Friday, September 18, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Woman in Red (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Barbara Stanwyck stars in the melodrama THE WOMAN IN RED (1935), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Stanwyck plays Shelby, an equestrienne working for a wealthy widow, Nicko (Genevieve Tobin).

Shelby falls for Johnny (Gene Raymond), who plays polo with Nicko's backing; it's implied Johnny and Nicko are also having an affair.  When Johnny proposes to Shelby, the calculating Nicko is infuriated.

Shelby and Johnny quickly marry and struggle to set up their own business renovating and running some stables.  The kind Eugene (John Eldredge), another member of Nicko's social set, loans Shelby some of the money needed to back the venture, but she doesn't tell Johnny where she got it.  Shelby and Eugene have a platonic friendship, but that doesn't stop Nicko from gossiping about them.

Later, while Johnny is away, Shelby tries to repay Eugene's help by joining him on his yacht to help him entertain an important business client.  When a woman falls overboard and accidentally drowns, Eugene somehow sneaks Shelby off the yacht so that her name won't be tarnished by the incident...but then Eugene is charged with murder.  Should Shelby risk her marriage by disclosing she was present and testifying at the inquest?

This is a short and sweet 68-minute soap opera of the two-and-a-half star variety: It's nothing special, but thanks to the good cast it's an entertaining hour-plus of time.  Is Barbara Stanwyck ever not worth watching?

I like Gene Raymond well enough in light romantic comedies and musicals like WALKING ON AIR (1936), LOVE ON A BET (1936), and CROSS-COUNTRY ROMANCE (1940), but I find him less satisfying in melodramas such as this film or THE HOUSE ON 56TH STREET (1933); there's just something about "serious Gene Raymond" which is too bland and doesn't go over as well as the more good-natured romantic comedy version.  

This film has a nice part for John Eldredge, who frankly is more appealing than Raymond, to the point I rather wished he and Stanwyck would go off into the sunset together.  Earlier this year, incidentally, I had the honor of visiting Eldredge's final resting place in Corona del Mar, California.

Tobin is always fun to watch, and she has a ball here as a very wicked woman.  The supporting cast also includes Philip Reed, Bill Elliott, Doris Lloyd, Nella Walker, Claude Gillingwater, Russell Hicks, Dorothy Tree, and Forrester Harvey.  George Chandler can be spotted as a photographer in the courtroom scenes.

THE WOMAN IN RED was directed by Robert Florey and filmed by Sol Polito.  The script by Mary McCall Jr. and Peter Milne was based on the novel NORTH SHORE by Wallace Irwin.

THE WOMAN IN RED was first available from the Warner Archive a decade ago.  The DVD is one of the rougher-looking Warner Archive prints I've viewed, with numerous scratches and spots at some points, but otherwise it's quite watchable, with no jumps or skips.  The soundtrack has a bit of static but again serves the purpose.  There are no extras on the disc.

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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: Hollywood Hates Hitler!


It was written by Chris Yogerst, an online friend of several years who is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

He previously authored FROM THE HEADLINES TO HOLLYWOOD: THE BIRTH AND BOOM OF WARNER BROS., which I reviewed in 2017.

In this new book Chris covers an interesting niche in history, the battle between the Hollywood studios and Congress over Hollywood's proper "role" leading up to World War II.

Many movie moguls were immigrants from Europe who as the '30s unfolded became acutely conscious of Hitler's threat, both to the world in general and to Jews specifically. The studios began releasing films such as CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939), THE MORTAL STORM (1940), and THE MAN I MARRIED (1940), to name just a few, in order to alert the public to the looming danger.

Isolationist senators considered these films "warmongering," and in September 1941 a Senate subcommittee began an investigation on Hollywood war propaganda.

The book relies extensively on primary source documents, including Congressional records, to detail a time in history which was pushed out of the public consciousness when debate on propaganda and entering the war was "overtaken by events" beginning on December 7, 1941.

The author does an excellent job setting the context regarding politics and 1930s Hollywood, including efforts by the Germans to establish pro-Nazi groups in California; the citizens who infiltrated and spied on these groups might have been worthy of a movie themselves!

The hearings are covered in a "you are there" manner in great detail. I imagine the extensive plunge into Congressional records and testimony might be dry reading for some, but as someone who's been interested in Hollywood and World War II since my teenage years -- I wrote a school report on the topic when I was 14! -- I was very interested, especially as I previously knew next to nothing about the hearings. I had a vague knowledge from references in other books that there was conflict between Hollywood and politicians prior to the war, but this was my first "deep dive" into the topic.

