Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sir Nicholas Winton, 1909-2015

The death has been announced of Sir Nicholas Winton, who dies this morning five weeks after his 106th birthday.

Winton was working in Prague in 1938 after the Munich Conference led to Nazi Germany carving the Sudetenland off of Czechoslovakia. The writing was on the wall for the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Winton helped organize a series of trains that would take young Czechoslovak Jews to Holland and then across the North Sea to England where they would be safe. Up until the start of World War II on September 1, 1939, Winton's work was able to save 669 Jewish children who almost certainly would have been sent to the concentration camps. In fact, there was another train scheduled to leave on September 1, but obviously the start of hostilities stopped that last train.

I mention all this here on this blog because among the children Winton saved was a 12-year-old boy named Karel Reisz. Reisz spoke little English when he got on the train, but he quickly learned in England, and like a whole lot of refugees, made a big contribution to the film community. Reisz was one of the directors who was responsible for the British new wave. Probably Reisz' most famous film is Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Surf Party

From time to time, TCM will spend an entire morning and afternoon showing some of those vintage beach movies, especially the ones with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Lots of studios made these cheap movies to try to appeal to the teen audience, and a particularly cheap example is coming up on FXM Retro: Surf Party, tomorrow (July 2) at 12:30 PM and repeated on July 3 and July 5.

The movie starts off with Terry Wells (Patricia Morrow) in a car, trailer in tow, with two of her girlfriends. They're all from Arizona, and Terry is driving out to California to see her brother Skeet (Jerry Summers), who lives on the California coast spending his summers surfing. All three girls: Terry and her friends Junior (Jackie DeShannon, before she put a little love in our hearts) Sylvia (Lory Patrick) are looking to take up surfing, and enjoy the beach and all the other good things they must think California has to offer them from those beach movies they've seen. The only thing is, when they get to what is supposed to be Skeet's place on the beach, he doesn't answer. Oh, he's there, but he's got a girl and doesn't want to be bothered by anybody knocking on the door, not realizing it's his sister.

So the women park their trailer on the beach intending to camp there, not realizing it's illegal. The next morning, they're woken up by the owner of the local surf shop, Len (Bobby Vinton; none of the girls wears blue velvet at any point in the movie as far as I can tell). He helpfully informs them that they really should get off the beach before the local wet blanket cop comes by, and at least one of the women takes an interest in Len's hot body. Eventually they meet Skeet, and find that he's got some sort of reputation that's less than positive. Part of it is that he's considered the best surfer, and to get invited into his exclusive coterie, one has to surf between the pylons of the pier, which is unsurprisingly both dangerous and illegal. Milo (Ken Miller) is stupid enough to try, but Junior loves him for it anyway because he's just so dreamy. Terry is falling for Len, and Sylvia eventually falls for Skeet.

But there's tension between Len and Skeet, because Len wants the beach open for normal people and fears that Skeet's encouragement of illegal surfing will get that wet blanket cop to shut the beach down entirely. The young women visitors don't seem to care about any of this, and could easily play peacemaker, but by this time it's too late. Especially when the truth about Skeet is revealed.

I don't know why I'm going on about the plot of Surf Party, because that's not the reason to watch this one. Instead, watch it so you can laugh at how thoroughly awful it is in every way. The plot isn't very good, but that might be the least of the problems. Bobby Vinton and Jackie DeShannon should have stuck to their day jobs singing. The dialogue is terrible. The sets are terrible. But they're 10 times better than the surfing scenes, which are so blatantly done against rear projection with the actors doing gyrating "trying to keep balance" moves. And there's lots and lots of pointless music. One or two instrumental numbers wouldn't be bad, but there are a lot of vocal songs as well. And all the life is sucked out of the beach by the decision to film in black and white.

Watch Surf Party, and have fun. Just don't go into it with a serious point of view.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tomorrow is a new month

We're already at the end of June, which I suppose is a good time to take another look at FXM. Back at the end of 2011, when they went from being solely the Fox Movie Channel to being half FMC during the morning and FXM during the evening, I figured that would last for six months; instead, it's gone on for three and a half years. There are always signs that make me worry they're finally going to get rid of what has since become FXM Retro; that includes two fairly recent movies on today's FXM Retro lineup. On the other hand, I looked through the schedule for the rest of the week over this past weekend, and there are a bunch of movies that are clearly retro and I know can only fit in the given time slots if there's no commercials. (I've also got an FXM movie that's going to be the subject of an upcoming blog post.)

