Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Persons in Hiding (1939)

After the disappointment of COME ON DANGER! (1932) earlier today, what a pleasure to watch another lesser-known film which was a real discovery, PERSONS IN HIDING (1939).

PERSONS IN HIDING anticipates GUN CRAZY (1950) by over a decade. Patricia Morison is riveting as Dot, who marries a small-time crook, Freddie Martin (J. Carrol Naish, of all people), and attempts to mold him into a big-time gangster she dubs "Gunner."

Morison's Dot is one cold dame, willing to set her mother's house on fire (with a G-man inside) or turn her husband over to the feds to get what she wants. The only chink in Dot's armor is expensive perfume, which ironically is responsible for her ultimate downfall.

Morison, who is now 99, should have had a much bigger film career, but she did have a great Broadway career to help compensate. She's beautiful, with stunning eyes and unusually long, dark hair, and she's a compelling screen presence.

Naish, who was close to two decades older than his leading lady, is an unlikely leading man; he frequently calls Morison "Kid," which appears to have been an attempt to acknowledge the age gap. Someone more charismatic in the role would have been nice but Naish is solid in the final scenes.

The film has an excellent cast, including Lynne Overman as an FBI man. His young partner is played by William Henry; Henry's bride in the film is played by Janet Waldo, who is now 90 years old. Waldo has had a long, successful career as a voice artist, notably as Judy Jetson in THE JETSONS.

Best of all, big-time gangster Mike Flagler is played by Richard Stanley, who'd previously been known at MGM as Stanley Morner and who would soon be well known at Warner Bros. as Dennis Morgan! This was his last film under the name Richard Stanley.

Flagler's moll Flo was played by Dorothy Howe -- who later that year would begin acting under the name Virginia Vale and make the first of her half-dozen RKO films with George O'Brien, THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939).

Morgan and Vale are both real favorites of mine so it was a wonderful surprise discovering them in this film, "hiding" under different names.

The cast also includes William Frawley, John Eldredge, Leona Roberts, Richard Denning, and Helen Twelvetrees, who has a brief role as Overman's wife.

PERSONS IN HIDING was directed by Louis King, younger brother of director Henry King. It was filmed in black and white by Harry Fischbeck.

This was the first of multiple films based on J. Edgar Hoover's book, also named PERSONS IN HIDING. The script of this 70-minute film was by William Lipman and Horace McCoy.

It's the same sad old story, but this is a Paramount film which is not easily obtainable. Hopefully that will change at some point.

My thanks to John Knight for making it possible for me to see this very interesting film.

Tonight's Movie: Come On Danger! (1932)

I love to explore lesser-known movies, as more often than not my viewing is rewarded with interesting discoveries, and sometimes I find absolute gems.

And then there's COME ON DANGER! (1932), an RKO Western starring Tom Keene, which unfortunately is about as creaky as they come.

I was curious about Keene, as TCM will be honoring him with a day this October, plus, under the name Richard Powers, he played a supporting role in the last Lawrence Tierney "B" film I watched, SAN QUENTIN (1946).

I hope Keene's other Westerns are stronger, as I think a high school drama class could probably have done more with the dialogue in this film than the cast, which included Julie Haydon and Roscoe Ates (billed as Rosco). The screenplay by David Lewis and Lester Ifeld isn't very good, but it would have helped a lot if the actors were more natural. Some of the line readings in this one define "awkward."

A couple of tuneful Western songs provide rare high points in 54 long minutes.

The film will be of some interest to fans of George O'Brien and Tim Holt, as the story by Bennett Cohen was loosely remade with O'Brien in RKO's THE RENEGADE RANGER (1938), with Holt in a supporting role, and then it was remade again by the studio as COME ON DANGER (1942), with Holt in the leading role. Both remakes used different screenwriters.

COME ON DANGER! was directed by Robert F. Hill and shot by the great Nicholas Musuraca. There's quite a bit of outdoor filming at Southern California movie ranches.

Tonight's Movie: San Quentin (1946)

SAN QUENTIN is an enjoyable, if sometimes improbable, RKO film starring perennial bad boy Lawrence Tierney.

Tierney plays Jim Roland, an ex-con who receives a pardon after serving in World War II. He plans to marry Betty (Marian Carr) and run a service station.

