Friday, May 31, 2024

Random movie stills

The daily remains

I've got another pair of movies on my DVR that are coming up on traditional cable in close proximity. This time, the first of them is The Remains of the Day, which shows up on TCM in the wee hours of June 2, at 2:00 AM. (In other words, that's still 11:00 PM on June 1 out on the west coast.)

The movie starts of some years after the end of World War II. Darlington Hall was one of those grand old manor houses that I'd normally compare to the ones you see in Merchant Ivory pictures, except that this time, it actually is a Merchant Ivory picture. The old owner, Lord Darlington, has died, and the estate is on the chopping block, at least until it's bought by Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve), a retired US congressman who had visited once back in the 1930s; more on that later.

Lewis takes on the house's aging butler, Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), who was the butler to old Lord Darlington. And then Stevens gets a letter from Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), who was the housekeeper at Darlington Hall at the time of Lewis' visit. Kenton hasn't seen Stevens in yers, but still thinks about him; not that they're all older, she finds that she has much better memories of her time in service at Darlington Hall. With the place having been threated with destruction and that making the news, Kenton decides that now is the time to get in touch with Stevens again and reminisce about old times if he can get a few days off to visit her.

This, of course, is the cue for the flashback. We go back to the 1930s, and Darlington Hall is a consistently busy place with an army of servants led by butler Stevens. The place needs a new housekeeper, which is how Kenton gets hired on. But immediately she and Stevens begin to clash. Stevens seems to have spent his whole life in service, and is extremely good at what he does. But he's also extremely formal. Kenton isn't bad by any means; she's just a bit more modern in her approach to running the day-to-day managment of the home economics, as it were. She even goes so far as to refer to Stevens' elderly father, now reduced to being an under-butler, by his given name to distinguish him from the younger Stevens, something which horrifies the younger Stevens.

Anyhow, the whole house is in a flurry of activity because Lord Darlington (James Fox) is organizing a conference on trying to maintain peace with Germany. This is obviously well before World War II started in Europe, although I couldn't tell that any specific date was given for the first conference. (Later in the movie I think we do see a copy of The Times dated mid-October 1938.) It's clear that Darlington is on the side of opinion that thinks Germany and Hitler can be handled without having to go to war. Most of the guests at this conference share that view, with the exception of Lewis and a French representative, Dupont D'Ivry (Michael Lonsdale).

Kenton is horrified by all of this, and asks Stevens how this can go on. Stevens makes it clear, however, that his job is to serve, not to get involved in politics. He more or less continues to make it clear in a couple of scenes when the movie comes out of flashback while Stevens is on his way for the latter-day meeting with Kenton. It becomes clearer later in the picture just how much of an appeasenik Darlington really is, and that's going to have tragic consequences for him after the war.

Back in the 1930s, Kenton also finds herself developing some sort of feelings for Stevens. This is a bit of a problem because at Darlington Hall it's not necessary considered acceptable for servants to get involved in romantic relationships. But more complicated is the fact that while Stevens may be developing similar feelings for Kenton, he is exceedingly good at repressing such feelings. Eventually, Kenton can't take any more, and when she gets a marriage proposal from outside Darlington Hall, she accepts it.

As I mentioned early on, The Remains of the Day was directed by James Ivory and produced by his and Ismail Merchant's production company. This means you know you're going to get exception production values of interwar England, along with a fine script. You also get excellent acting performances, which really isn't much of a surprise considering the cast involved here. The script by Merchant and Ivory's collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is also quite good. If the movie has one flaw, however, it's that it feels like it runs a bit slow, and the pace feels like it gets even slower in the second half of the movie. It's "only" 134 minutes which includes the end credits, and that's a fair bit shorter than a lot of prestige movies today, but at times there's a sense of are they ever going to get to the action.

Still, The Remains of the Day is a fine movie, and definitely one not to be missed.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Tame Rovers

When TCM had its programming tribute to actor Ryan O'Neal a few months back, one of the movies I hadn't seen before was Wild Rovers. It's airing again tomorrow, May 31, at 8:00 AM, so I made a point of watching it before the upcoming airing to do a report on it.

Out in Montana in the days of the Old West, Walter Buckman (Karl Malden) runs a large cattle ranch together with his two sons (played by Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker), and a bunch of ranch hands. A ridiculously large number of ranch hands, I'd think, but that's not the point of the movie. One somewhat minor subplot is a conflict between Buckman and the neighboring sheep farmer over who can graze where. The bigger plot, however, is going to involve two of the ranch hands, the young Frank Post (Ryan O'Neal) and the too old to be doing this anymore hand, Ross Bodine (William Holden).

One day, a bunch of the hands are breaking horses, and one of the hands gets thrown off a horse to his death, necessitating the shooting of the horse. Frank and Ross go into town, presumably to deal with some of the necessities for the funeral, and get to talking. Frank is a bit surprised that Ross doesn't seem to have much money saved up, while Ross points out that pretty much every ranch hand lives his life in such a way that it's pretty much impossible to save up money. That is a bit of a shame, as Ross has always dreamed of going to Mexico where the American dollar goes much farther and it would be easier to start a ranch. With that in mind, Frank suggests that perhaps the only way to get the money to start one's own spread would be to rob a bank. It's just a joke, right?

While in town, Ross and Frank stop at the saloon to waste some of the money that they could be saving toward that ranch in Mexico, getting good and drunk on overpriced whiskey. The run into some of the men who work the sheepman's ranch, which results in a fight that causes a heck of a lot of damage to the saloon. This leaves Buckman mighty ticked off, and he plans to dock Ross and Frank their pay in order to pay off the damage on the saloon. So now perhaps the only way the two can get enough money to survive is to actually rob that bank.

The two do rob the bank, although they leave enough money behind for Buckman to make payroll in an attempt to get the bank owner not to aleart the authorities. They then set off for Mexico. It goes without saying, however, that Buckman learns about the robbery (and well, Frank and Ross would have stopped showing up for work, which would have been a huge red flag), so he sends a posse after them including his two sons. Bring Frank and Ross back, dead or alive. One son wants them back alive, the other seems itching to shoot them.

The movie was released after the demise of the Production Code, so at least it's not an absolute requirement that Frank and Ross get what's coming to them for breaking the law. It's possible they might actually get away with it. But they've got a long way to go, and they are going to have to deal with civilization along the way. That's where things go wrong, when Frank decides he's going to play poker with the locals one night and causes a gunfight....

The plot of Wild Rovers is serviceable, and the acting is certainly professional. And yet there's something seriously wrong with the movie. Well, two things. The first, which was quite evident, was the direction, by Blake Edwards, a director who was thoroughly out of his element making a western. Edwards decided to go for a whole bunch of early 1970s touches in his camerawork. Since there are gunfights, some people die, but the death scenes are done in a sort of slow-motion that some say is an homage to Sam Peckinpah, but to me seemed almost as amateurish as the deaths from bee sting in The Swarm. There's also a wild horses scene halfway through the movie that's handled with a whole bunch of double exposures and kills the movie harder than the bicycle scene set to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It wasn't until after I watched Wild Rovers and read up on it that I learned that the movie was heavily edited, against Edwards' wishes. Supposedly, his vision would have had the movie run three hours, while the movie we have here, with overture, intermission, and exit music, is 136 minutes. Perhaps the subplot with the sheep rancher was more important in Edwards' original vision, but here it feels like an afterthought.

I could see what Blake Edwards was going for when he wrote the screenplay, but the Wild Rovers we get on the screen is sadly, an absolute mess.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Not a reference to anyone in the current or previous administration

Marlon Brando was TCM's Star of the Month back in April, and one of the movies that I recorded during that salute is coming up again soon on the TCM schedule. That movie, The Ugly American, will be on tomorrow (May 30) at 5:45 PM.

The Ugly American was filmed in part in Thailand, but the movie makes pains to inform us right at the beginning that any resemblance to real people or events is strictly coincidental. The movie is not actually set in Thailand, but a fictional Southeast Asian country called Sarkan, which is an obvious stand-in for Vietnam, which was divided at the time the movie was made (1962; released in 1963). The Americans are helping the anti-Communist government of the day, by helping them build a paved highway called the "Freedom Road" from the more cosmopolitan capital into the hinterlands. However, many of the locals worry that having such a highway will facilitate bringing in both American troops as well as Communist troops on the other side of the border who are agitating against the western-backed goverment. To that end, locals waylay and kill one of the American truck drivers working on the project.

This is a debacle for the current ambassador, who was just about to finish his tenure in Sarkan anyway. To that end the US Senate is going through the confirmation hearings for a new ambassador. That nominee, Harrison MacWhite (Marlon Brando), has some experiece in Sarkan. He served in World War II and wound up behind the lines with the Sarkanian resistance, which is how he met Deong (Eiji Okada), who is still highly influential with any would-be revolutionaries, not having gone into government after the post-war independence. The Senators are worried that Deong might be aligning himself with the Communists, given his presence at the Bandung Conference. MacWhite doesn't think Deong is a Communist, and he does get confirmed by the Senate.

MacWhite arrives to Sarkan in a very volatile situation, with the arrival at the airport being met by a bunch of demonstrators who then storm the new ambassador's limousine. It's clear that the question of what to do about the Freedom Road is going to be important, and is also serving as a metaphor about what to do about the broader foreign policy in general.

MacWhite tries to talk to everybody about it: Deong, the King, and the Prime Minister, a man who is not without corruption as he's installed a bunch of relatives to important positions; that unsurprisingly being another bone of contention between the government and those who oppose it. There's also Homer Atkins (Pat Hingle), the American engineer who is in charge of getting the Freedom Road built. Atkins has the most logical take on the road. He, having worked with the locals, understands that they really want a hospital built. Atkins says that if the Americans were to fund that hospital and put it where the US wants the Freedom Road to go, the locals will eagerly build the road.

Meanwhile, Deong is trying to play both sides off the other, meeting with the Soviet ambassador, who brings the Chinese ambassador (this is before the fallout between the two countries in the early 1960s). The Communist countries are happy to work at stopping the Freedom Road from being built, and otherwise sowing discord in Sarkan. Deong, however, wants all of this to be done non-violently, while the Communists may be more than willing to stab Deong in the back to get what they want.

