Monday, October 24, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Trail of the Vigilantes (1940) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

One of the films I most enjoyed at this year's Lone Pine Film Festival was TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES (1940), starring Franchot Tone.

Franchot Tone in a Western?! Yes, and he's absolutely delightful.

The movie plays somewhat like a precursor of the James Garner comedy classic SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), with Tone starring as a cagey Eastern marshal. Sometimes he's able to outwit his enemies, who are surprised by his audacity, and when in turn they sometimes get the best of him, he goes along with it with laconic humor.

Tim Mason (Tone), aka "Kansas," is sent to a wild and woolly Western town after the murder of a newspaperman. Working undercover, Kansas is hired by rancher John Thornton (Charles Trowbridge) -- whose young daughter Barbara (Peggy Moran) immediately likes what she sees and is determined to land her man, not taking no for an answer.

Kansas learns that local ranchers who aren't paying the local "Cattleman's Association" are having their cattle stolen; in reality, the association is a shakedown racket run by Dawson (Warren William, always a wonderful bad guy).

Kansas realizes that Dawson and his men plan to make off with the Cattleman's Association funds and takes the box first, then is arrested for theft. Will Kansas be able to make the case against Dawson?

Kansas initially battles and is tormented by Swanee (Broderick Crawford) and Meadows (Andy Devine), but they end up being his pals, along with the crazy Bolo (Mischa Auer).

Peggy Moran also adds to the humor, with her "never say die" pursuit of Kansas. Moran, born October 23, 1918, retired from the screen in 1943, after marrying director Henry Koster, a happy union which lasted until Koster's death in 1988. Moran herself passed on following a 2002 car accident.

This movie is a great deal of fun, and I'm surprised it isn't better known today. (The fact that it's a hard-to-see Universal Pictures film may account for some of that.) According to IMDb, director Allan Dwan was responsible for having the original screenplay rewritten as a Western spoof. The film was written by Harold Shumate.

In addition to having a sense of humor, the film also has some nice action, including good "classic Hollywood" stunt work as Crawford chases William across the town rooftops in one of the final scenes.

The supporting cast includes Samuel S. Hinds, George Chandler, Ray Teal, Porter Hall, and Paul Fix.

The movie was shot by Milton Krasner and Joseph Valentine.

TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES is is not available on DVD, and it should be. At the present moment it's available on YouTube, but it could disappear at any time. I was fortunate to see it in Lone Pine, where some of the exteriors were filmed.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Wild North (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE WILD NORTH (1952) is a colorful, engaging MGM adventure film, available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Stewart Granger plays Jules Vincent, a trapper who returns to town from hunting in the "the wild North" and in short order acquires an adorable kitten and meets a gorgeous Indian singer (Cyd Charisse, dubbed by Ruth Martin).

Against his better judgment, Jules allows Mike Brody (Howard Petrie) to accompany himself and the Indian girl (whose name is never given!) on a canoe trip. Jules and Mike had brawled over the girl the night before, but Jules accepts Mike's apology. In a brief sequence, Mike is last seen paddling the canoe, looking at Jules and the girl with evil intent; next thing you know, the couple arrive at Jules's cabin, minus Mike and looking very nervous. We learn that Jules had shot Mike in self-defense, intending to wing his shoulder to fend him off, but the canoe pitched and Mike was killed.

Jules doesn't trust a jury of city folk and decides to disappear back into the north country for a while, after asking the girl to wait for him. Meanwhile the death is discovered and a Mountie, Constable Pedley (Wendell Corey), is assigned to bring Jules back for trial. But it's a brutal winter, and once Pedley locates Jules it's going to take everything both men have, working together, to stay alive.

I hadn't seen this film in a good decade or more, and I very much enjoyed revisiting it tonight. Granger is at his charming best as the cagey trapper. Over the years stories from costars have surfaced which were less than flattering about the actor, but on screen, he's simply wonderful, with great charisma; the quick progression of his romance with Charisse, much of it conveyed with unspoken understanding, is quite believable and touching.

I love Granger's MGM work of the '50s, which included the superb adventure film KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950), the swashbuckling classics SCARAMOUCHE (1952) and THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1952), and the underrated Western GUN GLORY (1957), to name a few.

Charisse, always a favorite of mine, is lovely and dignified as the Indian woman who makes a home for Jules in his absence. The ongoing story thread about the kitten which she cares for while awaiting his return is a very nice, meaningful touch which makes the film a bit different; the final shot with the cat and Pedley is marvelous.

Corey is excellent as the Mountie. One of the best scenes in the film is when he arrives at Jules's winter cabin to arrest him, then calmly sits down to drink coffee and play checkers, with a break to empty the ammunition from Jules's guns. The mutual respect of two smart men facing multiple problems makes the film quite interesting.