Jim had been part of a San Quentin prison welfare league instituted by the kindly warden (Harry Shannon) to help turn men's lives around. While it worked for Jim, Nick Taylor (Barton MacLane) just pretends to go along with the program. When Taylor and Tommy North (Robert Clarke) join the warden and Jim to give a speech about the welfare league, Taylor engineers a violent escape.

Jim and his pal Broadway (Joe Devlin) decide it's up to them to catch Nick. Their every move is trailed by Detective Schaeffer (Richard Powers, previously known as cowboy star Tom Keene).

This movie is plenty hokey at times, including a stilted prologue by former Sing Sing Warden Lewis E. Lawes, yet despite that -- or because of it -- I enjoyed it. Tierney is always a compelling screen presence, and I enjoy seeing him as a hero (STEP BY STEP, BODYGUARD), as much or more than seeing him as a super-scary bad guy (DILLINGER, BORN TO KILL).

Despite the preachiness and lack of realism, the film presents an interesting look at different schools of thought on the prison environment and what it should accomplish, as well as providing a brief peek at life behind bars in San Quentin. Incidentally, I wonder how many movies used this movie's back projection of a prison workshop?!

There's also a charming Golden Gate Bridge back projection, as well as location filming on a lake in the L.A. County Arboretum.

The movie is also notable as the second credit of a young, thin, Raymond Burr.

SAN QUENTIN runs just 66 minutes. It was directed by Gordon Douglas and filmed by Frank Redman.

SAN QUENTIN isn't out on DVD, but it's shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

Maverick: The Complete Third Season - A Warner Archive TV Series Review

Over the years I've written many times of my deep love for the TV series MAVERICK (1957-62). Ironically, the very day James Garner passed away last weekend, my husband had stumbled across the show's most famous episode, Season 2's "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," airing on TV. We couldn't help pausing to watch it for the millionth time -- and it still makes us laugh!

In light of James Garner's passing, I was glad to spend time thinking about him and my favorite show as I reviewed the Warner Archive's MAVERICK: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON.

What is it that makes MAVERICK so special, a TV show with endless "rewatch" value? Let me count the ways:

1) The charming lead characters and the actors who played them. While James Garner became the most famous, I've admitted that despite my love for Garner, I think my favorite Maverick of all might have been Bart, played by Jack Kelly. Both actors are exceptionally charismatic and interesting, and never better than the episodes in which they play off one another.

Incidentally, revisionist history (including the '80s series BRET MAVERICK) sometimes refers to the brothers as con artists. They were not; they were honest gamblers who only tricked people when they'd been tricked first. And when that happened, it was glorious (see the aforementioned "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres").

2) Excellent, varied scripts, which sometimes play more like mini-movies than TV episodes; at times the series feels closer to a "B" movie series of the '40s than a TV show. In fact, fans of the series commonly refer to the episodes by title, another movie-like aspect of the show. There just aren't that many series where viewers remember each show so individually.

The writers also do a great job incorporating running jokes and bits, such as the $1000 bill the brothers always keep pinned in their jacket for emergencies, and of course the "Pappyisms" ("As my old Pappy used to say...").

3) Terrific guest casts, with some actors appearing multiple times in different roles and other actors showing up from time to time as recurring characters. Season 3, for example, introduced Mona Freeman, who passed away a few weeks ago, as Modesty Blaine in a pair of favorite episodes, "The Cats of Paradise" and "Cruise of the Cynthia B." "Cynthia B" is an Agatha Christie-like story as one by one passengers are killed.

The Modesty Blaine character was later played by Kathleen Crowley -- one of three different recurring characters Crowley played, but for me there was only one Modesty Blaine!

Some favorite episodes in Season 3: The season starts off with "Pappy," a classic episode which finds Garner playing the brothers' oft-quoted Pappy, along with his usual role as Bret. Kelly gets to play a dual role in the last scene as well.

"The Sheriff of Duck 'n Shoot" seems to anticipate my favorite Garner comedy, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), as Bret is tricked into serving as sheriff for a few months. No one seems to realize that a man Bret supposedly knocked out was actually hit by a horse... It's a delight.

"A Tale of Three Cities" is a chance for Jack Kelly to shine, with Bart speaking to a ladies' group about the evils of gambling! I love his cozy jail cell. This one is just plain fun.

