Sunday, June 30, 2024

King for a Day

A short that was in the time slot for something that I recorded off of TCM was King for a Day. Having watched it and having another brief post lined up for today, it's time for the post on the movie.

Roy Mack directed a ton of shorts for Warner Bros. from the start of the sound era up until about the beginning of World War II, with quite a few of them being musicals. It was also not uncommon for Hollywood studios to make shorts with all-black casts, which I think were mostly for the consumption of that sort of white audience who thought they were progressive and tolerant by going slumming and watching black entertainment like this.

The establishing story involves Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, probably more famous to most people as the subject of that 70s song, playing Bill Green, a dancer who wants to break into black vaudeville. But, the owner of the show won't give him a chance. So Bill gambles against the owner for a stake in the show. Bill wins, and is able to put the musical numbers of his choice on, more or less.

This gives Bill Robinson a chance to shine as we see his high-quality dancing. Unfortunately, there's also a song given to a female singer which is totally wrong for her voice. It's one of those songs that sounds like it wouldn't have been out of place from a musical before 42nd Street, making the singer perform in a high, reedy style that just doesn't fit.

Ninety years on, I suppose it's nice that we have documentation of these performers (all the old vaudeville types), although it would be nice if we could have stuff that better shows off their talent.

Louis Gossett Jr. programming tribute

Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. died at the end of March aged 87. TCM is finally getting around to doing a programming salute to him, which is mildly surprising because a lot of his credits are episodic TV as opposed to movies from the era that TCM shows. Gossett is the sort of person who I think would have been a prime candidate for inclusion in the night in December when TCM highlights a bunch of different people who didn't get a full salute with one movie each.

In any case, TCM's salute is tonight, and with Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Imports being on the schedule, it's just a two-movie salute:

8:00 PM sees Gossett's Oscar-winning role in An Officer and a Gentleman; 10:15 PM is what I think the TCM premiere of the science-fiction movie Enemy Mine.

Now, I happen to like Enemy Mine despite its many flaws, because it's one of those movies that really has its heart in the right place, like Krush Groove or Gleaming the Cube. But it's not really the sort of more recent movie that TCM would normally show.

Looking through Gossett's credits list, I see he was in A Raisin in the Sun, which I have on my DVR but haven't gotten around to watching yet, so I don't recall how big his part is. But TCM shows it often enough. He's high up in the credits of the early 1970s western Skin Game, which got a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you'd think TCM might be able to get access to that one.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Come Fly With Me

Yet another movie that's been on my DVR for a little while that's showing up on TCM again is Come Fly With Me. The next showing is tomorrow, June 30, at 11:45 AM.

The movie opens with a view from a car driving in to what is today Kennedy Airport in New York, but since this was made before everybody went gaga over naming stuff over the dead overrated president, it was still New York International Airport. Polar Atlantic is one of those airlines that flies the international routes at a time when flying was still seen as glamorous and romantic. The current flight to Paris has three stewardesses: Donna Stuart (Dolores Hart, in her final film), Hilda "Bergie" Bergstrom (Lois Nettleton), and in her first flight as a professional, Carol Brewster (Pamela Tiffin).

Brewster being a rookie, she has a tendency to make mistakes, such as barely showing up on time, and then falling for a practical joke from the flight engineer. When the first officer, Ray Winsley (Hugh O'Brian), tells her what happened and helps her return the favor, she immediately falls for him. She obviously doens't have the life experience that longer-term stewardesses have.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the flight, Bergie is dealing with a drunk in tourist class. Standing up for her is another passenger, Walter (Karl Malden), and he's nice enough that Bergie is willing to spend some time with him in Paris before the next flight, especially once she learns how Walter is a widower. Donna sees an Austrian baron, von Elzingen (Karlheinz Böhm) and, thinking he's rich, actually starts pursuing him.

Love doesn't work out quite the way that any of them might think. Carol doesn't realize that Ray has the typical "girl in every port", or at least in Paris. However, that girl in Paris is married to another man, and that other man is ticked off enough to complain to Polar Atlantic's corporate office, which at one point gets Ray demoted to doing cargo flights. Donna and Carol play a mean trick on Bergie, sending her to a place way above her and Walter's financial class for dinner. And as for von Elzingen, he's no longer rich at all, as his old palace has been turned into a museum. He's also working less than legitimately, smuggling diamonds into Europe. Worse, he concocts a scheme to have Donna be an unwitting dupe into bringing some diamonds in from the US. It's a serious violation of the law, and one that threatens to leave Donna in prison.

But from where the movie has been up to ths point, you have to expect that Come Fly With Me is going to have a more or less happy ending. Come Fly With Me is a pleasant enough movie that I can't help but think for audiences in early 1963 provided them with lovely views of Europe in color and wide-screen cinematography that was beyond the means of a lot of them. (Unfortunately, the print looked off in that many of the location shots seemed to have badly faded colors.) The story isn't all that much, but it's not actively bad. It's just more formulaic and dated.

So while Come Fly With Me is definitely not the best movie out there, it's also not terrible, and a relaxing enough way to spend 109 minutes.

Friday, June 28, 2024

What if Paddy Chayefsky wrote the third act of 2001?

Yet another of the movies that I watched because it sounded interesting was Altered States. And then I actually sat down to watch it. Interesting is certainly an accurate word for this one.

The movie was released in 1980, but the opening scenes are set in the late 1960s. Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) and Arthur Rosenberg (Bob Balaban) are a couple of postdoc students studying psychiatry. They've found a disused sensory deprivation tank, and decide to do the great scientific method thing of experimenting upon themselves. Eddie especially spends long periods in the tank. The results are interesting, but inconclusive. One night, at a party, Eddie is introduced to Emily (Blair Brown), a doctoral student herself. The two fall in love and get married.

Fast forward several years. Eddie and Emily are married with two daughters (watch for a very young Drew Barrymore as one of the daughters), but the marriage is falling apart in part because the two don't get to spend that much time together what with all the research they're going out in the field. Edward hears about the Hinchi, an indigenous group in Mexico who still carry out the old rituals, some of which include taking hallucinogenic drugs. Edward is intrigued by this, so goes down to Mexico and wants to participate in one of the rituals.

The ritual includes cutting Edward's hand to include some of his own blood in with the ground roots and whatnot that he's going to be ingesting, and the results are really interesting, as he has a very intense hallucination. Too intense even for the Hinchi, who force him to return to the States, although at least he still has a sample of the potion that the Hinchi prepared for him.

At this point, Edward gets a really wild idea, which is to combine taking that potion with going into the sensory deprivation tank, with his good old friend Arthur montoring his condition. This time, the experiment doesn't go so well, with Edward bleeding, foaming at the mouth, and not able to talk, having had hallucinations that looked a lot like de-evolution. After cleaning Edward up, Arthur has him X-rayed.

The result is shocking: the lab tech, not having any idea that the X-ray was of Edward while he was still under the effects of the experiment, says that the X-ray is of a gorilla, something that seems scientifically impossible to normal human beings. But Edward figures out the thing to do is experiment further, taking more of the drug and spending a longer period in the sensory deprivation tank, which as you might guess threatens to destroy him and everything he holds dear.

As you might have guessed from the title of the blog post, Altered States has a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, and is radically different from everything else he wrote, or at least everything of his I've seen. William Hurt does a good job, although the material really veers into the ridiculous in the second half of the movie. As I said, it's definitely interesting, although the movie may not be a success to everybody because of how crazy it gets.

But because of how interesting it is and how the flaws are fascinating, Altered States is definitely worth a watch even if you wind up not liking it.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Mr. Soft Touch

Another of those movies that I'd seen show up on TCM and one or another of the FAST channels (probably Cinevault Classics since this is a Columbia movie), but never actually got around to watching, is Mr. Soft Touch. TCM ran it last year at Christmas, and it says something about the backlog of movies I've got that I'm only now getting around to doing a post on it.

The movie opens up with a man named Joe Miracle (Glenn Ford) in a car chase. It's Christmastime, and Joe, after escaping over a drawbridge, gives a policeman raising money a $50 bill. This being the late 1940s, it's obvious that Joe has come into a bunch of money, and since he was being chased, it's obvious that he didn't come into that money quite honestly. After escaping from everybody, he makes his way to a Mr. and Mrs. Christopher, who happen to be the brother and sister-in-law of Joe's business partner.

The Christophers are supposed to have bought a ticket on a steamer out of the country, but since it's Christmas, Mr. Christopher is making merry with a bell that's extremely loud -- loud enough for the neighbors to make a noise complaint. Worse for Joe is that the ticket the Christophers got is for a boat that doesn't leave for another 36 hours, although in their defense that was the earliest ticket they could get. A radio announcer tells us how Joe got his money, which is from the club he used to run before World War II. While he was off fighting, the mob took over the club, and Joe wanted his money back.

Meanwhile, the police come to respond to the noise complaint, and think that Joe is actually Mr. Christopher, since the real Mr. Christopher is hiding. Meanwhile, somebody calls looking for Joe, which gives him an idea. He's going to get himself arrested as Mr. Christopher, so that when he gets the sentence of a night in jail for disturbing the peace, that will keep him safe from the mobsters who have been chasing him and presumably figured out where he's hiding.

But there's a catch. When the cops came for the bell-ringer the first time, barging in on the situation is Jennie Jones (Evelyn Keyes). She runs the local settlement house, being a do-gooder trying to solve the social problems of the lower classes. While Joe is on trial hoping to be sentenced, Jennie shows up and gets the judge to remand him to her custody! Will Joe be able to get away from Jennie and the settlement house? Will anybody recognize him? Already on the case in the latter issue is reporter "Early" Byrd (John Ireland).

