Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chris Amon remembers James Garner

If you don't know the name Chris Amon, that's OK; I hadn't heard of him either before an interview with him showed up in one of my RSS feeds yesterday. Amon was a racecar driver from New Zealand who was active back in the 1960s and 1970s. It's apparently he upon whom James Garner's character in th emovie Grand Prix is based. Amon is enjoying his retirement these days, but with James Garner's death it's unsurprising that Radio New Zealand would call him up and ask him about the time he spent working with James Garner, what with much of Grand Prix being done on location. It's an interesting interview, although I wonder if a movie production would be able to get sporting authorities to change the way they do things as much as Amon implies happened.

Amon's interview can be found here; the interview runs about four minutes and the file is around 1.5 MB. I don't think Checkpoint puts up transcripts of their reports. The website for the Radio New Zealand show Checkpoint is here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Spotlight (1950)

Yesterday evening, I tuned into TCM to see if they'd come up with a TCM Remembers piece for James Garner, since I figured just before 8:00 PM would be a good time for it to air. (Well, that, and I wanted to see which order the shorts were airing in.) TCM was running an odd short that looked as though it could have been a Traveltalks short if it had been in color, about women making lace in Bruges, Belgium. However, the short fairly quickly cut to a segment about a man in London whose rabbits walk on their front legs. Weird stuff.

So I went to the TCM's online schedule page to see what was up. The schedule listed something called Spotlight, from 1950. Off to IMDb, which didn't have a match for any 1950 short called Spotlight. TCM's page on the short didn't have much information, except for the name of the director, Ronald Haines, which was a big help. That indicated that the short in question was actually called Spotlight on the World We Live In, which is listed at IMDb as a 1951 short.

But here's where it got interesting, at least for me. Ronald Haines is listed at IMDb as having directed four other similar shorts called Spotlight on the World We Live In, except that they're numbered #1, #3, #5, and #16. Sure, MGM could have had different people direct these, but a look at the filmography for the production company (Gordon Films; presumably MGM's British arm got the distribution rights from them) only lists these same five shorts! And an IMDb title search on Spotlight on the World We Live In doesn't indicate any shorts other than these five.

The other odd thing is the reviews on TCM's page for Spotlight (1950). IMDb's lone reviewer gets it right, but the two reviewers on the TCM page are for something completely different than what TCM showed yesterday, as both of them talk about offensive stereotypes and African-American actors. The bit of what I saw last night didn't have anything like that, and a reading of the user review on IMDb as well as the user-generated plot summary indicates no such racial stereotype. There's apparently a scene of horse racing in what is now Ghana that I tuned in too late for, but that wouldn't fit the two reviews on TCM. So I wonder what short these two people were reviewing. Obviously, they must have been reviewing something else in good faith, but I can't figure out what.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Essentials Jr. heads-up

TCM's Essentials Jr., every Sunday night at 8:00 PM during the summer, presents a bunch of movies that are supposed to be good for the whole family. The site that TCM has set up for it has a schedule for the whole thing which lists tonight's movie as "Silent Comedy Shorts". Not much help there, is it? A look at TCM's regular daily schedule page lists the following:

8:00 PM: Coney Island (1917)
8:00 PM: The Immigrant (1917)
8:00 PM: Never Weaken (1921)
8:00 PM: Two Tars (1928)

So, it's another one of those programming blocks where they've put a bunch of short movies into a longer space, and who knows which order they're going to air in? I say that because the downloadle monthly schedule, which really ought to be the same as the daily schedule, has The Immigrant and Coney Island switched. And to make things even more frustrating, my box guide has things in the exact reverse order from the downloadable schedule; that is, Two Tars comes first and The Immigrant last. At least everything but Two Tars is close enough to a half hour that one could reasonably expect all of them to begin on the half-hour. Anf if Two Tars really is first, then adding in Bill Hader's introduction would make it come out rather closer to the half-hour.

One other interesting thing about the daily schedule is the genre indicators. Coney Island and The Immigrant are both listed as being in the genre "Silent", while Never Weaken and Two Tars are both listed under the genre "Short". Later on, in the Silent Sunday Nights slot at midnight, there are several movies; again I have no idea what order they're going to run in. But the first three are listed under the genre "Comedy". To be honest, when you have a movie that fits multiple genres, it's always going to be debatable which one to use. But I wonder if "Short" should be reserved for the stuff that's only put on the schedule to fill the space between two features.

