Sunday, March 31, 2024

Starting April's TCM features early

Today is still March 31, but I wanted to mention one of the TCM spotlights for April today already because it begins first thing on April 1. The year 2024 is the centenary of when Marcus Loew, owner of a theater chain, bought both Goldwyn Pictures (technically named only partly after Sam Goldwyn as he was born Goldfish and only later chahged his name to Goldwyn) and Louis B. Mayer's studio; speficially, the merger happeed in mid-April 1924 as the company became MGM.

Last year saw the 100th anniversary of the founding of Warner Bros., and TCM celebrated that one with a full month of movies coming entirely from the studio (and the distribution arms it wound up controlling at various points). For the MGM anniversary, however, TCM is only running 24-hour marathons every Monday, going from 6:00 AM to 6:00 AM Tuesday, which is why I'm writing up the post on Sunday, March 31, to be able to mention this.

In fact the first picture up is one that's still suitable for the Easter lineup, that being the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The movies will be shown roughly chronologically, in that each Monday will be a different era, getting into the 1980s on the evening of April 29. Of course, MGM, unlike Warner Bros., didn't manage the transitional eras of the coming of television and then the end of the Production Code very well, so while the studio still technically exists, it's not exactly a big name like some of the other studios.

Granted, I think that if TCM had wanted to they would have been able to put together a full 30-day lineup of movies. Not saying they should have, of course; I know a lot of people found the month of Warner Bros. a bit tiresome. And if you've read this blog long enough you know some of the problems I have with MGM. But there is a reason they hold a big place in the history of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Easter Parade

With it being Easter today, TCM has a traditional lineup of movies with religious themes. But one other movie that they seem to pull out every Easter is an appropriate one not just because of the title, but because the opening and closing scenes are set on (secular) Easter: Easter Parade.

The movie opens on Easter Saturday, 1911, although the movie doesn't quite mention dates until much later in the movie. Fred Astaire, playing dancer Don Hewes, is singing a song and doing some gift shopping. Eventually, he goes into a toy store to by a stuffed rabbit, but that's really just an excuse for a fairly spectacular dance number involving him and the little boy from whom Hewes is going to get that bunny.

The gifts are for Don's kinda-sorta girlfriend, Nadine Hale (Ann Miller). But Nadine isn't just a possible romantic partner; she's also Don's dance partner in the dance pair Nadine and Hewes who do revue shows and the like. I say "is", but it's about to become "was". Don has signed the two of them up for another road show, but Nadine has decided she wants to try to make it on Broadway. With that in mind, she's signed a contract to appear in what is going to become the latest edition of the Zigfeld Follies.

Don can't convince her not to leave him, so he goes to a bar to try to drown his sorrows. Except that this is an odd little dive bar in that it also has a floor show, complete with numerous chorus girls. One of those chorus girls is Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), and Hewes is so taken with her that he decides to tell her she should come see him the following morning since he wants her to be his new dance partner. She thinks the guy is crazy, and even rips up his business card, until she finds out that he's the famous Don Hewes.

After rehearsal the next morning, Hannah runs into Don's best friend, Jonathan Harrow (Peter Lawford). Jonathan is also taken with Hannah, and proposes to take her out to dinner, but you know Jonathan is going to be the third wheel in any relationship in the movie. Indeed, he later winds up pursuing Nadine for reasons that don't really make much sense and don't do all that much to advance the plot.

Don and Hannah go out on the road and are able to work steadily if not spectacularly, at least not for several months. Eventually, Don signs a contract for the two of them to star in a musical revue of their own, which after rehearsals and road previews, is set to open on Broadway on Easter Saturday 1912. The premiere is in fact a success, but when the two go to the Ziegfeld Follies to celebrate, Nadine asks Don to do one of their old numbers with her, leading Hannah to think he only used her to get back at Nadine. This was in fact Don's original intention, but along the way he truly fell in love with her.

Easter Parade is a movie that has a very slight story -- indeed, it's the sort of on-again, off-again series of misunderstandings that I could easily have seen Fred Astaire doing with Ginger Rogers at RKO a decade earlier. Here, the story is set against a series of songs written by Irving Berlin that are used as the basis for dance numbers. The story isn't much, as I said, and frankly it's by far the weakest part of the story. Indeed, in that regard I'd rate the movie a notch below one of Berlin's earlier musicals, Alexander's Ragtime Band.

But what Easter Parade has going for it is a couple of things. One is those dance numbers. Fred Astaire was much better in terms of dancing that any of the cast of Alexander's Ragtime Band. It also has Technicolor, which makes a movie like this that much better. Indeed, I don't think the movie would be memorable at all if it had been made in black and white. That's how much weaker the story is than even the old Fred-and-Ginger films.

So, although I had some problems with Easter Parade, it's definitely a movie that's worth watching. And I think that if you're the sort of person who likes the dance numbers, you'll really love Easter Parade.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Untamed (1929)

A movie that I saw ages ago but never did a blog post on is the Joan Crawford early talkie Untamed. (I did briefly mention it once since there's a completely different movie also called Untamed starring Susan Hayward on which I did a blog post over a decade ago.) It aired on TCM some months back, so I recorded it in order to be able to watch it again and finally do a post on it. I've gotten around to watching that recording, and now you get the review.

The movie starts off with an intertitle, not uncommon for early talkies, informing us that the action is set in South America in the remote valley of Zoro. We then meet one of the main characters, Bingo (Joan Crawford), doing a dance for some of the oil workers in the area, at least for some values of dancing since this is after all Joan Crawford. Now you might think that Bingo is some sort of exotic native, but in fact she's really the daughter of an oil prospector Dowling who is presumably a widower, otherwise, Bingo would be back in the US with Mom. In any case Bingo's dance is exotic enough that all the men want to dance with her, including some locals who put the moves on her in a way she doesn't appreciate.

Back at home base, Dowling meets a couple of old friends he invited to help him with the search for oil, Ben (Ernest Torrence) and Howard (Holmes Herbert). While the three of them are in some sort of makeshift office, one of the locals who had propositioned Bingo at the dance shows up, telling Dowling that he's going to be pursuing Bingo. Yeah, right. Dad isn't about to have any of that, but instead of just saying no and waiting to escalate only if the guy tries again, he decides to use force to get the guy to back off. When Dad starts hitting the guy with his cane, the guy pulls out a knife and stabs Dowling fatally.

Ben and Howard aren't certain what to do with Bingo. They had been planning on going with Dowling farther into the wilderness in their search for oil, but with old man Dowling dead they don't know if taking Bingo with them is such a good idea. And besides, Bingo is technically rich since the oil wells were successful and she's inheriting the company. With that in mind, the two men decide they should take Bingo back to New York and make a woman out of her so that she can find a "suitable" man from among the smart rich set, even though she's never been around such men.

On the boat back to New York, Bingo bumps into Andy McAllister (Robert Montgomery). They've never met before, but the two immediately fall for each other, even though Andy seems to have a girlfriend with him on the trip. (There's one particularly humorous scene in which Bingo and the other woman nearly come to blows.) There's a problem, however, in that Andy doesn't really have wealth; he's the sort of guy in these pre-World War II movies who's trying to work his way up the ladder and you can see him getting an offer for a "job in South America" that may speed up proposing to his girlfriend.

When they get to New York, Ben tries to get Bingo to realize that Andy can't really provide for Bingo the way that a stereotypical man should be able to provide for a wife, and nobody wants Andy to be living off Bingo's money. So they separate for a while, but that's not going to cool their ardor. Things really get creepy when we learn that Howard also has some sort of feelings for Bingo and wants to take on Bingo as his duty to the late Mr. Dowling.

Untamed starts off in the vein of being crazy fun, with Hollywood's highly inaccurate look at Latin America while never getting off the back lot. The characters seem thoroughly unrealistic, but in a way that's strange and not tedious. Once everybody gets back to New York, the movie becomes more conventional, but it's never uninteresting because of its provenance as an early talkie.

Untamed got a DVD release from the Warner Archive MOD scheme many years ago, even before I posted about the Susan Hayward Untamed. In fact, the Susan Hayward movie eventually got a DVD release from Fox's MOD scheme not long after I posted my review on it back in 2013. So if you want to see the Crawford movie, pay attention to what movie you're getting.

Friday, March 29, 2024

How the West Was Won

I mentioned at the start of the week in conjunction with Debbie Reynolds being TCM's Star of the Month for March that there was was at least one of her movies that I've got on my DVR and haven't done a post on before. That movie is the epic How the West Was Won. It's coming up early tomorrow morning (March 30) at 4:30 AM, so now we get the post on it.

Spencer Tracy narrates this movie that at times feels like an anthology, but is really more of an episodic movie since some of the characters appear in multiple segments, and many of the characters who are only in one segment are all part of the same family. Anyhow, Tracy informs us that it hasn't been all that long since the American frontier was conquered, and that in the early days of trying to move west it was particularly difficult, at least until the construction of the Erie Canal (completed in 1825) really made it a good deal easier to get to at least western Missouri. We then cut to 1839 for the first segment....

The first segment, called "The River" deals with one family trying to migrate west in search of more fertile land, although west here more or less means the Ohio Valley, which I'd have though was fairly comprehensively settled by 1839; Wikipedia suggests Cincinnati had already been incorprated for a generation and had a population in the mid-five-figure range. In any case, the family, the Prescotts, consists of father Zebulan (Karl Malden), mom Rebecca (Agnes Moorehead) and daughters Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds). They meet trapper Linus (James Stewart) before all of them get waylaid by some dubious pirates of the river (their leader is played by Walter Brennan). An accident in river rapids kills Mom and Dad; Eve marries Linus and Lilith heads for greener pastures.

