Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #167: Just Not Funny Comedies

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 "Just Not Funny" Comedies, and the ones I've picked aren't quite as old as my normal picks. (Well, I suppose I could have gone with the Ritz Brothers.)

Dondi (1961). David Janssen plays a World War II soldier who takes pity on an Italian orphan and wants to adopt him. Of course, bringing him back to America in the first place is going to be a problem. The kid playing the orphan is monstrously obnoxious and unfunny, and the story isn't particularly good either. This was based on a popular comic strip.

The Party (1968). Peter Sellers plays a Hollywood extra who is supposed to be blacklisted for incompetence, but accidentally winds up on the list for the swankiest Hollywood part ever. At some point around Dr. Strangelove (excluding some of the Pink Panther films), Sellers became almost unwatchable and cringe-inducingly unfunny. The bizarre party he attends here is apparently supposed to be hippie-inspired or something, but it's just tedious.

Neighbors (1981). John Belushi's final film has him as a suburbanite with a wife (Kathryn Walker) whose lives get turned upside down when a new neighbor (Dan Aykroyd) moves in. IMDb opinion is sharply divided, but I fall into the negative side, finding it stupid. It probably doesn't help that the first time I watched it I was probably too young: there's a joke about edible underwear that I was definitely not mature enough to get back then. (This was in the VHS era; I was only nine years old when it was released and did not go to see it in the theater. I think we got a copy from my movie-theater manager uncle.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Some weeks back I mentioned by surprise that the Oscar-winning movie Klute was out of print on DVD. It's coming on TCM overnight tonight (or early tomorrow morning depending on your perspective and time zone) at 4:00 AM, so now is a good time to do a post about it.

The movie starts off with what looks like a big family dinner, followed by a sudden cut and just a couple of people left at the table. It's some months later, and one of the people who was at that table has disappeared. Now, the authorities are talking the the disappeared man's wife as well as local policeman John Klute (Donald Sutherland). More worrying, it sounds as though the disappeared man had a double life, as he was writing extremely dirty letters to a call gilr in New York City, where he also took some business trips and where he disappeared.

People want to find the disappeared man, to Klute starts working as a sort of private detective to find out what happened to him. Obviously, a good place to start would be with that call girl. So Klute goes to New York and looks up Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda, who won the Oscar) and finds that she's no longer living the good life of a high-priced call girl. Instead, she's in much shabbier surroundings, a couple of floors above a funeral home in a building that looks like it could use some work. Bree, for a whole bunch of reasons, doesn't want to talk about the disappeared man, the letters, or her life as a prostitute at all. In fact, she'd like to get away from it if she could, but it pays the bills and she's good at it.

Klute tries to get to Bree, and he's straight-arrow to the point that you wonder whether Bree has ever met a man like this. Eventually, she gives in to Klute's persistence, in part because she needs help. Somebody has been stalking her, making obscene phone calls and making her feel like she's constantly being watched. If this weren't a movie, we'd understand it could be entirely coincidental considering how many clients Bree had. But it is a movie, so we can guess from the emphasis placed on it that yeah, it has something to do with the guy's disappearance.

Klute and Bree go around the seedier parts of early 1970s New York, eventually finding... well, I'm not about to give that away. Klute is a well-made movie, doing a good job of depicting the New York of that era as the unromantic, falling-apart place it was becoming, the whole "Ford to city: drop dead" thing I've mentioned in relation to several other movies from the era. It's most definitely a grown-up story for intelligent, thinking people. Fonda does a good job, although I can't help but wonder that the Oscar is in part down to playing the sort of character that hadn't much made to the screen before, at least not in this gritty way. Sutherland is good too, although as always he got overlooked. Roy Scheider plays a pimp for whom Bree used to work, and Edith Bunker (er, Jean Stapleton) has a one-scene role as a secretary to one of Bree's elderly clients.

It's a shame that Klute seems to be out of print on DVD, because it's really worth seeing. It would also be good as part of a spotlight on New York of that time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Silents update, September 19, 2017

So I don't particularly care for any of tonight's Jennifer Jones movies, and I haven't sat through any of the recent TCM airings of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit to do a full-length review of it. Instead, I should mention a few things I learned over the weekend while looking for movies on my DVR that are available on DVD.

I was looking for a DVD of the 1966 Soviet film Wings, which of course shares its title with the first Best Picture Oscar winner. So a search for the Soviet movie is definitely going to yield clases with that, as well as box sets of the 1990s sitcom Wings. But I learned that the 1927 silent is going to be getting a new DVD and Blu-Ray release, coming out at the end of October.

Having thought of that and Gary Cooper's brief role in it, I thought about The Winning of Barbara Worth, which I have on my DVR having recorded it when Ronald Colman was Star of the Month back in July. It turns out that that one is available from the Warner Archive, so it's one that I should probably sit down and watch so that I can do a full-length review on it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Briefs for September 18-19, 2017

Tonight's lineup on TCM is listed as being the 90th anniversary of what used to be Grauman's Chinese Theater, but is now apparently calle the TCL Chinese Theater. I couldn't figure out what movies like Sullivan's Travels were doing tin the salute, but it turns out that there are only three movies in the spotlight, all of which are from the early days of the theater: the first movie to premiere; the first sound movie; and the first Best Picture Oscar winner. That at least makes more sense.

Somebody over on the TCM Message boards posted this Newsweek article decrying how popular streaming services have so few old movies. I'm not certain exactly where I fall on the issue, other than to say I can't help but think that the constant lengthening of copyrights doesn't help. There was a time not too long ago that copyrights were a 28-year term, renewable for another 47. I'd have to look it up again to see if there were two extensions, but definitely by the time the first Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie was nearing 75, there was another push on to lengthen copyrights. Under the old scheme, we'd be getting movies from 1942 entering the public domain this year.

What does Criterion do with some of the movies to which they hold the rights? I was going to watch Look Back in Anger off my DVR just to free up some space, since I didn't think it's in print on DVD. I was mildly surprised just before the opening titles to see the Criterion logo. Having seen recently that the Soviet movie Wings was put on DVD by Criterion, I decided to look on the Criterion site for Look Back in Anger and found... nothing. So do they no longer have the rights to the movie, or just no plans to put it on DVD? To be honest, though, I had to bail on the movie halfway through, in part because I started watching too late in the evening, and in part because I found Richard Burton's character such a jerk that I couldn't get into the picture.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


So I watched Witchcraft on FXM Retro this morning since it's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 7:20 AM.

The movie starts off with a man on a bulldozer grading some land somewhere in the Home Counties of England. The land is a disused cemetery, and descendants of most of the people there have already removed the gravestones. Except for one family, the Whitlocks. And patriarch Morgan Whitlock (Lon Chaney Jr.) is furoius about all this.

Whitlock goes to the developer ultimately responsible for the new housing development, Bill Lanier (Jack Hedley). It turns out that the Whitlocks and the Laniers have a history going back centuries, to the point that Morgan as well as Bill's aunt are both unhappy that Bill's younger brother Todd (David Weston) wants to date Morgan's niece Amy (Diane Clare). We later learn that 300 years ago, the Laniers accused the Whitlocks of witchcraft, and were able to get one of the Whitlocks killed and the rest dispossessed of their land, which now happens to be the Lanier estate. No wonder the Whitlocks are still pissed.

Actually, when I said they got one of the Whitlocks killed for practicing witchcraft, that's not entirely correct. Vanessa Whitlock was put to death by being buried alive, and she was buried in the cemetery that is now being disturbed by the property development. And the work has disturbed Vanessa's grave. We find that Vanessa is still alive, and that she is still more than interested in practicing witchcraft. I suppose you can't blame her after what the Laniers did to her.

Anyhow, she first gets a devil doll placed in the office of Bill's manager, who then drowns in his bathtub although there are signs that he was strangled. That's followed by attempts on the lives of various members of the Lanier family! Are Morgan and Amy involved in this?

Lon Chaney gets top billing here, although it's probably the Bill Lanier character that's the real male lead. The movie is understandably put in the horror genre, although it's really not very scary. It's decidedly a programmer, and in that regard it pretty much succeeds even if there's nothing particularly great or memorable about it. It's the sort of movie that would be a great 80-minute watch in the runup to Halloween if you're looking for something you probably haven't seen before.

Witchcraft doesn't seem to be on DVD, although Amazon does do the streaming thing.

Černý Petr

So I was listening to Radio Prague's English-language podcast the other day, and one of the stories was about a restoration of one of Miloš Forman's early movies, Black Peter. It's from even before Loves of a Blonde, and to be honest a movie I hadn't heard of until hearing about the restoration.

