Sunday, December 31, 2023

The end, but not of the blog

In the nine months since I moved and have been able to do the whole streaming thing, I've mentioned how PlutoTV seems to be quite good at allowing you to do on-demand viewing. Another of the movies that I watched on Pluto because of the interesting premise was the Burt Reynolds comedy The End. I figured that with today being the end of the year, it would be an appropriate day to finally do my post on the movie.

Burt Reynolds stars as Sonny Lawson, a Los Angeles real estate man who at the beginning of the movie is seeing his doctor, Samuel Krugman (Norman Fell in one of many cameo roles the movie has). Dr. Krugman has some bad news for Sonny: Sonny has a blood disease that will kill him in somewhere from three months to a year. Sonny is quite displeased with the idea of dying, as he's fairly young and expected to live quite a bit longer yet.

Sonny becomes obsessed with the idea of dying, tailing funerals, talking to a priest (Robby Benson in another cameo), and eventually visiting a hospital to see if he can get a more up close look at what death is really going to be like for him. That last visit frightens him enough, and this was the days before euthanasia, that Sonny decides he wants his life to end on his terms, rather than suffering in an ICU or some such. As a result, he decides that he's going to kill himself.

But how? That, and he still has to tie up all his personal affairs like his will and dealing with a complicated personal life that includes oblivious parents (Pat O'Brien and Myrna Loy); an ex-wife (Joanne Woodward) and a somewhat estranged daughter (Kristy McNichol); and a girlfriend (Sally Field). After finally getting those affairs in order, he kills himself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. The end.

Well, not quite. Sonny does try to overdose, but he doesn't take enough to kill him, with the result that his lawyer has him committed to a sanitarium of the sort you'd see in old movies like The Cobweb. One of the doctors (Carl Reiner) happens to be terminally ill himself and tries to assist Sonny in trying to come to grips with his impending death, ultimately doing it by dropping dead right in front of Sonny. Talk about dark comedy.

And among the patiens is Marlon Borunki (Dom DeLuise), someone who's criminally insane in that he hears voices like a schizophrenic, with one of those voices having told him to commit murder. So when Sonny tells Marlon how he's terminally ill and tried to commit suicide, Marlon has the logical-for-him idea that perhaps he can help Sonny die. But Marlon's efforts don't work -- hospitals dealing with mental patients have all sorts of anti-suicide measures in place -- and Marlon's efforts eventually bring Sonny to the point of thinking that perhaps letting the illness take its course instead might be the better option.

As I said, The End is quite the dark comedy, something that for the most part would fit in well with the George C. Scott movie The Hospital. Unfortunately, however, the movie really begins to falter once Dom DeLuise shows up. He's just a bit too zany for the movie's good, and one or two scenes with him would be more than enough to get the point. However, he fills probably the last third of the movie if not more.

Still, there are going to be people who appreciate Dom DeLuise, and for them they'll probably like all of The End, and not just the first half like I did.

End of the year summary briefs

As we prepare to leave 2023 behind us, a look at the blog shows that I wrote rather fewer posts this year than I did in 2021 and earlier. I have a feeling that's in part because I've been getting ahead of myself in terms of watching movies and scheduling posts. I intimated a couple of times that Dad fell and broke his hip (well, the top part of the femur that goes into the hip socket) in May 2022, which necessitated the two of us moving to someplace more centrally located and, crucially, someplace where I've got reliable and unlimated high-speed internet, enabling me to do a lot more streaming video.

I don't intend any major changes in what I'm doing with the blog, which means that at the rate I'm posting, the blog should get to 7,000 posts sometime in August or September. I've got a lot of movies on my cloud DVR to get through, and there's a lot of interesting stuff on the various streaming services. I'm still one of those weirdos who likes physical media, however, and if I can get a second Blu-ray player for the upstairs TV I might start getting through more of my multitude of DVDs. I might finally spring for a bigger TV too -- if you call 40 inches big. The configuration of my upstairs space is such that anything bigger won't fit, and in the living room downstairs we've got a very old entertainment center that won't fit anything larger than 32 inches, the center dating from the days before 16:9 TVs. The TV itself was bought during the 2008 Olympics; since it's still running reasonably well, why replace it?

As for New Year's programming, TCM's lineup is a bit different today from past years. It looks like the daytime programming has several movies with New Year's scenes. Certainly Ocean's 11 (8:00 AM), Radio Days (2:15 PM), and An Affair to Remember (6:00 PM) have them. During the evening, it's spoof comedies. The January 1 daytime lineup is Japanese monsters, and finally in prime time on Monday we get a Marx Brothers mini-marathon.

In the case of FXM, it looks as though the FXM Retro programming block is going to continue, at least for a while longer. There doesn't look to be anything notably new over the next two weeks as far as the TV listings pages go out. That means both nothing new in terms of being brought out of the vault, and nothing new in terms of changes to the FXM Retro format. As always, I'm astonished that the FXM Retro block is still going after over a decade.

Here's to a happy and healthy 2024 to everybody!

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Bedtime Story

We're getting to the end of the year, so I'm doing a couple of posts on movies that are about endings in one way or another. First up is Bedtime Story, which isn't really about bedtime at all.

The movie opens up with the end of a stage play, like quite a few movies dealing with theater actors (The Guardsman comes to mind here). The stage star here is Jane Drake (Loretta Young), getting rapturous applause for her latest role. As she gets her curtain call, she informs the audience that it's the last time for her to play that role, and indeed it's going to be the last time the audience will see her in any role, as she's going to be retiring to a farm in Connecticut with her husband, Lucius "Luke" (Fredric March), a playwright who wrote the play.

Sadly, Luke was not able to make it to the final performance, and we quickly learn it's because he had different ideas about the direction his, and by extension Jane's, career was going to take. Luke has been working on a new play, and it goes without saying that he wrote it with the intention of giving Jane another big role to star in. Not only that, but he's hoping to build a new theater on Broadway just for Jane. Jane, however, is horrified when she learns that the money for the new theater is coming from Luke's having sold the farm in Connectict. Her response is to take a train to Reno to do the several weeks of separation necessary to be able to file for divorce.

Luke still wants to do the new play and wants Jane to star in it. With that in mind, he fakes a story about having lost it to one of those newspaper gossip columnists, knowing it will be printed in Reno. Sure enough, Jane returns, but she learns that it was all a ruse to get Jane to come back and do the play when the couple's best friend Eddie (Robert Benchley) comes to their apartment with a new young actress, Virginia Cole (Eve Arden), who would be just perfect for that starring role if it weren't for Jane. So Jane heads back to Reno.

Meanwhile, Jane had an old flame in the form of a banker, William Dudley (Allyn Joslyn), who was always in love with her and still is. So he shows up in Reno to try to start a relationship with Jane again. Eventually, Luke also shows up in Reno to try to get Jane to come back to him and do the play. There's still the question of whether all the conditions necessary to obtain the divorce have gone through, leading to the mildly madcap ending....

Bedtime Story had the great bad luck of being made in 1941 and not being released until Christmas 1941, three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the US into World War II. The movie fits very well into the genre of the more upscale romantic comedy, but audience tastes were changing with the US now being at war. That, and the story here had been done enough that in Bedtime Story it's beginning to feel formulaic.

That's not to say that Bedtime Story is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's well made, and March and Young show that both of them can do comedy. Of course, having support from people like Benchley and Arden is a great help. It just feels like the movie could have been better and more original.

Friday, December 29, 2023

The Tame Westerners

Recently I turned on the Roku Channel app, and just about to air on the Cinevault Westerns channel was a low-budget movie called The Wild Westerners. Since it was only 85 minutes including ads, I decided I'd give it a chance.

We get a pre-credits opening sequence, informing us that the action is taking place in the Montana Territory in 1864, which of course means that it's the Civil War. The Union needs revenue, and apparently gold has been discovered, so the Union can use that gold in the war effort. But.... Someone has found some gold and is transporting it to town, happy to see the sheriff as that means security from any outlaws that might try to waylay him. Except that the sheriff is in on the outlawry, shooting the man and taking the gold!

Since Montana is still a territory, it means that the federal government is in charge of law enforcement. Coming to Virginia City is new US Marshal Jim McDowell (James Philbrook). But before he does that, he has to go pick up his fiancée Nora. He sees a woman who looks remarkably like Nora from behind, but when he goes to kiss her, it isn't. Instead it's Rose (Nancy Kovack), who is out west because she's a showgirl who's no longer in the show which was disbanded. And just at the same time, Jim gets a "Dear John" letter from Nora telling him she's fallen in love with another man.

Rose goes to Jim to what was supposed to be the wedding, since all the food has already been laid out, and she actually pretends to be Nora to go through with the marriage! Meanwhile, deputy marshal Clint (Duane Eddy) has some suspicion that "Nora" isn't really what she seems, and there's going to be some conflict between Jim and Clint until the film's climax later.

Of course, all of these plot strands have to come together. The sheriff, together with deputy Johnny (Guy Mitchell, who, like Duane Eddy is better known as a musician than an actor), is still robbing gold shipments and thwarting the marshals because they don't yet realize it's an inside job. Rose eventually decides to leave after being forced to reveal the truth of who she is, and when she does she and a Cheyenne woman she's riding with come across the outlaw gang. The gang kill the Cheyenne woman and take Rose hostage. They claim they'll release her if the next gold shipment is ungarded, which the chief marshal doesn't want to do. Jim has had the idea to make it look like a gold shipment is not being guarded, only to have the real marshals be just behind the shipment out of sight.

