Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Falling Leaves

Somebody on another board yesterday who knows of my love for classic movies showed how little he wanted to do something by saying he'd rather watch a day of 100-year-old movies with me than do that other thing. Apparently he was trying to insult me, but I just despair for everybody else's horrible taste in movies.

Now, most of the movies I mention here are not quite a hundred years old, because that goes all the way back to 1914, and there aren't too many movies surviving from that era compared to the studio era. But my other thought was to think of a movie that was over a century old. My first thought was Falling Leaves, which I briefly mentioned last September when it showed up in the first night of programming around the Story of Film series. I guess I didn't think last September to see if the movie was on Youtube. Due to it's age, the movie is in the public domain. Unsurprisingly, more than one poster has put up Falling Leaves, so you can watch it for yourself and judge:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Repeats for August 18-19, 2014

Unfortunately, TCM decided to schedule The Smiling Lieutenant to kick off prime time at 8:00 PM as part of Claudette Colbert's day in Summer Under the Stars. I think I've mentioned it before, but I'm not a huge fan of Maurice Chevalier movies in general, especially those musical comedies that he was doing at Paramount in the early 1930s. But there are several other interesting movies coming up over the next day or so that I've already blogged about:

Poetess Colbert helps detective James Stewart prove the innocence of his client in It's a Wonderful World, this afternoon at 4:15 PM; meanwhile
American abroad Colbert is made a prisoner of war by the Japanese along with her hsuband (Patric Knowles) and child in Three Came Home, at midnight tonight (or during the evening in more westerly time zones).

Paul Newman is TCM's honoree tomorrow, and he shows up in the thoroughly entertaining The Prize, at 11:15 AM, as a Nobel prize winner who comes to suspect that one of his fellow winners (Edward G. Robinson) has been replaced by a doppelgänger. It's nothing you'll mistake for serious groundbreaking cinema, but it's good and a lot of fun.

Over on FXM, there are a couple of repeats too. First, at 6:00 AM tomorrow is I Wake Up Screaming, in which Victor Mature plays a publicity agent who makes Carole Landis a celebrity, but then is suspected by obsessive detective Laird Cregar when the young woman is found murdered.
Up against The Prize, at 12:20 PM tomorrow, is The Alligator People. I said about The Prize that you can't consider it a work of grave importance, but it succeeds in entertaining. The Alligator People is almost as entertaining, and definitely less serious.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Those inappropriate Essentials Jr. movies

Last week, I mentioned that TCM was running To Be or Not to Be as part of Essentials Jr., and wondered how much kids would get the World War II stuff and the sexual tension going on. This week is an even more interesting choice: Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, at 8:00 PM tonight.

Now, I happen to like Lifeboat, and think it's one of the underrated Hitchcock movies, in that it doesn't get mentioned with the supposedly great stuff like Vertigo (which I happen to think is terribly overrated, and wouldn't fit in Essentials Jr. either, but that's another story). The problem is, there's a lot of material in Lifeboat that I'd think would be difficult for children, especially the younger ones. The sexual tension between the John Hodiak and Tallulah Bankhead characters might give some parents pause, although I'd suggest that's the least of the problems. You've got, in rough order:

A woman who commits suicide because her baby has died;
A man who has to have his leg amputated in decidedly un-hospital-like conditions;
The amputee going delirious and being put out of his misery by a Nazi who may not have had the guy's best interests at heart;
Mob justice being meted out in rather uncomfortable fashion.

Lifeboat is certainly a great movie for adults. I'm just not certain how much the kids will enjoy it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Apparently I haven't blogged about Battleground before

Tomorrow's star for TCM's Summer Under the Stars is John Hodiak. I didn't realize until just this morning that I have yet to blog about his 1949 film Battleground, which is coming up tomorrow morning at 11:45 AM.

The titular battleground is the Battle of the Bulge, which occured in Belgium around Christmas 1944, when the Germans staged a counteroffensive in the Ardennes forest in the southeast of the country. Battleground the movie looks more or less at the members of one infantry division and how they try to survive the battle. This is particularly difficult as the soldiers get caught up in the Nazi siege of Bastogne.

Hodiak plays one of the American soldiers, who together form a cross-section of American society, excluding of course black soldiers since the military wouldn't be desegregated until 1947, after the war had ended. Hodiak is Jarvess, the small-town man; alongside him are the red-blooded all-American Holley (Van Johnson); the young kid Layton (Marshall Thompson); the older guy Stazak (George Murphy); and the Roderigues, Mexican-American who wants to show everybody that he too is fully American (Ricardo Montalbán).

