Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Taste of Honey

I just had a chance to watch A Taste of Honey, which I had recorded back in April when Gloria Steinem was the TCM Guest Programmer. I didn't realize until I checked to see if it was available on DVD so I could do a full-length post on the movie that the movie was in fact just restored and received a Criterion Collection release within the past week. So yes, it's going to be pricey. But it had better look better than the print that TCM ran, which looked jumpy.

Rita Tushingham stars as Jo, an adolescent close to school-leaving age who lives in the lower-class section of one of those old English industrial cities in the days when the cities still had heavy industry; think the promotional video of Sheffield that kicks off The Full Monty as an example. (The movie was filmed in Manchester, although I don't think they actually mention the name of the city anywhere with the exception of one boat with Manchester in the name.) Jo's mother Helen had her out of wedlock, and is making a living, such as it is, by sleeping with men, moving from one grimy room to let to another since she's always behind on the rent. At least she has her eyes on a more stable man, Peter (Robert Stephens), however.

Jo and Helen have to move house right at the beginning of the movie, and as they do, they meet a black man Jimmy (Paul Danquah) who helps Jo with some of the luggage. Jimmy is a sailor, and Jo runs into him again, at which point she begins to fall in love with him as she's never been with a man before and what else is there for her to do in life. Jimmy presumably hasn't been with a woman for a while, what with all that time on the boat. They don't get to spend all that long together, though, since the boat is eventually going to sail.

Helen, meanwhile, decides to marry Peter, leaving Jo with the dilemma of what to do with her life. Fortunately she's gotten herself a job in a shoe shop, and is able to get a room of her own, even being able to pay for it in advance. She can't stand Peter, and the feeling is mutual. There's one big problem, though. Jimmy got her pregnant, so it's not as though that place is just going to be hers alone after nine months or so. Thankfully for her, she's about to get a bit of help. One day at the shoe store, she sold a pair of shoes to Geoffrey (Murray Melvin). The two run into each other at a parade and spend a day together, with Geoffrey winding up at Jo's place. The thing is, he doesn't have a place to go back to. Much as Helen's landlords would throw her out for having gentleman visitors, Geoffrey's landlord threw him out for having a gentleman visitor. Yes, this means that Geoffrey is gay.

Still, he decides to live with Jo, and even help her through the pregnancy. He's even willing to marry her since the baby needs a father; this even though there's only a friendship and no love. Jo, all the while, has no idea what to do with her life. And then Helen shows up, having been dumped by Peter. She's willing to help her daughter through that pregnancy, but there's the question of what Geoffrey is going to do. Helen doesn't much care for Geoffrey.

I have to admit that the plot of A Taste of Honey is something I didn't find terribly gripping, and the story just seemed to end suddenly as though the writers had no more ideas. But I'd still recommend the movie. That's partly down to the strong performances. These are a bunch of people who have screwed up their lives pretty badly, and are trying to make their way through life as best they can. The actors generally pull it off.

But there's another reason to watch the movie, which is because of its place in the cycle of "kitchen sink" movies that were made in the UK in the early 1960s. Director Tony Richardson uses the lower-class parts of Manchester to excellent effect, at he very adeptly shows the tough conditions not only in the characters' apartments, but that the city as a whole seems to be going through. I don't think any of the Hollywood studios could have come up with the American equivalent of this on their backlots. Even something like On the Waterfront, which was filmed largely on location in Hoboken, New Jersey, doesn't look this inglamorous. It wouldn't be until the 70s that Hollywood started to get to this level.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Starring the Computer

The interesting blogger David Thompson included in the most recent of his semi-regular Friday Ephemera thread a link to a website called Starring the Computer.

Basically, somebody who watches a lot of movies and TV shows enjoys looking for real-life computers that show up in them. Not fictional computers, like the HAL-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but real, identifiable computers such as the old TI-99/4A that was my first computer when I was a kid in the early 80s.