In watching The Ugly American, I couldn't help but think of a couple of other movies. One was Crisis, where the revolutionaries may have been sincere at one point but wind up being overtaken by their own desire to remain in power under the thinking that the opponent is just so bad that the alternative must be stopped by any means necessary. Deong, in the end, may not really be either a Communist nor that committed a pro-Westerner; instead, he's someone who wants peace and true independence for the locals, but has to dance with multiple devils to obtain this. There's also shades of King Monkut in all the versions of Anna and the King of Siam, somebody who knows he's up against forces much bigger than he is and can't really do much about it.

How all this is executed on screen, however, feels a bit dated in its treatment. It's way too talky for its own good, and Marlon Brando is I think not the right person to be playing the ambassador. Eiji Okada and Pat Hingle come off much better here in my opinion. Ultimately, The Ugly American is intriguing and thought-provoking, but not quite as good as it might have been.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Paddy Chayefsky channels Tennessee Williams

Some months back, TCM ran a night of movies with screenplays by Paddy Chayefsky. One that I hadn't seen before was The Goddess, so I recorded it and only recently finally got around to watching it.

The movie starts off in 1930, in the non-urban part of Maryland. Laureen Faulkner is a woman who got married much too young, and had a daughter not long after getting married. She feels herself unable to take care of the daughter, so she basically fobs the little girl, Emily, off on relatives who are strict Seventh Day Adventists. Emily can't get any love from them, in a scene where we see the juvenile Emily (Patty Duke in a one-scene role) tell the cat she got a promotion to the next grade.

We soon move to 1942. Emily is now about 16 years old and, still having no love from her family, prefers the fantasy world of Hollywood as well as going to the movie theater with boys who at least pay her some attention. And then, one night, she and some other high school kids run into a group of GIs, this being World War II after all. One of the GIs is a guy named John Tower (Steven Hill), who is the son of a famous Hollywood star but a man who couldn't handle the fame of having a famous Hollywood father. Emily doesn't much care; she's just taken with somebody who has a proximity to fame. She immediately falls for John, and the two quickly get married.

Unfortunately, Emily learns that she's way too much like her own mother. Emily gets pregnant and has the kid, but being a mother at such a young age is putting a decided crimp in the lifestyle of partying that she really wants. She doesn't want to be stuck in a small town. So one day she pretty much leaves the kid with her husband and leaves for Hollywood, because that's where the action is supposed to be.

Emily starts working her way up the ladder, having taken on the stage name of Rita Shawn. She's getting roles, and hopes to be able to impress her mother. Meanwhile, hanging on in Hollywood is retired boxer Dutch Seymour (Lloyd Bridges). He and Emily meet, and the two fall in love and get married. But he has the idea of going back to his home town to work in the family business, which is something Emily doesn't want to do since she still wants the fame and to be the center of attention.

So the two divorce, and Emily stays in Hollywood, where she does become a star, only to find that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be. She turns to drinking, becoming the sort of star all the producers worry can no longer do what's necessary to get a movie done on time and under budget.

You can be forgiven for thinking that The Goddess is the sort of movie that doesn't have much original to it. You can also be forgiven for thinking that The Goddess is the sort of material that could have been written by Tennessee Williams, if he moved his action out of the South. As such, The Goddess isn't really a movie that you watch for the story. Instead, it's more of a vehicle for Kim Stanley, who had been big on Broadway but didn't make a whole lot of movies. Even in spite of the trite material, Stanley is someone you can't really take your eyes off of, giving a ridiculous and memorable performance.

As a coherent whole, The Goddess isn't the greatest movie. Yet there's still something compelling about it.

Monday, May 27, 2024

A kid for £0/0/½

Another of the movies that I recorded because the title and synopsis made it sound interesting was A Kid for Two Farthings. I finally watched it of my DVR, so now you get the review.

The setting is a street market district in a decidedly working-class part of London. It's the sort of area you'd see in a movie like Alfred Hitchcok's Frenzy, but has disappeared since then as the country has become somewhat more prosperous. Among the people working in that area is Joanna (Celia Johson), who works in a tailor's shop run by Avram Kandinsky (David Kossoff). She's in London together with her young son Joe while her husband is trying to make enough money in South Africa to pay for their passage to come live with him. (Not that he'd know that the apartheid regime would crumble by the time little Joe was middle aged.) Joe doesn't seem to go to school at all, instead running around the stalls and listening to the tall tales Avram tells him.

The other person working at Avram's shop is Sam Heppner, who works wearing a wife-beater, which seems a bit odd for a shop like this. But then, the sewing work is just to pay the bills for what his real ambition is, which is bodybuilding. In fact, a photographer comes into the shop telling Sam that he's got a free hour to fit Sam in to a a "glamour photo" shooting at a local gym where the professional wrestlers (choreographed, of course) practice. Sam goes to the gym for the photo shoot, accompanied by his long-suffering fiancée, Sonia (Diana Dors). The main reason they haven't gotten married is because Sam doesn't have the money for a proper ring or wedding.

The main portion of the story line involving Sam is that a promoter at the gym tells Sam that getting involved with pro wrestling could make him money, enough to get married on. But of course, it's highly physical work, and Sam and Sonia are both worried about whether he'd get injured doing it. As for young Joe, one of the stories he's been told is about the existence of unicorns, and how unicorns, being rare enough, can grant wishes to the one who possesses a unicorn. So when he gets a bit of extra money from Avram, he goes out to the stalls looking for a unicorn.

Of course, he doesn't find a unicorn. We know they don't exist, but little Joe doesn't. So when he sees someone with two goats, a mama goat and a kid with just one horn, he thinks the kid is actually a unicorn. And he'd like to buy it, not that he's got the money for it. But the guy selling needs the money, and eventually the haggling results in Joe using the money he's got to buy the goat.

Will the goat that Joe thinks is a unicorn be able to fulfill any wishes? Well, in the real world, we know that this is impossible. But A Kid for Two Farthings is a movie, so the constraints of the real world don't apply. Then again, maybe the things Joe was wishing for would happen anyway; after all, the story lines were starting before Joe bought the baby goat.

A Kid for Two Farthings is an odd little movie, and I can see why people might not like it. It's definitely something that would be an acquired taste, and if you dont like little Joe than it's really going to be tough to like the movie. On the other hand, the adult cast does a uniformly good job. Diana Dors shows once again that she was capable of more than being a blonde bombshell, while it's unsurprising that Celia Johnson does a good job. It's also nice to see a side of London that doesn't exist any more, even if it's likely a sanitized and romanticized version.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Boys Town, Ranch Style

Audie Murphy, at the beginning of his career, made a movie reminiscent of Boys Town, but set at a Texas ranch, that I wasn't certain whether I had blogged about before. So when TCM put Boys' Ranch on the schedule some months back, I recorded it so that I could do a review on it. It turns out that the Audie Murphy movie I was thinking about was called Bad Boy, and that I had blogged about it over a decade ago. In any case, I hadn't seen Boys' Ranch, so I can now finally do a post on this one, too.

Dan Walker (James Craig) is a minor-league baseball player in one of those old ball parks where there's not much in the way of outfield seating and kids could theoretically watch for free by looking in over the fence. But those aren't good seats, so Dan helps out a couple of kids by hitting balls over the fence in batting practice where they can "return" the balls in exchange for getting let in for free as a courtesy by Dan. Hank (Darryl Hickman) is well-meaning, while Skippy (Skip Homeier) is a bit more of a problem, already engaging in petty crime. It turns out that his mom is already dead, while Dad is in prison.

Dan is getting up there in years in terms of his baseball career, so when he gets benched one day, he decides he's going to retire forthwith since he's been thinking of getting into ranching in Texas and has even been working a ranch in the off season. The two boys go to see Dan, and even have a gift for him, although a policeman who's guarding the players' entrance to the stadium recognizes Skippy and Hank and tries to arrest the two of them; it transpires as well that the "gift" the kids got Dan is in fact stolen. Dan, however, vouches for the two kids, and gives them train fare to his ranch. Skippy wants to blow, but Hank seems a bit more willing to give it a try; after all, it's this or reform school.

Unfortunately for them, it's roundup time, and neither of them has experience working a ranch, so until they can be taught they're worse than useless. It's hit the road again, but Skippy gets appendicitis. Hank falls in with some other kids who are in situations just as bad as Hank's, to the point that they steal food for their next meal. It's this that finally gets Dan to convince the other ranchers in the area that a workin ranch that the boys could run more or less themselves would be a good idea.

It's not too hard to figure out where the movie is going to go from here. Hank, given a second chance, takes it, and starts working hard at reforming. Skippy, on the other hand, remains a cynical operator, to the point that it puts a strain on their friendship and Skippy is constantly trying to escape or otherwise get ahead. Skippy's actions threaten to scupper the whole idea for a Boys' Ranch.

Boys' Ranch was made at MGM, which had made Boys Town several years earlier. It's the sort of sentimental material that MGM was excellent at making, although with the changing values just after World War II I don't know how much material like this still had with audiences. MGM also tried to inject some humor into this by casting Butch Jenkins as the littlest kid of them all. It doesn't always work, however.

Boys' Ranch isn't exactly a bad movie, but it's also not much more than a pedestrian second movie for a double bill.

Memorial Day Weekend 2024 Briefs

This being Memorial Day weekend here in the US, it's no surprise that TCM is airing war movies, as I've already mentioned the past two days. I should also point out the other programming features haven't been overlooked. Noir Alley seems to be there, as the same movie was in the midnight slot a few hours back and comes up at 10:00 AM: Charlton Heston as an army doctor returning to his hometown in Bad For Each Other, a movie I blogged about a few months back. Not particularly a war movie, but not too many war noirs out there. Act of Violence or John Hodiak in Somewhere in the Night might qualify, but the latter is Fox.

Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Imports also show up, except that they're pushed back a ways because The Best Years of Our Lives only starts at 11:15 PM. That's due to a series of documentaries at the start of prime time tonight, first up at 8:00 PM being the 1944 Memphis Belle, not the feature film of the same title from much later. Some of William Wyler's footage was found many years later, and that was turned into two documentaries, The Cold Blue (9:00 PM) and a making-of documentary at 10:30 PM. Silent Sunday Nights sees one I don't think I've watched before, The Flying Fleet at 2:15 AM, followed by a double feature of foreign movies about World War II: The Burmese Harp at 4:00 AM and The Cranes Are Flying at 6:00 AM.

FXM is, perhaps surprisingly, getting into the war movie lineup, albeit rather more abbreviated than TCM. On Monday, May 27, the Retro block has nine hours of war films (the early movie, David and Bathsheba, doesn't really qualify):
6:00 AM On the Sunny Side which I mentioned a few weeks back;
7:15 AM Great Guns, with Laurel and Hardy near the end of their careers;
8:30 AM Something for the Boys, a homefront musical about helping the wives of those stationed overseas;
10:00 AM A Bell for Adano, set against the invasion of Italy;
11:45 AM Call Me Mister, with Betty Grable near the end of her career working in occupied Japan; and
1:25 PM All Hands on Deck, a lousy Pat Boone service comedy.

And, I should have mentioned a couple of deaths from this past week. First up, of course, is Darryl Hickman, a child star with a bunch of memorable roles, although the first one I always think of is as Cornel Wilde's younger brother with polio who tries to impress new sister-in-law Gene Tierney by going for a swim in Leave Her to Heaven. Hickman was 92, and I think a good candidate to get at least a Sunday night double feature tribute if not longer, depending on what films TCM can get.

The other death is songwriter Richard Sherman, not to be confused with the former NFL star. (Not that a lot of classic movie fans are going to remember the other Richard Sherman.) Sherman and his brother Robert wrote a bunch of songs for Disney movies in he 1960s and beyond, notably Mary Poppins. Because they wrote for Disney films, and we all know how stingy Disney is with their IP, who knows if there's going to be any sort of salute to Sherman. He died yesterday aged 95.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Attack

Another movie in TCM's Memorial Day lineup that I had marked for watching was Attack. This one shows up tonight at 8:00 PM, so I made a point of watching it.

The movie starts with a pre-credits sequence in "Europe, 1944". Obviously, this is in the middle of World War II, or more accurately, in the later stages of the European theater since it's after the D-Day invasion. (Place names on the signs suggest they're in Belgium which would place things around the time of the Battle of the Bulge, except that that took place around Christmas 1944 and nothing in the movie looks like winter weather.) A platoon gets caught in a skirmish, and things go badly. Second in command Lt. Costa (Jack Palance) orders a charge that should be backed up by cover fire, but the unit commander, Capt. Cooney (Eddie Albert) inexplicable fails to provide the covering fire, leading to a bunch of American soldiers needlessly getting killed.

Costa obviously has good reason to dislike Cooney, and they're going to be seeing a lot of each other, and not only in combat since they're still in the same unit. When they get back behind the front lines, they're set to meet Cooney's commander, Lt. Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin). It's at this point that we get some exposition that makes things a bit clearer, and implies that we're going to get a stage-play like drama rather than an action movie. Cooney has a prominent family, and the implication is that it's family connections that got Cooney his rank as a commander. Bartlett, for his part, is worried about what's coming after the war, as he's thinking about politics; whether this is electoral or internal military politics isn't quite clear and not that relevant anyway.

When the three men are set to meet for a poker game, a fourth is also involved: Costa's friend Lt. Woodruff (William Smithers). Woodruff is closer to neutral in all of this, although he definitely gets why Costa dislikes Cooney and shares the belief that commanding troops in battle isn't exactly Cooney's strength. With that in mind, Woodruff talks to Bartlett and asks if it would be possible for Cooney to be given a transfer to a desk job well away from the front lines, as this would be better for everybody, including Cooney. Smithers of course doesn't know about the Bartlett's ties to Cooney, and Bartlett eventually puts Woodruff off by suggesting that after the last skirmish, their platoon is going to get sent to the rear and that, besides, the war is going to be over soon anyway.

Yeah, right, although in Bartlett's defense he couldn't know that the Germans were going to stage the Battle of the Bulge counteroffensive. Needless to say, this requires more American troops at the front, so any R&R away from the action is going to have to way. Cooney's squadron advances on a village, and things don't go well when the Germans turn out to be occupying said village. Cooney on the one hand, and the men under him, especially Costa, have differing ideas on how to deal with their being under fire.

Attack is one of those movies that's gone under the radar, no pun intended, I think in part because it was more or less an independent release through director/producer Robert Aldrich. Although there are combat scenes, the movie is decidedly more of a character study, and not a bad one at that. However, it does feel a lot at times as though it's belying its stage origins.

Intriguingly, Attack doesn't have any screen thanking the Department of Defense for their cooperation in making this movie. That's because the department didn't help at all. They saw the script and how it made some of the officers look quite bad, and basically said no way in hell were they helping. In some ways I think that works to the movie's advantage, although I think it also leads to the look that is at times a bit stagey.

If you want a war movie that's not quite the Hollywood rah-rah without being as revisionist as later movies -- especially those about the Vietnam War-- Attack isn't a bad little movie to watch.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Platoon

Today is the start of the Memorial Day weekend here in the United States, which means that as usual TCM is going to be running a bunch of war movies, through the Monday broadcasting day, which really means 6:00 AM ET on Tuesday, May 28. One of the movies I hadn't blogged about before which I recorded when TCM ran it during 31 Days of Oscar was the Best Picture Oscar winner Platoon It's running tonight at 10:15 PM, so I finally watched it off the DVR in order to post about it now.

The movie starts off in late 1967, with an idealistic young soldier, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) getting off a transport plane in South Vietnam, having recently volunteered for the army. One of the movie's devices has him writing a series of letters to his unseen grandmother, voiced over by Chris, in which we learn about his view and how it changes as his time in Vietnam goes on. As we first see him, however, he's fresh-faced and "properly" dressed in his battle fatigues.

He's the new man in a platoon that's technically led by Lt. Wolfe, who holds rank, although the men really respect the authority of one or the other of the two sergeants in the platoon, Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Elias (Willem Dafoe). As for Chris, he's not treated with much respect since he's the new man and hasn't faced any of the horrors that the other men in the platoon have. That'll come quickly enough, though, as the men are sent on a patrol somewhere not far with the border with Cambodia. At the time, as you'll recall, Cambodia was officially neutral, although the extent to which the North Vietnamese were trying to go through Cambodia to get into South Vietnam is debatable.

Out in the field, the soldier's life is even worse than back at base. They spend their time digging foxholes and doing sentry watch in three hour shifts, which means they don't get much time to sleep, and what little sleep they do get is fitful. Indeed, something goes wrong when Chris is on watch, and he's accused of falling asleep, something which could lead to a court-martial. Another mission has the men looking for Viet Cong weapons in a rural village, a mission which is no way to win the hearts and minds of the locals. It's here that we really see the conflict between Sgts. Barnes and Elias.

If one were trying to be charitable, one might think they're doing the "good cop/bad cop" routine. Except that it doesn't seem deliberate, and even if it is, it's having the effect of splitting the platoon in two as some soldiers side with "good cop" Elias and others with "bad cop" Barnes. Chris starts counting down the days until his tour is over, and it's an open question up until the end of the film whether Chris is even going to survive the tour.

As I said at the beginning, Platoon won Best Picture, although I think that's in part because it was up against a relatively weak field. Platoon isn't a bad movie, but I have to admit that it's one that I found a bit hard to follow at times, in part because the characters aren't very well introduced, leading to it being hard to keep the various characters straight. Still, Platoon is definitely the sort of movie that other people are going to like more than I did, so definitely watch it if you haven't seen it before.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Forbidden

Another movie that I noticed was on Tubi but I think is leaving at the end of the month is a Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code that a search of the blog says I haven't blogged about before: Forbidden. And, having watched it, I don't think I'd actually seen it before. So now I do a post on it in order that you can see it for yourself before it leaves Tubi.

Stanwyck plays Lulu Smith, which is certainly an odd name for a Stanwyck character. Even odder is that as the movie starts, she's a small-town librarian of the sort that Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life would have been if Jimmy Stewart had never been born. Lulu, needless to say, doesn't much care for this kind of life. So she decides to cash in all the money she's saved up, get a makeover, and take a luxury cruise to Havana, this of course being decades before Communism.

However, you can't take the prim and proper out of the librarian, so on the cruise, Lulu keeps dining alone. One day, however, she goes to her cabin after dinner, and finds that somebody else is in there! And that somebody is... a man! A drunk man, no less, up-and-coming lawyer Bob Grover (Adolphe Menjou), who has thoughts about a career in politics. Lulu is surprisingly forgiving about this drunk crashing her cabin, so much so that she decides to have dinner with him. And then, when they get to Havana, she spends the entire vacation with him!

Back home, we see that Grover is a district attorney, put into office with help from the local scandal sheet newspaper. Editor Al Holland (Ralph Bellamy) is none too pleased with this, and decides he's going to work at derailing Grover's career. The only thing is, he doesn't really have any way to do this, at least not honestly. That's only because he doesn't know about Grover and Lulu.

Grover meets Lulu for Halloween, and each of them has a surprise for the other. Lulu got knocked up on that vacation to Havana, and she's about to tell Bob so that he can marry her and the two can live happily ever after and make lots more babies. Well, we're not far enough into the film for that to happen, so instead Bob has to break the terrible news to Lulu that he's got a wife Helen (Dorothy Peterson), except that she was badly injured in a car crash and is now an "invalid" (judging by the way she's able to walk, I'm guessing the only part of her body that got injured was her uterus). Because of the injuries, Bob can't divorce Helen.