There's not too much to say about the plot, other than the fact that it's pretty much only about the battle and the siege, with what little there is in the way of subplots being the characterizations of the soldiers and the things that happen to them in their day-to-day attempts to survive the battle, such as Holley's having an egg and trying to scramble it for breakfast, only for real life to intrude constantly. There's also the dealing with the Nazis who are trying to get the allies to surrender, in a scene that more or less happened in the actual battle, not only in the movie. When the Nazis tell the American general they expect him to surrender and ask him for his response, he simply says, "Nuts!" Understandably, the Germans are nonplussed by this use of colloquial American English. So the Nazi bigwig gets a translation from his interpreter, who translates the response as "Nüsse", which is a literal translation for nuts that you would eat, not giving any sense that the American general isn't just saying no, he's saying hell no. This humorously leaves the Germans even more nonplussed.

I was never in the military, and am certainly too young to have been in World War II, but several of the reviewers on IMDb claim that Battleground does a surprisingly good job of portraying the difficulties of war, up to a point. Being under siege wouldn't be pleasant in the first place, but having to suffer it in the dead of winter would have been doubly so. The movie displays this despite being done mostly at MGM's studios and backlot. Obviously, though, the movie couldn't show the true gore of dead people, so the ultimate effect is of a movie that's pretty darn good but still has some of the MGM sheen, as opposed to The Steel Helmet just a few years later. Still, Battleground is well worth watching.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A spate of remakes, and a sequel

Hollywood's been making remakes forerver and a day, something that I've mentioned in several posts over the years. The next two stars in TCM's Summer Under the Stars show this, as we've got a couple of more recent remakes, and some older remakes.

First up is today's honoree, Faye Dunaway. She's one of the stars of the 1979 version of The Champ, which is coming up at 11:15 AM. Jon Voight plays the alcoholic boxer who wants to fight one more bout in order to maintain custody of his son (Ricky Schroeder). If it sounds familiar, it's because the original version of this movie came out all the way back in 1931. As you can see from the link I've blogged about the Beery/Cooper version, but I'm not certain if I've seen the more Voight/Schroeder film in its entirety.

The next movie is technically not a remake: a 1973 version of The Three Musketeers, at 8:00 PM. I'm not certain you can call something a remake when it's an adaptation of a piece of literature that was already in the public domain when the original version was made, although it's a bit of a gray area. This is another movie that I have to admit to not having seen.

Tomorrow brings us 24 hours of Herbert Marshall. Back in June, 2013, I mentioned the 1941 film When Ladies Meet, which is airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM. It's a remake of a 1933 movie by the same title, which I blogged about in February 2013 and which is linked to in the above link on 1941's When Ladies Meet.

Marshall was also in both versions of Somerset Maugham's play The Letter, and those will be showing back to back on Saturday night into Sunday morning: the 1940 film with Marshall as the cuckolded husband at midnight, followed at 1:45 AM by the 1929 version with Marshall as the murdered boyfriend. The 1940 version, starring Bette Davis, is certainly well made, but I really like the 1929 version. The only problem is that the print is in poor shape.

Finally, I didn't realize that Herbert Marshall had done an Andy Hardy movie, but apparetnly he did. That film, Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble, shows up tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, and has Marshall playing one of Mickey Rooney's college professors.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Charlie Chaplin heads-ups

Back in March, I reported that when TCM would run Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush, they would have a distressing tendency to run not the original 1925 version, but a re-editing Chaplin did in the the early 1940s complete with added narration. I didn't watch last time since I thought it was going to be the 1940s version that I don't care for. The silent buffs at the TCM borads, however, reported that it was in fact the 1925 original. Today being Charlie Chaplin's day in Summer Under the Stars, it's only natural for TCM to select The Gold Rush again; that's coming up at 11:45 AM. I don't know which version is going to run.