Those pastures take her to Saint Louis in 1850, where she's workin as an enterainer who finds out that she's somehow inherited a gold mine out in California. So as with Westward the Women mentioned recently, she has to go west to California to take possession of the mine. She's followed by some suitors, notably professional gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck).

Back to Eve's side of the story, when the Civil War comes she's got an adult son Zeb (George Peppard). Linus and Zeb both go off to fight, but when Zeb sees the hell that war truly is, a confederate he meets (Russ Tamblyn) suggests the two of them desert and go off somewhere together. But there's a lot more tragedy to come.

After the Civil War, the Transcontinental Railroad gets built. Zeb is still in the Army, now in the cavalry, trying to keep the peace with the various Indian tribes despite the fact that Mr. King (Richard Widmark), the man from the railroad, wants to get the track laid and who cares what the Indians think.

Finally, after leaving the Army, there's one last segment that reunites the two branches of the Prescott family. Lilith is forced to sell her home in San Francisco, deciding to retire to a ranch in the Arizona territory. But she's old, so she invites her nephew Zeb, by now married (Carolyn Jones playing his wife) to come along and run the place. When they get to Arizona, Zeb runs into Gant (Eli Wallach), an outlaw who's there to try to steal one of the shipments of gold.

It's easy on watching How the West Was Won to see why it was such a massive commercial success when it was released. The story is actually fairly pedestrian, but the movie was made in Cinerama, so I can only imagine how spectacular it must have been to see the movie as it was intended to be seen in the original Cinerama.

Unfortunately, however, most people don't have the sort of curved screen necessary to see Cinerama in its original aspect ratio and presentation format. In days past, this meant that TV presentations would be cut down, and there would be severe crease-like lines where the various segments of the print were supposed to meet up. Nowadays, restorers have tried to solve that problem through the use of the "smilebox" format that attempts to replicate the experience one would have had in the theater where the left and right edges of the screen are closer to the viewer than the middle.

I'm sorry to say that this doesn't quite work. First, I get the impression that the smilebox format is really more curved than it needs to be. Some of the photos I've seen of Cinerama screens do show a clearly evident curve, but not as much as the smilebox format has. The bigger problem, however, is how translating Cinerama to the smilebox distorts motion. I've always felt like there was something off in Cinemascope backgrounds when there are scenes with long panning in that the motion in parts of the background don't look quite right. In the smilebox format, this is much more severe, almost like what you'd see if you were moving around a sphere with stuff being reflected off of it.

But if you're the sort of person who doesn't tend to notice such distortion, or if you ever get the chance to see it in the original Cinerama (I don't know how many Cinerama screens still exist; would it be possible to translate Cinerama to an IMAX screen?), give How the West Was Won a chance. It's certainly a spectacle.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Westward the Women

A movie that's part of the old Turner library that formed the backbone of the TCM programming back in the day, one that I'd seen show up on the schedule a bunch of times but never got around to watching, was Westward the Women. The last time it showed up on TCM, I made a point of putting it on the DVR so that I could finally watch it and do a review on it.

The movie opens with a title card telling us that it's California, 1851. So, it's just after statehood, but much of what's between California and Missouri is terribly undeveloped such that getting across the country is difficult. As such, a lot more men have moved west than women, and in a place like Whitman's Valley, there's a bunch of unmarried men and no unmarried women. Mr. Whitman (John McIntire) meets Buck Wyatt (Robert Taylor), who recently guided another party across the plains and Rockies to San Diego. Whitman discusses the area's problems, and eventually decides that perhaps Buck should go back east for and arrange another crossing party, but this one with unmarried women who can then marry the men in Whitman's Valley.

Three months later, Whitman and Buck have made their way to Chicago, where they set about recruiting women for the trip. Buck expects that fully one-third of the women are likely to die since the trip is so difficult and who knows how experienced these women are. Some of the women seem like they're more than tough enough for the journey, such as Patience Hawley (Hope Emerson). On the other hand, a couple of showgirls, Fifi (Denise Darcel) and Laurie (Julie Bishop) show up in their good clothes. Whitman and Buck both think that's going to be a problem, but the two are so earnest that they find themselves some plain clothes and convince the two men to take them along.

After assembling a large group of women, Buck begins to tell them just how hard the journey is going to be, telling the women they're more than welcome to leave at this point, although of course none of them do. Thankfully a couple of them know how to handle horses, so they'll be able to teach the other women how to lead the horses and mules that are going to be handling the wagons and their packs. One other catch, however, is that Buck doesn't want the women fraternizing with his men, since that's bound to lead to conflicts if either multiple women like the same man or multiple men like the same woman.

Eventually, they set off on the voyage west. At least the first part isn't that difficult, as they head up the Missouri River to Independence, which is about as far west as they can get in Missouri without being too far north of where they need to go in California. That part they can do by boat. Once they get to Independence, they have several days to start training for all the hard work they're going to have to do, before finally setting out overland to California.

Unsurprisingly, the journey is as difficult as you can imagine, with pretty much everything you can think of as fitting into a movie about pioneering west showing up. Will everyone get to California? Will a third of the women die as Buck tells them at the beginning? Well, I won't tell you who lives and who dies; as with any good disaster movie from the 70s part of what makes it interesting is that it's not obvious who will be around in the final reel.

Westward the Women was made at MGM, where Robert Taylor was a contract player, and to be honest, westerns are the sort of genre I wouldn't expect MGM to be all that good at. But thanks to a very good script (conceived some years earlier by Frank Capra of all people) and excellent direction (unsurprising considering it's William Wellman), the movie turns out very well. And for an MGM movie it's surprisingly harsh at times.

The only bad thing is that Westward the Women was released in 1951, and in black and white. I think it would have benefited somewhat from color, but would have looked even better had it been made after the introduction of widescreen. Indeed, I'm thinking of a similar movie from much earlier, The Big Trail, which was actually released in an experimental wide-screen practice and covers many of the same themes. In any case, Westward the Women is definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024


There's often some dispute over what counts as a noir when you're on the edges of the genre. Some movies have decided noirish elements even if I think they're not quite noir. But I can see why other people might group them in with noir. Such is the case with one of Eddie Muller's Noir Alley choices from several months back, the 1949 crime/suspense movie Abandoned.

After some narration that would have been right at home in The Naked City a year earlier, we're introduced to one of the main characters. Paula Considine (Gale Storm) walks into a police station in Los Angeles looking for the Bureau of Missing Persons. She's arrived in the big city from a small town in Pennsylvania, after having gotten a letter from her big sister. Since then, radio silence from big sister. The man at the desk is about to finish up his shift for the night, so he suggests Paula fill out the form overnight and come back in the morning.

Meanwhile, a fairly nosy man shows up at the desk and starts chatting up Paula. That man is Mark Sitko (Dennis O'Keefe), a reporter for the Mirror. Sitko may have been looking for information on somebody else, but he knows a good story when he hears it, and having heard Paula's story, he suspects a good one here. Eventually they go to the morgue and, looking through the book of unidentified dead people there, Paula recognizes her sister's photo. The sister was found in a car in the garage of a building under construction, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, in what to the coroner seems like an obvious suicide. Except that Paula knows her sister didn't know how to drive, which to her suggests it's not a suicide.

Then, on the way out of the morgue, Mark is smart enough to realize that Paula is being tailed by a figure in the shadows. Mark comes up with a plan to get the man out of the shadows, and when that happens he recognizes the man as Kerric (Raymond Burr), a private investigator. He claims that he was working for Paula's father to try to find Paula's sister; once Paula left Pennsylvania her dad wanted Kerric to find her too. But of course all of this is several years before the premiere of Perry Mason on TV, so the presence of Raymond Burr in the cast likely means a bad guy.

Meanwhile, it's been revealed to us that the letter Paula received from her sister is on the letterhead of a hospital, and that the sister was pregnant and there to give birth. Mark thinks that there's something fishy going on, and that the sister may have gotten involved with what is not a reputable adoption agency. So they take the case to the district attorney (Jeff Chandler), who informs them that he's swamped, so they're going to have to do some investigating themselves.

As for Kerric, he goes to visit a Mrs. Donner (Marjorie Rambeau), and it's revealed that she's the woman involved with running the illegal adoption ring, paying the expenses of the unwed mothers and then selling off the babies to parents who can't wait to adopt through the normal channels. All of this is within the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, so there's not much mystery here. Instead, as Alfred Hitchcock would argue, it's suspense in that we know who the bad guys are and what they're doing, but will the reporter and sister be able to find out and get out of danger?

Abandoned was the sort of movie something between a B-movie and a programmer that Hollywood produced in the years after World War II; I've argued that MGM's equivalent tended to be the sort of films that paid for the Freed Unit to make all those musicals. This one, however, was made at Universal; that combined with definitely not being a prestige picture and not having the biggest stars goes a long way to explaining why it's not very well known today.

There are some obvious noir elements in the photography and the heavies that make it easy to understand why Eddie Muller would program it for Noir Alley. The fact that I consider it more of a crime/suspense movie than a noir doesn't mean I didn't like it, however. It's quite well done for a movie on a budget, with a fairly effective story and good characterizations, especially from Rambeau.

Abandoned is available on DVD from Universal's MOD scheme, and is definitely worth a watch.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Black Belt Jones

Some time back, TCM ran the blaxploitation movie Black Belt Jones. It's one of the blaxpoitation films I have to admit I had never even herd of, let alone seen, before TCM showed it, so I decided to record it. As is always the case, having recently watched it, I can now do the review on it.

