Monday, August 21, 2017

Oh that solar eclipse

If you're in America, then you've undoubtedly heard the news that there's going to be a total solar eclipse across a swathe of the country this morning or afternoon depending on your time zone. I don't get totality; maybe 60% up here in the Catskills.

But of course it made me start thinking about eclipses in the movies. Using IMDb's keyword search isn't perfct, because it fails to get a lot of movies. There weren't that many classic movies I could think of, though. The first that came to mind was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. I knew that the original Twain story had a key scene of a guy from the present day remembering there would be an eclipse (how convenient) I haven't actually seen the Bing Crosby movie, but apparently the eclipse is in that one, at least according to the keywords and an internet search.

Another movie that does have a solar eclipse but which didn't make it into the IMDb keyword search is Out to Sea, the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau movie from about 20 years ago. Of course, they get the astronomy wrong, since the movie also includes a scene with a full moon. A solar eclipse can only take place at new moon, so about two weeks after the full moon, and the cruise in the movie wasn't that long.

And then there's the stuff you never even knew about. Gotta love Georges Meliès, who did a 1907 film called The Eclipse. Since it's in the public domain, it's available in several prints on Youtube. This one is a bit blurry, but the few intertitles are in English:

Note that the English word "planet" comes from an ancient Greek word for "wanderer", since the planets in the sky didn't move in nice circles around the sky the way the stars did, which would explain "the wandering stars". The French term for "meteor shower" doesn't use a French word for bath, at least according to Wikipedia, so the celestial bath card is a bit odd. And of course there's really not a whole lot happening on earth in this one. I also note that this is five years after A Voyage to the Moon, but Meliès doesn't seem to have advanced much technically.

(NB: L'Éclisse is not French for "the eclipse".)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jerry Lewis, 1926-2017

Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960)

The death has been announced of actor Jerry Lewis, who died this morning at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 91.

Lewis is known for a lot, which is unsurprising considering his career lasted close to seven decades. The first big thing was the pairing with Dean Martin that led to a series of comedic films in the 1950s until their acrimonious breakup. Lewis continued to act in zany comedies such as the pictured The Bellboy as well as The Nutty Professor.

But of course, he also became the spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, hosting their annual Labor Day telethon which ran for decades, lasting 21 hours from Sunday night through the dinner hour on Monday. I think it was only after Lewis was let go that they started to truncate the broadcast since telethons are really part of another era; a few years ago the telethon was finally discontinued. But for those of us born after Lewis' string of comedic successes, it's probably with the Labor Day telethon that we first remember him. (And he was famously reunited with Dean Martin on the telethon.)

Of course, Lewis continued to act, with one of his memorable turns being as a late-night talk show host who gets kidnapped by Robert de Niro in The King of Comedy.

I don't know if TCM has planned a tribute, and to be honest it might be a bit tough considering that a lot of the movies he made were at Paramount. And besides, I doubt they've had time to announce it considering how recent the news is.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Stuck in Massachusetts

I'm stuck in Massachusetts at a wedding, so I decided to watch the Traveltalks short Visiting Massachusetts off my DVD set of Traveltalks, Vol. 2 to put up over the weekend.

James A. FitzPatrick visited Massachusetts without spending a single minute in Boston. Instead, he spends most of his time on Cape Cod, as well as visiting the buildings in Sudbury that Henry Ford helped restore, and Clara Barton's birthplace in Oxford, which is just west of Worcester and about as far west as FitzPatrick goes, I believe. (My sister lived in a place one or two towns north of Oxford, so I know right where that is, but my knowledge of the other smaller towns in the state is relatively off.)

Of course, there's all the usual stuff here, like photos of people doing their stuff with FitzPatrick's commentary, like the town crier or the lady who does glass art. Provincetown is interesting since this is before it became known as a haven for gays. There's one amusing scene of a whole bunch of artists painting the same subject. And there's also the beach accommodations:

This is a screenshot directly from the DVD, and I think it shows fairly well the quality of the prints that the Traveltalks shorts have. The blues are very blue, but I've never really found the other colors to be particularly vibrant, and that's not just because this particular scene is blue what with the ocean and the sky.

I've always loved the Traveltalks shorts, and even though you know what you're going to get, they're always worth a watch.

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2017

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2017

I mentioned a week or so ago that Dell on Movies and KG's Movie Rants are co-hosting the Against the Crowd blogathon. The point is to pick a movie that everybody loves but you hate, and one that everybody hates but you love. I've decided to put up an entry this year because it falls on a weekend where I need some potted posts to cover being away.

