Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The final night of Norma Shearer

Today sees the final night of TCM's Star of the Month treatment for Norma Shearer, looking at the movies Shearer made after the death of her husband, MGM producer Irving Thalberg.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Marie Antoinette, a movie that I've briefly mentioned a couple of times. MGM spared no expense in trying to make a movie that would give Shearer a triumphant comback, and that shows. The movie runs over two and a half hours and is filled with all the gloss that MGM was known for back then compared to the other studios. Who ever knew the French Revolution could look that good. I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of the movie, mostly because I find it bloated. It's one of those two and a half hour films that could really use some cutting down to get it under two hours, I think.

That's followed at 10:30 PM by The Women, which is unsurprisingly another movie I don't particularly care for. But then again, as a man I'm clearly not in the target demographic for this movie. There's a reason I've never particularly cared for movies like Random Harvest, either, or laughed at inappropriate times during Dark Victory.

I'm going to have to cop to never having seen Idiot's Delight before. That one comes on at 1:00 AM. Not having seen it, there's obviously not much I can say about it.

The only one of the night's movies I've blogged about before is Escape, at 3:00 AM. It's another movie that's interesting, but does show the MGM gloss on the issues of the day, in this case being that the Nazis were putting dissidents in concentration camps. It's the same issue I have with The Mortal Storm.

Norma Shearer's time as Star of the Month concludes with Her Cardboard Lover at 4:45 AM, and We Were Dancing at 6:30 AM.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Annie, Are You OK?

One of the movies currently being rotated through the FXM Retro lineup that I haven't blogged about before is Anne of the Indies. It's on tomorrow at 11:50 AM and again at 9:35 AM Wednesday.

The movie opens with a ship making the Atlantic crossing circa 1700, which is a dangerous undertaking considering that there are pirates afoot. Sure enough, the ship gets waylaid by a pirate ship, specifically one captained by the notorious Captain Providence, whom the autorities have never seen. It turns out that Captain Providence is a woman! (The role is played by Jean Peters.) Captain Providence takes a prisoner, Captain Pierre LaRochelle (Louis Jourdan). However, she takes a liking to him, and he's willing to gain a small measure of freedom by working in her crew. After all, he's French, and his ship was impounded by the English in Jamaica.

Except that it turns out that he's not quite working for Captain Providence. That's just a ruse so that he can get information on the pirate captain for the English authorities, in exchange for which they will release his ship. And that's not the only lie he's keeping from Providence. When he goes ashore in Jamaica to talk to the English authorities, he also goes to see Mrs. LaRochelle (Debra Paget). Wait until Providence finds out about that!

And don't say she wasn't warned. Her first officer is wary of LaRochelle, while her mentor Blackbeard also wonders whether she's falling too much in love with LaRochelle and whether that will ultimately be to the detriment of her and her crew. The answer is that of course it will; Providence isn't a privateer, the sort of pirate who was actually working for a government. In that case, the Production Code could have forgiven her "crimes" which would be presented as part of a war between various countries.

But along the way we get nice Technicolor and a surprisingly harsh climax. When Providence learns the truth about LaRochelle, she decides to take him and his wife, and leave the two of them on an island that has no water or shade. They'll die of thirst, but they're more likely to go mad first. How will LaRochelle get out of that?

Anne of the Indies is a fairly pedestrian movie. It's one that entertains, but it doesn't do anything special. It's nice to look at, but probably won't be particularly memorable that long after you've watched it. But if you do like pirate movies, I think you'll like Anne of the Indies.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Walter Pidgeon at the drive-in

On the TCM schedule today at about 3:45 PM, or just after The Pirate (2:00 PM, 102 min plus an intro and outro from Ben Mankiewicz), is a short called The Management of Metro Twin Drive-In, Chullora, Is Proud to Introduce Mr. Walter Pidgeon.

I haven't seen this particular promo from MGM, but there is a long line during the studio era of the studios making shorts designed with the purpose of having stars promote either new movies or going to this theater in general. One that TCM shows often enough for it to stick in my memory involves the Hardy family coming down to the living room, enjoying their Christmas presents, and thanking the viewers for spending time with them.

Other shorts that TCM has run repeatedly include one announcing the opening of a Loew's picture palace in Cairo Egypt, and all the fabulous movies that MGM is going to be running there, with the movies being late 30s fare about a year behind what was being shown in America. Of course, World War II would have put the kibosh on all of that.