The movie starts off with a James Bond film-style pre-credits sequence of a meeting at a winery. One guy is about to give two other guys a large sum of money for some pictures in what is apparently a form of blackmail. The guys who have the pictures, however, double-cross the blackmail victim by garrotting him! And then, during the credits, a black martial arts expert who is of course the titular "Black Belt" Jones (Jim Kelly) takes on an entire gang of what must be the most stupid criminals on film, the members of the gang trying to take down Jones one at a time.

Jones then meets with what seem to be federal law enforcement types, who inform him that three of their men were killed by the people involved with the winery, who are apparently involved with the Mob and have connections with some very highly politically-connected people. The people think Jones is the only one who can take them down, while he understandably doesn't want to be the fourth dead guy.

Jones, being an expert at karate, is friends with the guy who runs the local inner-city dojo/community center, Pop Byrd (Scatman Crothers). Pop is involved with all of this because he borrowed a fair amount of money from a guy named Pinky to be able to open up that dojo. What he didn't know is that Pinky had obtained that money from the Mob. All of this is relevant because the dojo is the last property in a district where the "respectable" city fathers want to build something but apparently can't use eminent domain to buy the dojo. The Mob wants to buy the dojo before the folks building the new place can get it, in order to be able to sell it at an exorbitant price to the buyer who really needs it.

Pinky tries to take down the dojo, but since they know martial arts they're able to stop him the first time. So he tries something more like persuasion, but accidentally kills Pop in the process. In any case, Pop doesn't actually own the dojo; that's his estranged daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry). Jones finds Sydney, and teams up with her to help take down the Mob and Pinky.

Or at least, that's what the plot is supposed to be. Unfortunately, Black Belt Jones doesn't quite work, in part because the story is a bit hard to follow, but more because the fight scenes strain credulity too much. I mentioned that the criminals in the opening credits are incredibly stupid, but the later fight scenes also have people trying to take down Jones who are so dumb you wonder how they got this far. Just hire a sniper or something to get Jones.

It also doesn't help that the acting is lousy. I'm sorry to say that Jim Kelly is one of the weakest stars I've seen in any of the blaxploitation films, at least those that got a release from a serious studio and not the more independent stuff. Still, because it's a blaxploitation movie and a martial arts movie, there are a lot of people who have elevated Black Belt Jones to the status of a cult film. So it's definitely worth watching once so you can judge for yourself.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Our Old Car

One of the shorts that showed up in the end of the time slot for one of the movies I recently watched was one of the shorts in the John Nesbitt's Passing Parade series: Our Old Car.

There's not a whole lot here, in many ways even less than in other entries in the series. John grew up with his family in one of the houses on the MGM back lot starting at the turn of the 20th century. Dad (Arthur Space) bought a series of cars, starting with a 1900-modely roadster that frightened his wife (Jacqueline White), she not having been close to a car before. As the decades go by, the family gets better and better cars, notably a Stanley Steamer, with John narrating how the technical specs on each car are better than the previous one.

But it's not all better cars. John grew up and went off to college, getting the sort of stereotypical jalopy that you'd see the young ones owning in movies of the era. The orther people who show up on their street also go through car ownership, and families grow and change. The short was released in June of 1946, so there's mention of one of the families being Gold Star parents, having lost a son in World War II.

This is in my opinion not the best of the Passing Parade shorts by any means although it's not exactly bad. But I mention it for a couple of reasons. One is that I've looked, and haven't been able to find that the Passing Parade shorts have ever gotten a DVD release the way some of the others have.

The other thing worth mentioning is the appearance of Jacqueline White as Mrs. Nesbitt. She's best remembered for her final film, The Narrow Margin, and is as of my writing this still alive. Sources differ on her age; some say she was born in November 1924 which would make her 99; others say 1922 which would put her at 101.

TCM Star of the Month March 2024: Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (March 29, 8:00 PM)

With TCM running 31 Days of Oscar from February 9 through March 10, that made the "new" month's programming be a bit different. I mentioned a couple of weeks back that the spotlight on working women was five weeknights in prime time over one week, rather than one night a week for the month. And so it is for the Star of the Month. That Star of the Month is Debbie Reynolds, and her movies will be featuring every night this week in prime time, kicking off tonight at 8:00 PM with Singin' in the Rain.

Debbie Reynolds (r.) with Bette Davis in The Catered Affair (March 26, 8:00 PM)

I actually don't have all that many pictures of Reynolds saved. On the other hand, I've got several of her films on my DVR, although most of them I've already done blog posts on in the past year. The one exception is How the West Was Won (March 30, 4:30 AM), so that one will be getting a post of its own later in the week.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

I hadn't seen it, but in some ways I had

Another movie that looked like it was interesting but had a synopsis that sounded like I might have seen it before was Boxcar Bertha. As it turned out, it was new to mee, but there were good reasons why it seemed familiar.

That familiarity started with the American International logo, and opening credits that inform us this is based on characters from interviews an author did with one Bertha Thompson. Now, Bertha Thompson was a wholly fictional character, although the movie is adapted from a book published in the 1930s. But all of this made me think of some other American International pictures like Bloody Mama and even more so Big Bad Mama.

Bertha, who eventually gets the nickname Boxcar, is played by Barbara Hershey. As the movie opens, she's not yet Boxcar, instead living with her father who is a crop duster some where in the south during the Depression. The rich farmer he's working far isn't satisfied, so Dad has to go up again and do some more risky work, which results in his crashing and leaving Bertha an orphan.

Bertha takes to the hobo life, and in one of the rail camps she meets Big Bill (David Carradine). He's a sort of union organizer, but it's one of those communist-type unions -- or at least the authorities would have you believe so. Because of this, Big Bill is always on the run, and Bertha joins him. The two run into a couple more men. First is Rake (Barry Primus), a card sharp who is able to fleece rich men in card games; there's also Von (Bernie Casey), who worked for Bertha's father.

The team's crime wave, and the fact that Big Bill is a union organizer, has the head of the railroad, Sartoris (John Carradine) worried. So he keeps sending his Pinkerton-like armed goons after the gang, eventually getting them when they try to hold up his train. This results in the killing of Rake, while Von and Bill get sent to prison. Bertha escaped, however, but she doesn't have anywhere to go when she can't find the cash that they had taken when the team robbed banks.

As a result, Bertha is found by the owner of a brothel, leaving Bertha to pine over Bill. At least until she runs into Von again by chance, and he knows what happened to Bill. The two may or may not be able to live happily ever after....

It's easy to see why I was wondering whether or not I had seen the movie before. Producer Roger Corman made stuff on a budget with the aim of getting a lot of product out there. And with other Depression era gangster movies having been made at American International, as well as the release a few years earlier of Bonnie and Clyde, Boxcar Bertha has a decidedly derivative feel to it.

Indeed, when the film's director, a young Martin Scorsese, showed it to his mentor John Cassavetes, Cassavetes was scathing over the movie's perceived unoriginality, exhorting Scorsese to be more original. That's a bit unfair to the movie, however. Despite being very much a genre picture on a budget, it's not a bad little movie at all. While Scorsese would go on to much bigger and better things, Boxcar Bertha isn't anything to be ashamed of, and definitely worth a watch.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Titanic (1937)

A couple of months back, TCM aired another new-to-me movie from the 1930s that sounded interesting, so I recorded it: History Is Made at Night. It's got another airing on TCM coming up, tomorrow (March 24) at 8:00 AM, so as always with upcoming movies, I made a point of watching it in order to be able to do a post on it.

Irene Vail (Jean Arthur) is married to Bruce (Colin Clive), owner of luxury liners and yachts, but it's an unhappy marriage as she's not up on deck with him as the movie begins. In fact, she's just written him a letter telling him that she's going to try to obtain a divorce, and that she wishes she'd never met him. With that in mind, she heads off to Paris for the mandatory separation, while he's left to lick his wounds.

Well, not quite. Bruce is insanely jealous, and convinced that the only reason Irene would leave him is because there's another man in the picture. And if his employees insist that there isn't, well, he's going to create one. With that in mind, he has detectives find out where Irene is, and then sends his chauffeur there to create a situation where it looks like Irene has been having an assignation with the chauffeur, thereby destroying Irene's chance of getting a favorable divorce.

But the surprise meeting doesn't go as planned. Irene unsurprisingly resists, and another man not related to her hears it. That man, Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) is a maître d' at a fancy restaurant in Paris. He barges in, pretending to be a jewel thief to try to save Irene. He and the chauffeur get in a scuffle before Bruce comes in, Paul pretending to take some jewels to make the lie more convincing to Bruce.

The chauffeur was only knocked out in the scuffle but Bruce kills him, telling the police that it was Irene's new lover who did it. Meanwhile, Paul has taken Irene to his restaurant for a meal, and the two fall in love. So when Irene shows back up at her hotel, she finds the chauffeur dead and that Bruce has made it appear that Paul is the guilty party in a way that nobody will be able to convince the authorities otherwise. Bruce uses this to blackmail Irene into going back to New York with him.

Eventually, Paul discovers Irene's real identity, that she's married to a wealthy man in New York, and heads across the Atlantic with his head chef Cesare (Leo Carrillo) to try to find Irene. He gets a job as maître d' at a fancy New York restaurant after saving it from bad business decisions, and sets out trying to do something to get Irene to discover the restaurant, since he doesn't know where in New York she is.

Unfortunately, Bruce learns that the police have found the man they're looking for, or the man they think murdered the chauffeur, even though we know it's neither Paul nor the actual killer. But Bruce is again able to use this to find Irene and blackmail her. Either she goes to Paris to save her lover, agreeing in the process to stay with Bruce, or her lover gets the guillotine. Bruce celebrates by taking her out to dinner, which just happens to be at Paul's restaurant.