Another favorite Bart episode is "The Goose-Drownder," in which Bart and recurring character Gentleman Jack Darby (Richard Long, below) are stranded with some disreputable folks during a terrible rainstorm. This is one of Jack Kelly's strongest dramatic episodes. He's seen here in this episode with Fay Spain.

"The Marquesa" was one of a few episodes guest-starring Adele Mara, who was the wife of series creator Roy Huggins and the sister of James Garner's stand-in, Luis Delgado. (Delgado can sometimes be seen as an extra in crowd scenes.) Edward Ashley appears as Nobby Ned Wingate, a role he would repeat later in the season in "Iron Hand," an episode best known for having Robert Redford in the cast!

"Maverick and Juliet" finds the brothers having to duel one another via an epic card game, and Julie Adams fans will enjoy "The White Widow," one of two appearances she made on the show.

I'm only listing a few episodes here, but really, they're all good! I'd probably have to say that the show's first two seasons were the best, but the entire series is high quality and there are many standout episodes in the third season.

The set contains 26 fine-looking episodes on six discs. There are no extras.

Most highly recommended, along with the rest of the series.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the Warner Archive site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Thunder Mountain (1935)

THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1935) is a pleasant George O'Brien RKO Western. Though at some points it feels too much like an old-school melodrama, with some exaggerated performances, O'Brien's company is always welcome.

Like Tim Holt's THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947) a dozen years later, this film is based on a novel by Zane Grey. However, the plots of the two films don't have a great deal in common.

Kal Emerson (O'Brien) and his friend and partner Steve (Dean Benton) are staked by Samuel Blair (Edward LaSaint) to find a gold mine for which they have obtained a map. Blair's daughter Sydney (Barbara Fritchie) has stars in her eyes at the sound of the word "gold" and lets Kal think she has a romantic interest in him -- which she drops when Kal and Steve have their claim jumped.

Kal doesn't seem to notice that sweet dance hall singer "Nugget" (Frances Grant), unlike Sydney, has his best interests at heart and is pining away for him.

Ownership of the mine claim and accompanying romantic complications are all neatly sorted out in about an hour's time.

Although the DVD print I watched was quite faded, it was still possible to appreciate the extensive open-air location shooting, I'm assuming somewhere in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The Zane Grey films made by O'Brien and Holt appear to be in public domain, but it would certainly be great if this RKO film could be restored, as I think a good print would be a real beauty. (Warner Archive, are you listening?!)

Incidentally, IMDb lists the running time as 68 minutes but the Sinister Cinema DVD I watched was 59 minutes. The DVD was made from a 16mm print; halfway through there's even a lengthy reel change countdown no one bothered to edit out!

THUNDER MOUNTAIN was directed by David Howard, who worked closely with George O'Brien for a number of years before Howard's untimely passing in 1941.

Cinematographer Frank B. Good also worked on a number of O'Brien films before passing away in 1939.

Morgan Wallace plays the villain. Look for Gabby Hayes, billed George F. Hayes, as an old prospector who befriends Kal.

Five Underrated Action/Adventure Films

I'm excited to share my list of five favorite Underrated Action/Adventure Films at the film blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

I'm always happy to have the opportunity to share lists of favorites at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Each new series at that site results in such interesting reading and recommendations!

Brian kicked off the series with this post.

There are many other interesting lists, including contributions from friends of this blog, John Knight and Jerry Entract.

Please click over to Rupert Pupkin Speaks to check out my list!

Note that more detailed reviews of each of the films mentioned in my guest post can be found by searching here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.

Previous guest posts at Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Five Underrated Comedies, Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013, Five Underrated Westerns, and Five Underrated Mystery/Detective Films.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Shockproof (1949)

SHOCKPROOF (1949) is a good minor noir starring the husband and wife team of Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight. It was directed by Douglas Sirk and is distinguished by terrific Los Angeles location shooting.

Jenny Marsh (Knight) is a hard-bitten ex-con who reports to her parole officer, Griff Marat (Wilde), at his office in the Bradbury Building in Downtown Los Angeles.

Jenny has finished serving a five-year prison sentence and has been ordered to stay away from her bad news boyfriend Harry (John Baragrey). However, Jenny has no intention of complying with that condition of parole, and she intends to get out from under the watchful eye of her parole officer as soon as possible.

