Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving shorts update

Let's Talk Turkey does not seem to be on the TCM schedule any time soon. It's a bit of a shame, since it's actually a short that would be appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday, what with the theme of triyng to carve a turkey. Instead, we get a mix of the old, and the new-to-me.

First up is another airing of Mighty Manhattan, New York's Wonder City at around 6:09 PM, or following The Secret Garden (4:30 PM, 92 min). It's mentioned this not-quite-a-Traveltalks short before, a two reeler that looks at Manhattan at about the time On the Town would have been in production: the short was released five months before On the Town and one has to wonder whether the suits at MGM saw an opportunity to get a short out of the location shooting they were doing.

An official Traveltalks that I have not seen, and one of the last, is Copenhagen, City of Towers, at about 12:50 AM, following The Fake (11:30 PM, 71 min). The Fake is one of those British movies that had an Ameircan star to try to make it easier to distribute in the States. TCM's schedule page lists it as a musical, although it's apparently a straight-up crime drama.

Laurel and Hardy teach us how to use wood in the World War II propaganda short The Tree in a Test Tube, at 7:54 AM tomorrow, or after Flipper (6:15 AM, 90 min). This is another one I haven't seen, but because it was produced by the government, it's in the public domain and so shows up on Youtube having been uploaded by several people:



Finally, I haven't seen Little Pioneer, tomorrow morning at 11:05 AM, following The Little Princess (9:30 AM, 93 min). This one is a late-1930s Technicolor short from Vitaphone starring Sybil Jason as a young girl in a South African settler family, who battle family strife and native Africans amidst musical numbers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

One more night at the movies

TCM has for a couple of years now been running an infrequent series called A Night at the Movies, which looks at a certain genre of movies, generally giving a fairly cursory overview. Not the worst thing ever done, but there's not a whole lot groundbreaking for those who watch a lot of TCM.

Still, we note that TCM has a new installment in that series tonight: A Night at the Movies: George Lucas and the World of Fantasy Cinema. I don't know exactly how this installment is structured, since TCM's front page is pretentiously referring to tnoight's showings as a world premiere, but they do have a slightly more detalied page on the topic, and the other fantasy movies that will be airing as part of the salute.

As usually happens with documentary premieres on TCM, this one will be airing at 8:00 PM, followed by one movie, in thic case the Danny Kaye version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty at 9:15 PM. Then, for the venefit of the folks on the west coast, the documentary will be repeated, at 11:15 PM.

Jeffrey Hunter, 1926-1969


Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in King of Kings (1961)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Jeffrey Hunter, who is probably best known for playing Jesus Christ in the epick 1961 version of the film King of Kings about the life of Jesus Christ. Hunter started his career at Fox, with smaller roles in movies like Fourteen Hours, before getting a big break playing opposite John Wayne in The Searchers in the mid-1950s. Unfortunately, Hunter's career didn't go all that well after King of Kings. Hunter played the captain of the Enterprise in the pilot for the TV show Star Trek, but with the long delay between filming the pilot and going into production Hunter decided not to do the role, so we wound up with William Shatner as Captain Kirk. Hunter's pilot was edited into the two part Star Trek episode "The Menagerie".

Hunter died tragically young. After giving up on Star Trek, Hunter wound up in Europe making crappy westerns. On a flight back to America to try to revive his career, he suffered a stroke and then, several weeks later, suffered another one that caused him to fall and hit his head which, like William Holden, is eventually what killed him (although it Holden's case it was all alcohol-induced).

The Jeffrey Hunter movie I'd recommend would be Sergeant Rutledge.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A bunch of films about films

This final night of silent stars at the TCM Star of the Month looks at the silent comediansL Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, followed by a bunch who aren't quite as well remembered by the general public today. One of the interesting things is that each of the three big stars gets a documentary in addition to one feature film. I wonder if it's a sign of the times that getting the rights to a documentary is cheaper than getting a second feature film in these belt-tightening days for everybody in the corporate conglomerate that owns TCM. Or maybe not. At any rate, the three documentaries are:

Birth of the Tramp, about Charlie Chaplin, at 8:45 PM;
Buster Keaton: So Funny It Hurt! at 11:00 PM; and
Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy at 1:15 AM

Tomorrow at 1:00 PM, TCM is running That's Entertainment! again. I was going to post the trailer, since that's on Youtube, and wanted to make a comment about how the trailer says "This will never happen again", only for a sequel to come out two years later. And, of course, there was a third That's Entertainment as well as That's Dancing in between. In fact, all four of them will be on TCM tomorrow starting with That's Dancing and followed by the three That's Entertainment movies. But I'm not posting the trailer because I already did that at the end of last year. (That also wasn't the first time TCM ran all the That's Entertainment movies back to back, and I'm sure tomorrow won't be the last by a long shot.)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Broadminded

I briefly mentioned the movie Broadminded a few months back, although it was in error, as I mixed up Boris Karloff with Bela Lugosi. At any rate, TCM is showing it again tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM as part of a salute to actor Joe E. Brown. The movie is well worth watching, if only for how bizarre it is in spots.