Radio Prague has individual pages for most of their current affairs and feature stories, and the one on Black Peter can be found here. As usual, it's more or less a transcript of the report. If you wish to listen to the report, there's a streaming player at the top of the article, as well as a link to the MP3 file (1.5 MB and a little over three minutes).

I always find it interesting to listen about film preservation.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


I finally got around to watching the 1966 Soviet film Wings off my DVR since I realized that it is in fact available on DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection. (It's actuall available as well on the TCM Shop and Amazon, but searching on the title Wings doesn't show it; it helps to search under the name of the director, Larisa Shepitko.)

There's not much of a story here; Wings is really more of a character story. Nadezhda Petrukhina (Maya Bulgakova) is the 40-something headmistress of a vocational high school in a provincial Russian city (unnamed, and I couldn't find where the exteriors were shot although I'd guess that was in one of the satellite cities around Moscow). Nadezhda doesn't seem to have much joy in life, as there's work, and not much else. Well, there's a museum director who takes an interest in her, although for her it's really a platonic friendship.

It turns out there's a good reason there's not much joy in her life: Nadezhda was a pilot in World War II, earning the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and worthy of being a museum exhibit. It was there that she met her husband Mitya, who unfortunately died in the war. Nadezhda has flashbacks to the war, which seems to have given her a sense of purpose in life, and with the war long over Nadezhda has lost that purpose in life.

Nadezhda adopted a daughter and obviously told the daughter Tanya that Dad died in the war because Tanya has no idea that she's adopted. Tanya has recently gotten married, and she and Mom are distant enough that Mom has never seen her son-in-law. She goes to visit, and the visit doesn't go so well.

Wings is a very well-made movie, even though there's very little story here. Bulgakova does extremely well as the middle-aged woman has sacrificed for everybody, and there are some fun scenes, such as when Nadezhda has to fill in for a student in a school performance, and one where she commiserates with the owner of a Soviet-style diner for the working class. That scene made me think of Joan Crawford and Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce. The cinematography is also excellent. I did have one lingering question of what Nadezhda did in the 20 years following the war, since you'd think it would have taken her less than 20 years to get used to the war being over. Perhaps she was only more recently retired from the military, although I find that hard to imagine.

As long as you know going into it that you're getting a character study and not a full story, I can strongly recommend Wings.

Harry Dean Stanton, 1926-2017

Veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton, who got a career boost in late middle age when Wim Wenders cast him in Paris, Texas, died yesterday aged 91.

Stanton started his career in the 1950s, often being credited as just Dean Anderson (when he even did get a credit) in movies like The Proud Rebel and Cool Hand Luke. The 70s saw some bigger movies: The Godfather Part II, Kelly's Heroes, The Missouri Breaks, and Alien among others. But it was getting cast in Paris, Texas that really gave Stanton more prominence.

Stanton also did a lot of TV work, with the best known today proabably being the Mormon patriarch who supports polygamy in Big Love. But Stanton's IMDb page lists supporting roles everywhere in the 50s and 60s, including one on The Rifleman. I don't know if MeTV has the ability to change their schedule that quickly to run it this weekend, the way they did with Richard Anderson. But they had more time after Anderson's death and Anderson did multiple episodes of the show anyway.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hands Across the Table

TCM is running a night of Carole Lombard movies tonight, so I made a special point of watching Hands Across the Table off my cheap Lombard box set since that movie kicks off the night at 8:00 PM.

Lombard plyas Reggie Allen, a working girl working a humdrum life as a manicurist. (To be honest, I wonder how humdrum it could really be considering the size of her apartment.) The shop she works in is on the ground floor of a hotel, so all sorts of rich men come to the place and get a manicure as part of their routine. Among them is Allen Macklyn (Ralph Bellamy), a pilot. Well, ex-pilot, since he had a crash and is aralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair. Reggie goes up to his suite and does his nails, and finds him to be a nice guy. Marriage material? Well, it is Ralph Bellamy. This even though Reggie is open about the fact that she only plans to marry for money. Allen likes this honesty to the fact that he falls in love with Reggie.

On the way out Allen's suite one day, she runs into Ted Drew III (Fred MacMurray). He's acting like a spoiled rich playboy, and Reggie doesn't like him one bit because he says nothing in that first meeting to indicate that he's rich. And then he calls for an appointment, specifically looking for Reggie since he's obviously fallen in love with her. Reggie doesn't like him -- until she finds out that he's from a rich family. Obviously she can learn to like him in that case.

So Reggie and Ted go out for a night on the town, in which Ted gets drunk to the point of passing out and misses his boat to Bermuda. You see, he was supposed to go away for a couple of weeks because his fiancée's family is redoing the house. Oh yeah, and he has a fiancée. But he doesn't even have cab fare to get back to a hotel, so he spends the night at Reggie's place.

It turns out that Ted isn't rich at all. His family was at one time, but the lost it in the crash of 1929. Ted isn't even suited to holding any sort of job, which makes you wonder how he got along for the previous five years since the movie was released in 1935. But Ted is clearly in love with Reggie to the point that he'd think about getting an honest job, while Reggie has conflicted feelings about Ted. And of course there's poor Allen back at the hotel; you know he's not getting the girl at the end. Predictable consequences ensue.

Hands Across the Table is formulaic and certainly not bad, but it's also a movie that I had some problems with. The big one is that Ted's character is written to be such a jerk that it's difficult to figure out why Reggie would fall in love with him. There are also various minor plot holes that it should be easy enough to suspend disbelief over (such as the previously mentioned size of her apartment), although there were enough of them that I kept noticing them. Still, Lombard gives a profeesional role, while a young MacMurray does just fine. Poor Ralph Bellamy is given yet another thankless role but pulls it off.

The supporting cast has Marie Prevost as Reggie's annoying coworker who believes in numerology, and Ruth Donnelly as Reggie's boss who seems more interested in finding Reggie a husband than in whether Reggie does her job well. Astrid Allwyn plays the fiancée. All of them do well, even though Prevost, like Bellamy, is given some really thankless material.

Hands Across the Table was cheap for the price of the ultra-cheap box set I got, what with no extras and movies on both sides of the disks. But if you just want to see the movies, that's not a bad way to go.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #166: Financial World

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 financial world, and I've selected three movies that to a greater or lesser extent touch upon the world of finance:

Jumping Jack Flash (1986). Whoopi Goldberg plays an exchange trader in an office where one day somebody hacks into her computer. That person is claiming to be an British spy trapped in the Soviet Union, and he has to hack into a private-sector computer to get help because that's the only way the Soviets won't notice him. She has to help by getting the British Consulate to help him, but when that goes wrong she's drawn deeper into international intrigue.

A Successful Calamity (1932). George Arliss plays a financier who's just returned from a post-World War I conference in Europe to discuss financing the reconstruction, only to find out that his family are doing their own thing and are too busy to take the time to care about him. So he engineers a fake financial collapse that will get the family to listen to him, only for him to turn the tables and teach them a lesson. Arliss is, as always, delightfully mischievous in this little programmer.

Mister 880 (1950). Edmund Gwenn plays a lonely old man who decides to engage in a little bit of quantitative easing. The only thing is, he doesn't work for the government, so instead of quantitative easing, it's called counterfeiting as he expands the money supply by passing off fake $1 bills. Burt Lancaster plays the Secret Service agent (remember, their original task was to deal with counterfeiters and they were part of the Treasury Department) charged with finally cracking the case, and Dorothy McGuire a UN interpreter who knows Gwenn.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cop movies, some good, some bad

TCM's lineup this morning this morning and afternoon has a whole bunch of police movies, a common staple of filmdom since time immemorial. Quite a few of these are movies I haven't seen before, to be honest. The afternoon half of the lineup begins at 12:30 PM with the 1950s version of The Racket. That and the original silent version are both quite good in their own right.

That's followed at 2:15 PM by Bullets or Ballets, a mid-30s gangster movie I'm pretty certain I've seen before, but it would have been several years. It's gotten a DVD release, on multiple box sets. What I find interesting is that the Warner Bros. Gangster set lists for $59.95, but is on sale for rather different prices at Amazon and the TCM Shop. There's also a four-film TCM Edward G. Robinson set which is apparently not available at Amazon. The standalone DVD is out of print, but you can also stream it at Amazon.

3:45 PM sees Borderline, a Fred MacMurray film that's interesting and enjoyable even if there are better movies in the genre. Still, it's a good way to spend an hour and a half.

I can't say the same for Tear Gas Squad, which comes on at 5:15 PM. Dennis Morgan plays a singing cop. Ugh ugh ugh. And Stephen Bochco thought Cop Rock would be a good idea.

