Saturday, December 07, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in February

Turner Classic Movies has posted the online preview of its February schedule.

TCM also posted the first three days of the March schedule, which combine with February to form the netowrk's annual 31 Days of Oscar series.

As always, there are many excellent films airing in February, though there isn't much variety in the schedule year to year, since only Oscar-nominated movies are shown.

A fun title I don't recall seeing on the February Oscars schedule in the past is WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951), which I enjoyed seeing at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

I WANT YOU (1951), a Korean War drama with Dana Andrews, has been shown on TCM periodically, but it's not in heavy rotation and is definitely worth checking out.

I'll post more about the February 2020 TCM schedule here around the end of next month.

Until then, Joan Blondell is currently the December Star of the Month, with Patricia Neal scheduled for January.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Murder is My Business (1946) - A ClassicFlix DVD Review

A few years ago I very much enjoyed Lloyd Nolan in 20th Century-Fox's Michael Shayne detective series.

Between 2011 and 2015 I reviewed Nolan in all seven of his Shayne films; links to my reviews may be found here.

I was thus delighted when I learned that ClassicFlix recently released a set of five additional Michael Shayne mysteries in "The Complete PRC Michael Shayne Mystery Collection."

The set, featuring Hugh Beaumont in the title role for low-budget studio PRC, is part of the ClassicFlix Silver Series of DVD relases.

As mentioned in my review of I MET MY LOVE AGAIN (1938) earlier this year, ClassicFlix describes the Silver Series in this way: "Knowing so many unseen and longed-for classics sit in studio vaults and other archives collecting dust, ClassicFlix established the Silver Series line to shine the light of day on such lesser-known titles by making them available in affordable DVD editions."

Silver Series discs are initially pressed, but when those supplies run low they may instead be released MOD (manufactured on demand).

The five Shayne films in the PRC set were released in 1946 and 1947. The first in the series, MURDER IS MY BUSINESS (1946), is a lively crime film which makes up for any lack of story-telling clarity by telling its tale with considerable energy in a brisk hour plus four minutes.

Those most familiar with star Beaumont from TV's LEAVE IT TO BEAVER may particularly enjoy seeing him in a completely different kind of role as a wise-cracking detective with a habit of leaving trails of peanut shells wherever he goes. I found the mess he made a bit baffling, but it's distinctive!

Wealthy Eleanor Ramsey (Helene Heigh) is murdered, and it's up to Michael Shayne to figure out whodunit from amidst a wide variety of suspects, including her husband (Pierre Watkin), unpleasant stepchildren (David Reed) and Dorothy (Julia McMillan), her brother (Lyle Talbot), and more. While working on the case Shayne tries to stay a step or two ahead of Detective Rafferty (Ralph Dunn), who finds Shayne an annoyance.

The movie was definitely made on a low budget; for instance, when Shayne gets into a car in front of the Ramsey mansion, he's clearly parked in front of a back projection. Similar techniques are used throughout the film, but in a weird way looking for the ways PRC cut corners is part of the charm.

Beaumont, Cheryl Walker as his "gal Friday" Phyllis, and Talbot as the ornery brother are particularly fun to watch. Some members of the low-budget cast like Heigh and McMillan I was frankly unfamiliar with, but then there's the always-reliable Virginia Christine (Mrs. Olson of Folger's Coffee, for those of you of a "certain age") doing a great job in a small, emotional part.

MURDER IS MY BUSINESS was directed by Sam Newfield and filmed in black and white by Jack Greenhalgh.

The DVD picture isn't great but is certainly watchable, especially considering this is such a low-budget movie. There are flaws, but even granting those, I honestly find it quite delightful that a rare film like this is available looking as good as it does.

More problematic is the soundtrack, with dialogue sometimes notably murky, such as in the opening scene where the lines are close to drowned out by the sound of the car's motor. The sound quality improves in some later scenes, but overall it was more of a strain for me to understand than is the case with the average DVD. (My hearing is admittedly not 100%, so "Your mileage may vary.")

All five films are presented on a single disc. The other films in the set are LARCENY IN HER HEART (1946), BLONDE FOR A DAY (1946), THREE ON A TICKET (1947), and TOO MANY WINNERS (1947).