First up, the movie everybody else loves that I can't stand: Being There (1979). Peter Sellers plays Chauncey, a simpleton who works for a rich guy as a gardener, but the old guy dies, and stupidly never thought of taking care of Chauncey in his will. So poor Chauncey is thrown out of the only home he's ever known (where the hell did his salary go), only to be picked up by a wealthy political family. Chauncey learned a lot of vapid slogans from watching TV, and the politicians are captivated by this shit. It's all complete detached from reality, and incredibly aggravating. How could anybody believe Chauncey? I hated this so much I had extreme difficulty making it all the way through the movie.

Then there's the movie that has a low rating that I really liked: Night of the Lepus (1972). Of course, Night of the Lepus is more one of those movies that's "so bad it's good", except that it's not nearly that bad. Rabbits are a pest in the southwest, and the ranchers want something done about it in a way that won't ultimately poison their livestock. Scientists try some sort of hormone-based experiment, but the scientists' idiot daughter released one of the bunnies before it could be determined that the experiment would have been a failure. What happens is that that one bunny becomes supersized and passes this trait on to all the other rabbits, who turn on the humans. What makes the movie so bad is the footage whenever the rabbits go on a rampage. It's set against miniatures, incredibly slowed down, and set to an overpowering score. It's all so dumb that it winds up being hilariously funny.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Belle of the Nineties

I mentioned a few months back that I picked up a cheap box set of Mae West movies, and have done posts on a couple of films in the set. Recently, I watched Belle of the Nineties off it.

The plot here has Mae as Ruby, the burlesque queen of St. Louis in the 1890s. She could have every man eating out of the palm of her hand, but is in love with Tiger (Roger Pryor), a boxer who's hoping for a chance at the title. Things happen and Ruby winds up decamping for New Orleans.

Once in New Orleans, she meets Ace (John Miljan), a club owner who promotes Ruby, and millionaire Brooks (Johnny Mack Brown), who really falls hard for Ruby, buying her jewels and the like. Oh, and then Tiger shows up again, because he's been able to work his way into getting that title fight, and Ace is promoting it. All sorts of complications ensue over Ace hiring Tiger to play highwayman and rub Ruby of those Jewels, and Ruby finding out what's really up. And will the title match be fixed?

I have to admit that I found Belle of the Nineties to be less entertaining than most of the other Mae West movies I've watched. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it got its release in September, 1934. This is a couple of months after the crackdown by Joe Breen and the institution of the new and improved (for some values of "improved") Production Code. Mae West is still saucy, all right, but there's just something of the earlier attitude and raciness that I found lacking here, and I can't quite place my finger on what that is.

Still, Belle of the Nineties isn't bad, just pedestrian. And the bare bones box set is cheap and you're getting a bunch of other good movies with it for the price.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: #162: Rescue

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is rescues, and there's a theme within a theme for me this time around. As is generally the case, I've picked three older movies:

Kameradschaft (1931). German film about a mining area that straddles the German-French border in the years after World War I. The French and Germans don't let each other work in the other country, and have even blocked off an parts of the mines that would cross the border underground. And then there's an explosion on the French side, and the German miners go in to help despite their management not being happy about it.

The Clairvoyant (1935). Claude Rains plays a phony mentalist who when he meets one particular woman, finds that he becomes a real, no fooling clairvoyant, and not just making it up. Unsurprisingly, this causes all sorts of problems, especially when he predicts that a disaster will befall the site where a tunnel is being constructed.

Ace in the Hole (1952). Kirk Douglas plays a disgraced big-city reporter who winds up in a smaller city, Albuquerque. While working his new job at the paper there, he runs across a guy who's gotten trapped in an abandoned mine. Douglas decides to milk the story for all it's worth, even though there are easier and probably quicker ways to rescue the poor trapped guy. But those wouldn't make news.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oh, those Elvis Presley movies

Today being the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, TCM is using the day in Summer Under the Stars to run a bunch of his movies. Well, a smaller bunch than I would have thought. I'm looking at the TCM schedule, and every single movie during the daytime lineup is followed by a short. All but one of them in prime time are too.

All of the daytime movies would fit into a 105-minute slot, which means you could get eight of them in between the 6:00 AM start of the day and prime time start at 8:00. But instead, there are only seven movies, all put into two-hour slots, with a short to pad out the time. It makes me wonder whether TCM couldn't get the rights to any more Elvis movies. It also doesn't help that there are two concert movies and a documentary sprinkled throughout the day.