Brown plays Ossie, who is the cousin of playboy Jack (William Collier, Jr.). Jack is in love with wealthy Mabel (Margaret Livingston), but Jack's father (Holmes Herbert) doesn't particularly care for Mabel, who seems to have more of a knack for getting in the newspaper than anything else. The current scandal involves a "baby party" that Mabel throws. And when I say "baby party", I don't mean a baby shower, but a party that has all of the adult guests dressing up like infants and acting like babies! When a story like this hits the papers, you can understand why Dad would be displeased. So Dad suggests to cousin Ossie that perhaps Ossie should take Jack on a trip someplace warm and far away, like California. Perhaps at one of the posher resorts out there, Jack will meet a young lady who is more suitable for him and who won't cause scandal for the family.

So Ossie and Jack set off for a cross-country road trip, and this is where Bela Lugosi and not Boris Karloff shows up. The two young men stop at one of those roadside service station/diner places, and the wealthy Latin Pancho (yes, Bela Lugosi is playing a South American) happens to be there too. Due to an accident, Ossie gets pen ink all over Pancho's dessert, which understandably ticks Pancho off, although to be fair this was the days before ball-point pens; Laszlo Biro wouldn't put those on the market for another decade. Now, this should have been no big deal; just apologize and go on your way. Except that Pancho and his traveling companion wind up going to the same resort as Ossie and Jack!

Ossie and Jack get to that resort. You just know that they're going to find women, although the question of whether they'll be able to keep those women is something that will occupy us for the rest of the movie. Especially when you consider that Pancho shows up and threatens to spoil the whole thing. Ona Munson plays Jack's girl, while Ossie is paired with Marjorie White. Antics ensue and eventually the good people live more or less happily ever after.

The second half of the movie, once the characters get to California, is a bit frantic and drags the movie down a bit, as it plays out like the plots of so many other off-kilter playboy meets girl movies that made it to the screen in the early 1930s. But the movie is still worth watching for several reasons. Joe E. Brown's facial expressions and mugging for the camera make all of his films worth one viewing, even if you ultimately realize he's not your thing. And Lugosi looks like he's having the time of his life doing comedy. Once Dracula became a hit, Lugosi didn't get to do too much straight-up comedy without any horror elements. And then there's that baby party at the beginning of the movie. Joe E. Brown in a baby carriage with a bonnet around his head and bottle (presumably liquor-filled) in hand is a truly disturbing image.

I don't think Broadminded has received a DVD release, not even from the Warner Archive.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm sure there's a Fox film I haven't blogged about somewhere

Having done this blog for close to seven years now, it should be unsurprising that I've mentioned a whole lot of movies from 20th Century-Fox over the years. And with FXM's policy of having a fairly limited number of movies on the channel at any one time and showing them a lot, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise either that I've blogged about a lot of them at some point in the past. Indeed, much of tomorrow morning's lineup looks like a rehash of years-old posts from here:

Hangover Square at 7:15 AM, with Laird Cregar as a mentally unstable composer;
The House on Telegraph Hill at 8:35 AM; starring Valentina Cortese as a war refugee;
Richard Widmark dealing with deeply troubled Marilyn Monroe in Don't Bother to Knock at 10:10 AM;
Glynis Johns entering Dan O'Herlihy's office in The Cabinet of Caligari at 11:30 AM and
Stuart Whitman going undercover in a mental institution to discover what Lauren Bacall is doing to Roddy McDowall in Shock Treatment at 1:20 PM.

Shorts report for November 22, 2014

A couple of shorts coming up on TCM in the next day or soe look like they're worth seeing. This time, I have to admit to not having seen either of the shorts I'm going to be mentioning, so I can't honestly say how good they really are or aren't.

First, at about 7:50 PM tonight, or following Five Million Years to Earth (6:00 PM, 98 min), is Tennis Technique. I've mentioned once or twice before that Bobby Jones did a series of golf shorts in the early 1930s called How to Break 90. This time, of course, the subject is tennis, and the instructor is Bill Tilden, who was one of the big names in tennis back in the early 1930s.