Mr. Soft Touch is an odd little combination of noirish crime movie mixed with a Christmas movie. It's a tough mix of tones to pull off, but everybody does the best they can with it. They're not always successful, although I think that's more down to the script. At times it's stuck in its weird mash-up of genres, while at other times it gives in too much to clichés. It doesn't take much to guess that Joe and Jennie are going to develop an attraction for each other, as well as that Joe is going to be found just in time for the climax.

Still, the odd genres put together, combined with the presence of Glenn Ford, who is always worth watching, makes Mr. Soft Touch worth at least one watch.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024


Another of the movies that I recorded because the synopsis sounded interesting was Wicked, Wicked Recently, I finally got around to watching it off my DVR. And then, after scheduling the posting, I discovered that TCM is runningit tomorrow, June 27, at 4:15 PM.

A screen at the beginning informs us, "You are about to see a new concept in motion picture technique... Duo-Vision. In this process you will witness simultaneous action through the use of a double screen... an experience that will challenge your imagination." Well, it won't challenge the imagination so much, but that's another story. Duo-Vision, as we see in the opening credits, is a way of splitting the screen in two and showing completely different events in the two halves of the screen. Large portions of the movie are done like this, but there are portions with just one full picture.

The opening credits are set over San Diego's famous Coronado Hotel that was also used as the substitute for the hotel in the Miami Beach area in Some Like It Hot. Some of the shots in the credits are of an organist playing music from Phantom of the Opera, and this music is the score for a good portion of the movie. However, this organist doesn't seem to be integral to the plot. A blonde checks into the hotel, and as she's being brought to her room, we see somebody sharpening knives on the other half of the screen.

That should be fairly obvious foreshadowing. Indeed, as the lady is in her bathroom about to take a shower, a masked bellboy comes into her room... and slashes her! It isn't until the next morning that this young lady's body is discovered.

This is a problem for hotel that has its share of problems. The hotel is in a parlous financial state, and it also wasn't the first, or the last, killing in the hotel. It's up to the hotel detective, Rick Stewart (David Bailey, relatively unknown to me), to figure out who is killing all the blondes.

And then, making things more complicated, is the fact that Stewart's ex-wife Lisa (Tiffany Bolling) is hired on as a singer in the hotel lounge. Thankfully, she's a brunette. But, she also dons a blond wig in her act....

Wicked, Wicked is another of those movies that is objectively terrible. The acting is bad, there are so many red herrings and plot holes that go nowhere, and that organ score is a mess. But Wicked, Wicked is another one that's so bad it winds up becoming a lot of fun just because of what a campy mess it is. It's definitely worth one watch, although because of that Duo-Vision gimmick, watch it on the largest screen you can.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024


Recently I fired up Tubi, and one of the movies it recommended to me was one that I thought had been on the platform early but went away because the rights to show it ran out. That movie was the early Carole Lombard film Virtue, and either it's back, or it never left (or possibly I came across it on one of the other FAST streamers and now it's on a different streamer). In any case, it's there, so I decided to watch it.

There may be a problem with the print Tubi ran in that the first 60 seconds or so after the opening credits only have voice on a black screen, which doesn't seem right considering the subject material. Lombard play Mae, who as the movie starts has just been convicted on a solicitation charge in New York City, along with friends Lil (Mayo Methot) and Gert (Shirley Grey) and a bunch of others. The various prostitutes are given a choice: three months in the female work camp, or a one-way ticket out of New York. Needless to say, those who can take the hint and get out.

Mae makes her way to Danbury, CT, and getting off the train hires a taxi driven by Jimmy (a young Pat O'Brien). She doesn't quite have the money for the fare, but as the two talk, they become sort of friends. Taking the relationship farther than that is a bit off the table however, as Jimmy thinks that having a wife is only going to drag him down and take away money he needs. He's got his eye on running a service station, and has been saving up to put a payment on a half interest in one particular station.

As you might guess, Mae and Jimmy do wind up falling in love, and even tying the knot, although she hasn't yet told him about her past. Jimmy and Mae go on what is presumably going to be a brief honeymoon, but that's to Coney Island. Now, as you might know, Coney Island is in New York City, and Mae is still not supposed to be in the City. Somehow, she's recognized among the throng of people, which to me seemed like a serious plot hole because who really remembers that this is a prostitute who was arrested months ago. It's not like she's got a tramp stamp or anything like that. But when they go to the hotel for the night, there's a cop waiting for her.

Jimmy decides to give her a second chance, and Mae proves to be a surprisingly good wife, saving money out of the allowance that Jimmy gives her on top of the money Jimmy himself has been saving towards buying that service station. But then Gert calls, claiming to be seriously ill and needing $200 for an operation, which she'll repay when she gets the money from her parents. Mae is dumb enough to fall for this, giving the money to her before finding out that Gert has tried this on most of the unmarried cabbies.

Mae learns that Gert has gone to Atlantic City, so she goes and finds her, where she's with her boyfriend/pimp Toots (Jack La Rue), who also happens to be Lil's pimp. Mae walks in just as Toots is strangling Gert because she tried to steal the money back to give to Mae. You can probably guess how the rest of the movie plays out.

Virtue was released in 1932, so is decidedly a pre-Code movie. It was a bit surprising to me to see Carole Lombard at Columbia, as I wondered what she did to get the punishment of being on loan to a much lower studio than Paramount. Pat O'Brien's presence also surprised me, but apparently this was before O'Brien signed on at Warner Bros. The story is not particularly lurid beyond having the main character being a convicted prostitute, although that key plot point could not have been used just two years later.

Lombard unsurprisingly does well with the material, as does O'Brien. Virtue is another of the many, many pictures that doesn't really do anything wrong, although it also doesn't do a whole lot to stand out. But it's most definitely not a bad little movie, and certainly one that's worth a watch, and not just for fans of Carole Lombard.

Monday, June 24, 2024

The Ten Commandments (1923)

Apparently there's such a thing as "Silent Film Day", which was back in September. TCM ran a bunch of silent movies, many of which I hadn't seen before, so I recorded them. I've already posted on Scaramouche and The Pilgrim out of that batch of films. One of the other movies TCM ran that day was Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 version of The Ten Commandments, which surprisingly I hadn't seen until now. With it about to expire from my DVR, I watched it to do a post here.

One of the things I didn't know about this version is that it's really two movies in one. When you think of The Ten Commandments, you probably (like I do) think about the biblical book of Exodus with Moses parting the Red Sea to get the commandments from God on Mount Sinai and all that stuff. It's the entirety of the more famous 1956 movie, if memory serves. In the silent version, it's more of a prologue to a modern-day story, only taking up the first third of the movie.

That said, the "prologue" is pretty spectacular by the standards of 1923. Supposedly DeMille used Technocolor for some of the sequences, although having gone through the print TCM ran, I couldn't find them. I woulnd't be surprised if this is another of those partially Technicolor movies where only the black-and-white elements survived. Presumably you know the whole story of the Biblical exodus, so there's not a whole lot to mention here in terms of plot since the modern-day storyline is enough for a full-length post of its own.

At the beginning of the prologue, there's a quote about how the western world stopped paying heed to the wisdom of the commandments, and that's what brought about the Great War, the movie having been made only about four years after the end of the war. It's high time we got back to a more upright way of living, and DeMille wants to show the consequences of what would happen in the modern day to someone who completely disregards "the LAW".

That someone is Dan McTavish (Rod LaRocque), brother of John (Richard Dix). They're both the sons of the very pious widow Martha. She insists that everybody in her house live by the Commandments, and is frankly bigoted about it. John is the "good" son, trying to live correctly, becoming a carpenter and would-be architect, but not able to make all that much of a living. Dan decides he's going to make it to the top by hook or by crook, although being a man he doesn't have to sleep his way to the top like Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face.

Dan does become rich as a general contractor, but his disregard for "the LAW" bothers his mother. Things get particularly bad when lovely but hungry Mary (Leatrice Joy) steals part of his sandwich. She escpaes, but it's actually into Mrs. McTavish's home. Mary and Dan fall in love, but they make the big mistake of dancing on Sunday (horror of horrors!), causing Mom to throw Dan out of the house. Dan and Mary decide now is a good time to get married.

But Dan can't be bothered to be faithful to Mary, carrying on an affair with the mysterious "Eurasian" (as they called mixed-race Asian/Europeans in those days) woman named Sally (Nita Naldi). At the same time, Dan's company has gotten a contract to build a major cathedral, which Dan thinks will allow him to get back in his mom's good graces. But she still doesn't want his dirty money, so he hires John so that John's money can pay for those good things.

Of course, Dan is putting way too sand into the concrete, trying to cut costs. When John learns about this, he's absolutely horrified and just knows that the building is going to collapse, which is going to lead to a spectacular disaster. Well, not as spectacular as the effects in the prologue, but you know that there's going to be a major disaster in the making. There's also a whole lot of melodrama to come in the characters' personal lives.

Critics of the day gave more mixed views to the latter-day portion of The Ten Commandments, and it's easy to see why. To be honest, it's not bad, but that portion of the movie isn't particularly groundbreaking in any way either the way that the prologue is much more spectacular. In fact, the latter-day plot could have been released on its own, I think, and been a reasonably good and typical silent film. Of course, in that case, it wouldn't be so well remembered. But that second half even on its own would still be worth watching.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Ronny Howard, Mad Scientist

One night each December, TCM honors a bunch of people who weren't necessarily well-enough known, or had enough films, to do a traditional programming tribute. Last year, that included producer/director Bert I. Gordon, who died in March 2023 aged 100. Gordon was known for schlocky but fun low-budget scifi and horror. The movie TCM selected in Gordon's honor was emblematic of this: Village of the Giants.