An easygoing detective movie like this is just the kind of undemanding viewing I particularly enjoy at the end of a long day, and I'm looking forward to checking out the other films in the set.

Thanks to ClassicFlix for providing a review copy of this DVD.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

TCM Star of the Month: Joan Blondell

Beloved actress Joan Blondell is the December Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies.

Blondell's career will be celebrated every Thursday evening this month, continuing into Friday.

The first two weeks will focus on Joan's pre-Code years, followed by later movies and character roles. 29 films in all will be shown.

Below is the complete lineup; click any hyperlinked title for the related review.

Air times for varying time zones may be found on TCM's online schedule.

December 5th

MILLIE (1931)

December 12th

SMARTY (1934)
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933)

December 19th

CRY "HAVOC" (1944)

December 26th


Among these films I particularly recommend BLONDIE JOHNSON, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, and FOOTLIGHT PARADE. THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT is also a favorite, although Joan's role is relatively small.

I was honestly surprised that a fairly significant number of Blondell's movies aren't on the schedule, from NIGHT NURSE (1931) and UNION DEPOT (1932) to THERE'S ALWAYS A WOMAN (1938) and GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS (1939) to A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945) and NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947). I'm sure licensing issues must be at play in regards to Columbia and 20th Century-Fox titles I've mentioned here, but there are a number of early Blondell films -- including the aforementioned NIGHT NURSE and UNION DEPOT -- which TCM regularly shows and are not on this schedule. It would be interesting to know more.

Nonetheless, there are many very entertaining films being shown this month, and it's a great opportunity to enjoy the work of a wonderful actress thanks to Turner Classic Movies.

For more on TCM in December 2019, please visit my posts TCM in December: Highlights, TCM in December: Christmas Movies, and Quick Preview of TCM in December, along with TCM's online schedule.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Set-Up (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The boxing film THE SET-UP (1949) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

This was my first time to see this movie, which stars favorites Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter. I've held off seeing it in part as I've anticipated that at some point it would should up at a film festival, but since it came out on Blu-ray it was finally time to go ahead and check it out!

Ryan plays over-the-hill boxer Bill Thompson, who's convinced he's going to resurrect his fading career by winning his next fight.

Thompson's loyal wife Julie (Totter) can't stand watching her man beaten up fight after fight and decides to skip using her ticket to his latest boxing match. She instead spends the evening wandering the city.

As the fight unfolds in close to real time, Bill is improbably winning. Unfortunately, his manager Tiny (George Tobias) accepted money to throw the fight, being so sure that Thompson wouldn't win he didn't even bother to tell him. When Tiny is forced to spill the beans partway through the fight, Bill refuses to take the fall, but there will be consequences from the local crime boss (Alan Baxter) if he wins.

THE SET-UP is a short film, only 73 minutes, with its running time close to paralleling the time in which the story unfolds on the screen. Robert Wise directs with great attention to detail, painting an indelible portrait of the grimy, gritty boxing life, starting with the run-down hotel room across the street from the auditorium. It's a dark, dirty world filled with lowlifes, including many of the people shouting at the boxers from the audience.

Although much of the film is set in the boxing ring, my favorite scenes were watching Audrey Totter's walk through town. These moments provide a respite from the brutal story, but more than that, they're filled with great bits and pieces to look at -- a late-night hamburger stand, an electric trolley, teens out for a night of fun. Without any dialogue, Totter manages to convey the myriad feelings she's processing during her walk.

Ryan and Totter are simply superb as the couple whose lives and perhaps marriage have hit a crisis point. Bill counts on Julie's support and is crushed when her seat is empty, not quite realizing just how much it's killing her watching him continually beaten to a pulp, wondering if this is the night he won't make it home. They're both enormously touching.

The stark black and white cinematography of Milton Krasner is also impressive, from the scenes in the boxing ring to the evocatively lit scenes of Julie's walk.

All this said, THE SET-UP was a movie I admired but didn't greatly enjoy. While I appreciated many aspects of the film, noted above, this is quite a depressing movie, leading inexorably to a sad ending. With the exception of the lead actors, most of the characters are either awful or damaged. Additionally, with rare exceptions (mainly the ROCKY films) I don't especially enjoy boxing movies, and this one is especially brutal. Those who are up for this type of film will find it extremely well done, but it may not be for everyone.

