Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A couple of obituaries

Verne Troyer, who died over the weekend at the age of 49, is probably best known for playing Mini-Me to Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies. It's hard to think that the first of those movies is already 20 years old. My parents had the one on DVD, but I can't find what happened to that DVD. After Mom died, my sisters came up and helped clean out part of the house: Mom was a hoarder, and you should have seen the back bedroom. So I looked through the CD cabinet since I thought the DVDs would be there, too, and couldn't find it. I think the very first DVD they got when they got a DVD player however many years ago was Anaconda, which is a head-scratcher since that's not the sort of movie I'd think of them watching. I don't know what would happened to the DVDs, since my sisters didn't throw out the kajillion Irish music CDs that Mom had. And there were some other DVDs: Michael Collins (unsurprising with all those Irish CDs) and The Manchurian Candidate (the original; and ooh, I didn't know that one was lying around the house!)

I'd never heard of the Russian actress Nina Doroshina, or the movie Love and Pigeons that Wikipedia's English-language obituary page lists for her. (The obituary is also in Russian.) Apparently the movie is also known as Love and Doves, which makes reasonable sense considering that Russian uses the same word for both and doves are really nothing but white pigeons anyway. The movie actually sounds interesting, but it's not available on DVD in the US. Amazon supposedly used to offer it in their streaming service, but apparently the rights to it ran out since when I checked Amazon says it's currently unavailable. However, as of this writing there is a version with English subtitles available on Youtube. (I can read Russian reasonably well, but I find the pace of spoken Russian to be more difficult than German or even French, which for me should be much rustier.) I'm not giving out the URL because I've got too many posts here with Youtube videos that have been taken down for alleged copyright violations, even to old silents that should be in the public domain: either there can be music issues, or the poster's other videos have copyright problems. And then there are the channels that get removed for no good reason.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A brief mention of The Man From Colorado

TCM's Star of the Month salute to William Holden continues tonight with western after western after western. In fact, I'm not quite certain I know Holden made so many westerns. A few years back I caught The Man from Colorado, and that's going to be on early tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM.

Holden plays the second-in-command to Glenn Ford at the end of the Civil War. The war clearly broke Ford, but people on the home front don't know that, and he gets named federal judge in the Colorado territory, with Ford naming Holden a federal marshal.

The only thing is, all the guys they fought alongside have had their gold claims taken out from under them during the war, and who's going to give those guys justice? It turns out that it's not going to be Ford.

Unfortunately, the movie was one of those good enough, but not particularly memorable movies that I'd want to watch again before doing a full-length post on it. I saw it a couple of years ago on Starz/Encore's westerns channel when I have all the premium channels as part of a free promo. I never did a post on it then because some brief searching implied that it wasn't in print on DVD. There's a Mill Creek box set that came out at the beginning of 2017, which is definitely after I saw the movie, but TCM lists another three-film set from 2008 which they imply is still in print since you can get it from the TCM Shop. I'm surprised I missed this back in the day.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Down to Earth (1947)

Quite a few years back I bought the Mill Creek "Romance film" set that has eight movies on two DVDs. I think I've blogged about every movie on the set except for Down to Earth, so I finally got around to watching that one.

The movie starts off as an extension of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, with James Gleason reprising his role as Max Corkle. Where Max was a boxing manager before, now he's a theatrical agent. And he's being questioned for murder, since he knew five minutes in advance to call the police. He's also seen looking for an unseen Mr. Jordan. Cue the flashback....

Danny Miller (Larry Parks) is a Broadway producer putting on a show with ancient Greek themes; the plot involves a couple of World War II-era flyboys getting romanced by Terpsichore, the ancient Greek muse of dance. What these people down on Earth don't know is that the gods above are watching them, and in this case it's specifically Terpsichore (Rita Hayworth) who's been paying attention. And she's pissed, because this musical production makes her look like some sort of tramp. It's scandalous!

But how can she make it right? Eventually, she pleads with Mr. Jordan (Roland Culver) to let her go down to earth in human form to show these Broadway people what the real Terpsichore is about. Unsurprisingly being Rita Hayworth, the real Terpsichore is so gorgeous and such a good dancer that she has no difficulty winning over Danny on the spot and getting the lead role in the play. That's the easy part.

