Tuesday, April 30, 2024

As the Earth Turns

1934 was smack dab in the middle of the Depression, and a time when a much larger portion of the population was in rural areas and movies about small farmers were a thing. As such, it was with some interest that I decided to record and watch As the Earth Turns the last time it ran on TCM.

The movie opens up in the winter, with a wagon making it way through the snows of Maine, carrying a family to a dilapidated farm. This family, the Janowskis, are Polish immigrant tailors, except that their son Stan (Donald Woods) has wanted to be a farmer. And with business in the city not being so good, they decided to invest in Stan's future despite them having to spend the winter in a barn instead of a real farmhouse.

Another family is watching the wagon make its way through the snow. This family is headed by Mil Shaw, who is married to George with five kids. I say that she's the head of the family rather than George largely because George seems terminally lazy to the point that you wonder how the family could even survive. The answer to that question is that George gets no little bit of help from his brother Mark (David Landau), whose first wife died some time back but who has remarried to Cora (Clara Blandick), who came from the city together with daughter Doris.

Cora has grown resentul of having to live on a farm and has been raising Doris to have the same attitude. That, and Cora is hoping to send Doris to secretarial shool to get the hell away from the farm. Not resentful is Mark's biological daughter Jen (Jean Muir), who seems on her way to becoming a spinster, but who seems to have no issue with this and actually seems to love farming regardless of how difficult it is. Her biological brother Ollie (William Janney) is the one that the family is really pinning its hopes on; they've scrimped to send him to college and he's got prospects to become a lawyer after graduating some years down the road.

It seems fairly obvious that Stan and Jen are going to become attracted to each other, although Jen isn't so sure of this largely because she understands just how difficult the farming life is and wants Stan to be certain he's ready to live with what is more or less a calling. The other part of the film involves the resentments that the various female characters have: Mil over her shiftless husband -- she even thinks of leaving him at one point -- and Doris over her youth being wasted. She'll pursue any man be it her own stepbrother or even Stan if Jen doesn't jump at the opportunity to have Stan.

As the Earth Turns is an interesting movie. It was released by Warner Bros., who, to be honest, aren't the studio I'd think of as being the best to make a rural movie. But this is more of a social issues movie set against a rural backdrop (really the backlot of course), and Warner Bros. were quite good at making such issues pictures back in the 1930s. Donald Woods isn't convincingly Polish immigrant at all, but this is really Jean Muir's movie, and she does quite a good job. And the movie packs a whole lot of conflict into its brief (73 minute) running time.

As the Earth Turns is definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Monday, April 29, 2024


I mentioned yesterday that TCM would have two movies showing on April 30 that were on my DVR but that I hadn't blogged about before. The second of them is the 1952 adaptation of Ivanhoe, which shows up at 11:45 AM.

I haven't read Walter Scott's book on which this movie is based, so I can't say anything on how different the movie is. In any case, it starts off at the end of the 12th century. If you remember The Adventures of Robin Hood, you'll recall that English king Richard the Lionhearted went off to fight in one of the Crusades, only to be captured on the way home by Leopold of Austria and held for ransom. As the movie opens, a man looking like one of the old troubadours is riding his horse past various castles, singing a song in English. Eventually, at one of the castles, the man gets a response, followed by a small bag being thrown from a window high up. The man who threw the bag is Richard, as you can tell by the three lions crest on the bag, which contains a letter stating that he's being held for ransom, and that his brother John (Guy Rolfe) is aware of this and deliberately not paying the ransom.

The man who's been riding arouind looking for Richard is Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor), and he returns to England. However, there are all sorts of problems for him in England. One is that he's a Saxon, and the English monarchy are all Normans, descended from the invaders of 125 years prior. Prince John has been brutal in his desire to make the Saxons bend the knee to him, while Richard was more conciliatory about wanting to bring everyone together. It's because of this that Wilfrid's father Cedric (Finlay Currie) has disowned him for going off on a Crusade with those nasty Normans. But Wilfrid wants to see Cedric's ward Rowena (Joan Fontaine), with whom he has been in love. So when the unrecognized Wilfrid as troubadour runs into a group of Norman knights who are in Sherwood forest looking for a place to spend the night, Wilfrid directs them to his father's place nearby.

Wilfrid hides from his father, anad at the house one other guest shows up. Isaac (Felix Aylmer) is a Jew, having been forced to flee from Spain because the Jews are being persecuted pretty much all over Europe, much like they are even today for not willing to let Hamas extirpate them. Isaac meets Wilfrid, who tells him about Richard's captivity, and gives Isaac an assurance that Richard will let Jews in England live in peace. So Isaac takes Wilfred back to his place, Wilfrid bringing a jester he liberated, Wamba (Emlyn Williams) along in exchage for making Wamba a squire.

Isaac has a very lovely daughter, Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor). Neither of them has anything close to the wealth needed to pay Richard's ransom, but Rebecca does have a way to help Wilfrid. Prince John wants a series of jousts in which the Normans will best the Saxons, thereby finally subjugating them. Wilfrid is the one Saxon who could beat them, but he doesn't have a suitable jousting horse or suit of chain mail. Rebecca has the wealth at least to purchase those. She falls in love with Wilfrid, but of course he's a Gentile, and is already in love with Rowena anyway.

Wilfrid does best the Normans, but picks up a fairly serious injury in the process. He also gains an enemy in Norman knight De Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders), who vows to destroy the Saxons once and for all, and that's what the rest of the movie is about.

Ivanhoe is the sort of literary adaptation MGM was generally pretty good at making, combined with vibrant Technicolor and location shooting in the British Isles. Robert Taylor isn't a particular favorite of mine, but once again he gives a professional performance, as do Elizabeth Taylor and the underused Joan Fontaine. George Sanders gets to play another of his villain roles, and the British supporting cast is uniformly good. The story is a rousing one, full of action and easy to follow.

Ivanhoe may not be as good as Warner Bros.' The Adventures of Robin Hood, but not a whole lot of films are. It's eminently watchable in its own right, however.

Sunday, April 28, 2024



TCM is airing a pair of movies within a few hours of each other that both happen to be on my DVR and that I haven't blogged about before. (It's just a coincidence; as far as I can tell the two aren't part of any programming theme.) So I'm posting about one of them more than a day in advance. That one is Diner, which is on at 5:00 AM on April 30.

The movie opens in Baltimore on Christmas Day, 1959. A bunch of 20-somethings are at a dance that looks as though it could be in their old high school. Among them is Timothy Fenwick (Kevin Bacon), who is down in the basement smashing windows for what seems like no good reason. In fact, he's the son in a family where the father has a pretty good family business going, but Timothy for some reason or nother doesn't want to go into that business. He doesn't really know what he wants to do with his life at all.

Then again, none of the other main characters seems to want to know either. Billy (Tim Daly) is the smart one, having gone to college and now going to law school. But he's taken his old girlfriend, a production assistant at the local TV station up to New York one weekend a few months back and now she's worried she might be pregnant, and what that's going to mean for the both of them if in fact she is pregnant. She doesn't want to quit her job to become a mother and housewife, while Billy can't really support her yet with another semester of law school and the bar exam to come.

Another friend, Shrevie (Daniel Stern), is already married, to Beth (Ellen Barkin), and has found that marriage is quite a bit of work. That, and it takes him away from his friends, not being able to spend as much time with them at the diner that was their old hangout when they were in high school and the first few years after.

Trying to make a go out of life as a hairdresser of all things, but having gotten into trouble over sports betting, is Boogie (Mickey Rourke). He's probably not a bad person, and was also a boyfriend of Beth's before she got involved with Shrevie. But like Fenwick, he doesn't really know what to do; he's just a bit less violent about it.

Finally, there's Eddie (Steve Guttenberg). He's engaged, but isn't certain whether he's ready for marriage. So he decides on something that would really just be an excuse to get out of marriage if that's what he wants. He's really into football, specifically hometown team the Baltimore Colts (before they moved to Indianapolis). He wants a wife who can be just as into football, so he comes up with a quiz on football that it seems like nobody, not even fairly big fans of the sport, could pass. But his girlfriend Elyse (never actually seen) goes along with him and takes the test.

In many ways there's not a whole lot going on in Diner, and the story lines don't always have resolutions, never mind neat resolutions. Critics loved the movie and called it timeless, comparing it to American Graffiti. I'm not so sure I'd give it such a high review, as I'd call it a bit meandering and plotless, with characters it's hard to sympathize with. Some reviewers, however, have also added that it probably takes multiple viewings to really appreciate all that's going on here. I also have a bit of an issue in that I'm neither a baby boomer nor the sort of person who would have been contemporary with the people presented here, the generation old enough to have childhood memories of World War II, but not old enough to have fought in it.

Director Barry Levinson, a native of Baltimore, clearly loved the city where he grew up, something that shows in the film. And a lot of people really do love Diner. So it's something you're definitely going to want to watch for yourself and come to your own conclusion on.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Kiss Me Goodbye

I mentioned recently that there were a couple of movies in the FXM rotation that I hadn't blogged about before, so I'd record them and watch for the next time they showed up. One of those movies is Kiss Me Goodbye. Needless to say, this being FXM, the movies in the rotation get repeated a lot until they're removed from the rotation, so it isn't taking long for it to show up again. That next airing comes tomorrow (April 28) at 1:15 PM.

Sally Field plays Kay Villano, who is walking back to her Manhattan townhouse as the movie begins. Except, when she gets in the house, all the furniture is covered. Apparently she hasn't lived in the house for some time (you wonder how she could afford the taxes on it to leave it empty for five years), while her mother Charlotte (Claire Trevor at the end of her career) isn't so certain it's a good thing for Kay to be moving back in.