Overnight at 1:30 AM, after The Prizefighter and the Lady (11:45 PM, 102 min), is the Vitaphone two reeler Seasoned Greetings. The plot has to do with a greeting card store owner who decides to try to stay in business by creating a line of talking greeting cards. Cue the various Vitaphone musical acts. What makes this one look like it's worth a watch is who's listed in the cast at IMDb. The greeting card store owner is played by Charlie Chaplin's second wife Lita; her hasband is played by Robert Cummings in one of his first roles; and that blck boy as a customer -- IMDB says it's a 7-year-old Sammy Davis Jr!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Yet another film festival

There are so many film festivals around that I've never even heard of, such as the Camerimage festival of cinematography, currently being held in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Actor Alan Rickman, who has apparently directed a film, is being honored with a special award, and apparently 92-year-old Haskell Wexler is on the guest list. I didn't realize he was still alive.

Polish Radio's external service in English had an audio interview with the festival director available for download, but that link is currently redirecting to the main page, so if you want to listen to their report, you'll hvae to go here and click the little microphone icon to listen via streaming audio. It's only a couple of minutes long.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols, 1931-2014


Dustin Hoffman looking at Anne Bancroft's leg in The Graduate (1967)

The death has been announced of director Mike Nichols, who is probably best known for directing the 1967 comedy The Graduate. He was 83.

Nichols had a long career, starting in comedy with professional partner Elaine May, and on Broadway, where he directed frequently with movies coming in between. Among the movies in addition to The Graduate are Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and 1983's Silkwood, with Meryl Streep playing the woman at a nuclear facility who decides to blow the whistle on corrupt practices. Silkwood was the movie that also showed Cher could really act.

I don't think TCM would have announced any programming tribute for Nichols since the news only broke a few hours ago.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here?

A few weeks ago, FXM Retro showed a movie that was completely new to me, to the point that I had never even heard of it: Where Do We Go From Here? It's on FXM Retro again tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM, and is certainly worth at least one viewing.

Fred MacMurray plays Bill, a man who wants to fight for his country in World War II, but can't because the government has declared him 4F. It's an unhappy situation for him, especially considering that the woman he's got his eye on, Sally (Joan Leslie) sings fot the troops at the local USO place and really prefers a man in uniform. Meanwhile, Lucilla (June Haver) has her eye on Bill. Not being able to fight, Bill does his service in the best way he can, which is dealing in scrap metal that will be recycled to go to military uses. After spending a fruitless night with Sally, Bill goes back to the scrap yard, which is where his life is about to change.

A woman comes and gives him a bunch of stuff that's been sitting in her attic, including an item that looks a lot like an Aladdin's lamp prop. Not only does it look like an Aladdin's lamp, it sounds like there's something inside, just begging to be let out! So Bill rubs the lamp, and sure enough, there's a genie inside (Gene Sheldon). As genies are wont to do, this one offers Bill a wish. Bill, as you can probably guess, wants to serve, so he wishes he can be in the army. The genie grants that wish, but....

Unfortunately for Bill, the genie is a bit out of practice. Like that Geico commercial where the guy wishes for a thousand bucks and gets a thousand male deer in his yard, Bill's wish to be in the army does get fulfilled, but not in the way he had hoped. Instead, the genie has put Bill in George Washington's army at Valley Forge, with the Hessians about to cross the Delaware River at Trenton. Bill knows his American history, so he knows that he can be of service to General Washington as a spy. This gets Bill sent to Trenton, where sadly he gets caught and put before a firing squad. Ah, but there's that genie! Bill wishes he could be in the navy, and once again, the genie grants that wish....

This time, it's by puting Bill in the service of Christopher Columbus (Fortunio Bonanova). It once again goes without saying that this is not what Bill had in mind, and certainly, it's not going to work out either. Bill winds up adrift on the ocean, going to Manhattan Island and the early 1600s, where he gets involved in a fraudulent land scheme with Indian chief Anthony Quinn to buy the island amd then has to prove that he really does own the island in order to get the girl.

Where Do We Go From Here? is a musical fantasy with a large dollop of comic elements. At times, it doesn't quite mesh together, which I think has mostly to do with the fact that Fred MacMurray was not an actor suited for musicals. The story itself isn't bad, although how much you'll like it will probably depend upon your views of the type of humor used in the historical vignettes, which is reminiscent of the parodies that Mel Brooks or the Zucker brothers would do decades later. At times it comes across as dumb; but then there are scenes which are surprisingly funny. It's all done with good intentions, so even when the humor doesn't hit it's still inoffensive.

I don't believe Where Do We Go From Here? is available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the rare FXM showing.