So why have I titled this post "Titanic (1937)"? Bruce heads to Paris on the Hindenburg, since one of his ships is going to be trying to break the transatlantic speed record, and he wants to be in Le Havre to meet the ship. Irene takes the boat, with Paul following going with her to testify at the trial. And when Bruce finds out the truth about Irene's lover, he's perfectly willing to have his ship hit an iceberg!

History Is Made at Night is an interesting movie, although I had a problem with the severe plot hole that accompanies the climax of the movie. After the Titanic sank, rules were changed in order to make certain all transatlantic liners would have sufficient lifeboats for everybody on board. So the idea that anybody would be forced to stay on board for lack of space in the lifeboats is totally wrong. But the rest of the movie is pretty darn good, being an interesting mix of romantic drama, disaster movie, and some noirish elements even though noir wasn't really a concept back in 1937.

Boyer and Arthur make an appealing romantic couple, and Clive, who died much too young not long after this movie, is quite good as the nasty jealous husband. It's one that got a DVD release from Criterion and doesn't show up very often on TCM, so now is a good time to watch it.

Friday, March 22, 2024

I'm not the only person who thought of The Citadel

The centenary of the birth of actor Charlton Heston was last October, which is why he was named TCM's Star of the month instead of someone who might have a relationship with horror movies, October being the month of Halloween and all that. In any case, this gave me the chance to record a couple of Heston's movies that I hadn't seen before. I recently watched one of them: Bad for Each Other.

Charlton Heston plays Col. Thomas Owen, MD. He graduated from medical school before World War II, and enlisted with that war and wound up serving both through that war and the Korean War. Having been away from his home town of Coalville, PA, for quite some time, he's decided to return following news of the death of his brother. But when he returns, he finds that the locals blame his brother for what happened, since the death was in a coal mine explosion that killed people besides his brother as well. To make matters worse, the locals are perfectly willing to carry that blame over to Tom, even though he had nothing to do with what happened!

Thomas' mother (Mildred Dunnock) doesn't seem too happy that her son left to join the military all those years ago. Thomas, for his part, wanted to escape a town where, like in How Green Was My Valley, it seemed as if the only real source of work was down in the coal mines. He's only back to try to settle any debts his brother might be responsible for, or at least that's what he claims. With that in mind, he wants to see Mr. Reasonover, who owns the mine, to try to find out exactly what happened.

Before that, however, he has an encounter with the local doctor, Dr. Scobee (Rhys Williams). Scobee wants him to look at some of the X-rays from miners who are developing spots on their lungs from all that time spent down in the mines. I didn't realize it while watching, but apparently the movie was made at the time that what we now know of as black lung disease was first really being investigated; at the time they apparently thought silica dust rather than coal dust was causing the damage. Scobee also suggests that Dr. Owen is welcome to join him in his practice, since Scobee is thinking of retiring soon. The only thing is, it's not very rewarding financially.

Dr. Owen eventually finds Reasonover at a party being held at the house of his wealthy daughter, Helen Curtis (Lizabeth Scott), who is currently unmarried after having been through a series of husbands. Reasonover tells Thomas that his brother was actually embezzling money that was supposed to be used for safety equipment. At this point, however, that plotline largely fizzles out in favor of a different one, involving Thomas and Helen. One of the younger female guests at the party winds up in need of a very discreet doctor, and Dr. Owen is there, since they can't get her regular doctor, Dr. Gleeson. Dr. Gleeson is the sort of doctor who makes a ton of money by ministering to hypocondriac wealthy women who really don't have that much of a medical problem for the most part.

Helen then suggests Dr. Owen meet Dr. Gleeson, and perhaps even go into practice with Gleeson. Owen does eventually join the practice, but he hires an idealistic nurse who discovers what the practice is really about and is horrified by it. She's also horrified by the idea that Dr. Owen is falling in love with Helen. And surprisingly, Helen's father is horrified by it as well. Dr. Owen appears to be selling his soul for money. But thanks to the Production Code, something is going to happen to give him a chance to redeem himself....

I mentioned The Citadel in the title of this post. If you remember that movie, Robert Donat plays a British doctor who starts off working for coal miners, but moves to a London clinic for the wealthy only to find that it's destroying his soul. So it's not hard to understand why I'm not the only person who found himself comparing Bad for Each Other to The Citadel. Unfortunately, this is a movie where the script really lets Heston and the rest of the cast down. They try, but the resulting mess isn't really their fault.

As always, however, judge for yourself whether the movie is that bad. Thankfully, it's not overlong, so even if you don't like it it's not as if you've wasted too much of your time.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

TCM's Norman Jewison tribute

Director Norman Jewison died in January, and with 31 Days of Oscar beginning not long after Jewison's death, TCM didn't have a whole lot of time to plan a programming salute to him before the Oscar programming. So they had to delay things until later in March. That programming salute is tonight, March 21, and includes five of Jewison's films:

8:00 PM The Thomas Crown Affair
10:00 PM In the Heat of the Night
Midnight Moonstruck
2:00 AM Fiddler on the Roof
5:15 AM The Cincinnati Kid

Unlike yesterday with Ryan O'Neal, I had one of the movies in the programming salute on my DVR and not having done a review on it before. Moonstruck aired during 31 Days of Oscar, so I recorded it then, and with the Jewison salute coming up, I decided I'd watch it now so that I could do the review in conjunction with the upcoming airing.

Granted, Moonstruck is a famous enough movie that most people probably know the basic plot. Cher stars as Loretta Castorini, a bookkeeper who still lives with her family, parents Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) and Rose (Olympia Dukakis), and Cosmo's very elderly widowed father (Feodor Chaliapin). Although, to be fair, Loretta lives with them in part because she's a widow, having married a bit later than the women in her part of the world -- Brooklyn's Italian-American community -- do and then having tragically lost her husband in an accident.

Loretta goes out to dinner with her kinda-sorta boyfriend, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). He's a decent human being and the two like each other, although Loretta isn't quite certain how much love there is. Not that she's overly worried. She married the first time for love, and look where that got her. So she'd consider marrying a second time for security, and indeed, gets Johnny to propose to her.

But there's a bit of a catch. Johnny's beloved mother lives in the old country, and word has reached Johnny that she's on her death bed. So he needs to go back to Sicily as soon as possible to see Ma before she dies. That should only be a couple of weeks maximum, and when Johnny returns, they can have the church wedding straight away.

Johnny has other difficulties. He's got a brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to whom he hasn't spoken in years. This would be a good time to make amends, bury the hatchet, what have you. So while Johnny is off in Italy, would Loretta be so good as to call on Ronny and get him to come to the wedding? Ronny works at a bakery, so Loretta goes there to try to find Ronny and speak to him.

She quickly learns why Ronny hasn't spoken to his brother in five years. Ronny was engaged, but one day when Johnny came to the bakery Ronny paid more attention to him than to his work. A work accident caused him to lose his hand, and then his fiancée, so Ronny blames Johnny for both. He's bitter, and hasn't been with a woman since. This gives him a bizarre idea: would Loretta spend just one night with him at the opera, Cinderella-style?

Of course, Ronny and Loretta wind up falling in love. And it's not the only case of infidelity in the story, as there are several other subplots involving love. But what will Johnny do when he gets back from Italy?

Moonstruck is a wonderful little romantic comedy, in part because it feels to me like it has a near universal appeal. Yeah, it's set in a fairly specific community, but after all it has to be set somewhere. In fact, it feels like it could have been set anywhere, and that the situations could happen to almost anybody. Indeed, one of the subplots involves a decidedly non-Italian character, the college professor Perry (John Mahoney who was so much more than just Kelsey Grammer's TV father on Frasier) who takes his female students to the same Italian restaurant the main characters go to, only to get a glass of water thrown on him.

Not only is the script excellent, the cast all give tremendous performances. Cher and Olympia Dukakis both won Oscars, but everybody else is just as good too. Moonstruck is one of those movies that is not to be missed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Nothing like the 60s Skidoo

One of the movies I was watching off my DVR was put in a time slot rather longer than the movie; long enough for TCM to program a short. This was an early talkie that was new to me, 23 Skidoo.

In the early days of talkies, Hollywood needed a lot of talking content, and didn't necessarily know what they had in their old silent stars. In addition to bringing in a lot of people from Broadway, they also brought in any number of people from vaudeville, recreating some of the old skits as one- and two-reelers. In 23 Skidoo, vaudevillean Lew Fields plays a man named Otto Ott, proprietor of a German-style summer beer garden, complete with German accent.

Poor Otto has all sorts of problems, most of them having to do with his battle axe of a wife (played by an actress I'd never heard of, Helen Goodhue, who only made a handful of shorts). She gives him all sorts of hell, but this is really just a foil for Otto to come up with a bunch of snappy retorts. "You don't deserve a wife like me", Mrs. Ott says. Otto repsponds, "I don't deserve rheumatism either, but I've got it."

As you can imagine, this is all fairly corny humor, and somewhat dated. The one-liners, however, are better than the physical comedy, which involves a guy who gets drunk and a bunch of potential new hire waiters. After Ott is done dealing with the waiters, the short ends rather abruptly, but then again it was just a one-reeler.

Hollywood, trying to feel its way to see what would work in the sound era, tried all sorts of stuff, from vaudeville comedy to various sorts of musical numbers and even dramatic stuff. When a short works, such as Burns and Allen doing their shtick in Lambchops, it's memorable even today. But when it fails like 23 Skidoo, it's no wonder stuff like this has become largely forgotten.