Kay is engaged to Rupert (Jeff Bridges), an Egyptologist at one of the Manhattan museums. Kay, one presumes, hopes that Rupert will move in to the townhouse after the wedding; after all, it's big enough for both of them to have working space. But at the same time, Kay seems to be having flashbacks about the house and the reason why she hasn't lived there in five years. She and her first husband, Broadway director Jolly (James Caan) were giving a party for Broadway types at the townhouse, when Jolly tripped and fell down the stairs, killing him! It's a tragic memory, and now it's understandable why everyone around Kay asks her whether she really wants to live here again.

If those memories aren't bad enough, things are about to get a whole lot worse. One day while she's showing Rupert the place, she's up in the second floor bedroom while Rupert is in a different portion of the house. And what does she see but Jolly. But wait, he's supposed to be dead. And since he's been dead for five years and everybody saw it happen, we know that is is really most sincerely dead. So Jolly very kindly informs Kay that he is what humans would generally think of as a ghost, although in this version of the ghost story ghosts don't do things like creak and moan to try to scare people off.

But while Jolly is able to carry on a conversation with Kay, nobody else is able to see or hear Jolly. Rupert comes back into the room, and hears Kay carrying on a conversation with empty space as far as he's concerned. Now, the logical thing to do would be for Kay to ask the people around her if they believe in ghosts because she's getting the feeling the ghost of Jolly is inhabiting the townhouse. And to be fair, she does eventually tell Rupert the ghost of Jolly is around. But for the most part the doesn't ignore Jolly so that when she talks to him everybody else wonders what the hell is wrong with Kay.

Rupert eventually goes along with the delusion, in part because Jolly proves his existence because of the one power these ghosts to have, which is to get inside people's heads and learn things that someone like Rupert has never told Kay, and then have Kay bring these things up with Rupert. But Rupert can't get Kay to stop thinking about Jolly and start thinking about him, especially when the three of them go on a trip to the country where a bed and breakfast owner (Mildred Natwick) and a married couple are.

How is the romantic conflict going to get resolved? Well, you're just going to have to watch the movie for yourself to find out. From what I've read, James Caan had extremely bad things to say about the movie. I think he's being unfair. Kiss Me Goodbye isn't the greatest movie ever made, and it's a bit tough to be truly original with this sort of ghost story. But it's nowhere near as bad as Caan seemed to be implying. It's watchable enough, and enjoyable to see everybody in it, especially the elder Trevor and Natwick. So give Kiss Me Goobye a chance.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Distress Around a Damsel

I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, but there are any number that I should probably watch because they're famous for one reason or another. Among these is one of George Gershwin's final works, doing the songs in the musical A Damsel in Distress. So the last time it was on TCM, I watched it with a view to getting around to doing a post on it.

The movie starts off at Totleigh, an estate in the English countryside. Lady Alyce, the adult daughter in the family, is in love and it's thought that she's about to be betrothed to somebody, but nobody really knows who that somebody is. To that end, the head of the house staff, Keggs (Reginald Gardiner) starts a betting pool among the staff members. Each one antes up and picks from among the men who are known to be known to Alyce and could possibly be the suitor. However, there are more staff members than suitors, so a young boy says that he'll put his money on a "Mr. X", an unknown American.

Cut to an office in London, where American stage actor Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire) has an office where he can keep his PR guy George (George Burns) together with George's secretary Gracie (Gracie Allen) while Jerry is performing on the London stage. Jerry is certainly not Mr. X, and Alyce doesn't even know him. At least, she doesn't know him yet. Jerry exits his office one day and gets into a taxicab, and wouldn't you know it, but Alyce (Joan Fontaine) is in London too to meet an actual American suitor. Sure enough, she gets into the same cab as Jerry even though he's not the suitor. However, it suits both of them to take the cab together for a while since Alyce is trying to get away from her handlers.

Albert, the young boy who's got The American in the betting pool, sets the cat among the pigeons by writing a phony letter to Jerry as he was in London along with Keggs when Alyce got in the cab with Jerry. The fake letter suggests that Alyce needs help that Jerry can somehow provide. He can come under the pretense that Totleigh is open for guided tours one day a week, and if Jerry comes on that day....

However, Keggs recognizes Jerry and won't let him in the house, but Albert helps him get in courtesy of a visiting choir of madrigal singers. When he gets in, Albert takes him up to Alyce's chambers. The two talk about the "help" Alyce needs in seeing her American suitor, and both of them wind up talking at cross purposes in the sort of way that would lead to the sort of confusion you'd see in a TV sitcom of a later era.

It doesn't take much to guess that Jerry and Alice wind up developing feelings for each other, and that various people are going to try to hinder the relationship or help it out for their own purposes. That, and the sort of misunderstanding you'd get in any of Fred Astaire's musicals with Ginger Rogers. And you can probably guess where everything is heading in the final reel.

As I said at the start, I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, so the material isn't quite my favorite. However, it's easy to see why fans of musicals and the Astaire/Rogers pairings would like this even if it's Joan Fontaine standing in for Rogers. The music having been written by George and Ira Gershwin, it's not surprising that multiple songs have since become standards, notably "Nice Work if You Can Get It".

A Damsel in Distress is inoffensive enough and will probably delight fans of musicals. Definitely worth watching.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Mob

Last week, I talked about the movie Murder by Contract regarding movies that were leaving Tubi at the end of April 2024. I recently watched another movie that's leaving at the end of the month, an early 1950s crime movie called The Mob. (Apparently, both movies did get video releases on Columbia noir box sets, even tough The Mob is to me a straight-up crime movie and not a noir. Just in case you don't get the chance to see either before the end of the month.)

Broderick Crawford is the star of the movie, and considering his pedigree to this point, you'd think he's the mobster. Except that he isn't. He's police detective Johnny Damico, and as the movie opens he's at a pawn shop one night looking for a diamond ring to buy for the girlfriend he's planning to pop the question to! Alas, this conversation is disrupted by a shooting. Damico stops the shooter, who shows Damico his police badge. Apparently, it was much more common in those days for lone policemen to shoot fleeing suspects without a bunch of other people around.

Except, as it turns out, this guy wasn't a police officer. He had shot someone who was a police officer, and then stole that guy's badge to be able to get away with murder, with the victim of the shooting Damico heard being a witness to a grand jury case about waterfront corruption. (Note that The Mob was made three years before On the Waterfront.) Damico's bosses are none too pleased about his letting a murderer get away with it, so they suspend him from the force for 60 days, appparently not caring what the union thinks.

Then again, they aren't really suspending him. They need a way to get him out of town for a bit and into some undercover work. So they get a fake photo of Damico and then send Damico to New Orleans, where he'll be given a union card for a longshoreman. He's to come back from New Orleans with the the fake identity Tim Flynn on the pretense that he's got a criminal record there (the authorities there are creating a fake record in case anyone questions him). When he returns, he's going to get a job on the waterfront and figure out who the "Blackie Clegg" is who is running the corrupt longshoremen's union.

Damico, now posing as Flynn, shows up at the hiring office and the dive bars that service the waterfront, asking way too many questions. The only person who shows anything close to friendship is a fellow longshoreman, Tom Clancy (Richard Kiley). But when Flynn starts asking questions of the guy who hands out the jobs and refers to "Castro", the gangsters are none too pleased. Flynn is taken to meet Castro (Ernest Borgnine in a very early role) to try to find out what the deal is with this mouthy newcomer.

Of course, we know the deal, and we also know that because there's a Production Code, crime is not going to pay. But how we get from where we are to where the movie is going to end is something you're going to have to watch for yourself. There's murder, kidnapping, and the real Clegg being unmaksed.

Apparently The Mob got great reviews when it was released back in 1951. Having watched it, I'd have to say that it's a decidedly competent movie. It's not one I'd give the sort of high praise it got in 1951, but at the same time I'd point out there's nothing terribly wrong with it. Broderick gives a good performance, although I do wonder if the script makes him too curious for his own good. That's not Crawford's fault, of course.

There are any number of familiar faces in the supporting roles, such as Neville Brand as a henchman or an uncredited Charles Bronson whose face and voice are immediately recognizable. It all works, even if it is following a formula. The Mob does what it does more than well enough to entertain.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

No Escape

A few days back, someone on one of the movie boards I frequent mentioned watching a B movie from Monogram on TCM: I Escaped from the Gestapo. The poster's description made it sound interesting, so I looked to see it was available on the Watch TCM app, so I hadn't saved it to my DVR. In fact, it's still available for viewing until April 27, so I'm writing up a post now to give everyone the chance to catch it.

The first thing to note is that the movie got a re-release under the title No Escape, and that's the title on the print TCM ran, although when searching for the movie within the app it the listings had it as I Escaped from the Gestapo. The person who may or may not escape is a man named Torgut Lane, played by Dean Jagger who at this time either still had a full head or hair or else was wearing a toupee, as his more recognizable bald self is not to be seen. A brief opening animation turns the anti-Semitic octopus trope on its head, depicting Nazi Germany as an octopus with its tentacles in everything. We then cut to a prison in the US, where Lane is serving time as a counterfeiter. A fellow prisoner is about to be broken out, and takes Lane along for the ride, helped by people on the outside who have a few conveniently dead bodies to throw under a train to put the cops off the trail.

Now, since we know the title of the movie the viewers can guess who this gang that helped Lane is, but for understandable reasons he doesn't have much idea, beyond the common sense knowledge that it's not uncommon for prisoners to turn on each other. The breakout gang takes Lane to the California coast, where they tell him they'd like him to do some counterfeiting for them. They then proceed to put him in a locked room, which immediately raises his suspicion. Martin (John Carradine) informs him that this is their way of checking his loyalty.

