Friday, July 21, 2017

North to Alaska

So I made it a point to watch North to Alaska off my DVR, since it's going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 7:35 AM. It's also avaialble on a cheap DVD and Blu-Ray, the latter being under $10 the last time I checked the TCM Shop, so you can still catch it if you don't have FXM Retro. And it's more than worth a watch.

John Wayne plays Sam McCord, who has struck it big in the Alaska gold rush outside Nome circa 1900. Sam is in a mining partnership along with his friend George (Stewart Granger), and George's kid brother Billy (Fabian, obviously there for the teen crowd). Sam is throwing money around like there's no tomorrow, and he's setting off for Seattle to get provisions. Fortuitously, George's fiancée Jenny is in Seattle, so now that George is rich, he's ready to marry Jenny, and Sam could do worse than to pick up Jenny in Seattle for George. Just before leaving for Seattle, Sam meets newcomer Frankie (Ernie Kovacs), who is clearly a con artist trying to bilk people out of their money. This is an obvious bit of foreshadowing.

Anyhow, Sam gets down to Seattle, and looks up Jenny. It turns out she's a servant in a rich family's house. Also, she couldn't be bothered to wait for George, so she went and married the butler. Oops. But Sam is fortunate enough to meet Michelle, nicknamed Angel (played by Capucine), at a burlesque house. They become friends, and through spending time together, Michelle begins to fall in love with Sam and is willing to follow him back to Nome. Of course, Sam thinks she's doing it to pretend to be Jenny so that George will still have a wife.

When we get back to Alaska, there are two main plots. The first is the obvious one of Michelle not being George's fiancée, and Michelle really preferring Sam to George. Never mind the fact that there's also Billy around lusting after Michelle even though he doesn't have anything close to the experience necessary to win the heart of a woman like Michelle. But there's another plot line involving Frankie. Apparently Michelle knew Frankie in the lower 48, and Frankie is trying to jump Sam and George's claim. He finds somebody who spent some time on the land and cons that person into filing a counter-claim, and Sam and George also get the impression that Michelle might be in on it.

It all ends pleasantly enough, however, as this is the sort of movie that you can see a mile away that it's not supposed to be anything serious and heavy.

North to Alaska is yet another of those movies that really has nothing groundbreaking, but works as more than serviceable entertainment. John Wayne was a lot better at comedy than he's often given credit for, in part because he didn't make all that many comedies. I'm not the biggest Stewart Granger fan, but he does nothing to drag the movie down. Ditto Fabian and Capucine, although they're the two who get the movie's one really weak scene, in which Fabian sings a song to her and then gets drunk at dinner. It's the comedic storyline, however, that's the real winner here, and that's what makes the movie entertaining.

North to Alaska probably won't stick in your mind as long as other movies, but what it sets out to do, it does well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #158: The Chosen One



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 The Chosen One. I'm not certain if this was conceived as having some sort of religious significance as in people thinking they're called by God to do something (pick your favorite version of the Joan of Arc story), but in any case I decided to pick movies with people chosen in other ways:

Great Expectations (1946). Pip (John Mills) plays a young man in early 19th century England who has a really difficult life, being orphaned and living with a tough aunt and uncle, until he suddenly is told of a benefactor who has left him a substantial sum of money. Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) introduces him to Estella (Valerie Hobson), and things proceed from there. There have been other movie versions of the Dickens story, although this is the one I've seen.

The Best Man (1964). Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson play two candidates who are the two leaders for the presidential nomination at their party's convention, although neither has a majority of the delegates, so they have to work other delegates to try to gain a majority and become the nominee. Needless to say they resort to all sorts of underhanded tactics, especially Cliff Robertson's character. Lee Tracy is excellent as the dying ex-president who represented the party back in the day.

42nd Street (1933). Ruby Keeler is chosen to be the understudy for a new Broadway show, but she ultimately gets to be the star after the original lead (Bebe Daniels) injures her leg and can't dance. Of course, Ruby Keeler couldn't really dance, either, but that's another story. This is the ultimate backstage musical, and the one that made Busby Berkeley a star, although his choreography would become much more elaborate in later movies.

I'll be really curious to see what other people picked.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

They re-issued Noah's Ark?

It's not all that long ago that I blogged about the part-talking Noah's Ark. Apparently Warner Bros. re-released it 25 years later. They made a promotional short to go along with it, and that short, Magic Movie Moments, is showing up on TCM overnight a little after 3:15 AM, following I Confess (1:30 AM, 95 min plus an intro/outro).

I can't comment on the short, since I haven't seen it, although the one IMDb reviewer suggests it's little more than an extended trailer for the movie. I have to admit, however, my surprise that Warner Bros. would have picked Noah's Ark to re-release. When it comes to silents, I've always thought the comedies hold up better, and the two-reelers are the easiest to get into just because they're short. In particular, though, I'd think a part-talkie like this would be a harder sell still.

If I had been in charge of selecting movies for re-release, I'd probably select some tent-poles with big stars, like the Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca) and James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy) movies, and possibly some good Bette Davis titles. The Adventures of Robin Hood would, I think, also be another excellent choice. But what do I know? I'm not a studio boss.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Barrandov

I've mentioned on quite a few occasions before that I listen to what used to be the various international short-wave broadcasters, most of which are only on the internet any more. Indeed, I've linked to a fair number of stories over the years.

So my ears picked up when I listened to this past Saturday's edition of Radio Prague's English broadcast. They're starting a new series on Barrandov Studios, the Prague production facility that produced many of the well-known Czech films, as well as hosting western productions after the fall of the Iron Curtain, since production in central and eastern Europe was cheaper and the cities could pass for all sorts of vaguely eastern European locations. (And as we saw in Gymkata a few months back, even further east, although that was the former Yugoslavia, not the former Czechoslovakia.)

The first episode in the series is an interview with a set constructor, Štěpán Červený. The link above links to a text that is a close transcript of the audio. There's also an option to stream the audio online, and one to download the MP3 directly. That's a ~2MB MP3 file, with the interview running around four minutes. (I don't know the precise length of that file; I timed it listening to the full half-hour program.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Martin Landau, 1928-2017


Martin Landau (r.) with Johnny Depp in a scene from Ed Wood (1994)

Actor Martin Landau, whose career spanned over 50 years, from the stage in the 1950s to working with Tim Burton in recent years, has died at the age of 89. Landau eventually won an Academy Award in the Burton-directed Ed Wood, playing Bela Lugosi. Lugosi was supposed to star in director Wood's Plan Nine From Outer Space, but rather unceremoniously died early in the production.

As for Landau, one of his first notable roles is probably in North by Northwest, where he plays one of James Mason's henchmen. Landau worked in TV with notable roles being on Mission: Impossible and later the cult series Space: 1999 where he worked opposite then-wife Barbara Bain in those daft 1970s "futuristic" uniforms.

In addition to Ed Wood, Landau was Oscar-nominated twice in the late 80s for Tucker and Crimes and Misdemeanors. I didn't realize that he was also an acting teacher, and a well-respected one at that.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

George Romero, 1940-2017

Writer/director George Romero, who jump-started the zombie movie genre with 1968's low-budget Night of the Living Dead, has died aged 77.

Night of the Living Dead is a wonderfully creepy little movie in which the zombies become zombies not long after dying and start going after people because of an insatiable desire for their brains. Eventually, they trap a small number of humans in an isolated house in the middle of nowhere in western Pennsylvania, with the people turning on each other as they can't figure out how to deal with this unknown menace.

Night of the Living Dead led to several sequels, as well as a whole bunch of other moviemakers making their own zombie movies in the past 20 or so years. Granted, being a low-budget movie, it has some plot holes, such as the fact that humans should be able to move faster than the zombies, and that it's not as though there should be all that many zombies considering how many people die each year. But the horror works, and here we are.

Night of the Lepus

I noticed that Night of the Lepus is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so I watched it off my DVR in order that I could do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a dramatized news report of how mankind introduced rabbits into various places that weren't the species' natural habitat, and how it resulted in the rabbits getting loose and, well, breeding like rabbits so that they became a pest. Among the places mentioned in this report is the US Southwest.

Cut to the real action. Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) is an Arizona rancher who's found that the rabbits are eating him out of house and home. He doesn't want to poison them because of the obvious deleterious effects that would have in the longer term. So he calls Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley), the president of his old alma mater, to see if their sciences department can do something. Fortunately, there are two visiting researchers, the Bennetts (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) who are doing relevant research, trying to find some sort of contagious disease that will leave the rabbits sterile.

Unfortunately, the Bennetts have an idiot daughter Amanda. She doesn't understand what a control group is, and thinks it unfair that her parents are experimenting on cute little bunnies. So she switches two bunnies between the control and experimental groups, and then asks her parents if she can keep one of the bunnies from the control group. And this is where her parents are profoundly stupid in a way that severely tests one's disbelief: they let her keep one of those rabbits. She naturally picks the one she moved from the experimental group. Even dumber, she brings the bunny with her when the Bennetts visit the Hillman ranch! The bunny gets away.