The Wild Westerners has almost entirely negative reviews on IMDb, which I think is down in no small part to the fact that it was produced by Sam Katzman, who specialized in low-budget fare. To me, it felt as though it was no worse than episodic TV of the era, only stretched out to over an hour. It's certainly not great -- and I think the print Cinevault aired was panned-and-scanned -- but it's not nearly as bad as the reviews would have you believe.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

I Walk Alone

Once again, I was looking through the offerings on the various streaming services, and found that one of the PlutoTV channels (which, being owned by one division of Paramount, has the rights disporportionately to Paramount stuff). A movie that was already halfway through where I'd probably heard the title but had never seen it was I Walk Alone. Thankfully, Pluto is one of the services where you can tune in to something already on and watch from the beginning, so that's what I did in order to be able to do a review of it.

As the movie begins, Frankie Madison (a very young Burt Lancaster) is walking into Grand Central, having just gotten off a train. Calling out for him to pick him up is an old friend, Dave (Wendell Corey). As a nice lighting trick puts the shadows from the grille of one of the ticket agents' windows on the floor, Frankie realizes he's never going to escape such bars: it's a sign that he's just gotten out of prison after 14 long years.

As Dave takes Frankie to his new digs at one of those long-stay hotels that populated movies up through the 70s, Frankie asks about a mutual friend, Noll "Dink" Turner (Kirk Douglas). They were all friends before Frankie went off to prison, and in the meantime Turner has made a name for himself, opening up a swanky nightclub and taking on a nightclub singer Kay Lawrence (Lizabeth Scott) who's getting her picture in the press. Frankie wonders why Noll never showed up to see him in prison, and would desperately like to see Noll again.

Cut to the business office of Noll's nightclub. Dave works as Noll's accountant, figuring out how to keep the books balanced while paying as little tax as legally possible. Noll, for his part, has been expecting Frankie, as he knows Frankie is going to be ticked off. He knows that Frankie will believe he's entitled to something after 14 years in prison, and Noll gives off vibes that he's going to try to get away with giving Frankie as little as possible. To that end, he employs the assistance of Kay to try to pump Frankie for information.

This is important not just for Noll, who wants to find out what Frankie is planning, but also for the viewer, as it's an effective way to put in the flashback necessary to show the characters' back story and give motivation to all the characters. Fourteen years earlier, before Frankie went off to prison, was the late stages of Prohibition. Frankie and Noll were running liquor over the Canadian border into the US, when a rival gang decided to try to hijack the load. It led to a murder and the two splitting up, before making a handshake agreement to share everything 50-50. As we already know, Frankie took the rap for the death of the rival gangster, and now he wants his 50 percent.

Except that Noll has been very shrewd in his business dealings. With the end of Prohibition, the old club they had run together fell on hard times, so Noll dissolved it and set up a new club, the one he currently owns. And he got Dave to push some papers in front of Frankie so that he wouldn't have a share of the new organizations Noll founds after the old club folded. Dave has also been exceedingly good at setting up all the finances so that there's no way Frankie can get back into the club. And Noll is more than willing to use violence if Frankie pushes too far.

Meanwhile, Kay had been thinking Noll had the hots for her, only to have her hopes crushed when she learns he's after another woman. So she's willing to get closer to Frankie. This is important because one Frankie does start pushing to far and Noll has his underlings beat the crap out of him, Dave, who was also there, gets shot. Frankie, with his history, is an obvious suspect....

I Walk Alone makes me think a bit about Johnny O'Clock, which I blogged about back in November, as the two movies have some thematic similarities in the idea of a business partnership gone wrong. The both also have a lot of style covering up what isn't really a lack of substance so much as it is that the formula we're given is really nothing new. That is, I think, part of why I Walk Alone got mixed reviews when it was originally released. All three leads show a lot of potential, but this was before Douglas and Lancaster became big stars and legends. Contemporary critics wouldn't have known what the future held for the two actors, of course.

The result is that I Walk Alone is a movie that's eminently watchable, but decidedly not in the class of some of the great movies of the noir cycle, and with reason. It's also a film that would fit right in on Noir Alley, although as far as I am aware Eddie Muller has never shown it.

That other parade of the dead

As you'll know if you read my posts here, I have a tendency to refer to the annual TCM Remembers piece, as well as the similar in memoriam pieces other organizations like the Academy Awards show have as the "Parade of the Dead". For the past several years, TCM has had a second parade, with one night of programming dedicated to people who died in the past year, often putting a spotlight on those whose deaths may have been more unlikely to go unnoticed. This year, that programming is tonight, December 28, with six films running into the early hours of the December 29 daytime programming:

8:00 PM Pee-Wee's Big Adventure honors Paul Rubens, better known as Pee-Wee Herman;
9:45 PM Absence of Malice is in memory of actress Melinda Dillon;
Midnight Sunday Bloody Sunday is the movie TCM selected for Glenda Jackson; I wonder if they couldn't get either of her Oscar-winning performances;
2:00 AM Hair gets a playing for Treat Williams;
4:15 AM Blow-Up, not one of my favorites, was selected for Jane Birkin; and
6:15 AM Village of the Giants was produced by Bert I. Gordon, who died earlier this year aged 100.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Seance on a Wet Afternoon

Of the movies on my DVR that are getting another airing soon, a lot of them have been stuff showing on FXM largely because that channel has a smaller set of movies to show and repeats movies in the rotation quite a bit. But one that ran on TCM a few months back and is finally getting another airing is Seance on a Wet Afternoon. That airing is Tomorrow (Dec. 28) at 5:45 PM.

Myra (Kim Stanley) is a medium living somewhere near England together with her henpecked husband Billy (Richard Attenborough). The marriage has been going sour, largely because some time back they had a stillborn son, with that putting a lot of strain on Myra in particular. You get the feeling that she's beginning to have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction, and beginning to believe in her power to be a medium. Myra comes up with a crazy idea that will prove to everyone just how good a medium she really is.

That idea is to find a rich couple with a child, and kidnap the child. The couple will then hold the child hostage, with Myra's intention being to use her powers as a medium to find the chid and deliver the child back to the parents safely, without really taking the ransom money. Why anybody would expect this to work is beyond me, but then a good portion of the movie is questioning whether Myra is really sane. Poor Billy is the one who gets the job of actually carrying out the kidnpping.

The initial abduction seems to go successfully, followed by Myra's scheme to try to go to the house of the wealthy parents, the Claytons (Nanette Newman and Mark Eden) to tell them she's had some sort of dream involving the missing child. Of course it's a scam, and it only serves to bring the police, led by Supt. Walsh (Patrick Magee) to Myra and Billy's house. Thankfully, Billy had the good sense to hide the little girl. But it only serves to put a greater strain on Myra's sanity.

Myra then gets the even nastier idea that her dead son wants the girl they've kidnapped to be with him, which means that Myra now wants the girl dead. And, of course, it's going to be Billy's job to do the actual killing and dispose of the body, which is just a step too far for him. Now, the movie was made in the UK, but it was clear that it was going to get released in the US as well, and at the time the movie was made in 1964, the Production Code was still in effect, so there had to be some way for the plot to play out such that Myra and Billy don't get away with what they did. But how is everything going to be resolved?

Seance on a Wet Afternoon is a movie that has a very interesting premise. But a movie that's not without its flaws. That's largely because the movie plays out at a very leisuerly pace, a lot of times feeling too slow for its own good. It also doesn't help that the two protagonists are fairly unlikeable people. But the movie has a lot of pluses as well, thanks in no small part to the portrayals of the two main characters by Stanley and Attenborough. The black-and-white photography also serves to give the movie a stark look, being one of those movies that wouldn't work so well in color.

So if you haven't seen Seance on a Wet Afternoon before, definitely give it a try.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

City Girl

I haven't done a post on a silent film in a while, but I've got quite a few on my DVR thanks to recording a couple of the movies in TCM's Silent Sunday Nights programming, as well as a day honoring silent cinema they had back in September or so, I've got quite a few to go through. So first up is one I'd never heard of before, City Girl

In contemporary (ie. late 1920s) Minnesota, the Tustines grow wheat. Dad (David Torrence) has run the business -- since farming is in many ways really a business -- with a strong hand, going to Chicago himself to sell the wheat on the Chicago Board of Exchange. But he's getting up there in years, and his son Lem (Charles Farrell) is all grown up now, so Dad decides it's time to send Lem off to Chicago to sell the wheat. Dad knows how much wheat he's got to sell and how much money he needs, so it's a matter of simple arithmetic to figure out what price per bushel the wheat needs to sell at in order for the farm to keep going for another year.

If only real life were that simple. One gets the feeling that Lem has never been to the big city before, not even on trips with his father in previous years to get a good price for the wheat. As a result, one expects Lem to be overwhelmed by the big city and all that it has to offer a seeming naïf like Lem. While a bit of that happens, it's also not quite what happens. Lem finds a nice little diner where he can go to have lunch every day, and working the counter is pretty little Kate (Mary Duncan). In a normal movie, we might find that she's taking him for a ride, but in City Girl we find out that she's one of those people who's fed up with the big city and would like to get away from it all. As a result, the two begin to fall in genuine love.

But of course Lem is there to sell the wheat, and there's not a whole lot he can do about the people with the money buying it and what price they're willing to pay. If the buyer and seller cannot agree on a price, then no sale is going to be made. And there appears to be a glut of wheat on the market this season that's causing the price of wheat to fall. So poor Lem panics and sells for what he thinks is the best price he's going to get. (And, in his defense, the longer he stays in Chicago, the more expenses he's going to have, eating into the price he gets for the wheat.) Lem also decides to marry Kate and bring her back to the farm.

Dad is none too pleased about Lem not getting a good enough price for the wheat. But he's really ticked off about Lem's marriage to Kate. Dad immediately presumes that Kate is simply in it for the money and that a big-city girl like her is never going to be able to survive the life of hard work on the farm, Green Acres not being the place for her. Kate, Dad thinks, is just going to squeeze Lem and the rest of the family for what she can get and run off. And Lem doesn't do much to defend his or his wife's honor!