The supporting cast includes Percy Helton, Wallace Ford, Herbert Anderson, and Darryl Hickman.

The Blu-ray is an excellent print. The disc includes a commentary track with director Wise joined by Martin Scorsese; this track originally appeared on the DVD release.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: The Far Country (1954) - An Arrow Academy Blu-ray Review

THE FAR COUNTRY (1954), one of my favorite Westerns directed by Anthony Mann, is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.

This impressive two-disc set includes the film shown in two different aspect ratios, 1.85 and 2.00. I watched the very nice-looking 1.85 version; that disc also includes a number of extras detailed at the end of this review.

I first saw THE FAR COUNTRY at UCLA as part of their 2014 Mann series. For me THE FAR COUNTRY ranks after BEND OF THE RIVER (1952) and WINCHESTER '73 (1950) as my favorite Anthony Mann-James Stewart Western.

I feel THE FAR COUNTRY occupies a sort of middle ground between those more optimistic films and Mann and Stewart's much heavier THE NAKED SPUR (1953) and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955). To be sure, Stewart's character goes to dark places in all five films and THE FAR COUNTRY gets pretty grim, with a high body count, but in the end Stewart's FAR COUNTRY character puts his "every man for himself" philosophy behind in order to end lawlessness and start building a community.

Stewart plays Jeff Gannon, who's working with Ben (Walter Brennan) and Rube (Jay C. Flippen) to herd cattle from Skagway to Dawson, where beef is worth a small fortune.

In Skagway Jeff runs into trouble with the crooked Judge Gannon (John McIntire), who's a law unto himself and claims the herd as his own. Few men are willing to go up against the judge, but Jeff manages to "steal" back his rightful herd and head them toward Dawson.

Along for the trek is Ronda (Ruth Roman) a Skagway saloon owner planning to open a new business in Dawson.

Before long Gannon also arrives in Dawson, where he and Madden (Robert J. Wilke) run roughshod over the local miners, stealing their claims and killing anyone who stands in their way. The intimidated townspeople must decide whether to turn over their claims to Gannon without a fight or stand up for themselves and their community.

I'd forgotten just how many characters are killed in the film's 97 minutes; it's in some ways a sad film due to this, but it's still one I really enjoy, building to a satisfying conclusion.

Brennan is particularly good as the coffee-loving Ben, who's able to bring out Jeff's kinder side. While Jeff mostly claims to be looking out for himself, at times Ben and Renee (Corinne Calvet) are able to get Jeff, through affection or shame, to do the right thing.

Calvet, as the more "wholesome" love interest vying with "bad girl" Ronda for Jeff's affections, can be a bit tiresome with her repetitive "I'm not a child" type lines, but in the end her goodness wins over both Jeff and the viewer. Roman brings an extra bit of energy to all her scenes as a woman with uncertain motivations and alliances; like Jeff, she's looking out for Number One.

Although, as pointed out in one of the featurettes, some of the film was clearly done on soundstages, the Canadian locations are nonetheless impressive. When watching this film I feel as though I can sense just how cold it was as the characters huddle around the coffee pot over the campfire. I really appreciate the film's unique sense of place in the snowy mountains, as filmed by William H. Daniels.

I also particularly enjoy the film for its cast, including Mann regulars such as McIntire, Flippen, and Harry Morgan. The great character actor names in the cast go on and on: Steve Brodie, Chubby Johnson, Jack Elam, John Doucette, Royal Dano, Kathleen Freeman, Chuck Roberson, Connie Gilchrist, and more.

It's interesting that Borden Chase wrote (or cowrote) my top three favorite Mann-Stewart Westerns, but he didn't work on THE NAKED SPUR or THE MAN FROM LARAMIE. Chase's work also included RED RIVER (1948).

Disc One extras include a commentary track by Adrian Martin; a featurette with critical commentary by Kim Newman; and a very good 34-minute documentary, AMERICAN FRONTIERS, ANTHONY MANN AT UNIVERSAL (2019) which includes interviews with several historians including Rob Word, Michael Schlesinger, and most extensively, Alan K. Rode. The trailer and an image gallery are also included.

The final edition of this Blu-ray will include a limited edition booklet with an essay by Philip Kemp. The booklet and reversible case cover art were not included in the advance promotional copy of the set which I reviewed.