Jenny gradually starts to change when Griff has her to dinner at his home on Bunker Hill, where he lives with his blind mother (Esther Minciotti) and kid brother (Charles Bates). She accepts a job as companion to Griff's mother. Griff falls for Jenny, which she initially intends to use to her benefit, but then Jenny falls for Griff too.

There's just one problem, Harry won't leave Jenny alone. An incident with Harry, Jenny, and a gun results in Jenny and Griff going on the run.

It's a nice little movie mixing crime and romance, and a couple on the road together always makes for interesting viewing. The film takes a surprisingly easy out at the end, which raises all sorts of unanswered questions; it would have been nice to arrive at the same result with more believable means. (At least one online article, incidentally, indicates that Sirk did not direct the final scene, which was not how the movie was originally intended to end.) Overall, despite the poorly written ending, it was a good film and I enjoyed it.

The last part of this Columbia movie, incidentally, seems to have inspired the Warner Bros. film TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951) in no small measure: A couple including an ex-con go on the run, the woman dyes her hair dark and her behavior is softened by love, the couple live in a rough shack, and it's possible their identity will be disclosed to the neighbors via a magazine or newspaper. I had a distinct feeling of deja vu in those shack scenes!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of SHOCKPROOF is its location photography, shot by Charles Lawton Jr. The film makes outstanding use of both the Bradbury Building (there's an impressive fall over a railing!) and Bunker Hill. I think the airport exterior where Griff parks was probably Long Beach Airport.

Patricia Knight was excellent as Jenny, lovely but quite a tough cookie. I was impressed by Knight and wondered why I hadn't seen her in more films; she's a great noir dame. She was married to Cornel Wilde from 1937 to 1951; they had a daughter, Wendy, and given Knight's looks and talent I assume she didn't work much by choice. (I'd love to see her in ROSES ARE RED with Don Castle, Joe Sawyer, Jeff Chandler, Charles McGraw, and James Arness. What a cast!) After her marriage to Wilde ended, Knight would marry twice more and was widowed both times. Wendy Wilde herself became an actress.

Cornel Wilde later married Jean Wallace, a union which would last for three decades; Wallace appeared with him in THE BIG COMBO (1955) and STORM FEAR (1955). Wallace and Wilde had a son, Cornel Jr. Cornel Wilde (Sr.) died in 1989 and is buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, which I visited last April. Click on the photograph to enlarge his gravestone for a closer look.

I've mentioned in the past that Charles Bates, who plays Wilde's brother, was the uncle of a childhood next-door neighbor; I never met him but have always remembered that little factlet!

The cast also includes Howard St. John, Russell Collins, Virginia Farmer, Frank Ferguson, and Arthur Space.

There are stills from the film, including the cast on location, in the recent book LOS ANGELES'S BUNKER HILL: PULP FICTION'S MEAN STREETS AND FILM NOIR'S GROUND ZERO by Jim Dawson.

SHOCKPROOF runs 79 minutes. It was written by Samuel Fuller and Helen Deutsch. It's part of The Samuel Fuller Collection, a beautifully presented set which I've just started exploring; I've heard great things about it and it looks terrific.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Girl in White (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

June Allyson stars as THE GIRL IN WHITE (1952), an interesting new release from the Warner Archive.

THE GIRL IN WHITE is a fact-based story inspired by a memoir by Emily Dunning Barringer, BOWERY TO BELLEVUE: THE STORY OF NEW YORK'S FIRST WOMAN AMBULANCE SURGEON.

Emily Dunning (Allyson) is inspired by Dr. Marie Yeomans (Mildred Dunnock), who tends to Emily's pregnant mother when she collapses. Emily is determined to follow in Dr. Yeomans' footsteps and succeeds in graduating medical school at a time with a woman doctor was a rarity.

Emily must then battle to become the first woman intern at a New York City hospital, and once she lands the position, she must cope with the prejudices of her male colleagues, particularly hospital head Dr. Seth Pawling (Gary Merrill).

Emily also struggles to balance her deep desire for a medical career with her love for fellow doctor Ben Barringer (Arthur Kennedy).

