Friday, December 9, 2016

Kirk Douglas turns 100

Today marks the centenary of actor Kirk Douglas, who is thankfully still with us. TCM, surprisingly, isn't doing anything for the day, while IMDb buried their photo gallery a good ways down the page after some of the celebrity gossip. I looked through my archives and found quite a few images; I didn't check the IMDb gallery to see if we've repeated any. (I didn't have any from Spartacus; I haven't watched it in ages.)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

The Bad and the Beautiful


The Vikings

Out of the Past

Ace in the Hole

Lust for Life

Seven Days in May

Paths of Glory

Detective Story

Granted, a couple of those aren't particularly good photos of Kirk, but to be honest, I had selected those photos back in the day for the other people in them: The Vikings for Tony Curtis' obituary; Out of the Past Jane Greer; and Detective Story for George Macready. And some of them probably shouldn't have been blown up like that either.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Briefs for Debember 8-9, 2016

FXM Retro is running Air Patrol today at 6:00 AM and tomorrow at 4:45 AM, since you've probably missed this morning's airing. I can't recall if I've seen it, but I notice that it's directed by Maury Dexter, who churned out quite a few ultra-low budget quickies that Fox distributed in the 60s. Some of them are surprisingly good, such as, The Day Mars Invaded Earth. Others are interestingly awful, like Raiders From Beneath the Sea. Dexter's name on Air Patrol probably makes it worth watching then.

Tonight on TCM there are a couple of Tennessee Williams movies. Ugh. There are two showings of a version of The Glass Menagerie that, as I understand it, is actually a TV movie. Of course, they've been running the dreadful Carol for Another Christmas this December as well.

I'm more looking forward to tomorrow morning's look at Alice White, who was apparently quite popular in the early 30s, but who didn't make the best career choices. She was the other girl in James Cagney's Picture Snatcher, although tomorrow mornings are from even earlier in White's career. Lots of early talkies I haven't seen before on the schedlue. Well, three or four, and they segue into the Myrna Loy movies.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Suits of James Bond

Somebody on a non-movie forum I frequent once said that everybody should be an expert on something, I think in regards to somebody who had a website about obscure TV shows with prominent cowgirl characters which, outside of the Hollywood movie western, does seem a relatively esoteric subject.

I mention that because yesterday, somebody else somewhere else linked to a blog called The Suits of James Bond. Who knew there was enough to talk about, but with almost two dozen movies now, and a whole bunch of characters besides 007 himself, apparently there is.

Of course, Bond didn't get such a prominent clothing designer the way he got a stylish weapons designer like Q. And sadly, I don't have the money for nice suits like that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fire Sale

Another of the movies I watched over the weekend was Fire Sale. For those of you with FXM, it's going to be on twice tomorrow, at 3:30 AM and 7:55 AM; I'm not certain if it's available on DVD.

Russel Fikus (Rob Reiner) is packing his parents' car in the opening scenes of the movie; his parents Benny (Vincent Gardenia) and Ruth (Medford) are getting ready to go on a cross-country trip to Florida. This means that Dad is leaving the family department store in the capable hands of Russel. Or maybe not-so-capable, since Dad doesn't want Russel to do anything, even though Russel thinks he has good ideas on how to run the place. At least, he's got better ideas, since the place is going under financially. Russell would like to make a success of himself, since he's got a girlfriend at the store who won't marry him until he can make a success of himself.

Meanwhile, the other brother Ezra (Alan Arkin) used to be part of the store -- in one shot, you can see where the "and Sons" part of the store sign has had the S removed. But Ezra decided he'd rather be a basketball coach. Unfortunately, he's a failure of a coach, having only a 2-and-100something record as coach, and he fears he's going to lose his job if he can't win the Big Game. His wife Marion (Anjanette Comer) is needling him, since she wants a child and Ezra either cannot or will not provide her with one. He doesn't even want to adopt what with his job situation.

Back at the store, we learn what Dad's plan was for the place. He's got a brother-in-law Sherman (Sid Caesar) who lost a leg in World War II and, 30 years on, thinks the war is still going on. So Benny comes up with a plan: have Sherman escape from the VA hospital and burn down the store, thinking it's the local Nazi headquarters. Of course, if your crazy brother-in-law burns down the place, suspicion is bound to fall on you, but that's another story.