My one criticism of the book is that I would have liked detailed critical assessments of the films at issue and their specific content in some sort of organized way, in part because I respect Chris and would have enjoyed reading his insights on the movies, and also as I think it would have added some additional depth and color to the topic at hand. However, I suspect because the material was already so dense, detailed discussion of the films might have been too unwieldy to include.

Instead mentions of the movies are woven into the greater narrative about Hollywood versus the Senate; sometimes brief information on a film is provided, including contemporary critical reaction or box office performance, while other titles are mentioned in passing. Perhaps this topic instead calls for a second volume! (I can hope...) I mention my thoughts here in part so that future readers will know what to expect in terms of what is and isn't covered.

HOLLYWOOD HATES HITLER! is an important record documenting a previously undercovered yet important moment in both Hollywood and World War II history. As modern media's influence in politics continues to be a critical issue, the book also has significant resonance for today's reader.

I reviewed a softcover advance reading copy which was just over 200 pages long and was not yet indexed. The book contains a limited number of black and white photographs of varied quality printed directly on the pages.

Thanks to Chris Yogerst and the University Press of Mississippi for providing a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Photos From the Road: Bridgeport, Part 2

Here's the second part of my photos from last month's visit to Bridgeport in California's Eastern High Sierras.

Part 1, including locations seen in the films OUT OF THE PAST (1947) and NIGHTFALL (1957), may be found here. More movie location information may be found below!

The beautiful meadows between Bridgeport and the camping areas a few miles outside town:

Robinson Creek, next to the spot where we have camped many times over the years. The water was getting low in August.

We spent a beautiful afternoon at Lower Twin Lake, which feeds Robinson Creek:

This year we returned to the spot on Upper Twin Lake where director Jacques Tourneur filmed both OUT OF THE PAST and NIGHTFALL. The slanted tree marks Aldo Ray and Frank Albertson's camping spot in NIGHTFALL, where a horrible crime is committed. I first shared photos of this location in 2014; it's virtually unchanged over the decades, with the big tree bending in the same way as it does in NIGHTFALL. Robert Mitchum and Virginia Huston went fishing here in OUT OF THE PAST slightly to the right of the area seen in this photo.

When Robert Mitchum flew to Bridgeport to work on OUT OF THE PAST, his career -- and his life -- could have ended when his plane crash-landed here at Bryant Field, the small airport just outside of town. The brakes failed and two of the plane's four occupants were knocked unconscious, but Mitchum was unhurt.

Somehow over the years we had never been to the Travertine Hot Springs right outside of town, so we enjoyed exploring that area on this year's trip.

Hot -- or sometimes boiling -- water bubbles up in various spots all over the hot springs area.

Some of the pools were either murky, as seen here, or had water which was too hot to touch, but there were also a few pools which seemed to have fresher and more temperate water.

Since the nicest pools were filled with bathers we didn't photograph those; one was located just to the right of the dog in this photo.

There's a beautiful view of the town of Bridgeport from the springs...

...and here's a view with a closer lens. You can make out the courthouse! Click on any photograph to enlarge it for a closer look.

There are interesting geologic formations throughout the area.

A lot of natural beauty here!

Still to come: Photos from Highway 395, Lone Pine, and the Alabama Hills.

Previous photos from this road trip: Photos From the Road: Halfway House Cafe and Vasquez Rocks, Photos From the Road: Hot Creek Geological Site, Photos From the Road: Bridgeport, Part 1, and A Visit to Glen Haven Memorial Park.

Past photo posts on Bridgeport and local movie locations: Out of the Past (1947) in Bridgeport, California (2010); Independence Day in Bridgeport, California (2010); Back From the Sierras! (2012); Bridgeport, California Movie Locations (2014).

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tonight’s Movie: In Old California (1942)

I've now caught up with IN OLD CALIFORNIA (1942), a John Wayne film for Republic Pictures, as part of my quest to see all of Wayne's films of the '40s.

Last month I saw another of Wayne's '40s Republic films, DAKOTA (1945). DAKOTA was much the better film of the two, although IN OLD CALIFORNIA had some enjoyable moments scattered throughout.

The somewhat unusual plot finds Wayne playing Tom Craig, a pharmacist from Boston who arrives to set up business in booming Gold Rush era California. Craig is a mild-mannered, good-natured gentleman who orders milk at a bar and refuses to become outraged when he's ill treated, even when tossed off a boat in the middle of a river! He just shrugs and carries on, always looking at the bright side.

It should be clear that Craig is no wimp, possessing both moral and physical strength; the latter is hinted at when he fascinates onlookers by periodically bending coins with his fingers. He's simply judicious when it comes to picking his battles.

In Sacramento Craig gets to know two very different ladies: Lacey (Binnie Barnes), a saloon gal who's an item with a local crook, Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), and Ellen (Helen Parrish, THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP), a proper young lady visiting from San Francisco. Craig goes into business with Lacey when she becomes a partner in his pharmacy, and he proposes marriage to Ellen.