The movie opens with an establishing sequence of a bunch of teens joyriding out in the middle of nowhere on a rainy night, the sort of scene that gives the impression the this is the sort of movie conceived with the idea of playing to the drive-in crowd where teens would make out. The group is led by Fred (Jeff Bridges in a very early role) and includes three of his male friends (including Mickey Rooney's son Tim), and each of their girlfriends. This being a rainy night, the road is washed out, and the teens, having gone off the road because of the weather, have to walk to town to try to get help.

Meanwhie, in town, Mike (Tommy Kirk) is with his girlfriend Nancy, along with best friend Horsey (Johnny Crawford) and his girlfriend, while kinda-sorta babysitting his kid brother, nicknamed Genius (that's Ron Howard when he was still going by Ronny) because he likes to play with one of those toy chemistry sets that were a bigger thing back in the 1960s than today. Genius acts like he knows what he's doing, although that's not that certain. He creates some new-to-him compound without being quite sure how he did it. Because of the substance's properties, Genius gives it the highly scientific name "Goo".

And then some of the Goo gets spilled and a couple of animals eat it up, with the result that they're subjected to horrendously bad special effects which make them giant animals, because that's one of the most original plot devices known to sci-fi movies.

Fred and his friends show up and find the oversized animals, which gives Fred an idea. He'd like the secret of the stuff, because there's a lot of money to be made in such a substance. Eventually, he and his friends are able to get one of the test tubes which presumably contains the Goo, and abscond with it to the theater where they holed up because they couldn't find any other place to stay.

And then, they do another terribly stupid thing: they decide to experiment on themselves by ingesting the Goo. You can guess what happens, and that, impressed with their new height, decide to take over the village, leading Mike and Horsey to come up with a way to outwit the giants.

Village of the Giants is the sort of movie that is objectively terrible, with a dumb and unoriginal plot, bad acting, and lousy special effects. But it all adds up to turn the movie into one of those films that's so bad it's good. Part of it, I think is the fact that there are a couple of famous people here (Bridges and Howard definitely, along with Crawford if you've seen The Rifleman) in what was decidedly not their finest hour. Part of it is that despite the unoriginality, it's also quite unintentionally funny.

So definitely watch Village of the Giants if you get the chance. The original, not what Mystery Science Theater 3000 did to it.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

And yet it's airing on a Saturday

I mentioned yesterday that I've got another pair of movies showing up on TCM on the same day that are on my DVR and I haven't reviewed yet. The second of those movies is Sunday Bloody Sunday, which comes on tonight at 10:00 PM.

Peter Finch plays Daniel Hirsh, a Jewish doctor in what looks like one of the nicer parts of London. He sees a female patient who is in an unhappy marriage, and the incongruity of a man giving a wife marriage advice is evident. It becomes even more evident when the patient reminds the good doctor that he is in fact single.

Meanwhile, in another fashionable part of London, we meet Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson). She works at an executive employment agency, and is in some ways as lonely as Daniel, despite the fact that she's in a relationship with young artist Bob Elkin (Murray Head). The relationship starts in Alex's apartment, before the two decamp to look after the Hodsons, children of one of Alex's friends.

By this point, you wonder how the two main figures are connected? Dr. Hirsh looks out his window as a sculpture in his back garden, an intriguing sculpture of glass tubes filled with water in various colors that light up and bubble when the electric is turned on. The sculpture was conceived by... Bob, and Daniel calls him up for some maintence on the sculpture. He contacts Bob while Bob is with Alex, which only bothers her more for the fact that she'll be alone for a while, not because Daniel knows about the relationship.

Indeed, after working on the sculpture, Bob goes up to the second floor of Daniel's house and... sleeps with Daniel! Yeah, Daniel is gay and Bob is bi, sleeping with both Alex and Daniel. And as it later transpires, all three parties know about both relationships, and all three seem to be able to deal with it about as well as could be expected. We also discover that Daniels is friends with the Hodsons too and that they're fully aware of the relationships, being broadminded bohemians. (So broadminded, in fact, that two of the kids smoke a joint despite their very young age.)

Of course, the relationships are not going to be smooth sailing by a long shot. Daniel heads out one evening and is accosted by a former lover who is a heroin addict. And when Daniel doesn't want to deal with this guy, he responds by banging on the window of Daniel's car, a sort of blackmail that still existed despite the laws being changed after Dirk Bogarde's Victim. Daniel's and Alex's respective families also both question them about their personal lives, not so much because they know about the threesome, but because they see people not in a permanent relationship who in their view should be. And of course in Daniel's case, this being the early 1970s the presumption is that none of Daniel's family know he's gay.

The bigger snag comes when Bob has an opportunity to go over to the United States and install some of his sculptures for paying customers in America. It's a great opportunity, and as much as he says he'd only be away for a little while, the much more likely outcome is that it would mean the end of his relationships with both Daniel and Alex, even if on amicable terms.

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a well-made movie, with very good performances by both Finch and Jackson. For me, however, the movie had a problem with the script. The characters all left me cold, and at times it felt like the script was hard to follow. It took me a while to get what everybody's relationship with the Hodsons was, and some of the subplots didn't quite make sense to me either.

Sunday Bloody Sunday picked up several Oscar nominations, and watching it it's not hard to see why. But at the same time I can see why other stuff won. Sunday Bloody Sunday feels like a bit of a slog to watch at times, largely because of the emotional distance of the characters.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Out of Africa

Once again, TCM has a pair of movies coming up on the same day tomorrow (June 22), although this time the second one comes on late in the evening so putting up a post early in the morning should give everyone enough time to see the post before the movie. Anyhow, the first of the two is Oscar's Best Picture for 1985, Out of Africa, which TCM is showing at 5:00 PM on June 22.

Out of Africa was a big enough movie that most people probably know the basic bits of the story. Isak Dinesen was the pen name of the Danish writer Karen Blixen, who published a book in the mid-1930s about her experiences in Africa called Out of Africa (no wonder the movie has such an original title). As the movie opens, Blixen (Meryl Streep) is back in her native Denmark, giving narration that is also the opening of the book. Flash back a little over two decades....

Young Karen is a young woman with a reasonable amount of money to her name who is in want of a husband, because being a spinster in the early 1910s just wasn't the thing. She's been connected to a Swedish baron, but when that falls through his younger brother Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) decides to ask for her hand in marriage. The only thing is, he's about to set off for Africa. But the two decide to get married. Karen is going to follow Bror to Africa after he gets set up, and with her money start a dairy farm since land in British East Africa circa 1913 is inexpensive.

Karen gets to Africa, and since the farm isn't near the coast, she has to take the train from Mombasa to Nairobi, where she'll meet up with Bror and then go on to the farm together after getting married. The train makes a whistle stop along the way, where a British big-game hunter, Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), deposits some ivory although he does not board the train. Denys knows about the way of life in Africa, and it's clear that Karen doesn't.

Eventually she reaches Nairobi and finds Bror. The two get married, only for him to reveal that he's decided they should grow coffee instead of dairy cattle. This even though it's questionable whether coffee will grow well in their part of Kenya -- it grows well in other parts, so why not here? This is only the first of several conflicts between Karen and Bror. Karen also has more concern for the local Kikuyu people than most Europeans do. Worst is that Bror must be sleeping with other women, because Karen is diagnosed with syphilis.

In the meantime, Karen likes to oversee all the land she owns and the nearby country. This leads her to another meeting with Denys when a lion approaches as Karen is standing under a tree. Now, if Karen just stands there, she should be OK, but she's scared and wants to run, and wants Denys to shoot the lion. But after the meeting, you know the two are going to fall in love, even though they'll never be able to have a real relationship. World War I and a bunch of other things intervene and, as we know, Karen eventually returns to Denmark since the movie opens with the much older Karen in Denmark.

I mentioned at the beginning that Out of Africa won Best Picture at the Oscars. I have to think it's because 1985 was a fairly weak year for films. Heck, Witness got a Best Picture nomination. I happen to like Witness, but it's most definitely not Best Picture material. Out of Africa is, of course, the sort of epic (161 minute) movie that Oscar loves, and the technical aspects of it are certainly quite worthy of all those nominations.

Streep and Brandauer also both give good performances, and were nominated. Robert Redford, on the other hand, sticks out like a sore thumb. Director Sydney Pollack wanted him on the grounds that there weren't any British actors with suitable charm and young enough to take on the role. (I don't think Hugh Grant or Colin Firth were well enough known yet.) In any case, Redford is all wrong for the part. There are also issues with the script, which moves at an absolutely glacial pace, accounting for that 161-minute running time. But the location cinematography is beautiful.

All in all, Out of Africa is a bit of a mixed bag, but one that ultimately has more pluses than minuses.

Donald Sutherland, 1935-2024

Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, and Donald Sutherland in Ordinary People (1980)

Donald Sutherland, who appeared in a host of excellent movies frim the 1960s onward yet somehow never picked up an Oscar nomination, died yesterday, a month before what would have been his 89th birthday.

There are too many good performances to list them all; one of my favorites is as the father in the Best Picture Oscar-winner from 1980, Ordinary People. Co-stars Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch both bot nominated in the Supporting category, with Hutton winning; Mary Tyler Moore was nominated for Best Actress. But for Sutherland, sadly nothing even though I think he has a more difficult role than either of the other two men.

Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in Klute (1971)

Sutherland also plays the title role in Klute, as the detective who leaves small-town Pennsylvania for New York to investigate the disappearance of one of the locals, only to find prostitute Jane Fonda and some very dark secrets. Once again, Fonda picked up her first Oscar, while Sutherland got nothing.

I think a lot of more casual movie fans will probably remember things like Kelly's Heroes, M*A*S*H, or especially the 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When it comes to more "entertainment" movies than "serious" movies, I think I'd recommend Sutherland opposite Sean Connery in The Great Train Robbery.