So while it's nice that there is in fact a filmed record of some of these performers, it doesn't mean they stand the test of time.

TCM's Ryan O'Neal tribute

Ryan O'Neal (l.) and Barbara Streisand in What's Up, Doc? (10:00 PM)

Actor Ryan O'Neal died back in December at the age of 82. Because of the various programming salutes, TCM hasn't been able to get around to doing a tribute to him, but the wait for that is finally over. Tonight (March 20), TCM will be showing five of O'Neal's movies in prime time. Those movies are:

8:00 PM Love Story, in which O'Neal falls in love with tragic Ali McGraw; I think this one might be a TCM premiere;
10:00 PM What's Up, Doc?, which sees Barbra Streisand make O'Neal's life a living hell at a conference of musicologists;
Midnight Nickelodeon, a new-to-me movie about the early years of Hollywood;
2:15 AM Wild Rovers, a heist movie with previous Oscar winners William Holden and Karl Malden alongside O'Neal; and
4:45 AM The Thief Who Came to Dinner, another heist movie, this time with O'Neal and Jacqueline Bisset

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The Part of Greer Garson is now being played by Claudette Colbert

Once Greer Garson came over the the US and started working at MGM, they teamed her with Walter Pidgeon in a series of movies like the recently-mentioned Mrs. Miniver that the audiences loved. A movie that feels like MGM had it planned for Garson, but which does not in fact star her, is The Secret Heart. I recorded it the last time it was on TCM, and recently watched it.

In an apartment in New York, a young man named Chase Addams (Robert Sterling) is returning home after a stint in the Navy, presumably having served in World War II since the movie was released in late 1946. He's returning to his girlfriend Kay (Patricia Medina) who is likely to become his fiancée. Kay informs Chase that his sister Penny (June Allyson) is also home, and that's a cue for Kay to reveal the first half of the back story. Penny is supposed to be at her boarding school, but she hasn't returned since Easter break. Chase is worried about her, and Kay informs him that Penny has gotten worse, playing the piano to think about her late father and stopping any time anyone else shows up. She doesn't even want to play with her own brother around.

At about the same time, Lee Addams (Claudette Colbert) walks in to the office of New York psychologist Dr. Rossiger (Lionel Barrymore). Lee has the same surname is Penny, but is in fact only Penny and Chase's stepmother. Penny has been seeing Dr. Rossiger, but Lee is worried about her. Meanwhile, Dr. Rossiger sees that some sort of family therapy might be in order so he asks Lee to reveal the other half of the back story.

Ten years earlier, Larry Addams was a widower with two younger children. He met Lee and the two fell in love, but Lee's aunt wasn't so sure the two should get married. After going to England to see her aunt, Lee decides she's going to marry Larry after all. On the ship back to New York, she meets Larry's friend Chris Matthews (Walter Pidgeon), and he falls in love with Lee not realizing that she is going to be married to Lee. They get married, but Penny doesn't seem to like her new step-mother all that much.

Larry, meanwhile, is an alcoholic who wanted to become a concert pianist but couldn't afford it, so he took up work as an investment banker and drinks to dull the pain. But he's also been embezzling money from his clients, and when that catches up with him, he decides to commit suicide by throwing himself off a cliff near their farmhouse in Rhode Island. Larry left his family with a lot of debt, and Lee sets about trying to pay off those debts, not telling Penny the truth about how the father she loved really died.

Back in the present, Dr. Rossiger suggests that if the family goes back to the farmhouse where Mr. Addams killed himself, perhaps Penny would finally be forced to confront the past and finally get over the trauma. Wouldn't you know it, but Chris, being into sailing, has a boat and country house near where the Addams' farmhouse is. Meeting up with Lee again and with her being a widow, it might be a good time to pursue her like in Imitation of Life. However, also like Imitation of Life, Penny finds herself falling in love with Chris. When the truth of whom Chris really loves comes out, that might just drive Penny over the edge....

The Secret Heart is another of those movies that MGM tried to make a Big Important Picture after the war, dealing with new themes in Freudian psychology, even though it's not quite a prestige picture. However, this is MGM, which means that once again we get all the glitz that MGM could bring to such a project even when glitz is not what the material needs.

The Secret Heart isn't a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination; it's just that it's one of those movies that consistently feels as though it's got something not quite right about it. As much as the stars try, than can't quite overcome the saccharine nature of what should be serious material. Everything from top to bottom is professionally made -- but it should have been made in some other way.

Monday, March 18, 2024


I've argued before that there are a lot of critical types out there who seem to praise arthouse films to high heaven just because the movies aren't your traditional commercial fare. I tend not to care for the arthouse stuff, and I'm sorry to say that this view was confirmed when I recently watched one of the TCM Imports from a few months back, the Czech New Wave film Daisies.

The movie starts off with a sense of the absurd, with the opening credits playing out over intercutting of the sort of industrial wheel Charlie Chaplin got mixed up with in Modern Times, and shots of the destruction wrought by bomber planes. After the credits, we get two women in bikinis, both named Marie. They talk about nihilism, with one of the two suggesting that the world has gone spoiled, so perhaps they should be the ones doing the spoiling! Cut to a shot that could just as well be the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

After that, it's off to a restaurant where one of the two young women has gone with an older man on a date. The other Marie then shows up to crash the dinner, claiming to be the sister of the one on the date. After more absurdity involving a series of cuts in which each new scene is tinted a different color, the two women then leave the man alone on the train when he thought he'd be taking one of them home with him. Boy are they rude.

And they're not just nasty to other people. After a scene in which they annoy the hell out of everbody trying to watch the floor show at a night club. One of the Maries decides she's going to commit suicide, and the other Marie returns home to this. The non-suicidal Marie is ticked, less worried that her friend has tried to kill herself, and more about the cost of the gas that was used in trying to committ suicide. Who's going to pay for this? Dead men tell no tales! Obnoxious giggle.

It goes on like this for another hour or so, with more dates, more trying to strand the men on trains, and more intercutting with other absurdities back at their apartment. It doesn't seem to go anywhere, and there's really no plot to resolve.

People who like the absurd may enjoy Daisies, as will people who enjoy stuff that's decidedly not Hollywood. As you can guess, I mostly intensely disliked it. In the movie's defense, however, I will also add that director Věra Chytilová shows a high level of technical proficiency with the cinematography, the editing, and the changing use of color, with some of the effects being well done too. It's a shame that all of this is in the service of a badly plotless movie.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The Johnstown Flood

Not too long ago, the George Eastman Museum restored the copy it had of the 1926 sielent film The Johnstown Flood. TCM gave the movie its world television premiere, and since the movie sounded interesting, I decided to record it. TCM is showing again tonight as part of Silent Sunday Nights, overnight tonight at 12:45 AM (so technically March 18 here in the Eastern Time Zone but still March 17 in more westerly time zones).

As you may recall from American history, Johnstown is a smallish city in western Pennsylvania where a dam in the hills overlooking the town failed in 1889, sending a cascade of water down into the city below and killing a shockingly large number of people. The story is something that should be cinematically interesting, if you can do the special effects for the actual flood properly. With that in mind, this telling of the story centers on an engineer named Tom O'Day (George O'Brien). He works for John Hamilton, who owns a lumber concern in the region.

Hamilton also owns the dam that's going to break, not that I'm spoiling anything considering the title of the movie and the fact that it's based on real events. Hamilton uses the dam to control the level of the water and help float his logs down the river to get to where they're going to be sold off. And he's recently signed a large contract with a firm in Pittsburgh. It would mean a lot of money for all involved. But it also means that the water level in the dam is going to have to be kept high, with the logs hitting the dam and putting pressure on it. Tom understands -- and in fact most of the town does -- that if the water level isn't reduced, one big rain could lead the dam to burst, with disastrous consequences.

Meanwhile, Anna Burger (Janet Gaynor) is the daughter of one of the forestry workers. She sees big old handsom Tom, and falls in love with him. The feeling is not quite mutual. Not that Tom doesn't like Anna, it's that he meets Hamilton's niece Gloria (Florence Gilbert) and understands that there would be good reasons for the two of them to wind up together. And they do seem to have some genuine feelings for each other. But there's still that dam.

The locals push ever harder for a state inspector to come in and look at the dam, which eventually happens. The company Hamilton signed the big contract with, however, tells him that if the water level in the dam gets lowered, they'll take their business somewhere that can fulfill the contract on time and on budget. So Hamilton hires a bunch of goons to "protect" the dam from the locals who want to lower the level of the water.

Now, of course, we all know that the dam will eventually burst, and in this version of the story, it does so just as Tom and Gloria are about to be married. Anna finds out about the dam break first, and rushes to town to try to save people....

What surprised me about The Johnstown Flood is that it's not really an epic at all. It runs a little over an hour, and the actual flood doesn't come until the final reel. Before that, it's a all the standard-issue stuff you'd seen in a disaster movie like the Clifton Webb version of Titanic. The build up is passable if not great, but th special effects in the final reel make up for it. The advancement of special effects meant that there would be better disaster movies in the years to follow, but The Johnstown Flood isn't a bad little movie. And with the restoration, it's also quite pretty to look at.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

King Solomon's Mines

Another of the movies that I had on my DVR and that is coming up again soon on TCM is MGM's 1950 version of King Solomon's Mines. As usual, in order to be able to do a post on the upcoming airing, I sat down to watch the copy already on my DVR. That airing is coming up tonight at 8:00 PM, so now you get the review.