It's interesting to note that this is the Warner Archive's second release of recent weeks about a pioneering woman doctor, following Greer Garson's STRANGE LADY IN TOWN (1955). THE GIRL IN WHITE is an absorbing drama which held my interest for all of its 92 minutes.

One of the things I liked about the movie was its low-key attitude. (Leonard Maltin termed it "humdrum" in a shortsighted review.) There are no huge, earth-shattering medical sequences or sudden revelations; it's simply about people putting their heads down and working hard, then having quiet realizations, whether it's Dr. Pawling admitting the woman doctor has unexpected gifts or Dr. Dunning realizing there is more to her life than medicine. The film thus has a naturalness and believability that it might have lacked had it gone for the big dramatic moments.

June Allyson does a fine job as an intelligent and determined woman who won't let jerks like senior intern Dr. Graham (Gar Moore) stand in the way of her medical career. She succeeds not by battling him but by simply working hard and demonstrating she has what it takes, living out "nothing succeeds like success"! That includes not giving up on a patient when Dr. Graham can't be bothered.

Arthur Kennedy is appealing as the doctor with an interest in research as well as in his lovely colleague. I particularly liked Gary Merrill who makes a potential jerk multi-dimensional; he plays the role with a persuasive authority. Mildred Dunnock is also fine as Dr. Yeomans, a rather frail-looking lady of great inner strength, whose worked helped pave the way for women such as Dr. Dunning.

Herbert Anderson (DENNIS THE MENACE) is one of the interns, with Jesse White (the Maytag Man) a sympathetic ambulance driver. James Arness is particularly notable as one of Dr. Dunning's grateful patients. Look for Ned Glass in a small role as an anatomy professor.

THE GIRL IN WHITE was directed by John Sturges. I've enjoyed numerous films directed by Sturges, a very fine director; he had previously directed June Allyson in RIGHT CROSS (1950).

The movie was shot in black and white by Paul Vogel. The score was by David Raksin.

There are no extras on the DVD. THE GIRL IN WHITE is a well-made, entertaining film which is recommended.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...

...Ten Cinemark theaters around the country, including my local Cinemark in Huntington Beach, will be presenting "My Favorite Musicals," a mini-film fest, on Saturday, July 26th and Tuesday, July 29th. The three films screened will be OKLAHOMA! (1955), HELLO, DOLLY! (1969), and the relatively recent MOULIN ROUGE (2001). The price to see all three films is $15. Further details are here.

...For those who haven't already noticed, as of June Netflix stopped mailing out DVDs on Saturdays.

...A new book from the University Press of Mississippi: THE PRESIDENT'S LADIES: JANE WYMAN AND NANCY DAVIS. Author Bernard Dick wrote HOLLYWOOD MADONNA: LORETTA YOUNG and other film biographies for the same publisher.

...TCM is selling vintage milk bottles from Ginger Rogers' Rogue River Ranch. If only they weren't so pricey! I seem to recall a vintage good catalogue selling some of these bottles a number of years ago.

...Fans of THE WALTONS might like to know that an ornament featuring the Walton house will be on sale from Hallmark this October.

...Will McKinley analyzes how a merger of Fox and Time Warner could potentially impact classic film fans.

...Here's a 2013 book I just learned about which I'd love to read: JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN. It's by Gene Freese for McFarland.

...I'd like to invite my readers to click over to ClassicFlix and check out my latest article for that site, on Carole Lombard.

...Loved this story on the friendship of Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully and stadium chef Dave Pearson.

...Lindsay takes a look at HOSTILE WITNESS (1968), starring and directed by Ray Milland, at Lindsay's Movie Musings.

...The classic BATMAN TV series comes out on Blu-ray on November 11, 2014.

...Coming soon from the Warner Archive: Ty Hardin in BRONCO: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON.

...Rick of the Classic Film & TV Cafe visited the 37th annual Western Film Fair in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Among others, he met Piper Laurie and Johnny Crawford.

...Here's an interview with Bruce Boxleitner, who talks about the influence James Arness had on his career and his professional attitudes. The article includes a quote from Joel McCrea's grandson Wyatt; Boxleitner narrates the informational video at the McCrea Ranch.

...Coming from the Criterion Collection in October: MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) on Blu-ray and DVD.

...I came across a Leo Gordon Facebook page maintained by his daughter. Western fans who admire the actor-writer will want to check it out. There are many unique photos.