The last movie of the afternoon is Beast of the City at 6:30 PM. This is another of those movies that I think I've seen, but those early 1930s cop/gangster movies tend to blend together to the point that I'm not certain.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

60% of Fellini

So I watched Five over the weekend. It seems to be out of print on DVD, but if you can do the streaming video thing, Amazon has it for rent or purchase.

The movie starts off with a woman (susan Douglas) shell shocked and wandering around a world that doesn't seem to have any other people in it. There's a good reason she can't find anybody else, which is that there was recently a nuclear war. She was safe because she was getting x-rayed in a lead-lined room, and that kept the rest of the radiation out. (The concussive effects of the bomb are completely overlooked.) She keeps wandering, and eventually comes across a hilltop house where there is another human being!

That man, Michael (William Phipps), eventually brings the woman, named Roseanne, out of her shell. The two set about the tedious work of foraging for food, cooking, and all those other things that suddenly become a lot more difficult when there's just been a nuclear war. It also turns out that these two aren't the only survivors. They hear what sounds like a car horn, and sure enough, two more men, black man Charles and elderly bank teller Barnstaple, show up. They were trapped in the vault, which is how they didn't get killed by the radiation. But Barnstaple has subsequently been poisoned, as he's developing dementia and some lovely physical symptoms. He insists they go to the beach, where Barnstaple dies.

And on the beach, another body washes up. This is Eric (James Anderson), who was supposedly climbing Mt. Everest when the bomb hit, which is why he was spared the reservation. He's made it to the west coast of America ridiculously quickly. He's also an overweening prick, thinking of himself as a Nietzschean superman and thinking that everybody else, especially black people, are inferior. He wants to go to the city to see if there are any survivors, and dammit, he's going to take Roseanne with him.

The movie goes on like this. It's an interesting premise, and generally done well, although there are certainly plot holes. Eric's back story makes no sense since it would take him much longer to get there from Asia than everybody else. Nobody seems to have any difficulty getting gasoline. Somehow all the buildings survived, an somehow only five humans did. No miners (as in The World, The Flesh, and the Devil); nobody on submarines (On the Beach) or in airplanes; and nobody else was getting x-rayed or in a bank vault or whatnot. The dialog is at times ridiculous, but I think that's largely because the characters are really supposed to be archetypes, and not fully fleshed out people. The story doesn't have time for that.

Five is a movie that probably deserves another DVD release, probably with The Twonky since both were directed by Arch Oboler. It's an interesting, if flawed little film.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Back on FXM Retro, September 12, 2017

I don't seem to have mentioned this movie in five years, but FXM Retro has As Young As You Feel bck on, tomorrow at 8:40 AM and again Wednesday at 7:20. Monty Woolley is delightful as always, playing a man forced to retire and decidign he's not going to take it lightly. Woolley is able assisted by Thelma Ritter, who is once again delightful. The standalone DVD seems to be out of print, but you can do the Amazon streaming, and the TCM Shop has a Monroe box set with the movie.

Having said that, the other reason for posting is because I knew I had that old photo of Monty Woolley on one of my hard drives. Since I can't link to the Photobucket incarnation of it, I figured I'd upload it to the blog. I really ought to figure out reasons to post more of them because so often when I look up an old blog post for some movie or another there will be that obnoxious Photobucke "we want to charge you a ridiculous amount for hotlinking" image.

Treasures from the Disney Vault, Spetmber 2017

It's time for another quarterly installment of Treasures from the Disney Vault on TCM. Even though as I understand it the TCM-sponsored ride at Disney is no longer running, the part of the agreement that allows for a limited number of Disney things to show up on TCM is still there. I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of Disney's output, but having some of the stuff on TCM is still a good thing.

I note that there's only one animated short on the lineup tonight, Lonesome Ghosts at 12:15 AM, which has Mickey Mouse as a ghost hunter. And there's no Disneyland/Wonderful World of Disney episode either, which makes me wonder whether we're going to be seeing fewer "treasures" and more just a few of the more tentpole-like live-action titles that Disney produced back in the golden days. Hell, I'm amazed we even got the third-level animated features once or twice.

But the tentpole titles this time around include Swiss Family Robinson at 8:00 PM, and Freaky Friday overnight at 2:30 AM, for what it's worth.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Shorts update, September 10-11, 2017

In looking through the upcoming shorts on TCM, one that I haven't seen looks interesting: Desert Killer, at about 7:49 PM following Sex and the Single Girl (5:45 PM, 114 min plus an intro or outro). It's about a rancher hunting a cougar that's killing his sheep, but from the IMDb comments, it sounds like it has Pete Smith-style comments narrating. But it's not a Pete Smith short, since it's at Warner Bros. It's also in Technicolor.

Tomorrow morning, The Audition comes up, at about 9:49 AM. It's after Meet the Baron (8:30 AM, 67 min) and before the next movie, which starts at 10:00 AM. I actually blogged about this one four months ago when I couldn't figure out anything else to blog about. I've got a couple of movies I watched off my DVR, but none of them are in print on DVD. (A couple of them are streaming at Amazon, and I think one is on the TCM schedule in October, so I decided to watch it now.)

Getting back to those old 1930s musical shorts, there's also The Mills Blue Rhythm Band around 8:15 AM, showcasing several dancers and musical acts. This is another one I haven't seen so I can't comment on.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Well, I don't have any children....

I mentioned the TCM lineup the other day featuring movies by woman directors. One that I hadn't seen before but I saw somebody recommend, was Where Are My Children?. It's not available on DVD, but the movie was made in 1916 which means that it's in the public domain and is available on Youtube:

The Library of Congress print that TCM ran has an intertitle card at the opening stating that this is about the adult topic of birth control, which is only partly true. It's about a bunch of related themes, of which birth control is one. Richard Walton (Tyrone Power Sr., father of the Tyrone Power with whom people are probably most familiar) is a prosecuting attorney who is an advocate of eugenics, which was promoted as a way of ensuring good birth and that the population would not be saddled with the mentally and physically unfit. (It would later be used by governments across the political spectrum from US states to Nazi Germany to Sweden to force wrong people into forced sterilization, among other horrors.) Walton is shown at the beginning asking for mercy for a doctor who distributes birth control information in the slums -- people who in Walton's view clearly shouldn't be reproducing.

Meanwhile, back at home Walton has a lovely wife (played by Power's real-life wife, credited as Helen Riaume) who is unfortunately childless. Mr. Walton can't undertand why his marriage hasn't been blessed with children, but what he doesn't know is that his wife is behind it. The Waltons are the sort of people who shouldn't (in his world view) be using birth control because they're the right people. But Mrs. Walton is using primitive birth control in the form of abortions from Dr. Malfit (Juan de la Cruz). And she's helping her social circle maintain their childles frivolity by directing them to the abortionist.

Ultimately, a botched abortion will leave Mrs. Walton infertile, leading to the moving finale. But before that, we see the maid's young adult daughter, who gets knocked up by Mrs. Walton's brother. Oops, gotta get her an abortion too. Only that abortion gets even more botched than Mrs. Waltons, and the poor girl dies, which leads Mr. Walton to start a vicious prosecution of Malfit for being the monster that he's perceived to be by 1916 standards. But there's stuff that Mr. Walton doesn't know....

Where Are My Children? is a fascinating movie for a bunch of reasons. It's a decidedly polemical movie: producer/director Lois Weber makes no secret of where her loyalties lie. Some of the political views of the day will be obviously controversial if anybody presented them today. Abortion is no longer performed in back alleys, of course. But perhaps the more interesting one is how unapologetically birth control is presented as being vital to keep the wrong class (and race, although that's not mentioned in the movie) from reproducing too much. Point out today that this was a big thrust of the Margaret Sanger types, and the condemnation will be fierce.

The actors give pretty good performances even considering how the requirements for acting changed once talking pictures came to the screen. Lois Weber apparently liked special effects, and there's one repeated effect of the "souls in Heaven" waiting to be born. There's also an effects shot in the finale that works much better.

Where Are My Children? is ultimately worth seeing not just for the historical value of the issues it discussed.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tonight's cabbie movies

Tonight's TCM lineup is focused on taxicab drivers, and I should probably mention the last one, Night on Earth at 3:45 AM. I think it's a TCM premiere

It's an anthology of five stories of cab drivers and their fare, all set at the same time. Except that they're in various time zones, so the first story, in Los Angeles, is set at the beginning of the night, while the last one, in Helsinki, Finland, is around daybreak. In between, we have stories in New York, Paris, and Rome.

The one in Rome is worth mentioning because it's got Roberto Benigni, playing a taxi driver who picks up a priest and then starts telling the sort of stories he'd usually tell. Except that thos stories are incredibly bawdy. And things go badly. I'd also mention the last one, as there is in many ways nothing going on here. A couple of drunk guys get in a cab, and tell the driver they've just been laid off and how sad their lives are. The cabbie responds by telling his passengers an even sadder story. That's it. And yet the story will stay with you.