Fast forward to the maternity hospital, where Lulu checks in as Jane Doe and has the baby, Robert. She finally comes up with a way to tell Bob about the baby, which is a plan to have the Grovers adopt the baby Roberta, and for Lulu to be the baby's governess. It's a wacky idea, and Helen puts the kibosh on it when she finds out that Lulu doesn't have any references -- frankly, that's not unreasonble on Helen's part, and she's not written as the villainess of this piece.

The villain is Al. Lulu, in need of a job, gets one as the lonelyhearts columnist at Al's newspaper, and then many years later winds up marrying him. Lulu has been scrapbooking Roberta's childhood, since Grover is prominent enough that Roberta gets in the society section of the papers. Grover's political career is coming along nicely, too, as he's in the running for governor. But Al finds out the truth about who Roberta's mom is, and he's got no compunction about using that information to bring Grover down.

Forbidden is one of those early 1930s melodramas that's got some interesting ideas. In fact, possibly too many of them for the movie's own good, since the movie on multiple occasians turns on a dime. It's fun, and thanks to the direction of Frank Capra, there are some nice visuals. The story isn't the best, however. On the bright side, all three of the leads do more than the best they can with the material such that its weakness doesn't seem like such a big deal.

Sure, there are better and more lurid pre-Codes out there. But Forbidden isn't bad, and it's absolutely worth a watch.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Words and Music

Yet another movie that's been sitting on my DVR just waiting for another TCM airing so that I could watch it and do a post on it is the musical "biopic" Words and Music. That next showing on TCM is tomorrow, May 23, at 5:45 PM, so with that in mind I sat down to watch it in order to be able to do a post on it in time for you to watch the next showing.

After an opening credits sequence set over a chorus singing one of the songs of the writing team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz "Larry" Hart, we're introduced to Rodgers. Well, not Rodgers himself, but Rodgers as a character, played by Tom Drake. The fact that a decidedly second-tier star like Drake is playing Rodgers is a good hint that this is much more a story about Lorenz Hart.

Back in 1919, Lorenz Hart was a struggling songwriter who came up with all sorts of lyrics that the smart set might have thought were witty, but didn't have any music to go with them. His friend Herb Fields (Marshall Thompson), realizing that Larry needed a composer to put those words to music, decided to introduce Larry to one of his friends, that of course being Richard Rodgers. Rodgers is mildly confused considering that Larry doesn't really seem to be listening to his music, but some time later Larry tells him he does like one of his melodies and they should put the two together.

However, actually trying to sell any of their songs is much more difficult. Eventually Richard gets to the point that he thinks seriously about giving up trying to become a composer, telling his father that he's going to quit music to go into selling children's apparel. But Larry ropes him back in asking him to give it one last chance, and wouldn't you know it, but the Garrick Gaieties comes along introducing a bunch of new faces to Broadway, with Rodgers and Hart being asked to be among those new faces, even if not on the onstage side.

One person who might make a nice new face is struggling actress Peggy Lorgan (Betty Garrett). Larry does try to get her a starring role in the gaieties, but he's not a producer or casting agent, with the result being that another actress, Joyce Harmon (Ann Sothern) gets the part. Still, the two develop a nice friendship together. It goes far enough that Larry decides he's going to ask Peggy to marry him, but she turns him down. This is where the "biopic" really starts getting sanitized, as if it weren't already being sanitized to this point.

In real life, Lorenz Hart was gay at a time when one couldn't really be gay in public life. Apparently, he did have an actress with whom he was good enough friends that he'd ask her to marry him in what would have been an obvious sham relationship in the Tab Hunter/Natalie Wood vein, but that actress turned him down. Again in real life, being gay and not being able to be so publicly led Larry to engage in heavy drinking and other self destructive behavior that led to his death just before the age of 50, as well as to Richard Rodgers' decision to team up with Oscar Hammerstein when Broadway came calling with what would be the musical Oklahoma. Hart did live long enough to see that become a success, dying not long after.

So while Words and Music really plays fast and loose with the facts, in some ways that's not the reason one would watch a movie like this. In a film about a composer, it's always going to be just as much if not more about the music as about the music. And as we all know, Rodgers and Hart wrote quite a few of the great pre-war songs from the Great American Songbook. Not only is there the music, but MGM took a whole bunch of its musical stars under contract and had them do cameos singing various of the Rodgers and Hart songs. These include Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Perry Como, and others.

Words and Music may be utter nonsense as far as the historical facts go. But if you like vintage Broadway music, you'll get that in spades. That, combined with MGM's superb Freed Unit production values. Maybe someday somebody will put the real story of Lorenz Hart on film. But I don't think it would be as vivacious a movie as Words and Music.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Eight years before The Hawaiians

Charlton Heston was TCM's Star of the Month some months back, and it gave me the opportunity to record several of his movies that I hadn't seen before. Among them is Diamond Head, which, having been released by Columbia, also shows up from time to time on Cinevault Classics. Recently, I watched it, and now you get the review.

After some nice widescreen and color opening credits showing the beauty of the new state of Hawaii, we cut to a shot of King Howland (Charlton Heston) riding to his large plantation house on a horse. He's met by a local judge to discuss several things, chief among them being the fact that Hawaii is now a state (the movie was released in early 1963 but set just after statehood in 1959), so it gets to send two Senators to Washington. King would be just the person to serve as Senator.

Meanwhile, there's other exposition to be done. Also waiting for King is Laura (Elizabeth Allen), who is King's sister-in-law. King's wife and young son died in a tsunami some years back. King also has a rather younger sister, Sloane (Yvette Mimieux), who is about to come back from college on the mainland. On the ship coming back with her is an old friend of the family, Paul Kahana (James Darren), a native Hawaiian whose mixed-race half-brother Dean (George Chakiris) is a doctor of some renown on the island. Paul tells King that he'd like to have a chat with King.

Indeed, Paul and Sloane have the same thing on their mind: they've fallen in love, and would like to get married. Nowadays, that wouldn't be such a big deal. But in 1959, interracial marriage (never mind that none of the actors playing Kahanas are real-life Pacific Islanders) was something that a lot more people considered scandalous. King is somewhat more progressive than a lot of whites, and while he thinks the local country club shouldn't be closed to ethnic Hawaiians, and no problem being friends with them, mixed marriage is out of the question. Laura is even more bigoted in that regard.

Of course, we eventually learn that King is being a bit of a hypocrite in this regard. Well, a lot of a hypocrite, since he's in a relationship with a Hawaiian woman himself, Mai Chen (France Nuyen, who at least is of Asian descent). King is OK with sleeping with the locals -- and even knocking them up -- but marriage, no sirree. No wonder Sloane and the Kahanas feel so much resentment. As for King, he's worried about the whole matter of race relations and how it might affect his Senate campaign.

Diamond Head is one of those soap opera type potboilers that were a thing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when movies were still trying to differentiate themselves from TV. One way to do so was with widescreen and lush settings in color, all of which Diamond Head has in spades. As for the plot? Oh dear. The plot twists get increasingly ridiculous, almost as much as Aline MacMahon playing the Kahana matriarch. She's also opposed to interracial marriage, but on the grounds that she sees it as destroying the native culture.

Ultimately, I think Diamond Head is more a product of its time, and a time that was soon to change really radically. Much like The Liberation of L.B. Jones from several years later that I blogged about a couple of months back, it comes across as wanting to be more daring and open-minded, but not really succeeding. Interesting, but certainly not great.

Monday, May 20, 2024

I hope Mr. Dodd brings the air back

I mentioned yesterday that there are two movies on TCM on May 21 that were both on my DVR waiting to be watched for the obligatory blog post. The second of those movies is Mr. Dodd Takes the Air. It airs tomorrow, May 21, at 8:30 AM.

Mr. Dodd is played by Kenny Baker, who was apparently a radio star in the mid-1930s before being tapped for an attempt at movie stardom. Mr. Claude Dodd is a young electrician in one of those Hollywood small towns, this one called Pewamo. The town has an annual strawberry festival, and the festival includes singing. Everyone in town knows Claude is a good baritone singer, so this year's emcee of the festival, "Sniffer" Sears, has Claude do a song.

Also attending the festival this year is a man named Hiram Doremus, who is the president of a company that makes mattresses. (Doremus looks and acts like someone who was written with Guy Kibbee in mind, but this is a character actor named Ferris Taylor.) He finds that Claude's singing is just the thing to put Mrs. Doremus to sleep, and Mr. Doremus means that in a good way, since he makes mattresses for a living. The mattress company also sponsors a radio show, since this was 1937 and lots of companies sponsored such shows, TV not really being a thing yet. So Doremus wants Mr. Dodd to come to New York to try one spot on the radio show and see how it goes over.

Unfortunately, before Mr. Dodd can get to New York, he develops a case of bronchitis, with the town's doctor (a bit part for Harry Davenport) treats. The only problem is that Dodd shouldn't use his voice for 48 hours after the treatment, and that will put him close to the time when he's supposed to go on air, it he can get past the secretary, Miss Day (Jane Wyman). As you can guess, Dodd does get on air. But this is where the second problem comes in. The treatment Dodd get back in Pewamo turned him from a baritone into a tenor (no, it wasn't that sort of treatment, thank you very much). Dodd is convinced he won't get a job.

But when Miss Day goes to see Dodd in the network's coffee shop later that evening, it's in part to tell him that telegrams are coming in from people all over the country who love this new singer who came out of nowhere. The two also start a romantic relationship, and if it weren't for the fact that we're only a half hour into the movie, you could be forgiven for thinking they live happily after after.

This is where the movie really gets wacky. Dodd isn't just an electrician, but also a would-be electrical engineer. He's been working on a device that is designed to reduce static from radio broadcasts, a cheap device you can attach to an inexpensive model of radio and make it sound like a top of the line model, because apparently they didn't have good speakers back in those days. Certainly not stereo or Dolby surround sound. A second woman, Jessica Stafford (Gertrude Michael) finds out about the invention, and plays the part of a gold-digger so that he real boyfriend (John Eldredge) can steal the invention.

And if you didn't think this plot twist was nuts enough, we get a third woman for Mr. Dodd, opera singer Madame Mono (Alice Brady). But this is all supposed to be a light musical romantic comedy, so you'd be right if you expect Dodd will wind up with the good girl in the final reel. It is just, once again, a question of how we get there.