...My friend Jerry Entract has posted his list of 5 Underrated Action/Adventure Films at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. I'd love to see CORVETTE K-225 (1943) which has a great cast headed by Randolph Scott.

...Royalty Watch: Charming new photos as Prince George of Cambridge turns one year old on Tuesday, July 22nd.

...Notable Passing: Skye McCole Bartusiak, who as a child actress was so moving as Mel Gibson's silent daughter Susan in THE PATRIOT (2000), has died at 21. Her mother says she had a history of epileptic seizures. Her older brother in the film was played by Heath Ledger, who died in 2008.

Have a great week!

TCM Remembers James Garner

Here's the video tribute to James Garner from Turner Classic Movies:

TCM has announced a 12-film tribute to James Garner to take place next Monday, July 28th.

Among the dozen titles are SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND (1957) and THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964), both reviewed here in the past.

One of my very favorite Garner titles is being shown that day, THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963) with Doris Day.

Among many fine tributes to James Garner, I have especially enjoyed posts by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s and Millie at Classic Forever.

Previously posted here: James Garner, 1928-2014 and James Garner Memorabilia.

Hollywood Exiles in Europe Opens Friday at UCLA

A new film series, Hollywood Exiles in Europe, opens at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater this Friday evening, July 25th.

The series features work by filmmakers who left Hollywood due to the blacklist, including Cy Endfield, Joseph Losey, and Jules Dassin.

The series was co-curated by Rebecca Prime, author of the recent book HOLLYWOOD EXILES IN EUROPE: THE BLACKLIST AND COLD WAR FILM CULTURE. The book was published by Rutgers University Press.

I am planning to be there on Saturday, July 26th, to see two films directed by Jules Dassin, a double bill of RIFIFI (1955), also known as DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES, starring Jean Servais, and NIGHT AND THE CITY (1955), with Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney.

I might also return on August 1st when the Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode introduces a pair of Cy Endfield films, the fantastic HELL DRIVERS (1957) plus Arthur Kennedy I've never seen, IMPULSE (1954).

The series continues through August 17th. Visit the UCLA website for the complete schedule.

A related series, Exile Noir, opens at UCLA in late August with an absolutely fantastic lineup. I'll share more about that series next month.

Finally, I want to call attention to a film noir double feature this Saturday night at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will be presenting GUN CRAZY (1950) and THE LINEUP (1958).

I enjoyed attending the Loretta Young Centennial Tribute at the Alex Theatre earlier this year. This Saturday night's double feature should be a very enjoyable event. We're fortunate to have so many options to see classic films on the big screen in the Greater Los Angeles area!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Long Summer of George Adams (1982) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

By sheer coincidence, one of the films in my current review stack was James Garner's TV-movie THE LONG SUMMER OF GEORGE ADAMS (1982), just released this month by the Warner Archive.

Needless to say, given today's sad news of his passing, it was the perfect time to enjoy this special film, which I don't think I'd seen since the '80s. I remembered liking it but few details, other than it reunited him with Joan Hackett, his costar from my favorite Garner film, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969).

Garner's George Adams is a railroad man in the small town of Cushing, Oklahoma, in the early '50s. As steam-powered engines are being phased out and diesel trains pass through Cushing without stopping, George knows he's in danger of losing his job.

He's also dealing with an elderly parent (Joe Satterwhite) in a nursing home, worrying over the future of the young sister-in-law (Marla Maddoux) he and his wife (Hackett) have raised, and trying to find time alone with his wife when the kids aren't around. He's also considering trying to build a home on family land -- maybe with indoor plumbing!

It's a lovely film which I think I related to much more at this stage of my life than I could have back in the early '80s. Many of the moments with George relating to his wife and family are incredibly realistic, as are the concerns of a family man with a lot on his plate and his job on the line.

The only false note for me was the brief fling George has with hotel owner Venida (Anjanette Comer) when his family goes out of town to visit a relative. It didn't ring true for me that George would be unfaithful to the wife he loves, especially as Venida is a shallow woman -- though that might have made it easier for him.

Incidentally, Venida's husband Woody, who appears in one early scene in the film, was played by Garner's late brother, Jack. Curiously, my 2011 post on Jack's passing has received hundreds of hits today.