Having gotten herself in the cast, Terpsichore, calling herself Kitty Pendleton and taking on Max as her agent, proceeds to act like a diva who thinks she should be telling everybody how to do the play. Of course, that was her intention, in that she wanted an honest story of Terpsichore. But she comes across as selfish to the point that she's got all the other cast unhappy with her suggested changes. But Danny realizes he's got a star in the making on his hands. Worse, he's in love with her.

There's even worse than that. Terpsichore's changes turn the play into a flop. It's the sort of material that might have been good for a serious opera or maybe a ballet if it had been done as dance. But a Broadway show? Heavens no, and the type of people who go to Broadway shows are going to stay away from this one in droves. That's a problem not only in that nobody wants a flop, but also because Danny owes a whole bunch of money to bookie Manion (George Macready). If the show is a success, he'll pay off the debts; if it's a failure, Manion's men will be able to kill Danny and get it declared a suicide. What's a poor little muse to do?

Down to Earth is a movie that has a good premise, and anybody who's interested in a romance movie will find the plot pleasing enough. The Technicolor photography is quite good, even on the lesser Mill Creek print. The movie, however, has a pretty big problem in the form of all those musical numbers. There are a lot of them, and they just go on and on and on. Worse, they're not even particularly good musical numbers. It's a shame that this detracts from what would otherwise be a prety good movie.

Down to Earth seems to be available on DVD only in the Mill Creek set, although Amazon also currently has it on its streaming video service. There have also been several other movies with the same title, most notably the Chris Rock movie from 2001 which is actually the same story as Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Madigan

A couple of weeks ago TCM ran a double feature of Don Siegel movies, which gave me the chance to get Madigan of my list of movies I'd wanted to see.

Madigan, played by Richard Widmark, is a New York City police detective accompanied by his partner Bonaro (Harry Guardino). We know it's New York already from the opening credits, which have some really nice photography of New York, set against some music that sounds more like it's suited for one of those TV cop shows of the 1970s than a big-screen movie. Anyhow, Madigan and his partner show up one morning at the apartment of Barney Benesch (Steve Ihnat), who is wanted for questioning about some small matter or another. However, the two detectives are just incompetent enough that Barney is able to get their guns and force them up on to the roof, leaving Barney to make his escape.

The two detectives then discover that they've got a much bigger problem then they thought. While they believed they were only picking up Benesch on a routine matter. It turns out he knew, and the folks back at headquarters know, the Benesch was actually wanted in connection with a murder. Police Commissioner Anthony Russell (Henry Fonda) is none too pleased. So Russell gives the two detectives 72 hours to find Benesch, who could be anywhere in the city, or else.

Russell, for his part, has a bunch of other stuff on his plate. There's stuff like the Police Athletic League and, more interestingly, an alleged police brutality case in which a local minister, Dr. Taylor, claims that his son was mistreated by two of Russell's policemen, while Russell claims the circumstantial evidence made Taylor's son a valid suspect. The problem, of course, is that Taylor is black, and this is the late 60s, you can probably connect the dots.

Back to Madigan, he's also got problems at home. He's got a long-suffering wife (Inger Stevens) who is sick of having to spend nights alone, and now is even worrying that he won't be able to take her to the upcoming Policemen's Ball since he's going to be busy trying to find Benesch. Still, the search must go on....

In many ways, Madigan felt like two movies. This is in part because, as Ben Mankiewicz explained in the intro, there was a clash between the director and producer over whether more of the focus should have been on Madigan, or on Russell. The result is that we get some parts that don't quite fit together. Not that Madigan was bad. It's good enough, and with Widmark and Fonda you know you're going to get good performances. It's just that it could have been better.

Madigan is available on DVD if you want to see for yourself.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Last American Hero

For those of you who have FXM, you'll have a chance to catch The Last American Hero, tomorrow morning at 11:35 AM.