TCM is also showing a documentary at 8:00 PM called The Birth of the Tramp that I haven't seen before. However, it's listed as having a 60-minute running time and has been scheduled in a 60-minute slot. If Ben Mankiewicz is doing an intro, then the documentary is liable to run over. This isn't too much of a problem in the scheduling of the next movie, which is the 34-minute short A Dog's Life in a 45-minute time slot. However, as often happens with new-to-TCM documentaries, when they show up in prime time there's a repeat for the benefit of the folks on the west coast. That repeat comes up at 11:30 AM and is also in a one-hour time slot. The movie following that repeat, at 12:30 AM, is the 87-minute City Lights put into a 90-minute time slot. This is where the presence of intros from Ben Mankiewicz would cause a bigger problem.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Briefs for August 13, 2014

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago regarding the short Capriccio Italien that I didn't quite understand the point of classical orchestra shorts by the 1950s. A similar type of short whose popularity I also don't understand -- and there were a lot more of these -- are the big band shorts. A lot of these showed up in the 1930s and 1940s, and two more of them are showing up on TCM today: one with bandleader Henry Busse a little after 11:00 AM, or just after His Girl Friday which starts at 9:30; the other being called Yacht Party and set on a set designed to look like a yacht, a little aftre 9:15 PM, following Hot Saturday. In the pre-TV days I can kind of understand showing classical music, since it had ben more the province of the wealthy. All those gazebos and bandstands you see in the park in old movies are because band music with loud brasses that carried were the music for the middle and lower classes. So the studios were bringing culture to the masses, I'd think, by making classical music shorts. And classical music is about the dead guy who wrote the music, not the performers. This is a contrast with the big band stuff, which is about the bandleader and the singer if there is one. And heaven knows the studios brought us enough obscure bandleaders like Jan Savitt. And with the bands that showed up in musical numbers in lots of Hollywood movies of the day, I can't help but wonder how popular those big band shorts would have been. Of course, they were probably sheaper to produce; there's a lot less blocking necessary.

Tuesday, September 16 would have been Lauren Bacall's 90th birthday. TCM already had a morning and afternoon of movies scheduled for that day, although not prime time because Tuesdays in September are devoted to a showcase of cinematic looks at Judaism. The Israeli movies that night are something I can't imagine TCM wanting to preempt. So even though Bacall would merit a 24-hour programming salute, she might not get one. The night before, though, is a night of Bob's picks, so preempting those and having an 8:00 PM to 8:00 PM salute wouldn't be bad.

Tomorrow's star for Summer Under the Stars is Charlie Chaplin. His day is kicking off with what is generally considered the first feature-length comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance, at 6:00 AM. It also stars Marie Dressler a decade and a half before talking pictures made Dressler a big star. Having been made in 1914, it's in the public domain and the quality of the surviving prints isn't the greatest. But it is available on Youtube. I didn't watch any of the Youtube prints, so I can't vouch for the quality of them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014

Lauren Bacall with Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep

The death has been announced of actress Lauren Bacall, at the age of 89. Bacall played a variety of roles in her seven decade career, and is well remembered for her marriage to actor Humphrey Bogart, whom she met while making one of her first movies, To Have and Have Not. Bacall would make three more films with Bogart, those being The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo. Somewhat surprisingly, I don't think I've done a full-length post on any of those films

I say "somewhat", because as I mentioned back in November, 2008, I never got why the Bogart/Bacall romance was supposed to be so much more of a fairy-taly romance than any other of the Hollywood romances, even those that ended in tragedy such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The other reason for saying "somewhat" is that I'm not a huge fan of To Have and Have Not, not being a big fan of Ernest Hemingway; or of The Big Sleep, which is a complete mess.

Lauren Bacall singing to the accompaniment of Hoagy Carmichael in To Have and Have Not

That having been said, I enjoyed Bacall in Written on the Wind. But then, over-the-top Douglas Sirk, when done well, is a joy to sit back and laugh at.

I'm sure that TCM is going to have a programming tribute to Bacall, but with Summer Under the Stars and Bacall not having a day in it, I don't know if they're going to honor Bacall before September. (There doesn't seem to be anything sbout it on the TCM site yet.)

Lauren Bacall teaches Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in To Have and Have Not

Robin Williams, 1951-2014

Robin Williams (r.) with Pam Dawber from the TV series Mork and Mindy

By now, you've probably heard of the death of actor Robin Williams, who was found dead in an apparent suicide yesterday at the age of 63. Most people my age and above would probably first remember him (if no longer best remember him) from the TV show Mork and Mindy, which had Robin Williams playing an alien from the planet Ork who comes to Earth to study humand and winds up falling in love with earthling Mindy (Pam Dawber). In what must have been a move to bolster sagging ratings, they even ended up having an offspring together, that being a reverse-aging Jonathan Winters. (Thedy did the reverse-aging thing decades before The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, although they didn't get anywhere near as far thanks to the cancellation of the series.)