There is some gorgeous location filming which was apparently mostly in Idaho and Wyoming, rather than Canada. There are some soundstage and process shots mixed in but for the most part the movie has a "fresh air" look and feel which adds to its appeal. Robert Surtees filmed the movie in Anscocolor, which looks better here than in some other MGM films of the era.

THE WILD NORTH was directed by Andrew Marton, who had codirected Granger in the previously mentioned KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950); he later worked with him on GREEN FIRE (1954), a film I wish had been better.

The script of this 97-minute film was by Frank Fenton, loosely based on a true story. The supporting cast includes J.M. Kerrigan, Morgan Farley, Ray Teal, and Houseley Stevenson.

The Warner Archive print is excellent. The disc includes a trailer.

Additional Warner Archive reviews coming soon include some interesting Blu-ray releases, including the great ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), Traveltalks Vol. 2, Jeanette MacDonald's last film, and more Monogram Westerns.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tonight's Movie: A Yank at Oxford (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Robert Taylor stars as A YANK AT OXFORD (1938), available from the Warner Archive.

A YANK AT OXFORD is one of a number of Taylor films released by the Warner Archive this year. I've previously reviewed Taylor in this year's Archive releases REMEMBER? (1939), SONG OF RUSSIA (1944), and VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954).

A YANK AT OXFORD was one of a handful of films made by MGM British Studios before the war brought the studio's productions there to an end. Other MGM British films included HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1940), yet another of this year's Warner Archive releases.

Taylor stars as Lee Sheridan, an American college star athlete who receives a scholarship to Oxford. Lee is a nice enough fellow, but he's also a little full of himself, and he comes off to his new British classmates as the cliched "Ugly American."

The rough treatment of the British students wears some of the rough edges off Lee, and he's also mellowed as he courts charming Molly Beaumont (Maureen O'Sullivan). Unfortunately Molly's brother Paul (Griffith Jones of MIRANDA) is Lee's arch-enemy, but Lee gradually makes friends with the other students (including a young Robert Coote).

Paul, meanwhile, is spending time with a flirtatious married bookstore clerk (Vivien Leigh) and risks being "sent down" (expelled) if he's caught.

A YANK AT OXFORD is a good exemplar of the typical quality of MGM productions of the era. Despite the fact that a dozen people worked on the story and screenplay, including Frank "Spig" Wead, Sidney Gilliat (THE LADY VANISHES), and even F. Scott Fitzgerald, too many cooks didn't spoil the broth, but instead produced an entertaining film which maintains viewer interest for its 102 minutes.

The movie may be a tad predictable, at least from the vantage point of 2016, but it goes down very smoothly thanks to good production values and a strong cast. One can't help feeling a bit wistful watching the film, knowing that the cozy, tradition-laden England depicted in the film would soon be fighting for its survival.

Lionel Barrymore plays Lee's father, who's perhaps just a little too proud of his boy. This was one of the last roles Barrymore played in which he walks; he would successfully continue acting for many years from a wheelchair, including the long-running Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie films, all of which have been reviewed here.

Walter Kingsford, who played Dr. Carew in the Kildare films, plays the kindly college dean who obtains Lee's scholarship, while Edmund Gwenn is Lee's dean at Oxford. Also in the cast are Claude Gillingwater, Tully Marshall, Peter Croft, and C.V. France. Future star Dennis O'Keefe is said to be in the racetrack scene, and another future star, Richard Todd, is listed as an extra.

Taylor and O'Sullivan were both 25 when this was filmed, and they are believable as college students, with an appealing chemistry. They also worked together in THE CROWD ROARS (1938).

Just a couple of years after this film, Taylor would reunite with supporting actress Leigh in WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940), one of his personal favorite career films. There are glimpses of Scarlett O'Hara in Leigh's bookstore vixen, yet her performance does not hint at the power and depth she would bring to her role in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) the following year.

A YANK AT OXFORD was directed by Jack Conway and filmed in black and white by Harold Rosson.

A YANK AT OXFORD is a good-looking print. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tonight's Movie: RED 2 (2013)

Last summer I enjoyed an action movie marathon which included RED (2010), about a group of one-time spies forced out of retirement.

RED 2 (2013) is more of the same, and in fact I might have found it even funnier than the original.

Former CIA spy Frank (Bruce Willis) and his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are living a quiet life in suburbia when Frank's wacky former colleague Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up at their local Costco. The trio don't make it out of the parking lot before their lives are turned upside down once more, and before you know it they're traipsing all over Europe, with one or two hit men -- or women -- on their heels.

British killer Victoria (Helen Mirren) is one of those asked to bump off Frank and Sarah, but being Frank's pal she gives him fair notice. Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee) is also after Frank, adding an interesting new character to the mix.