The movie is based on the life of early NASCAR driver Junior Johnson (real name Robert Johnson Jr.), renamed Elroy "Junior" Jackson for the movie and played by Jeff Bridges. (The action is also updated to sometime closer to the present, or at least the 1973 of when the movie was released, although exactly when it's set isn't mentioned.) Junior's father (Art Lund) is a moonshiner, since that's the only thing he and his family knows, and Junior runs moonshine to beat the revenuers. However, Dad wants something better for his sons Junior and Wayne (Gary Busey). Making and running moonshine is highly illegal because the feds can't countenance not getting their vig, so the result for Dad is that he's spent his life in and out of prisons, leaving the boys to look after Mom (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Dad doesn't want his kids ending up in prison like him.

Dad gets caught once again, and this time Junior learns just what the cost is. Never mind having to look after Mom, there's the more prosaic financial cost of getting a lawyer for Dad and making certain that Dad will be relatively comfortable in prison. (This obvious bit of penal system corruption is treated surprisingly matter-of-factly.) There's no money coming in with the still having been destroyed, so Junior has to come up with some other way of making money. Eventually, he decides to enter a demolition derby, and then he gets the idea of entering actual car races, since he's got a good fast car.

Unfortunately, Junior discovers that prize racing is becoming big business. (NASCAR had been founded in 1948.) To get the best car is going to take more money than Junior has. That's why the best cars have owners like Colt (Ed Lauter) who have drivers working for them. There's also the problem that Dad isn't exactly proud of his son becoming a car racer. But Junior is an excellent driver, able to win the lower tier races and actually able to put in a creditable showing in the first big race he runs as an independent -- until his engine blows out. Oh, there's that financial problem again.

Meanwhile, there's the other issue of big-time professional sports, which is groupies and hangers-on. That and the rivalries among the various drivers. Junior wants his old friends as his pit crew while Colt offers him a good job but with Colt's pit crew. There's also the lovely Marge (Valerie Perrine), who Junior falls in love with, although she seems to be perfectly happy with whatever man is around.

I have to admit that I'm not much of a NASCAR fan, partly because I've reached a point where if I want to watch sports I want to watch things were people are competing more directly against each other than against the clock. (Yes, I know there are strategies and what not in car racing.) So I tend not to be interested even in things like swimming or track and field but sports like tennis or hockey or soccer. Still, I couldn't help but get the feeling that there was a bit of a cursory nature to the movie, like when I watch a documentary where I actually know a bit more about the subject.

On the other hand, even though I don't care much more NASCAR, the movie does entertain and is clearly a pretty well-made movie. The atmosphere came across as authentic, and the racing scenes aren't badly done. Bridges gives a good performance as Junior and is clearly the lead above everybody else, but all the supporting actors do a fine job as well. And it's got the memorable Jim Croce song "I Got a Name".

It's a shame that The Last American Hero is out of print on DVD, because it's a movie that deserves to be better remembered.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #197: Meltdowns



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is meltdowns. I'm assuming the figurative meaning of meltdown was intended, although I already used Now, Voyager late last year. And that's more of a breakdown than a meltdown. At any rate, I was able to come up with three movies that have real, no-foolin' melting to use for this theme:

The China Syndrome (1979). Jack Lemmon plays a technicial at a nuclear power plant who discovers that in building the plant, the builders skimped on safety, so there's actually a higher risk of a catastrophic meltdown. He tries to get the material out to a reporter (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas), but when that's thwarted, he locks himself in the control room and threatens to melt the reactor down.

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Alec Guinness plays a man who works for the Bank of England guarding shipments of gold bullion. He fantasizes about what he could do with all that gold, and decides he's actually going to rob a shipment. Of course, using those numbered gold bars is going to cause problems, so he finds a friend who's a smelter (Stanley Holloway) who could melt the gold down and turn it into miniature Eiffel Tower souvenirs, enabling them to smuggle the gold out of the country! Of course, the plan ultimately goes awry.

The Wizard of Oz (1939). Margaret Hamilton has a memorable meltdown after Judy Garland throws a bucket of water on her.