Matters get worse when more dramatic tension is added in the form of a storm coming from Canada that threatens to do a lot of damage to the crops when it dips down into Minnesota. They're going to have to speed up the pace of the harvest. To that end, Dad has brought in one of the regular itinerant farm crews, and Mac, boss of the crew, has decided he's taken a liking to Kate. Kate is getting a bit disillusioned by the way her father-in-law treated her and the fact that Lem didn't stand up for her, so she's willing to have the marriage annulled and leave now. But Mac decides he wants Kate for himself....

As I said, I didn't know the movie City Girl coming into this viewing, and learning about the history of it is the reason why I didn't know anything about it. This was directed by F.W. Murnau just after he made Sunrise, and as you can see, the two movies have some fair thematic similarity. But in the intervening period, sound had come to film, and by the time work on City Girl as Murnau had conceived it was complete, a major studio like Fox wasn't going to be able to release a silent picture. So the execs insisted on reshoots that would make it one of those part-talking pictures of which Hollywood released several in 1929. Eventually, a complete (or as complete as we know) print of Murnau's silent vision was found a good 40 years after the movie was made, and that's the version TCM ran.

City Girl is a visually beautiful movie, and one that's fairly well acted. If the movie has faults, it's in the story, which really isn't very original. But then there aren't too many really original stories out there. City Girl is one you should see if you can, for the beauty of Murnau's creation.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Term of Trial

I hadn't really intended to do reviews on two movies with Terence Stamp in them in close proximity, but then Modesty Blaise showed up in the FXM rotation. But in going through the backlog of movies on my YoutubeTV cloud DVR, I got up to another movie that also happens to have Terence Stamp in a supporting role: Term of Trial.

The star here is Laurence Olivier. He plays Graham Weir, who is a teacher who doesn't have the best of personal lives. He's married to Anna (Simone Signoret) in a marriage that's become loveless in part because she apparently can't bear him any children. Graham has dealt with this by turning to the drink. He's also got a lot of the tropes of school movies whether British like Violent Playground or American like Blackboard Jungle; notably this includes the juvenile delinquent type like Mitchell (that's 23-year-old Terence Stamp playing high school-aged).

Also in his class is Shirley Taylor (Sarah Miles), a nice young girl of working-class parents who wants to get ahead and go to "night school", after-school catch-up classes for students who think they need remedial education. But since the current term is halfway done, her signing up for that might not work out so well. So she gets the idea that perhaps Mr. Weir can come to her house and help her out one-on-one, which you get was her intention all along. After all, students having a crush on their teachers has also always been a staple of movies set in high school. Much complicating matters is that Mitchell thinks Shirley should be his girl.

Meanwhile, there's the faculty-related stuff going on. Mr. Sylvan-Jones (Allan Cuthbertson), the current deputy headmaster, is taking on a new position elsewhere at the end of term, so a promotion to deputy headmaster is up, as the headmaster tells everybody in an assembly. Graham might be good in that job, but there's that personal life, which includes being a conscientious objector during World War II. Also at the assembly, the headmaster announces that there are going to be two field trips to the Continent during the Easter recess. Weir's class is going to be heading off to Paris.

This gives Shirley the chance to put the moves on Weir even more, as it becomes clearer that she's got a crush on him. It goes so far as to feign a fainting spell in the Louvre in order to get some time alone with Weir, and then showing up at his hotel room after everybody has ostensibly gone to bed. But when Graham figures out what's going wrong and tries to put a stop to it, Shirley decides to intimate that Graham was the one doing untoward things, leading to the titular trial.

Despite all the tropes, Term of Trial is actually a pretty darn good movie. Part of this is due to the presence of Laurence Olivier, who unsurprisingly gives a fine performance. But another part of it comes from being adjacent to the British "kitchen sink" movies of the early 1960s. There's something about the production values here that seems so much grittier than we could get from Hollywood movies of the era.

So if you get the chance, definitely give Term of Trial a watch. One note, however: Wikipedia and IMDb both list it as having a 130-minute running time, while the print TCM ran is only 114 minutes.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Briefs not really having to do with Christmas Eve

Since I only had a short post about Christmas programming up for the 24th, part of my plan was to do a second post on the day, maybe a birthday salute because I hadn't done one in a while. Probably the biggest birthday on Christmas Eve would be director Michael Curtiz. Instead I decided to go in a different direction.

I finally caught this year's TCM Remembers tribute on, I think, the 19th. I'm not certain if this was the original version or if it was edited after, but it includes a couple of people who died fairly recently, including Ryan O'Neal and movie writer Cari Beauchamp. For some reason, I thought Beauchamp was behind the documentary on the Mary Astor custody trial, but that was actually Alexa Foreman. Beauchamp wrote the book on trailblazing female screenwriter Frances Marion, which also got turned into a documentary, since I know I saw that one on TCM at some point along the way.

The Library of Congress announced the 2023 National Film Registry selections last week. Interestingly, there's a bit more in the way of classic film this year than last, when I think the oldest thing selected was the 1950 Cyrano de Bergerac. This year there's Dinner at Eight, which to me is a bit surprising that it hadn't been selected before. Another movie that I was surprised to see hadn't yet been selected was Home Alone. Since movies are eligible 10 years after release, that means it's been over 20 years since Home Alone was first eligible.

I noticed about a week ago just after the Saturday matinee while watching to see if they'd have TCM Remembers then that there was a continuity announcer giving us the lineup, something there hadn't been in quite a few years. I wondered if maybe it was something that was only part of the Saturday matinee, but when I watched Miracle on Main Street on Monday night there was a continuity announcer giving the lineup after that one too. Nice to see that back.

I'm not certain what to make of the merger talks between Warner Bros. and Paramount. Getting David Zaslav away from TCM could only be a positive, however.

A quick heads up on Christmas programming

TCM has been running its Christmas marathon for almost a week now, and with tomorrow being Christmas they're getting close to the end of it. The Christmas programming only runs through 8:00 PM on Christmas night, after which TCM gives us a night of Alfred Hitchcock movies. I already did a post about TCM's programming last Saturday, so this post will be a bit brief, and more to point out a couple of second chances:

It Happened on Fifth Avenue was on at 11:00 PM on December 17, and will be airing again this afternoon at 3:45 PM;
That's immediately followed by Meet Me in St. Louis at 6:00 PM, which already aired on the 21st;
Christmas in Connecticut (8:00 PM) and Holiday Affair (10:00 PM) also aired just a few days back; and Holiday Affair even gets a third showing, at 11:45 AM tomorrow.

I don't think I've ever mentioned Big Business (5:45 AM on Dec. 25) before. It's a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler that has them as Christmas tree salesman, which is obviously why it got put into a Christmas marathon and is probably the most daring of TCM's choices for the day.

FXM's programming is even less daring. They're doing the same thing they've done in past years, which is a loop of two versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol alternating. One is the Alastair Sim classic, while the other is from a few years back, starring Guy Pearce.

For those of you who still subscribe to the premium services, I had forgotten that George C. Scott did a version of A Christmas Carol as well, although I think it was a TV movie from the mid 1980s. StarzEncore Classics has that (and it looks to be about the oldest "classic" they've got over Christmas) as one of the few Christmas offerings, at 5:30 AM on December 25.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Night Around the Vigil

I've mentioned British author A.J. Cronin before, and his medical novels from the era just before World War II in the UK. One of the movies based on a Cronin novel that I hadn't seen before shows up on TCM a few months back: Vigil in the Night. Since the cast sounded interesting, I decided to record it to do a review on it here.

The movie starts out with a camera panning over an establishing reference sign of a Shereham County Hospital, in Shereham, somewhere in England, and the hospital's isolation ward. The attending nurse on duty is Anne Lee (Carole Lombard), working a bit past her shift at 6:10 AM tending to diphtheria patients for whom the most important thing is that their tube not becoming blocked. As I said, she's working a bit past the end of the shift because the nurse who is supposed to come on at 6:00 is late, presumably again. That nurse is Lucy Lee (Anne Shirley), a trainee nurse who doesn't yet have her "certficate". She also just happens to be Anne's sister, and definitely not as good a nurse as Anne.

Sure enough, after showing up those ten minutes late, Lucy promptly goes into the ward kitchen to make herself some tea, and the ominous music playing over the screen makes it quite clear that Something Very Bad is about to happen. That something is the kid's tube getting blocked, and the kid's arm movements make it clear that he's dying thanks to Lucy's negligence. Lucy returns to the wart to find the kid dead, which brings in all the staff. When the doctor asks when the tube became blocked, Anne lies and says five minutes to six. With that she's taking the blame for her sister, in part because she wants Lucy to get that nursing certificate, even though Lucy is insistent that she's never going to become a good nurse like Anne is.

Anne is able to get another job at a hospital in Manchester. She's happy for the work despite the matron (Ethel Griffies) being brutally honest about the working conditions. Her work takes her into the office of Dr. Prescott (Brian Aherne), chief of surgery, and Anne realizes she want to be a nurse in the surgery ward. She even sits in the gallery when the chairman of the hospital board, Matthew Bowley, is operated on, and takes a risk by suggesting that the nurses actually attending have not counted the cotton bandages properly. She turns out to be right, but Bowley's giving her a check is also a huge breach of ethcs.. Still, it brings her even closer to Dr. Prescott. As you can guess, Prescott and Anne begin to fall in love.

Meanwhile, Lucy is finally getting her certificate, and matron needs more nurses, so offers Anne a day off to bring Lucy back. The bus crashes just before another nurse can tell matron what happened at Shereham, but it also serves to give scenes of Anne having to do more dedicated nursing. Heaven knows there's going to be more of that over the course of the movie. If diphtheria, surgery, and bus crashes aren't enough, the climax deals with a meningitis outbreak.