And speaking of new characters, Frank's old flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is around, trying to make Sarah jealous, and Brian Cox returns as Victoria's Soviet spy beau Ivan. Anthony Hopkins, Tim Piggott-Smith, and effectively creepy Neal McDonough are also in the cast.

The plot could have been tightened up, as its 116 minutes go on a little long, but for the most part it's quite enjoyable and entertaining. The interplay between Willis, Parker, and Malkovich is especially good, as Frank tries to keep Sarah away from the action but the giddy, willing Sarah is all too happy to learn the spy trade from the wild and crazy Marvin. Her reaction when Frank presents her with a gun near movie's end is delightful.

Everyone on screen seems to be having a good time, and this viewer did as well.

RED 2 was directed by Dean Parisot and filmed by Enrique Chediak. The score was by Alain Silvestri.

Parental Advisory: RED 2 is rated PG-13 for action including "frenetic gunplay" (really?) and some language. It's about what you'd expect, not for the little ones but at the same time it's strictly non-bloody cartoon violence.

RED 2 is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and via Amazon Instant Video.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quick Preview of TCM in December

The online preview of TCM's December schedule came out relatively late this year, but it's now available!

Myrna Loy is the December Star of the Month, voted in by the members of TCM's Backlot fan club, who chose between Myrna and Bette Davis.

This is the popular Loy's third time as Star of the Month. She was previously the Star of the Month in 1995 and 2004.

Loy's films will be shown every Friday, leading up to a 24-hour Myrna Loy-William Powell marathon on December 23rd.

As always, there are many wonderful Christmas movies showing in December!

"Robert Osborne's Picks" on Christmas Eve frequently include a film from 20th Century-Fox amidst the Christmas titles -- a treat as Fox films cost more for TCM to license. This year his Fox pick is THE DOLLY SISTERS (1945), starring Betty Grable, June Haver, and John Payne.

The only sad note in that regard is Mr. Osborne's continuing absence from the network. It would be a lovely surprise if he turned up to host the Christmas Eve films.

Earlier in the month the wonderful Fox film I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951) is on the schedule. It's warm Americana well suited for December.

Also on tap for December is the latest edition of Treasures From the Disney Vault, including PERRI (1957), OLD YELLER (1957), THE LITTLEST OUTLAW (1955), and THE UGLY DACHSHUND (1966).

There's a 'round-the-clock marathon of shorts on December 5th, and the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day will be marked with a selection of WWII films.

Also of note is a screening of PLEASURE CRUISE (1933), a pre-Code which was popular in "Theater 4" at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I didn't get a chance to see it then so I'm looking forward to checking it out.

December tributes include Alice White, Dick Purcell, George Brent, Irene Dunne, Ruth Roman, Elvis Presley, Roland Young, and Sydney Greenstreet.

New Year's Eve will be spent with the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) series.

I'll have more detailed information on the December schedule, including my annual post on Christmas movies airing in December, sometime after Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Christopher Lee continues as the October Star of the Month, with Natalie Wood on deck for November.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Disneyland: Mickey's Halloween Party

It was a "Very Disney Weekend" here! We spent Friday at Disneyland, including Mickey's Halloween Party, and on Sunday we were at Disney California Adventure to compete in the MouseAdventure puzzle game/scavenger hunt .

This was our first time attending the Halloween Party, which requires a separate "hard ticket" from our annual passes.  The party includes trick or treating, a parade, and fireworks. It was a fun way to celebrate our oldest daughter's birthday!

We spent most of the day at the park, leading up to a "pre-party" in Toontown which kicked off at 6:00, followed by the parkwide party running from 7:00 to midnight.

At the pre-party we visited three "treat trails." Each trail contained several carts filled with various kinds of candy, and at each cart several pieces of candy were put in our treat bags.

Trick or treating at Minnie Mouse's house in Toontown:

There was trick or treating all over the park, plus annual passholders had a special trick or treating station in the Opera House where large cloth trick-or-treat bags were given out, much bigger and more durable than the small paper sacks distributed at check-in. There was no limit to the number of treat stations guests could visit. By the end of the evening it added up to a lot of candy. Let's just say I won't need to go shopping for Halloween trick-or-treaters this year!

We enjoyed singing by the "Cadaver Dans" and having free photos taken with various Disney characters. There was a spooky mist covering the Rivers of America, where the Cadaver Dans performed on a raft:

My favorite part of the evening was a brand-new feature of the party, the pre-parade ride of the Headless Horseman from THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949) down Main Street. It was very effective!

I'm not a particular fan of villains or horror-type entertainment -- in fact, I stopped going on the Haunted Mansion ride at least 20 years ago! -- but I enjoyed the Frightfully Fun Parade.

I especially enjoyed the choreography for the dancers which accompanied the Haunted Mansion float. Besides the dancers representing the ride's ballroom scene, there were grave diggers who dragged their shovels along the asphalt street, making sparks, which was certainly a unique parade feature.