Unfortunately, this is one I haven't seen in ages, since back in the days when the old IFC was commercial-free, and actually showed independent films. So that's probably a good decade. I don't have quite as strong memories of the second and third stories as of the last two, and that's part of the reason this one isn't getting a longer review. But this is certainly worth watching, and I think I've finally got the room on the DVR to record it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #165: Animated movies for adults

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time around, the subject is animated movies for adults, and since I don't watch all that much animation, this one was a bit difficult for me. But I was ale to come up with three movies:

Twice Upon a Time (1983). A bad guy wants to steal the mainspring from the Cosmic Clock because, if he does so, he'll be able to stop time and give everybody permanent nightmares. Mumford and his pet Ralph sre sent to stop this, with help from a good witch and her superhero boyfriend. It's a bizarre little movie and older kids could probably enjoy it, although there was both a clean version and a more grown-up version with more adult humor. The film combines animation with photographic backdrops.

Pvt. Snafu (World War II). Pvt. Snafu was an animated character in a series of short warning films made specifically for enlisted men. They're not really training films per se, instead being the opposite, in telling the men what not to do. Mel Blanc provided the voice, and other talented people from the World War II-era military's film division wrote and directed. A good example is The Goldbrick (1943), which has writing by Dr. Seuss, and direction by a young Frank Tashlin:

Fritz the Cat (1972). An anthropomorphic cat has drug- and sex-fueled adventures in hippie-era New York, ultimately going on a failed cross-country trip with a crow. The movie was the first animated movie to receive an X rating from the MPAA.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Crime of Passion

I mentioned a while back that I had DVRed Crime of Passion when it showed up on Noir Alley back in the spring, but didn't do a full-length blog post because it was out of print on DVD. Except that it was scheduled for a DVD release on September 5, which is of course yesterday. For some reason, both the TCM Shop and Amazon are listing the DVD as scheduled for a release yesterday, but either on backorder (TCM Shop) or temporarily out of stock (Amazon). Having said that, Amazon is currently offering it via streaming video.

Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, who at the start of the movie is a women's advice columnist at a San Francisco newspaper, single and proud of her career. This even though she writes sappy crap. San Francisco is in the news because a female murder suspect from Los Angeles has fled there, and the LA police send a pair of cops up to find the suspect and bring her back to justice in Los Angeles. It's because of this that Kathy meets Bill (Sterling Hayden) and his partner Charlie (Royal Dano).

Both of the cops are dismissive of Kathy, Charlie more so, but Kathy apparently begins to feel some sort of lust for Bill. She was going to take a better job in New York, but she suddenly decides to drop everything and go down to Los Angeles to marry Bill! Not only this, but she's going to become a housewife and give up the columnist gig! It's never really made clear why Kathy does something so out of character. Maybe her biological clock was ticking, although Stanwyck in real life was pushing 50 by the time she made the movie.

Back to Kathy's idiot motivation, she soon realizes she's done something incredibly stupid, since she doesn't care for the gossipy wives, and the men don't respect her intellect. Eventually Kathy gets so fed up with it that she decides she's going to help her husband's career by getting to know the Popes. Tony (Raymond Burr) is Bill's boss, married to Alice (Fay Wray). If she can do this, she can possibly put a good word in for Bill and get him a promotion. So she starts stalking Mrs. Pope and eventually causes an accident.

Mr. Pope sees right through this, asking Kathy what she was doing over there since it was way out of the way for her. But in a movie where several of the main characters have screwed up motivations, he's willing to succumb to her attempts to seduce him! To be fair, Mrs. Pope has been on the verge of a nervous breakdown, hoping that hubby would retire so she doesn't have to worry about him. And if he does retire, well there's a great career opportunity for Bill. And if Mr. Pope passes Bill by? Well hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!

Crime of Passion is a movie that I have decidedly mixed feelings about. The movie is really only partly a noir, being at the end of the noir cycle; the other part is more of a soap opera as you could easily see a Joan Crawford character doing many of the things Barbara Stanwyck's character does. The characters act in ways that are almost ludicrous at times, leading me to laugh at times when that most likely wasn't the intent of the movie.

Stanwyck does the best she can with the material. Burr does fairly well; he was still a heavy at the time as it was still another few months before Perry Mason would premiere on TV. But his character suddenly finds his conscience again, making for a rapid volte-face in yet another plot veer. Sterling Hayden doesn't have to do much other than be sturdy, something which was easy for him to do.

All in all, Crime of Passion is not without interest, but is another of those movies that would probably be better in a box set.

Women directors, and more

I probably should have posted this last night, but I see that today's TCM lineup has a bunch of movies directed by women back in the days when it was truly pioneering for women to be directing. Heck, some of the movies are from the days when it was pioneering for men to be directing. There are a couple of Alice Guy-Blaché movies in the lineup, such as 1912's Algie, the Miner at 3:30 PM:

We also get a pair of Ida Lupino movies. Outrage is back on at 6:00 PM; the last time I tried to record that one there was an interruption in my service that caused it not to record properly, so maybe I'll get to see it in full this time.

Tonight, and every Wednesday in September, TCM is putting the Spotlight on the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which is probably best known for the retirement home for people in the injury who need it. Actual residents of the home are going to be sitting down (I'd assume with Ben Mankiewicz and not some other guest host, although the TCM page doesn't say) to discuss movies of which they were a part, including 104-year-old Connie Sawyer talking about her scene in A Hole in the Head (10:45 PM tonight). There's also a mini-documentary, Showfolk at 10:00 tonight.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

TCM Star of the month September 2017: Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie (1948); Sept. 12 at 8:00 PM

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month. This time, it's Jennifer Jones, and her movies will be airing on Tuesdays in prime time. The picture above is from Portrait of Jennie; that's going to be on next week. This week starts off with Jones' Oscar-winning role in The Song of Bernadette at 8:00 PM, which isn't one of my favorite movies, but you can understand why TCM would run it right at 8:00 PM.

I'm not a fan of Cluny Brown, but I know a lot of people are fans of Ernst Lubitsch in general, so they may like this one too. (Not that I dislike Lubitsh; I just didn't care for this one. But I'm not quite as much of a Jennifer Jones fan.) Cluny Brown will be on overnight at 1:00 AM.

If I were going to mention one movie in tonight's lineup for its quality, it would probably be Since You Went Away, early tomorrow at 5:30 AM.

Monday, September 4, 2017

TCM's Jerry Lewis tribute

Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960); on overnight tonight at 2:00 AM

Comic actor Jerry Lewis died two weeks ago at the age of 91. TCM was still going through Summer Under the Stars, so there was no way they could do a programming tribute until sometime in September. Considering Lewis' longtime involvement with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the former Labor Day telethon, it's only fitting that TCM should run their Lewis tribute on Labor Day.

TCM has five Lewis films tonight, only one with Dean Martin; three from Lewis' solo career in the 60s; and one later movie:

The Nutty Professor at 8:00 PM;
The King of Comedy, the more recent movie, at 10:00 PM;
The Stooge, the one with Dean Martin, at midnight;
The Bellboy at 2:00 AM; and
The Disorderly Orderly at 3:30 AM

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The wine sparkles, but does the movie

Not having much idea of what to do a post about today, I decided to watch the 1928 silent movie Champagne off my cheap Mill Creek boxed set of early Hitchcock titles.

The movie has a simple plot. The Girl (Betty Balfour; I think her name is mentioned once as Betty but the characters here are otherwise not named), daughter of a wealthy Father (Gordon Harker), is in love with The Boy (Jean Bradin). Apparently, Father doesn't approve, because The Girl takes Daddy's plane out into the Atlantic to meet up with the boat on which The Boy is going across to Europe. And we can see that Daddy is none too pleased about it.

The two young lovers plan to elope, but also on the transatlantic liner is The Man (Theo van Alten) who seems to keep stalking The Girl. Disagreements delay the marriage -- the Boy doesn't want the Girl taking all the initiative -- and eventually they wind up meeting again in Paris at a party. By this time, Dad has also made it Paris, and he's got some bad news for his daughter: he's lost all his money. Will her beloved still want a poor girl? Of course, we know that the young man has his own means, but the daughter has pride and doesn't want him suporting her and Dad just because.

So the Girl decides she's going to get a job, eventually finding work as a flower girl at a posh Parisian club, handing out flowers to the male patrons to use as boutonnieres. It's at that club that she runs into both The Man and The Boy, and this eventually leads to the film's climax.