A.J. Cronin was a doctor as well as a writer, and he had decided ideas on how the profession should be run. Indeed, watching Vigil in the Night, it sometimes feels as if "the message" is getting in the way of the story, much like with Stanley Kramer and Not as a Stranger. That's a bit of a shame, because Carole Lombard does a very fine job here. She had spent most of the second half of the 1930s doing all those screwball comedies, and wanted to show that she could really be a serious actress, which is why she made movies like this one. And she (and the film) mostly succeeds.

So if you can take that there's going to be a message practically hitting you over the head at times, I think you'll like Vigil in the Night.

Friday, December 22, 2023

The First Nudie Musical

I was recently looking through the movies that are about to leave Tubi, and among them was one that I had seen somebody mention on one of the movie boards that replaced the old TCM boards: The First Nudie Musical. Since it's leaving at the end of the month, I made a point to watch it in order to be able to do a review on it here and give you a chance to catch it too.

I was surprised to see the name Cindy Williams in the opening credits; this was made just before Laverne and Shirley became a hit. She plays Rosie, the secretary to Harry Schechter (Stephen Nathan). Schechter is the boss of a Hollywood studio, albeit one that's fallen on hard times, no pun intended. Harry's dad had been the studio head back in the golden days of Hollywood, and Harry has continued in Dad's footsteps, although much less profitable. In fact, Harry has had to resort to making porn to keep the studio afloat, and not telling his dad about it.

The suits inform Harry that the studio is about to go broke unless it can turn a profit on a film. When Rosie walks into the meeting and starts doing a bit of dancing, it gives Harry an idea: make the first nudie musical, in the style of all those past musicals Busby Berkeley or the Freed Unit might have done a generation or two prior. Of course, this is just a pitch at first; they don't have a script or cast, and certainly don't have any songs or choreography. But the suits agree to the idea, with a couple of caveats. Harry has to put the studio up as collateral, and has to get the movie made in two weeks, which is a quick turnaround even for the adult film industry.

Oh, there's one other catch, which is that to save money, one of the suits informs Harry that he's got a nephew, John Smithee (Bruce Kimmel), who is a budding film director, and he'll do the movie for cheap! Needless to say, Harry discovers that John is thoroughly unsuited to make any sort of movie, let alone an adult film, and one of the plot strands is a running joke about how to get John away from the director's chair so that the real action can happen.

Well, to be honest, most of the plot strands are little more than tropes, around which, well, we get the putative numbers from what would be a nudie musical. There's the casting, with an innocent Esther Blodgett type coming in from the Midwest; the adult actress who's been through one too many adult films; all the problems that can go on while trying to make a movie or a stage musical; and so on. That, and the nudity, since they are after all making a nudie musical.

So, of course, The First Nudie Musical is a movie that would be decidedly NSFW. That having been said, much of the movie disproportionately has the tone of what sort of musical you'd make if Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney said, "Hey, let's put on a show!", only at a nudist colony instead of their backyard, and with consenting adults who have a raunchy sense of humor. It's more full-frontal nudity combined with bad sex jokes than it is the sort of simulation of sex you'll see if you watch Boogie Nights. There is, however, one scene where the joke is that they have to bring in an actor who had "keep it up" through multiple takes, but the filming angle we get is from the ribcage up. So breasts, and a bad simulation of sex (although I think that's part of the joke).

The First Nudie Musical is also clearly not going to be a movie for everyone. But as I wrote when I blogged about Booty Call, I have the sort of sense of humor where something that's so off-the-wall combined with raunchy works for me. Objectively, the movie is poorly acted and has an extremely low-budget look (although I think that latter is also a deliberate choice). But if you're in the right mood, it's a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

What if Brits made a Czech New Wave movie?

Another of the "British" movies that showed up on TubiTV and looked like it might be interesting, and that I'd never heard of before, was 90° in the Shade. So I decided to watch it in order to be able to review it here.

The movie starts off with some scenes of a hot summer day in contemporary Prague; the movie is actually a UK/Czechoslovak co-production in English, or at least all the British actors playing the leads are English, with the Czechs being dubbed into English. Eventually, the scene stops on a municipal swimming area on the Vltava River, being watched by a man named Kurka (Rudolf Hrušínský). Kurka is about to take a job as a new manager at a branch of the state alcohol monopoly (well, the store also sells non-alcoholic goods), meeting the old manager, Vorel (James Booth).

Kurka's job is to audit the place, which is going to be hell on the workers because they've all got a routine, even if that routine isn't exactly the most efficient one for a business. Not quite the "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us" joke of the old Communist bloc, but definitely relaxed and the sort of thing that would horrify a functionary new to the place. To make matters worse, Vorel is having an affair with Alena (Anne Heywood), one of the shop assistants, even though she's married. They're all worried about what Kurka will find.

Kurka seems to take joy in his job and making certain there are no violations, if only because he home life is most decidedly not a joy. He's got a wife who's an alcoholic, and a son who seems nowhere near as intelligent as Dad. Indeed, Kurka starts to suspect everything almost from the minute he gets to the shop. Alena miscounts the number of a certain type of bottle and then, on the recount, everything conveniently matches properly. Then the lights go out in the shop and when Kurka sees lights haven't gone out in other buildings, suspect there might be a ruse of some sort.

And the employees are right to be worried about what Kurka is going to find. Vorel has been smuggling expensive brandy to sell on the black market, and an audit is definitely going to find it. They're going to have to scrounge up a lot of money to replace the pilfered alcohol, or else to do something else to maintain the ruse.

After a scene of Alena trying to get the money, we get to the big audit the next morning, and find that there doesn't seem to be anything missing. At least, not until a second auditor, Bažant (Donald Wolfit). accidentally knocks over one of the bottles like Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Claude Rains' wine cellar in Notorious. It's discovered that the bottles are filled not with uranium-bearing sands, but with tea. Someone's going to have to pay for the deception, and that leads to tragedy....

90° Degrees in the Shade is the sort of movie that's not for everyone. I've mentioned in the past that I'm not the biggest fan of some of the movies from the various New Waves, and the pacing here is definitely uneven, and the use of flashbacks doesn't always help. But the basic story is a good one that mostly works, and the vintage shots of Prague, even if in black and wite, also work quite well. Indeed, at time the stark monochrom cinematography serves to make the whole place look all the seedier.

So if you like foreign films, even though this one is in English, definitely give 90° Degrees in the Shade a try.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Modesty Blaise

I've briefly mentioned the movie Modesty Blaise on a couple of occasions, I think most recently when Dirk Bogarde was TCM's Star of the Month and this was one of the movies that did not air during the tribute, it having been distributed by Fox. It happens to be back in the FXM rotation, and it airs again tomorrow, December 21, at 9:05 AM, so I watched it to do a review. (It will also be on early on Christmas Eve.)

The movie opens in Amsterdam with the sort of nonsense epsionage tropes common to movies of the era, such as ridiculous costumes and coded speech to deliver something through multiple middlemen. The eventually gets to a building in the city where presumably the final drop is supposed to happen, but instead the building is blown up, killing a British agent. Sir Gerald Tarrant (Harry Andrews), chief of the Her Majesty's Secret Service, is called in to discuss what to do next.

This bit of espionage involved diamond shipments to a Middle Eastern emirate in exchange for British firms getting the rights to drill the oil the emirate has. Sheik Abui Tahir (Clive Revill) it the former head of the country, and could be vital in getting back into power to secure those leases. He's also the foster father of a former supercriminal Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti), who has allegedly gone into retirement. So a call is put out to her to see if she'll do the job and get those diamonds where they're supposed to go.

However, there's a catch. In order to come out of retirement, Modesty wants full immunity, and the ability to work with a former partner, Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp). One big issue, however, is that Willie is supposedly in South America, and will be difficult to find. Of course they do find him, and he joins the case.

However, there are powerful interests trying to stop the delivery of those diamonds. Since this is nominally a spy movie, there has to be a mastermind working from a secret lair. That's Gabriel (Dirk Bogard), together with psychotic killer Mrs. Fothergill (Rossella Falk) from his island lair somewhere in the Mediterranean. One running joke throughout the movie is that Gabriel wants to carry out his plans on a budget; after all, he didn't get wealthy by spending that much money.

But there's somebody else interested in stopping Modesty, which is Sir Gerald himself. Together with one of his agents Paul, who used to be a boyfriend of Modesty, they trail Modesty and Willie and try to mess up her plans. It's no skin off their teeth if Modesty and Willie meet their ends.

Modesty Blaise was based on a British comic strip that was first conceived in the wake of the earliest James Bond movie. As such, the production design has a very over-the-top look that certainly works in portraying the utter unrealisticness of the whole story. However, the movie as a whole got mixed reviews, and it's not hard to see why. The story itself is muddled and complicated, and a lot of the time it feels like the parts aren't working together as well as they did in the more coherent Sean Connery Bond movies. It's as though Modesty Blaise would predict the parody of itself that the Roger Moore Bonds tended towards. On the bright side, in addition to the production design it mostly looks as though the cast is having fun making this, especially Bogarde.

If you're looking for a spy spoof movie from the 1960s you haven't seen yet, Modesty Blaise isn't half bad. If you're looking for a tense Cold War spy movie, however, this isn't it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Miracle on Main Street

TCM's "Christmas" programming last night turned out to be promoting one of the books they're trying to sell, about Christmas in the movies. I had already seen a couple of the movies on the schedule, but there's one that I hadn't seen that gets another showing in the TCM Christmas marathon: Miracle on Main Street. That second showing is tomorrow (Dec. 20) at 10:30 AM, so I'm writing up a quick post on the movie.

The film starts off on Christmas Eve in the Mexican section of Los Angeles, the movie having been released back in 1939, when James FitzPatrick would inform us that Los Angeles has a population of several thousand Mexicans, so enough for one medium-sized neighborhood. While the Mexicans are doing their procession to midnight mass that brings crowds of onlookers, there's a second class of people just trying to eke out a living.