Now to see if everybody else went for the figurative meltdown.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hysteria (1965)

Hammer Films is known for its horror movies with Christopher Lee and the like, but they did make some other movies as well. An example is 1965's Hysteria.

Robert Webber plays Chris Smith, or at least that's the name he's going by now. He's an American in Britain being treated by psychiatrist Dr. Keller (Anthony Newlands). Apparently Chris was found in a car crash in a country part of Britain without any identification, and he lost his memory in that accident. in fact, the only thing he has is a cut-out photo of a gorgeous model. He's been trying to get his memory back, but with no luck. Dr. Keller has done all he can for Smith, too. Thankfully, some anonymous benefactor, apparently having heard about the case, has provided a penthouse apartment for Chris.

The only problem is, it's not exactly a life of luxury. It's a new building, so he's the only one occupying any of the apartments. Yet, when he goes to bed at night, he hears voices that sound like they're coming from the other penthouse. And those voices are talking about murder and other such fun stuff. Yet every time Chris goes into the other apartment, it's empty. It's enough to make a man question his sanity.

Chris tries to hire an investigator, and when he investigates the photograph, he's told by a fashion photographer that the woman in the photograph was killed in a car crash. Perhaps the same one that Chris was in? But Chris is soon about to get more reason to question his own sanity, as he thinks he sees the woman in the photo one day. And then she (Lelia Goldoni) comes out of the shadows as it were and turns out to be a real person.

However, there's still the problem of those voices coming from the other apartment, and they're getting worse, as Chris eventually finds a bloody knife and a dead body. It seems pretty clear that somebody is trying to drive Chris insane, but who? And why?

Hysteria is a movie that has an interesting premise, but one where I didn't really care for the payoff. I think it's because the plot just seems to have so many holes. If an American without a passport were in a serious car accident in Britain, you'd think the US Embassy would get involved once the guy realized he was American. And yet one would have to guess he had no family in the US. And the conspiracy to drive Chris insane is thoroughly unrealistic. In movies like My Name is Julia Ross where they can keep the poor victim confined, it's at least slightly plausible. But here it's all too far-fetched. And that's even before the reveal at the end, which gives a key character a dumb motivation for a key act.

Hysteria is available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection since they apparently have the distribution rights to Hammer Films in the US.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Notes for April 17-18, 2018

I should probably apologize for not pointing out the possible schedule conflict on Sunday. TCM ran Greed in Silent Sunday Nights, followed by the Soviet origial version of Solaris. The only thing is, Greed has two versions. The theatrical version in 1924 runs around 135 minutes, but several years back there was a restoration with found production stills that's padded it out to four hours. TCM ran the latter, and my box guide reflected that, with Solaris starting at either 4:00 AM or 4:15 AM, I forget with. But, on their schedule page, TCM had a time slot suitable for the 2:15 version, followed by Solaris, a featurette, and then a feature at 6:00 AM. I and another poster on the TCM boards mentioned all this on Sunday, but another poster missed it and wondered what was going on Monday morning.

R. Lee Ermey, who played the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket among a whole host of other roles, died on Sunday at the age of 74. I have to admit I'm not particularly a fan of movies about Vietnam, or a lot of Kubrick's movies.

The TCM website still has, as far as I can see, nothing about the death of Miloš Forman and whether there will ever be a programming tribute.

Monday, April 16, 2018

X, Y, Zee & Co.

A movie I'd wanted to see for a while was Zee & Co., which was released in the States as X, Y, and Zee. TCM ran it a month ago when Elizabeth Taylor was Star of the Month, and the movie is available on DVD courtesy of the Sony/Columbia MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with opening credits superimposed over a scene of Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine playing a game of table tennis, sporting the sort of exaggerated facial expressions of joy that you'd see in TV commercials. Right away, this was a sign to me that we've got a movie in the "Disaster Waiting to Happen" genre. Sure enough, it's coming.

Taylor plays Zee Blakeley, the wife of Robert (Caine), an architect in London. We learn fairly quickly that it's not a particularly happy marriage. Zee spends too much, and Robert drinks and has a wandering eye for the ladies. When their friend Gladys (Margaret Leighton) throws a swanky party, Robert makes the acquaintance of dress designer Stella (Susannah York).