I found it a bit tough to rate this movie, in part because the plot is so hoary: Rich girl is willful, but may have to change once she suddenly becomes poor. The plot isn't Hitchcock's fault; he was early enough in his career that he didn't have much choice in the projects he did. Still, Hitchcock does a quite good job as director, with some imaginative shots that clearly show the command of the medium he already had. Still, give this material to any other director, and the result would be a serviceable programmer. Good, but nothing memorable.

A bigger problem I had was with the score. I don't know whether this was Mill Creek's fault or original to Hitchcock, but the score on this print is stock public domain classical music: even my father recognized Sibelius' "Finlandia". There was also Massenet's "Meditation" from Thaïs, Strauss (either "The Artist's Life" or "Tales from the Vienna Woods") and Liszt's Hugarian Rhapsody that I recognized. The problem is that none of the music fits with the action on the screen. I've read that Hitchcock's original intention for The Lodger was to use already existing classical music for the score, so perhaps that was intended here too. In any case, the music doesn't work at all.

There are pricier DVDs available, and a restoration was done although it's apparently not a restoration of the original theatrical print but a backup print.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

These Wilder Years

I recently watched These Wilder Years off my DVR since it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

James Cagney, about 55 at the time and really much too old for the role, plays Steve Bradford, a wealthy businessman. He comes into a board meeting one day and tells everybody he's taking a leave of absence for a personal matter. He goes to some Hollywood version of a midwestern small city, making his way to the Haven, a school for a certain type of girl.

It turns out that the Haven is a place where young women who have gotten knocked up out of wedlock can go to have their babies and put them up for adoption. Twenty years ago, Steve knocked up a girl and the two of them decided to put the baby up for adoption. Steve never got married, and feels an emptiness in his life, so he's going to Haven to find his child.

Of course, back in those days, the adoption records were strictly sealed, so Ann (Barbara Stanwyck), the woman who runs Haven, isn't about to let Steve have them. Steve, for his part, is a rich SOB who's used to geting his way, so he hires high-priced lawyer Rayburn (Walter Pidgeon) to sue and get the records released.

Set against this is young Suzie (Betty Lou Keim), a girl who has gotten herself knocked up and ran away from home to have the baby at Haven and put it up for adoption. Steve takes a liking to Suzie in a fatherly way.

These Wilder Years is exactly the sort of pabulum you'd expect from an MGM movie of the 40s, although this one was released in 1956. The script is didactic and close to moralizing at times, with a whole bunch of plot holes and timeline problems. And then it's revealed at the end that Steve's kid got the adoption information, which seems like a violation of policy that's totally overlooked. The characters are uniformly one-dimensional and although everybody tries hard, they're doomed by the story and script.

It's a shame that great actors like Cagney and Stanwyck wound up in movies like this later in their career. But as I've mentioned on other occasions, every actor if their career goes long enough winds up in a couple of serious misfires. These Wilder Years is one of those misfires for Cagney and Stanwyck.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Remembering Richard Anderson

So I noticed perusing the obituaries that actor Richard Anderson died yesterday at the age of 91. He's one of those actors whom I should probably know better than I do, if only because of how much he was in.

First of all, Richard Anderson was not MacGyver. That's a different actor, Richard Dean Anderson. The Richard Anderson who died yesterday started his movie career around 1950, with bit parts in movies like Cause for Alarm! Isn't that the movie where Loretta Young mails a letter and then tries to get it back? Looking it up, that's precisely the one. Of course, Anderson only had one small scene in that movie as a sailor, and I haven't seen the movie in a while.

Then there are more prominent movies like Forbidden Planet where he plays Chief Quinn. Which character is that? Obviously I remember Leslie Nielsen from the crew, and I also remember Earl Holliman as the cook since I'm a game show fan and GSN has run quite a few of his Pyramid appearances. (Holliman is apparently still alive and will be turning 89 this month. Then there's the role as Natalie Wood's boyfriend in A Cry in the Dark. Ah, that one I remember; he's the one who gets beaten by Raymond Burr, who gets the memorable part as the heavy with a mother fixation. Anderson was in Paths of Glory? Apparently he was. Ditto Seven Days in May.

To be fair, it's probably the TV work for which Anderson will be remembered, since he was the government boss to both Steve Austin and Jamie Summers on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman respectively.

Anderson was also in half a dozen episodes of The Rifleman, so maybe MeTV will air a couple of those over the weekend.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #164: High School (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is the last Thursday of the month so we get another TV edition, this time focusing on high school. This was a tougher one for me, but I really wanted to participate because of my final selection:

Welcome Back, Kotter (1976-1979). John Travolta became a star thanks to this TV series about a group of New York high school students and their teacher Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan). The theme song became a #1 hit in the US.

Saved by the Bell (1983-1993). Not a show I cared for, this one is about a bunch of Southern California high school students and their antics. A few years back I was flipping through the channels one Sunday morning and found this on one of the digital sub-channels with the "E/I" bug which is supposed to denote education children's programming (here in the US) that stations are required to show. I don't know how they get away with it and frankly don't care since I think the E/I rules are idiotic anyway. Oh, and Screech (Dustin Diamond) was arrested for knifing somebody in a bar brawl a few years back.

Answers Please (1963-1989). Two teams of high school students take part in a quiz bowl competition; lots of US TV stations have had similar programs under different names. I picked this one because I was on it in the final season (1989) and because I could find a full episode on Youtube. I was on another show, but that one I couldn't find any video for that. I'm not in this episode, and don't know where the tape of my episodes is. Not that I'd be able to play it and put it on Youtube anyway. But we were good, winning the final. We got an overnight bag that I still have, a T-shirt, and a book on the 60th anniversary of Guiding Light. Clearly, they had extra copies of that and were trying to dump it off on us students. Also, the set was in the same studio used for the original (well, 1980s vintage) Art Ginsburg. One team was on one long side of the studio, the host was in the corner, the other team was on the short side, and the Mr. Food set was on the other long side opposite one of the teams. The audience were in bleacher seating along the other short side.

We now resume your regular programming

We're finally at the end of August which means the end of Summer Under the Stars, a programming feature I know a lot of diehard fans don't care for because if you don't like a particular star, there's a whole day gone. And then there are the people who complain that TCM only shows the same stars over and over.

September 1 brings a more regular lineup although, since it's a Friday, we're not going to get the Star of the Month until next week. Before then there's the return of the Boston Blackie Movies on Saturday, and Noir Alley on Sunday morning. More immediately, however, is that we get the more traditional programming themes.

Tomorrow morning and afternoon, for example, brings us a bunch of submarine movies. The morning kicks off with Run Silent, Run Deep at 6:15 AM. There's also a pre-World War II movie in Hell Below which follows at 8:00 AM.

It looks as the rest of the day's lineup is World War II, though. So nothing like Ice Station Zebra, or the silly Assault on a Queen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fred MacMurray, 1908-1991

Fred MacMurray protecting Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Fred MacMurray, who was born on this day in 1908. I have a feeling that people my age and younger are probably going to remember MacMurray first from reruns of My Three Sons, and any of the Disney movies that showed up on Wonderful World of Disney or whatever the then-current incarnation was. I think for anybody who does have that as their first memory of MacMurray, seeing something like Double Indemnity is a revelation, since MacMurray is so dark in it. He's just as much the bad guy in The Aparment, which was about the last thing he did before My Three Sons. (Both came out in 1960, but I don't know the exact filming dates.)

Of course, MacMurray's pre-TV career wasn't all dark. There are quite a few comedies, with one of the earliest being Hands Across the Table which I think I is on that Carole Lombard box set I got a few months back. I've been meaning to get back to that set, but don't want to do a whole bunch of movies from the same set all at one time. Then with Claudette Colbert there are things like No Time For Love and The Egg and I. MacMurray and Stanwyck also did a comedy, the glittering Christmas movie Remember the Night

And for something completely different you could watch the wartime "historical" comedy Where Do We Go From Here

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Another pair of "Back on FXM Retro" movies, August 30, 2017

Actually, it was going to be three, except that I mentioned The Fury just three months ago. Anyhow, I saw a few months back as well that Somewhere in the Night was back in the FXM Retro rotation. It's reasonably good, but the plot gets a bit convoluted making it the sort of movie that wouldn't be my first choice when it comes to introducing people to noir. I think it's that convolutedness, combined with the star being second-tier John Hodiak, that's relegated Somewhere in the Night to less-remembered status. It's on the schedule tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM.