Among those are Dick Porter (Lyle Talbot), who does a carnival barker thing to try to get audiences to pay a dime to see the hoochie-koochie show in which his long-suffering wife Maria (Margo, who only went by that one name) dances, along with a couple of women who have become her friends, Flo (Veda Ann Borg, one of those names you see lower down the credits even if you didn't recognize the face) and Sade (Wynne Gibson). There's also a local bar/nightclub nearby where people celebrate, from the alcoholic Dr. Miles (William Collier) to a reasonably well-to-do orange orchard owner im (Walter Abel) and his now fiancée.

Dick's real act at the dance show is to find some unsuspecting schlub to shake down for all the cash the guy has on him after getting the guy good and drunk and promising to show him Maria. Only this time, the mark is really an undercover police detective, who plans to have Dick arrested, which of course would also mean trouble for Maria. So the two of them flee in separate directions, with Maria going into the church, Mass having finished.

As she prays in the church, she finds that somebody's abandonded a baby and put it in the nativity scene. Maria decides to take the baby for the night, since it will give her a way out of the church that will have the police not suspecting her of being Dick's partner in crime. At the boarding house run by Mrs. Herman (Jane Darwell) where all of the poor people live, Maria thinks about keeping the baby after it continues to save her from the police, while Dick ultimately scrams, for both of their sakes, with the plan to get together again when the heat blows off.

But the baby starts to bring good luck to Maria, as she's able to get a job doing sewing at home, making children's clothes. Sade and Flo get good jobs out in the more fashionable parts of town, and Dr. Miles goes on the wagon. Jim gets a divorce, but that turns out to be in the best interests of everybody too as the wife was just incompatible with agricultural life while it gives Jim a chance to run into Maria again and start a relationship with her, not knowing that she's married to a louse. And sure enough, the louse is about to show up again....

Miracle on Main Street was supposed to be released by Grand National, a company that was around for just a few years; I think the one movie of there's I'd remember is Something to Sing About. But the studio went bankrupt before Miracle on Main Street could be released, which is why it's lapsed into obscurity. It's also pretty much a B movie what with the brief running time and C-list at best cast. Not that it's bad; more that there's a good reason the movie has been largely forgotten. Still, it's definitely worth one watch at least.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Flowing Gold

I've mentioned Rex Beach in the past, as he's the writer responsible for the story that gave us several versions of The Spoilers. A different movie that's based on the work of Rex Beach is Flowing Gold. It aired a few months back on TCM, and I recorded it and recently watched it.

The movie opens with a scroll about oil, also known as "black gold", and its importance to modern-day civilization. Cut to some town in Oklahoma that's sprung up as part of the state's oil boom. Several people are waiting in front of a building with a help wanted sign, even though it's the middle of the night. Just as the bosses are about to take on new men for the day, a couple of policemen show up with a "wanted" poster, causing one of the men, Johnny Alexander (John Garfield) to flee. He should know, since he's the guy on the poster.

He gets in a truck that's going to another oil field, run by foreman Hap O'Connor Pat O'Brien. It's a tough place to work, especially since on of the men has been drinking on the job, which is even more dangerous. The man's drinking comes to light and Hap tries to fire him. The man responds by trying to attack Hap, but Johnny, now taking the name "Blake" to avoid discovery, saves Hap. Johnny then reveals that he's on the lam for a murder rap, although he insists it was in self-defense, something that's important because of the Production Code constrictions.

Eventually Johnny flees to a town called Eagle Rock, which is booming even more thanks to some new oil fields. Hap also goes there, finding that an old wildcatter friend of his, Chalmers (Raymond Walburn) is there, together with his daughter Linda (Frances Farmer), who is now all grown up and looking very nice indeed. Johnny comes across Linda one day when she gets her car stuck in the mud, and helps her out. It eventually results in a romance, but it takes some time.

That's because Johnny has gotten a job with Chalmers' mortal enemy, who holds most of the leases, and is trying to squeeze Chalmers out, by any means necessary, including blocking roads and keeping the bankers from lending money to Chalmers. Johnny does wind up working for Hap again, however, and the plot leads to two main conflicts: will the oil well ever come in, and will Johnny be able to continue outrunning the law?

Flowing Gold is another of those movies that fits what Warner Bros. was quite good at doing, and giving the lead role to John Garfield is a move that works quite well. Once again, he's very appealing in a blue-collar role. Pat O'Brien is a bit miscast, but does fine with his part. The movie also packs both a surprising number of twists and turns, and a surprising amount of action, into its programmer-length running time of a shade over 80 minutes.

Flowing Gold is definitely worth watching for anybody who's a fan of the Warner Bros. programmers.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Last of Miss Hoskins

Greer Garson was another of the stars honored in Summer Under the Stars this past August, as I mentioned back then because it finally gave me the chance to watch The Valley of Decision. Another of her movies that aired that day that I hadn't watched before was The Law and the Lady. So, I recorded it, and recently I finally got around to watching it.

The opening credits mention that it's based on the play The Last of Mrs. Cheyney by Frederick Lonsdale, a play that had already been turned into a movie twice by MGM before World War II. Five years after the war, MGM decided that a third version of it was necessary, although opening it up and changing it quite a bit, especially the names. Here, the Cheyney character is one Miss Jane Hoskins, played by Greer Garson. She's working as a maid at the turn of the century to a wealthy London lady, Sybil Minden. She's married to Lord Minden (Michael Wilding), the elder of twin brothers and the one who inherited most of the family wealth. Younger twin Nigel Duxbury is a bit of a cad, but shows up at the Minden house regularly.

That's more of a way to introduce our two leads: Nigel steals a pair of Lady Minden's earrings one evening, and Lady Minden draws an obvious, if flawed, conclusion that it was Jane, since Jane is pretty much the only one who has access to Lady Minden's jewelry box. Lady Minden calls in Scotland Yard and wants to have Jane arrested, at least until Nigel produces the earrings. It's clear that Jane can't work for Lady Minden any more, but it's Nigel who suggests that his sister-in-law may have slandered Jane, so he blackmails Lady Minden into an agreement: give Jane £200 in addition to good references.

Jane figures she's going to try to become a lady on that money, by going to America where she has a cousin, and marrying wealthy. But it doesn't quite work that way, as Nigel sort of cons her into becoming the sort of couple feigning wealth and going to the upper-class vacation places on the Continent, and coming up with schemes to separate the truly wealthy people from their money, although you have to wonder whether they're going to run into somebody they've already conned. After a while, they get all the way to San Francisco.

Here we finally get the conflict and something approaching the original play. Jane, masquerading as Lady Loverly, and Nigel meet a wealthy and thoroughly American woman Julia (Marjorie Main, who could never have played British). In addition to being wealthy, she's got jewels, and Nigel would like to steal some of them. Nigel goes to work for her, and Jane becomes friends with her. But by this time Nigel has been falling in love with Jane, and Jane's friendship with Julia makes Jane think about not stealing the jewels. Also, Jane is being wooed by one of Julia's friends, Juan (Fernando Lamas). How is the script going to resolve its conflicts and satisfy the Production Code?

The Law and the Lady is the sort of movie that, in earlier years, MGM could have done really well, especially if the production had been conceived as one of MGM's prestige movies. By this point, however, Greer Garson was getting long in the tooth, while the prestige productions tended to be the color musicals from the Freed Unit. A fair amount of the MGM gloss is still here, but you have to wonder whether the movie could have been a lot better.

Still, the production is more than competent enough, if a bit old-fashioned, and definitely worth one watch.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The "Human" Factor

George Kennedy is interesting in pretty much everything I've seen him in, and he had a pretty long career. Recently, while looking through what's available on Tubi, I came across a movie of his that I'd never heard of: The "Human" Factor. The plot also sounded interesting, so I sat down to watch it in order that I'd be able to do a review on it.

Unfortunately, the print that Tubi has is in 4:3 and looks like it was done on videotape and could be a TV movie, although every bit of information I found suggests it's in fact a theatrical movie. It starts off showing John Kinsdale (that's George Kennedy) looking like a typical American family man, which in many ways he is, except that he's an expat, working for NATO in their Southern Europe headquarters in Italy as a computer expert, together with British electronics expert Mike McAllister (John Mills). One night, Kinsdale returns home to what is supposed to be his son's birthday party, only to find out that a bunch of police cars are surrounding the front entrance, willing to keep even him out since they don't realize yet he's the patriarch of the family. He finds that his family has been killed execution-style, in a way completely new to the Italian authorities by police inspector Lupo (Raf Vallone).

Lupo gives Kinsdale a bit of information that perhaps he shouldn't, as it's evidence in the ongoing investigation into the murders. Even though Kinsdale has an ironclad alibi and wants the killers caught, giving out such information probably isn't a good idea. In Kinsdale's case, however, it kindles in him an idea to start his own investigation to try to avenge the murders of his wife and kids. So he steals some credentials Lupo has courtesy of the US Embassy. Being a computer expert and working for NATO, he uses his knowledge of accessing government databases to get into them and figure out who the murderer might be.

A second murder committed in the same way against another American family takes place, and Kinsdale is able to meet with a bigwig in the US embassy, George Edmonds (Barry Sullivan). Edmonds, not having been told by Kinsdale that this is the husband of the first family that got killed, reveals what is more or less classified information, that some sort of terrorist cell has contacted American authorities with blackmail demands, that they'll kill another American family every few days unless certain demands are met. This gives Kinsdale an even more urgent desire to figure out who carried out the killings and stop future killings from happening.

But Kinsdale isn't an expert in this sort of investigation, and whatever vigilante actions he's taking may only screw up the investigation being carried out by the Italian police in cooperation with the legitimate American authorities. It all leads to a climax at one of the US bases in the area....