When it comes to the exibitors and not the studios, I'm reminded of the two interesting low-budget shorts This Theater and You and The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theaters. In some ways they're both hilarious to look at over 60 years on, but they're also for their historical value for what the movie theaters tried to think of themselves.

Getting back to Walter Pidgeon, I thought it would be odd to imagine him promoting anything at the drive-in, since he's not the sort of person the teens would have wanted to go see. But then I noticed that the date of this short (1956) is the same year as Forbidden Planet, which I think might just be the sort of movie that people would go to a drive-in to see. At least, it's in the same science fiction vein, although the production values are quite a bit better than what would normally be shown at the drive-in.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

That blogathon of my own

Welcome to those of you visiting from the "What a Character!" blogathon! Having decided to take part in that blogathon, I also finally decided to take one of the ideas I've had running around my brain for a while and turn it into a blogathon of my own. With that in mind, I'm reposting the original information from the first time I put up the "Ego Trip Blogathon" page:

Welcome to the Ego Trip Blogathon, running from January 8-10, 2016!

A year and a half ago, I took part in a blogathon in which the object was to pick each letter of the alphabet and pick one's favorite movie title that began with that particular letter of the alphabet. When I got to the letter I, I noticed that there are a whole lot of movies out that which begin with the pronoun "I", revealing some quality about the movie's protagonist.

So, the "rules" of this blogathon are simple: pick an interesting movie whose title begins with the pronoun "I", and blog about it and why you selected that movie. There are any number of reasons to select a particular movie. First, it could be a movie that you just think is really good. Altertnatively, it can be a movie where the title is just so outrageous that it doesn't matter whether the movie is any good; the title alone makes the movie something worth talking about. Or, it could be a movie that you particularly like but think not enough people know about.

Note that this is about movies whose title begin with the pronoun "I", not the letter "I". So movie titles like It's a Wonderful Life don't qualify. Also anything with initials wouldn't qualify assuming the I initial stands for something other than the pronoun. Movies whose titles begin with a contraction (eg. "I've", "I'll", etc.) are acceptable, as are any foreign-language films whose titles begin with that language's equivalent of the pronoun "I". I can't think of any that fit that last category, but then I'm sure there are people out there who know a lot more about foreign film than I do.

To be a bit honest, the "rules" are a bit more complicated than I outlined above. The full rules:

1. Pick a movie that fits the criteria above, and mention your selection in the comments below. Please mention the name and URL of your blog in your comment. I'd prefer to avoid repeats if at all possible.
2. Blog about that movie the weeked of January 8-10, 2016. You've got almost three months to come up with an idea. Your blog post should include the logo above, either hotlinking to it or copying and storing it on your own site. (The image is small enough that it shouldn't cause me any bandwidth problems with Photobucket, but my desktop is still acting up with Photobucket so I can't actually see the photos I host unless I look at the photos on my mobile phone.)
3. Link to your blogpost once you actually post it in January. I'll be posting a thread in January for you to do that in the comments.
4. Have fun coming up with a movie to blog about and writing the post!

So the blogathon was actually this week

So I posted last Saturday about character actor John Qualen for the What a Character! blogathon. Well, since the blogathon had been scheduled for the weekend of November 14-16, I wrote the post a bit early and scheduled it to post on the 14th.

It turns out that the blogathon was pushed back a week, so that I should have published my post today instead of last Saturday. One of the nice things about the Internet, however, is that the stuff is always archived and it's always easy to put up a hyperlink. The first link above is to my blogathon post, but if you're not certain which link it is, here it is again: What a Character: John Qualen

Friday, November 20, 2015

Batman and Robin heads-up

TCM has been running the late 1940s serial Batman and Robin for the last couple of months. Tomorrow is the finale, although if you've been recording it you'll want to pay close attention to getting the finale.

The episodes have been airing every Saturday morning at 10:00 AM, since they're a little under 20 minutes each. But tomorrow's finale begins at 10:15 AM. That wouldn't be a big deal, except that the final chapter is listed as being 17 minutes, and the next Bowery Boys movie is listed at beginning at 10:30 AM. The Bowery Boys movie, Bowery Bombshell, is listed at 66 minutes, with another short following at 11:45 AM.