Better, and probably better-remembered, is Night and the City, which follows Somewhere in the Night at 9:30 AM. It's a run-of-the-mill plot about a man (Richard Widmark) who tries to become a bigger-time operator than he is, which causes him to run up against the sorts of people who know the underworld inside and out, and are better at it than he could ever hope to be. Although that's a plot staple, the presence of Widmark, and a gritty London, make this one special. If you haven't seen it before, I highly recommend it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

TCM's schedule page isn't always right

I see that TCM is running Beyond the Poseidon Adventure again overnight tonight at 2:00 AM as part of a day of Slim Pickens movies in Summer Under the Stars. (Dr. Strangelove is thankfully not part of the lineup.) I noticed that there was a "Buy the DVD" link that led to the TCM Shop, and a Warner Archive DVD that was first released back in April 2014.

I first mentioned Beyond the Poseidon Adventure back in 2015, pointing out at the time that I didn't know if it was in print because the TCM schedule didn't have a link to buy the DVD. Obviously, it should have been available in 2015 if it was released in 2014 and is still available form the MOD scheme.

As for the movie itself, it's fun if flawed. Failing tugboat operator Michael Caine happens on the overturned hull of the Poseidon at some point after the sinking and the victims were rescued in the original movie. I don't think the movie mentions exactly how long after, but you'd think there would be more rescue crews and a salvage operation or something there. Anyhow, Caine gets the idea of robbing the safe in the purser's office. But at the same time, another boat captained by the mysterious Svevo (Telly Savalas) shows up with its own agenda trying to get something else off the Poseidon. And they find more survivors (Slim Pickens among them).

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure isn't particularly good, but it is entertaining.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beauty and the Boss

I've said a lot of times in the past about movies that it would be nice if they were available on one of those moderately-priced Warner box sets rather than just a standalone DVD from the Warner Archive. An excellent example of this is Beauty and the Boss.

Baron Josef von Ullrich (Warren William) is a high flyer, both figuratively and literally. In the film's opening scene, he's flying across the Atlantic from New York to Vienna (presumably with stops along the way since this is the early 1930s), having had an important business meeting in New York, and dictating letters and getting important business information on the flight back. Baron Josef is a banker who clearly works very hard.

But he also plays hard. He likes women -- nothing wrong with that -- but he has a problem with them as well. It seems that he keeps getting good-looking women as his secretaries, and they want to impress him with their good looks. It would be fine for him to have any of these secretaries as a girlfriend at night; the problem is that during the day he's all business. None of these secretaries satisfies his sense of what a secretary should be on the job, as he fires his latest, Olive (Mary Doran).

The Baron would be just fine having a male secretary if there were those around, but into his life walks young Susie (Marian Marsh). She calls herself a church mouse, being poor and threadbare and working as hard as the proverbial church mouse. She shows up unannounced looking for a job, and her good luck is that she looks the part of a secretary, bespectacled and looking entirely formal with no interest in romance.

The Baron decides to give her a job when she shows she's also a damn good secretary. She completely organizes his business life and stays totally away from anything personal, at least as long as it doesn't impinge on him at the office. If anybody personal does show off at the office, she knows how to give them the brush-off.

But then the Baron has to go to Paris for another important business meeting, and takes Susie along since it's business. First, Olive shows up at the airport looking for the Baron's plane: Susie has the smarts to direct Olive to the wrong plane. But more problematic is that the Baron's brother (David Manners) and an elderly business associate (Frederick Kerr) come along on the trip, and they decide to show Susie a night on the town. This, along with another meeting in Paris with Olive, gives Susie the idea that perhaps there's more to life than just being a secretary.

Beauty and the Boss is a breezy little programmer, running just 66 minutes. In fact, it's one of those rare movies that would benefit from running 10 or 15 minutes longer, as there would be more time for plot development. As it is, the movie progresses from one plot point to the next extremely quickly, as though it's skipping over things. Warren William was a natural in roles like this, and Marian Marsh is quite good too.

Ultimately, the fact that this is a short programmer means that I'm not certain the Warner Archive prices are quite worth it. If it were on one of those box sets, absolutely. As a standalone? Darn it's expensive.

Tobe Hooper, 1943-2017

Director Tobe Hooper, known for horror movies such as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in 1973 as well as the first Poltergeist movie, has died aged 74.

I have to admit that horris isn't my favorite genre, especially the sort of horror that's come out from about the time of Friday the 13th on (so about the past 40 years when it's seemed the point is to make the movies more graphic), so I haven't seen much of Hooper's work. But I know enough to know he was influential, and looking through his credits, I also see he directed two episodes of the TV series Nowhere Man, a really nifty little show on the long-defunct UPN network. Actually, it showed up on the Fox affiliate in my market since we didn't have a UPN channel, and was stuck after prime time on Sunday, which meant it would get delayed when football ran long. Unsurprisingly, although the series got a DVD release, it's out of print.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Clive of India

I recorded Clive of India last month when TCM ran it as part of their salute to Star of the Month Ronald Colman. I see that the movie is available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, so I feel comfortable doing a full-length review of it.

Robert Clive (Colman) was a clerk in the British East India Company, which ran the little bit of India it had the power over with an iron first. Clive, however, finds being a clerk tedious and unfulfilling, so he first tries suicide. Then when when the French besiege a British fort he takes up arms, joining the military and finding it something he's good at. Clive's strategies are able to defeat the French, and then ultimately he's able to defeat some of the native rulers as well, bringing more wealth to Britain and also more to himself.

Meanwhile, Margaret (Loretta Young) has decided to travel to India from Britain to see Robert with whom she's been corresponding. She falls in love and the two get married and return to London where they live happily ever after. Suuuure, that's what happened. Since all of this happens in the first half hour of the movie, we know that's not what happens. India slides back into a parlous state since the East India Company is corrupt and brutal, and the Brits need somebody less corrupt and less brutal to manage the place. Clive is the man for the job, and Margaret follows him, somewhat unhappily.

Clive then shows that he was only less corrupt than the other folks in the East India Company, as he's more than willing to forge a signature on a treaty to move things forward. Once again he's successful, but his unorthodox methods are going to get him in trouble. He retires to England again, only for the East India Company to screw things up, forcing him back to India -- although this time, Margaret refuses to follow. Smart woman. And this time, there are East India Company stooges in Parliament. With Clive away in India, they can engage in all sorts of machinations against him.

Robert Clive was apparently an interesting historical figure, but you wouldn't know it from this movie. There are far too many intertitles for a 1935 movie, slowing what little action there is down to a crawl. The scenes that should be exciting wind up being brief battle sequences. Ronald Colman tries his best but has a hard time rising above the poor material. Loretta Young looks radiant. C. Aubrey Smith shows up for a scene at the end. That was Cesar Romero as an Indian ruler?

Ultimately, I'm sorry to say that there's not all that much worth watching in Clive of India. And the MOD schemes always wind up being more expensive than other DVD releases. This one probably deserves to be part of a box set with other Fox period pieces such as Lloyd's of London and not just a standalone DVD.

Jan Muchow, anybody

So my daily listening of international broadcasters recently included a Radio Prague interview with Jan Muchow, a musician who for the last 20 years has been composing film scores for Czech movies. Muchow talks a bit about the process, about other film composers, and some about the rest of his musical life.

Radio Prague's individual features always seem to have a transcript, which is nice, and there's a standalone MP3 so that you don't have to listen to the whole half-hour broadcast if you don't want to. And of course you can just listen to streaming audio. The MP3 is here (6.3 MB, about 12 minutes).

Unsurprisingly, I'd never heard of Muchow, but then I don't pay that much attention to film composers and especially not contemporary composers.

Friday, August 25, 2017

That BBC list

So apparently a lot of people are talking about a list the BBC compiled of the 100 greatest comedies. As always when I see such lists, my first opinion is that there's a reason why I'm not a film critic by profession.

Well, besides not being a particularly good writer. It's more that when lists like this come up, I find that I have some huge disagreements with the results. Four Chaplin movies, three Buster Keaton, and only one Harold Lloyd. Chaplin's always been way overrated in my opinion, and I can't help but think it's in part because he fought against those evil moguls in the studio system and his later visa problems with the US government.

And then there's Peter Sellers. Dr. Strangelove (#2 on the list) is pretty good until it gets to the scenes in the War Room with Strangelove himself, at which point the mugging for the camera brings the movie to a screeching halt. Even more glaring is the presence of The Party on the list at all, never mind it being up there at #23. I think I only saw one Alec Guinness movie: Kind Hearts and Coronets at #86; no Ladykillers (not my favorite but most other people seem to find it one of their favorites from that era) or The Lavender Hill Mob or even The Man in the White Suit. And where's Terry-Thomas?

The The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (#49) isn't a comedy or even particularly good. But it's Luis Buñuel (let's name drop!) making Sirk-like commentary about the aspirations of the middle class.

But you know what they say about opinions....