Unfortunately, the Bennett's research is a failure in that their injections don't lead to the rabbits' becoming sterile. The side effect is that they become gargantuan, like 150-lb rabbit big. Oh, and they also become carnivorous, so they start attacking people.

The idea behind Night of the Lepus really isn't a bad one. In fact, as I was watching it, I couldn't help but think of Them! and the giant ants. And yet, Night of the Lepus has the reputation of being a ridiculous almost cult classic. Why is this? I think that the movie winds up being not as good as Them! in part because the script requires people to act in utterly implausible ways -- real life scientists would never have let their daughter screw with the experiment like that. There's also the fact that this one came relatively late in the horror cycle of dangerous creatures.

The bigger reason, I think, has to do with the effects. Every time they need to show the giant rabbits, there's this bizarre music, with regular-sized rabbits running around sets of miniatures. And then they took this footage and slowed it down. The result is just ridiculous unbelievable and laugh-inducing, and every time the action switches from the humans to the rabbits, any possibility of horror goes right out the window. And then there are the scenes when rabbits kill humans, which are even sillier.

Night of the Lepus is, however, ultimately well worth a watch both for the ideas and for its inherent silliness. The Warner Archive DVD is unfortunately a bit pricey.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Take one down, pass it around

Some time back, I recorded 100 Rifles when it aired on FXM Retro. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:15 AM and again on Monday at 9:15 AM, so I figured that now would be a good time to watch it and do a full-length post on it. (The movie is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray.)

The movie starts off with a hanging: Sarita (Raquel Welch) sees her father being hanged by a representative of Gen. Verdugo (Fernando Lamas). Verdugo is the military commander of the Mexican state of Sonora circa 1912, and Sarita is part of the Yaqui people who don't like the Mexicans. Sarita's dad apparently got a rifle from the Mexican forces which was forbidden him, and that's enough to hang him for.

Cut to one of the big towns. Verdugo is there on a military visit, while watching from a hotel room is Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds). Joe doesn't want to be seen, and for good reason. Into all this comes Lydecker (Jim Brown), who it turns out is looking for Herrera. That's because Herrera is wanted back in Arizona for robbing $6,000 from a bank. Lydecker is there to bring him back, claim the reward, and get a job with the police as a result. The Mexicans don't care for any of this, and are perfectly willing to kill both Herrera and Lydecker because of Herrera's motives for the bank robbery.

It turns out that Herrera is of mixed ancestry, having a father from Alabama and a mother who was Yaqui. Herrera claims to have spent the $6,000 on women and whiskey, but Verdugo knows that the money was really spent on obtaining rifles for the Yaqui so they can resist the federal government's depredations. That, of course, is highly illegal.

Rounding out the main cast are Dan O'Herlihy as a representative of the railroad, who really just wants the trains to keep running and doesn't care how that happens or who's running them, and Hans Gudegast as a German adviser to Verdugo, who thinks committing genocide is just fine and dandy.

Anyhow, Lydecker has no desire to stay in Mexico, except that circumstances force him to stay. Verdugo is going to execute him and Herrera together, but the two are saved by the Yaqui, and Lydecker reluctantly joins up with them because there is no other option. To make matters worse for him, the Yaqui want him to be their "general".

100 Rifles was actually made in Spain; I would have thought it was made in Mexico. It's well-enough made, although it's yet another movie that doesn't feel as if it's treading any new ground. Everybody does adequately, and the movie is entertainig, but it's also the sort of thing that I don't think is particularly memorable. Still, because it entertains it's more than worth a watch.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Heads-up: The Paradine Case

Back in January when I started doing the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon, the first theme was legal thrillers. One of the movies I selected was The Paradine Case, an Alfred Hitchcock movie about a barrister (Gregory Peck) who falls in love with the woman he's defending (Alida Valli) on a murder charge. With this month's TCM spotlight on Alfred Hitchcock movies, it's unsurprising that this one is on, early tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM. (Or, overnight tonight depending on your point of view and time zone.)

I also selected Strangers on a Train yesterday; it should be unsurprising that that one is part of the Hitchcock spotlight too. But since the movies are going in rough chronological order, that one isn't coming up until next Wednesday, at 11:30 PM.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #157: Amusement Parks



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 amusement parks, and for once I'm actually selecting four movies, none of which has much amusement at the park:

Strangers on a Train (1951). Alfred Hitchcock's classic stars Farley Granger as a tennis player with an estranged wife who meets Robert Walker on a train; Walker has an overbearing father. Walker comes up with the ridiculous idea that since each of them has someone they want out of their lives, each should murder the other guy's bête noire. Walker strangles Granger's wife at a carnival; the climax comes at the park when both men try to get to the park to retrieve some evidence that will prove who did it.

Some Came Running (1958). Frank Sinatra plays a World War II veteran and writer who goes back to his hometown. Shirley MacLaine plays a floozy who follows Sinatra's character to the home town. Unfortunately, her old flame also follows, and that leads to a showdown at the carnival in the movie's climax.

Under the Volcano (1984). Albert Finney plays a British diplomat in 1930s Mexico who's lost his job because of his drinking, and is now planning to drink himself to death. His wife (Jacqueline Bisset) and brother (Anthony Andrews) travel there to stop him. One scene has Finney at a carnival riding the airplanes-go-round-in-circles ride, loose change falling out of his pockets for the poor kids to pick up on the ground.

And for one that's a little less depressing, Gorilla at Large (1954). At a carnival, the gorilla escapes and breaks somebody's neck. Or is it somebody who borrowed the carnival barker's (Cameron Mitchell) gorilla costume? Police detective Lee J. Cobb investigates. Anne Bancroft plays the girl; Lee Marvin plays a cop; and Raymond Burr may just be the bad guy again. This one is cheesy low-budget fun, originally filmed in 3-D.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Lazar Meir, 1884-1957



Today marks the birth anniversary of an immigrant named Lazar Meir. Unsurprisingly, he anglicized his name in North America, changing it to Louis B. Mayer, a name you probably recognize much more readily. I didn't realize that Mayer's family emigrated first to Canada; Mayer then came to the US from New Brunswick. Mayer was one of the movie moguls who merged his studio into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924; Mayer remained head of the studio for a quarter century.

I'm not certain how many movies Louis B. Mayer's name is on. Obviously, the Mayer part is on pretty much all of them, since the opening title cared with Leo the Lion says "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer". But as Louis B. Mayer? I don't think his name was ever actually listed as a producer, much in the same way that Irving Thalberg's name wasn't on the screen until after his death. And to be honest, I don't think Mayer actually did the things that the producer does, being the actual head of the studio rather than a producer like Thalberg. IMDb lists only one sound movie where Mayer was the producer, 1940's I Take This Woman.

IMDb also mentions that Mayer is credited as a "presenter" on a bunch of silents; this was a credit that came just over the title on the first card. I think some other studios kept their bosses' names on the opening card well into the sound era; Jack Warner being in charge of production comes to mind.

Mayer as a studio head was a tough man and the stories of what studio bosses did to stars are legion. And yet I don't think there would be many of those stars and their movies if it weren't for the toughness of the bosses.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Whither the Guest Programmer?

So I was looking through the weekly online schedules over at TCM yesterday, since those have the theme for the prime-time lineup listed if you can't tell from the monthly schedule. As I was looking through the schedules, I noticed that I couldn't find when July's Guest Programmer would be. And on TCM's main site, there's usually a section with links to several articles about upcoming nights of prime-time programming: the Spotlight, Star of the Month, and some random interesting evenings. But there wasn't one for the Guest Programmer.

So I asked over at the TCM boards, and somebody there apparently figured out that there isn't one this month, and there isn't one on the schedule for September either. (There was never going to be one for August since that's Summer Under the Stars.) It make me wonder whether they're just going to get rid of the Guest Programmer entirely.

There are all sorts of good reasons why a Guest Programmer night might not come off. As we saw with the final season of Robert Osborne hosting the Essentials that never was, it can be tough to coordinate schedules with a guest should something go wrong. And TCM has to schedule the guests relatively far in advance.

I also wonder how much of it has to do with money. I would assume that the guests get paid union (AFTRA, I think) scale at least plus expenses since I think the pieces were taped in Atlanta. And with the new Essentials having another host and a guest, there's a portion of the budget gone. I note that the summer Essentials Jr., or whatever it was that it became in that last season, hasn't been on the summer schedule for a couple years now. But Ben Mankiewicz is hosting this month's Spotlight along with the director of that documentary, and supposedly tonight's lineup of Shakespeare adaptations is being used to promote a TNT series with one of the series' producers, TNT being part of the same corporate family as TCM.

I'm surprised I didn't get any responses from people saying they were glad the Guest Programmers are gone because none of them are adventurous and just pick the same stuff all the time. At any rate I'd miss the Guest Programmer. Not that I always watched it, but I thought it was a nice way to try to get people who might not necessarily be intrested in old movies to find out they're not so intimidating, what with the black and white and all that.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mid-Century Modern

I've mentioned in the past that one of the things I enjoy about old movies is the set design of things the way they looked back then, or at least the way people wanted them to look for a certain segment of society. The residences for the upper-middle-class families in The Best Years of Our Lives and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House would be good examples; that apartment kitchen Fredric March and Myrna Loy have looks tiny compared to some of the impossibly luxurious apartments we see on screen.