James Garner, 1928-2014

James Garner in The Americanization of Emily (1964)

James Garner, who starred in a bunch of movies in the 1960s but will probably be best remembered for the title role in the 1970s TV series The Rockford Files, has died at the age of 86. This being a movie blog, though, we're going to remember him for those movies. There's The Americanization of Emily, which is pictured above, which has Garner as an American who is selected to be the first man to go ashore during the D-Day invasion, although he's really more of a coward who's been trying to stay out of the war by doing desk jobs in London.

Another movie dealing with the D-Day invasion is 36 Hours, which is a thriller in which US Army officer Garner knows the plans for the D-Day invasion, and is kidnapped by the Nazis who, under the leadership of Rod Taylor, plan to get the information out of him! Garner was also in the war movie The Great Escape.

Garner was also good in light comedy, having made a couple of movies with Doris Day: The Thrill of It All, and Move Over, Darling. Doris Day isn't particularly my favorite actress, so when it comes to Garner and comedy, I'd recommend the comic western Support Your Local Sheriff! Garner could also do straight drama too, as in The Children's Hour.

Since Garner's death only hit the news overnight, I don't think TCM has had the time to come up with a programming tribute yet. I wouldn't be surprised if they get something in before Summer Under the Stars begins in August, since Garner isn't getting his own day in Summer Under the Stars.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Sugarland Express

This week's TCM Essential, at 8:00 PM tonight, is also Steven Spielberg's first feature film: The Sugarland Express.

Goldie Hawn plays Lou Jean, a young woman whom we first see at the start of the movie getting off a bus at an intersection in the middle of nowhere in Texas. That middle of nowhere happens to be the entrance to a minimum-security prison, where her husband Clovis (William Atherton) is currently incarcerated. It's a big visiting day, with most of the inmates having people visit them, so Lou Jean's presence here is nothing remarkable. Or, at least, to outsiders it would be nothing worth mentioning. But this is a movie so we know that there's a good reason for Lou Jean to be visiting her husband beyong the hopes of getting a conjugal visit.

It turns out that Lou Jean had been in jail herself, getting arrested on an accomplice charge when Clovis had committed some larceny or another. It's a tragedy that a husband and wife both end up in prison, but the bigger tragedy is that they had had a child together before winding up in prison. That child was put into foster care while the two were in prison. Now that Lou Jean is out she'd like her child back, but the social services department has decided they'd rather give full custody of the kid to the foster family. A mother scorned is a dangerous thing, and Lou Jean is no different. She's determined to get her child back by any means necessary, even if those means are highly illegal.

As illegal as springing her husband from prison, in fact. Somehow her crazy plan to have Clovis change clothes and just walk out of prison -- don't they have a log book of who goes in and who goes out? -- works, at least to the extend that they wind up in the parking lot on the other side of the prison fence, where they hitch what Lou Jean probably plans to be the first of a couple of rides to the town of Sugar Land, where they'll be able to get their child. Except that of course it's not going to be quite so simple. The salt of the earth couple with whom they've hitched their first ride from the prison parking lot have a burned out taillight, which rookie highway patrol officer Slide (Michael Sacks) notices, so he pulls the car over. Clovis, fearing he's going to be caught, takes off with the car while Slide has the older couple outside! So Slide takes off after them, and after a chase and a botched apprehension, Clovis winds up getting a hold of Slide's gun and taking him hostage in his police car, planning to drive to Sugar Land. It doesn't quite work out like that, resulting in the comical and bizarre spectical of a whole line of police cars from multiple jurisdictions chasing aftre them in a long line in what seems more like a procession, or maybe the following of OJ Simpson's white Ford Bronco back in 1994.

Goldie Hawn, certainly when she was younger, always looked like she was stereotypically ditzy, and winning an Oscar for a movie like Cactus Flower probably didn't help any. But she does an admirable job here playing a woman who is in many ways nothing more than understandably desperate to see her child. Her plan may be hare-brained, but that's to be expected, and even fits well with the ditz stereotype. Sure Lou Jean and her husband are committing all sorts of crimes, but the viewer can't help but have sympathy for them. Michael Sacks is also pretty good as Slide, the young patrolman who probably still has all those platitudes he learned at the academy ringing in his ears, and is now confronted with a situation that he never would have been trained to handle, with the result that he develops a case of Stockholm Syndrome before the term had been coined. (In fact, the original hostage case in Stockholm in 1973 thet coined the phrase was handled problematically.)