The 10:15 starting time for Batman and Robin is, I think, not a mistake either. The previous movie, Seven Seas to Calais starts at 8:30 AM and runs 102 minutes, which puts the ending of that fairly close to the 10:15 AM start time for the Batman and Robin serial.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TCM's Maureen O'Hara tribute

Maureen O'Hara died last month at the age of 95. TCM has put aside its regularly scheduled programming for tomorrow, November 20, in order to air a 24-hour salute to the actress with a dozen of her movies.

The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with Jamaica Inn, from which the above photo is taken. The rest of the schedule includes:
The Deadly Companions at 7:45 AM;
Spencer's Mountain at 9:30 AM;
McClintock! at 11:30 AM;
Battle of the Villa Fiorita at 1:45 PM;
Big Jake at 3:45 PM;
The Wings of Eagles at 5:45 PM;
The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 8:00 PM;
The Quiet Man at 10:15 PM;
At Sword's Point at 12:30 AM;
Sinbad the Sailor at 2:00 AM; and
The Spanish Main at 4:00 AM;

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. night

This past summer during Summer Under the Stars, TCM spent a day with actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Tomorrow evening (November 19), they'll be spending the prime-time lineup with his father, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. I've only mentioned Fairbanks Sr. a couple of times, mostly because his career was in the silents and TCM tends to put its silents in the Silent Sunday Nights block just that once a week.

Fairbanks Sr. was of course the original swashbuckler, long before Errol Flynn. You can catch some of that swashbuckling in The Mark of Zorro at 10:00 PM. I think this is the only one of the night's movies that I've seen in its entirety, having watched it some time back when it was being run as part of some other prime time theme that had a bunch of silents. At that time, the print they showed was excellent for a movie from all the way back in 1920.

I've also seen the beginning of The Thief of Baghdad, which follows at midnight, but that one runs nearly two and a half hours, so I couldn't bring myself to sit down for the whole thing. I think that might have been during its airing as part of the "Arab Images in Film" spotlight back in 2011, when it began at 10:30 PM and I wasn't going to stay up until 1:00 AM. I've got a DVR now, but it's almost full. :-(

Briefs for November 18-19, 2015

Tonight's TCM Spotlight on Southern writers continues at 8:00 PM with Reflections in a Golden Eye. I'm sory to say that this is one of those movies for which I have a profound dislike, probably in no small part because it stars Marlon Brando. Well, that and the yellow filter it was filmed through, which I find makes it even more tedious of a viewing experience. But for all I know, there might be somebody out there who actually likes it.

If you want a better movie from a Southern writer, try In Cold Blood, which follows at 10:00 PM. Southern author Truman Capote gives us a movie not set in the south, but then this one is based on the true story of two young men who killed a Kansas farm family back in the late 1950s.

I thought I had done a brief blog post on Stop, You're Killing Me before; that one's airing at 3:00 PM tomorrow. The reason I was pretty certain of it is because it's a remake of the wonderful Edward G. Robinson comedy A Slight Case of Murder.

I am sorry to say that there don't seem to be any interesting shorts on the TCM schedule right now, with the exception of those airing in the Underground block early on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mischa Auer, 1905-1967

Mischa Auer (standing) with Alice Brady in a scene from My Man Godfrey (1936)

Today marks the birth anniversary of comic actor Mischa Auer. At least, it does according to most sources. Auer was born on this dy in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia, which was still using the Julian calendar at the time, and none of the sources mention whether it's November 17 according to the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar. But in any case, it's today that his birthday gets marked.

The IMDb biography claims that Auer had a pretty interesting childhood, at least in the sense of the old Chinese proverb of "May you live in interesting times". He had already lost his father by the time of the Communist revolution in 1917 just before his 12th birthday, which eventually led to his mother taking him and fleeing the country for Turkey. Eventually he wound up in New York, workign in the Yiddish theater there, which is how he got noticed by Hollywood.

With his looks and accent he was a natural for playing openly Russian or other nebulously Eastern European types. His most famous role, however, gave him the Italian name Carlo, as the protégé of family matriarch Alice Brady in My Man Godfrey. He does, however, get to sing the Russian folk song "Ochi Chernye" during the movie. This is the movie that made him a comic actor. He received an Oscar nomination, which led to producers wanting to use him for his comic value as a daffy Eastern European type. Well, it paid the bills. Perhaps Auer's other best-known role would be as the dance instructor in You Can't Take It With You.

Auer returned to Europe after World War II, so his film career obviously went south after that. But at least we have those wonderful 30s comedies to watch him in.