I've got another acquaintance on the internet who says something to the effect of, "Everybody should be an expert on something." Apparently somebody decided to become a self-educated expert on the topic of real-life computers as props.

(I think I've done a post on some of the fake computer tropes, such as the unrealistic password prompts.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Briefs for August 25-26, 2016

Apparently, Tab Hunter's autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential, has been made into a documentary movie. The movie is now available on DVD. You probably know the story of Tab Hunter's being gay (oh dear, I've just spoiled it, haven't I) and having to stay in the closet in 1950s Hollywood, hence the whole "Natalie Wood and Tab wouldn't" line when the studio tried to pass them off as a romantically involved couple.

I apologize for forgetting to mention The Criminal Code in Constance Cummings' movies yesterday; it concluded the overnight. Boris Karloff was also in the movie, and he's going to be the star in tomorrow's installment of TCM's Summer Under the Stars.

Speaking of Karloff, he's got a small part in Lured, and TCM is using that to kick off tomorrow's schedule at 6:00 AM. This is a movie I'd recommend for anybody who only thinks of the zany Lucy Ricardo character when they think of Lucille Ball.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A couple more obituaries

Steven Hill died yesterday at the age of 94. He might be best known for playing the district attorney on the long-running TV show LA Law, but I had the chance recently to blog about one of his movies, Running on Empty. In that, he has a small role as the father of Christine Lahti's character, a man who hasn't seen his daughter in 14 years because she's on the run from the law. He only has the one scene, but it's a memorable one. Hill also played the ex-husband of Anne Bancroft's character in Garbo Talks.

Sir Antony Jay died over the weekend aged 86. Jay actually has fairly little to do with the movies, except where any of the television work he created was adapted into a movie. Instead, he, with Jonathan Lynn, created the popular British sitcom Yes Minister. Lynn, interestingly, does have a career in the movies, having directed both the British comedy Nuns on the Run as well as the very American comedy My Cousin Vinny, among others.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A couple of Constance Cummings movies I've briefly mentioned before

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Constance Cummings. There are a couple of interesting movies airing that I saw years ago but haven't seen in ages, and have only given the one-paragraph treatment to elsehwere in the blog.

First up is The Mind Reader, at 9:00 AM. This one stars Warren William in the title role, playing a carnival phony mind reader tricking the small-town folks. Cummings plays one of those small town denizens, sees the act and falls in love with William, only to try to get him to go straight when she realizes his act is a fake. He tries, but soon learns it's easier to make a living as a phony mind reader to the bored housewives with money to burn. As I said four years ago when TCM ran this movie for Warren William's day in Summer Under the Stars, Stephen Sondheim picked it when he was a Guest Programmer back in 2005, which is when I first saw the movie. I can't recall whether I've watched any of the TCM showings since then. I'm not even certain how many there have been.

Later, at 6:30 PM, there's a movie that might be even more obscure, The Guilty Generation. Cummings plays the daughter of one of those upper-class gangsters, the kind that decamp to Florida like Lew Ayres' character in The Doorway to Hell. It's there that she meets architect Robert Young. He's taken up architecture largely to get away from his family's legacy, since his father is a gangster, too. As you can guess, the two fall in love, which presents all sorts of problems since the families (at least the fathers; there's a sympathetic grandmother) don't like the idea. You can see the ending coming a mile away, but it's still an interesting enough movie.

Monday, August 22, 2016

FXM Retro doing something interesting

I don't know if the folks who program the lineup on the morning FXM Retro part of the FXM schedule really put that much thought into it, but it looks as though somebody had an idea. Coming up today at 9:30 AM and tomorrow at 8:00 AM, you can catch, The Rains Came, one of Fox's prestige movies from the classic year of 1939.

Now, that in and of itself is no big deal. But the two apperances of The Rains Came will be followed by The Rains of Ranchipur, which is the 1950s Cinemascope color remake of The Rains Came. Those airings will be at 11:15 AM today, and 9:45 AM tomorrow. In the remake, Lana Turner takes the Myrna Loy part; Richard Burton does the Tyrone Power part; and Fred MacMurray the George Sanders part.