As I said, The "Human" Factor looks, and in many times feels, like a TV movie of the week. Not that it's bad; there are quite a few TV movies from that era that were pretty darn good. The computer technology depicted here is primitive, but in some ways it only serves to add to the charm of the movie. George Kennedy does well as the man with a burning desire for revenge, while Mills, along with Rita Tushingham as the third member of their crew, provide level-headed moral support. The views of the Naples area as it was in 1975 are also worth catching.

The "Human" Factor isn't the world's greatest movie by any stretch of the imagination. But if you haven't seen it before, and just want to be entertained, it will certainly do.

Friday, December 15, 2023

The original Bugsy

A couple of months back, TCM ran the biopic Bugsy, about gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and his ultimate desire to build a new kind of gambling mecca in the desert of Las Vegas. It's a movie that first came out when I was in college, so I was too busy doing other things to see much in the way of new movies, with the result that I'd never seen it in the 30-plus years since. So with that in mind, I recorded it in order that I'd finally be able to watch it.

Warren Beatty plays Bugsy Siegel, part of the New York Jewish Mafia who has the movie opens up is presented as someone apparently trying to overcome his class upbringing, at least as evidenced by his practicing his diction. (That, and his hatred of the "Bugsy" nickname.) He's sent out to Los Angeles to deal with a gangster who stands accused of skimming money from the syndicate. There, Bugsy is met by his old friend George Raft (Joe Mantegna), who of course had known the old New York mobsters before decamping to Hollywood to become an actor himself. Siegel gets the idea that Hollywood might be a bigger racket than everything he'd been doing in New York, and likes the idea of staying out west, buying a house from opera star with Hollywood pretensions Lawrence Tibbett.

George Raft is busy making the movie Manpower, and it's on the set of that movie that Siegel meets a would-be actress who also had ties to the Mob, Virginia Hill (Annette Bening). Siegel is taken with her beauty, and the two start a torrid affair. Meanwhile, business hits some snags for Siegel when Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) robs the outfit. Siegel realizes, however, that Cohen is smart, and gets Cohen to go in with him.

One day, Siegel goes off on business, that takes him through the sleepy desert city of Las Vegas. Gambling was already legal in Nevada, but there was mostly small-time gambling in Vegas at the time. However, seeing the possibilities of legal gambling, and the possibility of doing something more respectable, Siegel gets the idea of building a resort out in the desert that, like Palm Springs, would be a place for people to get away from it all with an almost always sunny climate. Only, this place would have legal gambling in addition to resort stuff.

That resort would eventually become the Flamingo, and at the time Siegel conceived it, he planned on spending a million bucks building it, quite a sum of money just as World War II was ending. But thanks to various difficulties and Siegel's consistent desire to make the Flamingo the best resort around, the project suffers from severe cost overruns. The rest of the mafia bosses get together, believing that Siegel has embezzled a bunch of money from them in order to fund the construction of the Flamingo.

The story of Bugsy as presented is done fairly well, with strong performances from Beatty and Bening. However, since a good portion of the story has Siegel out in Hollywood and dealing with real Hollywood figures, all of us who are fans of old movies are going to spot a bunch of continuity errors. This is almost always the case in Hollywood biopics, since they need to compress the action to fit within a reasonable running time, but when the subject of the biography is tangent to something you know a bit more about (in this case classic film), the errors can be a bit more jarring.

Still, that doesn't take enough away from the movie to make it enjoyable. And for "regular" people who don't know so much about old Hollywood, some of the errors should be less notable (although since a good portion of the action is during World War II, that's another area where errors can be jarring). If you haven't seen it before, Bugsy is definitely worth a watch.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Thursday Movie Picks, December 14, 2023: Movies with "Day" or "Night" in the title

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. The theme this week is "Day or Night in Title", and since I have a feeling the series isn't going to be continuing next year, and because I don't see myself doing a post for the TV-themed Thursday Movie Picks in two week's time, I decided I'd do two posts for this edition of the blogathon, one with movies with "Day" in the title, and the other with "Night". Since the night comes after the day, I did "Day" movies first, and now we get "Night" movies, again with a very slight theme:

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). Albert Finney plays a blue collar worker in England who doesn't like the sort of life that working-class Brits in those days were doomed to wind up in, so he decides to spend his money having fun. Unfortunately he has an affair with the wife of a co-worker, and a girlfriend who won't put out for him, leading to him knocking up the co-worker's wife. She shockingly wants an abortion (shockingly because abortion was not legal in the UK at the time).

Saturday Night Fever (1977). John Travolta plays a young man from Brooklyn working a dead-end job and living with his parents. He dreams of going to the disco on Saturday nights, and possibly escaping Bay Ridge if he can win the big dance competition. But to do that he's going to have to find the sort of dance partner who won't care for him in a romantic way. Family life is also becoming more complicated....

Uptown Saturday Night (1974). Sidney Poitier directed himself as a working man hoping to make enough money to move out to the country with his wife. Bill Cosby plays his cabbie friend who convinces him to go to an illegal casino one Saturday night, when the place gets held up and he loses his wallet. The next day he finds out that he's won the lottery. Except that the winning ticket was in the wallet he lost...

Thursday Movie Picks, December 14, 2023: Movies with "Day" or "Night" in the title

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. The theme this week is "Day or Night in Title", and since I have a feeling the series isn't going to be continuing next year, and because I don't see myself doing a post for the TV-themed Thursday Movie Picks in two week's time, I decided I'd do two posts for this edition of the blogathon, one with movies with "Day" in the title, and the other with "Night". Since the day comes first, we first get the three movies with that word in the title, slightly related in terms of phrasing and the fact that nuclear weapons are a theme:

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Michael Rennie plays an alien who comes down to earth, landing in Washington DC to try to warn mankind about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Of course the authorities don't know how to handle the alien and try to harm him, leading him to flee to a young widow (Patricia Neal) to see if she can help him. Barata klaatu nikto.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). British apocolyptic film with the idea that simultaneous nuclear tests send the earth off its rotation and orbit, causing climactic changes that threaten to burn the earth to a crisp. Can mankind start cooperating? And if so, can they figure out a way to reverse what happened?

The Day the Fish Came Out (1967). Bizarre farce about a British bomber that scuttles its unexploded nuclear bombs over a Greek island, and the crew (Tom Courtneay and Colin Blakely) trying to find the payload before the locals do, since the locals will get into the nuclear material which is highly dangerous. Meanwhile an archeologist (Candice Bergen), and a couple of American agents disguised as tourist resort developers show up on the island, with the agents looking for the missiles too.

Unfortunately I've never seen Jerry Lewis' The Day the Clown Cried. (I don't think anybody has, now that Lewis is no longer with us.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Teahouse of the August Moon

If you think about it, Glenn Ford made a surprising number of war movies and service comedies over the course of his career. One that I hadn't seen before, so recorded the last time it showed up on TCM, was The Teahouse of the August Moon. Having watched it, I can finally do a review of it here.

After the opening credits, we get a scene that's going to be rather off-putting for a lot of viewers: that of Marlon Brando as Sakini, a Japanese man who can speak English and lives on the island of Okinawa in 1946. This is not long after the surrender of Japan ending World War II, and Okinawa and the rest of the Ryukyu Islands extending southwest from the Home Islands were put under a greater level of American control than the rest of the country. Sakini tells us how the locals are very good at learning from all the foreign occupations that have befallen his islands, and basically taking the best of it without the occupiers knowing what's really going on.

Cut to the officious Col. Purdy (Paul Ford). He's been given orders to bring the best of America to Okinawa in order to pacify the islands, but finds out that things are decidedly not going to plan. So he needs someone new to implement those plans. Thankfully, he's getting someone new to work under him in the form of Capt. Fisby (Glen Ford). Fisby is a bit of an incompetent at best, and maybe a bit of a dishonest if well-intentioned schemer at worst, having been drummed out of a bunch of other outfits in the Army before being reassigned to a backwater like Col. Purdy's bailiwick. Fisby's duty is to go to a village called Tobiki, and with the help of his interpreter Sakini, get a school built and a ladies' democracy league started.

As I mentioned, the locals are clever at gaming the system, and they don't really need a new school. What they want is to replace the old teahouse, a place where geisha would entertain men, and something that would presumably be good for tourism to the island, not that there was much tourism in 1946. They're going to need to rebuild the economy, however, and Fisby looks for some form of local industry. Back in those days, however, Made in Japan was the same sort of symbol of low-quality cheapness that Made in China is today, so none of the stuff they manufacture helps until it's discovered that the Okinawans are good as making certain distilled spirits.

Meanwhile, Fisby is growing to like the locals, and taking on some of their cultural mores, which is rather a no-no considering that he's got Army orders to get that school built. It isn't getting built, and Purdy is wondering what's taking so long, so he digs up an Army psychologist, Capt. McLean (Eddie Albert) to investigate what's going on. McLean is shocked at first to see what's happened to Fisby, but he too soon comes around to the locals' point of view.

In some ways, it would be easy to see The Teahouse of the August Moon as being a much more comedic version of a movie like A Bell for Adano, and set in Japan instead of Italy. But there was a lot more about it that didn't work for me. Everybody will virtue signal about how terrible it was to have Marlon Brando play Okinawan. But for me, even if the character had been played by someone Japanese I still would have hated the character: Sakini reminded me a lot of the character Barry Fitzgerald played in The Quiet Man, giving John Wayne a bunch of BS when Wayne simply wanted to get where he was going. It's supposed to be charming, but in real life such people are terribly tedious, and that makes The Teahouse of the August Moon a slog to get through.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Withnail & I

Another of the movies that I had noticed a couple of times on the TCM schedule, but never actually watched, is Withnail & I. I had heard good things about it, and noticed it showed up a few years on one of those critics' lists of all-time great comedies. So the most recent time that it ran on TCM, I finally made a point to record it so that I could do the obligatory post on it here.