Sutherland continued to act on both the big and small screens until very late in life, finally getting an honorary Oscar in 2017, and is of course the father of well-known actor Kiefer Sutherland.

I haven't heard anything about a TCM salute to Sutherland; there are certainly enough movies to do a full-day salute although I don't know how many TCM can easily get the rights to. When to schedule it is another issue as well. There's a lot going on in July, and then August is the annual Summer Under the Stars. But when the salute comes up I'll be doing a full post on it.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Not mine to give, or Our Father's House

Another of those movies that I recorded because the synopsis sounded interesting, even though I had never heard of the movie before I saw it on the TCM schedule, was Where the Lilies Bloom.

The story is narrated by Mary Call Luther (Julie Gholson, who didn't have a movie career other than this as far as I know), the second daughter of Roy Luther (Rance Howard, father of Ron). Roy is a widower living with his four children in the hardscrabble mountains of western North Carolina. They eke out a meager living as subsistence farmers -- well, not even that any more since Roy couldn't afford the taxes on the land and his rival Kiser Pease (Harry Dean Stanton, along with Howard one of the few "names" in the cast) bought the land, making the Luthers effectively sharecroppers and making a little extra money by scrounging for herbs and roots.

Mary Call is the narrator despite being the second child, largely because she's got a good head on her shoulders, as opposed to eldest daughter Devola (Jan Smithers, the one other "name" in the cast, who would go on to WKRP in Cincinnati) who is more of a dreamer. So it's Mary Call that Dad confides in and who is sort of the woman of the house with Mom dead, this despite the fact that she's only middle school aged. Dad tells her that he's getting sicker and doesn't expect to live that much longer and that she's going to have to keep the family together after he dies. The Luther's don't seem to have much in the way of relatives, and Dad doesn't want the kids split up and put into various foster homes, although you have to wonder what's going to happen to a family like this once the kids all grow up.

Anyhow, Dad has one other wish for Mary Call, which is that she keep Devola from marrying Kiser, since Dad sees Kiser as his enemy for having taken the land out from under him. Kiser kinda sorta has his eye on Devola in spite of the age difference, although I get the impression that in Appalachia generations ago (the movie seems contemporary to at least 1969, when the book on which it is based was published), such an age difference wasn't quite as big a deal. Mary Coll agrees, and starts getting ready for when Dad finally dies.

That happens maybe a third of the way into the movie, and much of the rest of the movie deals with Mary Coll trying to keep the outside world from finding out that Dad died, which seems like it would be a pretty hard ruse to keep up, especially by the 1960s. Despite having both Kiser and some other busybodies visit, everybody acts like they don't realize that Roy Luther is actually dead. But you can guess where the movie is going to go.

Where the Lilies Bloom isn't a bad movie, helped by production having been done on location, that being the Wataugh County, NC, where Appalachian State University is located, in the era before it changed the demographics of the region. The production also hired a bunch of locals as extras, which also adds a lot of local flavor.

However, the story does strain credulity, since I find it hard to believe nobody could figure out how Dad had died. It's the same issue Our Mother's House does, although that's mostly a pretty darn good movie. All Mine to Give at least figured out that everybody was going to know the kids were now orphans. Where the Lilies Bloom isn't quite as good as the other two, although the location shooting makes the story worth watching.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Success at Any Price

TCM had a night of Colleen Moore movies some time back. She was a star of the silent era who lasted several years into talkies before retiring and becoming even wealthier through smart investments. One of her final movies was Success at Any Price. Since it sounded interesting, I recorded it and recently got around to watching it.

The movie starts off in late 1927, a half dozen years or so before the picture was released. A headline in a newspaper refers to a gangster named Martin killed in a gangland shooting. He was fabulously wealthy, but had a kid brother Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) who wasn't so wealthy. Joe has a girlfriend Sarah (that's Colleen Moore) who works as a secretary at an advertising agency and is doing reasonably well for on of those working girls who is presumably going to quit the workforce when she gets married and starts a family. Joe wants to get the money, and vows to do whatever it takes, at least legally, to get it.

Sarah's job is working for Merritt (Frank Morgan before he moved to MGM). Merritt takes an interest in Sarah, but it seems more because he's interested in all of the secretaries. Sarah isn't interested in the advances, but is able to get Joe a job with the agency. Joe, meanwhile, grates at what seems to him like the evils of networking: all those men who went to college and were in fraternites are able to use those connections to get ahead in the business world while people like him languish because the college boys look down on them.

Eventually, Joe has a blow-up with Merritt, but Sarah is able to get Joe a second chance. That chance involves coming up with copy not for Wham, but for a cold cream used by the upper classes. ("If you ain't eatin' cold cream" is not exactly winning ad copy.) While Joe is in the office trying to come up with the copy that would save his job, in walks Agnes (Genevieve Tobin), who is Merritt's current mistress. Joe is immediately taken with Agnes, largely because she's the sort of upper-class woman who uses the cold cream Joe is trying to advertise. He gets the job back, and starts to become more successful. Successful enough, in fact, that he can start calling on Agnes, which is a problem when Merritt walks in on him.

And then an establishing shot shows a calendar for 1930. Everybody watching the movie when it was first released would have recognized that this means the stock market crash of 1929 has occurred, and with that, a lot of people are in financial trouble. Among those in trouble are the company, as well as Merritt personally. Joe sees this as a chance to move up in the company, eventually driving Merritt out and even getting Merritt's old girlfriend Agnes. But will he be happy with the newfound success?

Success at Any Price is the sort of movie that was common during the Depression, looking at the business world while also portraying the rich as not necessarily being well off. Some of it is skewering the rich, while sometimes I wonder whether movies like this were trying to send the message to the working classes that they should be happy with what they have because the rich aren't happy either.

Douglas Fairbanks does well, as does Moore, but I can't help but think that this sort of material would have worked better had it been made at Warner Bros., which had the reputation for making social issues movies. Not that Success at Any Price is bad; it's just that it doesn't really rise above the standard for the genre. It's definitely worth one watch, however.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Christmas in the summer

When TCM had their annual Christmas marathon last year, they included a bunch of movis that were only tangentially Christmas movies because there were one or more scenes set at Christmas time. I recorded several of them, and now that I'm up to those movies on my DVR, I'm blogging about them even though it's the height of summer. One of those movies was The Man I Love.

After the opening credits, the camera pans in on The 39 Club, in New York City. It's closed for the evening, but a bunch of the musicians are still in the club, including singer Petey Brown (Ida Lupino). After she sings an old Gershwin standard, the musicians talk about the past, bringing up a pianist named San Thomas, wondering what happened to him.

Meanwhile, Petey has a sister living on the other coast, in Long Beach CA. Petey is tired of the New York life, so she decides she's going to travel out to Los Angeles and spend some time with her sister Sally (Andrea King), especially since Christmas is coming up. Sally works as a waitress, not in a cocktail bar, but in a restaurant run by Nicky Toresca (Robert Alda) as a front. He's also interested in Sally romantically, even though the feeling is not mutual. But he's got a lot of pull, even having gotten her brother Joe a job in one of his places. Sally has another sister besides Petey, as well as a son and a husband who served in World War II but wound up in an Army mental hospital with PTSD or somesuch. So when Petey shows up, she has no idea what she's about to get into.

With that in mind, Petey decides that she's going to stay a while to try to help her kid siblings out. Meanwhile, Joe bring Sally a dress for Christmas. Except that it's actually a gift from Toresca, and Sally clearly doesn't want. Petey's already heard Sally's tale of woe about Toresca, so she decides she's going to figure out what's going on by wearing Sally's dress to Toresca's place, since that will clearly get his attention. She even gets a job at Toresca's place as a nightclub singer.

And then the plot really starts getting melodramatically out of control. Joe gets arrested for fighting, and when Petey goes to bail him out, it turns out that he's been fighting with... San Thomas (Bruce Bennett). And if that's not enough, there's a whole lot more going on, including lots of affairs and one of the characters getting killed.

The Man I Love was based on a novel, and I get the impression that the studio folks who read the novel thought that it would make good material for a movie. But something went wrong, I'd guess with the script, in that there's just way too much here, and the script just keeps piling more and more melodrama on. It's way too much for a 90-minute movie. I suppose I should add here, however, that the movie was originally 96 minutes. Supposedly, the Warner Archive has restored it and made the 96-minute movie available as of this year, but the print TCM showed last Christmas was the 90-minute version.

Ida Lupino tries her best, and is generally good with this sort of material. But even Lupino can't really save The Man I Love.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Nights of Cabiria, the musical

The second movie that TCM is showing on June 18 that I happen to have on my DVR but hadn't yet blogged about is the musical Sweet Charity. It comes on at 5:30 PM on June 18, so now is the time to do the post on it.

Shirley MacLaine stars as Charity Hope Valentine, and as the movie opens we see her singing and dancing her way across Manhattan, briefly pausing to look at wedding rings, and then ending up at one of the bridges in Central Park to meet her boyfriend and soon-to-be fiancé Charlie. Except that the meeting doesn't go as well as planned. Charity may think she loves Charlie, but the feeling isn't quite mutual. Charity has taken all of her money out of her savings account, and Charlie steals her purse, pushing her into the pond below. Naturally, everybody there thinks she's attempted suicide.

Now, Charity ought to be able to give the cops Charlie's name, and one would think she knows where he lives, so the police could pick him up. But Charity seems to want to forget the whole thing, this being simply the latest in a series of bad-luck relationships with men. Charity works as a taxi dancer in an era that I didn't realize still had taxi dancers in places like midtown Manhattan. Her best friends at the dance hall, Nickie (Chita Rivera) and Helene (Paula Kelly), try to give her good advice, but Charity doesn't seem able to take the advice.