As I was watching this movie, I couldn't help but think of Little Murders. It's a movie that has some interesting ideas, but one where I find the execution unbelievably irritating. Having said that, I was reading some of the reviews at IMDb, and there were people who really liked it, comparing it to a later TV show like Arrested Development. I never cared for that show either, which might have something to do with my low opinion of Fire Sale. It seems that is more for people with the right sense of humor, and I just don't share that sense of humor. If you do, you may well enjoy this one.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Stray Dog

So I watched Stray Dog over the weekend, having DVRed it when TCM ran it on Akira Kurosawa's birthday back in March. TCM lists it as being available from the TCM Shop, although being part of the Criterion Collection it's a bit pricey. In any case, since it is available, I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie. And it's well worth watching to boot.

Toshiro Mifune playd Detective Murakami, a young police detective who joined the Tokyo force after serving in the Japanese army in World War II. The story begins with Murakami being distraught over the fact that he's lost his service weapon, a Colt pistol. This being Japan, firearms are pretty unknown outside the government and the yakuza, and another gun falling into their hands is a problem for Murakami. He's going to have to investigate, and he's desperate to find his gun before it's used for evil purposes.

He first goes to the larceny unit, where they've got huge files of all the known pickpockets, cross-indexed by age, sex, modus operandi, and so on. This leads Murakami to a woman who is probably just a fence. But he wouldn't know where to find the woman, so partnering Murakami on the case is the veteran Det. Sato (Takashi Shimura). Sato knows how things work, and can tell what Murakami is doing wrong in the investigation. Anyhow, the investigation quickly leads to the underworld, and Murakami is forced to wait and wait until a tout will take him to one of the gun lenders.

The case gets more urgent for Murakami when there are a couple of shootings, and Murakami, having found one of the bullets he fired at the practice range, is able to confirm that the shootings were committed with the gun that was stolen from him. Murakami feels incredibly guilty about it, and feels a personal responsibility in solving the case.

Eventually, the key witness is Harumi (Keiko Awaji), a chorus girl whose boyfriend is the gangster Yusa. Yusa can get Harumi nice things, in a time not long after Japan's total defeat in the war, when nice things are very hard to come by. But at what price will those things come?

Stray Dog is a very well-told story, and a very well-made movie. Watching the movie, I almost got the impression of Kurosawa wanting to show that he could do any genre, except for the fact that this came at the beginning of his career, when he wouldn't have had as much choice in projects. The opening scenes of Murakami losing his gun somewhere along the bus ride home reminded me very much of the early scenes of Pickup on South Street with Richard Widmark picking a woman's purse, although since the focus is on the victim here, we don't actually see who did it. But this and the first scenes of the investigation make me wonder whether the folks behind Pickup on South Street saw this one.

The story is also set at the height of summer, and the sweltering heat is almost a palpable character, inevitably giving way to thunderstorms just as the movie is about to reach its climax. You might think this is a cheap cliché, but Kurosawa has the genius to use this as a vital plot point later in the story. In addition to the heat, the other well-photographed thing is the Tokyo as it was in the late 1940s, just a few years after that war. A lot of the people live in pretty dire conditions which look even worse than what Hollywood was able to put on screen. Japan as it was, as well as a scene set at a baseball game, are interesting historical artifacts.

Ultimately, Stray Dog is a movie that would fit in well with the Hollywood noir cycle that was happening at the same time this movie was made. It's very accessible for people who might think having to sit through two hours of subtitles might be a slog. It's a shame that it's not better known.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Vitaphone at 90

TCM is honoring the 90th anniversary of Vitaphone tomorrow, even though the film that started it all, Don Juan (airing on TCM at 6:00 AM Tuesday), actually premiered in August 1926. I suppose TCM couldn't do the anniversary then thanks to Summer Under the Stars. I think I've mentioned before that Don Juan didn't have any dialogue, but did have a synchronized score and sound effects. In conjunction with the New York premiere, there was a series of shorts that were done, some with just instrumental music, some with singing, and one of MPPDA head Will Hays talking about the new technology:

That short is going to be on in the first prime time slot tomorrow, which is a block of shorts going from 8:00 PM to 9:45 PM. And herein lies the problem. TCM is running a whole bunch of Vitaphone shorts. While it's nice to see those Vitaphone shorts, and TCM does run a fair number of them between movies when they've got an extra 20 minutes or so to fill, running a block of them together always screws up the TCM schedule. The monthly schedule which I downloaded just before the start of the month has a different running order from the TCM online weekly schedule. And oftentimes the satellite box guide has a third running order. So figuring out the exact time one specific short is going to air is nigh on impossible.