I think I had two big problems with Mr. Dodd Takes the Air. One is that Kenny Baker isn't exactly an actor who can carry a movie. You get the impression that when Warner Bros. decided to make this one, they had their other crooner, Dick Powell in mind. But Powell was trying to get more mature or demanding roles. There's also the issue that Dodd is written as a terrible stereotype of the small town hick, somebody it's hard to believe could possibly be so naïve. I found it irritatingly obnoxious.

If you like the crooning style of music, however, you'll probably find Mr. Dodd Takes the Air pleasant enough, if not anything great.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Big Prize

Once again, TCM has a pair of movies coming up in close succession that are on my DVR and that I haven't posted about. So one of them is going to get a post a good day and a half before it shows up on TCM. That movie is Grand Prix, which TCM has on at 2:30 AM on May 21 (so still just before midnight May 20 in the Pacific time zone).

Now, with a movie with a title like Grand Prix, you'd expect it to have a climactic scene set at the big car race, and in fact you'd be right. What's slightly more surprising, however, is that the movie opens up at a car race, the Monaco Grand Prix. Even more surprising is that this isn't a plot device where the movie opens up near the end and then goes into flashback. It is, however, an effective way of introducing the audience to the main characters, or at least the drivers:

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) drives for Ferrari, one of the big names in Grand Prix racing. He's the sort of older champion, and the stand-in for Continental tradition.
The UK was a big player in Grand Prix at the time as well, so they have a top driver in the form of Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), representing the sort of "England may be different from the Continent, but the way we do things is right" mentality.
And, since this is a Hollywood movie, you need an American, who is also of course the shorthand for a brash up-and-comer who does things his way, which might not be what the "sophisticated" Europeans like. That racer is Pete Aron, played by James Garner.

Monaco is a notoriously tight racetrack, nowadays with limited opportunities for passing, since it's right in the middle of a ridiculously crowded city. And, since this is a car racing movie, it's unsurprising that there's a big crash, since those are cinematically more interesting than just cars going around in loops. It's Scott and Pete who get into a crash, with the result that Pete loses his driver's spot in the championship while Scott ends up badly injured enough that he may have to retire. An American journalist, Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint), there to do an article, can't comprehend why Jean-Pierre and the other uninjured drivers take a sang-froid attitude to it all.

But Louise winds up becoming interested enough in the sport that she has an affair with Jean-Pierre, even though he's already married to a woman who is never going to grant him a divorce, because not granting your unahppy spouse a divorce is one of the most original plot devices in movie history. Almost as original as the flashback. And it's not the only affair in the movie, as Pete starts seeing Scott's wife Pat (Jessica Walter), who was never particularly thrilled with her husband driving a race car.

Pete stars working as a color commentator for one of the US broadcasters, but there's another upstart about to enter the picture: Japanese car constructor Yamura (Toshiro Mifune), who is wealthy enough to think about entering a third car into Formula 1. With that in mind, he offers Pete a second chance at driving.

One more driver enters the picture, the new European Nino (Antonio Sabato), who is the second driver for Ferrari. And then to make matters more interesting, Scott "recovers" from his injury, at least enough for his crew to pick him up and put him in the car which he can drive. All four men wind up close to each other in the points race going into the final race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, a race track which was apparently notoriously fast.

To be honest, the story in Grand Prix is little more than serviceable, largely because it's tough to be original with car racing movies. All the tropes have been done to death. What is, however, more original about Grand Prix, is that they were able to get on the real race tracks and get real footage from Forumla 1 drivers as well as the sort of sports car that would do races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and could be repurposed to drive enough laps on the Forumla 1 circuits to get useful footage. This is an era of Formula 1 that was much more dangerous than today (I'm not much of a fan of car racing but the people I know who are Formula 1 fans tend to think of today's racing as little more than a procession). That, and many of the tracks are either no longer used or used in very different configurations today.

If you like auto racing, especially if you're into vintage cars, I think you'll love Grand Prix.

Briefs for May 19, 2024

I probably should have done a full-length post on the passing of producer Roger Corman when the news of his death came across, but I never got around to doing it. Corman did a reasonable amount of direction, and with American International a ton of producer credits. I presume that TCM is going to have a programming salute to him at some point, but I haven't seen anything. That's in part because there's increasingly less information on the TCM site, and I don't do much following of anybody on the various social media sites. If I had to guess it's likeliest that a tribute will come in July, since much of the June schedule has been released.

Actor Dabney Coleman died this past week at the age of 92, although he's not the calibre of star I'd expect to see get a standalone programming tribute. Coleman was memorable in his turn as the villain in 9 to 5, and if TCM could get the rights to it, that's the sort of movie I could see showing up in December when TCM has its one-night salute to those who died but weren't necessarily as big stars.

I've got quite a few films coming up that are on my DVR already and that I haven't blogged about before. In addition, I've got closing in on 20 movies that I've watched and have not yet published the blog posts about. So there's going to be behind-the-scenes rescheduling of blog posts. I hope that all of the posts I put up on movies set to air show up at the right time and get the dates right, and that I don't wind up with multiple feature reviews on one day followed by a day with none because I negligently didn't schedule a post for a certain day.

I don't know how long ago it was that TCM changed the intro for TCM Extras, but I'm still not used to fast-forwarding following the end of something on my DVR and not picking up that a short has been programmed because I'm still used to the "old" Extras intro. With that in mind, I see that the very old One Reel Wonders bumper is on YouTube. Sad that they got rid of it, but at least in that case I understand how the change from 4:3 programming to 16:9 as well as the change to HDTV necessitated a change in all the bumpers.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Storm Fear

Over the years that Eddie Muller has hosted Noir Alley on TCM, he's selected several movies that I'd never heard of, even if I don't necessarily think of all of them as noirs. One example of this is the Christmas noir Storm Fear. Since it sounded interesting, I recorded it to watch it and do a post on.

David Blake is a 12-year-old boy living on a mountain in the middle of nowhere together with his parents, Elizabeth (Jean Wallace) and Fred (Dan Duryea). Dan is nominally a writer, but like George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's, he hasn't been able to sell anything for some time, which is why he's living out here and living off the kindness of people like farmhand Hank (Dennis Weaver) who bought the family a new radio for Christmas.

David and his father were out ice fishing, and on their way back to the house, David sees clouds that imply another storm is coming, and then hearing a car, which seems strange, since nobody comes up here. And when they get back to the house, they find that the car doesn't just have one person in it. There's Charlie (Cornel Wilde), a bank robber who happens to be Fred's no good brother. Charlie robbed a bank with three other people, although the cops picked one of them up. The other two are Charlie's moll Edna (Lee Grant), together with the hair-triggered robber, Benjie (Steven Hill). Charlie, like the guy the cops picked up, was shot in the botched robbery, but not fatally like the unseen accomplice.

David doesn't know Charlie's real identity, but Fred and Elizabeth sure do, and they're mighty displeased to see Charlie here. David, for his part, seems excited to see these exotic strangers, and it seems like he's looking up to them, especially Charlie, something that alarms Fred and Elizabeth even more. So there's a volatile mix of people cooped up in a mountain cabin with a storm raging outside with the possibility of the police coming by to pick up some of them, with the legitimate inhabitants of the place not wanting anything like this. And wait until Hank possibly shows up again and finds these people here, putting two and two together.

Unsurprisingly, Charlie is thinking of escape. The problem is that there are going to be roadblocks, so if they try to go by road there's no possibility of them getting out. The only other way out is over a snowy mountain. Naturally the robbers don't know the area, and Fred isn't about to help them, never mind the fact that he's not healthy enough to help them. But David knows the way, and Charlie sets about using David's admiration of him to get him to possibly help....

Cornel Wilde directed in addition to starring, something he could do in part because this was his independent production company making the movie. It's also why his real-life wife at the time Jean Wallace is starring. The movie has a lot to like, but at the same time it's also wildly uneven. That's because parts of the story really strain credulity, while other parts seem very obviously telegraphed. The end result, however, is a movie that's interesting and more or less entertains despite its failings.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Rita's eyes in black and white

Quite a few years back, I sat down to watch the British movie Girl With Green Eyes when TCM showed it. For some reason, I didn't get to see the whole thing. So when TCM ran it again a few months back, I made the point to record it so that I could finally watch it in full and do a post on it here.

Rita Tushingham plays Kate, a girl who grew up in a rural part of Ireland in the late 1950s when the country was much poorer that it became after the Celtic Tiger years, and there wasn't a whole lot of opportunity staying in those rural backwaters. So after graduating from a Catholic school together with her best friend Baba (Lynn Redgrave), the two head off to Dublin in search of a better life, getting rooms in the same house. As the movie opens, the two have been in Dublin for some time.

They don't really have as exciting a life as they might have hoped for, although it's certainly more interesting than being stuck on the farmstead where the two grew up. They work as shop girls, and go out with guys on weekends, mostly at Baba's insistence as she's the outgoing one who seems to meet all the guys who bring a second one along for Kate to make it a double date. One supposes they'll never meet Mr. Right so much as Mr. Good Enough.

One day, Baba and Kate are out shopping when they see one of Baba's boyfriends with his delivery van stopped in traffic. He's got a job out in the country delivering a dog to be trained, and why don't the two girls come along and enjoy a day out of town? So they get in, eventually going to the house of one Eugene Gaillard (Peter Finch), an author who's written a book about African natives. He and the two girls exchange pleasantries, and that's about it.

Except, of course, with an actor of the caliber of Peter Finch, you know that's not going to be the end of it. A few days later, Eugene and Kate run into each other at a bookstore where Baba is waiting outside. Baba talks him into going out for tea with the two of him, but it's clearly Kate who is more interested in this man who is both more sophisticated than the girls, and never obnoxiously outgoing the way someone like Baba can be if you're an introvert like Kate.