Their first job for him is a simple one that they don't really need him for: merchant marine working permits and boarding passes for a certain ship. Meanwhile, we discover that the gang is using a boardwalk arcade as a front for their activities, all the better for them since it gives them access to the coast. Among the attractions at their business is one of those "record your voice" things, and the men, in the Gestapo if you hadn't figured that out yet, use that to get information on ships and things. (This seems like a huge plot hole to me, since merchant sailors wouldn't have committed information about their movements to recording.)

Lane figures out a way to jimmy the lock on his door, at least to open it enough to be able to eavesdrop on his captors. Knowing that he's been asked to counterfeit stuff for the merchant marine, and then hearing about the explosion aboard the ship with which he was technically involved, he's able to put two and two together. But how is he going to be able to fight against his captors? After all, they're holding him hostage and they're the ones with guns.

I Escaped from the Gestapo was made at the height of World War II, so you know that you're going to get a morale-booster here in which even a criminal like Lane is still willing to help America against the wicked Nazis. You also know that the Nazis are going to get what's coming to them in the end. And, since it's just a B movie, you know that you're going to get all of it on the cheap. The result is a movie that's more worth seeing as a product of its time than as cinematic art, much like all the episodic 1970s television that's on the various digital subchannels. I Escaped from the Gestapo will probably entertain you, but isn't terribly memorable.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Tough to review

Many years ago, well before I would have been old enough to see it and comprehend what it was about, I heard about the movie My Dinner with Andre. Indeed, I might well have heard about it when it was originally released, because I would have been eight or nine years old at the time. Probably most people know what the movie is about. But because I'd actually never seen it, I decided to record it when it finally showed up on TCM.

If there's anybody who doesn't know what My Dinner With Andre is about, the short answer is that it is indeed about a dinner with a man named Andre (French-American theater director Andre Gregory kinda-sorta playing himself, although he's insisted he isn't really playing himself). The man whose dinner it is with Andre is Wallace Shawn, also sort of playing himself, but then not playing himself. Also, as you may know, most of the movie is set in a restaurant with the two having dinner.

But before that, there's some opening monologue from Wally, who here is a struggling actor with a girlfriend. He had been good friends with Andre before Andre more or less dropped out of life some years back. Andre has returned, and an unseen friend has set the two up for dinner. At the dinner, Andre talks about things that in any other movie would be a monologue set up to introduce a flashback, as we see the stories he's telling us actually acted out. But that's where My Dinner With Andre is different. Instead, we just get Andre relating these incidents, with a bit of interjection from Wally to discuss philosophy.

That structure is why, for me, the movie didn't really work. We don't know these people, and we're not really given enough of an establishing story to make us care about the two men. Nor is there any action given to draw the viewer into the story. When I've been to parties where I meet old friends I haven't seen in a while and they talk about what's up with them, that's different. So you can see why Wally would be interested in Andre (Shawn and Gregory were longtime friends in real life).

It also didn't help for me that Andre comes across as a bit of a phony, telling things that are supposedly deep but instead come across as tall tales. Again, if it's someone you already know talking like this, maybe that would work. And maybe even if you're more intimately involved with the arts than someone like me who just enjoys watching old movies, but doesn't actually do any performing, it might also work.

TCM's Glynis Johns tribute

Glynis Johns died at the beginning of the year at the age of 100, and I figured that with the odd scheduling of 31 Days of Oscar this year, TCM wouldn't be able to get around to having a programming tribute to her until after the Oscars. It turns out I was right, and we're not finally going to get to their salute to Johns. This will be five movies tonight (April 23) in prime time.

Those movies are:
8:00 PM The Sundowners
10:30 PM All Mine to Give
12:30 AM The Card
2:15 AM Vacation from Marriage
4:00 AM 49th Parallel

I apologize for not including any image with this post. I figured that I had an image or two that I would have used when I posted the obituary post on Johns, but it turned out that I used a couple of Youtube Clips instead. The only image I had is a small one from Miranda that is not part of tonight's salute.

I'm particularly looking forward to The Card. The last time I recorded it on TCM some years back, it was on my old DVR that I had to give up when Dad and I moved to the new place and ditched DirecTV for the less-expensive YouTubeTV. I had never gotten around to watching The Card before the move, and am happy at the possibility of recording it again.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Nothing to do with Hugh Hefner

Somehow, for two straight days I have a movie that's been sitting on my DVR that I haven't blogged about before and that is coming up soon on TCM. This time, the movie in question is one called Playmates, and will appear on TCM tomorrow (April 23) at 6:00 AM.

The movie starts off with a man renting records from a service that pipes in music for businesses sort of like a precursor to Muzak. That man, Peter Lindsay (Peter Lind Hayes) is the press agent for bandleader Kay Kyser (obviously playing himself), who at the time in addition to being a bandleader also hosted a radio show.

In one of the restaurants for which Peter ordered the music, he runs into Lulu Monahan (Patsy Kelly). She's also a press agent, but for actor John Barrymore (again playing himself, in his final film role). Lulu is talking to a local sponsor, trying to get the sponsor to sign up for Barrymore's show in part because, as we'll eventually learn, Barrymore is in serious financial trouble. The sponsor sees Kyser's press agent and realizes that Kyser now has a much bigger audience. With that in mind, Lulu comes up with an audacious idea. Barrymore is (or was) a serious Shakespearean actor, so why not have the two team up with a shtick that Barrymore is going to teach Kyser how to do Shakespeare? Kyser already had a movie or two under his belt by this time, and the way he presented his band was a bit more oriented toward theatrics.

But this being a movie, you know that the two aren't particularly interested in working with each other at first, in part because Barrymore thinks Kay isn't up to Shakespeare, while Kyser is fully willing to accept the fact, what with his North Carolina accent and all. And certainly on the side of Kay's not being suited for Shakespeare is his grandmother (May Robson, 83 years young and still going strong).

And then old flame, female bullfighter Carmen Del Toro (Lupe Velez) shows up, and this gives Barrymore an idea. He still doesn't really want to do the show, so he tries to get Carmen to go after Kay and put a monkey wrench into the works. But Kay finds out what's going on and thinks he's going to come up with a way to get Barrymore off the project. Along the way, there's a lot of music from Kay's orchestra, culminating with a swing music-inspired version of Romeo and Juliet.

Playmates is an absolute mess, in part because of Barrymore's condition at the time he made this very near the end of his life. However, it's also one of those movies where it's easy to see why RKO would take a chance on the material. Kay Kyser was a popular bandleader at the time, and spoof material like this seems like it would work well. Kyser, however, is even less charismatic than Glenn Miller, and the plot is really too unbelievable.

But as always, you should judge for yourself, and there are a few glimpses of the old John Barrymore. That, and May Robson elevates pretty much anything she's in, even in those cases where she was miscast.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Long Live the Meadows!

Another movie that's been sitting on my DVR that I haven't blogged about before is coming up on TCM. This time, it's the Elvis Presley musical Viva Las Vegas, and the next airing on TCM will be tomorrow, April 22, at 4:30 PM. So once again, I sat down to watch it in order to be able to do a post on it in time for the next TCM showing.

Elvis Presley plays Lucky Jackson, a racecar mechanic who also owns his own racecar and dreams of competing in the upcoming Grand Prix race in Las Vegas. The only thing is, he needs a better engine for the car, and for that he needs money. Lucky winds up trying various ways in Las Vegas to get that money.

Meanwhile, in a garage in the desert somewhere between Vegas and Los Angeles, Lucky isn't the only one working on a car to enter in the race. The much wealthier Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova) is working on two cars, and is even offering Lucky the chance to ride one of the cars in the race. That offer, unsurprisingly, comes with strings attached, which would be that Lucky is the #2 on the team and drive in a way to help Mancini win the race. No dice, says Lucky. But the negotations are interrupted by a shapely pair of legs the two see while they're under the car looking that the undercarriage.

Those legs are attached to Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret), who is also looking to get to Las Vegas for reasons of her own. She wants to break into entertainment, and also works for a time as a swim instructor for one of the hotels. It should go without saying that both men show no small attraction for Rusty as the look for her and then find her. But it's more difficult for Lucky, since he seems to keep making things go wrong. This being an Elvis movie, you know it's not going to be a straightforward relationship, but that he's quite likely to wind up with The Girl in the last reel.

This being an Elvis movie, you also know that there are going to be quite a few musical numbers. However, this time, there aren't just songs for Elvis; there's quite a bit on stage for Ann-Margret to do as well, in an attempt to accelerate her career. Not that she needed much help, of course.

Eventually, we get to the final auto race, and Elvis is able to compete in his own car, although a lot of the shots look like rear-projection process photography. I can't imagine Col. Tom Parker wanting to risk Elvis driving a real racecar on a real race course at speed.

Viva Las Vegas is fairly typical for the sort of movie that Col. Tom was putting Elvis in: not particularly demanding, and it has a formula, but one that's well-executed. Part of that is down to Elvis' abilities as an entertainer, part of that is the presence of Ann-Margret, and part of it is that the Las Vegas strip looks quite photogenic in the movies. You'll not how movies like this don't go off-strip to the seedier parts of the city.

So while none of Elvis' movies are going to wind up in lists of the greatest movies of all time, Viva Las Vegas is eminently watchable and fun, and a good vehicle to see what Elvis was all about.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Murder by Contract

It's been a while since I looked through the movies that are about to leave Tubi. One that looked interesting and is leaving at the end of April is Murder by Contract, so I sat down to watch it in order that I could give you a review and time to watch it before it leaves Tubi.

Vince Edwards, about the only name in the cast I recognize, plays Claude, a man who's hoping to buy a home of his own some day. So he decides that the best way to earn the money to do it is to get work as a contract killer! He gets in touch with a Mr. Moon, representative of an unseen Mr. Brink, some sort of mobster who wants people killed. Eventually, Moon calls up Claude with a killing Brink wants done. Brink does quite a good job at it, even killing Moon for Brink.

