Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lee Grant night

TCM is putting the spotlight on actress Lee Grant tonight with four of her movies, of which I've already blogged about three. The schedule is:

Detective Story at 8:00 PM; this earned Grant a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing a shoplifter awaiting booking at a precinct where very angry detective Kirk Douglas is working.

The Landlord follows at 10:00 PM; here Grant plays the mother of upper-class Beau Bridges, who as bought an apartment buliding in he poor Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn looking to fix it up. Mom is by no means happy about this.

That's followed at midnight by Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. Grant plays the wife of one of three World War II veterans. All of the veterans have, unknown to the others, been supporting a child (Janet Margolin) they think they fatherd, while the child's mother (Gina Lollobrigida) has been telling her daughter all these years that the father died in the war. Imagine her surprise when all three putative fathers show up at a reunion in the town wher mother and daughter live!

Last up is Middle of the Night at 2:00 AM. In this one, Grant plays the adult daughter of Fredric March, a widower who has met a young Kim Novak and has fallen in love with her, much to the consternation of everybody around them who think this won't work.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spencer's Mountain

Coming up at 10:00 PM tonight as part of the last night of Maureen O'Hara movies is Spencer's Mountain.

O'Hara plays Olivia Spencer, wife of Clay Spencer Sr. (Henry Fonda) and together the parents of a large family out in Wyoming earning a living partly by running a farm on the titular mountain, and partly by dad working in the local quarry. The oldest of the children, Clay Jr., called Clay-Boy (James MacArthur), is graduating high school, and is more than smart enough that he could go on to college and make big things of himself. The only problem is, where is this poor family going to get the money to send him to college? Clay-Boy, for his part, is also feeling the first stirrings of falling in love with a young woman....

It's just the latest money problem for the large family. Clay Sr. has always been trying to build Olivia the house she always wanted up at the top of the mountain, but something in terms of money has always come up to slow down the building of the house, and that provides the other plot of dramatic tension running throughout the movie. They've never been rich, but there's always love and the money always seems to come from somewhere eventually.

Other than that, there's not really a whole lot to the story. It's written by Earl Hamner, Jr., and if that name sounds familiar -- and especially if you find the movie starts to look famliiar -- that's because it should be. This is the same story that several years later was moved to West Virginia, and back in time a couple of decades, for what became the long-running TV series The Waltons. There's even a scene in Spencer's Mountain in which everybody says good night to each other, just the way they did on the TV show.

Although the movie's plot seems a bit threadbare, the movie itself is not uninteresting. It's filled out with a bunch of homespun vignettes providing gentle humor, such as when free-thinking Dad, who doesn't have much use for religion, goes fishing with a man he doesn't realize at first is the new preacher. And then imagine Clay Sr.'s shock when he finds that although there's a place for Clay Jr. at the college, it's in the theology department. (You'd think students even back then would have been able to choose their majors.) There's also drama and sadness, as when Grandpa (Donald Crisp in his final film performace) dies. By the end of the movie, though, generic Christian values -- not so much the God stuff as the "do unto others as you'd have done unto you" or "be kind and honest" stuff -- win through. The movie's values are really fairly inoffensive even for non-believers.

In fact, Spencer's Mountain, like the later TV show The Waltons, is good for the whole family, except maybe for teenagers who will probably retch at the material only to have a change of heart when they get older. Henry Fonda generally isn't thought of as a comic actor, but he was more than capable of providing a few laughs when a movie called for it, and does a wonderful job here. Maureen O'Hara is sturdy enough as the loving mother, but nothing spectacular. The younger kids are kids, for better or for worse. Overall, though, the cast gives a nice ensemble performance.

If this post hasn't come far enough in advance for you to see the TCM showing, don't worry; it's been released to DVD.

James Shigeta, 1933-2014

The death has bene announces of actor James Shigeta, who died yesterday at the age of 81. Shigeta actually started off as a singer, which would explain how he got the role in Flower Drum Song. His first starring role, however, was as a police detective in the pretty darn good movie The Crimson Kimono

Another of Shigeta's movies that I'd really recommend is Bridge to the Sun, in which Shigeta plays a Japanese diplomat stationed in Washington just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Before the two countries go to war, however, the diplomat marries an American (Carroll Baker) and fathers a child by her. So when all of the Japanese are expelled after December 7, 1941, the wife makes the fateful decision to follow her husband to Japan.