Having said that, I notice that primetime tomorrow (Rosalind Russell) day has a short after every feature. There only seems to be one on Rod Taylor day, and that follows a movie listed with a 105-minute runtime. By the time you add the little animation at the beginning, and the announcement of the upcoming movies, you're probably just past 105 minutes and have a good 14 to fill.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I didn't realize Rodan is out of print

I watched Rodan over the weekend, having DVRed it back in May when TCM was doing the "Creature Features" spotlight. I was figuring on doing a full-length post on it, but was very surprised to see that the DVD releases are out of print. You can, however, stream it at Amazon.

TCM ran the American version, dubbed from Japanese and, as I understand it, some changed footage. The establishing monologue certainly seemed like something that would be added for an American release.

To be honest, the American version left me underwhelmed. There are two different monsters here, and neither gets enough time to work well. I have a feeling that would be a problem with the original as well, so some of the problems have nothing to do with the dubbing. And I didn't really have a problem with the American version of Godzilla, the one with Raymond Burr added into the movie.

But the dubbing is something I also found distracting. Not so much the fact that the words don't match the lip movements; I've never been anywhere close to having an ability to read lips. The problem is more that the voices don't match up with the faces on screen. I'm reminded of the "No, no, no", "Yes, yes, yes" bit in Singin' in the Rain where the main characters' voices in the movie-within-a-movie get out of sync.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Briefs for August 14, 2017

Oscar-nominated writer and sometime actor Joseph Bologna died over the weekend aged 82. The Oscar nomination came for the screenplay to Lovers and Other Strangers, along with his wife Renee, who survives him. I feel like I should recognize Bologna better, but surprisingly I don't. Then again, of the movies he acted in, I've mostly only seen bits and pieces.

I mentioned not too long ago that the IMDb wasn't serving me those ads for movies along the side of the page, but had started with pop-out videos in the lower corner. Apparently other people complained (I don't bother because it's rare that people take my complaints under advisement at large sites like IMDb), because it's reverted fairly quickly to the way it had been. The only bad thing about the ads (which are for upcoming movies and so should be relevant) is that you can't really tell what the movie is since the important part seems to be in the top center.

As Young as You Feel is back on the FXM Retro schedule, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I thought I saw Roxie Hart coming up on the schedule sometime, but it's not in the next seven days. Then again, I was looking at the schedule past next Monday recently since I've got to do some things before I go off to that wedding this weekend.

One, Two, Three got a DVD and Blu-Ray release a few months back. It's such a good movie, and I remember when I blogged about it an age ago being surprised that it was out of print on DVD. I've been meaning to mention this one for a while now, too.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


So I watched the movie Chisum when TCM ran it yesterday as part of their salute to John Wayne in Summer Under the Stars. I knew that TCM had put it on one of those four-film box sets, although that set is apparently out of print. However, there is a stand-alone DVD or Blu-Ray available, and not particularly expensive.

I didn't know going into the movie that it's based on a real person, John Chisum. The movie Chisum, played by John Wayne, has him in 1878 New Mexico (still a territory), where he's owned almost an entire county for 15 years, having been one of the early pioneers west from Texas. Here he raises cattle for the military. However, in the movie there's a malevolent presence in L.G. Murphy (Forrest Tucker), who is starting a whole bunch of businesses, as well as buying out those that would otherwise be competing with him. So you know you're going to get the stock story of the old-time rancher up against the newcomer, with one side being obviously good and the other side obviously awful.

As for John Chisum, he's welcoming his niece Sallie (played by Pamela McMyler) from back east, and works with fellow rancher Tunstall (Patric Knowles; also a real person in case you're wondering how an Englishman wound up in New Mexico) to deal with the depredations of Murphy. Tunstall has hired William Bonney (Geoffrey Deuel), better known as Billy the Kid. Murphy has brought Alex McSween (another real person, played by Andrew Prine) to be his lawyer, but McSween is one of those rare honest lawyers, so he winds up working for Chisum.

Much of the movie deals with the speculative nature of what Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett did as their part of the Lincoln County War. Billy was certainly involved, and a lot of the events in the war are portrayed in Chisum are based on real events from the Lincoln County War. However, the real aftermath of the war seems to be more ambiguous than the one in the movie.

As for the movie, I was left underwhelmed by it, although would raise my assessment a bit now that I know it's based on a true story. Part of the problem I had is that it came across as formulaic, and the other huge problem I had was the music. It starts with the awful song playing over the opening credits, and there are one or two other songs in the middle that grind things to a halt. Oh, and there are also the zooms that were a thing back in the late 60s and early 70s.

But anybody who's a fan of John Wayne will probably like this one. It's more than competently made, and the story really doesn't have much wrong with it other than the fact that we all know the formula having seen a hundred similar movies about ranchers vs. settlers.