The story is supposedly based on a true story, although I have to think a lot of liberties were taken by the screenplay, as it seems thorougly unreal. It gets the geography of Texas particularly wrong, positing that going from the prison outside of Texas to Sugar Land would be a long cross-state drive, while the drive from Sugar Land to the border with Mexico would be maybe a half hour or so; in fact it's almost the reverse in that Sugar Land is about an hour from Houston and the border would be five or six hours away. It's quirky and successfully mixes both comedy and drama, as in a scene where they hole up for the night in a motor home dealership and watch cartoons at the drive-in across the way. There's also that poor couple Lou Jean and Clovis first hitch a ride with. Steven Spielberg uses the camera effectively, which is especially noticeable when he films inside the cars.

When The Sugarland Express last aired as part of the Essentials, co-host Drew Barrymore, who had of course worked with Spielberg on E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, had an interesting story to tell about Spielberg, so stay tuned for that.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Elaine Stritch, 1925-2014

You may not have heard the news yesterday, but actress Elaine Stritch has died at the age of 89. Stritch did quite a lot of work on Broadway, but she also made many forays into television and a lesser number into movies. One of the earliest was the 1957 Jennifer Jones/Rock Hudson version of A Farewell to Arms. The 1932 version is on today's schedule since the movie is based on the Ernest Hemingway novel set against the backdrop of World War I, but the 1957 version isn't on this month's schedule. One of Stritch's films that I've recommended before was Out to Sea, in which she plays the mother of the character played by Dyan Cannon.

Elaine Stritch was also a TCM Guest Prorammer back in December 2007, and the four films she selected were:
Born Yesterday, with chorus girl Judy Holliday learning about politics when husband Broderick Crawford hires William Holden to teach her;
The 1935 version of David Copperfield, in which Freddie Bartholomew learns to stay within his budget;
Butterfield 8 starring Elizabeth Taylor as a model/escort with tastes above her station; and
The 1940 version of Waterloo Bridge, about a woman who loses her fiancé in World War I and suffers greatly as a result.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stamboul Quest again

I briefly mentioned Stamboul Quest back in November 2008. It's on again tomorrow afternoon (July 18) at 12:30 PM as part of TCM's Friday look at World War I in the movies. What I said about it back then holds true, I think; if you haven't seen it before, it's worth a watch. But I wanted to mention it again since it doesn't seem to be available on DVD.

Boris Karloff night, of a sort

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a pair of crime movies, both of which were remade. The twist, however, is that TCM is running both the originals, and the remakes. It's also mildly interesting, although purely a coincidence I think, that both of the originals have Boris Karloff in decidedly non-horror roles. (It's probably also coincidental that Howard Hawks directed both originals.)

The first of the movies is The Criminal Code at 8:00 PM. Unfortunately I only got to see about two-thirds of this the last time it showed up on TCM, and then something interrupted me and I never got to see the end, so I'm looking forward to tonight's airing. Walter Huston plays a DA turned prison warden who tries to rehabilitate the young naïf (Phillips Holmes) he sent to prison. Things, however, get complicated when Holmes falls in love with Huston's daughter (Constance Cummings), and even more so when he sees his cellmate commit a murder. It's Boris Karloff playing that cellmate. There's shades of Robert Montgomery in The Big House here, but the two-thirds that I saw were certainly interesting. A bit of trivia: The Criminal Code is the movie that Boris Karloff's character is watching on TV at the beginning of Targets. The Criminal Code was remade in 1950 as Convicted, which TCM is showing at 10:00 PM. I haven't seen that one at all.

The other original is Scarface at midnight, which has Paul Muni starring as a gangster who's based somewhat loosely on Al Capone. Karloff plays an Irish gangster who gets a memorable scene in a bowling alley. But it's Paul Muni's movie all the way as he plays the ultraviolent mobster. Scarface was remade in the early 1980s by Brian De Palma, starring Al Pacino as the gangster and moving the action to Miami's Cuban-American community and having Scarface control the drug trade. That version is on at 2:00 AM, as TCM won't show a film with so much bad language at a more reasonable hour. Personally, I find the De Palma version overlong and bloated. But, I know that a lot of critics would disagree with me on that one. As always, judge for yourself.

Now TCM really needs to dust off fellow horror star Bela Lugosi's comic turn in Broadminded.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three years before Judd Hirsch was born

Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of James Cagney, so natrually TCM is celebrating the day with a bunch of his films. Nine of them, in fact, almost all of them made in the first half decade of Cagney's Hollywood career. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with the 1932 film Taxi!.