This gets Claude sent out to Los Angeles, because Brink has a special job where he doesn't want the authorities to recognize the usual sort of people who did contract killings. Claude goes west by train, which kind of ticks off the two men who are supposed to contact him in Los Angeles, Marc and George. They inform Claude that Brink wants dead a Billy Williams, who is supposed to testify in a two weeks' time in the tax evasion trial of someone high up in the organization.

Claude responds by doing next to nothing for a week other than asking Marc and George to ferry him around town doing various things that don't seem at all involved with planning a contract killing. It turns out, however, the Claude is quite clever as this is a ruse. He's really trying to figure out if anybody has a tail on Marc and George, and therefore by extension him. He has to get away from the two somehow and then follow them to see if anybody else is also following. It's only then that Claude is willing to start planning the form of murder.

This is a bit difficult, if you will, in the Claude is also not your normal contract killer, in that other than the killings he's always been scrupulously law-abiding: never in jail, not even in reform school, and he'd prefer not to use a gun because that'll be found if anybody is ever searched. But that's not the real problem.

What really makes things a mess is that Claude learns the intended victim is actually a Billie Williams, not Billy -- it's the ex-girlfriend of the defendant, and Claude is unsure about killing women since they're more unpredictable. Billy is staying at her house out in the hills around Los Angeles, guarded by a whole host of policemen, so getting to the house is also going to be tough.

Murder by Contract is a really interesting premise for a low-budget movie, although the movie does have some problems. Surprisingly, I don't think the problems are the result of the low budget. One problem is that the Production Code was still well in force, which means that we know going in to the movie that Claude isn't going to get away with murder, since this wasn't an independent production. But there are also plot holes. Claude's first plot to kill Billie doesn't work, yet the police don't move Billie to an undisclosed safe house!

Murder by Contract is also interesting stylistically. Some would put it in the noir box, although I saw it as closer to something I once described as a post-noir, I think when I was writing about another Edwards film, City of Fear. That one was also set in a Los Angeles that looks much brighter than a traditional noir. Two other style points didn't quite work for me in the sense that I found myself focusing on technical aspects of the movie rather than the story itself. One was that the direction seemed closer to a foreign arthouse movie. The other is that the score, mostly solo guitar by Perry Botkin Sr. (father of Perry Jr. who co-wrote the Young and the Restless theme), which sounded like Botkin was trying to channel Anton Karas' zither score for The Third Man. Botkin's guitar works at times, but at other times it sounds jarringly wrong.

Still, despite the fact that Murder by Contract has some decided flaws, it's also most definitely worth watching, as it comes across as just different enough to be memorable.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Lake Around the Lady

I've mentioned the Blind Spot blogathon before, where a blogger picks a dozen well-known movies they've not actually seen before and blogs about them over the course of the year. I haven't participated, largely because I don't know what movies I'm going to be watching over an entire year. But one of the movies that would have been a blind spot for me until now was the 1940s version of Lady in the Lake. I finally recorded it it last time it was on TCM, and since it's going to be on TCM again tomorrow, April 20, at 4:30 PM, I recently watched it in order to do a post on it.

Lady in the Lake is a hard movie to do a synopsis on, largely because the plot is so convoluted, thank you very much Raymond Chandler. Raymond Chandler's detective Phillip Marlowe is played here by Robert Montgomery, at least the few times you see him. We do see Marlowe giving the audience a bit of a prologue right at the top of the film, and then he tells us about how he wrote a story based on a case of a lady who drowned in a lake that may have been suicide, but was more likely murder.

As part of trying to flog the story, Marlowe goes to see Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter), a publisher at a company run by Mr. Kingsby (Leon Ames). However, Adrienne's interest isn't really in Marlowe's story, but about his day job as a private investigator. Kingsby's wife has left him, ostensibly going to Mexico to seek a divorce, with some suggestion that Mrs. Kingsby is going to marry some guy named Lavery. Could Marlowe find out what's really going on?

The first indication that there's a problem comes at Lavery's place when, after a brief conversation in which Lavery insists he knows nothing about what's going on, he asks Marlowe if he has the time, despite there being a mantel clock in the room. This is really just an excuse to punch Marlowe out and pour alcohol on him, making him appear drunk like they do to Cary Grant in North by Northwest. That brings Marlowe into contact with the police, notably Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan), who is investigating a bunch of the same people, but for a totally different reason.

Apparently, there really was a lady in a lake, with that lake being on a property owned by none other than Kingsby. There's some thought that the dead body might be the wife of Kingsby's caretaker, and Marlowe gets caught up in a murder investigation alongside the cops, who seem decidedly unhappy to have him on the case as well. Likewise, none of the people being investigated seem happy either. But who killed whom?

Part of the problem with Lady in the Lake is that the movie is pretty convoluted, although at least that's not as severe a problem as with another famous movie filmed from a Chandler book, The Big Sleep, which is notorious for how its plot makes little sense. The much bigger problem is the reason the movie is still so well-known today, and that's its direction. Robert Montgomery came up with the intriguing idea of having the entire movie be told from Marlowe's point of view. And I don't just mean narration here; I mean that for almost the entire movie, it's shot as though we're looking through Marlowe's eyes.

Unfortunately, that doesn't work here, in part because the movie cameras in use in the 1940s weren't really capable of pulling off such a thing. Nowadays, when we have cheap GoPros and similar small camera that can be worn to give off a POV, it might work. And if the technique were being used as a brief diversion, especially if this were for comic effect, it might not be so bad. But 100 minutes of a very slow, clunky camera trying to do POV? Oh heavens no.

Still, Lady in the Lake is another one of those movies you probably need to see for yourself to see just why the movie goes wrong.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Briefs for April 18, 2024

It looks like there were actually a couple of movies on FXM overnight that I haven't blogged about before, Kiss Me Goodbye followed by On the Sunny Side. I think I might have planned to record Kiss Me Goodbye on my old DVR the last time it was in the rotation, but never got around to it. Right now, YouTube TV's "Scheduled Recordings" section doesn't show another recording, so I'm not certain exactly when the blog posts on either of them are going to be.

OJ Simpson died last week, and his was a more famous obituary than a lot of the star types I post about for fairly obvious reasons. None of the Naked Gun movies seem to be streaming for free (well, with ads) anywhere, but when I checked on first hearing the news of Simpson's death a few days back, I noticed that The Cassandra Crossing is currently available on TubiTV.

Speaking of TubiTV, some time recently they added some channels and made it easier for those of use not signed in to scroll through the channels. The channels include the Cinevault channels that have a bunch of movies from the Columbia library, as well as a Warner Bros. classic channel. The couple of times I checked, movies that were about to show or where showing as I checked included White Heat and Jezebel, so yes, actual classics. And it seems to be at least the old "Turner library", if you will, in that after first writing this post I checked in again to see Dinner at Eight being shown, which is an MGM movie.

There's also a Universal Monsters channel that I've come across as part of the offering on both the Roku Channel app and Pluto TV, although the Roku Channel didn't seem to list it in the "movies" section. This one was also showing vintage stuff like Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, and one of the Invisible Man movies.

Opening Night

Today, April 18, happens to be the opening day of the latest TCM Classic Film Festival, something I am happy to see survived the David Zaslav-related upheaval of last year. I of course will not be there, not being able to afford it and being on the east coast with my elderly father anyway. Dad's not particularly interested in classic films, and besides, if I thought he were up for a cross-country trip, we would have gone to Dallas to see my sister in conjunction with the recent eclipse.

Personal information out of the way, I'm really bringing up the opening day of the festival because I recently came across one of the old Vitaphone Varieties, Opening Night.

The opening night in question is the first night of a new stage play that is supposed to be the big event of the season. Lots of people are trying to get in to see it, cajoling the woman at the box office in an attempt to get tickets. One woman, Mrs. Pendleton, claims that her husband was supposed to have left a ticket for her at the box office, but the cashier cannot find it, leaving Mrs. Pendleton to stand out in the lobby until her husband comes.

When he finally does come, he's unable to produce the right tickets, which causes quite a bit more bickering between the two, until.... Well, I'm not going to give away how the short ends, even though it's a brief seven minutes.

Opening Night is the sort of material where I can see why the audiences of 1931 might have enjoyed it as a short before the feature presentation. Hollywood was making shorts out of various forms of vaudeville entertainment, both musical and sketch comedy like this. I can also see, however, why audiences of today would have a fair bit more difficulty getting into the material. It really feels old-fashioned, and technically, the movie is miles away from what we'd get just a few years later. Those technical deficiencies are easier to forgive in a feature film, especially if the film has a fun plot.

On the other hand, it's nice to have all these routines preserved for posterity, so future generations can see what audiences of the day might have found funny. Many of them have been released by the Warner Archive in various box sets of Vitaphone shorts. I haven't been able to find Opening Night on one yet, but I also haven't looked as closely as perhaps I ought to.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Cockeyed Miracle

I've mentioned before in conjunction with quite a few movies how the Production Code can be a problem with forcing a certain plot resolution on the film, with the only question being how the movie actually gets there. I couldn't help but have similar thoughts as I was watching the 1946 film The Cockeyed Miracle.

The plot deals with the Griggs family that has two adult children, led by patriarch Sam Griggs (Frank Morgan). He's a shipbulider, but getting up there in years and beginning to suffer some age-related health problems. His wife Amy (Gladys Cooper) loves him, and isn't worried about the prospect of illness forcing Sam to retire, since they've saved up some money. Unfortunately, she doesn't know that he's put it in a real estate investment that may or may not pay off, but in any case even if it pays off later, the money is still in an illiquid asset. Sam gave the savings to his best friend Tom Carter (Cecil Kellaway) to buy a plot of land, but the only possible investor wants to see that the land will stand up to the storms that hit the coast.