THE FAR COUNTRY joins a number of excellent classic film releases from Arrow this year. Recommended.

Thanks to Arrow Academy for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

TCM in December: Highlights

It's hard to believe that 2019 will soon be drawing to a close, so it's time for a look at the December schedule for Turner Classic Movies!

Joan Blondell will be the December Star of the Month. Blondell beat out Joan Bennett in voting held by members of TCM Backlot. I love both Joans and am hoping Bennett will also have her own special month before long!

29 of Blondell's films will be shown this month, spread across Thursday evenings. I'll have a closer look at this month's lineup of Blondell films posted here ahead of the first day's lineup on Thursday, December 5th. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Joan Blondell.)

The November Noir Alley titles will be BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) on December 7th and 8th, CRISS CROSS (1949) on the 14th and 15th, CASH ON DEMAND (1961) on December 21st and 22nd, and REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947) airing December 28th and 29th.

While CRISS CROSS is a big favorite of mine, I love REPEAT PERFORMANCE even more. I've been fortunate to see it in 35mm at various festivals in recent years, and I'm thrilled that it will be shown on TCM. It's the perfect movie for New Year's week.

The TCM Spotlight will focus on "Remakes" every Monday and Saturday, showing multiple versions of the same story. There's also a special "Pets on Sets" theme on Wednesdays, featuring movies about animals.

As always, TCM has many Christmas films on this month's schedule. I've shared the complete Christmas movie lineup in a separate post, TCM in December: Christmas Movies.

Here's a look at some additional highlights airing on TCM this month. Please click any hyperlinked title to read my full-length review.

...Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, and Janet Leigh star in the wonderful swashbuckler SCARAMOUCHE (1952) on Monday, December 2nd. It's preceded by the 1923 silent version.

...Prime time on December 3rd will be devoted to Michael Feinstein hosting a tribute to actor-pianist Oscar Levant. That's the kind of great programming one can only find on TCM. The films shown that night will be HUMORESQUE (1946), THE BAND WAGON (1953), THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949), THE I DON'T CARE GIRL (1953), and ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948). A short 1958 interview with Levant will also be shown. This is a terrific lineup, with THE BAND WAGON (seen at left) and ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS particularly recommended; the former is one of the greatest of all MGM musicals, starring Fred Astaire, and the latter is the film which made Doris Day a star.

...The "Pets on Sets" series begins December 4th. One of the lesser-known titles that evening is MY PAL, WOLF (1944), a well-done family film starring the fine child actress Sharyn Moffett.

...SHOW BOAT (1951), airing on Friday, December 6th, is a very fine, colorful rendition of the classic Jerome Kern musical; I'd go so far as to say it's underrated. The top cast includes Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Marge & Gower Champion, and Ava Gardner. It will also be shown as part of the "remakes" series on December 30th, along with the 1929 and 1936 versions!

...CAREFREE (1938) is one of my favorite Astaire-Rogers films. It's perhaps a little more screwball comedy than musical, but it's good fun and has held up to many repeat viewings over the years. It's shown early on December 8th.

...The lineup of remakes on Monday, December 9th, includes THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) and HIGH SOCIETY (1956). I revisited HIGH SOCIETY at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival for the first time in a number of years, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, truth to tell, I may like that version just a little more than THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.

...UNEXPECTED UNCLE (1941) is a short (67 minutes!) and cute RKO romantic comedy starring Anne Shirley, James Craig, and Charles Coburn, whose role is somewhat of a test run for his Oscar-winning part in THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) just a couple of years later. It's the kind of movie which is cheery viewing in keeping with this festive time of year. It may be seen on December 10th.

...It's a good month for MGM musicals on TCM! The lineup on Frank Sinatra's December 12th birthday includes ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945) in which he starred with Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson.

...On December 13th TCM will celebrate the 80th anniversary of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), which premiered in Atlanta on December 15th, 1939. In addition to showing the film, TCM will also show the documentary THE MAKING OF A LEGEND: GONE WITH THE WIND (1988). GONE WITH THE WIND will be shown a second time on December 14th.