As time goes on Lacey loses interest in Dawson and falls hard for her business partner, while Ellen gradually reveals a calculating shrew underneath her sweet-tempered exterior.

Meanwhile, there are problems as Dawson tries to drive Craig out of business...and there's an epidemic brewing at a mining camp outside of town...

Wayne is appealing as the pharmacist, and one of the more interesting aspects of the movie is seeing someone with that degree essentially acting as a doctor at times, dispensing medicine from his shop as needed, while also providing aid to a medical doctor.

I really enjoy Parrish, but her role as Craig's fiancee is underdeveloped; I don't know whether that's the fault of the script by Gertrude Purcell and Frances Hyland or if scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. Barnes fares better in a larger part, but on the whole the movie could have used less "comic relief" (from Patsy Kelly and Edgar Kennedy) and reduced the extensive "riding around shooting" action scenes in the last third of the movie in favor of more plot.

My favorite thing about this movie is a related anecdote by Barnes. In a 1985 interview she was asked who was the best actor she'd ever worked with: Laurence Olivier? Ralph Richardson? Her reply was "John Wayne."

IN OLD CALIFORNIA runs 88 minutes. It was directed by William C. McGann. The black and white cinematography was by Jack Marta. Location filming took place in Kernville, along with Big Tujunga Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains, but the movie also relies heavily on back projections and soundstage "exteriors."

The supporting cast includes Dick Purcell, Charles Halton, Harry Shannon, Milton Kibbee, Anne O'Neal, Esther Estrella, and Emily LaRue.

IN OLD CALIFORNIA is available on DVD in multiple editions. I found my copy, labeled Republic Pictures, in a used DVD store earlier this year, not long before everything shut down. It's also been released by Olive Films which can typically be counted on to do a nice job.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Fast and Loose (1930) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

As regular readers are aware, this summer Kino Lorber has released quite a few interesting classic film collections, centered around a variety of genres and performers.

One of the company's most recent sets is the Carole Lombard Collection I, consisting of a trio of early Lombard films: FAST AND LOOSE (1930), MAN OF THE WORLD (1931), and NO MAN OF HER OWN (1932).

MAN OF THE WORLD teams Lombard with her first husband, William Powell, to whom she was wed from 1931 to 1933, while NO MAN OF HER OWN pairs her with the man she would marry in 1939, Clark Gable.

I began the set watching the oldest film, FAST AND LOOSE. This is actually really Miriam Hopkins' film rather than Lombard's, with Carole in the second female lead. Either way, I'm glad it was included in the set as I had never seen it before, and I enjoyed it quite well.

Hopkins plays wealthy Marion Lenox, the type of dizzy heiress which Lombard would later play to perfection herself in films such as MY MAN GODFREY (1936).

Marion has just become engaged to stuffy Brit Lord Rockingham (David Hutcheson), but she doesn't love him and ditches her own engagement party.

Marion drives to the beach, where she chances to meet a handsome man (Charles Starrett) she initially knows only by his first name, Henry. Though she pretends to insult him, she's clearly interested and arranges to meet him again the next night, and the two fall madly in love. Marion promptly ends her engagement, determined that her future is with Henry.

Big surprises await when Marion discovers that Henry is her family's newly hired auto mechanic. Henry loves Marion but has pride and doesn't want to marry a rich girl, leaving Marion desperately trying to figure out how to hold on to the man she loves.

Meanwhile Marion's brother Bertie (Henry Wadsworth) is in love with a pretty, proper chorus girl named Alice (Lombard), who won't marry him unless he stops drinking and gets his act together.

The romances collide when everyone, including Marion and Bertie's father Bronson (Frank Morgan), ends up at a roadhouse just before it's raided by the police.

I found this film a nice surprise, a screwball-type romantic comedy which overcomes the awkwardness of early sound filming and proves to be quite amusing.

The camera setups by William Steiner are noticeably static, making the movie feel more like a play at times, especially as the entire thing is pretty much filmed in medium shots. And as a matter of fact, the Preston Sturges script was indeed based on a play, THE BEST PEOPLE, by David Gray and Avery Hopwood.

It boded well to find Sturges' name in the opening credits; this was one of his first films, and there's some nice, crisp dialogue scattered throughout, along with a couple of sexist comments best forgotten. (I didn't take them seriously anyway, this being a comedy.) The movie has a lively script and performances which take the film past the occasional feeling that groups of people are being filmed room by room. At some points there's more creative staging, with a scene where Hopkins joins Starrett under a car being quite delightful, along with a swimming sequence.