As for the adult children, Jennifer (Audrey Totter) is in love with an assistant professor at the local college, Howard (Richard Quine before he became an director). He's got a chance at a full professorship, but it's at a school out west, and there's the question of whether she should leave and split up the family with a sickly father, or wait for Howard to come back in a few years. The son, however, is the more immediate problem.

Jim Griggs (Marshall Thompson) would like to be a shipbuilder like his father, but economic circumstances have so far required him to work at his father's fish-packing plant. But on the day that the action in the movie opens, he comes running home with a letter from a shipbulider over in London in the UK. They've got a prospect for a job, but he's going to have to set out for England in fairly short order, and to do that he needs the money for the transatlantic passage. In theory, the family has the money, but that's because Sam is the only one who knows that the money has been invested in a still-illiquid land deal. He can't get the money right now.

Things really change when he goes up to bed. He comes down and sees... his father Ben (Keenan Wynn). This is a problem because Ben has been dead since Sam was a young man, and for Sam to see Ben now means that Sam is really quite dead too, not that the rest of the family is aware of it just yet. Ben has appeared as a sort of ghost, but really with the intention of taking Sam to the next world.

As a ghost, he does have the sort of supernatural powers that allow him to do the sort of things that those of us on this side of life to attribute to ghosts or other phenomena of which we're not yet aware. One thing that Ben might just be able to do is to conjure up a storm, so that the prospective buyer of the land will see his question answered of how the land will stand up. Ben, having done that, satisfies the buyer, who writes a check for the purchase price of the land. All of the Griggs' money problems will be solved!

Except that Tom has a change of heart. Since there was no actual contract signed between Tom and Sam, there would be no theoretical legal recourse for Sam to get the money back even if he were still alive. With him being dead and Tom being the only one to know about the agreement he and Sam had, it would be easy for Tom to be evil and take all of the money from the land deal. There is, however, the question of whether the Production Code would allow that....

The Cockeyed Miracle is based on a stage play, and it's extremely easy to see the stage origins watching the movie. A lot of it is based in the parlor/living room of the Griggs house. However, since the story deals with ghosts, it's a lot easier for a movie to deal with the technical problems of trying to portray ghosts than one can do on the stage.

That having been said, the cast does a pretty good job with the material, led by Frank Morgan who is clearly the star here. With a star like Morgan and not anybody bigger, it's obvious that this is more programmer material than prestige movie, and the movie often feels like it has the production values of something more limited. That's not to say it's a bad movie; it does well with its limited aims. At the same time, though, it's also not the sort of movie I'd recommend to people who aren't necessarily fans of old movies: the production values seem thoroughly stuck in the 1940s when the movie was made. It's the sort of thing that could probably stand a remake.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Lost in America

Another of the movies that I decided to DVR because it had an interesting-sounding synopsis was the 1980s satire Lost in America. I finally got around to watching it recently; as always, that also means the blog post on the movie is getting written and posted.

The movie opens up late one night in one of the wealthier neighborhoods of suburban Los Angeles. David Howard (Albert Brooks) is lying in bed, worried for any number of reasons. He's and a worker at an advertising agency up for a promotion that he knows he's nearly certain to get; there's the formality of a final interview. The promotion will enable him and his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) to move up to an even better place; in fact, the couple have already packed up, having closed on buying a new house.

But things aren't going perfectly. Linda works in hiring at a local department store, and she confides in one of her friends that she feels like the marriage is stuck in a rut. David thinks the promotion and move to a better house is going to solve all of that, but Linda isn't so certain. In fact, she's not certain she even likes the new house. But if that's a problem for Linda and David, things are about to get much worse.

David walks into that final interview, only to find out that it's not an interview for a promotion. Instead, they've brought in someone else who is in charge of acquiring the account for Ford Motors. It's a big deal, but the company needs somebody who can run that account instead of needing a new executive. David is just the right person for the Ford account. Far worse than not getting the promotion, however, is that the account is being managed out of New York, necessitating a transfer almost immediately. David reacts to the news very badly, telling off his boss in such a way that the boss fires him.

In some ways, all of this may be a blessing in disguise. David has a fair amount of money saved up, and if they sell the new house and a bunch of their assets, they'll have enough money to get out of that rut by buying a Winnebago and traveling across America. Nowadays, when high-speed internet and working from home are common, it's a heck of a lot easier to do the van life thing and at least make a modest living. Trying something like this in the 1980s is much more radical.

Linda somehow agrees to all of this, and off they set with with a Winnebago and a six-figure sum in travelers' checks. They make it to Las Vegas, with the thought of renewing their vows there. But since they haven't done any planning, they're not able to get a nice hotel room. What they get isn't anything like the honeymoon suite. The next morning, David wakes up to find Linda not there -- she's gone down to the casino, cashed all the travelers' checks, and blown it playing the roulette wheel.

With no money and no prospects of good jobs, all of this threatens the marriage. Will the couple be able to survive? Will they ever love each other again?

Lost in America is yet another of the sort of movie where it's easy to see why watching it how Albert Brooks, who co-wrote and directed in addition to starring, would think this is really great material. And indeed, a lot of critics back in the day really liked it. For me, however, Lost in America came across as a bit of a misfire. I think that's in part because the characters aren't the most appealing to me, be it David losing it towards his boss or Linda gambling all the money away and David trying to convince the casino manager to turn it into an ad campaign.

But, because of all the cricial adulation for Lost in America, it's definitely the sort of movie you'll want to see and judge for yourself.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Deep Blue Something

Tomorrow, April 16, is the centenary of the birth of composer Henry Mancini. Mancini wrote the music for a whole bunch of well-known movies, so it's no surprise that TCM is honoring Mancini with a 24-hour (give or take) programming block of movies to which he wrote the music. I happen to have one of those movies on my DVR: Breakfast at Tiffany's, which shows up at 10:15 PM on April 16. With that in mind, I decided to watch the movie to do a review here in conjunction with TCM's airing of it.

The movie opens with a titular breakfast at, or at least in front of, the famed Tiffany & Co. jewelry story in New York. Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) gets out of a taxicab at the store, and proceeds to nosh on her breakfast of a croissant and a cup of coffee. Not that she can afford anything in the store, of course; it's just dreams for her. But she returns to her apartment that you wonder how the heck she can afford. There, she has to fend of advances from a man she went out with the previous night.

Later in the morning, an obliging young man buzzes her apartment for her to let him into the building. That man is Paul Varjak (George Peppard), struggling writer. He wrote a book of short stories some time back that actually did get published, but since then, nothing since he's been trying to write the Great American Novel that nobody ever actually succeeds in writing. He was accompanied to the building by "decorator" E. E. Failenson (Patricia Neal), and it seems clear that she's the one paying the bills for him. Or, in other words, Paul and Holly have something in common.

The two talk, and Holly reveals that she's a sort of escort for a series of men; if there weren't a Production Code she'd probably be a high-priced call girl procuring women for wealthy men. In any case, one of the men she sees regularly is Sally Tomato (Alan Reed), a mobster imprisoned at Sing Sing who gives her the "weather report" every week, something that is obviously coded language for Holly to pass on to the appropriate person on the outside. But Holly acts too dim-witted to know that this is what she's getting paid good money to do.

As you can guess, Holly and Paul are eventually going to fall in love, although there are going to be a bunch of complications along the way, most of them on Sally's side. She's not certain whom she loves, at times thinking of marrying an American millionaire or a Brazilian politician. And then Doc Golightly (Buddy Ebsen) shows up, claiming to be the husband of Holly although she claims the marriage has been annulled. She's also got a brother in the military who's about to get out after serving his hitch, although that doesn't quite go to plan either, with it having a decided effect on Holly.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is another of those movies where it's very easy to see why there's a fairly large group of people who like it. Hepburn gives a fine performance, Mancini's music has become iconic, especially the song "Moon River", and the movie is well-photographed. Oh, and Hepburn's clothing by Givenchy. For me, however, the movie has one big problem, which is that the character of Holly as written for the movie is one I find hard to like. She's one of those people that you wonder how they can possibly survive; for me, that's not a very appealing character. At least the Paul Varjak character is troubled enough that you can see why the two would wind up together, even if in real life the relationship would be a different one. It's not like Barefoot in the Park or The Owl and the Pussycat where the romantic leads are so wildly difficult and one (especially in The Owl and the Pussycat) so utterly obnoxious.

Still, I'd say that Breakfast at Tiffany's is decidedly worth watching.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

I guess tax day is Christmas for *some* people....

Another well-known movie that I'd never actually done a post on before is Meet Me in St. Louis. So, when TCM ran it during 31 Days of Oscar, I decided to record it so that I could rectify the omission of it from my reviews. With this being the 100th anniversary of MGM and TCM doing a retrospective of the studio every Monday, it's not a surprise that Meet Me in St. Louis is one of the films selected. That airing is coming up tomorrow, April 15, at 11:45 AM.

For good reason, Meet Me in St. Louis is thought of as a Christmas movie, that being the debut of the song that's now a Christmas standard, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". But two-thirds or more of the film is really not about Christmas. In fact, the movie is set in the run-up to the 1904 World's Fair held in St. Louis, and looks at the life of one family living in St. Louis, the Smiths.

Esther (Judy Garland) is the second oldest of four daughters of Anna (Mary Astor) and upper-middle-class lawyer Lon Sr. (Leon Ames); Lon Jr. is a fairly minor character in the story. As the film opens it's the summer of 1903. The family is thinking somewhat of the exposition coming to their growing city in the final year, but Esther and her elder sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) are both thinking about love. Rose has a beau currently in New York, Warren Sheffield, who is supposed to call long distance that night, which is a big deal for 1903. Rose and Esther are hoping Rose can get Warren to propose marriage to her during that call. Rose, for her part, loves the next-door neighbor, John Truett (Tom Drake), but he doesn't quite seem to notice it yet.

