Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Matt Cvetic story

If you enjoy those old anti-Communist movies from the early 1950s -- either because you agree with the poliitcs or because you enjoy how the strident nature of these movies detracts from the story -- you have a chance to catch another one: I Was a Communist For the FBI, this afternoon at 3:45 PM on TCM.

Frank Lovejoy stars as Matt Cvetic, a steelworker in Pittsburgh who was recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Communist Party because, of course, the CPUSA was doing all sorts of nefarious things. In the case of this movie, it means infiltrating labor unions and taking them over, so that the strikes can serve the interests of the Party and not the workers. (To be fair, Hollywood had already seen Communist-tinged labor strife around the making of the movie Night Unto Night) The Communists are also trying to infiltrate our teachers, presumably because the teachers would then put a more positive spin on Communism. It's Matt's job to investigate this stuff and report ot the FBI. He doesn't get very far until the strikes get violent enough for Eve (Dorothy Hart), one of the teachers who is a Communist sympathizer, to be turned off the Communists by the Party's use of violence. Our heroic anti-Communists save the day! (This is another case where we have to give the studio a bit of a pass, as the Production Code wouldn't have let there be aay other outcome.)

I've suggested before that when dealing with anti-Communist movies, you really need to look at them in the light of what they'd be like if they were going after the Nazis or the mob instead, whichever one would make more sense in the context of the movie. In that light, I Was a Communist For the FBI isn't terrible, although there were certainly better anti-Communist movies. Also, there are movies about spying on the Nazis to which we can compare this one, especially Confessions of a Nazi Spy and perhaps The House on 92nd Street, although the latter one also has the World War II backdrop which changes the tenor of the story somewhat. I think both of those movies are better than I Was a Communist For the FBI.

There's also the problem that Matt Cvetic's real story probably isn't all that interesting. Certainly, it's nowhere near as heroic as what's presented in the movie. The real-life Cvetic seems to have been in it just as much for the money as anything else, and a raging drunk to boot. How the FBI could use such a person is a good question, but then J. Edgar Hoover did a lot of strange things at the FBI.

I Was a Communist For the FBI has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Some notes on tonight's schedule: October 29, 2014

So we finally get to Psycho on TCM, tnoight at 8:00 PM. I presume most of you have seen the movie before, but I have to say that even though I've seen it several times, I still find the scene just before then end when Marion Crane's sister (Vera Miles) goes down to the fruit cellar and discovers.... Well, you know what she discovers if you've seen the movie, and if you don't I'm not going to spoil it for you. I really wanted to mention Psycho because it's part of a mini-block of Alfred Hitchcock on TCM today. We start off at 4:30 PM with Marnie starring Tippi Hedren as a kleptomaniac with other mental problems too, and Sean Connery as the man who falls in love with her while trying to figure out what's wrong with her. That will be followed at 6:45 PM by Dick Cavet's interview with Alfred Hitchcock, which I mentioned when it ran about a year ago. I really like the Cavett interviews, which are reminiscent of the Private Screenings interviews, but mostly with people who died before Robert Osborne could interview them.

Following Psycho, there will be a pair of movies that are apparently currently out of print on DVD. Amazone lists a couple of options for Touch of Evil (10:00 PM), with one being "Instant video" and the other a "limited edition" DVD. For those who don't know the story, Charlton Heston plays a Mexican narctoics officer married to Star of the Month Janet Leigh who gets involved in a cross-border murder investigation when the signs start pointing to American cop Orson Welles. I'm not quite as big a Welles fan as some people, so while a lot of reviewers find Touch of Evil to be a masterpiece and dammit why did the studio edit it, I find it (and the print I saw on TCM claimed to be the most complete version available) to be a bit muddled. (At least they're not showing Mr. Arkadin.)

Then at midnight you can watch Act of Violence, which I blogged about back in September, 2010. This one has Leigh married to Van Heflin, who plays a World War II veteran with a secret in his war record who is being stalked for blackmail by Robert Ryan, who knows that secret. Ryan is always good at playing the bad guys, while a surprising performance from Mary Astor and direction from Fred Zinnemann help make this movie an underappreciated one that really deserves more attention despite a few flaws. Act of Violence showed up on a few box sets, but I don't know if those are in print.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Perhaps I should actually watch the movies

A few years back, I briefly mentioned the TCM Programming Challenge we have a couple of times a year over at the TCM boards. No prizes or anything, just a good way to stretch our brains and come up with programming ideas that, if we're lucky, will win the ultimate prize: getting used on TCM. There was another one this month, and I decided to set myself the extra challenge of programming only movies that I hadn't seen in their entirety. (In a few cases, that meant having tuned in five or ten minutes after the movie started and seeing the rest of it, which some people may consider cheating.)

