Monday, March 19, 2018

Movie Endings

TCM spent last week looking at the films of Elizabeth Taylor, showing her films every weeknight in prime time for the entire week. So, with no Star of the Month this week we get a new week-long theme, which is Movie Endings.

Somebody came up with movies that have interesting endings and categorized them into a bunch of different types, so we get a different type of ending on each night. Unsurprisingly, I'm not certain I agreee with all of their choices.

They thought, for example, that it would be a good example to include 2001: A Space Odyssey (11:45 PM Tuesday) in a night of movies with musical endings. So the movie used "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and the "Blue Danube" waltz. Big whoop. The whole final third of the movie is a mess. Just because it's prettied up with some classical music doesn't make it a great ending.

They put Now, Voyager (4:30 AM Thursday) in with the "Romantic Endings", which is reasonable considering the scheduling challenges in programming something like this. But Thursday night's theme is "Famous Last Words", which would also be suitable for Now, Voyager

And then there's the lack of comedic endings, which excludes a whole bunch of great movie endings. Some Like It Hot is one of the best examples. I also really love the ending of the original To Be or Not to Be, with Jack Benny playing Hamlet in England. Dinner at Eight is another movie with a great closing line. But none of these show up this week.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Come to Dinner

So I popped in my DVD of the 1933 Dinner at Eight off the Jean Harlow four-film box set. (It's got the same four films as this from the TCM Shop, but different cover art.) The short included with Dinner at Eight was the hilarious Come to Dinner.

Released in early 1934, a few months after Dinner at Eight, Come to Dinner spoofs the feature film in two reels using as much as possible lookalikes to play the main characters and parodying the plot. Among the scenes shown are the aspic dispute; one in Lionel Barrymore's office implying that the company actually makes toy boats rather than being a shipping company; the doctor visiting Jean Harlow (the Harlow lookalike has a dozen maids who put on a musical number parodying people like Mae Zest and Greta Gargle); and, perhaps best, the scenes in John Barrymore's hotel room. In the parody, the actor isn't a failed actor who's become an alcoholic, but an actor addicted to lemons! And he's willing to wind down his career to take small roles. This, much to the chagrin of his press agent, who reacts by trying to gas himself to death!

As for the portrayals, the men are weaker. The John Barrymore lookalike is quite good, with the Wallace Beery character being by far the weakest. The women are much better. The woman playing Harlow tries her best and doesn't do badly although nobody can do Harlow justice. The woman doing Marie Dressler is even broader in her gestures than Marie. But spare a thought for Billie Burke. The lookalike here is absolutely perfect and had me in stitches every time she was on screen.

I think anybody who's seen Dinner at Eight will absolutely love Come to Dinner.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pot O' Gold

I don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but if you want a movie with some Irish characters you could do worse than Pot O' Gold.

James Stewart plays Jimmy Haskell, who runs a small-town music store that he inherited from his father. Unfortunately, Dad was never really able to make a go of it, and Jimmy is the same, as he faces a life of privation and debts that he really can't pay off. His uncle C.J. (Charles Winninger) knows all of this, and is willing to help Jimmy out. C.J. runs a big factory in the big city, and is offering Jimmy a well-paying job at the factory. Since the sheriff has an order to attach the store for unpaid debts.

Before Jimmy arrives, we learn that C.J. hates music, and has a dispute with the neighbors, the McCorkles, led by Ma (Mary Gordon) and her daughter Molly (Paulette Goddard). The let out rooms in their building to members of a swing band, who would use Molly as their singer if only they could get gigs. In the meantime, they practice and practice, which drives C.J. insane. He tries to get the law to declare the McCorkles a nuisance.

Jimmy arrives in the city, and before he's able to see C.J., he meets Mary. And then he finds that the McCorkles are being harassed for their practicing music. Jimmy plays the harmonica and joins them in a jam session, so you know Mary is going to fall in love with Jimmy. But other events transpire. C.J. tries to serve an order to cease and desist, and in the resulting dispute, Jimmy throws a tomato that accidentally hits his uncle. So Uncle wants the assailant thrown in jail, not realizing that he'd be jailing his nephew. Mary, meanwhile, never learned that Jimmy's full name is James Hamilton Haskell. If she did, she'd certainly hate him.