After some nice opening credits in Technicolor with backdrops of Africa as well as informing us what parts of Africa the movie was actually filmed in (what are now Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and eastern DRC), we're informed that the action is set in 1897 Africa, so when Britain was in control of a lot of east Africa, and when Europeans felt they had a moral duty to "civilize" the so-called Dark Continent. One such person is Allan Quatermain (Stuart Grainger), a safari guide working in British East Africa for the past 15 years, which is much longer than the average life span for a (white) guide in that part of the world.

Having come to the region from the UK is Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr). She's the wife of Henry, an adventurer who apparently had the crazy idea that King Solomon got his gold and gems from mines somewhere to the west of the British colony, in a part of Africa that's unexplored by the white man, and that supposedly many of the local tribes don't want to venture towards. Henry sent Elizabeth a "map" of the quality suitable for Hollywood movies of the era, where you wonder how anybody can find anything. Elizabeth would like Henry to guide her to where she thinks her husband would be if he's still alive, and to help she's brought along her brother John (Richard Carlson).

Allan isn't certain whether he wants to take on the job, but Elizabeth is offering a lot of money. Allan is a widower with a son back in England, and taking this job would help secure his son's future, so Allan reluctantly decides to take the job. It doesn't take long for Allan to think that perhaps he was right not to want to take on this job, as Elizabeth is one of those Victorian women who seems decidedly unsuited to going out on this type of adventure, being scared of every little thing and not properly provisioned.

Along the way, however, Elizabeth starts to become a bit more self-sufficient. She and Allan also go through that movie trope of developing feelings for each other even though there's still the question of whether Elizabeth's husband is alive or dead. The expedition also faces any number of westen tropes about Africa from the period: an animal stampede; local tribes that the guides aren't certain whether they're friendly; and a lot of wildlife. Much of this serves as a hook for a lot of lovely scenery.

There are a few set-pieces, if you will, in and among all the travelogue. One involves finding a white man out in the middle of nowhere (Hugo Haas), although Quatermain eventually determines who that white man is. There's also a lone African from a tribe Quatermain doesn't recognize at all; that guy joins them and his back story is revealed at the end of the movie. And then everyone gets to a cave that may just be what Henry thought was the titular mine. But is there anything there, and will they find Henry?

To be honest, I found large parts of King Solomon's Mines to be slow, largely because the characters have to trek quite a ways to get to the putative mines. There's only so much they can do along the way. With that in mind, the scenery might just be the best part of the movie. For 2024, that's a bit of a sad statement, only because getting color footage of exotic places is so commonplace. For 1950, when the movie was released, it would have been a big deal to audiences, and it's no surprise that this was one of the biggest box office hits of the year.

My comments about the scenery are not to imply that King Solomon's Mines is a bad movie, however. It's more that looking at it from almost 75 years on, it's the sort of stuff we've seen so many times since. But this would have been one the earliest, most previous Africa movies using studio backlots to stand in badly for Africa. So definitely give the 1950 King Solomon's Mines a watch.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Convicted Woman

I'm getting close to the end of all those B movies that TCM ran during the spotlight on B movies back in July or so. Today's selection is a prison movie from Columbia: Convicted Woman.

The movie starts off pleasantly enough, with a young woman named Betty Andrews (Rochelle Hudson) in a city park trying to get her shoe back from a dog. That's not relevant to the plot, other than her being in the park in the middle of the day is a sign that she is currently unemployed and looking for work. She had found a promising want ad in the paper, so she decides to go there and look for a job. That place is a department store, but she has to fill out an application form and then they'll inform her when there's an opening.

Betty goes into the female employees' lounge to fill out that form, and as she's doing so another woman comes in. Surprisingly, that woman looks a lot like Betty, and is even wearing the same dress! The woman then goes out onto the shop floor, where she sees a woman looking for a shop assistant. This other woman sees an opportunity. She takes the customer's $10 bill and claims she's going to make change, but she just disappears. And since Betty is wearing the same dress as the thief, it's unsurprising that the customer identifies Betty as the thief.

The case goes to trial, with a young reporter from the local paper, Jim Brent (Glenn Ford in an early role), covering it. He has quite a bit of sympathy for Betty, but there's not much he can do to help. Betty is found guilty, and despite the fact that the crime was only stealing $10, which seems like petty larceny, she's actually sent to the Curtiss women's prison for an entire year!

Under the direction of Chief Matron Brackett (Esther Dale), it's a tough place, leading one of the woman to commit suicide. Worse, the matron insists that the dead woman had pneumonia and that everybody knows it. Worse, if Betty tries to tell anybody about it, she's going to get in big trouble, like the worst jobs if not getting sent to solitary. Betty is able to get a call out to Jim, who shows up claiming to be her lawyer. When Jim prints the story, it comes to the attention of the Commissioner of Prisons, who appoints Mary Ellis (Frieda Inescort) the new warden. Mary has even more sympathy for Betty, because she was Betty's defense attorney at trial.

Mary sets about doing some Hollywood-standard prison reform, which is even going to involve furloughs, and that's going to lead to the climax over whether any of the women given a furlough is going to violate the terms, even if unwillingly.

Convicted Woman is a B movie, to be sure, but it's not bad as far as B movies go. Glenn Ford was at the beginning of his career and the studios I think didn't yet know what they had in him which is why he's underused here. Rochelle Hudson does well, and the plot, while nothing new even in 1940, works well enough.

I don't know the next time Convicted Woman is going to show up on TCM, but having been released by Columbia, it might show up on their Cinevault Classics channel that's on the Roku Channel app.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Billy Budd

When I was in high school, one of the books we had to read was Herman Melville's Billy Budd. It's really only a novella, because Herman Melville never actually finished it and what we have is what he left behind at the time of his death combined with some compilation and editing by his widow and later scholars. The book was popular enough, however, that in the late 1940s the material was adapted into a stage play; it's that play which is the basis for the 1962 movie Billy Budd.

The year is 1797, and if you remember the movie Damn the Defiant! that I reviewed a several weeks back, you'll recall that this was the year that the British Royal Navy suffered the Spithead mutiny, which was quite a serious thing. Edward Vere (Peter Ustinov) is the captain of the HMS Avenger, and in need of replenishing his crew. Since there's a war on and he's at sea, going to port and impressing the men there, as we've seen from other naval movies like Mutiny on the Bounty, is a non-starter.

Ah, but the laws of war suggest that in a time of war the Royal Navy may impress men from British-flagged merchant ships. After all, they're already sailors. So when the Avenger encounters the Rights of Man, Capt. Vere takes some of the crew, including a young foretopman named Billy Budd (Terence Stamp in his feature film debut).

Billy is considered a naïf by his crewmates, but he also has a strange sort of charisma, where practically everybody he meets loves him because he's just so... something or other. This even though he doesn't seem to have any desire to be a leader of men. He just wants to get on with his work. The only person who soesn't seem to like Billy is the ship's Master of arms, Claggard (Robert Ryan). That, however, is because Claggart doesn't like anybody. In a bit of reversal from Mutiny on the Bounty, it's Claggart who feels the need for iron discipline, while the captain has a more nuanced view.

Still, Billy is just so nice that he's going to try to get in the good graces of Claggart not out of any desire to toady up the a boss who has considerable power over him, but because it seems he's incapable of doing anything else. Claggart isn't stupid, and sees the power that Billy unwittingly has over other crewmen, so Claggart decides he's going to trump up charges against Billy by any means necessary. Knowing of the Spithead mutinies, Claggart gets his loyalists to try to fabricate evidence that Billy is part of an incipient mutiny.

When Vere calls Claggart and Budd in for a meeting, Budd has one of his few weaknesses, which is a nervous stammer. He's incapable of saying what he's thinking because Claggart's bullying has made him so scared. So he instinctively reacts physically, accidentally striking Claggart, who falls backwards and hits his head, killing himself. In a modern-day court of law on dry land, this would probably be negligent manslaughter, but at sea during war, it's a court-martial offense, and the penalty is death, even if everybody is secretly relieved that Claggart is dead and nobody really wants Billy to die if they had their way.

Herman Melville is not my favorite author, so when I had to read Billy Budd back in high school I wasn't too thrilled with it. This movie adaptation, however, really makes the material come to life, thanks in no small part to a series of excellent performances by the three leads. There's also smaller supporting roles for Melvyn Douglas and David McCallum, among others.

If you haven't seen Billy Budd before, do yourself a favor and watch it. It's much better than the Melville novella.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Love Is a Racket

I've said on a lot of occasions how I like Warner Bros.' B movies. They also had a lot of good programmers in the 1930s, with a good example of this being a movie I recently watched off my DVR, Love Is a Racket.

Jimmy Russell (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) is a reporter stereotyp, as we see when he gets a call waking him up at 5:00 -- PM, not AM. He writes the Broadway gossip column for one of the New York newspapers, and has a roommate in the form of Stanley Fiske (Lee Tracy), whose purpose in being there is never really quite mentioned. Also showing up at the apartment is Sally Condon (Ann Dvorak), who really holds a torch for Jimmy. But he's got a bit more of a torch for young Mary Wodehouse (Frances Dee), an up-and-coming actress.

Mary, for her part, has a couple of other guys interested in her, notably Broadway producer Max Boncour (Andre Luguet), as well as gangster Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot). One of Eddie's current rackets involves the dairy business, and in fact Jimmy has heard some gossip that might help blow the racket wide open. But Jimmy doesn't want to report it, in part because that's not his beat, and in part because it's not confirmed enough. One of Jimmy's colleagues, however, does try to report it, and Jimmy has to do some fast work to spike the story.