In his later career, Shigeta played a banker who gets killed by Alan Rickman in the first of the Die Hard movies when he refuses to open up the bank vault for the villians, and did the voices in Mulan, one of those Disney princess movies that I obviously have no interest in.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rudy Vallee, 1901-1986

Rudy Vallee (r.) in The Palm Beach Story (1942)

Today marks the birth anniversary of sometimes actor Rudy Vallee. Originally known as a singing bandleader, Vallee made movies on and off throughout the 1930s and 1940s, often playing second male leads, as in The Palm Beach Story, which is pictured above, in which he plays the extremely wealthy man who meets and woos Claudette Colbert, not realizing that she's still married to Joel McCrea and that the "horrible husband" she's describing is about to show up in Palm Beach!

Vallee appeared in another Preston Sturges film, Unfaithfully Yours, which has him playing the brother-in-law of conductor Rex Harrison, and has him causing problems for the conductor when he looks after the conductor's wife (Linda Darnell) while the conductor is away. The photo above has Vallee, the actress playing his wife in the movie (Barbara Lawrence), and Rex Harrison.

Vallee played a doctor in I Remember Mama, but since the movie belongs almost exclusively to Irene Dunne, and Vallee's character isn't too big, it's difficult to find any good photos of Vallee from the movie. Another light comic role comes in Mother Is a Freshman, where he plays opposite Loretta Young.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Before the James Garner tribute

Coming up overnight tonight, or early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM, just before the 24 hours of James Garner movies begin, is the excellent British film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Albert Finney stars as Arthur Seaton. By day, he works in one of those grimy factories that were a staple of northern England in the first couple of decades after World War II, going home to a cramped house where he lives with his parents. Arthur lives for the weekends, when he can rebel against the world by going out to one of the local pubs and drinking up a storm and carousing with his mates and the women. On the face of it, it's not much of a life, but Arthur sees it as a way of keeping his independence by not being too attached to anybody

Despite this, he's got a girlfriend, in the form of Brenda (Rachel Roberts). There's only one catch: she's already married, and it's to one of Arthur's coworkers at the factory (Bryan Pringle)! Surely Arthur would be better off with Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), a more girl-next-door type whom Arthur meets at the pub. She's a bit naïve, but she liks Arthur, and thinks she can tame him. Arthur starts to have a relationship with her, too, because after all having relationships with two women at the same time is a good way to rebel against a world where doing such a thing would be considered terribly bad form.

Problems develop, of course, and the big one comes when Brenda announces to Arthur that she's pregnant by him, and not by her husband. Oh dear, that's a big problem. Arthur isn't ready to be a father, and there's also the little matter of Brenda already having a husband anyway. So the two of them decide that they're going to abort the baby, except that abortion was highly illegal at the time in Britain, so they have to go to an unreliable woman who tries a folk remedy that, it goes without saying, is unsuccessful. How is Arthur going to get himself out of this problem?

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a film that was a shock to British moviegoers when it was released in 1960, as it showed a section of British society in a way that hadn't been done before. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning looks decidedly different from all the stuio-bound movies Hollywood had been making, as it's more realistic in showing what wasn't a very rich life, leaving us to wonder why these people should have had any optimism or been happy with their station in life. Albert Finney gives an excellent performance as Arthur Seaton, the man who thinks he's getting his something better by pissing away all his money on booze and women. The rest of the cast is good although subordinate to Finney, and the locations are also a big plus to the movie.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning did get a DVD release at one time, but I think it's out of print. The TCM Shop lists a DVD, but you'll note that they say it's "On Order". Likewise, Amazon lists a couple of releases, but all of them with only a limited number of copies available.

TCM's James Garner tribute

James Garner in The Americanization of Emily, on tomorrow at 10:00 PM

You've probably seen the TCM Remembers piece on the recently deceased James Garner that's been running from time to time. At the end, it points out that TCM is running a 24-hour salute to Garnre starting at 6:00 AM on Monday, July 28. That's tomorrow, and TCM has 12 films with Garner in the cast as part of the tribute:

6:00 AM: Toward the Unknown
8:00 AM: Shootout at Medicine Bend
9:30 AM: Grand Prix
12:30 PM: Cash McCall
2:15 PM: The Wheeler Dealers
4:00 PM: Darby's Rangers
6:15 PM: Mister Buddwing
8:00 PM: The Thrill of It All
10:00 PM: The Americanization of Emily
Midnight: The Children's Hour
2:00 AM: Victor/Victoria
4:30 AM: Marlowe

A nice cross-section of movies, although I wouldn't have minded seeing Support Your Local Sheriff! or 26 Hours on the lineup as well. But they only had 24 hours; there's only so much you can do.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Zdeněk Liška

My RSS feed from Radio Prague never actually mentions what the feature stories are going to be about; it's just a link to the audio download. So not having gone to the website, I had no idea that Thursday's program was going to include a feature on film composer Zdenêk Liška, who wrote a bunch of scores for Czech movies in the 1960s and 1970s before his death in 1983. The feature originally aired back in April 2011, but I didn't blog about it then, I don't think, from looking at the archives from that month.