This was our first chance to see the Halloween Screams fireworks since 2009, when it was still part of the regular park entertainment. It's a wonderful show!

All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening.

We've played in MouseAdventure for a number of years now, as is evident from the game pins on my lanyard; it's not a complete set, either!

We did pretty well Sunday, coming in 31st out of around 133 teams -- although it wasn't as impressive as our 13th place ranking last spring! We're looking forward to playing again next year.

On top of all the fun, we walked 16 miles at the parks this weekend -- that's a win/win!

Previous Halloween Time Posts and Photos: September 29, 2006, September 30, 2006, October 21, 2006, September 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, October 17, 2008, October 9, 2009, October 15, 2010, the 2011 Annual Passholder Private Party (October 17, 2011); October 21, 2012, September 13, 2013, October 18, 2013, September 12, 2014, September 18, 2015, September 20, 2016, and September 23, 2016.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Silk Stockings (1957) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The MGM musical SILK STOCKINGS (1957), starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, has been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

SILK STOCKINGS was based on the Cole Porter Broadway musical; the musical in turn was based on the Melchior Lengyel story which was the basis for MGM's 1939 comedy hit NINOTCHKA (1939), starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.

Close to two decades after Garbo's success as Ninotchka, MGM obtained the Broadway rights for SILK STOCKINGS and resurrected the story for one of the studio's last big musicals. In fact, this was the final MGM musical in which Astaire starred in the leading role. Watching him in a succession of dances, a viewer would be hard pressed to believe the man was nearly 60!

Astaire plays Steve Canfield, a movie producer who plans to film his latest musical in Paris. The movie will feature addlepated swimming star Peggy Dayton (Janis Paige), who can no longer swim due to ear troubles, and the score will be written by Russian composer Boroff (Wim Sonneveld).

Unfortunately the Soviet Union wants its composer back, and three commissars (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff) are sent to Paris to retrieve the composer and bring him back behind the Iron Curtain. Instead the three men fall in love with Paris and invent reasons to remain in the city. Soviet Commissar Markovitch (George Tobias, reprising his Broadway role) then sends straight-laced Ninotchka (Charisse) to Paris to herd everyone home from the City of Light.

Once again, things don't go as planned, as Ninotchka fairly quickly falls for both Steve and the pleasures of Paris.

Given all the talents involved, including director Rouben Mamoulian, I've always felt SILK STOCKINGS could have been better. At times it feels underdeveloped, not to mention silly; for instance, I like Janis Paige, but her character seems like a bit of a tacked-on misfire here who's not essential to the story.

Nor does the bland Metrocolor photography by Robert Bronner help; the movie's Paris is strictly a backlot affair, filmed in muted hues.

Porter's score is not his best, though it has some moments, with "All of You" a classy standout. A plus in this department is the film's typically lush MGM sound, with Andre Previn conducting Conrad Salinger's orchestrations.

Despite my criticisms, the movie has stood up to numerous viewings by me over the years. I find Charisse's deadpan line readings amusing, and there is some simply splendid dancing, including two of my all-time favorite MGM musical numbers, "Fated to Be Mated" and "Red Blues."

The former number, choreographed by Hermes Pan, is a bouncy dance for Astaire and Charisse through a succession of movie sets; it's pure joy which leaves the viewer smiling as broadly as Astaire and Charisse do in their final clinch. (And watch for Charisse's skirt to magically change to culottes!) "Red Blues," choreographed by Eugene Loring, is a high-energy dance with some terrific fancy footwork by Charisse. Both dances make great use of the film's widescreen Cinemascope framing.

In the end, SILK STOCKINGS provides 117 minutes mostly spent in the company of Astaire and Charisse, and that's a good enough reason for me to pull this film off the shelf for another look every so often. Those who feel the same way will enjoy this new release.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a good-looking, clean print; it may not be as dazzling as some of the Archive's other recent Blu-ray releases, but I attribute that more to the fact that the film's color wasn't especially vibrant in the first place.

The extras from the 2003 DVD were reproduced on the Blu-ray, including a featurette, shorts, and a trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

Happy Birthday to Marsha Hunt and Julie Adams!

Happiest birthday wishes to two of my favorite ladies of classic cinema!

Marsha Hunt turns 99 today, October 17th...

...and Julie Adams turns 90.

I've been fortunate to hear each of these ladies speak at screenings on multiple occasions, and as I have recounted in the past, I had a small role in a play starring Adams when I was a teenager.

Just about a year ago I found myself sitting at a reception table with both ladies following Coleen Gray's memorial service. Although the circumstances were very sad, it was a great honor and privilege to spend more personal time with them and enjoy their reminisces.

For more on Marsha Hunt, please visit my 2012 tribute, which is updated annually with recent film review links.

A tribute to Julie Adams, which also has many links, was posted here last year.