I'm not certain I'd want to see the two movies back to back, but at least somebody over there seems to be thinking. (And, FXM Retro is still trundling along; the suits still haven't pulled the plug.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Whales of August

Bette Davis is the star for the day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and TCM is finishing off the day with Davis' last completed movie, The Whales of August, at 4:15 AM tomorrow.

Davis, who was just shy of 80 when she made this, plays Libby Strong, the younger sister of Sarah, played by Lillian Gish who was past 90 when she did it. They've been spending their summers for decades in a summer cabin on an island off the Maine coast. But they're both getting old, and Libby has gone blind and wheelchair-bound thanks to a series of strokes. It's to the point where Sarah's daughter (unseen) thinks the two sisters should stop heading up to Maine for the summer. In fact, Libby seems more than ready to die.

Meanwhile, they've got a neighbor in Tisha (Ann Sothern) who is also showing signs of aging in that she's had her driver's license pulled. Of course these folks all know each other well since they've been spending so many summers on the island together. They're about to get a fourth, however. Maranov (Vincent Price, who I think was the baby of the cast at 75) has been going fishing at the shoreline, and when he catches a couple of fish, he offers then to the three women if they'll all have dinner together with him at Sarah and Libby's cottage. It turns out that Maranov doesn't really have a place to stay. In fact, he might not even be Maranov, the Russian émigré.

Back to the relationship of the two sisters, though. They're old an pondering the end of life, and in fact are getting sick of each other to an extent. Libby seems to take delight in making life difficult for Sarah, in fact one of the few things in which she takes delight any longer. Sarah, meanwhile, thinks about the past and her late husband.

That's pretty much all that goes on in the movie. The Whales of August is one of those things that's light on action and heavy on character. I don't know that I would even call it a slice-of-life movie, as it's more of a character study. But it's a movie with four interesting characters, and four darn good performances by the actors playing those players.

Ann Sothern got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her part, the only one of the four to earn an Oscar nomination. Hers is probably the least developed of the four, although that's fully down to the script and not Sothern's performance. She's quite good as the kind person who doesn't quite want to admit she's getting old in the way the two sisters recognize.

Vincent Price was always a capable actor, having done a fair amount of dramatic work before he became identified with the horror genre. For anybody who only remembers Price from those campy horror films, The Whales of August is a good one to watch at it shows him just how good he could be. He's charming and a bit mysterious, reminiscent of the character he played 40 years earlier in Laura, except that this one has a different provenance and is more prominent.

Bette Davis gets to be mean since her character has the physical infirmities of old age, and Davis does a fine job with it. Supposedly Davis and Gish didn't get along so well, which I suppose would give the meanness a bit more of an edge to it. At any rate, Davis does well portraying somebody who's almost OK with life ending.

Lillian Gish is proably best of all here, though. She's the sweet old woman who gave up a part of her life to take care of her sister, but doesn't seem to show much regret or resentment for it. Still, she does have wistful reminiscences, especially of her late husband.

If you want a little movie without a bunch of CGI and explosions, The Whales of August is definitely one for you. The movie did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but it seems to be out of print. That's a shame, since this is a really worthwhile film.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dead Reckoning again

I've mentioned Dead Reckoning multiple times, most recently when Lizabeth Scott died a year and a half ago. It's on again tonight at midnight as part of Humphrey Bogart's day in Summer Under the Stars.

The plot, convoluted as it is, involves Bogart as Capt. Murdock. He's returning home from World War II with Sgt. Drake (William Prince), who was under his command. Drake was a hero in the war and is up for the Congressional Medal of Honor. But on the way to Washington DC, Drake gets off the train and goes missing. Murdock investigates, and that investigation takes him to Florida's Gulf coast, where he finds that Drake escaped town at the beginning of the war, and in fact wasn't even Drake at the time.