So Kate writes a letter to Eugene to thank him for the tea and invite him to tea again, this time without Baba around. And wouldn't you know it, but he shows up for the appointment! The two start to develop a relationship, although because there's such a big age difference between them, you know that it's not going to be the easiest of relationships. Of course, that age difference is only the first issue. Somehow, Kate's father finds out about the relationship, so he goes to Dublin and finds the shop where Kate works to chew her out in public, and bring her back "home".

Kate naturally tries to run away, and goes off to live with Eugene, since she figures Dad would find her if she went back to rooming with Baba. But when she's with Eugene, she finds out that he's got an estranged wife, and that the two haven't gotten a divorce yet (although to be fair, doing that in Catholic Ireland of the early 1960s would have been difficult if not impossible). Kate also doesn't really have any friends who can fit into Eugene's social circle, not that she does. So can the two forge a happy relationship?

Girl With Green Eyes is an interesting movie, in no small part because it shines a light on a place and time that wasn't commonly seen in the movies. A lot of movies were made in the UK, with various parts of the country being the backdrop for first the "kitchen sink" movies and then swinging London of the second half of the 1960s. But Catholic Ireland? Not so much. The movie is also helped by very good performances from all three of the leads. The black-and-white cinematography also deglamorizes Ireland, something that never would have happened had Hollywood tried to make a movie out of this story.

So definitely make it a point to seek out Girl With Green Eyes if you haven't seen it before.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Balthazar at Random

La nouvelle vague is the French term for the "New Wave", and it's not unfair to mention the French term since they more or less invented the New Wave by rejecting the Hollywood style of moviemaking. Sometimes, however, I think with my high school French that La nouvelle vague could just as easily translate to "The New Vague". It's a thought that I couldn't help but have as I was watching Au hasard Balthazar.

In a village somewhere in the French Pyrenees, two families live near each other, and have children who are about the same age, Jacques and Marie. Marie's father is the head of what looks like a village one-room schoolhouse, while Jacque's family runs a farm. They get a donkey, and Marie and Jacques decide to have a Catholic baptism for it, naming the donkey Balthazar. In fact, the relationship between Marie and Jacques is deeper than that because, despite their young age, they act like the sort of kids who are expecting to be the boy and girl next door and get married when they grow up.

However, Jacques has a sickly sister who eventually dies, forcing Jacques' parents to sell off everything on the farm, including Balthazar, while kinda-sorta renting out the farmland to Marie's family, even though her father is a teacher and not a farmer. Years pass -- literally, as a caption informs us -- and Marie grows int a teenager who is deeply unhappy with her life because she doesn't really have much of a life. But at least she gets Balthazar back.

At least for a while; the movie is as much about the trials that poor Balthazar goes through as it is about Marie's trials. Her father gets in a legal dispute over the property, leading to what her father thinks is a loss of honor and his deciding to put himself through all sorts of abasements to repay his debts to Jacques' father and to society in general. And then Marie has to suffer a tempestuous relationship with young Gérard. He leads a band of 20-somethings who make a living in part by smuggling stuff across the border into Spain. He seems to be in love with Marie, but her mother realizes he's no good for her and bans him from being alone with Marie. Gérard is caught up in a murder investigation where a local drunk might have been the murderer, or maybe not.

As all of this is going on, Marie's tough life is paralleled with Balthazar's tough life. At one point he's close to death, although that drunk in Gérard's investigation takes custody of the donkey which turns out to be a godsend for the donkey. Jacques eventually comes back to see Marie and to resolve the legal case between the two fathers, but Marie isn't certain she loves Jacques or if it's just friendship.

Au hasard Balthazar is one of those movies that all the critics go gaga over, having declared it one of the greatest films of all times. As I was watching it, I thought about that and about another film in that regard, Raging Bull. Both of them are movies made well enough, and I didn't particularly dislike either of them. But at the same time, I couldn't quite figure out why critics would rate Au hasard Balthazar as an all-time classic. The cinematography is quite good, and the movie effectively gets across its point about the struggle of life. But the critical gushing frankly escapes me.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Out west with Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame was TCM's Star of the Month some months back, which gave me the chance to record a couple of her movies that I hadn't seen before. Now, Grahame isn't the sort of person you'd think of when you think westerns; she seems a bit too glamorous for the genre. But in the studio era they put their stars in all sorts of stuff, so it's unsurprising that Grahame got cast in at least one western: Roughshod.

We don't see Grahame right away. Instead, even before the opening credits we see a couple of men in the sort of striped shirt that makes it obvious that they're escaped convicts. They're led by a man named Lednov (John Ireland); coming upon a band of cowboys, they murder the cowboys for the cowboys' clothes since those clothes wouldn't identify their wearer as prisoners. It's only in the next scene that we meet Grahame. She plays Mary Wells, who ran one of those houses of ill repute, at least until the people in the town where she was working decided they wanted to be respectable. So they too are headed to California.

At the next town, Clay stops, where he's informed by the sheriff that Lednov has escaped prison. That's important because Clay was instrumental in getting Lednov put behind bars in the first place. Everybody naturally thinks that Lednov is going to be out looking for Clay to gain revenge. Meanwhile, when Clay and Steve get back out on the road, they run into Mary and her companions. The women's wagon has broken a wheel, so they're in need of assistance. Not that Clay is all that interested in taking on a group of women since it's going to be difficult enough as it is to get those horses through the mountain pass. Still, Clay offers to take them to the next ranch, where they can figure out what to do next.

Mary is hoping to get to Sonora, which just so happens to be the same place Clay is headed for. But the ranch where he plans of dropping the women off is owned by the Wyatts, who as it turns out are the parents of one of the women from the house of ill repute. Mary is insistent on not being left behind, and eventually she and another of the women continue on with Clay and Steve. Mary starts teaching Steve how to read and write, since Clay has thought a cowboy doesn't really need it. But as you can also guess, a romantic attracting is going to develop between Clay and Mary.

You can also guess that the other story line, with the escaped convicts, is going to cross paths with Clay and Mary, leading to the climax.

Roughshod is one of those competently produced westerns from a time when Hollywood was making a lot of such movies. There's nothing particularly special about it either in terms of plot or scenery, but there's nothing particularly wrong with it either. If you like westerns, I think you'll like Roughshod. At the same time, if I were looking to introduce people to any of the actors involved with this movie, Roughshod isn't the first thing I'd think to pick.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

It's Always Sunny in Small-Town Ohio

One more movie in the FXM rotation that I've never actually done a post on before is On the Sunny Side. So, the last time that it showed up, I made it a point to record it so that the next time it would run, I could do a post on it. That next showing is tomorrow, May 15, at 4:45 AM.

The Andrews family are a well-to-do family in a small town in Ohio in the days where World War II had begun in Europe, but had not yet come to America. There's a father (Don Douglas), Mom (Katharine Alexander) and one child Don (Freddie Mercer), with the family being well-off enough to have a live-in maid Annie (Jane Darwell). Don is the sort of kid who has the clubhouse thing that was more of a thing back in the days of free-range kids, and he's popular enough with the other boys that he could be elected president of the club.

But then the postman comes, and Annie has to sign for a letter because it's a special delivery from the UK. The Andrews parents had been to the UK before the war, and became friends with a British family, the Aylesworths, who have a son who is just about the same age as young Don. With the Nazi air raids going on and the UK evacuating a fair number of its children to places like Canada and Australia, the Aylesworths and Andrewses have agreed that the Aylesworth boy, Hugh (Roddy McDowall) should spend the duration over in America to remain safe. Now the letter has come telling when they can expect Hugh.

Hugh arrives in Ohio, and as you can expect there's a bit of culture shock. The adults are trying to recreate a little bit of Britain for Hugh so he won't feel so homesick, but as it turns out Hugh is just as willing to try all-American foods like hot dogs. The two boys become fast friends at first, and Hugh is even in the same class as Don. But it's not all sweetness and light.

Trying to make British foods is just the first sign that everybody -- and I mean everybody is going to gush all over this foreigner in their midst. The adults seem to want to cater to his every need, while all of the kids seem to want him to be their new best friend. Don begins to feel like he's the fifth wheel, and being ignored. Heck, even his dog wants to sleep in Hugh's bed. Don thinks about running away. But On the Sunny Side isn't going to be a dark movie.

It's easy to see why a film like On the Sunny Side got made. Fox had recently cast McDowall in How Green Was My Valley, where he made a big impression. And even though the movie went into production before Pearl Harbor, it was clear war was coming, and much of the US was solidly on the British side. So something that was family-friendly and sympathetic to the plight of the British was just the thing. A morale-booster, if you will, without being too heavy. There's no battle to be shown here.

However, looking 80-plus years back, On the Sunny Side is jarringly, and at times gratingly, simplistic. Hugh comes across as a stereotype of the oh-so-proper Englishman, while the culture differences are played up in a way that makes you want to reach through the screen and tell everybody, no, Hugh is going to adjust lickety-split. Brits use words like "cheque" and prefer cricket to baseball? At times it's almost cringeworthy. Well, more than almost, as in a scene where the radio plays "America"/"God Save the King" (why would the radio even be playing that?).

So at best, On the Sunny Side is a time capsule of what America was thinking about Britain at the time just before entering World War II. Not much more to recommend it, I'm sorry to say.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Decoy

If you want a movie with a different plot twist, you could do a lot worse than to watch the B noir Decoy. Having seen it on the TCM schedule some time back, I decided to record it and recently finally got around to watching it.

After an intriguing opening credits in which somebody shoots at a locked box, the real action starts off in the present, or at least we're going to learn a couple of minutes into the movie that most of the action is told in flashback. A man in what looks like the sort of rural California we'd see in films like Out of the Past, looking very sickly, makes his way to the big city, where he finds the apartment of one particular woman, going to that apartment and shooting her! A policeman, Sgt. Portgual (Sheldon Leonard) shows up to try to get the woman's story before she dies.

That woman is Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie), and she's the girlfriend of a man named Frank Olins (Robert Armstrong). Frank and his gang robbed a bank out of a mid-six-figure amount, which was quite a lot in the middle of the 1940s. He buried the money in a safe place, but he was caught and sentenced to the gas chamber. The problem is that Frank is the only one who knows where the money is hidden, and he's more than willing to let that secret go with him to the grave.