Also apparently scheduled in that early prime time slot is Baby Rose Marie, a 1929 one-reeler. Rose Marie would, of course, go on to do the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, but she was a juvenile star first:

A couple more obituaries

Don Calfa died on Thursday at the age of 76. I didn't recognize the name at first, but you might remember him as Paulie, the hitman who's trying to kill the good guys in 1989's Weekend at Bernie's. He was also in Return of the Living Dead, although I haven't seen that one; Calfa's career also saw him do a lot of small roles on both the big and small screens.

And then there's child star Billy Chapin, who died on Friday aged 72. His best known role would probably be as the older brother who protects both his kid sister and her doll stuffed with $20,000 in Night of the Hunter. All along the way, he's trying to stay one step ahead of evil Robert Mitchum:

I haven't watched enough TCM to see if they've run the annual "Parade of the Dead", AKA the year-end TCM Remembers piece, yet. Has anybody seen it?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

TCM Guest Host December 2016: Dana Delany

So there was a message on the TCM boards about a guest host for TCM for December, actress Dana Delany. She apparently did a segment of the Trailblazing Women spotlight in October, although I didn't watch the segments. Anyhow, a search for something on TCM's official site didn't reveal anything, but did find this tweet:

If the tweet doesn't show up properly, go here; it also has the replies including some nice vintage photos of Myrna Loy.

I didn't get to see any of the intros last night; I showed up toward the end of the first film and then switched to watching something off my DVR; more on that next week since the movie is coming up on TV soon. But the upshot of not having actually watched any of Delany's intros is that I can't comment on how good she is.

As you can tell from the tweet, Delany will be on TCM Fridays and Saturdays this month.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Whom did the Bob Hope family piss off?

Bob Hope died in 2003. His wife of 69 years, Dolores, died eight years later. The estate left behind a house in Palm Springs, and one in Los Angeles. It's expensive to maintain, so the Hopes' daughter Linda has decided to sell it in order to raise funds for the Hopes' charitable foundation.

Not so fast. Apparently work on the property involves demolishing some outbuildings, and the Hopes must have ticked off somebody, because a Los Angeles City Councillor has taken unto himself the attempt to make the house a historic landmark. Really. Note that because he's a politician, he doesn't have to pay anybody one red cent to try to do this; it's all the taxpayers' money going to any efforts he'd make. And if the city actually bought the property, not that they're going to, it would be the taxpayers paying for this politician's vanity.

In the article where I first read it, not at the Hollywood Reporter, somebody made this trenchantly cynical (and factually incorrect) comment:

Most likely, Hope's single level ranch home would have part of it renovated. That renovation is going to include a second story addition. That addition is going to block a view on the neighbors property. I'll put money on it that the neighbor contacted Ryu [the councillor trying to make the historic landmark designation] about designating the home as a landmark, thus preventing this type of renovation.

In fact, the pictures at the Hollywood Reporter show the house already has two stories. But you can't help but think that somewhere along the way, Linda ticked off somebody, and they've decided to try to extract their pound of flesh.

So far the councillor has been rebuffed. But I doubt we've heard the last of this story.

TCM Star of the Month December 2016: Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy (l.) with William Powell; don't ask me which of their dozen or so movies it's from

For the people who paid ridiculous sums to join the TCM Backlot, TCM ran a contest to pick the Star of the Month for December: they had a choice between Bette Davis and Myrna Loy, and Loy won. (It probably should have gone to centenarian Kirk Douglas, but that's another story.) Loy's movies will be airing on Fridays, mostly in prime time, although actually starting earlier. Loy is probably best remembered for all those movies with William Powell, through which she became known as the "perfect wife". It wasn't just with Powell that she had that on-screen reputation; she would be the wife opposite Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives and then opposite Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House:

But her career actually started with small roles in silents; I for example am looking forward to Noah's Ark coming on at 3:00 PM which I've never seen before. And then up until about 1934, Loy played a lot of exotic vamp types. It's these earlier roles that are getting the spotlight this first Friday in December. I'm also curious about The Squall, overnight at 2:15 AM. And at 7:00 PM, there will be a 1990 documentary, Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To.