Luck may be about to hit her, however. One rainy evening as she's walking in Manhattan, she comes across movie star Vittorio (Ricardo Montalbán) as he's breaking up with his girlfriend Ursula. He offers to take Charity in his limousine back to his place, which is a swanky house in Manhattan that looks like it's would be worth seven figures even back in 1969 when the movie was released. This gives Charity to perform one of the two standards from the musical, "If They Could See Me Now". (How much of a standard it is is that I first learned of the song from Kathie Lee Gifford singing it in commercials for Carnival Cruises.) But Vittorio has a reconciliation with his old girlfriend that spoils everything for Charity.

She decides to leave dancing and get a real job, except that she has no skills whatsoever. As she's leaving the employment agency, she gets trapped in an elevator with Oscar (John McMartin), an actuary. The two fall in love, and the relationship blossoms to the point where they plan to get married, with another big production number at the old dance hall where Charity worked. And they lived happily ever after... or did they?

Sweet Charity was based on a Broadway musical, which in turn was based on the late-1950s Italian movie Nights of Cabiria. Bob Fosse directed and did the choreography for the stage musical, and Universal brought him out to Hollywood to direct the movie. This was Fosse's first foray into film directing, and one thing that he shows here is that he was an oustanding choreographer, as all of the dance numbers are intricate and very well handled.

The bad news, however, is that the rest of the movie is an absolute mess. (To be fair however, I had a lot of difficulty getting through Nights of Cabiria.) There's very little story here, and all of the song and dance numbers stop the movie dead in its tracks, making it feel bloated is it runs to 149 minutes. (TCM's showing tomorrow is from 5:30 to 8:00, so assuming it starts right on time they should be able to fit it in that slot. The recording I have is from Dave Karger's Saturday musical matinee slot, so with his intro and outro it pushed things out to about 152 minutes into the recording and was given a 2:45 slot.) Fosse's direction is not up to the level of his choreography, as he badly misuses the camera for dissolves, already evident in the opening musical number, and scenes where the camera holds on still images for no discernable reason.

It's easy to see why critics panned Sweet Charity, and why it was a box office flop back in 1969. Some people, however, will still be able to find Fosse's choreography and Shirley MacLaine's exuberance enough to make the movie worth their while.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Four Daughters good, seven daughters better?

I've got a bunch of movies on my DVR that I haven't blogged about before but that are coming up soon on TCM. One of them is Raintree County, but that's currently on the schedule for July so I've decided I'm going to blog about it then. But there are two on June 18, which is why the first of them is getting a post already on June 16. That one is Seven Sweethearts, which comes on TCM at 11:30 AM on June 18.

A brief opening includes some doggerel about the Dutch contribution to America, reminding us of the town of Holland, MI, which was founded by Dutch immigrants although as I understand it the demographics have changed significantly since this movie was released in 1942. Then, driving into New Delft, which I guess is supposed to be the stand-in for Holland, is New York photojournalist Henry Taggart (Van Heflin, who had just become a star thanks to his performance in Johnny Eager, although this movie was released before he won the Oscar). He's got an assignment to do a piece on the town's tulip festival, and he's looking for a place to stay.

Unfortunately for him, he winds up talking to somebody who it seems would rather give him the runaround, that being Van Maaster (S.Z. Sakall). Henry first meets Van Maaster sitting in the town square playing his oboe, while other guys in the buildings around the square play the other parts of the piece. It just so happens that Van Maaster owns the local hotel, although he really only advertises it to the people he wants to have stay in the hotel, which seems like a good way to go bankrupt quickly. Fortunately for Henry, Mr. Van Maaster is willing to have him as a guest.

Henry gets shown to his room by one of Van Maaster's daughters, who just happens to have a boy's name, because Dad, wanting a boy, preemptively gave all his kids boys' names before they were born, only for his wife to push out one daughter after another, seven in all. Henry also discovers that this is a rather odd hotel, in that there are guests who haven't paid their bills in months, and all the guests seem as happy as they would be if they were Stepford Guests.

The daughters are all unmarried, because of a family tradition. Even though five of them have boyfriends who anywhere else would be a fiancé already, in the Van Maaster family, the daughters always have to marry in age order. And the oldest daughter, Regina (Marsha Hunt), instead of wanting to get married, wants to go off to New York and become an actress. So she's thrilled that Henry is here, because perhaps he can get her out of town.

It's youngest daughter Billie (Kathryn Grayson), however, who winds up weaving the web around Henry as this magical town grows on him. He and Billie fall in love, although there's a problem in that she doesn't really want to upset the family tradition and get married first. (I also couldn't quite tell how much of an age difference there was between the seven daughters.)

As I watched Seven Sweethearts, I couldn't help but think of the Four Daughters series that Warner Bros. had recently completed. That series worked in part because it was made before World War II came to America, during that latter stages of the Depression when that sort of small-town charm still worked. But also, Four Daughters had a hard edge of drama in no small part thanks to the presence of John Garfield and being done at Warner Bros.

MGM, on the other hand, put Van Heflin into Seven Sweethearts, and seemed to be of the belief that the thing to do with this material was to pour as much of the sentimental gloop as the studio could into the material. Another review I read used the word "cloying", and oh my is Seven Sweethearts nonstop cloy. You wonder why Henry didn't throttle everyone in town on his first day in New Delft.

But then, to make things worse, since they were grooming Kathryn Grayson for stardom, they had to give her a bunch of songs to sing. Her voice doesn't really work for me, and I've always considered her an acquired taste. But her vocal stylings work even less for this sort of movie.

There are going to be people who like Seven Sweethearts. But I'm not one of those people.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Disintegrated Convict

Another of my recent Blu-ray purchases was a 3-disc box set of Vitagraph Comedies, featuring a bunch of one-reelers from the early days of the studio (I think the earliest is from 1907) through to the late days of the studio after World War I. I recently put Disc 1 into the player, and watched both a brief intro about the films and the set, as well as the first of the shorts, The Disintegrated Convict.

The 2024 intro, produced by Kino Classics, includes a couple of the archivists at the Library of Congress who were responsible for cataloguing, restoring, and selecting the shorts seen in this collection, along with some brief comments about things that surprised them, such as they thought some of the shorts labeled as comedies weren't funny at all, and it wasn't just because the material was dated. This intro runs about 13 minutes and while it doesn't provide a whole lot of information, it's certainly a good-enough general introduction.

As for the short I watched, The Disintegrated Convict, since it's only six minutes and change there's not much plot here. A man gets put into a prison cell, where the cops who brought him in hang him by his wrists so that he can't escape, except that they're stupid enough to leave the door to the cell unlocked so that even if he could somehow get down, he could just walk right out. The man does get down, but in a unique way: he "disintegrates" and rematerializes, which is of course handled with crude special effects; unsurprisingly mention is made in the commentaries of Georges Meliès.

After the prisoner escapes, the police chase him Keystone Kops style, except that this is several years before the Keystone series. Each time, the convict "escapes" by morphing into something different, which is a setup for the various effects and sight gags. This being 1907, there's no real resolution since there's not exactly much plot.

There's a new piano score, as well as a second track with commentary from a British film historian, who intelligently pointed out the first thing I noticed, which is that the prison wall had an extremely noticeable Vitagraph logo on it; this was obviously done to try to deter making bootleg copies since film copyright was handled differently in those days. As I understand it, individual images could be copyrighted and deposited with the Library of Congress.

The packaging for this set is similar to that of the Miklos Jancso collection I mentioned recently, in that each disc gets its own spindle, with two of the discs back-to-back on a hinge that turns like a page; the third disk is on the inside of the back, much like a traditional standalone DVD or Blu-ray. No particular rating of the short; it's interesting enough and I assume the shorts here will be of variable quality with different viewers finding some better/funnier than others.

Father's Day is tomorrow

Tomorrow is the third Sunday in June, which here in the US means Father's Day. Just as TCM celebrates Mother's Day with a lineup of movies looking at mothers, so do they celebrate Father's Day -- and you can probably predict some of the movies that show up.

First, however, we should mention the overnight lineup, since it starts with Noir Alley which gets a repeat during the daytime lineup. This one isn't really a fatherhood-related movie, but James Stewart in the pretty darn good Northside 777 at midnight. I'm trying to think of a good fatherhood-themed noir, but nothing quickly is coming to mind. The rest of the night is a sort of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon", as the following movie is another James Stewart film, Vertigo at 2:15 AM. That, in turn, is followed by another Alfred Hitchcock movie, I Confess at 4:30 AM, which I suppose is a different sort of father.

As for the actual Father's Day lineup, it's surprisingly filled with dark movies, more so than the TCM's traditional Mother's Day lineup which doesn't seem to get much darker than Mildred Pierce. The first half of the day is not so bright:
Laurence Olivier having more or less failed as a father in The Entertainer, at 6:15 AM;
Spencer Tracy as another failed father in Edward, My Son, at 8:00 AM, which has the surprising conceit of not actually seeing the son;
The repeat of Call Northside 777 at 10:00 AM; and
James Dean trying to please his father Raymond Massey in East of Eden at 12:15 PM.

The afternoon and even get lighter, with some of the more predictable selections, although the first doesn't show up quite so much:
Daughters Courageous at 2:30 PM, which you could be forgiven for thinking is part of the Warner Bros. series that started with Four Daughters;
A Family Affair, the first of the Andy Hardy movies, at 4:30 PM;
The Courtship of Eddie's Father at 5:45 PM;
Life With Father, the movie we know you were all waiting for on Father's Day, at 8:00 PM; and
Father of the Bride (the 1950 version) at 10:15 PM.