You can probably guess where all of this is going to go: Jimmy and Mary are going to wind up together in the last reel, and C.J. is going to be OK with music. How it gets there is always the point of a movie like this. In that regard, I prefer any number of other movies. I'm never a fan of the stereotypical Irish mother portrayal, and I didn't particularly care for the musical numbers, save for one fun dream sequence. The resolution of the plot, involving a radio show giveaway, also made no sense, as we've seen from all sorts of movies from the era that radio contests were a big thing back then.

Still, if you're looking for something that's amiable and not one bit challenging, you could do a heck of a lot worse than to watch Pot O' Gold. And I'm sure that many of you will like it more than I did.

Another TCM programming change I should have mentioned

Last week, I pointed out that TCM was scheduling Saturday mornings to be like the old Saturday matinees with shorts, a western, and other stuff. What I didn't think to mention was that TCM added a second showing of Noir Alley. Not to the Saturday morning block, although it would be fun to blow the kiddies' minds with movies like Double Indemnity or The Big Heat.

The new airing of Noir Alley is on at midnight, that being the midnight between Saturday and Sunday, so late Saturday evening in the more westerly time zones. I suppose you could say that the movie begins around 12:03 AM Sunday after Eddie Muller's intro. This showing is actually the same movie as will be run ten hours later in the old (and still there) Noir Alley time slot of 10:00 AM Sunday.

Today being St. Patrick's Day, it's interesting to think of the contrast between the traditionally light, doe-eyed look at Irish-Americans we got in old Hollywood movies with the whole idea of noir. And yet, TCM is running what might be the one noir I can think of as possibly being appropriate for St. Patrick's Day -- Crossfire. I think I've posted it before, but the book that the movie was based on had a guy get murdered because he was gay and the killer didn't like a gay guy propositioning one of his friends. In the movie, it's changed to the dead guy being Jewish. The key person asked to help ferret out the murderer is an Irish-American soldier, and his commanding officer plays on the themes of anti-Irish bigotry to get him to understand why he has to rat out somebody who'd kill a guy for being Jewish.

Surprisingly, TCM isn't airing The Quiet Man on St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Another movie that left me cold: Taxi Driver

Every now and then, I watch a movie that's generally considered a classic but for which I feel little affinity. Another example of this would be Taxi Driver.

Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet now living in the New York City of the era when Gerald Ford told the city to drop dead, and working as a taxi driver. Bickle was left broken by his experiences in Vietnam, as he has difficulty socializing and dealing with the crime and social degradation in the city. He meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who is working for the presidential campaign of Senator Palantine. He falls in love with her, but the feeling is obviously unrequited because of Travis' boorish treatment of her.

Driving a cab in the overnight hours also brings Travis in contact with some of the seedier parts of the city, notably the prostitutes. Eventually he sees one named Iris (Jodie Foster) and decides he's going to be nice to her. Her pimp (Harvey Keitel) doesn't particularly like that. And in general, Travis has decided to take matters in his own hands, which involves buying a whole bunch of guns....

So why didn't I care for Taxi Driver? The obvious first thing to think about is the nature of main character Travis Bickle. He's such an unappealing jerk that I frankly didn't care what happened to him. Indeed, he's probably more of a schumck than the characters in director Martin Scorsese's earlier Mean Streets, which I mentioned here not too long ago also left me cold.

I think a brief comparison of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver is in order. While I didn't like the characters in Mean Streets, I could at least understand the point the movie was trying to make and see how it succeeded in many ways even if I didn't much care for what it was doing. Taxi Driver is even more baffling in that regard. Travis' seeming desire to shoot Palantine at a campaign rally makes no sense, which I could also say for the scene involving Travis taking a fare who is stalking his cheating wife. And the movie pretty much turns on a dime to start dealing with the prostitution angle.

Perhaps Taxi Driver was intended more as a character study. In that light it does do better, I think, than as straight storytelling. But I still found it slow, plodding, and meandering.