...Marion Davies stars in the silent film BEAUTY'S WORTH (1922) on December 15th. The movie is shown as part of "Silent Sunday Nights," hosted by Jacqueline Stewart. A DVD of this one is in my "watch" stack!

...December 17th features a night of films paying tribute to performers who died this year and did not receive individual TCM tributes at the time of their passing. The evening begins honoring Julie Adams with a showing of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). Also honored: David Hedison, Carol Channing, Tim Conway, Rutger Hauer, and Bibi Andersson.

...The "Pets on Sets" lineup on December 18th includes Clint Eastwood in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978), which I just reviewed a few days ago. It's included as the cast includes an orangutan named Clyde. I likened the movie to a "Beach Party" film; see what you think!

...Yet another MGM musical will be shown on December 21st, when Judy Garland and Gene Kelly star in Vincente Minnelli's THE PIRATE (1948).

...THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT (1957) will be shown on December 26th. It's a quirky feel-good film about a teacher (Jean Simmons) who takes a second job as secretary at a nightclub, where she becomes involved in the lives of various employees. Robert Wise directed. The movie is part of the Joan Blondell lineup but I'm also mentioning it here as I found this film something of a hidden gem when I saw it last year, and it's another good title for upbeat viewing during the holidays.

...A birthday tribute to Sydney Greenstreet on December 27th includes the terrific Joan Crawford melodrama FLAMINGO ROAD (1949) and then a completely different type of film, the very enjoyable Ida Lupino WWII comedy, PILLOW TO POST (1945).

...William Lundigan and Dorothy Patrick star in Richard Fleischer's enjoyable hour-long crime film FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949) on December 28th. Karen just wrote a very nice tribute to Patrick at her blog Shadows and Satin. (While you're there, also check out her piece on another favorite Dorothy, Dorothy Hart.)

...There's more MGM musical goodness on the 29th, BELLS ARE RINGING (1960) with Judy Holliday and Dean Martin (at right).

Here's TCM's short promo video showing some of the good things coming to the network in December.

For more on TCM in December, please visit my posts TCM in December: Christmas Movies, TCM Star of the Month: Joan Blondell, and Quick Preview of TCM in December, along with TCM's online schedule and "Highlights" page.

Merry Christmas and early best wishes for a very happy 2020!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

TCM in December: Christmas Movies

It's the last day of November, and that means it's time for my annual guide to Christmas movies on this year's Turner Classic Movies schedule!

Starting on December 1st, TCM will be showcasing Christmas movies on Sundays, with an extensive daytime lineup along with a "double feature" in prime time.

Additional films are scattered throughout the month, with many films airing from December 22nd straight through Christmas Day.

Please click on any link below for an extended review. In the case of several films which will be shown multiple times, reviews are only linked the first time the title is mentioned.

December 1st:


December 2nd:

KING OF KINGS (1917 and 1961 versions)
BEN-HUR (1925 and 1959 versions)

December 8th:


December 11th:


December 15th:


December 16th:

LITTLE WOMEN (1933 and 1949 versions)

December 22nd:


December 23rd:


December 24th:


December 25th:


Christmas titles shown on TCM vary a bit from year to year for a variety of reasons. Among the films which haven't turned up on the TCM schedule this Christmas season are HOLIDAY INN (1942), CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946), COVER UP (1949), TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), and DESK SET (1957), along with WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954), which I don't recall ever being shown on TCM. I list these films simply to provide additional ideas for home viewing.

This year Noir Alley will be debuting the marvelous REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947) on December 28th and 29th. This magical film has a New Year's Eve setting which makes it perfect for this time of year. Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward, Richard Basehart, and Tom Conway head an excellent cast.

As is often the case, New Year's Eve on TCM will be spent with the THIN MAN series and the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! musical compilation films.

For more information on TCM's December 2019 schedule, please also visit the online TCM schedule, along with my posts TCM in December: Highlights, TCM Star of the Month: Joan Blondell, and Quick Preview of TCM in December.

Merry Christmas!

Tonight's Movie: Frozen II (2019)

It's hard to believe half a dozen years have passed since the release of Disney's FROZEN (2013), an outstanding animated musical whose popularity hasn't slacked a bit with the passage of time, at least if the number of little girls dressed as Anna or Elsa at Disneyland is anything to go by.