The movie is narrated more or less by the "I" character (Paul McGann), whose name is never spoken in the movie although there's one scene where he gets a telegram suggesting that the name is Marwood, so I'll use that to keep him separate from me. Marwood is a struggling actor living in London in 1969 with his friend Withnail (Richard E. Grant), who is also a struggling actor. Withnail is also a bit of a chancer, which at times bothers Marwood. The two also have a bit of a volatile relationship in that the two of them struggle to pay the rent and even keep the apartment in a presentable state.

One day, while the two of them are talking yet again about the struggle to get gigs and the constant lack of money, Withnail's back story of having family with a bit of wealth is mentioned. Among them is Withnail's uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). Uncle Monty has a nice place in London, but also has a vacation place up in the Lake District, so perhaps they could persuade Monty to let them use his place. Unfortunately for Marwood, Monty comes across as the stereotype of the flamboyant homosexual. In any case, Withnail convinces Uncle Monty to lend them the keys to the cottage.

So the two friends set off for the cottage, and have some trouble getting there because their car isn't in the best of shape, and they don't have good enough maps, this being 1969 and them not having good maps. No Google Street View here. Eventually they arrive and find a place that may not have electricity, and certainly doesn't hany sort of fancy heating, or any grocery stores nearby to pick up provisions. No; it's just a farmhouse almost out in the middle of nowhere, except for the other quirky people living in the area, because a movie like this just has to have quirky people living in the villages.

Marwood tries to make a go of the weekend, while Withnail gets even nastier to him. Uncle Monty shows up unannounced, with Withnail thinking it's an intruder. Monty has taken pity on them, and gives them a bit of money, although Withnail is such a jerk that he insists on spending it at the pub, while Marwood doesn't have much choice but to go along. Thankfully for him, however, he gets that telegram and the chance of a real acting job....

The big problem I had with Withnail & I is that the Withnail character is such a nasty jerk that I'd think the Marwood character would want to get away from him as soon as possible. There's this sense in a lot of movies that Withnail types are supposed to be charming and charismatic, and I suppose some of them are; Jack Carson was excellent at playing such characters in movies like Mildred Pierce. But Withnail as written isn't like that at all, making the movie more exhausting than funny at times.

As I wrote in the opening paragraph, however, Withnail & I is one of those movies that has an extremely high critical reputation, so it's definitely one of those movies that you're going to want to watch for yourself and draw your own conclusions about.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Best of the Badmen

Robert Ryan was another of the people honored in Summer Under the Stars this past August. That gave me the opportunity to DVR several of his movies that I hadn't seen before. One of these is Best of the Badmen, so recently I finally got around to watching it in order to do a review on it here.

The movie opens with title cards telling us about a forgotten chapter of American history. After the Civil War ended in April 1865, there were still some isolated areas where things didn't become peaceful right away, such as in southwestern Missouri thanks to the presence of Quantrill's Raiders. Now, if you've read my reviews over the years, you'll recall that there are a couple of movies that deal with famous outlaw Jesse James (played here by Lawrence Tierney) and how he and the males in his extended family were part of the Raiders. Walter Brennan plays a character named Doc and gives voiceover narration about the remaining stragglers in the Raiders.

Into all of this rides Maj. Jeff Clanton (that's Robert Ryan, if you couldn't tell). He served with the Union Army, and has terms regarding the late President Lincoln's proclamation. If people like Quantrill's Raiders who served in uniform for the Confederacy will sign an oath of allegiance to the Union, the Army and federal government will grant them parole, which means a chance to start over. They're not certain, largely because they have good reason to believe that the carpetbaggers that came in from other places and are now in high government positions won't give men like Quantrill's raiders a fair chance.

One such man is Matthew Fowler (Robert Preston), who ostensibly runs a detective agency but is hated by Maj. Clanton because he knows how dishonest Fowler is. Indeed, Fowler is well aware that there's reward money out there for unpardoned confederates, and he'd like to get him some of that sweet, sweet money. He'd very much like it if those raiders don't get pardoned. Fowler is even willing to use violence to keep the oath from being administered, having a deputy shoot Bob Younger. Clanton shoots back, which is the right thing as long as he's in the army. But once he's out, Fowler is going to use his bought and paid for sheriff to try to prosecute Clanton, eventually obtaining a guilty verdict and death sentence.

But in jail, a strange woman named Lily (Claire Trevor) shows up, claiming to be Jeff's lover. She springs Clanton from prison, and we eventually learn that she's Lily Fowler, the estranged wife of Matt Fowler. The two of them flee before eventually running into some of Quantrill's Raiders, who also had to flee because the pardon proclamation never got finished. Eventually everybody winds up in what is now the Oklahoma panhandle, looking for a way to gain revenge against Fowler and right historical wrongs.

Best of the Badmen is the sort of western programmer that was big in the 1940s, but within a few years would be much less common thanks to episodic TV as well as more psychological westerns like the ones Randolph Scott made with Budd Boetticher. It's not the greatest movie ever made, but it's not bad, and entertaining enough.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

How to Save a Marriage... and Ruin Your Life

Stella Stevens died earlier this year, so it was unsurprising that TCM decided to honor her by having an entire day of her movies in Summer Under the Stars. This included a couple of those 60s sex comedies that I hadn't seen before, and I added at least one of them to my DVR: How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life. Recently, I finally got around to watching it in order to be able to do a post on it.

Stevens plays Carol Corman, a shop girl at one of those old-style New York department stores that have largely left other cities, replaced by chains, especially on the lower end of the market. But this is one of those upscale stores that does deliveries. At the end of one day, she offers to make a delivery, no one else being able to do it on their way home. That delivery is an engraved humidor, to one Muriel Laszlo (Anne Jackson).

Carol goes to Muriel's apartment and knocks on the door. Answering isn't Muriel, but Harry Hunter (Eli Wallach). The only thing is, Harry isn't Muriel's husband, which in and of itself isn't such a big deal. But Harry has a wife Mary (Katharine Bard), meaning that Muriel is Harry's mistress. Much worse, however, is that Harry is also an executive at the department store where Carol works, and the two recognize each other. The next day at the office, Harry calls in Carol and tells her she might be promotion material.

Cut to a shot of Mary walking into the office. Except that it's not her husband's office, it's that of another executive, and Harry's best friend, David Sloane (Dean Martin). Mary is able to confied in David in part because of his being Harry's best friend so knowing Mary as well, and in part because he claims to be a confirmed bachelor. Perhaps David can come up with some way to intercede and get Harry to drop the affair. In talking to Harry, he suggests David see the mistress.

Meanwhile, David and Carol wind up in the elevator together now that she's working on the same floor as him. She's taken by him, and it's not after David's conversation with Harry that he figures Carol must be the mistress. With that in mind, and finding Carol nice looking, David gets the idea that perhaps he should seduce Carol. If she winds up with him, he'll have taking Harry's mistress away from him, thereby solving Harry's mistress problem.

Of course, we all know that Carol is in fact not Harry's mistress. And when Harry learns that David has tried to "help" him by seducing his mistress, he gets the bad idea that Muriel is seeing someone else, which is also not true. But Carol and Muriel eventually meet again, and in talking, they learn that the two women have boyfriends who know each other, learning the deceit. They then concoct one of the TV sitcom-type plots to get back at their boyfriends....

How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life starts off with one of those old-fashioned MOR songs used in any number of movies from that era, notably the Oscar-winning theme song "The Shadow of Your Smile" from The Sandpipers. It gives an immediate vibe of being the sort of innocent romantic comedy in the vein of the Doris Day sex comedies from the early 1960s. But with the crumbling of the Production Code, it's also trying to keep up with the times. Unfortunately, it's not doing so very successfully, and feels like it's dated a heck of a lot more than those earlier movies.

If How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life has any bright points, they're in the production design: the fashions and colors are a fairly spectacular rendition of what people in the 1960s thought 1960s glamour looked like. That makes the movie lovely to look at. It's just a shame that it's all in the service of a fairly witless plot.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Upcoming Christmas and non-Christmas stuff, Dec. 9-10, 2023

I mentioned at the start of the month how TCM would be having a Christmas marathon in the run-up to Christmas, as well as some Christmas programming on weekends. This weekend, the Christmas programming kicks off at 4:00 PM with It Happened on Fifth Avenue, a movie I first blogged about 13 years ago and which has become a staple of TCM's Christmas programming. That will be followed at 6:15 PM by Remember the Night, in which prosecutor Fred MacMurray plays probation officer to shoplifter Barbara Stanwyck over the holidays in order to keep her out of jail; as you can guess they fall in love along the way.

I bring up Remember the Night because I also saw it show up on one of the ad-supported streaming services. I routinely look to see what movies they're showing to see if there's something worth watching to do a review on, and noticed that several of them have added holiday channels showing a limited number of Christmas movies in heavy rotation. Scrooged is, I think, on the Roku Channel's version, and one of them has a colorized version of It's a Wonderful Life that most likely dates from the days when that movie was in the public domain. I wonder what copyright violations are being skirted or committed by showing that one. As for Remember the Night, one of the streaming services -- I think it might have been Plex -- had it, but in a 2:30 slot. TCM says the movie is only 94 minutes, and they're putting it uncut in a 105-minute slot, which would also include the intro from Dave or Alicia. The streaming service basically means 1/3 of the slot is ad breaks, which is unwatchable. And believe me, I had it on for a few minutes. Maybe five minutes of the movie before an abrupt ad break lasting two and a half minutes. Well, no ads, just public domain piano arrangements of Christmas tunes.

Tomorrow, Dec. 10, TCM has Neptune's Daughter at 8:00 AM. As I understand it, the movie was not originally conceived as a Christmas movie, but it did give us the Christmas standard "Baby It's Cold Outside". Note that the song is performed twice, once by Esther Williams who can't stay and Ricardo Montalbán telling her it's cold outside, and a second time with the roles reversed: Red Skelton doesn't want to stay and Betty Garrett informs him of the weather. So the next time some killjoy tries to suggest that "Baby It's Cold Outside" shouldn't be played because it's supposedly sexist and anti-woman, tell them this. Not that it will stop them; there's a reason such people are nasty bullies.