One of the themes I thought up was movies with women's full names in the title. The problem is, several of them I couldn't use having already seen them: Alice Adams, Marie Antoinette, and Stella Dallas all come to mind. But I thought of a few others, and was able to come up with enough stuff to fill a night of programming.

But then, somebody pointed it out to me. I included the 1947 movie Cass Timberlane. "Cass", it turns out, is actually a man, played by Spencer Tracy. Really. Who thinks up these character names? Well, in this case it was Sinclair Lewis, who wrote the novel.

The one-person anthology

TCM is running a night of horror anthologies tonight, starting with Dead of Night, which is apparently out of print on DVD. I'd like to focus a bit more on the second film, Twice-Told Tales, at 10:00 PM. Vincent Price stars in adaptations of three different Nathaniel Hawthorne stories, starting with "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment", one that I read back in my junior high school days an eon or two ago.

The slightly more interesting thing is that you've got Price in all three of the stories. It isn't the first time such a structure has been used for an anthology moive. Buster Keaton told three stories of romance and how it's been essentially the same throughout history, in Three Ages. That movie is a bit different, however, in that the movie was structured was structured the way it was for a simple reason. It was Keaton's first feature, and he and the producers figured that if it wasn't successful as an anthology cutting back and forth between the three stories, it could be recut into three two-reelers, each dealing with one era.

A movie that follows the more standard anthology formula and has one star in all the stories is Plaza Suite. Here, Walter Matthau plays several different characters, all of whom rent the same suite at New York's Plaza Hotel at different times. Matthau is, unsurprisingly, quite good.

I'm sure there are some other good anthology movies having one actor in all the stories that I'm forgetting right now.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Foot in Heaven

Some months back, I recommended the sentimental film Spencer's Mountain. An earlier film that evokes many of the same feelings is One Foot in Heaven, which is coming up tonight at midnight on TCM.

Martha Scott plays Hope Morris, a young Canadian woman living with her parents in one of those fashionable upper-middle class houses that you had at the turn of the last century. She's still living with her parents because she's waiting for her boyfriend, William Spence (Fredric March) to finish his medical education so the two o them can get married and go off to start a practice somewhere. Well, they're about to start a new life together, but not the one they expected. William stops by the Morris house telling her and her parents that he walked into a church and got "the calling". That of course means a life in religious ministry and not medicine. William is going to become a Methodist minister, at a time when the Methodists were still apparetnly fairly conservative -- at least, it seems more conservative than William Lundigan's minister in I'd Climb the Highest Mountain. Still, Hope loves William, and marries him, not knowing what the future is going to hold.

That immediate future holds a post in a small town. Money is a constant issue, as Methodist ministers aren't paid much, and the parsimonious parishioners seem generally unwilling to help out the minister's family more than they're obligated to. On top of all that, a minister's family is expected to be the leaders in practicing a life of virtue. This isn't always easy for the minister himself or his wife, but they chose the life. Imagine what it must be like for their two children, who didn't get a choice as to what sort of life they were born into.

Rev. Spence rises up the ladder, eventually getting a post in a bigger city where the parishioners want to build a fabulous cathedral. But they want to do it their way, and not the way the minister wants. To be fair, though, Rev. Spence has shown himself to be a bit more forward-thinking than many of his parishioners. And if the minister doesn't conform to their tastes, then they're not above doing some rather un-Christian things to try to get the Spences to change, even going so far as to exploit his children. But this being a happy Hollywood movie, we know the Rev. Spence is going to come out right in the end.

As I said at the beginning of the post, One Foot in Heaven is one of those sentimental and nostalgic movies, looking at a way of life that really doesn't exist any longer. I mean, there's a scene in which the Methodists learn that motion pictures aren't so bad after all! And the controversy in the final segment is one that could be solved nowadays with a couple of phone calls. Never mind the severely declining enrollment of mainline Protestant churches. (I've always found humorous the scene at the end of The Bishop's Wife in which David Niven's bishop wants it made certain that a copy of his Christmas sermon makes it to the local paoper for publication.) I have to admit that going into it, One Foot in Heaven wasn't quite the sort of movie I thought I'd really enjoy. But the movie is well made, with March delivering a very professional performance as always. The rest of the cast is good enough too. There are a few blunt parts that are basically in the movie to show us how much more kind and tolerant Rev. Spence is compared to the his parishioners, but those don't really bring the movie down.

One Foot in Heaven does not seem to be available on DVD, which is a shame.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

So I have seen the movie before

Every now and then I sit down to watch a movie, only to realize five minutes in that it's something I've already seen before. Earlier this week, I had that misfortune with After Office Hours, a zippy little comic mystery with editor Clark Gable solving a murder while falling in love with society reporter Constance Bennett. It was when Gable showed up talking to Bennett's mother (Billie Burke) that I had the distinct feeling I'd seen the movie before. It was when the action hit the Other Man's (Harvey Stephens) crew house that it was blatantly obvious I'd seen the film. It's OK, but overpriced from the Warner Archive collection. It's the sort of movie that needs to be in one of those four-film box sets.