Frank is also worried that Margot is seeing his lawyer, Jim Vincent (Edward Norris), behind his back, and as it turns out, he's right to be worried about it, not that it would matter if Frank is dead. In theory, there's always the possibility of Frank getting out on some sort of technicality. And wouldn't you know it, but Margot has a technicality in mind. The only thing is, it's not a legal technicality, in more than one sense of not being legal.

Margot has learned that the California gas chamber uses hydrogen cyanide gas to off the condemned, and has also learned that a historical treatment for cyanide poisoning is a chemical called "methylene blue". (In fact, there was such an experimental treatment; it just carried a substantial risk of making things worse, so other treatments were developed.) However, the methylene blue would need to be administered fairly quickly, and more importantly, Margo and Jim would need a doctor to administer the drug. In any case, once being revived, Frank would be able to divulge the location of the money.

It seems like an absolutely daft plan, and of course it is, but then this is a movie, so just go with it. Margot finds a doctor whose work includes a couple days a week working at the penitentiary where the executions are carried out, Dr. Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley), who also turns out to be the guy who shoots Margot in the scene before the flashback. She works on turning him so that he'll go along with the harebrained scheme. As you might guess from the beginning, as well as the fact that this is a movie, he does eventually go along. At the same time, there being a Production Code, you know that the scheme isn't going to work out in the end....

Thankfully, unlike some other movies, the fact that there's that Production Code doesn't mean that the story is harmed. Decoy is the sort of scheme that you expect to go wrong because there are so many points where it could. So instead, the fun is watching how the scheme doesn't work. And in that regard, the movie works very well, at least for the low standards of Poverty Row. It's not great by any serious measure, but it's entertaining nonsense. Definitely worth a watch.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Not really strange, or fascinating

I was recently looking through the list of "leaving Tubi soon" movies, and found one I hadn't heard of before: Strange Fascination. Not really knowing anything about it, I decided I'd watch it anyhow and then do a post on it here to give you all ample time to watch it before it leaves Tubi. I'm assuming that's at the end of May, since the contracts generally seem to run out at the end of a calendar month, and there was no "XX days remaining" notice that starts around two weeks before a movie leaves.

One of the reasons I had never heard of Strange Fascination before is because it stars and was directed by Hugo Haas. He was one of the many filmmakers who made their way to Hollywood to escape the Nazis, first acting as a character actor, and then directing a string of independent B movies. Most of the rest of the cast of Strange Fascination is even less distinguished, although female lead Cleo Moore starred in several of Haas' movies.

Here, Haas plays Paul Marvan, and as the movie opens he's listening plaintively to a piano concert. He leaves and walks through the sort of city you'd see in a noir, darkened and mildly seedy, also looking like he could fit into a noir what with his three-day beard and correspondingly disheveled look. He walks into a Salvation Army mission, finds the church hall part of it empty, with a piano up on stage. He gets up on stage and sits down at the piano, which is a cue for the flashback....

The flashback takes us to Salzburg, Austria, just after the war. Paul is a concert pianist who somehow survived World War II, although the war is really only mentioned as difficulties of the past few years. Salzburg holds a Mozart festival and has a storied relationship with classical music, so Paul is here in Salzburg to perform a concert. In attendance at the concert is wealthy American widow Diana Fowler (Mona Barrie), who likes Paul's playing. At dinner after the concert, she offers to sponsor Paul's immigration to the US, with a bit of an implication that he should consider some sort of mutually beneficial relationship for the two of them.

Paul lives with Fowler, practicing until he can get an agent and some bookings so he can strike out on his own. After a concert one night, he irritates a showgirl at the nightclub where he goes for drinks. That woman, Margo (Cleo Moore) decides she's going to go to one of his concerts to give him a piece of her mind. But she loves the music and falls for him, almost like a groupie. Some time later, after he's back in New York, she shows up, claiming that her boyfriend Carlo is treating her badly and she needs someplace to hide from Carlo.

This being the early 1950s, the Production Code is still there, so a man and a woman couldn't really shack up without at the very least some serious moral opprobrium. Indeed, a couple of people find out about the two of them living together and issues arise. It gets to the point that when Paul goes out on his next tour, he takes Margo with him so that he can have a quickie wedding away from the prying eyes of the New York set!

But it's not to be a happy marriage. The second half of Paul's tour gets cancelled due to flooding, and the contract states he won't get paid for it. He's already taken advances on his tour fee, so this leaves him heavily in debt. He starts drinking again, which really threatens his career. He's also got too much pride, resulting in his not wanting Margo to be the breadwinner in the family. She understandably chafes at this.

Strange Fascination is a decided B movie, playing on themes apparently common in Haas' work (I've read some on Haas but not seen that many of his movies), of the basically good man who marries a woman not right for him, and for this to bring him ruin. Apparently, later movies would have the woman be much more of the gold-digger/villainous type than what Margo is here. In the case of Strange Fascination, it feels more like a tragedy of two people jumping into something they might not be ready for and not able to deal with the consequences or the difficulty in backing out.

Hugo Haas doesn't have much of a reputation as a director, which I think is partially due to being stuck with B movies. Strange Fascination is certainly not great, but it comes across as Haas having sincere feelings about the material he was putting on the screen. He also comes across as somebody who knew how to stick to a budget and deliver stuff quickly. I have a feeling that had he been a few years younger, or American-born, he might have been able to make it as a director in episodic TV. Perhaps other of his movies really make Haas look like a terrible director, but Strance Fascination doesn't.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Pilgrim

It's been a month or so since the last time I did a post on a silent movie, and I've got several sitting on my DVR, so I figure I should start watching more of them. Next up is a Charlie Chaplin film that's a bit too short to be called a real feature, but too long to be a real short, at four reels: The Pilgrim.

The title card has a 1923 copyright date on it, which theoretically means the movie is in the public domain, but the print TCM ran was a 1959 re-release, which has a new score written by Chaplin, as we can tell from a song with vocals, "I'm Bound for Texas". And indeed, Chaplin's Tramp is about to be headed to Texas. He's just gotten out of prison, but not legally, as we see him behind a bush wearing long underwear and holding up a striped convict's uniform, wondering what to do next. We also see a shot of a wanted poster with his image, complete with mustache that for some reason he doesn't shave off.

In the next scene, Chaplin is now at a train depot, dressed in a preacher's vestments. He gets a train tickets to parts unknown to him, but we see that it's one of those towns in old westerns that has one church of the Generic Protestant denomination, and has just hired a new preacher. Before that, however, there's enough time to have a comic sequence of a couple that wants to elope and thinks Chaplin is just the right man of the cloth to perform the service, before the bride's father can show up to stop the wedding.

Chaplin shows up in Devil's Gulch, TX, to a town that's awaiting a preacher who is supposed to arrive on the same day Chaplin shows up. So, it's unsurprising that they think he's the preacher they've hired. You'd think it would be awkward when the second preacher shows up, but fortunately for Chaplin he telegrams to inform them that he's going to be a week late, and Chaplin is able to intercept the telegram.

But there's still the little matter of the townsfolk expecting Chaplin to be a preacher, and Chaplin's escaped prisoner not being particularly Christian. Fake it until you make it, I suppose. After the service, Chaplin gets invited to a parishioner's house for Sunday dinner. Also showing up is another prisoner who knows Chaplin. When that guy finds out there's a large sum of cash in the house, he plans to steal it while pinning the blame on Chaplin, who is, after all, a wanted prisoner.

The Pilgrim is a well-enough made movie, and yet for some reason as I was watching it I couldn't help but think about how I personally prefer Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd to Charlie Chaplin. There's not really anything wrong with The Pilgrim, and yet somehow everything seems just slightly less funny than it really could be. Perhaps it's because the movie is 40-some minutes when it would probably be better off as a two-reeler. But fans of Charlie Chaplin will like The Pilgrim if they haven't seen it before.

Nobody expects Mildred Pierce

Tomorrow is the second Sunday in May, which in the US means that it's Mother's Day; I know that some other countries celebrate it on other days during the year. Unsurprisingly, TCM is marking the day with several movies with classic movie mothers. As you might guess, the lineup has a number of familiar movies that show up year after year in TCM's Mother's Day lineup:

The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with Three Daring Daughters, a Jane Powell musical about her trying to bring her parents back together. Not to be confused with the Deanna Durbin movie Three Smart Girls.
Doris Day moves out to the suburbs with her husband David Niven and kids in Please Don't Eat the Daisies at 8:00 AM.
Eddie Muller is not celebrating motherhood with his Noir Alley selection, Follow Me Quietly at 10:00 AM.
The 1935 version of Edna Ferber's So Big can be seen at 11:15 AM.
Another remake, Pocketful of Miracles, which is an early 1960s version of Lady for a Day, is on at 1:15 PM.
You just knew Mildred Pierce would be scheduled, and sure enough it gets its airing at 3:45 PM.
If you didn't have enough remakes, it's time for another, as the Lana Turner version of Imitation of Life is on at 5:45 PM.
Prime time sees the final two movies of the salute, with I Remember Mama at 8:00 PM and Yours, Mine, and Ours at 10:00 PM.

Looking at the Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Imports lineups, it doesn't look like those are Mother's Day related at all. It also doesn't look as though FXM is doing anything to mark Mother's Day.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Not Disney treacle

I've mentioned the past few days how there are several movies on my DVR that are being reaired on TCM in fairly quick succession. The third of them to get a blog post of its own is the 1942 version of The Jungle Book, which you can see tomorrow, May 11, at 6:00 AM.

This version of the Jungle Book was made by the Korda brothers, who were born in Hungary but left for the UK where they started making a series of highly-regard movies. Then World War II came to Europe, so the brothers left for Hollywood where they set up another version of their independent production company, which would explain the presence of Hollywood character actors in the cast along with the lack of the spelling "colour" in the credits. Anyhow, the movie starts off with an establish shot of a British woman, presumably the wife of either a British colonial governor or Army officer, traveling through India with an Anglified Indian. The two happen upon an elderly storyteller, who will tell you some interesting stories if you just support him by putting coins in his cup....