But the dairy racket is not the real thrust of the movie. That thrust involves Mary, who lives with her aunt and has been living beyond her means. She's written a couple of checks that are going to bounce, so somebody decides to be a good Samaritan and cover the checks for her. Of course, it's not all altruism. As you might be able to guess, it's Eddie who bought the checks, and he wants something back for having done so, which is specifically Mary as his girlfriend.

Jimmy isn't about to let that happen, so Eddie, who has decamped to Atlantic City, sends Mary a telegram threatening her, and Jimmy, being chivalrous, tells Mary he'll try to help her. But it's a ruse, and Jimmy is detained in Atlantic City by one of Eddie's underlings. He is able to escape and get back to New York, but when he goes to see Eddie, he finds that Eddie has just been killed!

As you can see, there's a lot going on in Love Is a Racket. To be honest, it's doesn't all quite mesh. But director William Wellman and his cast approach the material with such verve that they make this little pre-Code an eminently interesting watch. Objectively, it's not the world's greatest movie by any stretch of the imagination, but you could do a lot worse than Love Is a Racket.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Technically they're thirsty

A lot of my movie watching is of films that were made before I was born, but now that I'm getting up there in years, there are a lot of movies made after I was born that getting to the "old movies" era. As an example, one of the movies I recorded last year off of TCM had just turned 40 years old: The Hunger.

The movie starts off in one of those early-80s nightclubs that played new wave music and had lots of neon and other wacky lighting effects. One couple invites another home with them, which would normally be a cue for some sort of kinky sex. Well, that sort of happens, but the sex concludes with the two members of the first couple taking the ankh necklaces they wear, and using them to stab the other couple to death! The living couple then drinks the victims' blood before putting the dead bodies into the incinerator.

This couple is Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and John (David Bowie). Miriam is a vampire, and drinks the blood to keep herself looking so young, something that she's been doing for millennia. Intercut with this are scenes from a research center somewhere in midtown Manhattan. There are a bunch of monkeys kept in cages, and as Miriam and John are cutting up their victims, one of the monkeys is killing another. The next day, Dr. Roberts (Susan Sarandon) wonders what the heck happened. This isn't the sort of research she had been expecting to do on her monkeys.

While Dr. Roberts pays the bills doing that research, Miriam and John have to pay the bills do keep their eternal life, which they do by giving classical music lessons, especially to budding violinist Alice (Beth Ehlers). She comes to her music lesson one day, and, taking a Polaroid of John, tells him that he looks awful. He certainly feels it, too. And when he looks at himself in the mirror, he starts seeing... wrinkles, and other signs of aging! As it turns out, John isn't a vampire by birth, but brought into the vampire business by Miriam. So he doesn't quite get the same eternal youth that Miriam does. And he's about to start aging extremely rapidly.

This is where the two stories are about to come together. Dr. Roberts is a gerontologist, doing research on aging. She can't promise eternal life, but she is working on longevity, trying to slow down the aging process. Not that there's been much success there, although there has been the opposite: speeding up the aging process. John, having read the book, decides to visit Dr. Roberts, who thinks John is a crank, leaving him to cool in the waiting room. It's only when she returns a few hours later that she realizes just how wrong she was.

Things get much more complicated when John wants out of this existence, resulting in his going missing, at least to the people in the outside world. Dr. Roberts goes to John and Miriam's place to look for John, and then the police come looking too....

The Hunger is one of those movies that's stylish and certainly has a relatively uncommon atmosphere about it. That certainly makes it interesting, and in some ways compelling. But at the same time, large portions of the movie feel like they have more atmosphere than substance, with the plot a bit hard to follow at times and the ending being a bit bizarre. So I think The Hunger is going to be the sort of movie that isn't going to appeal to everybody.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Not the Donna Summer song

I mentioned a few weeks back that Call Me Mister was one of the few films currently in the FXM Retro rotation that I hadn't written a blog post about. It turns out there's at least one other, although it's also one of the most recent films that the FXM Retro block runs: the 1994 western Bad Girls. It's got another airing tomorrow (March 12) at 1:15 PM, so I recently watched it to do the review here.

The movie starts off in the stereotypical movie western town of Echo City sometime in the 1890s. Four women have fallen on hard times, with the result that they've had to resort to working at the local brothel to earn a living. Meanwhile, the local branch of the Temperance Union has been campaigning against prostitution. So when Anita (Mary Stuart Masterson) kills in self-defense a john who tries to hurt her, nobody other than the other prostitutes has any sympathy for her. The town intends to hang her, but as she's on the gallows, three fellow prostitutes -- Cody (Madeleine Stowe), Eileen (Andie MacDowell), and Lily (Drew Barrymore) -- come to her rescue, literally absconding with her.

A lot of people are on the trail of the four women, notably the Pinkerton detectives. But it's a lone, man, Josh McCoy (Dermot Mulroney), who runs into them first. He claims to be a prospector, but none of the women believe him since he's not grizzled enough for that. But he gives the ladies the news that they're not going to be safe hiding out where they are.

Anita only went into prostitution because she's a widow. Her husband had a homestead in Oregon, and Anita would like to go there to claim her inheritance, but she's in need of money. Thankfully, Cody has saved up enough for the four of them to get to Oregon and work the land together. They just have to go to the bank to get it. And then they do, they discover that the Pinkertons have shown up in town as well. Worse, they and the Pinkertons have gotten there just as an old flame of Cody's, Kid Jarrett (James Russo) and his gang have decided to rob the bank!

Cody decides she's going to try to get Anita's money back from Jarrett, while the other three make their way to a ranch that just happens to belong to a man they met in town and whom they tricked into freeing Eileen from jail. Meanwhile, the four women figure out a way to try to get revenge on Jarrett, starting with double-crossing him on a train robbery....

It's easy to see why the four actresses in the lead role would want to make a movie like Bad Girls. Or, at least it's easy to see why they would have wanted to make what was in the original script. Script changes among other things led Bad Girls to be a critical failure upon its release in 1994. Personally, I think that terrible critical reception is mildly unfair.

The plot is mostly serviceable, in that it's something that you could have seen in any western from the golden era of westerns 40 years earlier, only with female protagonists instead of male protagonists. But that is in fact one of the problems with the movie, that there's pretty much nothing original in the movie beyond the female protagonists. The other big flaw for me was the too-modern filming techniques. Bad Girls repeatedly came across to me as one of those movies where the direction and cinematography are intrusive, with needless zooms and switching to slow motion.

Still, the four leads are appealing even if they aren't stretched enough. And as always, you may want to watch for yourself and draw your own conlusions.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Well, not Thelma Ritter

One of the movies I recently watched off my DVR had 20 minutes between the end of the movie and the allotted time slot, so there was enought time for TCM to insert a two-reeler. That short was one of the Crime Does Not Pay shorts, A Thrill for Thelma.

After the credits, and a montage of crime-related things like gunshots and sirens, we hand it over to Your MGM Reporter (played here by William Tannen; I'll have to look it up to see if MGM had different people playing the reporter). He's at the local Women's Prison, where the warden (an actress, not a real warden) and a police captain (again, an actor, not a real captain) want to inform everybody that Crime Does Not Pay. To let our viewers know this, they call in one of the women marching in formation: Thelma Black (Irene Hervey).

Flash back to two years earlier. Thelma is just graduating from school and talking to her classmates. Some of them are looking for men so they can settle down and start a family, but not Thelma. She wants excitement out of life while she's still young enough to enjoy it all. With that in mind, she goes to beauty school and even gets a job at a hoity-toity salon, where she eventually meets Steve (Robert Livingston).

One night, Steve and Thelma are out driving, when they pass a parked car that seems to be doing the Lover's Lane thing. Steve comments that perhaps they should stop and give such couples a fright, just to see their reaction. After all, these couples don't want to be found out by the general public. They even do it once, but in the aftermath, Thelma is horrified to think that Steve took the man's wallet. She thinks they should return the wallet forthwith, but Steve is having no part of that. When Thelma tries to turn around, Steve tries to take the wheel, and that results in a car crash. Not that it hurt Thelma or Steve; the incident forced another car off the road and that car crashed into a tree, killing the driver.

So now Thelma is a fugitive. She thinks about going to the police, but Steve reminds her that she was driving, and being the driver in a hit-and-run that resulted in someone in the other car dying is serious business. So now Thelma is in with Steve, straight down the line as Edward G. Robinson might have said in Double Indemnity.

A Thrill for Thelma isn't a bad little short, although this one is only number 4 in the Crime Does Not Pay series and it really hadn't hit its stride yet. As always, the shorts in this series are laden with MGM moralizing, but they're still fun for the most part. It's been about a dozen years the the Warner Archive put all of the shorts out in a box set, so you should be able to find it somewhere.

Notes on the TCM March 2024 schedule

I pointed out a month ago how TCM decided to start its annual 31 Days of Oscar in the middle of the month in order to have the final day of the programming coincide with the actual awarding of this year's Academy Awards. Well, that final day has arrived, which means we get back to regular programming on TCM. Well, more or less regular.

Since the "regular" programming is only going to be three weeks, that means that a traditional Star of the Month wouldn't get a proper treatment, if you go by having one night a week for the rest of the month. Then again, you could argue that a month like this is when they should pick one of those "stars" who didn't have a whole lot of movies for whatever reason. But if you did that, this would also mean that the other regular features, especially the monthly spotlight, would also only get three nights.

So TCM decided to have two week-long spotlights. The Star of the Month is coming up later in the month, so when that comes I'll write up a post them. No; this first week of What's Left of March is the week for the non-star spotlight, and the theme is "Working Women". The movies are going to be more or less in chronological order, with each night being a later decade than the previous night. I will point out that 40s night on Tuesday brings another airing of the wonderful British World War II movie Millions Like Us (March 13, 4:00 AM), about British women who go to work at the start of the war to do their part for the war effort.