Anyhow, I was only mentioning After Office Hours because the feeling I had on watching it for the second time is the same feeling I had on watching tonight's Silent Sunday Nights feature for the second time some years back. That movie is The Monster, airing overnight at 12:45 AM. The plot of this engaging movie has comic actor Johnny Arthur playing a shop assistant in love with the girl (Gertrude Olmstead) but having to compete with another man, until accidents start happening and people start disappearing. This leads the main characters to the sanitarium next door, where the doctor running the place, Dr. Ziska (Lon Chaney) winds up being more than they bargained for. This is part horror, part comedy, although the emphasis is more on the comedy.

At least this week's TCM Import is one I know I've seen multiple times in the past Les Diaboliques, at 2:15 AM.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Shorts report: October 25, 2014 -- and a documentary

For those of you who like your featurettes, you're in luck, as TCM is airing a pair of them overnight tonight. The first one comes up around 1:04 AM, or following The Curse of Frankenstein (11:30 PM, 83 min): A Look at the World of Soylent Green. The other featurette also deals with a 1973 movie: On Location With Westworld, at about 2:14 AM. I have to admit I'm not certain whether or not I've seen either of these featurettes -- if you watch enough TCM, you see a whole bunch of "making of" featurettes that some of them start to blur together.

In between those two featurettes is teh "documentary", or more accuaretly part of TCM's irregular "A Night at the Movies" series that looks at various genres, with a bunch of clips and a bunch of talking heads discussing the genre. This time, the genre is "The Horrors of Stephen King". Goodness knows there have been enough movies made from the works of Stephen King. I'm not as big a Stephen King fan as a lot of people, but my favorite filmi of his stuff would have to be Misery.

One short tomorrow morning that sounds more interestingly bizarre and interesting than it's probably going to turn out to be is Mr. Bride, which comes on at about 11:40 AM tomorrow, following In a Lonely Place (10:00 AM, 93 min). This is a Charley Chase short, so that means you probably have to deal with Chase's wackiness, which I know can be an acquired taste. I'm not the biggest Chase fan myself. (NB: I haven't actually seen this particular short.) Mr. Bride has Charley going on a sort of "honeymoon", with his boss (Del Henderson). Yeah, you can figure this is probably going to be a bit warped.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Two from Poland

So a couple of film festival-related stories came up in the English language broadcasts from Polish Radio that I listen to. The other day, I heard a brief report in the daily news program about the American Film Festival in Wroclaw which, if any of you are in Poland, runs through the end of the week. The longer-form feature program Focus has a report on it, although I'm not certain if that program focuses solely on the film festival. There's a little Javascript listen link in the top right corner of the main article on that page; the direct link from the RSS feed is here. NB: the MP3 file is about 18MB and 20 minutes.

How about a festival for Polish emigres? I'm not of Polish descent, so I'm not certain if it would appeal to me, but there's an individual report about a UK/Polish singer who's come back to Warsaw to perform. There's a direct link to the Emigra Film Festival as well as the actual MP3 file (3.8 MB, about four minutes).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Posting may be slow

The power went out here briefly early this morning, one of those things where the lights go on and off and on and off for several seconds, before coming back on. However, when I decided to go back on the computer, I noticed that the modem's "LAN" indicator was off, which meant I couldn't connect to the internet at all. It looks like the problem was eventually solved by disconnecting the cable from the router end of the router/modem connection. -- I had tried connecting the other end of that cable, which didn't seem to solve the problem, go figure. But, it's the second time in a couple of weeks I've had a bit of a problem with the modem, so I'm worried that it might be going bad the way the previous modem did back in August of 2010 (note the gap of a week or so in posting). In that case, though, I was getting repeated temporary disconnects of a few seconds or so while the modem was dying, so I don't think I'm having the same problem. At any rate, I hope it was just a burp and nothing more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bollywood in Prague

From my RSS feed yesterday came the following reasonably interesting story: Childhood one of main themes at this year’s Bollywood film festival


This Wednesday, the annual Bollywood festival of Indian film gets underway in Prague. Now in its 12th year, the festival offers a selection of classical as well as contemporary movies from India and Pakistan, along with a rich accompanying programme. The subtitle of this year’s event is “Children of Bollywood.” I spoke to Radim Špaček, one of the festival’s organizers, and first asked him about the choice of the main theme:

As always with the reports from Radio Prague, the linnk above is to a transcript of the story. There's also an embedded audio player, as well as a direct link to the MP3, which wuns about 3:43, and if it's 64kbit/sec like all the other Radio Prague stories I've mentioned, should be about 1.7 MB. (I download and listen to the emtire program via the RSS feed; this story appeared at the end of the "current affairs" section and I wasn't certain if the individual current affairs stories were available for download.