For really non-Christmas stuff, a couple of movies on FXM that are in the rotation and I haven't mentioned recently include the Rex Harrison version of Unfaithfully Yours, Dec. 10 at 8:35 AM, and We're Not Married, Dec. 10 at 1:30 PM.

And wouldn't you know it....

Last Sunday, I wrote a post about some lesser-known people who had died. And suddenly, in the following week, a couple of more famous people died:

Italian actress Marisa Pavan, who earned an Oscar nomination for The Rose Tattoo, died on Thursday at the age of 91. I couldn't find a good trailer for that movie or a clip from it to use here. Instead, I found a full episode of What's My Line from 1966 on which she was the mystery guest, along with French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. That's because the two were married. Pavan was also the twin sister of actress Pier Angeli.

Norman Lear, who is better known for all the TV shows he produced such as All in the Family and its spinoffs, died on Wednesday at the age of 101. Lear worked for many years in collaboration with Bud Yorkin, and together they produced a handful of movies before becoming big on TV. These include Divorce, American Style, and this is what I think is a vintage trailer and not a reconstruction:

A movie Bud Yorkin made after splitting up from Norman Lear is The Thief Who Came to Dinner, which I mention because that movie's lead actor, Ryan O'Neal, died on Friday aged 82. I won't include a clip from that, largely because my search history has an easily accessible clip from another of his movies, What's Up Doc?, in which O'Neal is able to poke a bit of fun at himself:

I haven't been watching much live TCM lately, but I think Dec. 9 is a bit early for the annual TCM Remembers piece to show up. (It's not on TCM's YouTube page yet.) So I'd assume all three will show up when the piece finally starts airing.

Friday, December 8, 2023

The Unholy Wife

I've reviewed a couple of the movies that Diana Dors made in her native Britain, and she was certainly a capable enough actress. Hollywood eventually came calling, but unfortunately she didn't get the best material during her time in Hollywood. One of those Hollywood movies ran on TCM some time back: The Unholy Wife.

The movie starts with Phyllis Hochen (Diana Dors) telling a priest that she knows that according to his book, what she did was wrong. At this point, we get a flashback of exactly what it is she did that was wrong.... Phyllis is in a big house, where she lives with, among other people, her mother-in-law Emma (Beulah Bondi). Emma hears gunshots, and is scared out of her wits. Phyllis suggests that there might be a prowler, and Emma has already called the police.

The "prowler" in question is in fact not a prowler, but a man known to Phyllis named Sam Sanford (Tom Tryon). Sam, as we soon learn, is having a torrid affair with Phyllis, which is a problem since she's already married. A sheriff's deputy comes, bringing along another man, Fr. Stephen Hochen (Arthur Franz). Yes, that's Phyllis' brother-in-law, and Emma's son, who has become a Catholic priest. And despite his vows to be a man of good faith, Fr. Stephen doesn't seem to like Phyllis one bit, thinking that she's out for something. And maybe she is, although that's something we'll have to find out later in the movie.

Phyllis' husband Paul (Rod Steiger) is fairly wealthy, owning a good-sized vineyard and not having to share it with his brother since brother is part of the Catholic clergy. He married Phyllis some time in the past, Phyllis being a widow already with a young son. It's a bit of a difficult marriage since the two seem to have married on impulse and only afterwards discovered that they have some compatibility issues. It's these that lead to Phyllis taking up that affair with Sam, a hired hand on the vineyard.

Eventually, Phyllis comes up with a scheme to get rid of the scheme, involvinv having Sam come back to the house again and act as the prowler since Emma already knows the house is prone to a prowler. Only this time, when Phyllis tries to shoot at the prowler, she's not going to shoot the phony prowler, but her husband. And she'll have a perfect excuse of whom to blame -- that burglar who isn't really a burglar, and whom nobody is going to be able to find for obvious reasons.

Except that when Phyllis shoots, she doesn't shoot Paul, but one of Paul's friends who showed up unannounced at the house knowing that Paul kept the doors unlocked. Phyllis has to think quickly, and comes up with some wacky scheme that will have Paul take the blame, only for it to be found out after the trial that Paul is in fact innocent. Everybody gets off. Well, not quite, of course, since there's that damn pesky Production Code.

The Unholy Wife has multiple flashbacks, which doesn't help the story one bit, making it convoluted and hard to follow, as well as feeling rather contrived. Rod Steiger is much too good for the material, while poor Diana Dors doesn't really get to show what she was capable of the way she had done in the UK to get to Hollywood in the first place.

Still, you may want to watch The Unholy Wife once just to see how Hollywood didn't know how to use Diana Dors properly.

Thursday, December 7, 2023


Recently, I fired up the Tubi app on my Roku box to see what movies are leaving the platform at the end of the month. It seems as though Tubi has a whole bunch of British programmers and B movies that I'd never heard of, and one of those showed up near the top of the list of movies they won't have much longer: a 1956 film called Eyewitness.

Lucy and Jay Church (Muriel Pavlow and Michael Craig) are a lower-middle-class couple living in what looks like a relatively new semi-detached house in a provincial town in the UK. Lucy wants to save to get ahead, and has presumably had that conversation with Jay many times, as she's horrified to find out that Jay has, without asking her, gone and bought a TV on the installment plan, meaning more debt for them. He refuses to take the TV back, so she decides she's had it and walks out on him. (Seriously.)

To cool down, she goes to the the local cinema. Eventually she's had enough, so she decides she's going to call Jay and talk to him, except that he isn't home, having gone out to look for her. On the way back to the movie, she passes by the manager's office, where two men have waylaid the manager as they were planning to rob the night's takings out of the safe. They've already hit the guy, but when he tries to fight back, one of the two men shoots the manager, causing Lucy to scream in horror.

Now she's in trouble, since the two crooks obviously hear that and start chasing Lucy. She's eventually able to get out of the building and stay one step ahead of the crooks, but as she tries to cross the street to get away from the crooks, she's run down by a bus that was unable to stop. Barney (Nigel Stock), one of the crooks and a man who's hard of hearing and needing one of those old-style hearing aids, thinks that Lucy is probably dead and that's the end of their problems. The mastermind Wade (Donald Sinden), however wants to find out which hospital has taken Lucy, just to make certain that she's died, and if she hasn't, well, he'll be the one to make certain of it....

Lucy didn't die; she's just badly concussed and with no ID on her so that nobody is able to figure out who she is. She's put into one of those wacky hospital wards that only show up in movies, the sort with a whole bunch of stock characters to provide various levels of comic relief. The two main patients are a little girl, and an old lady who keeps seeing Wad out of the windo since the ward has a nice glass door leading out to some sort of patio. That door has stupidly been left unlocked for the night, giving Wade an opportunity to get back in to try to finish the job.

You can see why somebody would want to make a movie out of this material, as it's got a lot of potential. Unfortunately, this Eyewitness doesn't really reach great heights, which I think is a lot down to a lack of budget that would have allowed for a tighter script, or at least one that's more properly paced. As things stand, there are a few too many twists and turns for a movie that only runs about 83 minutes, and a few too many plot holes (like the aforementioned leaving the back door unlocked. Eyewitness isn't terrible, but it certainly could have been a lot better.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Murder in the Private Car

Back in July, I think, TCM ran a spotlight on B movies. I recorded a whole bunch of them, not having seen a lot of their selections. Another one that was new to me despite it being an MGM movie was Murder in the Private Car. Having recorded it, I finally got around to watching it and now I can do the review on it here.

May Carlisle plays Ruth Raymond, who works the switchboard at a stock brokerage in Los Angeles, in the days when it wasn't easy for people to buy stocks, especially if they weren't in New York. No electronc trading or mutual funds. She works with her best friend Georgia (Una Merkel), and has a boyfriend John who loves her. One day, a strange guy walks into the office where the switchboard operators work. Not long after that, Ruth is called into her boss' office.

It turns out that she's not in trouble at all. In fact, Ruth is now at the heart of a mystery. Luke Carson (Berton Churchill) is a railway magnate who many years ago lost his daughter when she was kidnapped by his brother (ie. the young girl's uncle). Ruth always thought she was an orphan after her dad died young, but somehow an old fingerprint of the little girl who was kidnapped survived, and Ruth's fingerprint matches that one. Ruth being confirmed as the biological daughter of a titan of business, she's in line to become a very wealthy woman.

However, a lot of people know that she's set to become wealthy. Indeed, some of them have plans to kidnap her again, although we don't know who's behind it. Indeed, she's picked up by a car that's trying to kidnap her, but that car is followed by a taxi, and who is the passenger in the taxi but one Godfrey Scott (Charles Ruggles). We already saw Godfrey, in that opening scene when he was talking to Ruth and Georgia. Godfrey is a detective, but not one who solves crime; instead, he focuses on preventing crime from happening in the first place, and he's the one who foiled the first kidnapping attempt on Ruth.

We then get a scene of the telegraph agency receiving a telegraph for Ruth from her biological father, saying he'll be coming to Los Angeles to get her. But somebody intercepts that telegram, and replaces it with one saying that Mr. Carson will be putting a special car, the private car of the title, on a train from Los Angeles bound for New York. So we already know that something is going to happen on that train, although of course Ruth and her friends don't.

Sure enough, the lights go out and a murder takes place, along with a bunch of other mysterious happenings of the sort you'd see in the old Scooby-Doo cartoons. Who's causing them, and why? Will Ruth get to meet her father and inherit the money? Will she and John be able to live happily ever after?

This being a B movie, Murder in the Private Car is breezy and extremely fast-paced. Sure, it's not completely well developed, but these B movies generally weren't since they had to be finished quickly. It is, however, quite a bit of fun, and definitely worth watching if you get the chance to see it.