There are also a lot of morning and afternoon themes not only spotlighting individuals -- director Raoul Walsh gets a birthday salute tomorrow (March 11) -- but themes as always. I bring this up because the "Under Ground" theme on March 12 has a movie I was hoping to do a full-length post on. That on is The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (March 12, 9:00 AM). I recorded the previous airing and sat down to watch it to do a post on it, but unfortunately the recording somehow had picture and sound so out of sync that I couldn't stand to watch it. It's a lot like that scene in Singin' in the Rain where it looks like the man is saying no and the woman yes.

As it turns out, there's another movie airing March 12 that I decided to do a full-length post on, so I watched that instead. That's also why this post is getting posted today (March 10) instead of tomorrow, and along with a second post on a short. Actually, I've got several posts coming up later in the month on movies that are getting re-airs.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Humor? You've Got to Be Kidding!

I've mentioned the comedies of the 1960s, especially the "generation gap" comedies where older Hollywood was trying to keep being "with it" with the younger audiences of the day. A lot of such movies are ones that I don't find very good, because they come across as terribly dated, and probably weren't very funny at the time. Another one that really fits that description is Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!.

The movie opens up with a sequence during the credits of a red VW Beetle leading people on a chase through one of the suburbs of Los Angeles, with a couple of motorcycle cops leading the way. The car finally comes to a stop, revealing that it was driving to a hospital. Three men are bickering in the car, and then out comes an older woman, followed by a much younger woman. It doesn't take long to figure out that the younger woman, Heather Halloran (Sandra Dee) is the daughter of the older woman, Louise (Celeste Holm), and that Heather has gone into labor. However, at the hospital, Louise announces Heather has "Miss Halloran. For 'professional' reasons." The implication is that Heather got pregnant out of wedlock, which was a much bigger thing back in the days of the generation gap movie.

At this point, Heather does one of those scenes where we hear her thoughts over the action, and she's wondering how she got herself into this. Unfortunately, she doesn't mean how she got herself into this turkey of a movie, but how she got pregnant without a husband and three young men chasing her to the hospital. Cue the inevitable flashback....

Heather never seems to have had a father in her life, while Mom is the pushy stage mother right out of Gypsy. Mom thinks little Heather can sing, and Mom took the juvenile Heather to appear before various talent agents. Heather would rather just be the regular all-American girl, go off to college, get a job, and then a husband at some point down the road. Eventually she does graduate and becomes a secretary to young executive Harlan Wycliff (George Hamilton).

But Mom is still trying to get Heather into the entertainment business. To that end, she's brought in a songwriter, Pat Murad (Dick Kallman), to write some songs for Heather. Also showing up at the house is their next-door neighbor since Heather's childhood days, Dick Bender (Bill Bixby). He's held a torch for Heather since what one would guess were their high school days. Finally, there's Hank Judson (Dwayne Hickman). He's trying to break in as an actor, and has even gotten some work as an extra and a body double, but for the most part he's reduced to being a shoe salesman. When Heather buys a pair of shoes from him, he falls for her so shows up at the Halloran house unannounced.

Eventually, Mom actually does find Heather a singing job at a nightclub, not that she really wants to take it. So she claims she's going to get into a relationship with her boss Harlan. That doesn't quite work out, but by the time it doesn't work out, she finds out that she's pregnant. One would think Harlan is the father, but Heather doesn't seem to want him. At least there are three other guys who want her even if none of them is the biological father.

You can see why somebody would look at the premise behind Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!, and think that there's a great movie to be made here. But none of it works, at least not in my opinion. I think part of it is how the boundary-pushing is so stuck in the 1960s. But in addition, none of the characters outside of the one played by Sandra Dee is very appealing. I didn't want any of these guys to wind up with her at the end.

Still, as always, this is the sort of movie you should probably watch and judge for yourself. Some people, after all, do like this sort of 1960s movie.

Friday, March 8, 2024

British Intelligence

I'm getting to the end of all those B movies that TCM ran during the spotlight to B movies back in July. Next up is one released at the start of the European theater of World War II, and obviously made in relation to the Nazis being the bad guys, but set during World War I: British Intelligence.

It's 1917, and World War I has more or less reached a stalemate that would eventually be broken by the arrival of the Americans. The British are trying to attack the Germans, but it seems as though every movie they make is figured out by a German agent the British only know by name, Strendler, and not appearance. They're going to have to get their best agent on the case. With that in mind, they call on a pilot, Frank Bennett (Bruce Lester) to pick up the agent.

But Bennett gets shot down and sent to a field hospital, where he's attended by nurses, including the very pretty Helen (Margaret Lindsay) while he's in hospital. He's so delerious that he thinks he's falling in love with her, but isn't really going to remember her when he gets out of the hospital. That's a plot point that's going to come up later in the movie.

The action switches to Berlin, where the Germans are giving an award to one of their agents, before informing said agent of her new assignment. That agent is one Fräulein Von Lorbeer, first name Helene, who just happens to be the same Helen that ministered to Bennett in the French field hospital! Helene's assignment is to get on a submarine that's heading for the Irish coast, although Ireland wasn't quite independent at the time, unlike World War II. From there, she'll make her way to Liverpool, while she'll get picked up by an agent Thompson.

Thompson takes her to London, where she is to play the part of a refugee and get herself ingratiated with one Arthur Bennett (Holmes Herbert), who is a new Cabinet minister and as such a ripe target for spying on. As you can guess, Arthur happens to be the father of Frank, who is going to come back home later in the movie and think he might recognize this "refugee".

Helene's contact in the house is one Valdar (Boris Karloff), the valet to Bennett who is also in the employ of the Germans. Valdar isn't overly open about exactly what Helene's duties are going to be. In fact, he suspects her of being too direct in trying to make contact with him. Valdar suspects Helene of possibly being a double agent and in cahoots with the British. But Helene finds that she also has reason to suspect Valdar of being the exact same thing.

Eventually, the Brits cotton on to the fact that the elder Bennett is in danger of being spied upon by the Germans, but they can't figure out who are the Germans in their midst. So they set up a trap and try to catch, well, somebody.

British Intelligence is a movie that has a surprising amount of twists and turns for a B movie. You can see how it got made to try to get American audiences on the side of the British while they were at war and the Americans were still neutral. At the same time, with a pretty brief running time even for a B movie, at a shade over one hour, British Intelligence doesn't get much chance to rise to greatness.

It's a fine example of a B movie, however, and one that mostly works at what it sets out to do, which is fairly modest. So it's definitely worth watching if you get the chance.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

As if some men in westerns aren't in fact violent

Barbara Stanwyck was one of the people honored in TCM's Summer Under the Stars last August, and there are quite a few of her movies that I still haven't seen. Among those movies that TCM showed was The Violent Men.

Barbara Stanwyck is the female lead, although first we meet the male lead, played by Glenn Ford. That man is John Parrish, who owns a ranch in one of those western areas that was beginning to develop the range wars between new homesteaders and the old ranchers who wanted an open range. Parrish served with distinction in the Civil War, and is really back in town to sell his ranch so that he can move back east with his fiancée Caroline (May Wynn) and take of work that's less taxing to his health, even though the doctor says he has no real health concerns.

Having arrived back in town, Parrish is shocked by why he sees. Lew Wilkinson (Edward G. Robinson) is the biggest landowner in the area, married to Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) and with an adult daughter Judith (Dianne Foster). Lew owns the Anchor Ranch, and being worried about the encroaching farmers, wants to get them out of the valley. He's willing to buy them out, but, if they don't take his lowball offers, Wilkinson's men will use violence at the behest of Martha as well as his younger brother Cole (Brian Keith).

Parrish is willing, more or less, to sell, since he had been planning on moving back east and has a fiancée who really wants him to do so. The people who work for him, as well as the other farmers and smallhoders, learn that Lew and his Anchor Ranch have put in a bid for the Parrish spread, and they're none too happy about it, so they try to convince him not to give in. Parrish is planning on ignoring them -- until Wilkinson's men create an excuse to try to kill one of Parrish's men.

Lew, meanwhile, wants to preserve what he's got, but since he's getting old and was crippled in the previous range war, would really like to do it without violence. What he doesn't know is that Martha has been scheming behind his back together with Cole to use that violence that we saw earlier. Not only that, but she seems to be romantically interested in Cole, despite the fact that he's got a Mexican girlfriend. Still, Martha eventually realizes that since Lew doesn't want violence, he's getting in the way of her plans and she may have to do something about him too.

So we get a violent, almost military-like campaign by Martha and her brother-in-law Cole to go after Parrish and his men. Parrish, however, has an ace up his sleeve in that he served in the war and served with the cavalry, which gives him some valuable military experience that he's going to be able to bring to use to try to defeat the Wilkinsons.

Sometime in the early 1950s, probably with the advent of television, Hollywood started giving us more "adult" westren movies with themes and vistas that the small screen couldn't give us. The Violent Men is squarely in that tradition. Robinson did make a couple of westerns, and does well here in a role where he's not quite to the decrepit level of a Spencer Tracy in Broken Lance, but getting there, with others in the family taking over. Glenn Ford made several westerns, and is good here as the reluctant hero. Stanwyck, once again, is excellent as a woman who's become tough as nails out of necessity.

The Violent Men is also a visually satisfying movie, with various locations in Arizona serving as the backdrop. Despite the themes not being particularly original, it's still a movie worth watching thanks to all those find acting performances.