FXM doesn't seem to be doing anything for Father's Day, and mildly humorously has the fun anthology film We're Not Married! at 11:30 AM.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Young Anthony Hopkins

It's only a couple of weeks ago that I blogged about Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day, by which time he was quite famous, it being after his first Oscar win. Back in October for Halloween, TCM aired a much earlier Hopkins movie that I hadn't seen before, which sounded interesting, so I recorded it: Magic. Recently, I finally watched it off my DVR.

Hopkins plays Corky, a struggling magician working the nightclub scene in New York; his British accent is explained away by the fact that his parents emigrated to work the Borscht Belt which is how Corky wound up in America. That Catskills upbringing however does come in as a plot point later in the movie. When we first see him, Corky is nervous and despite doing his mentor Merlin's tricks and doing them well, the show flops because of Corky's nerves and lack of delivery. Merlin tells Corky that he needs a gimmick, so he goes off and gets one.

Fast forward some unspecified amount of time, and Corky is back at that same club we first saw him in, only this time his agent Ben (Burgess Meredith), who knows about Corky's new gimmick, shows up with a network representative in tow. Corky starts doing his routine, which looks a lot like the same one he was doing as the movie opened. And that show seems to be bombing just as badly as the first one. So badly, in fact, that a man starts heckling him from the back of the room.

In fact, that's the gimmick. Corky isn't getting into a double act like Martin and Lewis in The Stooge; in fact, the heckler is a ventriloquist's dummy, named Fats, and the idea that Corky can throw his voice that far is impressive in itself. But Fats serves as the distraction a magician needs for his sleight of hand. Corky also gives Fats the persona of an off-color heckler, injecting humor into the routine. Fats turns the show into a success, enough that the guy from the network wants to offer Corky a pilot.

But there's a catch. One of the clauses in the standard contract is that the person getting the pilot needs to do a physical, and Corky is flatly against that, which he says is from principle, but the way it's all presented foreshadows that there's probably something darker going on. Indeed, we've seen Corky carrying on a conversation with Fats with no one else around. Corky runs away heading back for home, except that all his family are dead and gone.

Corky really has another reason for heading back to the Catskills. When he was in school, he had a crush on lovely Peggy Ann (Ann-Margret), and is looking to see her again, stopping at the motel her parents owned. But it's Peggy who's there, having been given control of the motel when her parents left for Florida. But since the Borscht Belt is dying by this time, the business isn't going well and she lives in a loveless marriage with her husband Duke (Ed Lauter).

At this point, the movie starts getting really dark. The voice of Fats inside Corky's head doesn't go away, and when Corky rekindles his relationship with Peggy, going farther than he did in high school, it's not only Duke who has a problem with it; Corky does as well. Fats senses the danger, and things start to spiral out of control from there....

The old horror anthology trope of a ventriloquist's dummy that seems to take on a life of its own has been done a lot of times, but I don't think it's so common that it's been extended out to a full-length film. Magic does it fairly well, helped by an intelligent way of introducing the premise. That, and fairly good performances, especially from Hopkins and Meredith. Magic, for some reason, has fallen through the cracks, and isn't so well remembered today, which is a bit of a surprise considering the star power of the cast. It's definitely one that deserves better, and deserves a watch.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Angel of Color

Another of the noirs that Eddie Muller selected for Noir Alley that I had never heard of before was the Universal film Black Angel. It sounded interesting, so I recorded it and recently got around to watching it.

After some establishing shots of the Universal back lot substituting for Los Angeles, the camera pans to a window which is one in the apartment of Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). After her maid goes out for the evening, she calls down to the doorman, and tells him that if a certain Martin Blair should come asking to go up and see her, the doorman is most emphatically not to let him up. Sure enough Marty (Dan Duryea) comes into the building, claiming to be married to Mavis. The doorman blocks him, but then soon enough for Marty to see it, anothr man, a Marko (Peter Lorre) shows up looking for Mavis, and the doorman lets him right up.

Marty is so ticked off that he goes off and gets stinking drunk, playing the piano at a local dive bar since he's also a musician. He was in fact married to Mavis, but the drinking is why she's left him. So one of Marty's friends takes him home. While Marty is passed out drunk, also going up to Mavis' apartment is Kirk Bennett. He'd been in a relationship with Mavis despite being married to Catherine (June Vincent), and Mavis was blackmailing him, which would explain why Kirk would go up to see Mavis.

The next thing we know, the cops stop by the Bennett place. Capt. Flood (Broderick Crawford) is looking for Kirk, since he was the last person to see Mavis, at least until the maid returned and found that Mavis was really quite dead, having been murdered. The maid also saw Kirk leaving the building, so it's unsurprising that the police would suspect him of the murder. He's put on trial for it, and found guilty. Catherine, however, still believes that he must be innocent. Or, at least, she's acting like she believes that.

Kirk is eventually found guilty, and Catherine decides she's going to spend the rest of her life, or at least until the day of the execution arrives, trying to clear her husband's name. She goes looking for Blair, since to her it seems obvious that he must have killed the wife who dumped him. At least, until she finds out that Marty was really quite drunk at the time Mavis is believed to have been killed, and that a couple of his friends can corrobrate that. He's willing to help Catherine find out who really did it.

But Marty has ulterior motives, which is that having seen Catherine, he's attracted to her. And this is where the story really gets weird. Catherine was a singer until she married Kirk, and since Marty is a piano player and songwriter, the two team up in order to get Catherine into places like Marko's nightclub, since Marko was in Mavis' apartment after Marty was sent away by the doorman. So in theory Marko could be a suspect too.

Eddie Muller, in his Noir Alley presentation, mentioned that this was based on a story by Cornel Woolrich, which means that you shouldn't always expect the story to be that logical. Having recently watched another Noir Alley movie also based on a Woolrich story that will be the subject of a post in the relatively near future, I can certainly understand Muller's comments about Woolrich. As for who killed Mavis, I won't say, other then to point out that a killer was revealed, since the Production Code probably required that.

Dan Duryea was already known as a smooth villain in noirs; Black Angel was made after The Woman in the Window and Scarlett Street. Duryea is unsurprisingly good here; ditto Lorre although this is a relatively small role for Lorre despite his being so high up in the cast. Black Angel works in spite of the story and is definitely one worth watching.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Allen Smithee

I remember reading many years ago that if a director for some reason didn't want his name on a movie, directing credits would be given to a fictitious director called "Allen Smithee", or some similar spelling, since this was a name no actual director had. It turns out there really aren't all that many movies credited to Allen Smithee, so I was a bit surprised when I watched what was one of the earliest: the western Death of a Gunfighter.

Richard Widmark plays Frank Patch, marshal of Cottonwood, one of those small west Texas towns right on the railway line, circa 1900. The circa 1900 date means that times are beginning to change, as the old west is going and the settled townsfolk are getting more modern. Patch is a man out of his time, as the film opens more or less with him sleeping in one of the jail cells and adolescent Dan comes into check on the marshal.

Later that night, a drunk gets erratic enough that Frank shoots the drunk in self-defense, and that's enough for the town fathers to step up their campaign against Frank. The problem is that Frank had been given a more or less lifetime contract when the town was founded, because he was good at putting down the violence that was stereotypically rampant in Old West towns back in the day. Since the town fathers want to modernize, having a marshal like Frank just won't do. The simplest thing would be to persuade him to retire gracefully, but the editor of the town's newspaper, Oxley (Kent Smith), who would also like to see Frank leave, knows that Frank is never going to give up the job voluntarily.

One other person who doesn't have it in for Frank is Claire Quintana (Lena Horne), the proprietress of the town brothel from back in the days when such towns had brothels. It seems odd for the marshal to have a good relationship with a woman of ill repute, but he does, and it's to the point that he may just ask her to marry him, which seems really shocking for west Texas circa 1900 since it's the wrong kind of interracial marriage. (The movie was released in 1969, but which time the Production Code had been done away with and white/black "miscegenation" was no longer forbidden.)

The town fathers then go searching for Frank to try to convince him to retire, finding him fishing with young Dan. Frank refuses, and when Oxley is more insistent on it, Frank punches Oxley to the ground in full view of Oxley's son. Oxley eventually responds to this by... killing himself. And that really sets the town fathers into trying to provoke Frank into doing something that will let them kill him legally.

I knew about Allen (or Alan on later movies) Smithee being a pseudonym, but I didn't know the full story. In the case of Death of a Gunfighter, there were actually two directors. The first was a TV director whom Widmark didn't particularly like, so Widmark got the director off the job and replaced by better-known film director Don Siegel. Siegel didn't think it was fair to take credit for another man's work, and the DGA eventually reached the compromise that neither director really had directorial control, coming up with a pseudonym directors could use in future under exceptional circumstances.

As for the movie itself, it's not the world's worst movie by any means, although it's also not the greatest. For those who like the sort of western about the changing society, they'll probably enjoy Death of a Gunfighter; for regular people, it might be a bit slow and feeling like not a whole lot is happening.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Luis Buñuel does the Twilight Zone

Some months back, one of the TCM Imports movies was Luis Buñuel's movie The Exterminating Angel. Since the plot synopsis sounded interesting and didn't mention Buñuel by name, I decided to record it and have a go.

The movie opens up with an establishing shot of a Calle de la Providencia, presumably in Mexico City although I don't think any specific location is given, and one of the mansions on the street. As the movie opens, one of the servants is leaving the house, basically quitting his job, for unstated reasons. A couple of the other servants also feel ill at ease, although they don't quite know why.

The servants are supposed to be preparing dinner for their bosses and a bunch of well-to-do guests, but it's a shockingly late dinner, past 11:00 PM. (Granted, I work the early shift so I eat on Old People's Time, but 11:00 seems way too late for anybody, except possibly people who work a weird shift that doesnt let them eat a big main meal beforehand.) The guests have the sort of conversation you'd expect at such a dinner party, and retire to the salon where one of the guets plays baroque music on the piano.