The entire voice cast returns for FROZEN II (2019), an excellent film which is part sequel, part origin story. As the film begins, we see Young Anna (Hadley Gannaway) and Young Elsa (Mattea Conforti) with their parents (Evan Rachel Wood and Alfred Molina), learning a bit of their family history.

After the opening title credit the film jumps to present day, where the parents have been dead for several years and Elsa (Idina Menzel) is hearing a haunting tune no one else can hear. Suddenly the kingdom of Arendelle begins experiencing strange occurrences, including an earthquake and disappearing water and fire.

Elsa, her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna's sweetheart Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf the enchanted snowman (Josh Gad), and Sven the reindeer venture to an enchanted forest, where they will confront the girls' family history and attempt to save Arendelle's future.

The problems the group faces may be slightly convoluted at times, but it's nonetheless an interesting film which continues to spotlight a pair of unique, strong female characters. The intrepid Elsa is a force to be reckoned with, while the more overtly emotional and exuberant Anna likewise proves her mettle.

Kristoff is pushed a bit to the side, but FROZEN has always been first and foremost the story of Elsa and Anna's relationship, and Kristoff shows up when it counts. The style of Kristoff's solo "Lost in the Woods" likewise seems somewhat out of keeping with the tenor of the rest of the film, coming off more as teenybopper music than a Broadway-style show tune. I discovered that others have commented on this, including an article at Gizmodo.

The rest of the songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are strong, though I confess a preference for the catchier tunes of the original film. (While Elsa's anthem "Let It Go" has become rightfully famous, my favorite song from that film is the lilting "For the First Time in Forever.") "The Next Right Thing," "Into the Unknown," and "Show Yourself" all provide stirring moments, with Elsa again having an emotional high point with "Show Yourself."

The film is visually stunning, to the extent it could probably be enjoyed with the soundtrack turned off. The sets and costumes, the icy diamonds which sometimes float through the air, Elsa's ice horse, and so much more combine for an exquisitely beautiful viewing experience.

All in all, while I had slight reservations here and there, FROZEN II joins its predecessor as a top-drawer animated Disney musical, and I look forward to revisiting it in the future.

FROZEN II was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee from Lee's screenplay, based on a story by five contributors including herself and Buck. The running time is 103 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG.

A trailer may be found here. Additional trailers are available at the film's official website.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Charley Varrick (1973) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The top-notch heist film CHARLEY VARRICK (1973), directed by Don Siegel, is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

I first saw this film, which stars Walter Matthau in the title role, at the 2017 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. For various reasons I hadn't been sure going in whether or not I'd like it, and as it turned out I found the movie mesmerizing. My reaction on revisiting it today, two and a half years later, was the same. It's a terrific film, with intricate plotting and a top-notch cast.

Charley and his gang, including wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and younger Harman Sullivan (Andrew "Andy" Robinson), regularly replenish their funds hitting up small-town banks. A robbery in sleepy Tres Cruces, New Mexico, goes awry when people start shooting.

(A fun note guest Andrew Robinson shared with the audience at the Lyons Festival: The car hood popping open during the getaway was not in the plans, but the cameras kept rolling and they improvised.)

Charley and Harman make their getaway, discovering they have miraculously stolen three quarters of a million dollars. Harman is overjoyed, but Charley quickly deduces it's actually bad news; that kind of money shouldn't have been in a bank that small, and it's very possibly "off the books" money stashed away by the Mafia.

Charley's guess is correct, and hit man Molly (Joe Don Baker) is quickly on the trail of the money and the people who have it. Charley, meanwhile, coolly maps out a survival strategy, setting up an elaborate chess game with his mob pursuer, who presents a much bigger problem than law enforcement.

I think I actually liked the film even more the second time around, as I better understood the payoffs for Charley's different moves, including some of the red herrings he throws onto the trail.

I'm not particularly a Matthau fan, but he's simply perfect for this role. (I also really enjoyed him this year in another Kino release, the 1965 film MIRAGE.) Matthau carries the majority of the film, and it's a lot of fun watching him do his thing. As the story develops, the movie gradually flips how Charley is viewed by the audience; he starts out as murderous robber but becomes an antihero as he goes up against crooks who are even more lethal than he is. The audience ends up rooting for Charley because Molly is such a nasty piece of work.