But for this post I'm thinking more of the Technicolor (or whatever color processes followed it) sets of the mid-50s to the mid-60s: things like the brick red appliances in Doris Day and Rock Hudson's large kitchen in Send Me No Flowers. Apparently, the term for it is "Mid-century modern", and TCM is showing a night of movies showcasing the design. (Sorry, no photos this time.)

It's just too bad that I really only care for one of the movies. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The Moon is Blue a "comedy" that violated the strictures of the Production Code, which is why the movie is famous, since I never found it funny.

The Best of Everything at 10:00 PM is one of those slightly-sprawling movies, like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit or Return to Peyton Place that I'm probably a bit too harsh on, but they never quite live up to their billing.

I'm not a fan of Judy Garland's singing, so I don't care for her version of A Star is Born at 12:15 AM, especially considering the fact that it's interminable.

The house in North by Northwest (3:30 AM), however.... The one good thing about the movies is that TCM is showing a contemporary look at the designs, and not the nostalgia we've gotten since the Baby Boomers have been in the cultural ascendancy.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sudden Fear

So I watched Sudden Fear off my DVR because the TCM Shop has a restoration Blu-Ray available for purchase. Indeed, when Ben Mankiewicz presented the movie on TCM, in the outro after the movie he mentioned that Blu-Ray, probably in a bit of advertising necessary to get the rights to show the restoration print. In any case, though, we're happy to have seen the movie show up on TCM.

Joan Crawford plays Myra Hudson, who at the beginning of the movie is in New York City watching rehearsals for her newest play -- Myra is a successful playwright and heiress, although she comes from San Francisco and lives there when a new play doesn't bring her to New York. Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is the romantic lead in her new play, cast by the director and producer, but Myra doesn't think Lester is right for the role. (No offense to Jack Palance, but he really didn't have romantic leading man looks.) So she fires him from the play.

Myra takes the train back to San Francisco, and who should show up on the train but Lester? They talk and eventually fall in love, and Lester decides to follow all the way back to San Francisco. Indeed, they fall enough in love that they decide to get married! It seems rather sudden, and we've seen enough of this nonsense in other movies like Suspicion or Leave Her to Heaven that we know such sudden marriages are going to run into serious problems.

In this case, that other problem is Irene (Gloria Grahame). She was an old flame of Lester's, although as it turns out she's really his current flame. Lester's marriage to Myra is a sham -- not that Myra knows -- and Lester is biding his time until he can get enough money off of Myra to live comfortable. Unfortunately, Myra is making a new will, one that will leave Lester a modest sum, but not as much as he would have wanted. He and Irene discuss this, and figure that they have to make Myra die in an "accident" before she can sign the new will.

Myra, however, finds out! She uses a fancy dictaphone system, and forgot to turn it off when she dictated the new will. And when Lester and Irene discussed offing Myra, they did it in the room with the dictaphone, which of course picked up the plot and recorded it for Myra to hear. So she does what any rational person who finds she's going to be offed does: first she panics, and then she comes up with a plan to foil her would-be killers.

Sudden Fear is reasonable fun, although it does tread territory we feel like we've seen several times before. It also runs a bit long. Still, Crawford and Palance both give very good performances, and both got nominated for Oscars. The climax, with a lot of twists, is suspenseful enough although it does also elicit a few laughs at the absurdity. Part of that absurdity probably has to do with the fact that the writers had to come up with an ending that satisfied the Production Code.

Overall, Sudden Fear is well worth a watch by anyone, but especially Joan Crawford fans will like it. It's too bad that it only seems to be available on a higher-priced Blu-Ray and not a lower priced DVD, but thankfully it's available period.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Escape to Victory

I think in large part because of the subject matter and the high number of athletes in the cast, the movie Victory (also known as Escape to Victory in the UK) gets a reputation as a hilariously awful movie. I bought the DVD some months back, and the movie is nowhere near as bad as it's often given credit for.

Max von Sydow plays Nazi Major von Steiner, who at the start of the movie is accompanying a delegation of Swiss Red Cross workers visiting a POW camp full of Allied prisoners. Steiner recognizes one of them, Capt. Colby (Michael Caine). Apparently, before the war, Colby played soccer for West Ham, one of the big English clubs, and even for the English national team. Colby has set up a makeshift soccer league in the camp.

Eventually, all of this leads to the Nazis having the idea of setting up a propaganda soccer friendly between a German team and a team of international POWs. This presents all sorts of problems because the British wouldn't want its soldiers becoming propaganda pawns of the Germans. Plus, there's really no way the soccer players can train properly. But Colby is told there are any number of internationals who are now POWs, including a Trinidadian (the Caribbean islands weren't independent countries yet) who looks and sounds surprisingly Brazilian, which is understandable when you consider the player is played by Pelé.

At the same time all this is going on, you've got an American who doesn't know much about soccer, and who wants to escape. Capt. Hatch (Sylvester Stallone), when he does play, tries to make American football-style tackles, which are highly illegal in soccer. But he spends more time on his escape plan, except that the soccer match is screwing that up. And then he does escape and make it to Paris, where the Resistance tells him it's possible that the big soccer friendly in Paris could be used as an opportunity for the team to escape! So we get to the big game. Will it be a fair fight? Will the Allies be able to escape at halftime? And what is Hatch doing playing in goal?

Victory is in some ways a familiar movie, what with the World War II theme and the idea of breaking out of a POW camp, topics that were covered in lots of movies. It's more the daft idea of putting a bunch of POWs in a soccer match in Paris that makes people want to bring the movie in for criticism. I find it's not so much that hook that's the problem. It's that the whole movie doesn't just require a suspension of disbelief; it requires disbelief to be levitated and flown off. The Resistance wants Hatch to go back into the camp to inform the soccer team of the escape attempt, but as we saw in The Great Escape, the Nazis just would have shot him in front of the others POWs without him having the opportunity to inform them of anything. Pelé gets subbed out of the soccer match, and then gets subbed back in, which is thoroughly against the rules of the game. And even though the refs aren't so neutral, there aren't even any yellow cards handed out to the Allies. If I watched the movie a second time, I could probably remember more obvious plot holes.

All that aside, though, Victory does entertain, and is nowhere near as bad as it's been made out to be. And the DVD is relatively inexpensive.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Testing Hitchcock



This month's TCM Spotlight on the films of Alfred Hitchcock continues tonight with a bunch of Hitchcock's sound pictures from his days in Britain, starting at 8:00 PM with Number Seventeen. The purpose of this post isn't really to point that out, although Number Seventeen is a movie that's worth a watch. Instead, since I've got the cheap Mill Creek box set, I decided to pop the DVD with Number Seventeen on it into my computer's DVD player and take a screenshot to see how posting photos is going to go now that I can't use Photobucket any longer. The first minor problem I noticed right away is that Blogger's native "Add image" dialog mucks around with the line spacing that I use. Normally I format posts with a modicum of HTML, just the links, bold, and italic. If I try to add a blockquote, that screws up the formatting for everything else that comes in the rest of the post in that the line spacing is much narrower than I like, forcing me to add in paragraph tags. But that's not much a big deal. When I first posted a photo here nearly 10 years ago, I simply copied the templates Blogger was using at the time, which didn't put the image in a div tag, and used that when I compose the stuff off-line, just modifying the URL to the image and the size tags.

This comes to the second issue, which is also minor but just enough to be irritating. Photobucket at least seemed to have a standard format for photo URLs in that you could name the photo and them just use one URL and change only the "nameofphoto.jpg" part at the end for whatever new photo you use. Blogger's URL is convoluted enough that I can't tell whether all my photos are going to end up in one place, and whether I can just copy everything but the name of the photo. But at least posting images is working, after a fact.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #156: Summer Vacations



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 an appropriate one for early July, at least in the northern hemisphere: summer vacations. As always, I've picked three relatively old movies:

Bank Holiday (1938). The British use the term "bank holiday" roughly the same was Americans use "public holiday", and not like the way Franklin Roosevelt shut all the banks down in 1933 to prevent further runs. This one is an ensemble-cast movie about a whole bunch of people who spend their vacation at one of those old British seaside resorts, in the days when they were still relatively stylish and not like the post-war days of movies like Separate Tables or The Entertainer. Margaret Lockwood plays a nurse who thinks about the mother who died in childbirth while the nurse's boyfriend is trying to put the moves on her; other stories involve a beauty contest and a family trying to get away from it all.

M. Hulot's Holiday (1953). The largely non-speaking Jacquet Tati, as Hulot, goes on vacation to his habitual French seaside resort, which is not the romantic and glamorous Riviera. Monsieur Hulot inadvertently causes all sorts of complications. This is the sort of movie I'd really recommend for people who think they're not fans of foreign films, because the humor easily crosses cultures and because since Tati cut down the dialogue in his movies, there are relatively fewer subtitles to read.

