showing up at the café on his motorbike is young Freddie (Marshall Thompson). He's in love with waitress Sally (a young Gloria Grahame, as if you couldn't tell from the looks or the voice), but he doesn't have the money to propose to Sally. That lack of money also bugs the proprietor of the café, Peter Donay (Philip Dorn), who doesn't want such low-class vehicles showing up at the front entrance to the café. Peter is married to Delilah (Mary Astor), while Sally has a crush on Peter, who she thinks of as worldly.

Unfortunately, there's the problem that not only is Peter married, but he's not a particularly good catch as a husband. Delilah stays more because she's got a stable enough life here and because she probably doesn't want to have to start over again. The café has been in financial difficulty in part because Peter has a gambling problem, yet another reason why he's been a lousy husband even though he claims not to have engaged in real gambling in a year or two. He has, however, but a raffle ticket in a national lottery and that's going to become an important point later.

Delilah decides she's going to try to save her marriage by bringing Sally and Freddie together. On the one hand, Delilah tells Sally about all the terrible things that Peter has done, and that the likelihood is one of Peter having an affair with Sally and then moving on to yet another someone else after growing tired of Sally. She also works on the financial front partly by getting Freddie a job at the place, and partly by telling Sally about Peter's gambling problem. But then Peter's raffle ticket pays off to the tune of $40,000, which is a couple years' salary in those days, so not enough to retire on but definitely enough to start a family if it were Freddie who had the money.

There are some fairly big problems with Blonde Fever. One is that Peter is written as such an irredeemable character that we don't understand why Delilah stands by him. The movie doesn't feel like a road house in Nevada (or anywhere) either, which is again down to the difficulty of taking what was likely an upscale play and trying to shoehorn it into Nevada. The air of unreality is added to by there being next to no mention of the war. Finally, the movie doesn't seem to have any idea whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and consistently gets things wrong.

The few bright points are Mary Astor, who certainly tries although she's given pretty dire material to work with. There's also a supporting performance by Felix Bressart, who also does the best he can. Thankfully, Blonde Fever didn't strangle Gloria Grahame's career in the cradle. But it's not that good of a movie.

Monday, November 6, 2023

The week leading up to Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day, a holiday which was originally Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I, is one of the public holidays in the US not moved to a Monday, instead always being on the anniversary of the armistice on November 11. This year, that falls on a Saturday, but I'm posting about it quite a bit early for a couple of reasons.

The first is that FXM doesn't seem to have any military movies in the Retro block on Saturday itself, but does have several in the run-up to the day. First, tomorrow (November 7) at 3:00 AM is the fine Steve McQueen movie The Sand Pebbles, set in China in the 1920s and starring McQueen as an iconoclastic sailor stationed there who has to deal with an increasingly chaotic situation. Then, most of the lineup on Wednesday, November 8 -- from the hard 6:00 AM start to the end of the Retro block -- is military movies:

6:00 AM All Hands on Deck, a Pat Boone service comedy;
7:40 AM Crash Dive, the World War II movie Tyrone Power made before serving in the war;
9:30 AM The Hunters, a Korean War movie with Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner;
11:20 AM Blood and Steel, a B movie from the late 1950s about World War II; and
12:25 PM The Blue Max, the only World War I movie in the lot.

There's another couple of war movies on Thursday; I recently reviewed A Bell for Adano but there's also the recently-returned Immortal Sergeant and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.

As for TCM, there's surprisingly little, which I think is largely because the 11th is a Saturday this year. TCM isn't jettisoning its programming blocks, so the Saturday matinee runs untli noon, followed by the musical matinee. There are only three war movies before prime time, in part because there's a three-hour movie in The Best Years of Our Lives. There's more Bruce Lee at 8:00 PM, which is why the war-movie block ends relatively early.

TCM's Alan Arkin tribute

Alan Arkin in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (8:00 PM)

Alan Arkin died at the end of June. But for whatever reason, TCM hasn't gotten around to doing a programming tribute to him until now. Tonight (November 6) in prime time, TCM is showing five of Arkin's movies. Those films are:

8:00 PM The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter;
10:15 PM Wait Until Dark;
12:15 AM The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming;
2:30 AM Popi;
4:30 AM The In-Laws.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Wire Under Man

Pluto TV has been running a movie that I'd heard of and mostly knew what it was about, but that I had never seen: Man on Wire. So with it available, I eventually got around to watching it.

In August, 1974, Frenchman Philippe Petit famously walked on a tightrope wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Many years later Petit wrote a memoir, and British documentarian James Marsh obtained the rights to make a documentary about Petit's feat; Man on Wire was the result of this.

Now, we know that Petit was successful in walking across that wire between the two towers, so how do we get to a full-length documentary of the incident? Well, what Petit did was decidedly illegal, and for good reason. It only takes the first bombing of the World Trade Center with a car bomb in the parking garage to realize that letting people have full run of such a building might not be such a good idea. Petit knew that what he was doing was illegal, but how to get the wire between the two buildings to be able to do the walk in the first place? That is what quite a lot of Man on Wire is about, in part because there's not all that much footage of Petit actually doing the walk. Petit couldn't bring a video camera up to the roof of the World Trade Center to film what he was doing, after all.

Petit had been an avid tightrope walker along with performing other circus-type things like balancing acts and sleight of hand. Indeed, before he walked between the Twin Towers he had (illegally) set up a wire between the two towers of Notre Dame cathedral in his native France, and then walked between the two towers of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. So when the World Trade Center was under constuction, it was only natural that Petit would get the itch to try to put up a wire between the two towers and walk across it.

Getting the wire several hundred feet across is a logistical challenge, but even before that is getting the wire up to the roof in the first place. And it's not just the wire Petit would walk across; he needed a bunch of support wires to keep the main wire from moving too much up and down, along with the balancing pole. So he was going to need people on both of the towers to install that wire. (Cue the Simpsons joke where Homer gets to the restrooms at the top of one tower, only to find a sign saying "Out of order. Use other tower.") This would require several accomplices to do the dirty work, as well as an inside man who could get them in the building as well as get them ID that looked legitimate enough to get them in the building for long stretches carrying all that equipment.

Along the way, we learn that Philippe is probably a bit nuts in the same sense that jokes are made about field goal kickers in football being squirrely. That, and a bit audaciously conceited, which might make him hard to like for some reviewers, but qualities that if he didn't have he'd never have been able to make it across the wire.

Man on Wire pieces all of this together in part with home footage Petit had filmed practicing back in France; some recreations of the preparation (but obviously not the walk itself); and interviews with many of the accomplices as well as Petit himself. Those accomplices included his then girlfriend, but soon to become ex, in one of the ironic codas to the story. That, and the story is told in the form of a heist movie, which really befits what Petit and his accomplices had to do.

One thing the documentary doesn't do, at least not explicitly, is to mention September 11, 2001. Director Marsh said why ruin such a glorious story with the ugliness everyone knows happened. At the same time, however, it's impossible to watch Man on Wire without the poignancy of knowing what was going to happen to the two towers. It's much like watching the few films of people like Kay Kendall or Suzan Ball: they put up good performances, but audiences at the time wouldn't know that the two actresses were terminally ill with cancer and soon to die; viewers of today, at least avid movie buffs, do know it. There's also one shot in the movie looking up at the towers with a jet plane suspiciously low in the sky.

Man on Wire is a fine documentary, and definitely one that you should watch if you get the chance. The story would later be made into a dramatisation, The Walk. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on it.