Thursday, August 24, 2017

I should mention Simone Signoret day tomorrow

I have to admit I haven't been paying as much attention to the upcoming TCM schedule as I should, in part because I had a wedding to go to last weekend, and that's really thrown my schedule off kilter. Then to top it off after getting back I caught a cold and have had a runny nose and watery eyes for days.

But when TCM's Summer Under the Stars includes a foreign star with a lot of foreign films in the lineup, it's always worth talking about. I haven't seen most of the offerings earlier in the day. Gunman in the Streets at noon sounds as though it should be familiar, but I think it's not. I recall a night of TCM movies involving American stars making pictures in Britain, and could swear they included a Dane Clark movie. Dane Clark is the star here, but this one is French. Looking through Clark's filmography, I think that night TCM might actually have run Blackout, although even that doesn't sound quite right.

Anyhow, back to Simone, she won the Oscar for Room at the Top, which TCM will be showing at 8:00 PM. Personally, I prefer Les diaboliques, which follows at 10:15 PM. And then there's another showing of The Confession overnight at 12:30 AM.

Thursday Movie Picks #163: The Stage

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 stage, and while I thought for a bit about using three movies with stagecoaches, I decided to be conventional and pick three movies about the stage on which theater actors perform:

The Broadway Melody (1929). The first of the backstage movies, this one is a very early talkie about a vaudeville act (Bessie Love and Anita Page) who go to Broadway and eventually make it big on the real stage when one of them is discovered. This one along with 42nd Street is responsible for a lot of the tropes of the genre. Watch for James Gleason at the beginning of his career as a manager in the music publishing company.

The Guardsman (1931). Stage stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne went to Hollywood for the one and only time and made the movie about a pair of married stage actors in which he's jealous of her male fans, so he decides to test her by dressing in disguise and wooing her. She may or may not know what's up, and if she does, she's not letting on to him. The two are absolutely delightful together. The opening scene may look familiar; it's from the end of Maxwell Anderson's play Elizabeth the Queen, which was turned into the movie The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

Prince of Players (1955). Richard Burton stars as Edwin Booth, one of the premier stage actors of the second half of the 19th century. Unfortunately, Edwin's brother was John Wilkes Booth (John Derek), who gave the family name just a bit more notoriety by assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Poor Edwin has to try to rebuild his reputation. Burton is unsurprisingly good, and the stage scenes include a rare film appearance by stage actress Eva Le Gallienne.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

40s Grooviness

I'm not a particular fan of either Greer Garson (today's star in Summer Under the Stars), or Dennis Morgan (tomorrow's star), so the lineup on TCM isn't particularly exciting to me. And there's nothing particularly interesting on FXM Retro either, or more that I've blogged about the stuff. So I decided to see what shorts were on, and noticed that TCM was running one called Groovie Movie (yes, that's the correct spelling), tomorrow a little after 2:15 PM, or following Christmas in Connecticut.

I didn't realize the word "groovy" or any of its variant spellings dated to the 1940s, but that's what Wiktionary claims. Groovie Movie is a 1944 short about the groovy craze of the day, the jitterbug. Also, if you guessed that it's a Pete Smith short, you'd be right, so as with all the Pete Smith shorts it can be an acquired taste. (I haven't seen this one and can't comment.)

Having given the caveat about Pete Smith, at least this one sounds more interesting than the ones with Dave O'Brien.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Endless Love (1981)

A little over a year ago, I bought the 1981 version of Endless Love. Apparently, it's no longer in print on DVD or Blu-Ray, since the TCM shop doesn't offer it. More interestingly, the DVD I purchased is listed at Amazon as being the 2014 remake, even though the box art shown at that link is the same as the DVD I picked up. (And I most definitely did get the 1981 version, having watched it.) It's apparently available from Amazon's streaming service, and I don't have anything else to blog about today, so I'm finally going to break with my policy and blog about something that's out of print and not coming up on TV.

Brooke Shields plays Jade Butterfield, 15-year-old daughter of reasonably well-to-do parents Ann (Shirley Knight) and Hugh (Don Murray). She's got a boyfriend in David Axelrod (Martin Hewitt), whose parents (Richard Kiley and Beatrice Straight) are even wealthier but who don't pay any attention to David. David is a high school senior and was introduced to the younger Jade by her older brother Keith (a young James Spader).

Jade and David are in love. Really, really, really in love. So much so that one night after a party at her house, he only pretends to leave, staying so that after everybody else goes to be, he can come back in and have sex with Jade! More controversially, Mrs. Butterfield gets up from bed and, from the stairway, happens to catch the two teens going at it! Now, you'd think she'd be shocked, but she seems to be of the attitude that isn't young love sweet. Of course, the way David has talked to Mrs. Butterfield, you wonder whether there's a bit of a Mrs. Robinson thing going on there.

David, for his part, seems to be a bit obsessed with Jade, almost trying to make himself a part of the family and spending more time with the Butterfields than his own parents. Eventually, this begins to bother Mr. Butterfield, who tells David that he just can't see Jade at all. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but considering the way they've been having sex, you can't really blame Mr. Butterfield. (The Axelrods seem oblivious to all this.)

As I said, David is obsessed with Jade, and not being able to see her only makes her more obsessed. One of his friends suggests doing something that might make him look like a hero in the Butterfields' eyes, and David takes it too literally. His shocking scheme backfires, and he winds up in a hospital for criminally insane teens, forbidden from having any contact with the Butterfields.

Now if that were all the story, it would be moderately interesting. But we're not even halfway through. David remains absolutely obsessed with Jade, and thinks only of appearing to be well enough to get out of the institution so that he can go search for Jade, even though doing so would violate the terms of his parole rather severely. And heaven only knows what would happen if Mr. Butterfield were to find out what David is up to.

Endless Love is a film that sharply divides opinions. Reading the reviews on IMDb, there are a lot of people who slam the movie, mostly on the grounds that neither Brooke Shields nor Martin Hewitt could act and were just there for their bodies. That's a fair criticism. And then there are the people who absolutely loved it.

As for me, I tend to fall closer to the second camp. I wouldn't say I absolutely loved it, but it is something that I found fascinating. The question of how much of David's feelings for Jade are sociopathic, and how much they're a reaction to feeling neglected at home, is something the movie never really discusses. The book on which it's based apparently is more clear on the matter (I haven't read the book), and also apparently makes the Butterfields out to be more sinister than the movie presents them. The only hint in the movie is where I compared Mrs. Butterfield to Mrs. Robinson; other than that the family just seems a bit bohemian. I could relate to David's feelings of seeing a family structure that was different to anything he had known, and wanting to be a part of such a familiy.

But after David winds up in the institution, Endless Love starts to go off the rails, as it goes way over the top through all sorts of plot holes. It results in all sorts of flaws, but also makes the movie extremely interesting.

Endless Love could run in TCM's 31 Days of Oscar thanks to the title song that Lionel Richie wrote getting a nomination. His rendition, a duet with Diana Ross, only shows up over the closing credits, but became a huge hit. It's sung one other time at the first party at the Butterfields' house.

If you can do the streaming video thing, you may want to drop a couple bucks on Endless Love.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Oh that solar eclipse

If you're in America, then you've undoubtedly heard the news that there's going to be a total solar eclipse across a swathe of the country this morning or afternoon depending on your time zone. I don't get totality; maybe 60% up here in the Catskills.

But of course it made me start thinking about eclipses in the movies. Using IMDb's keyword search isn't perfct, because it fails to get a lot of movies. There weren't that many classic movies I could think of, though. The first that came to mind was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. I knew that the original Twain story had a key scene of a guy from the present day remembering there would be an eclipse (how convenient) I haven't actually seen the Bing Crosby movie, but apparently the eclipse is in that one, at least according to the keywords and an internet search.

Another movie that does have a solar eclipse but which didn't make it into the IMDb keyword search is Out to Sea, the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau movie from about 20 years ago. Of course, they get the astronomy wrong, since the movie also includes a scene with a full moon. A solar eclipse can only take place at new moon, so about two weeks after the full moon, and the cruise in the movie wasn't that long.

And then there's the stuff you never even knew about. Gotta love Georges Meliès, who did a 1907 film called The Eclipse. Since it's in the public domain, it's available in several prints on Youtube. This one is a bit blurry, but the few intertitles are in English:

Note that the English word "planet" comes from an ancient Greek word for "wanderer", since the planets in the sky didn't move in nice circles around the sky the way the stars did, which would explain "the wandering stars". The French term for "meteor shower" doesn't use a French word for bath, at least according to Wikipedia, so the celestial bath card is a bit odd. And of course there's really not a whole lot happening on earth in this one. I also note that this is five years after A Voyage to the Moon, but Meliès doesn't seem to have advanced much technically.