Fast-foward to the autumn, specifically Halloween. The two much younger daughters, Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), go out and engage in the sort of tricking that I suppose was done in the days before trick-or-treating. Tootie comes back claiming to have been beaten up by John, which threatens to put a crimp in the budding relationship between him and Esther. But putting a much bigger dent in those plans is one evening when Dad comes home and announces that the firm has given him a "promotion" that requires he transfer to New York. Everyone is going to have to start anew, which is a massive problem for the two eldest daughters. Not only that, but they'll miss the World's Fair!

We move again to winter, which means Christmas. There's a big formal ball coming up for Esther and Rose, but mishaps occur that may make the ball a disaster for the both of them. Also, with Christmas coming up, it means that the family's time in St. Louis is about to end, since the family is supposed to move to New York in the New Year. (I'd have thought they'd be closing up the house by Christmas, not leaving everything to literally the last week. Having moved my father a year ago from the house where he'd lived for almost 50 years, I know how arduous that is.) But, since we're getting to near the end of the TCM's allotted time slot for the movie, we know that a happy ending is about to come. The movie concludes with the spring of 1904, which is really a coda of the family at the exposition, lasting far shorter than the previous three seasons.

It's once again easy to see why audiences of 1944 when the movie was released loved it, flocking to it and making it a huge box-office hit. Released during World War II, it's a nostalgic look back much like some of the Fox musicals I've mentioned favorably here. The Technicolor is lovely, and the songs work for those who like musicals. I'm not the biggest fan of musicals in general or of Judy Garland's vocal stylings in particular; I'd much rather re-watch her in The Clock where she's excellent.

But just because Garland isn't to my personal taste doesn't mean the movie isn't good. A year or two earlier the Academy cut the number of Best Picture nominations from ten to five; if they hadn't I'm certain Meet Me in St. Louis would have been nominated. For anybody who's a fan of musicals, Meet Me in St. Louis should be highly appealing.

TCM's 30th anniversary

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Turner Classic Movies signing on; technically it's not a broadcast since it's cable. A lot has changed in the last 30 years, and as we've seen there's been turmoil even in the little world that is TCM. Unsurprisingly, TCM itself is marking the occasion. They've actually been doing so all this month, with various staff members, current and former, sitting down with Ben Mankiewicz on Thursday nights. I have to admit I haven't been watching live, so I haven't seen whether all of the Thursday selections are also airing with old introductions from Robert Osborne.

With today being the actual anniversary, it's not a surprise that TCM is doing stuff today as well even though it's a Sunday. Back in 2014, Robert Osborne sat down with Alec Baldwin for another installment of the irregular Private Screenings that is sadly one of the casualties of all the budget cuts. The interviews from the TCM Classic Film Festival being edited into program-length shows is a nice thing, but I think not quite as good as the old Private Screenings. In any case, the Robert Osborne interview airs at 6:30 PM.

That will be followed at 8:00 PM by Gone With the Wind, which was the first feature film shown on TCM all the way back in April 1994. (As I understand it, it was preceded by the "100 Years of Film" piece that used to air quite a bit on TCM but not in recent years. Of course, one of the changes since 1994 is the political attitudes around movies like Gone With the Wind, and I'm sure that Ben Mankiewicz or whoever presents it will insist on showing how much more socially conscious they are now.

In 2015, Robert Osborne was honored at the TCM Classic Film Festival, in a show reminiscent of the old This is Your Life, hosted by Alex Trebek, another of the many Friends of TCM who is no longer with us. That show will also be showing on TCM, overnight at 1:30 AM, so still Sunday out in the Pacific.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Leaves are better than wind

I've been putting a ton of movies on my cloud DVR simply because I can, there only being time restrictions instead of space limitations. As a result, I've wound up watching a few movies that aren't as good as I might have hoped for. One of the movies that disappointed me was the 1970s western The Winds of Autumn.

An opening subtitle informs us that the action is set in the Montana Territory, 1884. Out hunting is young Joel Rigney (Chuck Pierce Jr., son of the film's director). While out, he spots a couple of shady-looking people, an old woman and two men that look to be about the right age to be her kids. Joel has the good sense to hide from them. We then hear a bit of their conversation. The woman is Ora Mae Hankins (Jeanette Nolan), together with her son Wire (Andrew Prine) and his uncle Pete (Jack Elam). They're planning to get another Hankins out of prison, breaking him out of a work detail.

Joel goes home to inform his family about what he saw, which is when we learn that the Rigneys are Quakers. I didn't know that Quakers made their way to the Montana Territory, as their pacifism seems rather unwise for the American frontier: while they turn the other cheek, the rest of the world is going to chew them up and spit them out.

The Hankins' breakout doesn't quite go to plan, as one of the boys gets shot in the back by a prison guard. The family goes somewhere looking for a safe space to hide and remove the bullet while allowing him time to recover. Wouldn't you know it, but that place just happens to be the Rigney spread. One of the sons sees Joel's older sister, and he's taken with lust, so when she winds up in the barn, he rapes her. Mom goes looking for the girl, and the Hankins men have to act fast, so they murder the entire family.

Well, not the entire family, as Joel was off seeing his friend, the man with a past, Mr. Pepperdine. Joel comes back to the farm to find that his entire family has been murdered, and the rest of the Quaker community looks for a place to put Joel, hopefully with people who can raise him right and not with Pepperdine if at all possible. Never mind what Joel wants.

And since they don't care what Joel wants, Joel decides that he's not going to care so much about what they want. He decides he's going to go look for the people who shot his family, even though he's naïve and doesn't know all that much about the big wide world....

There's a good idea at the heart of The Winds of Autumn, but it's one that doesn't quite work. I think it's down in part to the direction, and partly down to the casting of the kid, who didn't go on to have much of a career when he wasn't being direceted by his father as he was here. It's not a terrible movie, but the whole thing feels decidedly mediocre and more like the 1970s when it was made than the 1880s when it's set.

That having been said, although it's a disappointment, it's an interesting disappointment, and probably deserves one watch so that you can judge for yourself.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Living on Love

When Merian Cooper left RKO, he was involved in a contract dispute that was ultimately resolved with his getting the rights to half a dozen RKO movies, which didn't see the light of day for decades. Around 2007, TCM, finally resolved the rights dispute and showed the films for the first time anywhere in over half a century. One of those six, which shows up really rarely since it's a B movie, is Living on Love. TCM recently did re-run it one of their Saturday matinee blocks, so I finally got the chance to record it.

Now, I knew more or less what the movie is about, since it's a remake of the 1933 film Rafter Romance that shows up a bit more since that one stars Ginger Rogers. Taking the Rogers part is on Whitney Bourne, playing a Mary Wilson. There's a depression on, and Mary is having trouble paying the rent at the Venus de Milo Arms rooming house where she lives. With that in mind, her landlord Eli (Solly Ward) is about to dispossess her. But: he has a proposition for her.

He's got a basement room, and another tenant who is also having trouble meeting the bills. He can have the two of them share the basement room at a reduced rate. One of the catches, however, is that they only get it for half a day each since Mary works days and the other tenant works nights. (As I think I said regarding Rafter Romance, what about weekends?) Mary doesn't like the arrangement, especially when it looks like the other tenant is... a man.

Indeed, that other tenant is male, struggling artist Gary Martin (James Dunn). He doesn't like the idea of sharing his room, even more so since he learns that the other partner is a woman. With that in mind, the two "roommates" start playing a series of increasingly nasty pranks on each other.

Of course, you know that the two are going to meet, although not at the apartment. Instead, it's at a restaurant, and as you can guess the two fall in love. Now, you'd think they'd figure out fairly quickly who each other is, but apparently they don't. They each also have someone pursuing them. For Mary it's her boss, telemarketer Oglethorpe (Franklin Pangborn); for Gary that person is sausage magnate Edith (Joan Woodbury). Everybody winds up meeting for the finale....

Where Rafter Romance is charming, Living on Love comes across as just mean. I think that's partly because Whitney Bourne doesn't have the charm of a Ginger Rogers, and partly because the direction, from RKO's B-king Lew Landers, feels like it's on an extreme budget, running a good 10 minutes shorter than Rafter Romance. Definitely stick to the original.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Terminal Man

Michael Crichton had some interesting ideas, both as a writer and a director. Some of the ideas worked out incredibly well, such as The Andromeda Strain or The Great Train Robbery. But one movie where he only wrote the original story, and wasn't so much involved with the making of the actual film, is The Terminal Man. Still, the last time it came up on TCM and I saw the synopsis, it sounded interesting, so I recorded it to watch at a later date.

The movie begins with a pre-credits sequence of a couple of doctors looking at pictures of a man named Benson (George Segal). These pictures were all taken before the "accident" and "incidents", which are alluded to but not fully explained until later. Then we get the credits, set against an eye looking through a door eyehole, obviously spying on someone and suggesting a dystopian panopticon. Once that's over, we see Benson being brought into a hospital, with a couple of policemen standing guard outside the door to his room. He doesn't want the police around, but the hospital think that's necessary because, well, reasons.

Dr. Ross (Joan Hackett) proceeds to tell a bunch of doctors about Benson's injuries and why he's really there. Apparently, he was injured in a car accident, and one of the results was that a brain injury gave him what the doctors call para-epilepsy; that is to say he has seizures that make him violent but that also given him amnesia in that he can't remember what he does while he's having one of his seizures and for some unstated period of time afterward.

Benson is, or certainly was before the accident, a brilliant research scientist working in the then nascent field of artificial intelligence. As a result, the doctors think Benson might be a perfect candidate for an experimental treatment that will implant some sort of computerized device in his brain that will ostensibly control the seizures. It is, however, the first time the procedure has been performed on a human being. And since this is a movie, you have to wonder whether the procedure is going to be successful. Indeed, one of the doctors is not sanguine at all about the prospects of the surgery, especially considering how Benson has become paranoid as a result of the accident and worries about the AI he's been working on taking over the human mind. You have to wonder why he would consent to the surgery -- or whether he's been honestly informed about what the surgery entails.