Everybody else says Taxi Driver is one of the great American movies, however, so you're probably going to have to watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #192: Childhood favorites

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is childhood favorites, which is easy enough except for the fact that I'm getting old and childhood was a long time ago. (OK, not that long ago. My dad is still alive at 80.) I'm picking three older movies, as well as a shout-out to Dad at the end:

King Kong (1933). I was a kid when the Jessica Lange remake of King Kong was released in 1976. The local library's children's program organized a showing of the 1933 original, so I would have been about four years old when I saw this, I think. The showing I saw might not have been in conjunction with the remake; my memories of that young an age are of course a bit hazy as are most people's memories from when they were just four. And the library is no longer in the same building. The old library was across from the old post office, which had already been torn down by that time, with a Jack-in-the-Box fast food joint in the location. That hasn't been there for decades, with a series of restaurants being in the location. The library wound up near Grandma's house; within walking distance when we were warehoused there while Mom and Dad were out for a day or something.

Rabbit of Seville (1950). When I was a kid, the networks still ran cartoons on Saturday mornings, and not that E/I scam designed to put programming on air that the nannies in Washington think is good for the children. (I know I've seen reruns of Saved by the Bell with the E/I bug on one of the digital sub-channels.) Anyhow, one of the channels ran the old Looney Tunes shorts, and we all watched them not realizing that these old shorts had been shown in the theaters when our parents were children. Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, and the Pink Panther were among those shown syndicated, from what I recall. As for Rabbit of Seville, it's the short with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in a barber shop, set against Rossini's overture to The Barber of Seville. They have the race in the barber chairs, and Bugs stands on Elmer's scalp, massaging it with his feet.

Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968). I saw this one as an older child, again on TV -- I think this was what is now the local Fox affiliate, before there was a Fox network. Hollywood made quite a few movies in the late 60s dealing with the generation gap, putting older stars in movies trying to make them appeal to the teen audience by including young stars. The ones I've seen are uniformly terrible, like I'll Take Sweden and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. As I blogged about near the beginning of this blog, Yours, Mine, and Ours took a different tack and made a movie that probably would have seemed square to the young people of the day, but which stands the test of time and is much better than all the generation gap stuff. Lucille Ball plays a navy nurse who is a widow with eight children. Henry Fonda plays a naval officer who is a widower with ten children. You know the two are going to be right for each other in the end. Also stars Van Johnson and Tom Bosley.

My dad's abiding childhood memory, or at least the one we always heard about, wasn't of a favorite. He has mentioned seeing some of the Bowery Boys movies, but he always mentioned how, having gone to a Catholic elementary school, the nuns dragged the students out to see The Bells of St. Mary's when it came out in 1945. He's hated the movie to this day. Of course, it's a follow-up to the treacly and mawkish Going My Way, so there's a built-in excuse for anybody who hates it. My sister bought Dad a VHS tape of The Bells of St. Mary's as a gag gift one Christmas, that's how much we all know the story of Dad's hatred for the movie.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

That Hamilton Girl

A dozen years before the lovely British production That Hamilton Woman, Warner Bros. made a silent covering much the same material called The Divine Lady. Having been made at Warner Bros., it is unsurprisingly available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

For those of you who remember That Hamilton Woman, you know what the movie is about. For those who don't, Emma, Lady Hamilton (played here by Corinne Griffith) was a British beauty of the late 18th century would would marry Lord Hamilton (played here by H.B. Warner), who at the time was the British ambassador to Naples, what with Italy still being 75 years or so away from being united. It's the 1790s, and the French revolution is leading up to Napoleon's rise to power, so British naval officer Horatio Nelson (Victor Varconi) stops in Naples to talk to the British ambassador. He meets Lady Hamilton, and the two start a doomed love affair: both of them were already married. Oh, and you know what would happen to Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.

With that history out of the way, it's time to look at the things that are a bit more speculative. The movie starts off introducing a real historical figure, Charles Greville (Ian Keith), a minor member of the British nobility. Here, her mother (Marie Dressler in a bit part) is to be Greville's new cook, but the real story is more sordid. Greville is in parlous financial straits, so in the movie he concocts a plan to send Emma off to Naples to be the mistress Hamilton, who was Greville's uncle. Hamilton won't marry this common girl and this will die unmarried, and Greville will inherit the estate, solving Greville's monetary problems. When Emma discovers the truth, Hamilton marries her because what else is there for the two of them to do.