(NB: L'Éclisse is not French for "the eclipse".)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jerry Lewis, 1926-2017

Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960)

The death has been announced of actor Jerry Lewis, who died this morning at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 91.

Lewis is known for a lot, which is unsurprising considering his career lasted close to seven decades. The first big thing was the pairing with Dean Martin that led to a series of comedic films in the 1950s until their acrimonious breakup. Lewis continued to act in zany comedies such as the pictured The Bellboy as well as The Nutty Professor.

But of course, he also became the spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, hosting their annual Labor Day telethon which ran for decades, lasting 21 hours from Sunday night through the dinner hour on Monday. I think it was only after Lewis was let go that they started to truncate the broadcast since telethons are really part of another era; a few years ago the telethon was finally discontinued. But for those of us born after Lewis' string of comedic successes, it's probably with the Labor Day telethon that we first remember him. (And he was famously reunited with Dean Martin on the telethon.)

Of course, Lewis continued to act, with one of his memorable turns being as a late-night talk show host who gets kidnapped by Robert de Niro in The King of Comedy.

I don't know if TCM has planned a tribute, and to be honest it might be a bit tough considering that a lot of the movies he made were at Paramount. And besides, I doubt they've had time to announce it considering how recent the news is.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Stuck in Massachusetts

I'm stuck in Massachusetts at a wedding, so I decided to watch the Traveltalks short Visiting Massachusetts off my DVD set of Traveltalks, Vol. 2 to put up over the weekend.

James A. FitzPatrick visited Massachusetts without spending a single minute in Boston. Instead, he spends most of his time on Cape Cod, as well as visiting the buildings in Sudbury that Henry Ford helped restore, and Clara Barton's birthplace in Oxford, which is just west of Worcester and about as far west as FitzPatrick goes, I believe. (My sister lived in a place one or two towns north of Oxford, so I know right where that is, but my knowledge of the other smaller towns in the state is relatively off.)

Of course, there's all the usual stuff here, like photos of people doing their stuff with FitzPatrick's commentary, like the town crier or the lady who does glass art. Provincetown is interesting since this is before it became known as a haven for gays. There's one amusing scene of a whole bunch of artists painting the same subject. And there's also the beach accommodations:

This is a screenshot directly from the DVD, and I think it shows fairly well the quality of the prints that the Traveltalks shorts have. The blues are very blue, but I've never really found the other colors to be particularly vibrant, and that's not just because this particular scene is blue what with the ocean and the sky.

I've always loved the Traveltalks shorts, and even though you know what you're going to get, they're always worth a watch.

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2017

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2017

I mentioned a week or so ago that Dell on Movies and KG's Movie Rants are co-hosting the Against the Crowd blogathon. The point is to pick a movie that everybody loves but you hate, and one that everybody hates but you love. I've decided to put up an entry this year because it falls on a weekend where I need some potted posts to cover being away.

First up, the movie everybody else loves that I can't stand: Being There (1979). Peter Sellers plays Chauncey, a simpleton who works for a rich guy as a gardener, but the old guy dies, and stupidly never thought of taking care of Chauncey in his will. So poor Chauncey is thrown out of the only home he's ever known (where the hell did his salary go), only to be picked up by a wealthy political family. Chauncey learned a lot of vapid slogans from watching TV, and the politicians are captivated by this shit. It's all complete detached from reality, and incredibly aggravating. How could anybody believe Chauncey? I hated this so much I had extreme difficulty making it all the way through the movie.

Then there's the movie that has a low rating that I really liked: Night of the Lepus (1972). Of course, Night of the Lepus is more one of those movies that's "so bad it's good", except that it's not nearly that bad. Rabbits are a pest in the southwest, and the ranchers want something done about it in a way that won't ultimately poison their livestock. Scientists try some sort of hormone-based experiment, but the scientists' idiot daughter released one of the bunnies before it could be determined that the experiment would have been a failure. What happens is that that one bunny becomes supersized and passes this trait on to all the other rabbits, who turn on the humans. What makes the movie so bad is the footage whenever the rabbits go on a rampage. It's set against miniatures, incredibly slowed down, and set to an overpowering score. It's all so dumb that it winds up being hilariously funny.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Belle of the Nineties

I mentioned a few months back that I picked up a cheap box set of Mae West movies, and have done posts on a couple of films in the set. Recently, I watched Belle of the Nineties off it.

The plot here has Mae as Ruby, the burlesque queen of St. Louis in the 1890s. She could have every man eating out of the palm of her hand, but is in love with Tiger (Roger Pryor), a boxer who's hoping for a chance at the title. Things happen and Ruby winds up decamping for New Orleans.

Once in New Orleans, she meets Ace (John Miljan), a club owner who promotes Ruby, and millionaire Brooks (Johnny Mack Brown), who really falls hard for Ruby, buying her jewels and the like. Oh, and then Tiger shows up again, because he's been able to work his way into getting that title fight, and Ace is promoting it. All sorts of complications ensue over Ace hiring Tiger to play highwayman and rub Ruby of those Jewels, and Ruby finding out what's really up. And will the title match be fixed?

I have to admit that I found Belle of the Nineties to be less entertaining than most of the other Mae West movies I've watched. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it got its release in September, 1934. This is a couple of months after the crackdown by Joe Breen and the institution of the new and improved (for some values of "improved") Production Code. Mae West is still saucy, all right, but there's just something of the earlier attitude and raciness that I found lacking here, and I can't quite place my finger on what that is.

Still, Belle of the Nineties isn't bad, just pedestrian. And the bare bones box set is cheap and you're getting a bunch of other good movies with it for the price.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: #162: Rescue

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 rescues, and there's a theme within a theme for me this time around. As is generally the case, I've picked three older movies:

Kameradschaft (1931). German film about a mining area that straddles the German-French border in the years after World War I. The French and Germans don't let each other work in the other country, and have even blocked off an parts of the mines that would cross the border underground. And then there's an explosion on the French side, and the German miners go in to help despite their management not being happy about it.

The Clairvoyant (1935). Claude Rains plays a phony mentalist who when he meets one particular woman, finds that he becomes a real, no fooling clairvoyant, and not just making it up. Unsurprisingly, this causes all sorts of problems, especially when he predicts that a disaster will befall the site where a tunnel is being constructed.

Ace in the Hole (1952). Kirk Douglas plays a disgraced big-city reporter who winds up in a smaller city, Albuquerque. While working his new job at the paper there, he runs across a guy who's gotten trapped in an abandoned mine. Douglas decides to milk the story for all it's worth, even though there are easier and probably quicker ways to rescue the poor trapped guy. But those wouldn't make news.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oh, those Elvis Presley movies

Today being the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, TCM is using the day in Summer Under the Stars to run a bunch of his movies. Well, a smaller bunch than I would have thought. I'm looking at the TCM schedule, and every single movie during the daytime lineup is followed by a short. All but one of them in prime time are too.

All of the daytime movies would fit into a 105-minute slot, which means you could get eight of them in between the 6:00 AM start of the day and prime time start at 8:00. But instead, there are only seven movies, all put into two-hour slots, with a short to pad out the time. It makes me wonder whether TCM couldn't get the rights to any more Elvis movies. It also doesn't help that there are two concert movies and a documentary sprinkled throughout the day.

Having said that, I notice that primetime tomorrow (Rosalind Russell) day has a short after every feature. There only seems to be one on Rod Taylor day, and that follows a movie listed with a 105-minute runtime. By the time you add the little animation at the beginning, and the announcement of the upcoming movies, you're probably just past 105 minutes and have a good 14 to fill.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I didn't realize Rodan is out of print

I watched Rodan over the weekend, having DVRed it back in May when TCM was doing the "Creature Features" spotlight. I was figuring on doing a full-length post on it, but was very surprised to see that the DVD releases are out of print. You can, however, stream it at Amazon.

TCM ran the American version, dubbed from Japanese and, as I understand it, some changed footage. The establishing monologue certainly seemed like something that would be added for an American release.

To be honest, the American version left me underwhelmed. There are two different monsters here, and neither gets enough time to work well. I have a feeling that would be a problem with the original as well, so some of the problems have nothing to do with the dubbing. And I didn't really have a problem with the American version of Godzilla, the one with Raymond Burr added into the movie.

But the dubbing is something I also found distracting. Not so much the fact that the words don't match the lip movements; I've never been anywhere close to having an ability to read lips. The problem is more that the voices don't match up with the faces on screen. I'm reminded of the "No, no, no", "Yes, yes, yes" bit in Singin' in the Rain where the main characters' voices in the movie-within-a-movie get out of sync.