Eventually, the operation is performed, and Benson is brought into one of those rooms with a one-way mirror to talk about what's going on in his mind as the doctors in the adjoining room watching him activate various electrodes; again, you have to wonder whether Benson is aware of what the doctors are doing to him. One also wonders whether the doctors know what sort of an effect this might have on Benson.

Wouldn't you know it, but the machine malfunctions, and Benson is able to break out of the hospital despite the police guard, eventually looking for his estranged wife (Jill Clayburgh) and the robot research facility where he worked to get revenge on everybody. The police see Benson as a threat and just want to kill him now; Dr. Ross thinks Benson can be reasoned with.

It's easy to see how Crichton came up with this idea and made something that the studios thought would have potential. But watching it, it's also easy to see how the execution goes wrong with the result that a lot of people have less than positive reviews with the same criticism. The movie seems too slow for its own good, certainly in the half of the movie that's set in the hospital. And then once he does escape, the movie seems awfully conventional, like an amalgam of a modern-day Frankenstein story meeting the George Sanders character in Village of the Damned; that is, the one man who wanted to do research rather than destroy the threat immediately.

I have to admit that I tend to fall on the negative side regarding The Terminal Man. Not only is it slow; I also think that George Segal isn't really the best guy for the role, Segal being better suited to slightly roguish comedy than this sort of science fiction dystopia. He tries, but he's not given much to do to make a likeable character.

Still, The Terminal Man is one that should probably be watched if you want to look for ways to see how a movie can go wrong.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Talk about bad luck in men

I don't know how many times I've mentioned it, but I'm always up for a pre-Code movie. One that I recorded a while back and thought that I did a post on, although a search of the site says I didn't, is Lilly Turner. With that in mind, I watched it again and now you get the belated post on the movie.

Ruth Chatterton plays the titular Lilly Turner, who as we see almost from the start of the movie has incredible "bad luck" in the sort of boyfriend she chooses, although at least in some cases she doesn't necessarily have much choice. Not with the first guy, however. Rex Durkee (Gordon Westcott) is a magician, and, being on the stage, is the sort of thing that seems to charm Lilly, who lives in one of those small towns that people in movies of this era always seemed to want to get away from. So, thinking Rex has made it big in vaudeville, she basically elopes with Rex against Mom's advice.

Fast-forward six months, and life on the road isn't nearly all that it's cracked up to be, as she's in one of those traveling carnivals that is struggling to make ends meet. Not only that, but Rex seems to be more interested in his assistant Hazel (Mae Busch in a small role). And then when Lilly finds out that she's gotten pregnant, Rex leaves in a hurry. Although, he's got other reasons for leaving, as we see when a process server comes in looking for him, with Mrs. Durkee in tow. Yes, there's already a Mrs. Durkee, which at least means Lilly isn't legally married and can dump him without consequences. (The baby is stillborn as a plot convenience.)

The closest thing Lilly has to a friend is one of the show's assistants, Dave Dixon (Frank McHugh), who cares about Lilly but also has the problem of being an alcoholic. The carnival boss gets fed up with that, so Dave and Lilly both leave the show, eventually winding up with a medicine show run by "doctor" McGill (Guy Kibbee) and his wife.

Part of the show involves showing how McGill's patent medicine works, and to do that, he has a "strongman" in Fritz (Robert Barrat). Fritz is thoroughly interested in Lilly, although the love is unrequited, and that fact is slowly driving Fritz insane. Literally. When taxi driver Bob Chandler (George Brent) shows up in the audience and starts making eyes at Lilly, Fritz gets some sort of "headache" that's diagnosed by a doctor as a precursor to hereditary insanity, sending Fritz to the insane asylum.

Bob takes on the strongman role, because the taxi driving is really beneath him. In fact, he's got a degree as a civil engineer, but with the depression on he hasn't been able to get any jobs in the area he's qualified for. As you can unsurprisingly guess, he and Lilly fall in love with each other. But then Fritz literally breaks out of the asylum, and comes lookin for poor Lilly....

Lilly Turner is a movie that has an absolutely bonkers plot, fitting so much into its 65 minute running time. And just when you think it's about to settle down, it gets even more nuts. Now, to be honest, for some movies that might be a strike against it, and I can't blame anybody who has a problem with Lilly Turner as a result. It probably didn't bear much resemblance to reality even in 1933. But the cast make this one so absurdly fun.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Within the Law

I've been going through all the B movies I recorded during TCM's salute to B movies last summer, and I think I've finally gotten to the last of the movies I recorded. That would be Within the Law, which has some similarities to the previous one I blogged about, Convicted Women. In any case, having watched Within the Law, now I can do the post on it.

Ruth Hussey, early in her career before she had her breakout role in The Philadelpha Story, plays Mary Turner, working as a shopgirl in Gilder's (Samuel S. Hinds) department store, in the jewelry department. She's dumb enough to leave some of the items on the counter and telling another clerk to watch them. A third clerk takes one of the pieces, intending to store it in her locker until closing time. However, some detectives come into the locker room, forcing this mystery clerk to look for somebody else's unlocked locker to hide the stolen piece. That locker just happens to be the one belonging to Mary. Gilder decides to make a lesson of Mary, with her ultimately getting a three-year sentence.

In prison, she meets Agnes (Rita Johnson) who's been working con games with her boyfriend Garson (Paul Kelly), only to be the one to get caught this last time. Mary and Agnes become friends, but while Agnes intends to go back to Garson once she gets out, Mary looks for a way to get revenge on Gilder. But, because she's got so much time on her hands in prison, she takes books out of the prison library, specifically law books. Her revenge on Gilder is going to be strictly legal.

Eventually, she and Agnes get out of the slammer, and Agnes puts Mary up in part because Mary could use a place to live, while Agnes likes the idea that Mary knows enough about the law to be able to help her and her boyfriend's gang con people in a perfectly legal way. And Mary is surprisingly clever for someone who isn't really a lawyer.

But Mary's plan for revenge on Gilder is to find Gilder's son Richard (Tom Neal) and "con" him into marrying her, although this con is only immoral, not illegal. Richard falls in love with Mary, and because he's a licensed pilot, is able to take a plane to another jurisdiction to elope with Mary before his father can learn what's going on. But complications arise when Mary finds herself falling in love with Richard. He, for his part, fairly stupidly believes that Mary can't possibly be guilty of shoplifting. (The fact that he's right is immaterial; he's still fairly naïve.) A much bigger complication is that Garson decides that with Mary in the Gilder place, he might be able to worm his way into the place and get his gang to steal some of Gilder's artworks.

Within the Law is based on a play that was first staged in 1912, which may be why the plot seems so unbelievable even for a movie from the 1930s. But despite how much the material strains credulity, it's still surprisingly entertaining, thanks to a good performance from Ruth Hussey, and all the sheen that MGM could put on a movie. Within the Law is one of the surprise cases where MGM's gloss actually helps a movie by getting a fine cast for the material. It's definitely worth a watch if it shows up anywhere.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Will you do the fandango?

I think I mentioned it back in September that there's such a thing as a National Day of Silent Pictures, obviously promoted by the sort of groups that want to preserve the extant pictures and restore any that should be found. TCM ran a full day of silents to promote the occasion, and it gave me the opportunity to record several movies that I hadn't seen before. One of them was the 1923 film version of Rafael Sabbatini's Scaramouche.

The movie helpfully informs us that it is set in France during the reign of Louis XVI, with all of the class baggage that this implies. We are then sent to a village somewhere in provinical France. Having grown up here and left for Paris to study law is André-Louis Moreau (Ramon Novarro), who is about to return to his home village together with his friend Philippe, who is studying for the priesthood. They return just in time to see an injustice where a peasant dies.

Philippe, being a bit of a Catholic radical, decries this just as the local bigwig, the Marquie de la Tour (Lewis Stone) shows up. Philippe keeps up his radical views, and when the Marquis acts like a dictator, Philippe slaps him, resulting in the Marquis challenging him to a duel. Of course, the seminarian knows nothing about fencing, so the Marquis bests him, killing him in the process. This is, after all, a duel.

And the Marquis can get away with it too, since he's a nobleman. André, not knowing what to do, goes to his godfather, Quintin de Kercadiou. He's got a daughter Aline (Alice Terry) who is about the same age as André, so naturally he falls in love with her. However, it's a love that's not to be satisfied just yet, since the two have class differences and Dad hoping to marry his daughter off to somebody of good social standing like the Marquis. Never mind that Aline loves André and wouldn't want to marry a drip like the Marquis.

André keeps trying to get justice for the death of his friend, but since he's accusing a marquis he's making some very powerful enemies. This results in an order for his arrest, not that of the Marquis. André rather sensibly flees, ultimately joining up with an acting troupe. He becomes a successful playwright, eventually winding up in Paris and getting engaged to the daughter of the man who leads the troupe. The Marquis and Aline show up at one of the plays, and of course she spots André. Meanwhile, the Marquis, being an utter jerk, starts hitting on André's fiancée.

But since this is all set during the reign of Louis XVI, you know that the Revolution is about to start, and that's going to cause problems for everybody, since the mob is going to be braying for the heads of as many aristocrats as they can get.