Mork and Mindy was entertaining, nonsensical fluff for a six-year-old, but I have to admit that as I became an adult, I started to find that sort of manic humor to be tedious and a bit grating. It's not just Robin Williams; I find Peter Sellers' Strangelove character (bot not the other two characters he plays in Dr. Strangelove) to be like fingernails on a chalkboard, for example. So I never tended to be as much of a fan of his movies as other people would be, even though he did a reasonably wide range of movies. (Well, Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting are both mawkish, although the latter one is Matt Damon's fault; the movie won Williams an Oscar.)

That, and I also became less and less of a Disney animated feature fan as I grew up, especially of the contemporary, so things like Aladdin weren't quite my thing either. Not that this lessens anybody's talent. I did radio in college reading the news, and I know from experience doing live reading and sounding good is difficult; much more so than you'd think. Oh sure, anybody can read words off the page, but doing it while sounding the right way (serious but not grave for news; the whole range of emotions for animation)? That's where it gets difficult.

And then there are the movies that I ought to reacquaint myself, such as Moscow on the Hudson, or the entertaining if completely implausible Dead Again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Split Second (1953)

Returning to TCM's Summer Under the Stars, the star for romottow, August 12, is Alexis Smith, who I suppose was a bigger star back in the 1940s and 1950s than she is today. Still, it's nice to catch up with some not so well-known people, especially when they've got some interesting movies worth watching. In the case of Alexis Smith, that interesting movie is Split Second, which you can see tomorrow morning at 10:15 AM.

We don't see Alexis Smith at first; the first of the main chaaracters to show up is Larry Fleming, played by Keith Andes. He's a newspaper reporter from Las Vegas, in the hinterlands of Nevada to cover tomorrow morning's atomic bomb test that the US government is carrying out, complete with a great deal of preparation to make certain that nobody winds up in the blast zone. While Fleming is covering all that preparation, he gets a call from his boss. There's been a prison break in Carson City, and one of the most notorious criminals, Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally) ha busted out of jail! That's a more interseting story than the atomic test, anyhow, although you can probably guess that the script wouldn't have gone into substantial detail about the bob test if it weren't going to be part of the plot later in the movie.

But we'll get to that in a bit. We still haven't even gotten to Alexis Smith. She winds up as a player in our story completely unexpectedly. Playing a woman named Kay Garven, she's in Nevada with her lover, Arthur (Robert Paige), presumably on the way to get a divorce from her husband in Los Angeles, Dr. Neal Garven (Richard Egan). Along the road, they stop at the sort of service station that was common in the days before the interstate highway system. The only thing is, Sam and his partner Bart (Paul Kelly) have just been there, and got in a gunfight with the owner, killing him. In fact, Sam and Bart haven't quite left, so when they find Kay and Arthur, they carjack the couple since the cops won't be looking for that car.

As for Larry, he's going to show up too. Kay's car runs out of gas, and when the crooks flag down another car to carjack, it just happens to be Larry's car. And by this time, he's pickued up a stranded passenger, dancer Dottie (Jan Sterling). So our crooks carjack them and with four hostagens in tow, force Larry to drive to the ghost town of Lost Hope City. The only thing is, that's in the blast zone! Fear not, the criminals say. They've got a plan and it's going to go to clockwork, and as long as the hostages don't do anything to screw up the plan, everybody will get out of town by the time the blast is detonated at 6:00 AM.

But of course there's already a complication, which is that Bart got shot in the escape attempt. He needs a doctor, and he knows that Kay's husband is a doctor, because he saw a letter from the good doctor. Dammit, Rr. Garven, you're going to come out to Nevada and fix up my buddy, or you're never going to see your wife alive again. Not that Sam knows Kay and Neal are on the outs, although he's about to get an inkling along those lines, since Kay tells him this, and then reveals that she's finding herself falling in love with Sam. At this point we'd begin to get a standard-issue hostage movie with the suspense of whether everybody's going to get out in time. Except that the script turns things up another notch by having the government move the bomb test up an hour from 6:00 AM to 5:00 AM. (I can't think this would never happen in real life because of the risk involved. But damn if it isn't a good plot device.)

Split Second is very much a B movie, but one that's very well done thanks to a script that never lets up in its tension. Sure, we've seen all these tropes a dozen times before, but the way they're put together in Split Second is just so darn entertaining. The actors are good enough even if none of them became truly big stars, while then tension is helped out a bit by having much of the second half take place in a fairly confined space. And then there's the ending, which certainly satisfies after the rest of the movie. I've blogged about a lot of movies that would never be considered great, but which succeed spectacularly in their objective of entertaining the viewer. Split Second fits that description in spades.

Split Second has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, but not that there have been several movies with the title Split Second, so make certain you're getting the right one.