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962). Hobbs (James Stewart) plans on a vaction with his wife (Maureen O'Hara) alone; she arranged a family reunion with the two minor kids and two married daughters and their husbands. And it doesn't help that the beach house Mrs. Hobbs rented is in parlous shape. All sorts of further complications ensue.

TCM Star of the Month July 2017: Ronald Colman

No photos accompanying this, since I still haven't gotten around to dealing with uploading to Blogger/Blogspot. And I don't think I currently have any photos of Colman, anyway. But Ronald Colman, who I think is one of the less remembered stars of the classic era, is finally getting honored as TCM Star of the Month. Every Thursday in July, his movies are going to be on TCM in prime time.

For me, the highlight is going to be A Double Life, at 8:00 PM on the 27th. It's the movie that won Colman his Best Actor Oscar, and one of those movies that I've always wanted to see mostly because of its presence on the old Oscar lists. I don't know if I've seen it show up on the TCM schedule, and I've been paying close attention to the schedule for a dozen years now. I've got the schedules going back to July 2007 on my computer, although Linux doesn't play well with searching the Windows drive. But I think I would have noticed if it every showed up on the schedule.

Anyhow, tonight's first night of Colman movies has a couple of Colman's silents, as well as some early talkies. I've briefly mentioned The White Sister (8:00 PM tonight) before; it's a melodrama about Colman getting separated from Lillian Gish by war. She, thinking he died, becomes a nun. And then an earthquake ensues. Because why not. I'm not certain if I've mentioned the first of the Bulldog Drummond movies from 1929 before; that one is on overnight at 12:15 AM. TCM did a night of Bulldog Drummond movies some years back, and I think the Colman version was the one I made a point of watching. But when you've got something that was made into a series a decade later it's easy to get the movies mixed up.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

50 years of Hitchcock

Well, it's more like over 90 years since Alfred Hitchock's earliest movies came out, but his career spanned just about 50 years from the silent movies in England through to Family Plot in 1976. This month's TCM Spotlight is on the films of Hitchcock, and will run every Wednesday and Friday in prime time, presented by documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe, who has apparently made a documentary about Psycho. I don't see if the TCM blurb says he'll be hosting alone or sitting down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss the movies.

For me, the highlight would be tonight's lineup, which includes five of Hitchcock's silents. I think I have all of them on the cheap Mill Creek box set, although I haven't gotten around to watching most of them yet. People who aren't that familiar with early Hitchcock would probably do best to watch The Lodger overnight at 1:45 AM. (And then watch the Laird Cregar remake.) Early Thursday morning, and then Friday in prime time, will have a bunch of the 1930s British movies.

Having said that, I note that once again The Secret Agent doesn't seem to be on the TCM lineup. I've seen the channel run one Hitchcock retrospective after another, and none of them ever seem to have The Secret Agent. I've never been able to figure out why.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Getaway (1972)

I noticed that The Getaway is scheduled to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 5:45 PM. (It's supposed to be on again at 12:15 AM on July 16 as part of a Saturday night prime time lineup.) So I decided that now would be a good time to watch it off my DVR and do a full-length post on it here. You can also get it on DVD and Blu-ray at the TCM Shop, as well as Amazon streaming video.

Steve McQueen plays Doc McCoy, who's in prison in Texas, but is up for parole, and dreams of getting out so he can see his wife Carol (Ali McGraw). Unfortunately, his parole is denied. So his wife goes to a bigwig who apparently can pull some strings, Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson), and tells Benyon that Doc is ready to pay whatever price Benyon sets for Doc's parole.

That price turns out to be taking part in a bank heist. Benyon's brother is a manager at a small town bank that gets a large amount of cash for an oil company payroll, and Doc and a couple of other guys are going to pull off the heist. So they prepare for the heist, which immediately goes wrong because that's what happens in the movies. The other guys in the heist kill a couple of people at the bank, and then one, Rudy (Al Lettieri), kills the other during the getaway.

Doc realizes he's been set up, so he goes to Benyon and shoots him dead, and then goes to the rendezvous with Rudy and shoots Rudy dead. Doc and Carol then try to make it to Mexico, although they have to deal with the authorities and Carol's incompetence that makes Doc wonder whether she was in on the set-up too.

Oh, and it turns out that Doc wasn't such a good shot. It certainly looks from the scene in which he shot Rudy that Rudy died, but not only did he not die, he remains well enough to move around and search for Doc to try to get the money. To that end, Rudy kidnaps a husband and wife Harold and Fran (Jack Dodson and Sally Struthers) and makes them drive after Doc.

In many ways it's a formulaic heist movie, or at least formulaic in the fact that the heist goes wrong and everybody turns on everybody else. But a couple of things stand out. One is that the heist is over with pretty early, so much of of the action in this one than even in something like The Asphalt Jungle is about the attempt to get away and the double-cross. The other thing is the portrayal of the violence, of which there is a lot in this film.

Now, I don't have a problem with violence in movies. But director Sam Peckinpah's depiction of it in this movie does bother me for artistic reasons. Peckinpah seems to want everybody to die in slow-motion so that, when there's a shooting, time seems to slow down and the deaths look overdone to the point of tedium. (The movie also runs a little over two hours, and probably could have done with a script that ran 20 minutes less.) We get it, Sam.

It's a shame that Peckinpah went down this road, because the rest of the movie is well made, with good performances from McQueen and McGraw, and a lovely look at Texas as it was in the early-1970s. The production design has an authentic feel to it that doesn't seem all that common to me in the movies, with maybe Panic in Needle Park being one of the other early 1970s movies I was reminded of.

Still, this is one that a lot of people love more than I do, so you'll probably want to watch and judge for yourself.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Too old to care about my reputation

On Saturday morning when I was listening to the top of the hour news on the classical music station, one of the reports began, "Hollywood legend...." My immediate thought was "Now who died?" It turned out that the rest of the story was about Olivia de Havilland, who was turning 101, is is suing FX. The suit has to do with the FX miniseries Feud, which is about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

Apparently (I haven't watched the show), Olivia de Havilland is depicted in it, and she or her lawyers don't like the portrayal. (I can't imagine Olivia, living in Paris, watching the show.) They think it damages her reputation and is inaccurate. I understand there's the principle of it all, but I can't help but think that once you get to be 101, you shouldn't have to worry too much about your reputation -- the luxury of being too old to give a damn.

And then there's the question of how pristine de Havilland's reputation is. After all, as part of the Bette/Joan feud, Olivia and Bette celebrated with Coca-Cola after Joan Crawford left the production of Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte. Joan probably deserved it, but I'd think people worried about their reputation would want to be seen as classier and above that. And I can only wonder what Joan Fontaine would say if she were still alive.

Somehow I can't imagine Olivia testifying at trial, and certainly not going to Hollywood to do so.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Chicken Every Sunday

So I watched Chicken Every Sunday off my DVR since going through the screencap thing is a pain right now. The movie is available on DVD from Fox's MOD system, and can even be purchased at the TCM Shop. So I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

Celeste Holm plays Emily Hefferan, who in the film's opening scene is seen going to visit a lawyer in Tucson somewhere in the 1910-1920 range; I don't think the exact dates are given. Anyhow, she's going because she wants to get a divorce from her husband. The lawyer recognizes her name; after all Hefferan seems to be on the name of every business in Tucson. Why on earth would she want to get a divorce from Mr. Heffernan? Well, she's going to tell him....

Flash back 20 years or so to her wedding day, at a time when there wasn't much to Tucson. Emily is getting married to Jim (Dan Dailey), a man who seems pressed enough for money that he has to borrow some from a friend to pay the preacher. Emily is already aware of this, and has prepared by taking in another recently-married couple to be boarders in their house, which will pay the bills, especially the mortgage. Jim doesn't have much money, largely because he's invested in any number of businesses which he hopes will bring in big financial returns, but all seem to be less than successful.

This goes on, and every time Jim makes a new investment, Emily takes in more boarders to help pay the bills. The family is growing with three children, the eldest of whom, Rosemary (Colleen Townsend) grows up to be a fine young woman. Jim continues his scheming, ultimately coming up with a land purchase that he hopes will yield a copper mine.

It's this part of the movie that brings the climax both for Jim and for the other characters' sub-plots. Jim is looking for a particular investor Kirby (William Frawley, in a horrendous toupee); Kirby is looking for his estranged wife Ruth (Veda Ann Borg) and trying to dump her mother on somebody. Rosemary, however, likes Geoffrey (Alan Young) but he's too shy to pursue her; Harold (William Callahan), hor his part, is willing to pursue her.

It's all supposed to be a nostalgic look back to the turn of the century, a period which was getting a lot of looks in movies of the period. Fox also had The Late George Apley; other studios had things ranging from Meet Me in St. Louis to Two Weeks With Love. This one, however, has a big problem, in Jim's character. He's a Jack Carson-level chancer, consistently irritating everybody with his investments that everybody else refers to as get-rich-quick schemes. And frankly, it makes his character a turn-off. You wonder what Emily ever saw in Jim in the first place. The movie is well-enough made, it's just that when you have a lead character like Jim Heffernan, it makes it tough to like the movie.