Drake, it seems, was involved with Coral, who was married at the time to another man. The husband wound up dead, Drake was accused of the murder, and beat the rap by taking the name Drake and enlisting in the war. You can see why he wouldn't want to be recognized for his heroism: everybody in his hometown would recognize him, and there's that murder charge hanging over his head.

Things get very complicated after this. Thankfully, it's not as bad as The Big Sleep, which I find to be a terribly overrated movie. Still, I found Dead Reckoning hard to follow, and the ending a bit of a mess. It's one that you should probably watch once if you haven't seen it before. The TCM Shop does list it as being available to purchase on DVD.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Will Penny

Last autumn, when I had the Starz/Encore channels as part of a promo, I had the opportunity to record Will Penny. I think it's out-of-print on DVD although you can stream it at Amazon. But it's going to be back on Starz/Encore Westerns, or whatever the channel is calling itself these days, twice tomorrow, at 5:20 AM and 6:05 PM. So if you've got the premium channel package or Amazon access, you're in luck.

Will Penny, played by Charlton Heston, is a cowboy doing the cattle drive thing at the end of the 19th century in Montana, a place that holds a fairly bleak existence back in the day since it gets so unbelievably cold after the cattle drive is over. So he and two of his friends, Blue (Lee Majors) and Dutchy (Anthony Zerbe), head off for town. Along the way, they find an elk, but it turns out that another family, the Quints, headed by a preacher patriarch (Donald Pleasance) have also spotted it and after somebody shoots it both sides are trying to claim it. Dutchy gets shot, as does one of Quint's sons, the latter of whom dies.

Blue stays with Dutchy either to nurse him back to health or bury him, depending on what happens, while Will takes a job for the winter as a "line rider", that is, somebody who stays in an isolated cabin to watch the land and find any stray cattle lost in the snow. At least it's a job for the winter.

However, when Will gets to the cabin, he finds... that it's already occupied! Catherine (Joan Hackett) and her son HG (Jon Gries) had met Will and his friends already when Will was looking for a doctor for Dutchy; it seems she's trying to head west but her husband went ahead to pay for a trail guide who never showed up. Will presumes that the husband is dead, or possibly just left her, but in any case, there's no way Catherine is going to make it all the way west before winter sets in. However, it's a huge no-no for any guests to be at the line riders' cabins.

Still, with winter setting in, Will realizes there's not much he can do. Sure enough, there's an attraction beginning to form between Will and Catherine, and even more so between HG and Will, the son seeing Will as the father he no longer has. But there's one more big problem: the Quints are out there somewhere, and sure enough Will runs into them. Thankfully they don't know about Catherine. Yet.

Apparently, Will Penny was one of Charlton Heston's personal favorite movies of all the ones he made. It's not outsized the way that certainly Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments are. And that's something that really works to the benefit of the movie. There's just a little story here, made real by some good acting performances and some lovely, evocative cinematography. This Montana is really a forbidding place, with none of the romantic ideas of a more active western, and it's well shown from the beginning with shots of the cold, treeless high plains.

The fact that Will Penny isn't outsized probably has a lot to do with why it's not as well remembered as either other Heston movies, or other westerns. But it's one that should be remembered, and is a pretty darn good movie. It's well worth a watch.

I'm interested in The Phynx

TCM is concluding Ruby Keeler's Day in Summer Under the Stars overnight at 4:00 AM with The Phynx, which looks delightfully awful.

The plot is that George Tobias and Joan Blondell are the President and First Lady of Communist Albania, and one of their military has been kidnapping Western stars to entertain the leaders. So the US Spy Agency recruits four men to be a rock band, go in to Albania to entertain the leaders, and return with all the hostages.

Apparently a whole bunch of people from the golden age of Hollywood get brief cameos, which is part of what makes the movie sound fun. The other part is that everything I've read makes it sound unbelievably awful, on the level of anywhere from "so bad it's good" to "you have to see it to believe it". I enjoyed Skidoo, so this one sounds like fun, too.