Hopkins is always fun in comedies, and this one is no exception; I love her breathless dialogue deliveries as she gets to know Henry. Future cowboy star Starrett is a bit stiff in his first credited role, but it fits his upright character and makes a good contrast with Hopkins' giddiness.

Wadsworth does well as Bertie in the type of role Lew Ayres excelled at (i.e., HOLIDAY). Lombard is unfortunately fairly bland here, as the restrained, noble Alice; there's no hint that not too many years later she'd be capable of pulling off a comedic performance on the same level as Hopkins.

Morgan is good as the rueful father with a twinkle in his eye, who comes to realize that marrying "lower class" people just might be the making of his children. Winifred Harris plays his dramatic wife, with Herbert Yost (aka Barry O'Moore) as her brother George, a Roland Young type character who is stunned to be chased around the roadhouse by Alice's wild roommate Millie (Ilka Chase).

Fred C. Newmeyer directed the film, which runs a well-paced 70 minutes. It's interesting to note that this film was shot in New York, rather than California.

The print is somewhat soft, as might be expected of a film of this vintage, and has a relatively rough soundtrack which shows it age. (The film does have subtitles for anyone who might need a bit of assistance.) That said, the film was still perfectly enjoyable, and it's wonderful that it's now widely available on Blu-ray.

Note: This film has no connection to the MGM film FAST AND LOOSE (1939), which starred Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell.

The Blu-ray disc includes trailers for three additional Carole Lombard films available from Kino Lorber.

I've seen the other two films in this set, but it's been many years, and I look forward to revisiting them soon. I'll also be very interested to see which Lombard films Kino Lorber releases as a follow-up to this initial collection.

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

Photos From the Road: Bridgeport, Part 1

Here's a new installment of trips from last month's visit to the High Sierras!

We spent most of our vacation in Bridgeport, one of my favorite places on earth. It's always good to see it come into view once more (above), and various signs around town made clear they were happy to welcome back visitors after travel was discouraged for much of the year due to COVID. The local economy is heavily dependent on tourism.

I've shared some Bridgeport movie location photos in years past, which are linked at the bottom of this post. For those who might be newer readers, director Jacques Tourneur filmed two wonderful movies in Bridgeport, OUT OF THE PAST (1947) and NIGHTFALL (1957).

The house above was "Ann's house" in OUT OF THE PAST, where Robert Mitchum picked up Virginia Huston for their fateful drive to Lake Tahoe.

Jeff Bailey's gas station was on the corner where the fire department is now located. The old white school building seen in the distance behind the gas station in the movie was moved to the town park, where it's now a museum, and a more modern school was built on its site. The original school was also seen in NIGHTFALL, where it was said to be a church.

Ken's Sporting Goods, below on the left, was the site of "Marny's Diner" in OUT OF THE PAST.

For more photos and information on location filming in Bridgeport, please check out the links at the bottom of this post.

The Mono County Courthouse, built in 1880, is also seen in the background in OUT OF THE PAST.

I love the quaint signs at the Silver Maple Inn.

Years ago the crew stayed here when filming a very minor crime film, HIGHWAY 395 (2000); we saw Fred Dryer around town working on the movie.

The Silver Maple Inn also operates the Cain House B&B next door.

I love the charming 1881 Coffee Cafe next door to the Cain House.

I stopped in each morning!

My favorite place in town is the High Sierra Bakery, established in 1952. This year there was a "socially distanced" line down the street and one person at a time entered to purchase their goodies.

The Barn has some of the best fast food you'll find anywhere. Love their burgers and Mexican food.

The picturesque Community Church:

Although the movie filmed in Wyoming, Bridgeport and its cemetery, which sits on a hill at the edge of town, had a strong influence on George Stevens and his design of the classic Western SHANE (1953).

Stevens was quoted in an interview describing Bridgeport as "very unlike other California towns" and described how it gave him ideas for SHANE: "There was the funeral on the hilltop, and there was the distance where the cattle grazed, and then there was the town at the crossing, a western town like other western towns were. There were the great mountains that rose behind it. This was all arranged in one camera view... That worked its way into the picture from an idea that came to me in Bridgeport, a small town in California."

Above is the sign for the Ruby Inn. If we're not camping outside of town, we always stay here!

Update: Photos From the Road: Bridgeport, Part 2.

Previous photos from this summer's road trip: Photos From the Road: Halfway House Cafe and Vasquez Rocks, Photos From the Road: Hot Creek Geological Site, and A Visit to Glen Haven Memorial Park.

Past photo posts on Bridgeport and local movie locations: Out of the Past (1947) in Bridgeport, California (2010); Independence Day in Bridgeport, California (2010); Back From the Sierras! (2012); Bridgeport, California Movie Locations (2014).