Then again, some people may have differing views; you'll probably want to judge for yourself.

No photo thread today

Last weekend, I finally watched my DVD of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and was going to do a post on it this weekend. I was planning on taking the time because it's a movie that really needs to have a bunch of screencaps taken to accompany the post and show just how absurd the movie is.

Anyhow, Saturday morning, I discovered that my old posts had an error message from Photobucket. Instead of the photos I've been using to illustrate some of my blog posts, I was told that my account was in violation for engaging in third-party embedding. But, I could rectify that problem by signing up for a "Plus 500" account. So I clicked over to Photobucket and found... that a Plus 500 account can be had for the low low price of $399.99 a year!

Now, Photobucket is welcome to do with its website what it wants; after all it's their private property. And if they need to sell stuff -- be it services involving putting photos on swag or making paid accounts -- to pay for the bandwidth, I can certainly understand that. But $400 a year is frankly ridiculous. I looked up the various web-hosting giants of the sort that you see TV ads for, and I could set up a WordPress blog on one or another of them for a quarter of that price if not less (I think they were all in the $6-7/month range).

And Photobucket did this without any warning. Oh, I got sent an email that wound up in Gmail's spam folder, but it wasn't a warning. It was an announcement that the account was third-party linking and that this was no longer permitted. Which is nonsense because Photobucket had always had a bunch of tag options accompanying individual photos for what to post if you wanted to use a photo in a bulletin board (the sort of board that uses the square brackets instead of HTML); if you needed to use HTML; or if you just wanted to send a link in email. So obviously they were expecting and encouraging when you signed up ages ago that you were going to be embedding images elsewhere! If they had sent a message, say, on June 1 saying that as of July 1 third-party embedding would no longer be allowed, that would still suck but at least it would have given people time to figure out what to do. But they didn't seem to do that at all from what I've read elsewhere on the web. And it's not as if they grandfathered old images in. Lots of people all over the internet just had things broken for them one day.

Now, Blogger has a native system for allowing embedding of images in blog posts, with the images winding up on Google's servers. I never used it mostly out of inertia. I had had a bunch of photos up on Photobucket, and knew how to use it to embed images, so when I started the blog it was easy to just keep using Photobucket. Lots of people have such online inertia, I think. And it's not as if this low-traffic blog was anywhere near a bandwidth violation. Nine years and I think I'm at about 2% of storage capacity. I had even created a template to make the various alignment of photos in threads easier. I should still be able to use the templates; it's just that the URLs for any photos I post are going to change from something with a photobucket domain to something with a blogspot (I think) domain. (The Thursday Movie Picks posts are hotlinking to Wandering Through the Shelves' image which is already on Blogspot which is why those still show up. I figure since we're both on Blogger/Blogspot that hotlinking shouldn't be an issue.)

It's more that it's going to take some time to figure out how to do everything efficiently for me. And then there's the issue of unbreaking all those old posts that have photos in them. I don't know if that's ever going to happen. Ironically, just yesterday I got around to listening to a months-old interview on Radio New Zealand titled Losing our digital memory about issues like this. The MP3 file which is about 22MB and 22min, is here. It's not movie related, but it is related to this.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Sons of Katie Elder

I had another movie planned to blog about today, but things came up and so I had to watch The Sons of Katie Elder off a three-film DVD set of John Wayne movies. (It turns out there's a nine-film set available both at Amazon and the TCM Shop that has the three on the set I bought and six others.)

The movie starts off with a train heading towards a town, with opening credits and music that's unmistakeably Elmer Bernstein accompanying. That train stops in the town of Clearwater, Texas, where three men are waiting for a fourth. A man does get off the train, but it's not the one they were expecting, and the one they were expecting isn't on the train at all. It turns out that the three men are the Elder brothers: Tom (Dean Martin), Matt (Earl Holliman), and young Bud (Michael Anderson Jr.); they were expecting eldest brother John (John Wayne) to show up for their mother's funeral. John does show up, although he watches the funeral from afar.

The man who did get off the train, Curley (George Kennedy), goes to a ranch owned by Hastings (James Gregory), who is planning big things for the town. But the ranch used to be owned by the Elders' parents. Dad -- well, we'll learn a bit more as the movie goes on about how the ranch passed from his hands -- suffice it to say that he got shot to death, but the murder is unsolved. Mom had to move off the ranch after Dad died, and she died poor and one would guess of a broken heart.

The four sons begin to investigate, and find out that things aren't quite right, but that nobody will tell them the full truth of what's going on. Having said that, we can guess that Hastings is no good right from his first scene, as he's clearly expecing John Elder to mean trouble. The whole point of bringing Curley in is to deal with John before John can deal with Hastings.

The Sons of Katie Elder is one of those movies that I'd call good, solid entertainment, but it's also not the sort of thing I'd think of as standing out at anything. The movie has a fairly leisurely pace, running a bit over two hours and having a resolution that comes rather abruptly. The plot is one that you'd call "formulaic" if you wanted to denigrate the movie, but is really more of a standard-issue Western theme of revenge. (One of the top IMDb reviews used the word "traditional", which has rather more positive connotations than "formulaic".) There's a fair amount of action in the second half, and reasonably good performances. I just found it hard to find anything special in the film.

Still, the various box sets are relatively low priced. And considering that you're getting The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and The Shootist at least, it's easy to think of The Sons of Katie Elder as a bonus. Besides, there are other people who will like it even more than I do.

A couple of obituaries

Production designers don't get much credit, so we should mention the death of C.O. "Doc" Erickson, who died on Wednesday aged 93. His work spanned 40 years, with notable movies being Chinatown and Groundhog Day. Erickson was also a producer, and started with Alfred Hitchcock back in the 1950s as a production assistant.

Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist died on Tuesday at the young age of 56. He played Blomkvist in the Swedish versions of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the two following movies, but in Hollywood also appeared in one of the Mission Impossible movies as well as John Wick. Radio Sweden's English-language service devoted part of this week's show to Nyqvist. However, it doesn't seem as if individual reports from the weekly round-up are available on a standalone basis; only the entire broadcast, a ~26MB MP3 file.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Tomorrow's the first of the month again

With tomorrow being July 1, it's time for another movie or two that FXM Retro hasn't run in a long time showing up. (I suppose I should add how pleasantly surprised I am that the block is still going on, even if FXM badly formats the movies.) Tomorrow morning that means a Shirley Temple movie that's new to me: Baby Take a Bow. James Dunn, who would appear with Shirley again in Bright Eyes shows up, as does Claire Trevor. A quick look at the plot makes the movie seem like typical Shirley Temple fare. I have to admit I never really gave much thought to watching her movies -- at least the Fox movies -- but when I do watch they turn out to be pretty entertaining.

I can't recall whether I've mentioned Star! before; that one will be on FXM Retro tomorrow at 12:05 PM and again Sunday at 10:50 AM. This is a long, long, long, long movie about Getrude Lawrence, a mostly stage actress of the first half of the last century (perhaps her best-known screen role might be in Rembrandt opposite Charles Laughton). Lawrence is played by Julie Andrews. This is one that I've never been able to get all the way through, because it's not my genre and it's ridiculously long. By the same token, I've only watched Funny Girl in installments. But then, I care for Barbra Streisand's singing even less than Julie Andrews'.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #155: Medical Dramas (TV Edition)



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last week of the month, it's time for another edition, and the theme this month is medical dramas. This one is a toughie for me since I don't watch that much episodic television, but I was able to come up with three shows:



Quincy M.E. (1976-1983). Jack Klugman, fresh off playing opposite Tony Randall in The Odd Couple, plays the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner, a fancy title for a coroner. Quincy (who only had one name) solved mysteries surrounding not only dead bodies, but overstepped his bounds to get into "public health" statism, a fact I never really paid attention to until the reruns showed up on one of the vintage subchannels that populate digital broadcast TV. It's humorous to watch the cops in the opening credits, however.



Trapper John, MD (1979-1986). The continuing adventures of MASH character Trapper John a quarter century after the Korean War, now played by Pernell Roberts and working in a big hospital in San Francisco with various other doctors and nurses. I didn't watch this one too often, mostly because it was on at 10:00 PM, past my bedtime, and didn't seem to show up in syndication anywhere near as much.



Emergency! (1972-1979). The adventures of the paramedics who shared quarters with the fire department in one station in Los Angeles. There's a fair amount of fire and car crashes, but a lot of medical emergencies. One thing I always noticed was that when a man had a heart attack, they'd take off his shirt to apply the defibrillator, but they never had women having heart attacks so the paramedics could take off the women's shirts and use the defibrillator. This one showed up a lot more in reruns.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Noises out there

So I was awakened this morning around 2:30 by what sounded a couple of coyotes howling. (I suppose it might have been just one, but it sure sounded like multiple.) It was even loud enough that it woke up the dog, who started barking.