Flash back some decades, to a village in a jungle part of India. Buldeo (Joseph Calleia) is a prominent local in the village, talking about a big future for the village, together tiwh the town barber (John Qualen, not hiding his usual accent), and a pandit (Frank Puglia). Since the village is in the jungle, they're not far from all sorts of wild animals, and sure enough when a baby wanders off and the baby'd father goes looking for him, a tiger comes and attacks the father. The baby, Mowgli, wanders into a cave where he is protected by a pack of wolves who presumably have a similar fear of the tiger, called Shere Khan.

Mowgli learns how to communicate with the animals, as well as learning all the ways of the jungle and what's safe and what isn't, to an extent that no normal human ever could. But on reaching adolescence, Mowgli (now played by Sabu) goes exploring for himself, and winds up in the village where he had been born and where many of the old locals still live, not that he'd recognize him. In any case, they take him in, and Buldeo's daughter becomes friendly with Mowgli more than anybody else. Indeed, you could call it love, although the movie doesn't really wind up going down that road.

Mowgli takes the girl, Mahala, out into the jungle, where he's safe because he knows the jungle ways, although Mahala obviously doesn't feel safe and who could blame her. But Mowgli knows a place in the jungle that's an overrun ghost town where some wealthy people lived generations ago. They left behind a bunch of gold coins and various jewels, although the snakes tell Mowgli that trying to claim that wealth is going to come with a curse. And not that Mowgli has ever had need of such wealth. The villagers, of course, would want it if they knew of its existence. Mahala isn't going to reveal it, but she does make the mistake of taking one gold coin by which to remember the ruins.

As you might guess, Buldeo finds out, and he, the barber, and the pundit set out to find the village, following Mowgli with the intent of killing him. Mowgli, for his part, is also on a quest to kill Shere Khan to get revenge for the tiger having killed his father. As for the three villagers, well, if you've seen Treasure of the Sierra Madre, you can probably think of the sort of thing that's going to happen to them. Except that those guys were in a relatively deserted area. Buldeo could do a lot more damage by setting the forest on fire.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this version of The Jungle Book came out in 1942, with all the implications that carries. One is that there weren't very many people of Indian descent in Hollywood at the time, which is why you get actors like John Qualen made up to look like they're from the Subcontinet. At the same time, India would have been a far more exotic place in 1942 -- especially in America since the place wasn't our colony -- in the eyes of westerners. So it's a lot easier to imagine audiences overlooking the use of backlots and being able to suspend disblief.

It helps that the story is a pretty good one, and somewhat surprisingly filled with themes of man's greed against Mother Nature, something that transcends race and time. The vivid Technicolor photography also helps, even if there's no location shooting. Granted, there are times when the process photography is apparent. But for the most part the story holds up, without any distracting Disney songs.

This version of The Jungle Book is definitely worth a watch.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Rumble Fish

I mentioned yesterday that I've got two unrelated movies on my DVR that TCM happens to be showing fairly early on May 11, so I'd be blogging about one of them on May 9 and the other on May 10. The first one up is Rumble Fish, which you can see at the midnight between May 10 and May 11 (technically the intro will start just after midnight on May 11 ET, which means that in other time zones it's still late in the evening of May 10).

After some stark black-and-white cityscapes in Tulsa, OK, we go inside a pool hall where a gang of high school friends hang out. The nominal leader of the gang is Rusty James (Matt Dillon), although he's only the leader if you will because he inherited it from his older brother, who had the nickname Motorcycle Boy. Motorcycle Boy left Oklahome some time back to go out to California. Among the friends are Smokey (a young Nicolas Cage), looking like he belongs in one of those 50s juvenile delinquent movies, and the rather nerdy Steve, who looks decidedly out of place although he seems closer to Rusty James than does Smokey.

Rusty James gets word at the pool hall that a member of another band of delinquents wishes to pick a fight with him; the two gangs are to meet at a designated location at 10 PM if Rusty James isn't a coward. Rusty thinks he isn't a coward, but first he has to go see his girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) and have some nookie with her before he can go off for that fight. At first it seems like the fight is going to be your standard issue fistfight, but more like Fight Club than with Marquess of Queensbury rules, unti Rusty James' opponent pulls out a knife. Rusty James gets a board and is more or less able to subdue his opponent until a surprise -- the return of Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). This distracts Rusty James, leading to his getting slashed in the abdomen.

Motorcycle Boy (I don't think his real name is ever given) doesn't really want it known that he's back in town. Meanwhile, Rusty James looks up to him much like the relationship between two brothers in American History X. This time, however, there's a father in the picture (Dennis Hopper) but no mother, although Dad is also an alcoholic, which is why he hasn't been able to keep his kids in check. Rusty James' behavior gets progressively worse, leading to a fight where the gets hit in the head and really ought to have suffered at least a severe concussion if not a fractured skull, although he goes on as if it's only a one-night headache, much like he's gone on from the stabbing.

Motorcycle Boy also returns to petty crime and, being known to the police already, this is bound to have a deleterious effect. Ultimately, he and his brother wind up at a pet store where Motorcycle Boy admires the Siamese fighting fish. He ultimately returns to the pet store to steal a tank of the fish, while at the same time liberating the other animals in a move that horrifies Rusty James since he doesn't want to run that afoul of the law.

There are two big problems that I had with Rumble Fish. One is that the protagonist, Rusty James, is in many ways not a particularly likable character. Once again this is the sort of thing that's a problem in a movie where we're probably supposed to be identifying with him. The even bigger problem for me, however, is how the story felt terribly aimless, as though there's no real plot. And what plot there is felt like it had terrible holes. Notably, how did Rusty James not end up in hospital considering how badly he got hurt? And how did someone like Steve both wind up with a badly wrong crowd and maintain his nerdiness at the same time.

Francis Ford Coppola directed, and the technical aspects of the film, especially the cinematography, are worth noting. I think the fact that it has a "name" director is part of why in the years since it was released it's gained a higher reputation than I would give it. But that's also the reason why you should probably watch and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Flirtation Walk

There are several movies coming up on TCM in the next two or three days that are on my DVR and that I haven't blogged about before. Two of them are part of a double bill of Dick Powell/Ruby Keeler musicals that I think were on the same double bill when I recorded them some months back. The first of those movies is Flirtation Walk, which shows up overnight between May 9 and 10 at 1:45 AM (so that's technically early May 10 in the Eastern time zone, but still May 9 in the Pacific). The second one is Shipmates Forever, but that's not getting a post of its own just yet because I've never been the biggest fan of doing multiple posts on movies from the same person or in a closely similar genre in close succession if I can avoid it. That, and there are two movies overnight between May 10/11 which aren't really related, so one of them gets a post tomorrow, May 9, with the other getting a post on May 10.

Dick Powell plays Dick Dorcy, an enlisted man in the Army who is stationed in Hawaii (this being a dozen years or so before World War II) serving under Sgt. Thornhill (Pat O'Brien). Ruby Keeler plays Kit Fitts, who is the daughter of a general who is only passing through Hawaii on his way to a posting in the Philippines, since that was a US colony at the time. Gen. Fitts is traveling with his daughter, as well as an adjutant, Lt. Biddle (John Eldredge) who also happens to be Kit's boyfriend, something you'd think might be a problem considering Biddle might be serving under his future father-in-law.

Now, since Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler are top billed, you might guess that they're going to get romantically involved, and might just even wind up together in the final reel, although it's going to take several reels for them to get together for that requisite happy ending. The two characters are brought together courtesy of Sgt. Thornhill, who assignes Dorcy to be Miss Fitts' driver while she's on Oahu. Kit wants to see the island, so she orders Dorcy to take her off base to some of the more scenic spots, with the two of them winding up at a luau where it seems Dorcy already knows some of the ethnic Hawaiian locals, even singing "Aloha Oe".

But Dorcy is an enlisted man, and Fitts is not only the daughter of an officer, but a young woman who already has an officer pursuing her. So he doesn't quite understand it when he gets accused of wrongdoing and Kit says she didn't really love Dorcy. Dorcy first thinks about desertion, but ultimately decides that the way to get the respect of people like Kit and Biddle is to become an officer himself. I don't know if they had an Officer Candidates' School back in those days, but in any case Dorcy eschews this, applying to West Point instead!

Dorcy somehow gets accepted, and is good at the military stuff, to the point that by the time senior year comes along, he's considered a leader among men in his class. He's even given the job of writing the class revue for senior spring. But a monkey wrench gets thrown into the works when West Point gets a new commandant: Gen. Fitts! He brings back his daughter, who is still involved with Biddle although they're still not engaged. Nobody else at West Point knows about Dorcy's previous involvment with Miss Pitts, so when the cadets all meet her, everyone else is taken with her while Dorcy feigns complete indifference.

The other cadets, thinking Kit is so charming, decide that they want to break with tradition and include a female part in the revue, with Kit being just the woman for the part. Dorcy, of course, is mortified, and this leads to the complications that eventually get resolved in the standard-issue happy way in the final reel.

Flirtation Walk somehow got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, although that was the first era of having 10 Best Picture nominees before it got cut to five in the early 1940s. Looking through the list of nominees (this was the year It Happened One Night won), it also looks like a fairly weak list of nominees. It's not that Flirtation Walk is bad; it's more that it pales in comparison to Warner Bros.' musicals of the previous year, and feels a lot more like a programmer than a prestige movie. I'm not the biggest fan of Ruby Keeler, but the movie doesn't give her enough to do. Ditto Pat O'Brien, since the movie in many ways seems like two movies grafted together, the Hawaii half and the West Point half.

Still, everybody is more than professional with the material they're given, and nobody really hits a wrong note. So Flirtation Walk winds up being something more than pleasant enough, and certainly entertaining for fans of musicals or romantic dramedies. But there's a reason why Flirtation Walk is less well-known than a lot of other musicals out there.