After that, it's time to leave... except that for some reason, nobody does leave. Not only do they not go home, they all decide to sleep in the salon, no guest rooms for anybody. And when they wake up, everybody feels as though they can't leave for some reason nobody's able to state. They can't even go to the kitchen to get food and water, much less get out of the house. Obviously, if things go on like this, they'll starve to death.

Meanwhile, outside, the authorities realize something strange is going on after nobody leaves the house for a couple of days. Not only that, but they're not able to have contact with anybody inside the house. You'd think they could just walk in but, sort of like in Village of the Damned, there's a sort of invisible cordon that nobody is able to get past that prevents them from entering the house.

Conditions start to deteriorate inside the house what with the lack of food. (Never mind that nobody mentions the bathroom, unless there was one just off the salon that they were able to use.) They also have ever more absurd thoughts and hallucinations. Will anybody be able to get out alive? And just what is going on, really?

As The Exterminating Angel went on, I found myself liking it less and less. Then I had the inspiration of comparing it to an episode of The Twilight Zone, hoping that would get me to like the movie. But no luck. First, none of the characters here are particularly interesting and they don't have any sort of back story to flesh things out. That, and episodes of The Twilight Zone resolved themselves in a half hour minus commercials. The Exterminating Angel goes on for over 90. It doesn't work, as much as some peopel may want it to simply because of the stellar reputation Luis Buñuel has.

I suppose if you like arthouse stuff that the goodthinkful critics praise, then you'll like The Exterminating Angel. But it wasn't my thing at all.

Monday, June 10, 2024

The original platinum blonde

Actress Jean Harlow is fairly well-known as a platinum blonde bombshell. I blogged about her movie Bombshell back in 2014, but she also made a movie called Platinum Blonde, early in her career before she went over to MGM. Indeed, Harlow is only billed third here. TCM ran it a few months back, and not having seen it before, I decided to record it.

The actress getting top billing here is Loretta Young, even though hers isn't the biggest character in the story. Young plays Gallagher, a columnist at the Post, where she works with star reporter Stew Smith (tragic Robert Williams). Smith gets called into the editor's office to tell him to get a big story. The Schuylers are one of those wealthy families out on Long Island who don't want any sort of scandal. But they've got a son who's made a big mistake by getting involved with a chorus girl and writing a bunch of love letters to her. She's threatening to sue, and rumor has it Mrs. Schuyler's (Louise Closser Hale) lawyer has paid a substantial sum to get those letters back. Stew should go to the Schuyler mansion to find out whether the rumors are in fact true.

This is where we meet Jean Harlow. She plays Ann Schuyler, the kid sister to Michael, the brother with the dalliances, although he's a rather minor character in this whole thing. Ann is completely innocent in this whole scandal, and it certainly wouldn't do to harm her by printing the story. A reporter from a rival paper shows up at the same time as Smith, and the lawyer bribes both of them not to print the story. Or attempts to; the rival reporter takes the bribe but not Smith. This is where Ann implores him not to hurt her by printing the story. However, he does so anyway.

The next day, at a speakeasy, we see Stew bragging to Gallagher about how he got the story, and about how he's going to go back to the Schuyler mansion to see Ann because he's fallen in love with her. He has an excuse to go back, having taken a book from the Schuyler library, but unsurprisingly Ann would rather not have anything to do with Stew. We also see here that Gallagher has the hots for Stew, but has never been able to tell him.

Stew has another reason for wanting to see the Schuylers. He was able to obtain the letters the chorus girls had, and is willing to sell them back to the Schuylers. That gets Ann to perk up her ears. When she fixes lunch for him, the two start to develop feelings for each other despite the previous rancor between them.

Logically, however, we know that Stew and Ann aren't really right for each other. Either that, or Ann isn't really right for her social class. But we've got a fairly long way to go before finding out which resolution we're going to get.

Platinum Blonde is an interesting if imperfect movie. A lot of people have suggested that Young and Harlow are miscast here and should have been given each other's roles. In many ways that makes some sense, but I don't know if the filmgoing public or the studios had realized yet just what they had in Harlow. Put her in a wisecracking journalist (think Torchy Blane) role here, and she'd be great. Young is made to be too muted and wasn't suited to the brassy nature that works best here. Likewise, Harlow isn't really the stodgy heiress, something Young could have done in her sleep.

As for Williams, he does very well as the star of the proceedings. Sadly, he suffered a ruptured appendix a few days after the movie's release and that killed him. Who knows what he would have been able to bring to the screen had he survived. Direction is by Frank Capra (including middle initial, apparently not famous enough to be the one and only Frank Capra), and the movie certainly has his touches evident.

Despite some flaws, Platinum Blonde is a lot of fun and one not to be missed.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Irma the Sweet

TCM ran a night of Shirley MacLaine's films not too long ago. One of the films they ran then but that I hadn't posted on before is coming up again: Irma La Douce, tomorrow (June 10) at noon.

A narrator (apparently an uncredited Louis Jourdan) tells us about a particular working-class section of Paris that's up all night as opposed to some of the more well-to-do parts; the reason it never sleeps is because, well, the women there sleep for money. (OK. Sorry for the terrible pun.) Intersperesed throughout the opening credits is one such prostitute, Irma (Shirley MacLaine), whom we see giving different clients different reasons on why she became a prostitute.

The prostitutes are able to ply their trade mostly because the cop that patrols the beat looks the other way. Well, at least he looks the other way for a price, being on the take. He goes to the café run by Moustache (Lou Jacobi), where a lot of the prostitutes and their pimps, including Irma's pimp Hippolyte, gather; it's there that the cop gets his bribes paid. At least, until the police commanders go through the regular schedule of assigning rookie cops to their beats.

Nestor (Jack Lemmon) has been assigned to this particular part of Paris, and he's a decidedly honest cop. But one who's also a bit of a naïf, as he seems to believe Irma's excuses when he asks her about what she does. When he figures out what the women do, he has a whole bunch of them arrested and taken down to the station. Things don't go quite the way Nestor expects, however, as somebody higher up apparently wants to use the prostitutes as a safety valve. Nestor gets framed for bribery and summarily fired.

And yet, Nestor decides he's going to return to the neighborhood where everything went wrong. Then, in a wacky twist, he becomes friens with Irma, and tries to "save" her from her pimp. He does, but at a price of becoming a kept man. He moves in with Irma, but she insists that it's unbecoming for a prostitute not to be able to support herself, or even the man she's with. She very much believes that Nestor shouldn't have a job.

So Nestor comes up with a bizarre scheme of his own. He'll take an overnight job at the butcher's market, while also coming up with an alter ego, the British "Lord X". As Lord X, he'll become the sole client of Irma, with the money he makes at the meat market going to pay for Lord X's dalliances with Irma. Of course, Hippolyte is still in the background, and Irma wonders why Nestor is always so tired. And Nestor has not yet thought of a way to end this scheme. The way he picks, however, doesn't quite work....

It's a wonder how director Billy Wilder was able to get Irma La Douce made, since the Production Code was still in effect, even though it was beginning to weaken. It's based on a French stage musical, and you can see why Wilder would have liked the material, although the songs were more or less excised from the movie. (My understanding is that composer André Previn's musical themes here are based on the songs from the musical, but there's no singing of note.)

However, Irma La Douce is a bit of a one-joke movie, and unlike Some Like It Hot where the joke is only stretched to two hours, and the joke doesn't really begin until a good 20-30 minutes in, Irma La Douce runs over 140 minutes and the joke gets staler much more quickly. It also doesn't help that both Lemmon and MacLaine seem a bit miscast here. They both try hard and are definitely professional, but I'm sorry to say that Irma La Douce is not one of Billy Wilder's greatest movies.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Touched by a Mink

Many years back, well before I started the blog, I saw the Cary Grant/Doris Day romantic comedy That Touch of Mink. I never got to blog about it, so when Cary Grant was TCM's Star of the Month and they got the rights to show it, I recorded it in order that I could finally watch it again to do a blog post on it.

Under the opening credits, we get to meet both Grant and Day's characters. Grant is Philip Shayne, an executive who rides through Manhattan in a chauffeured limousine. Day plays Cathy Timberlake, an unemployed computer operator in the days when computers meant punch-card programming and a device that took up a whole room. As she's on her way to the unemployment office, Philip's limousine accidentally drives through a puddle, splasing it all over Cathy and ruining her outfit. He wants to make it up to her, so sends his executive assistant Roger (Gig Young) out to try to find her.

Cathy, meanwhile, is facing trouble at the unemployment office, as the man in charge of her case, Beasley (John Astin) keeps putting the moves on her, which is thoroughly unprofessional and should have gotten him fired even in those days, let alone today. She lives with her best friend Connie (Audrey Meadows), who works at the Automat across the street from Shayne's office. So it's only natural that Shayne is going to see Cathy on the street and get Roger to talk to her.

Both of them would like to show Philip what-for, so Roger brings Cathy up to the office. However, Cathy is so totally taken by Philip that it's love at first sight for her. And it's similarly love at first sight for Philip. And since he's fabulously wealthy, he's able to take Cathy all over the place and do things that no mere mortal could do, like get Cathy into the dugout at a Yankees baseball game, which is an excuse for cameos for a couple of the Yankees' stars of the day.

But it's fairly quickly that Cathy realizes the relationship is getting serious, which means the possibility of sex -- and sex outside of marriage is a somewhat controversial thing for the early 1960s. Cathy is beginning to think she'd rather be married. At the same time, Cathy and Philip's friends are having misunderstandings of their own, with Connie still wondering whether Philip is taking advantage of her, while Roger seeing an analyst who completely gets the situation wrong.