The other thing is that I noticed at the beginning of June that FXM Retro seemed to change one of its interstitials. There's one that includes snippets of Montgomery Clift talking to Lee Remick in Wild River as well as marilyn Monroe dancing in Let's Make Love, but there's a second one that seems to have a different set of movies now than it did back in May. I'd guess it's a function of which movies FXM pulled out of the vaults to run into the ground. And on that score, I have to admit I didn't notice in the first couple of days of July any movies that have just come out of the vault this month.

So whither FXM Retro? Who knows? I have a feeling it will just disappear one day, and you'll only notice because there are no old movies and the FXM Retro logo is gone. But I have no idea when that day is going to come.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Two Against the World (1932)

Tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM, TCM is running a 1932 movie called Two Against the World that sounds awfully familiar.

The first thing to recognize is that there was a completely different movie made four years later also called Two Against the World, although that one has been renamed One Fatal Hour, presumably when it came to syndicating these old movies for the late late show in the 1950s. One Fatal Hour is a remake of a 1931 movie called Five Star Final, both of which are well worth watching.

What makes tomorrow's Two Against the World sound awfully familiar is the plot. Constance Bennett plays a wanton socialite in love with attorney Neil Hamilton. Unfortunately, Bennett's brother gets mixed up in a murder, and Bennett does what she can to protect him. That is, until Hamilton has to put her on the stand. It's a movie I may have seen, but I'm not certain because this is a plot device that's been done several times.

One that comes to mind is The Unguarded Hour, which has Loretta Young as a woman who saw an accidental death in which a man is being unjustly prosecuted -- by Young's husband. Young could get the guy off, except the reason she was a witness is because she was there to pay off a man who was going to blackmail her husband.

Alternately, there's Evelyn Prentice. This one has Myrna Loy killing the blackmailer, except that the blackmailer is trying to blackmail her. And here, the husband (William Powell) isn't the prosecutor, but the defense attorney.

Don't get me started on all the versions of Madame X.

Finally, Constance Bennett's sister Joan had a similar role in The Reckless Moment, which has Joan protecting her daughter from blackmailers.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bergman Week

So I missed this year's Bergman Week, a look at the life and work of Ingmar Bergman held at his estate on the southern Swedish island of Fårö. I didn't realize it was going on until I heard a Radio Sweden report on this year's edition. The Radio Sweden piece isn't available by itself, but only as part of the full broadcast of Friday's show. That MP3 is about 27MB and will be available for another four weeks. This year being the centenary of the other Bergman, the Bergman Week looked quite a bit at the film the two Bergmans made together, Autumn Sonata.

Speaking of that other Bergman, Radio Sweden had a report on her, but this one is only a print report. (On the bright side, I don't think the print archives are limited the way the audio archives are. Apparently, somebody is planning to make a movie about Ingrid Bergman's romance with photographer Robert Capa, and pre-production is proceeding apace. No idea if it will ultimately be made, or when it will show up in theaters.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

TCM Shorts report: June 28, 2015

TCM has a couple of interesting shorts coming up in the next day or so. First, today being Saturday, the overnight lineup has TCM Underground, which often has shorts with cult value. I have to admit, however, to not having seen any of this week's shorts before. A Day in the Death of Donny B., however, is available on Youtube:



For more conventional shorts, you'll have to wait until a more sane hour on Sunday morning. First up, at 7:51 AM, is Stars on Horseback. Hollywood stars liked their horses, especially those who did a lot of westerns. James Stewart, for example, worked with his beloved Pie for nearly 20 years. Of course, horses needed to be shoed, and this short looks at shoeing horses. It's just too bad this one couldn't be in color.

Then, at 9:36 AM, is So You Think You're Allergic. If you've seen enough shorts on TCM, you can probably figure out from the title that this is one of the Joe McDoakes shorts. This is an earlier Joe McDoakes short, from the days when the shorts still had narrators. Knox Manning, who was one of the voices of Warner Bros, showing up in well over 100 movies over a 15 year period, handles the narration. Barbara Billingsley, in the days before she was the prototypical 1950s mother or before she spok jive, shows up.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Batman and Robin

TCM has been airing the 1943 serial Batman at 10:00 AM on Saturday mornings. But last Saturday saw the final chapter in that particular serial, so obviously TCM is going to be starting a new serial tomorrow (June 27). This time, it's Batman and Robin, from 1949. It's got 15 episodes, so it should be running through the first Saturday in November; remember that it won't be on in August because of Summer Under the Stars.