At any rate, I started thinking about scary noises in the movies. Val Lewton, as I've pointed out on several occasions, did an excellent job in movies like Cat People of not showing us the horror, but allowing us to imagine it in our minds. There's a really effective sequence of the second woman in the gym pool, hearing something but not being able to figure out what it is.

Obviously, there are a lot of movies with scenes in the great outdoors where people have to camp out overnight and the possibility of hearing something come up on them is a plot point.

But just as frightening can be hearing humans out there. Earlier this month, I blogged about Midnight Lace, which has Doris Day hearing a strange voice first in the London fog, and then hearing the same voice on phone calls.

However, I think the most frightening of the voices is one where we know who it is, and that's why it's frightening: Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter, when the kids are hiding out in the barn and Mitchum rides by on his horse singing an old spiritual. Everybody knows just how close danger is.

What's your favorite scary "noise out there" scene?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Noah built himself an arky arky

Over the weekend, I watche Noah's Ark, as I noticed it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive. (Note that the title is common enough that there are quite a few movies that will register hits, if you're looking to buy this at Amazon or whatnot.)

After a brief opening about the original Bible story, we fast forward to 1914. Travis (George O'Brien) and Al (Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, credited here as Gwynn and with no "Big Boy") are two idle Americans traveling around Europe. If you notice the date, that's when World War I began, so you can guess that the war is going to play a big part in the movie. As the two men are traveling on a train near the Franco-German border, the train derails, and the two rescue young Maria (Dolores Costello) from the train. The only thing is, she's German, and pretty much just as they're rescuing her war is declared. There's a Russian espionage agent Nickoloff (Noah Beery), and he wants to arrest her since he thinks she's spying for Germany.

Travis and Marie (rechristened Mary) fall in love and idle around Paris, while Al gets ticked and thinks he should fight in the war. Al enlists, and eventually Travis follows him. Mary is left to fend for herself, becoming a showgirl and getting spotted by Nickoloff. Travis, however, gets trapped in a cellar somewhere in Belgium, at which point a clergyman who just happened to be on train that crashed all the way back at the beginning of the movie. He compares World War I to the Biblical deluge, and proceeds to tell the trapped people the story of Noah and the ark.

We get a cinematic view of that story with all the actors from the first part of the movie taking roles in the Biblical story. Travis becomes Japheth, one of Noah's sons; Al becomes Ham; Mary becomes Miriam, Japheth's beloved; and Nickoloff becomes Sumerian king Nephilim. Miriam is taken by the King's men to be a virgin sacrifice, while Japheth is forced to work in the mill as a slave. Then the rain comes, and everybody tries to escape to the ark.

The rain, as it turns out, was real; director Michael Curtiz created a hellacious deluge that injured quite a few extras. The movie is also a partial talkie; several of the scenes in the modern half are talking while the Ark sequence is silent. However, since it's Vitaphone, there's a synchronized music score and sound effects.

Overall, Noah's Ark is an interesting movie in parts, and the flood scene is certainly spectacular until you realize the human cost. However, the plot has far too many coincidences that turn the film into over-the-top melodrama at times. If this were in a box set, I'd give much more consideration to buying it; at Warner Archive prices, however, I think it's a bit too expensive for me.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Jeanne Eagels, 1890-1929


Jeanne Eagels in The Letter (1929)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Jeanne Eagels, who was born on this day in 1890. She made some silents in the 1910s, but spent most of her time on stage, working with George Arliss and Leslie Howard among others. She stayed on Broadway throughout the 1920s, appearing in the original New York production of Rain, among others. She finally returned to Hollywood and made one more silent, followed by two talkies, The Letter and Jealousy, although only the former survives.

But Eagels is sadly more known for her personal life, one of failed marriages and drug and alcohol abuse. She was using heroin by the time she made The Letter, and that heroin addiction was soon to kill her. (I mentioned in a post several years ago that after her death, there were three autopsies performed, all of which came to a different conclusion, but it's pretty obvious the drug addiction had a big part to play in her death.) It's fascinating to watch The Letter because Eagels is skeletal and cadaverous, looking like a train wreck waiting to happen. And she gives a brilliant performance. The Bette Davis remake is better known, and Davis does well, but Eagels gets to do things Davis couldn't thanks to the code, and that makes the Eagels version a more interesting movie.

In the 1950s, a heavily sanitized biopic of Eagels' life was made, starring Kim Novak.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Såsom i en spegel

So I watched Through a Glass Darkly off my DVR. It's available on DVD as part of a pricey three-movie Ingmar Bergman set courtesy of the Criterion Collection. I'm glad I've knocked it off my list of to-see movies, but I don't know that I'd spend Criterion Collection money on it. I didn't realize when I watched it that Bergman Week begins tomorrow.

The movie starts off with a bunch of people getting out of the water after going for a swim. It turns out that those four people are the only characters in the movie. Karin (Harriet Andersson) is married to Martin (Max von Sydow), and is visiting her father David (Gunnar Björnstrand) and younger brother Minus (Lars Passgård) at the family's summer house on the island of Fårö, off the northern coast of Gotland, the largest island in the Baltic Sea.

Everything seems happy at first, but we quickly realize that there's a lot going on beneath the surface. Karin just got out of the hospital. In fact, it was a mental hospital, and there's the question of whether she's truly cured of her disease, which I don't think the movie openly names but is presumably schizophrenia. Minus is a teenager and going through what nowadays would be considered teen angst. And neither child has as good a relationship with their father as they'd like. Dad is an author who is commercially successful but who feels artistically blocked. Dad goes off to the rest of Europe for various work-related reasons, leaving the kids alone -- you wonder who's taking care of Minus all this time.

Karin starts to act just strangely enough that it's easy to wonder whether this is a relapse. Eventually, she finds her father's diary and reads it, finding out that her schizophrenia is most likely incurable, and that Dad is nuts enough that he wants to chronicle the course of the disease. Minus continues to feel unappreciated. And Karin's behavior continues to become even more erratic.

There's not much action in this movie, but a lot of talk. And talk. And more talk when they're done talking. Frankly, I found it all to be the sort of psychological mumbo-jumbo that people who like to pan foreign movies as being "pretentious" would probably find stereotypical. That having been said, this one isn't anywhere near as bad as Bergman's later Cries and Whispers which I reviewed here some months back. The black-and-white cinematography is also lovely, stark at times and making me want to visit Gotland to see it in living color. (Fårö was a military zone closed to foreigners during the Cold War but is apparently open now.) Ingmar Bergman liked the area so much that he eventually moved there, dying on the island in 2007.

If you're a fan of Bergman, you'll probably enjoy Through a Glass Darkly. If not, I'd suggest starting with something conventional like The Seventh Seal.

Briefs for June 24-25, 2017

I didn't realize that last night was the first night of Tina Fey presenting The Essentials alongside Alec Baldwin. At least, I think it was; I didn't watch the previous Saturday's movie. But there she was, talking about Rear Window and doing a good job of it.

Speaking of Hitchcock, somebody elsewhere posted this story about a Welsh village not named Bodega Bay. Where have we seen this one before? (NB: The source is from the British tabloid The Sun, so who knows just how true the story is? A Google News search, however, does yield the same story in several other sources.)

The local classical music station airs a syndicated program on Saturday mornings about film music. This week's program was dedicated to a documentary I hadn't heard of called Score: A Film Music Documentary. The presenter made it sound as if the film just came out, but in fact it was released last November. I don't think I'll be seeing it any time soon, then, only because it won't be in theaters around here and I don't know that it's available on DVD. I can only imagine the music clearance issues.

When I was looking up the Score documentary to see when it was released and if it was still in theaters, an IMDb search led me to this 2010 movie I had never heard of. Yikes.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Culpepper Cattle Company

I noticed that The Culpepper Cattle Company is coming up on FXM Retro this morning at 9:25 AM and tomorrow morning at 8:05 AM, so I made it a point to watch it off my DVR last night so I could do a review on it here.

Gary Grimes plays Ben Mockridge, a young man in Texas who is ready to make his own way in life as a man. He's heard that Frank Culpepper (Billy Green Bush) is going to be driving a herd of cattle from Texas to Colorado, and Ben is determined to get a job as part of the cattle drive. Of course, he's never done such a thing before, and doesn't know what a cattle drive is really like.

It turns out that a cattle drive is brutal, and if you're not enough of a man, nobody is going to accept you. Things first go bad when somebody rustles a bunch of cattle and the Culpupper crew lose some men in a gunfight to get the cattle back. Ben is sent off to a town well away to recruite replacements, but along the way his horse and gun get stolen by a couple of trappers. He is fortunate, however, to get them back on the way back courtesy of the men he recruited, who seem rather violent.

Then again, everybody in The Culpepper Cattle Company, more or less, is violent, with the exception of Ben and a group of religiously-motivated settlers the cattle drive meets in the run-up to the film's climax. There's one shootout after another, becoming increasingly inexplicable. The last one even has Ben seemingly in the middle, with none of the bad guys thinking to shoot him; it's not as if they have any compunction about shooting everybody else.