Scaramouche is the sort of movie where it's easy to see why it was such a big box office hit when it was released a century ago. It's got an easy-to-follow storyline and the sort of melodrama that leads up to a visually exciting climax. Navarro is unsurprisingly good, and this movie was a big boost to his career. The print that TCM ran also looked to be in surprisingly good shape for a movie from 1923. One thing that is slightly surprising, however, is that some of the intertitles look to be a more recent restoration, since there are two totally different typefaces used. Definitely give Scaramouche a chance if should come across it.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

I'm not the only person who thought of From Here to Eternity

Last year on Veteran's Day, TCM ran a lineup of war movies, with prime time being a special look at the role of the American Red Cross during various wars, with Ben co-presenting together with a bigwig from the American Red Cross. One of the movies presented was new to me, The Proud and Profane. Not having heard of it and with the movie having an interesting-sounding plot, I decided to record it and eventually watch it.

The movie opens in 1943, in Nouméa, which is the capital of French New Caledonia. This is the height of World War II in the Pacific, and since France itself had been occupied by the Nazis, overseas territories the Nazis couldn't get to might be used by the allies for their own war-staging efforts, at least when such islands weren't taken by the Japanese. Coming to New Caledonia on the latest transport is new Red Cross worker Lee Ashley (Deborah Kerr).

Lee is met at the airport by the head of the Red Cross mission, sympathetic but no-nonsense Kate Connors (Thelma Ritter), who also knows a thing or two about operating with the limited supplies that the various military and adjunct groups have to deal with. The Red Cross' role here is partly like the USO on the home front, to entertain the men who get rotated out of theater here, as well as to do what they can to minister to those who are brought here injured. It's tough work, and Kate isn't so certain Lee is up to it in part because her husband died some time back on Guadalcanal.

Coming into all of this is a platoon of marines commanded by Lt. Col. Black (William Holden, with a ridiculous mustache that I'd have thought wouldn't conform to USMC regulations). He demands perfection out of his men, in part because there's a war on out there and he has to keep his man alive; at the same time, it's also the Marine way and that's the only like Black knows. Lee is a bit put off by this at first, as is Kate, and the platoon's chaplain Holmes.

Also in the platoon is Pvt. Eddie Wlodcik (Dewey Martin). He and Kate have a relationship together, but it's not a romantic one. Kate was Eddie's foster mother stateside and before the war, and they still have the sort of relationship that a mother and son have, at least among families that aren't dysfunctional.

As for romantic relationships, there's about to be one between Lt. Col. Black and Lee. He starts taking her around the island, and it begins to grow into something as Lee begins to realize that there's more to him than just the taskmaster. It also grows into more, once Lee realizes she's gotten knocked up by the lieutenant colonel. She's thinking of marrying him, the Code really requiring that, but that would also mean her getting sent back to the States.

In the opening that Ben and the Red Cross executive recorded, it was mentioned that the movie is a lot soap opera. And to be honest, once we learn of Lee's pregnancy, the movie really does veer into soap opera territory. We learn more about Black, as well as Lee's journey to find her husband's grave on Guadalcanal, which also leads to more revelations. The movie becomes faintly ridiculous.

As I said in the title, I couldn't help but think of From Here to Eternity as I was watching The Proud and Profane. Part of that is the presence of Deborah Kerr. That, and a scene she and Holden have on the beach were I almost expected them to do the Kerr/Lancaster thing. And of course, there's Kerr in the earlier movie mentioning her now infertility. This is also a movie that, although it's theoretically a war movie, is a lot less about the war itself much like From Here to Eternity isn't really a war movie.

All that said, The Proud and Profane is an inferior movie in every way, although that's not terribly surprising considering how good From Here to Eternity is. The Proud and Profane isn't terribly by any standard, however. It's just that it's the sort of movie that really could have been a good deal better.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Kentucky Fried Movie

Another one of those movies I had heard about as having a bit of a cult status, but never actually getting to see, is Kentucky Fried Movie. TCM ran it some months back, so I recorded it in order to be able to watch it and finally do a post on it. As you can guess, I have now watched it which is why you're getting that post.

Having said that, Kentucky Fried Movie is going to be a tough movie to do a traditional review on. It was made by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team at the beginning of their career, and the success of the movie allowed them to go on to bigger and better things like Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies. Kentucky Fried Movie is, like those later movies, a broad spoof/satire, but with one big difference. The later movies have overarching plots into which to fit all the spoofs.

Kentucky Fried Movie, on the other hand, is more of a sketch comedy, not even an anthology, so there's not that much to tie the various sketches together. Ostensibly, there's a "movie within a movie" along with "coming attractions" that spoof other movies, and the sort of local TV broadcast in which you might see advertisements for the sort of movies being spoofed here. In fact, the movie starts with a broadcaster talking about what's going to be coming up on the 11:00 news, a broadcaster who comes up multiple times during the movie, along with a local morning talk show segment.

Among the movie genres being spoofed are 70s exploitation movies and the all-star disaster genre, the latter including cameos from Donald Sutherland and George Lazenby. The biggest parody, and the one that's the "movie within a movie", is "A Fistful of Yen", parodying kung-fu movies. Unfortunately, I found it to be the weakest part of the movie, and a part that really drags on.

The TV portions also include several advertisements that those who remember vintage advertisements will probably enjoy. That, and the sort of instructional movie those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s would have seen in school, along with a few extended parodies of TV show genres.

There's also a lot of sex, which makes it a bit of a surprise that the movie got the wider release it did, although also makes it understandable why Kentucky Fried Movie has the cult status it does.

Does the material work? Some of it does, but for me not enough of it did. A lot of contemporary critics unsurprisingly found the material -- especially the raunchiness -- juvenile, although that's not what put me off. For me, it was more that a lot of the humor in Kentucky Fried Movie is the sort where it feels like "you had to be there", and I don't just mean that you had to be old enough to have seen it on its original release in 1977. Yes, some of the material does require knowing now-dated references (the "Point/Counterpoint" that preceded Andy Rooney at the close of 60 Minutes being one example), but even then a good portion of it came across as stuff that really felt funny to a group of friends spitballing ideas late at night where people not at the spitballing sessions aren't in on it. Combined with the kung fu spoof portion of the film being the least funny and going on the longest, it all adds up to Kentucky Fried Movie being less of a hit for me than for other people.

Just don't call them Guest Programmers

Another of the TCM spotlights this month -- well, longer than this month -- is called Two for One. Debuting tonight, April 6, it claims to look at the popularity of the double feature.

They'll be doing this by bringing in a series of moviemakers from various parts of the movie business and having them sit down with Ben Mankiewicz to present a double feature of their own choosing, presumably explaining why the two movies put together would make for a good double feature. There will be 12 or 13 of these, every Saturday in prime time through June. The TCM website says 13 consecutive Saturdays, but there's no listing for May 25 as that's the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend which has tended to be given over to war movies.

Anyhow, the series begins tonight with director Martin Scorsese picking (a perfectly appropriate word; don't get me started on the TCM site's use of the word "curated") two films, both from 1948: Blood on the Moon at 8:00 PM, followed by One Touch of Venus at 9:45 PM.

Personally, I'd love to have seen somebody with the guts to select a double feature of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner followed by Soylent Green.

Friday, April 5, 2024

If it's awful it's better

Recently I was looking through the streaming movie channels on my Roku box, and Cinevault Classics was about to show something that looked interesting, and that I hadn't heard of before, so I sat down to watch it. That movie was the 1958 version of The Whole Truth, a title common enough that there are other movies with the same title and completely different plots.

Stewart Grainger, back in his native Britain more or less, is the nominal star here. He plays Max Poulton, a movie producer whose marriage to his wife Carol (Donna Reed) is hitting a bit of a rough patch. That's in part because his work has him away from home a lot, with the current movie he's working on having him on the French Riviera, or what a British studio's backlot thought could pass for the French Riviera. That movie stars Italian actress Gina Bertini (Gianna Maria Bertale), and because they're both away from home, they spend some time together.

That time together blossoms into something a little more, but of course Max is married, and he's been thinking about trying to patch up his relationship with Carol. Gina, for her part, now has information she could use to blackmail Max, information that might help her advance her career. Max goes to her apartment hotel where she's staying during shooting, to try to deal with this headache. It leads to the sort of heated verbal dispute that the folks in the next apartment would be able to hear, and they'll definitely see Max coming and going.

Max returns home where his wife is hosting a soirée, and coming to that party is an uninvited guest, Carliss (George Sanders). Carliss wants to see Max alone, and informs him that he's from Scotland Yard and that, much more distressingly, Gina has been found stabbed to death! Carliss is going to be working with the French authorities, and starts to pump Max for information about when he last saw Gina and the like.

After the conversation, Max is understandably worried, since the evidence might point to him, even though he's presenting himself to the viewing audience as completely innocent of Gina's murder. But some of the evidence is all the stuff he's left at Gina's place. He goes there to retrieve it so that the police won't find it, and when he returns home, he finds among the guests at the party... Gina, very much not dead!

Max talks to Gina, and we learn that Gina is actually Mrs. Carliss, and that their marriage is estranged in part because her being an actress with some public flings has been bad for her husband's career as a publisher of religious textbooks. (Whatever, although he needs to be in some career where having a straying wife would be very bad PR.) This leads Max to suspect Corliss is lying about a lot. But then Gina winds up being murdered, for real this time, with the body being found in Max's car! Is Max really guilty, or did Carliss do it?

The Whole Truth isn't bad, but the whole thing feels like the sort of material that, in a later generation, would have been a TV movie of the week. In fact, reading about it reveals that the material was originally written as a teleplay for the BBC when they were this sort of live drama the way that US shows like Playhouse 90 or the like were putting on live teleplays. The material then got worked into a stage play, from which the resulting movie was lifted.

Everybody does as well as they can with the material, but, as I said above, it feels kind of lacking. This especially for poor Donna Reed, who doesn't have much to do at all. The casting of George Sanders also sets off a metaphorical flashing red light over him, as if to indicate "Bad guy! Bad guy! Bad guy!"

So, if you're looking through the Cinevault Classic listings and see this one come up again, definitely give it a chance, even if it's by no means the greatest thing any of the cast did.