I have to admit to not knowing anything at all about Liška before listening to the program yesterday, but I'll also admit that I don't pay quite as much attention to film scores as some people do.

The link above is a link to a transcript of the program, but as always, they've got a streaming audio applet on the site, as well as a link to the MP3 download. It's just shy of 11 minutes, and about 5MB to download.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Capriccio Italien

TCM is airing the short Capriccio Italien tomorrow morning a little after 8:00 AM, or immediately following Julius Caesar (6:00 AM, 121 min).

I have to admit I have no idea what the point of this short was. After all, people could get classical music on the radio, and this was the early days of television when high-minded programmers would actually show classical music. I'd guess th MGM Orchestra had a day or two where they weren't needed to play the score to one of MGM's upcoming releases, so somebody higher up decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to stick them on one of the soundstages and have them perform a piece of classical music, which is Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien". Now, I happen to think it's a reasonably nice piece of music, but simply filming the MGM Orchestra playing it seems kind of pointless. This short was released in June, 1953 in conjunction with the aforementioned Julius Caesar. That's a couple of months before How to Marry a Millionaire, the first film made in Cinemascope. That movie, in order to show off what Cinemascope could do, had a prelude sticking a Cinemoascope camera in front of Fox's studo orchestra, and having them play some music. It has no bearing to the movie, but it shows that dammit, you can put an entire orchestra on camera, something which Capriccio Italien rarely achieves. How to Marry a Millionaire is also in Technicolor, while Capriccio Italien is in old-looking black and white. Either the orchestra had a free day to make this short, or somebody wanted arhcival footage of the MGM Orchestra. I can't think of any other reason to make this short.

And possibly, they don't even play the whole piece. The MGM short has a running time of 10 minutes, while other versions of "Capriccio Italien" put up on Youtube by orchestras run 14 minutes or longer. (I've never timed it when it shows up on the local classical music station.) So give it a watch, and wonder what they were thinking.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Things I'm Going to Miss

I missed Guest Programmer William Friedkin last night. We had a severe thunderstorm come through that knocked out power for the entire evening, so needless to say I couldn't watch anything on TV. To make matters worse, it looks like there's a problem with the satellite box. I can turn the TV on, but the box doesn't seem to turn on at all. So I'm probably going to be without any of the movie channels for a day or two while I get that fixed. Thankfully the computer and Internet is still working, although I don't have the bandwidth to do streaming video, of course.

The one thing I was really looking forward to watching was the Kirk Douglas one-man show tonight. TCM is running a night of his movies, and in among them at 10:15 PM is Before I Forget, a one man show he did back in 2009 at the tender age of 92. TCM used to advertise it on one of those four-movie box sets that they sell featuring one actor, so even though the daily schedule page claims Before I Forget isn't on DVD, I think that's not the case. Lust For Life and Young Man With a Horn, which are also on that bax set, are on tonight's schedule as well, at 8:00 PM and midnight. The Bad and the Beautiful isn't, although it shows up often enough on TCM.

Thankfully there was nothing in tomorrow's lineup of World War I movies that I was particularly anxious to see.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TCM Guest Programmer: William Friedkin

Once again, we've reached the time of the month when TCM gives over a night of prime time to a Guest Programmer, who was selected four of his favorite films to program. This month, the programmer is William Friedkin, a director who is probably best known for The French Connection and The Exorcist. The promos imply that he's selected movies that were influential in becoming a director and in how he directs movies, so I'll certainly be interested in seeing the intros for the first two movies.

The full lineup is:

Bullitt at 8:00 PM, which has the car chase scene that Friedkin says certainly influenced how he did the nearly as well known chase scene in The French Connection;
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre at 10:15 PM, which has Walter Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Tim Holt being consumed by greed in their search for gold;
Belle de jour at 12:30 AM, starring Catherine Deneuve as a bored housewife who takes up prostitution while her husband is at work in order to deal with the boredom; and
Blow-Up at 2:15 AM, in which photographer David Hemmings discovers that, in the background of one of his photos, there's a murder taking place!