One other big difference between this movie and That Hamilton Woman is that the latter movie shows some of Lady Hamilton's downfall after Nelson's death. (Lord Hamilton died two years before Trafalgar, and in real life Lady Hamilton did go into serious debt.) The Divine Lady concludes with Trafalgar.

But is The Divine Lady good? I think fans of silents will really enjoy it. I'm a bit less of a fan of silents, and find some of the dramas can be tougher going. The Divine Lady is one I found a bit slow at times, but there's really nothing particularly wrong with it. It's more that if I were going to introduce people to silents, I'd start with the comedies and then the adventure movies, and save dramas and melodramas for later.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hubert de Givenchy, 1927-2018

French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who would probably be best known to movie fans for supplying actress Audrey Hepburn with her wardrobe, has died at the age of 91.

Givenchy started his association with Hepburn by designing the dresses that she wore in Sabrina, at least the stylish stuff from after she returns from her sojourn in Paris. Givenchy wasn't credited with these dresses on screen, but he would get credit for other of Hepburn's movies, notably the little black dress she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Oscar-nominated costume design in Funny Face. I don't think he ever did traditional movie costume design; just the stylish clothes that Audrey Hepburn wore.

Givenchy remained friends with Hepburn for the rest of her life, and also designed clothers for a bunch of other famous women, not only actresses like Ingrid Bergman but notably first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Monday, March 12, 2018

TCM Star of the Month March 2018: Elizabeth Taylor

Last week was the first full week of March after the end of 31 Days of Oscar. However, there wasn't a Star of the Month last week. Normally, TCM takes one day in the week and then every day that week for the month, they run the pictures of whoever is star of the month. This month, however, they're doing something different, in that they're running Elizabeth Taylor's movies every weeknight in prime time this week, starting tonight. Well, actually, they're starting a bit earlier, at 4:15 PM, with Cynthia. The Elizabeth Taylor movies are also going to start before prime time on Tuesday and Friday.

Prime time is relatively a progression through Taylor's career, with 40s stuff on Monday, the 50s on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the 60s and 70s stuff on Thursday and Friday. There's also a documentary on Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait, at 4:45 PM Friday.

What's interesting, however, is what's not getting shown. Taylor won two Best Actress Oscars. Butterfield 8 is on the TCM schedule at 8:00 PM Thursday. But Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf isn't. As far as I know, it's not that they couldn't get the rights. As things stand, it looks like TCM got a premiere (for them) with 1970's The Only Game in Town (12:30 AM Saturday).

Also not on the schedule is A Place in the Sun. TCM has run it enough in the past; why they're not showing it as part of this salute to Taylor, I don't know.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Somewhat Secret

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, subject of yesterday's blog post, is an 86-minute movie that TCM put into a two-hour time slot. That meant there was a lot of time to fill. In addition to the obligatory promo for the TCM Wine Club, there was also time for a two-reeler, in this case 1939's Somewhat Secret.

The plot is hackneyed and the acting not very good, although that's beside the point. Mary Howard plays Emily, the assistant dean at a school for girls. She and the rest of the administration have decided that swing music is evil, evil, evil. And dammit, none of the students better be listening to swing or doing any jitterbugging! Of course, it's all the students want to do, with the exception of one nasty tattletale. Meanwhile, Emily's boyfriend, chemistry teacher Ben (Tom Collins) was a former pianist for a swing band, and his old colleagues want him to join them again! You can guess what happens among the various musical numbers, which this time aren't particularly elaborate.

I mention it because I didn't realize this one was on DVD. I suppose it might be an extra somewhere, but back in 2013(!), the Warner Archive released Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory, Volume Two. I didn't even know there was a Volume One. Probably the most famous short on this three-disc set is Every Sunday, the one featuring Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin at the very beginning of both their careers. But it also has a short I mentioned back in January, Dancing on the Ceiling. Yeah, some of these vintage musical two-reelers had nutty plots. Apparently, another short in this disc involves waffle iron manufacturers putting on elaborate musical numbers.