Cagney plays Matt Nolan, a taxi driver in New York at a time when driving a cab is even more tough of a proposition than normal: there's a taxi war going on, with the new company owned by Buck Gerard (David Landau) trying to win business away from independent cabbies like Matt and all of his friends who, although they're technically competing with one another, have an unwritten agreement on where they're going to operate. The new company doesn't care about any such agreement, and isn't just trying to win business; it'll take business by force if necessary. In this case, it meand sending in a truck-driving enforcer (Nat Pendleton) to get in an "accident" with Pops (Guy Kibbee) to try to destroy Pops' cab. No cab, no business, and an opportunity for the new company to come in. The only problem is, Pops fights back, which results in one of the members of the gang trying to destroy his taxi getting killed. Pops, unsurprisingly, gets sent to prison.

The other independents have a problem on their hands, and it isn't Pops, of course. They're facing violent attempts to drive them out of business, and unsurprisingly, they're not about to take it lying down because if they do, they'll be driven out of business just like Pops. So they hold a meeting to discuss what to do, inviting Pops' daughter Sue (Loretta Young). She surprises all of them, and most especially Matt, by saying that fighting back with violence, which is what Matt would like to do, isn't the answre. So you've got Matt and Sue butting heads, as it were. But this is also a 1930s movie, so it shouldn't be too surprising that our male lead is going to fall head over heels for our female lead, to the point that they actually get married!

But will Sue be able to tame Matt's desire for angry retribution, or will Matt crush Sue's heart by getting himself in legal trouble in a violent attempt to save his taxi business? That question comes into stark focus when Buck gets in a fight with Matt's brother Danny, leaving Danny to bleed to death. Now Matt really wants revenge, even if it goes against everything Sue has been talking about....

Taxi! is reasonably representative of the programmers Warner Bros. was making in the early 1930s. It's short, at just under 70 minutes, but it tries to put a lot of action in. Some of the plot turns you can see coming a mile away, and if this movie had been assigned to much of the stock cast who were around the studios in the early 1930s, it would be one of those pre-Codes that shows up on TCM with a bunch of people whose names are obscure now and about which you think it's mildly interesting but nothing spectacular. Taxi!, however, has James Cagney, and his presence alone is enough to bump up even an otherwise by-the-numbers pre-Code up several notches. Everybody else is professional, but as so often happens, Taxi! is Cagney's movie all the way. Watch for George Raft on the dance floor.

As far as I'm aware, Taxi! isn't on DVD.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


So I turned on TCM about five minutes before 8:00 last night so I could watch For the Defense, the first of last night's Kay Francis movies. TCM was finishing up what looked to be a fairly unfunny short that I didn't recognize, although it was obviously from the early 1930s. A look at TCM's online schedule revealed that short to be 1932's The Soilers, starring Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly.

So I went to IMDb to look it up. The search revealed that in addition to the 1932 version of The Soilers, there was also a 1923 short also titled The Soilers. The two have nothing in common other than the title. The 1923 version stars Stan Laurel -- without Oliver Hardy -- and is set against the backdrop of the Alaska Gold Rush. It sounds interesting, since I don't think I've seen any of Laurel's early shorts without Hardy. That, and the presence of a really stereotypically gay character. Half of the 20-minute movie seems to have shown up on Youtube, but not the whole thing. (The 1932 The Soilers doesn't seem to be on Youtube at all.)

Stan Laurel's The Soilers was parodying The Spoilers, which was apparently one of the popular movies of 1923, and was filmed in several versions, perhaps most famously in 1942 with John Wayne. In fact, all of the versions of the movie are based upon a popular novel from the beginning of the 20th century by a man named Rex Beach. For some reason, that name sounded familiar to me, although I wasn't quite certain why. It turns out that quite a few of Beach's adventure novels have been turned into movies. I blogged about The Silver Horde before, while another one that sure sounds famliiar is Flowing Gold (1940), which has John Garfield and Pat O'Brien working in the oil fields. In fact, I may be mixing it up with the 1939 movie Blackmail, which I know I saw a year or so ago on TCM when TCM ran it. (Was it really only three months ago? For some reason I thought it was longer, but a search of TCM's monthly schedules on my hard drive doesn't yield any other matches since 2007.) That one is also set in the oil industry and has a criminal on the run (John Garfield in Flowing Gold, Edward G. Robinson in Blackmail), but the key difference is that Robinson is clearly innocent and being blackmailed. IMDb doesn't seem to have links to Amazon for either Flowing Gold or Blackmail, so I'm not certain that either of them is on DVD.