I had some big problems with The Culpepper Cattle Company. Not because of the violence, but because the movie never really seemed to be going anywhere. I understand that it's part of the film's point that the cowboy lifestyle wasn't romantic and in fact would have been nasty, brutish, and short. But I found the movie to be incoherent at times, with an ending that makes little sense. Then again, I also have to admit that westerns have never been my favorite genre.

With that last caveat in mind, you may want to watch and judge for yourself. The movie seems to be out of print on DVD, however, although it does seem available from Amazon streaming if you can do that thing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

If I Were a Conventional Blogger

So yesterday's installment of the Thursday Morning Picks blogathon was on "the woods"; wanting to be different I decided to turn the theme on its head by going for people named Wood or Woods. (I suppose I could have used Woody Strode or Woody Allen instead.) Of course, the theme was supposed to be about the forest, and if I had done it that way, I would have had to do some thinking.

That's because the first movie I would have thought of A Midsummer Night's Dream, is one that I already used when the subject was Shakespeare. As you may recall, the characters in the movie are all going through the forest on the way to a wedding when the fairy Puck (Mickey Rooney) puts spells on all of them and makes them fall in love with the wrong people.

I think I would also have used Ring of Fire, a reasonably good drama about a cop (David Janssen) who gets carjacked by thieves on the run, who force him to take them through the forest to their escape. Except that the forest is ridiculously dry, which means there's a risk of forest fire, which unsurprisingly happens. Unfortunately, the print TCM shows is panned and scanned. Sydney Pollack is getting the heebie-jeebies in heaven right now.

And for a third movie? It's been ages since I've seen God's Country and the Woman, one of the earliest three-strip Technicolor movies and possibly the very first to make extensive use of external scenes. I believe this is the movie that Warner Bros. wanted to cast Bette Davis in and she, being sick of the idiotic (in her view) programmers they were giving her, decamped to the UK and sued.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #154: The Woods



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 "The Woods". As a fan of older movies, I've picked three older (well, at least this time one of them was released after I was born) movies that fit the theme:

Brainstorm (1983). The final film of actress Natalie Wood; she drowned in an incident unrelated to the movie halfway through production. Wood plays Karen, the estranged wife of Michael (Christopher Walken), who is developing a sort of virtual reality device. The other inventor of the device (Beatrice Straight) dies suddenly, but not before hooking herself up to the device to record her thoughts as she's dying. Michael knows he just has to see that recording. Karen and Michael also record their own perspectives, which enables them to see the marriage from each other's point of view and save the marriage.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Ed Wood directed this hilariously awful movie about aliens trying to resurrect dead humans as zombies so that the zombies will take over Earth. Or something; the plot is such a mess as is the directing and the production values. But it's one of those movies that fails so spectacularly that it winds up being a blast to watch.

Fog Over Frisco (1934). Donald Woods plays Tony, a reporter pursuing socialite Val (Margaret Lindsay). Val's half-sister Arlene is a bad girl of sorts, hobnobbing with gangsters but engaged to a stockbroker. When Arlene gets her fiancé mixed up in a stock swindle, Arlene goes missing and Tony gets his chance to crack the case wide open. This is, unsurprisingly, Bette Davis' movie, even though she disappears for much of the movie. It's one of those really zippy Warner Bros. programmers; they always seemed to be better at that style of film-making than any of the other studios.

I hope I understood this week's theme correctly....

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sea Spiders

Another short I'm looking forward to on the TCM schedule is Sea Spiders, a little after 11:30 PM, just after This Is Spinal Tap (10:00 PM, 83 min). The listing says 1932 and a look at the lives of Tahitians.

My first thought when I saw that was another Pete Smith short, but looking at the IMDb page, it isn't. In fact, the IMDb page doesn't mention that it's part of any particular series of shorts, which rather surprises me. And speaking of Pete Smith, one short I wouldn't mind seeing on the TCM schedule is one also from 1932 called Color Scales. It's just a trip to an aquarium, but it was done in two-strip Technicolor which looks surprisingly good.

I'm sure some of the Pete Smith shorts have been released on extras of various movies by Warner Home Video, but there doesn't seem to be any box set the way there is with the Traveltalks shorts. I'd guess the interest isn't there; I know I'm generally far more interested in the Traveltalks shorts than the Pete Smith shorts.

I can't find wither Sea Spiders or Color Scales as an extra, either, although that may have something to do with Amazon's search function.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Louis Wolheim night, and a few other things

One of the things I like about TCM is when they have programming blocks dedicated to people who might have been a reasonably big thing back in the day, but who are little remembered now. Star of the Month Audrey Hepburn is well-known, but how many people remember Louis Wolheim? And so TCM is showing a bunch of Wolheim's movies tonight.

I've blogged about three of them before:

The Racket, a silent in which Wolheim plays a gang boss protective of his kid brother, is on at 9:45 PM;
Two Arabian Knights, a silent comedy set in World War I and long thought lost, will be on overnight at 2:30 AM; and
The Silver Horde, with a very young Joel McCrea, finished up the night at 4:15 AM.

For some reason, I thought I had blogged about Danger Lights (11:30 PM) before, but it looks like I'm mixing up a bunch of railroad-themed movies; specifically this one and Other Men's Women, an interesting movie with a young James Cagney and Joan Blondell. Danger Lights is interesting in its own right, with a young Jean Arthur. The climax is a high-speed rail journey to the big city to save an injured man (Wolheim).

I'd also like to mention the short that follows The Silver Horde: Roseland, a little after 5:30 AM. This one stars Ruth Etting, a popular singer of the 1920s and early 1930s who tried her hand at acting thanks to her gangster husband; all of this was the subject of the excellent James Cagney movie Love Me or Leave Me, which I've also blogged about before. Ruth sings here, and if circa-1930 music is your thing it's good. Circa-1930 music isn't really my thing, however.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Secret Agent (1936)

Some years back I bought an ultra-cheap box set of Alfred Hitchcock movies. One of the only sound movies on the set that I hadn't seen before was Secret Agent, so I finally got around to watching it.

The movie starts off in 1916 with a funeral for the author Brodie. The only thing is, we learn after all the people leave the bier that the coffin is, in fact, quite empty. Brodie is not dead, but somebody wants it known that Brodie is dead. That somebody is His Majesty's Secret Service, who have a job for Brodie (John Gielgud). They tell him that there's a problem with the troops on the eastern front, which in this case means the Middle East. The Germans are trying to agitate against the British forces in the region, and are going to send a secret agent from Switzerland to do so. So it's Brodie's job to go to Switzerland, find that agent, and prevent him from getting to the Middle East.

Brodie has been given a new identity, Ashenden, and a new passport, and in Switzerland he's supposed to look for The General (Peter Lorre), a hired assassin who's actually supposed to do the killing. Oh, and to make Ashenden look innocent, he's in Switzerland on holiday with his wife, who is of course another secret agent real name Elsa (Madeleine Carroll, fresh from The 39 Steps).

Well, wouldn't you know it, but both Elsa and the General reach Switzerland before Ashenden, and when he gets to his hotel room he's surprised to find Elsa with... well, not the General, but with Marvin (Robert Young), an American abroad. Ashenden and the General start to search for the agent, but they're thwarted at various turns. And then Ashenden, and especially Elsa, start to wonder whether killing this guy is really something they can do. They're not secret agents by training the way the General is....

Personally, I found Secret Agent to be one of Hitchcock's weaker efforts in the post-Man Who Knew Too Much era. There are obvious Hitchcock touches, and a whole bunch of nice set pieces (one at a church and another in a chocolate factory), but I found the film dragged despite its shortish running time. And I didn't feel quite the emotional attachment for the characters as I do in other Hitchcock movies. Part of that may be intentional, deliberately showing how dehumanizing spy work can be. But Peter Lorre badly overacts and makes his character irritating. I also didn't like what seemed to be a deus ex machina ending, even if it can be plausibly explained (if, for example, you assume Elsa sent a telegraph to Britain and they were able to notify folks in the east).

Still, Hitchcock completists (now I've got just a bunch of silents to watch) will want to watch it. And as always, judge for yourself.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Something for the Boys

One of my recent DVD purchases was a Carmen Miranda box set, and among the movies on it I hadn't reviewed here before is Something For the Boys.

Carmen here plays Chiquita Hart, a defense plant worker in Indiana at the start of the movie -- you can tell this is one of those World War II movies. She's one of three Hart cousins, the other two being showgirl Blossom (Vivian Blaine) and schemer Harry (Phil Silvers), which makes you wonder about the family tree if these three are married to each other. (Well, they're cousins, so various siblings a generation above could just have married oddly.) Anyhow, the three all find out that their grandfather has died, leaving them an inheritance! Chiquita, for her part, finds out through radio broadcasts she receives because working at the defense plant has left just the right combination of metal residue in her dental work or something; it's a running joke used later in the movie.