Margaret Leighton (l.) and Elizabeth Taylor in X, Y, and Zee

Stella is a widow with youngish twin sons, and she could use a man in her life. Robert is a man who needs a woman who's not as nuts or nasty as Zee. So of course the two are drawn to each other. And they're not exactly keeping it a secret. Zee knows fully well what's going on, and she decides that she's going to make life as difficult for Robert and Stella as possible.



The antics range from Zee making business difficult for Stella by insisting on taking somebody else's dress, all the way up to trying to slit her wrists. And on her hospital bed after the suicide attempt, she learns something she can use against Stella, setting up the spectacularly nutsy finale.

X, Y, and Zee is one of those movies that's terrible because of how screwed up the story is, to the point that there are a lot of times you'll want to laugh at how ludicrous it all is. The characters deliver a bunch of tawdry one-liners, all while bathed in a production design that takes the style of the era and says let's turn it up to 11. Taylor's hair would be spectacularly bad if it weren't that she's easily outdone by Leighton in her two scenes. Taylor has to settle for that horrid eye make-up, as well as the opportunity to chew every bit of scenery in London.

X, Y, and Zee isn't very good, but it's a movie everybody should watch once for how hilariously off the rails it goes.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bird of Paradise (1951)

This morning, FXM Retro ran the 1951 version of Bird of Paradise. As is their wont, they're going to be running it again soon, at 4:00 AM tomorrow. It's also available on DVD from FOX's MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with an expository scene. André Laurence (Louis Jourdan) is on a schooner going through the tropics which takes aboard a passenger who complains about the Polynesians. It turns out that André is on board with his best friend and college roommate Tenga (Jeff Chandler), who is three-quarters Polynesian: his grandfather had married one of the local Polynesian women before being forced to leave the island. André is going to visit Tenga's society.

Tenga, it turns out, is royalty. His father is the chieftain on this particular island, and Tenga has a kid sister in Kalua (Debra Paget). Tenga's family is grudgingly OK with having André on the island, although the local shaman Kahuna decidedly is not. He remembers previous whites who brought violence and disease to the island, and he fears having another white man on the island will be a curse. And Kahuna has some political power.

While Tenga's parents are grudgingly accepting, Kalua is rather more accepting. She's taking by the presence of a nice-looking white guy, while the feeling is mutual. However, the island traditions, strange to a white guy like André, mandate that he and Kalua not speak to each other until they're betrothed. There's also a bunch of other traditions that André doesn't get, although he does try to follow them conscientiously.

And there's the white guy who didn't try to follow them: he was made taboo and sent to a neighboring island. When André is sent there, the other guy warns him about trying to stay on the island with the natives. But André doesn't care, because he's just too damn much in love with Tenga.

Eventually André does marry Tenga, the Kahuna tries to curse the marriage, and Tenga is declared barren after a whopping three months! Somebody has to be punished. Especially when the volcano starts to erupt....

Jeff Chandler doesn't look Polynesian at all, although he didn't look like Cochise either, despite the fact that he had played Cochise a year earlier in Broken Arrow. Paget has also played an Apache in Broken Arrow, and at least the writers had the good sense to remind us of Tenga and Kalua's white grandfather when André wonders why she has blue eyes. Louis Jourdan is of course playing white, so his presence in the cast doesn't matter. The producers just wanted a bunch of eye candy, since the women are in sarongs and the men are shirtless from the moment they get to the island.

The story is OK, but more than the 1932 Joel McCrea/Dolores Del Rio version, this one gave me the vibe of trying to be sensitive to foreign cultures only to wind up all feeling a bit silly. I don't think the 1932 version was trying to have any grounding in reality; plus, it has the benefit of being a pre-Code movie. The 1951 version, for its part, had a title card in the opening about how it was filmed on location in the Hawaiian Islands, and how all the cultural traditions were based on real traditions.

Overall, this version of Bird of Paradise is good for one viewing, but not one I'm actively looking to add to my DVD correction.