The cast is filled with terrific faces, starting with Robinson as Charley's hapless, none-too-smart sidekick. Robinson also shared in his 2017 interview that he received stunt pay working on Siegel's films -- he was also in DIRTY HARRY (1971) -- and that a rough sequence he filmed with Baker was not one of his favorite acting experiences. The interview may be seen in two parts at the Film Noir Foundation website.

The wonderful William Schallert is the Las Cruces sheriff, and Marjorie Bennett plays the trailer park busybody. Monica Lewis, Sheree North, and Felicia Farr are a trio of ladies affiliated with the mob. That's Kathleen O'Malley (Prudence in John Ford's WAGON MASTER) playing Jessie, the sheriff's dispatcher early in the film.

Also on hand are Benson Fong, Bob Steele, Woodrow Parfrey, John Vernon, Norman Fell, Rudy Diaz, and Tom Tully, in his last feature film.

CHARLEY VARRICK runs 111 minutes. It was written by Howard Rodman and Dean Riesner, based on a novel by John Reese, THE LOOTERS. It was filmed by Michael C. Butler.

Kino Lorber didn't stint on the extras for this release. In addition to a commentary track by the always-worthwhile Toby Roan, there's a recent 72-minute documentary, THE LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS (2015), which includes interviews with Andrew Robinson, Jacqueline Scott, and Don Siegel's son, actor-director Kristoffer Tabori.

There are additional featurettes, TV spots, the trailer, and a glossy eight-page booklet with an essay by Nick Pinkerton.

Kino Lorber has also released CHARLEY VARRICK on DVD.

Fans of heist films will enjoy this very entertaining film and Kino Lorber's excellent release.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes to all my readers for a blessed Thanksgiving!

Here's a very young Loretta Young in a studio publicity shot. I'm always amazed at how many holiday photos the studios produced for fan magazines and the like.

My gratitude to everyone who visits this blog, I am thankful for each one of you! Enjoy a wonderful holiday!

Previous Hollywood Thanksgiving photos: Jeanne Crain, Angela Greene, Ann Blyth, Marsha Hunt, Hedy Lamarr, and Phyllis Thaxter.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Christmas in July (1940) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Kino Lorber has recently had a lineup of particularly good new releases, several of which I'll be reviewing here in the near future.

One of those films is CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940), which was released this week by Kino Lorber alongside the British Christmas film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952); the latter film will also be reviewed here soon.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY technically isn't a Christmas film, but one of its main themes is about the happiness which comes from helping others, making it particularly good viewing at this time of year. It's a short little 67-minute classic written and directed by the great Preston Sturges.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY is the story of Jimmy (Dick Powell), an office clerk who believes he's won a fortune in a contest by creating a new ad slogan for a coffee company.

Jimmy has been stuck in a dead-end job and suddenly has enough money to marry his sweetheart Betty (Ellen Drew) and make life better for his family and friends. The day of his win holds many more surprises which won't be spoiled here; along the way Sturges' script explores additional themes such as the importance of hope and the pitfalls of celebrity.

Powell and Drew are excellent, with Powell particularly moving as a frustrated man who suddenly finds himself living a joyous dream, with money to spend and bright job prospects ahead. The pretty Drew's career wasn't especially splashy but she worked steadily and gave excellent performances in a number of films, including JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), which reunited her with Powell, and STARS IN MY CROWN (1950) with Joel McCrea. CHRISTMAS IN JULY is another strong performance from Drew.

The film is a who's who of great character faces, including Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Rod Cameron, Ernest Truex, and Ferike Boros.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Victor Milner.

I first reviewed this film here in 2008 and saw it again at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. This is a good one to return to every few years, so I was delighted to watch it again thanks to this beautiful new Kino Lorber release. The print is lovely.

The interesting audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan delves into Sturges' films and their themes; she also comments on other aspects, such as the very realistic strain underlying Jimmy and Betty's relationship. (That angle was frankly a surprise to me the first time I saw the film, as it's portrayed in a different tone than one tends to see in that era.) It's a thoughtful and well-researched commentary which added to my enjoyment of the film.

Additional extras are the trailer and a gallery of trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

Another lesser-known Sturges film released the same year, THE GREAT MCGINTY (1940), will be released by Kino Lorber in January.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.