Anyhow, the three cousins who don't know each other at the start of the movie have to travel down to Georgia to receive their inheritance, as Grandpa had one of those big old plantation houses. And when I say old, I mean old, as it's fallen on hard times and sorely in need of a renovation. And there's no money for that; they've only inherited the house. But they're in luck. The house is near an army base, and Sgt. Fulton (Michael O'Shea) comes over from the base to visit. Everybody gets the idea that the house would be a perfect place for soldiers' wives to stay so they can be close to their husbands while they're at the base. It's an income stream for the cousins, and a win win for the soldiers and their wives. Plus, the soldiers can do the work fixing up the place. And, unsurprisingly, Sgt. Fulton and Blossom fall in love along the way.

But there are complications. Sgt. Fulton has a girl in his past, Melanie (Sheila Ryan). He's probably willing to dump her, since she seems to be really high-maintenance, but she thinks she's his fiancée, and dammit, she's going to run everything in everybody's life. She gets to the manor and decides it's hers, trying to tell the cousins what they should be doing. Why they don't just throw her out of the place then and there makes no sense, but Melanie does more or less disappear toward the end. The other complication is that the place gets declared off-limits to the soldiers because Harry is running a craps game, and then the army wants to use it for war games.

In and among all this, there are a lot of musical numbers, although they're the sort of songs that for the most part aren't memorable. Perry Como plays one of the singing soldiers, which should tell you something about the songs. And the plot is a bit of a mess too. Finally, it doesn't help that the Phil Silvers character is constantly irritating.

The DVD itself, however, is a lovely transfer, with very nice Technicolor. This particular DVD has a couple of trailers, one with scenes from the movie and one with just title cards. There's also a Carmen Miranda documentary that I haven't watched. The cover art, however, leaves something to be desired, as the blurb on the back mentions a song I didn't hear, and claims that the house is in Texas, when it's clearly in Georgia. One of the songs is even titled "Eighty Miles Outside of Atlanta", for heaven's sake.

I picked up the box set for The Gang's All Here, figuring that everything else would be a bonus. Something for the Boys isn't quite my thing, but people who like World War II musicals will probably enjoy it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Old Glory


The ghost of Uncle Sam about to teach Porky Pig a lesson in Old Glory (1939)

I have a feature to blog about, but not really the time to write a full-length post on it, so I decided to look through the shorts on some of my DVDs to see if I could find anything worth blogging about. It turns out that on the disc of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex that's part of the box set I bought (the same one with Dodge City), there's the interesting animated short Old Glory>

I was surprised that Warner Home Video would include a Porky Pig short on one of these cheap DVDs, but then this isn't a typical short that would have any of the Looney Tunes characters. Porky Pig starts off trying to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance (no Bellamy salute here) but, being bored with it, decides to take a nap.

Porky then has a dream sequence involving a rotoscoped Uncle Sam (voiced by Shepperd Strudwick), who teaches Porky about parts of American history that made America the bastion of liberty it is today (well, the bastion of liberty it was in 1939). All of these scenes are rotoscoped, and feature Patrick Henry (John Litel, who had played Patrick Henry in Give Me Liberty; that earlier short is in fact the source of Litel's audio here), George Washington, Paul Revere, and the Lincoln Memorial.

The rotoscoping is one of the things that makes this a strange short by Warner Bros. standards. None of the standard Chuck Jones stuff we'd see, even though he did direct. Having said that, the rotoscope animation is excellent and makes the short visually arresting to watch.

The other thing about it that's so strange is the utter lack of humor. That's by design; it's not as if the jokes failed as sometimes seems to happen when watching things 70 or 80 years after they were made. This is a straight-up patriotic history lesson, with obvious propaganda overtones.

The final interesting thing is that this came out in 1939. It's the sort of material that would have been extremely obvious to make three years later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War II. It would fit in with other shorts like MGM's You, John Jones! But this one was released in July 1939, before the war begain in Europe. Granted, there's no open propaganda about any of America's future enemies. But still, this all seemed a bit out of place.

Not that the short is terrible if you know what you're getting into. As I said above, the rotoscoping is excellent. But if you're looking for Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes humor, you're not getting it. Then again, Elizabeth and Essex is worth the price, so this extra is a bonus.

John G. Avildsen, 1935-2017

Director John G. Avildsen, who won an Oscar for directing the 1976 movie Rocky, has died aged 81.

Avildsen started his directorial career in the late 1960s, and quickly made a name for himself by directing Jack Lemmon to a second Oscar in Save the Tiger. (Lemmon won the Best Actor Oscar; he had won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Mr. Roberts.) In between Save the Tiger and Rocky, there was the quirky little W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, a movie I really enjoyed but which doesn't seem to be very well remembered.

Avildsen would go on to do three of the Karate Kid movies as well as Rocky V, as if there weren't enough Rocky movies. Apparently he also did Neighbors, John Belushi's last movie and one I could never stand. And he was also supposed to direct Saturday Night Fever. There's an interesting set of movies.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Scandal in Paris

Another recent watch off my DVR was A Scandal in Paris. It's available on DVD as part of a two-movie set of early Douglas Sirk movies, the other being the excellent Lured. So I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

A Scandal in Paris is loosely based on the life of Eugène Vidocq (1775-1857), played here by George Sanders. The real-life Vidocq was a criminal in Napoleonic France who went straight, eventually reforming the Paris police force and starting his own private detective agency. That story is made rather more fanciful in this telling, with the later-life part about the detective agency completely ommitted.

The story begins with an exaggerated introduction with voice-over by Sanders, leading up to Vidocq's escape from jail, which is how he meets Émile (Akim Tamiroff) who becomes his lifelong right-hand man. The two make their way to the south of France to serve in Napoleon's army, which is how Vidocq meets Loretta (Carole Landis). She's the late 18th century equivalent of a nightclub singer, and she's got a garter with precious stones that Vidocq is of course going to steal.

After serving in the military, Vidocq and Émile make their way back north to Paris, meeting the Pierremont family. The father Houdon (Alan Napier) is roughly equivalent to an Attorney-General type or a European Minister of the Interior. The women in the house: the grandmother/marquise (Alma Kruger) and daughter Thérèse (Signe Hasso) have lovely jewels, and Vidocq plans to steal those. The theft creates a scandal, and the Prefect of the Parisian police, Richet (Gene Lockhart), is unable to solve it. Of course, Vidocq can. Riche resigns, and Houdon names Vidocq the new Prefect.

Of course, this was all a ruse for Vidocq, Émile, and Émile's family and friends to rob the vault at the Bank of Paris. Along the way to robbing it, however, a couple of things happen. The first is that Vidocq begins to fall in love with Thérèse. Secondly is that one day, Vidocq runs into Loretta in Paris. That would be bad enough. But far worse is that she's married to Richet! Richet knows that something is up with Loretta, and that she must be seeing another man. He sets out to find out who she's seeing, and that of course threatens to unmask Vidocq.

A Scandal in Paris is well-enough made, although it doesn't really seem like what you'd normally think of when you think of Douglas Sirk, that being the combination of lush melodrama and social commentary. This is pretty much a straightforward costume drama. George Sanders is quite good as Vidocq, as the same sort of charm mixed with stealth that he brought to so many roles is something he puts to excellent use here. Everybody else ranges from adequate to the quality you'd expect from the great character actors.

Ultimately, however, there's something I can't quite put my finger on that to me keeps A Scandal in Paris from rising above the good and well-made to the point of greatness. Perhaps Sanders is just a bit too smarmy this time. We're supposed to view him as a hero, and not a threat like his later Addison DeWitt. Hasso is also slightly off. Still, A Scandal in Paris more than succeeds in entertaining and keeping you guessing until the end.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #153: Based on a True Story



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 movies that are based on true stories. Unfortunately, I used They Won't Forget at the beginning of the year, which is based on the trial of Leo Frank. But I've got three (well, technically four since two are based on the same event and came out within a year of each other) other movies that are worth a mention:

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936). Joan Crawford plays Peggy O'Neal, the daughter of a Washington DC innkeeper who meets and marries a naval officer. He dies at sea and Peggy later remarries Senator Eaton (Franchot Tone). Eaton is named to President Jackson's cabinet, but the other Cabinet wives don't like Peggy and this threatens to cause a scandal.

Hangmen Also Die! (1943) and Hitler's Madman (1943). Both of these movies are based on the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who was the Nazi governor of the protectorate of the Czech lands during World War II. The events in these movies might be a bit fresh to fans of more recent movies, because there was another movie Anthropoid released last year about the assassination of Heydrich. Hangmen Also Die! was directed by Fritz Lang, while Hitler's Madman was a low-budget affair directed by Douglas Sirk and released by PRC, the same company that put out Edgar Ulmer's movies.

Compulsion (1959). Based on the thrill killing committed by Leopold and Loeb, the names of the guilty are changed because Leopold was still alive at the time the movie was made. The two killers, college students at the University of Chicago, are played by Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman; they're defended at trial by Orson Welles. In the real case Clarence Darrow was the defense attorney; his name is changed too.