Cathy finally comes to the conclusion that she's going to have to force the issue. She goes back to Beasley, and gets him to take her out in such a way that Philip will absolutely find out and do whatever it takes to win her back, leading to a climax that is madcap and more reminiscent of the old screwball comedies, with an ending that satisfies the Production Code.

That Touch of Mink is a physically pretty movie to watch, with lovely color showing off early 1960s design as it actually was (more or less), and not the idealized view people today have of the Kennedy era. As for the story, it feels really dated, and I hate to say that both Cary Grant and Doris Day are much too old for their roles. They do the best they can, and they're both still appealing as actors, but at times I can't help but want to reach through the screen and smack the writers.

But the appeal of Grant and Day makes That Touch of Mink a passable enough movie with flaws that some people are going to find easier to overlook than I did.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Woman Chases Man

Recently, while browsing through the Roku Channel (I really hate that name, since there's a bunch of channels in addition to all the streaming stuff) app, I was alerted to a new-to-me movie that sounded interesting, with a cast including several old stars whose movies I tend to enjoy, so I watched it. That movie was Woman Chases Man.

Kenneth Nolan (Joel McCrea) is a wealthy young man on a transatlantic liner coming home from Europe, about to surprise his fahter B.J. (Charles Winninger) when he gets home with the news that he's about to pop the question to Nina (Leona Maricle, and if you haven't heard that name before that might be a sign as to which character Kenneth will wind up with in the final reel) Tennyson. However, Dad surprises him first, with a collect radio call to the liner (in the days when this sort of thing would have been monstrously expensive) asking for money. However, Kenneth has heard it before.

Meanwhile, waiting outside B.J.'s office are a bunch of process servers. B.J. is no longer rich; his late wife had half of the couple's money, and when she died, she made certain the son got half of it so he'd have something to start on and so that B.J. wouldn't spend it all. B.J. isn't a bad guy; it's just that he has a habit of picking hare-brained inventions that won't work in real life and wind up costing him a bunch of money. The latest scheme, at least, doesn't sound so bad: a property development of planned houses for the lower social classes, to be called Nolan Heights. But he needs $100,000 to keep the creditors at bay.

Not knowing this is Virginia Travis (Miriam Hopkins). She goes to the building here B.J.'s office is along with a letter of introduction telling Nolan that she's an architect who would be good for the Nolan Heights project. Not that she has any clue that Nolan doesn't have the money to hire her, or anybody else, on. However, her moxie is able to drive the process servers away so the elder Nolan is going to see her. She faints, being in as bad a financial state as B.J. is and not having eaten in two days.

All this gives Dad an idea. Virginia should use her feminine wiles on Kenneth to get him to propose to her, or at least to sign a check for that $100,000 that Dad needs. That latter isn't going to be so easy, since as I said earlier Kenneth has seen all of the schemes up close and seen his father fritter away his money. Kenneth isn't about to let him blow the other half of the money that Mom had when she died. The former -- getting Kenneth to fall in love -- isn't going to be easy either, since as we know Kenneth is bring his girlfriend home with him.

Except that we eventually learn Nina isn't wealthy, and the "Uncle" Henri she's traveling with is really her boyfriend. She's just a gold-digger. And, since we know who the two leads are, we know where it's all going to go. As is so often the case with a movie like Woman Chases Man, the movie is more about how the characters get where we all know they're going.

Unfortunately, Woman Chases Man is one of the weaker screwball comedies I've seen. The situations are even phonier than in most screwball comedies, and the characters are almost all people it's hard to have sympathy with, the possible exception being Kenneth. But even he does a 180 just in time for the final reel. Of note, as a friend of Virginia's pressed into service as a butler, is a young Broderick Crawford.

Woman Chases Man isn't a particularly good movie. But at least it's mercifully short. And the print Roku showed had relatively few commercials -- I think 8½ minutes for a 70-minute movie. Traditional cable channels would probably have had 20 minutes.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Cornelius Ryan

Today is June 6, which is of course the anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, and this year it's an exact number of decades. So TCM is running a day full of films about the invasion. One that was sitting on my DVR was The Longest Day, airing at 11:00 PM. So with that in mind I watched it to do a post in conjunction with tonight's showing.

The Longest Day is based upon the book by military historian Cornelius Ryan, a man who wrote sprawling epics trying to cover World War II battles from a multitude of angles, his other famous book turned into a movie being A Bridge Too Far (that one is also on my DVR because it has former Star of the Month Dirk Bogarde in the cast). But Ryan's books tried to present things in as factual a way as possible; they're not historical or military fiction.

As a result, the film version of The Longest Day is also mostly a docudrama on an extremely grand scale. A very large cast (named only at the end) portrays the invasion from the point of view of the Americans, British, French, and the Germans. In fact, it starts off a few days or weeks before the invasion. The Nazis knew full well that the Allies were going to be invading on the western front, although the key question was where. The most obvious place to invade would be across the Pas-de-Calais/Strait of Dover as that's the closest point on the Continent to England. With that in mind, the Allies knew that this was also going to be the most heavily fortified area, which is why they thought about invading somewhere farther west despite the English Channel being wider there.

The preparations for the invasion were meticulous and complicated. Soldiers were getting antsy having to sit around in the UK and wait. But at the same time, there was the question of whether to invade in bad weather; rough seas seems like a major no-no for an amphibious invasion and the Nazis knew this. Indeed the Nazis as portrayed here all seemed surprised that the Allies hadn't invaded in May.

Additionally, the invasion is personalized somewhat by having some of the smaller parts of the invasion focused on, such as the need to take and hold a particular bridge or how paratroopers were dropped in on the night between June 5 and 6 before the beach landings at dawn. And then when the landing does come, the Americans under Brig. Gen. Cota (Robert Mitchum) get bogged down on Omaha; it's vital that they break through for the invasion as a whole to succeed.

As we know from history, the invasion did succeed. But does the movie succeed? For the most part, I'd say yes. The screenplay does a good job of explaining everything that's going on without being too dry or didactic. Not having opening credits apart from one title card showing the title of the picture is also a big plus; there are so many big-name actors here that looking for them all from the credits would be a bit distracting. Coming off best is probably John Wayne, who I think has the biggest role as a commander of paratroopers. The wordless look of horror on his face when he sees those paratroopers who died because they were off course and parachuted right into town says more than any dialogue (and John Wayne's delivery isn't the most helpful in that regard) does.

Others who have smaller roles are Henry Fonda and Edmond O'Brien as American generals; Richard Burton as an RAF man; Curd Jürgens as a German chief of staff; and many many more. A lot of the Americans only get one or two scenes, while there are fewer Germans so all those actors get more screen time.

Where The Longest Day doesn't always work, however, is in the pacing. The subject is sprawling, and there's not really enough done either with the subplots or anything to narrow it down. The result is that of a relentless slowness. I understand that the invasion itself took a long time, but cinematically it feels like a whole lot of the same thing happening and not ending, especially once we hit June 6.

Overall, however, The Longest Day is a very well-made movie and one that, if you haven't seen before, you really should.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

King of Hockey

For those of you who are ice hockey fans, the Stanley Cup finals are coming up soon. With that in mind, I watched the movie King of Hockey.

The Violets are the champions of one of the minor leagues, since Warner Bros. couldn't use the NHL and the league didn't have much popularity outside of Canada anyway. So the Violets are barnstorming in the offseason to make money, taking their talents to one of the colleges that is rather a surprise to have a hockey team at all since Warner Bros. probably filmed a building in Los Angeles, if not something on the backlot, that looks like it has the sort of tree not suitable for a school with long winters.

Anyhow, the star of the college hockey team is Gabby Dugan (Dick Purcell), playing in what he thinks is his final game since he's planning to hang up his skates after college and make the real money selling bonds, something that very obviously dates this movie if you couldn't figure that out already. It being the mid-1930s and there still being a Depression on, lots of 20-something men thought they too could sell bonds, so Gabby isn't able to get him a good job. That makes him go crawling back to Trotter (Joseph Crehan), coach of Violets, looking for that job that Trotter had suggested was open.

Gabby rooms with Jumbo (Wayne Morris), and on their day off from the team, they decide to go to a commercial ice rink, because Jumbo knows that's where a hockey player meets the classy women. Jumbo meets young Peggy "Princess" O'Rourke, there taking skating lessons and escorted by her adult sister Kathleen (Anne Nagel). Gabby meets Kathleen and for him it's love at first sight, although for her it's just a nice day out and fun to meet a hockey player, but that's the end of it. At least until Peggy suggests the family go see a hockey game since none of them have ever done so before.

Meanwhile, professional gambler Nick Torga (George Stone) has been betting on hockey, and losing by betting against Gabby. He gets the brilliant idea to have Gabby, if not throw games, at least do the hockey equivalent of basketball point-shaving and take penalties that will keep him off the ice. Gabby sees Kathleen sitting behind the penalty box, so he decides he will in fact take an inordinate number of penalties so he can hit on her, not because of anything Nick wanted. But Nick sees the penalties and expects Gabby to keep doing Nick's business.

Jumbo is no dummy, and since he knows Gabby talked to Torga, he thinks Gabby is on the take too. Jumbo is ticked, and gets in a fight with Gabby that concusses Gabby and affects his eyesight. This combined with the dalliances with a professional gambler get Gabby kicked off the team, after which he goes blind. Except that it's one of those forms of movie blindness that can be totally cured, if only the victim gets "an operation".

King of Hockey is one of those ultra-B movies under an hour long. So there's not much of a story here, at least not much original. And not exactly a stellar cast, either. It's all fairly dumb stuff, but at the same time a fairly good example of the genre of movies even more B than the studio stuff that ran in the 60-70 minute range. And at least Wayne Morris got to go on to supporting roles in A movies.