I particularly enjoy George's friendship with Ernie (Alex Harvey), a young Korean War vet with a crush on George's sister-in-law. A scene where they sing a duet is one of my favorites in the film.

Sadly, this was one of Hackett's last performances, as she died of cancer the year after this film aired. She was 49 years old. Juanin Clay, who plays the newspaper reporter who pays a couple of visits to Cushing, also died young, passing away in 1995 at the age of 45.

The movie was directed by Garner's friend Stuart Margolin, who played Angel on THE ROCKFORD FILES. It was filmed by Andrew Jackson, who was also a longtime member of the ROCKFORD FILES crew.

The screenplay by John Gay based on a book by Weldon Hill. It runs 93 minutes.

I was curious that the movie playing in the small town theater was GOLDEN EARRINGS (1947) with Marlene Dietrich and Ray Milland. It came out half a decade before the movie takes place, but perhaps it took a very long time to reach a small-town theater, or it was a rerelease?

Parental advisory: Some of the subject matter is fairly adult, though tastefully handled. Not intended for younger viewers.

Thanks to the Warner Archive and their wonderful release of this film I suppose I can finally discard the Beta recording of the movie I've been hanging on to for all these years! There are no extras on the DVD.

Highly recommended, especially for fans of James Garner -- and aren't we all?

Garner fans take note: I'll be reviewing the Warner Archive's Complete Third Season of MAVERICK in the near future.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

James Garner Memorabilia

Over the years I've become accustomed to favorite actors passing on. It's always sad, but it's an inevitable fact of life, and I try to focus instead on the wonderful things a performer has left behind for us to enjoy forever.

That said, I feel the loss of James Garner particularly acutely. He and his work are like a thread woven through my life, responsible for so many happy times and pleasant memories. Coming home from school to MAVERICK reruns, Friday nights with Jim Rockford, laughing over SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), and so much more.

He's even responsible for a dear friendship which began in the late '70s, as two young teen girls were amazed to discover we weren't each the "only one" obsessed with an "old" show, MAVERICK, and that friendship continues to this day. We now live several hours apart but just had dinner together a week ago, and there was a text from her on my phone early this morning sharing gratitude that James Garner had led to our friendship.

For many, many years I was a member of James Garner's Official Fan Club, which began in 1957. He was exceptionally good to his fans. Every year a new personalized autographed photo and personally signed Christmas card arrived. I must have a couple dozen such photos and cards, and I treasure them.

For the club's 25th and 30th anniversaries he gave us several hours of his time at celebratory luncheons. (I got to sit next to him to eat at the first one...!) Everyone who came had one-on-one time for photographs, autographs, and questions. I'm sure he might rather have been with his family or on the golf course but he was grateful to his fans, many of whom had followed his career for decades, and he treated us all with graciousness and class. I'll never forget that.

A napkin from the 30th anniversary luncheon:

And let's not forget his delightful Polaroid commercials with Mariette Hartley! They were such day-brighteners. I wrote to Polaroid and they sent me this cardboard ad which has been smiling at me from a bookshelf for over 30 years now. The color has faded a bit over the years but it still makes me happy to see it so I've kept it out where I can enjoy it all this time:

Here's a program from a neat event I attended at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1993, paying tribute to MAVERICK and ROCKFORD FILES creator Roy Huggins. Jim was there to honor Roy; I'm not sure if I talked to him that night, but Stephen J. Cannell and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who are both also gone now, signed my program:

I hope my readers will enjoy remembering James Garner and the special person he was via this peek at a small part of my collection.

Mary McNamara wrote a very nice piece paying tribute to James Garner at the Los Angeles Times ("Actor Changed What a Hero Could Be Like"). The Times obituary is here.

Incidentally, I can't help noting that MAVERICK's Bret Maverick, Dandy Jim Buckley, and Modesty Blaine have all passed on within just weeks of each other.

In closing, I think we all need a little of this today. Best opening credits sequence ever?

James Garner's daughter Gigi is active on Twitter at @mavrocksgirl if anyone would like to send condolences to the Garner family.

Jim's Official Facebook Page has been updated constantly throughout the day today with photos and remembrances, most recently by Tom Selleck and Sally Field. Drop in often.

Previously: James Garner, 1928-2014.

Update: TCM Remembers James Garner.