I have to admit that I haven't seen it before, so I can't really comment on it. I don't know how much of it I'll watch; I think I only watched the first episode of the 1943 Batman. That having been said, the one thing about this one that's of some interest is that Commissioner Gordon is played by Lyle Talbot, who was a reasonably recognizable character actor in the 1930s.

Bomba the Jungle Boy continues at 10:30 AM for the forseeable future.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Heads up for a pair of movies I don't particularly care for

TCM's prime time lineup for tonight is people's final films; specifically, it's people who died before the movie became a commercial success. I briefly mentioned Saratoga yesterday; that's the movie that Jean Harlow was making when her untimely uremia killed her at the young age of 26. Her fans wanted to see the footage that was already in the can, so MGM got a stand-in to be in some remaining scenes and then released the movie.

But that's not the movie I don't particularly care for. Instead, that would be Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which is kicking off the prime time lineup at 8:00 PM. As I mentioned back in 2009, I find the movie to be terribly unsubtle, and that makes it hard to watch. Still, I know there are people out there who like it.

During tomorrow's Summer of Darkness look at noirs, TCM is showing Lady in the Lake at 11:00 AM. Robert Montomery stars as detective Philip Marlowe in this murder mystery. He also directed himself, and perhaps because of that he tried out a gimmick: the movie is told almost entirely from Marlowe's point of view. Not in the first-person sense that he shows up in all the scenes, but in the sense that the camera angles we get are from his eyesight. It's a lot like the first portion of Dark Passage, in which we see everything from Humphrey Bogart's point of view largely so the producers don't have to make him up after he gets plastic surgery. It's mildly laughable in Dark Passage; in Lady in the Lake it really gets in the way of the movie.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Irving Pichel, 1891-1954

Today marks the birth anniversary of director-actor Irving Pichel, a name you might have seen if you watch enough old movies, even though he never really directed any big movies. I've mentioned a couple of his directorial efforts before:

His very first effort was The Most Dangerous Game, starring Joel McCrea as a man who gets hunted on an island owned by a man who likes to hunt "the most dangerous game", that being humans. Along the way, he also has to try to save Fay Wray.

I haven't seen the 1935 version of She before; probably the 1960s version with Ursula Andress is more famous, and is appearing on TCM tonight at 10:00 PM. The Pichel version starred Helen Gahagan, who would later marry Melvyn Douglas and run for Congress against Richard Nixon.

I've also recommended Hudson's Bay, which Pichel made over at Fox. Paul Muni plays French-Canadian, which is as funny as Laurence Olivier doing it in 49th Parallel.

One of Pichel's films as a director is coming up on TCM soon: They Won't Believe Me will be on at 8:00 AM Friday, as part of the Summer of Darkness noir festival.

Pichel's acting was mostly smaller roles, too. However, you've got a chance to see him coming up on TCM. He's listed as playing "Bruce Renoir" in Old Hickory, one of those Warner Bros. Technicolor US history shorts. This short, on Andrew Jackson, is scheduled to air Friday at 5:42 AM, following Saratoga (4:00 AM Friday, 92 min).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TCM Guest Programmer June 2015: Edgar Wright

We've reached that point of the month when TCM has its monthly Guest Programmer. This month, that's Edgar Wright, who is probably best known from the movie Shaun of the Dead. He sat down with Robert Osborn to present a broad range of four films, and those movies are airing tonight.

First up, at 8:00 PM, is Dames, a Busby Berkeley musical that's reminiscent of Gold Diggers of 1933, except that instead of having a rich guy wanting to write music despite his relatives wanting to go into the family business, we've got a rich guy (Hugh Herbert) using his money to promote morals, except that some of his cousins are in the theater.

At 9:45, you can watch The Last of Sheila, an early 1970s movie about a rich guy who invites a bunch of Hollywood types on his yacht in the Mediterranean, with murder resulting;

Super Cops, at midnight, is a cop drama involving the seedier side of law enforcement, with prostitution and drugs.

Finally, at 1:45 AM is one I know absolutely nothing about, O Lucky Man! This one is presumably a TCM premiere, since for the genre it lists "TCM Presents", and doesn't show a synopsis.