Saturday, March 17, 2018

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

In honor of the holiday, here are a few posters for Irish-themed movies:

Reviews are available for most of the above titles: THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (1948), THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH (1940), TOP O' THE MORNING (1949), THE IRISH IN US (1935), SALLY AND SAINT ANNE (1952), MY WILD IRISH ROSE (1947), and THE QUIET MAN (1952).

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Previously: 2013 (Maureen O'Hara), 2014 (Angela Greene), 2015 (Actresses in Green), 2016 (Maureen O'Hara), and 2017 (More Actresses in Green).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Quick Preview of TCM in May

Turner Classic Movies has just posted a preview of the channel's May schedule.

Marlene Dietrich is the May Star of the Month. My records indicate it's been 16 years since Dietrich was Star of the Month, in January 2002.

Just under 20 of Dietrich's films will be shown on Thursday evenings beginning January 10th.

The first Thursday evening of the Month, January 3rd, will be a celebration of Robert Osborne, including his 20th anniversary tribute and PRIVATE SCREENINGS interview.

I'm especially excited that TCM will be doing something unique this May, running marathons of over 20 different movie series, including Lassie, Maisie, Dick Tracy, Perry Mason, Mexican Spitfire, Torchy Blane, Dr. Kildare, Nancy Drew, and even half a dozen Blondie films. (I can't recall Blondie films running on TCM before, can anyone else?) Some series will be shown in their entirety, while others will feature a representative sampling.

The Saturday morning programming will feature Dick Foran "B" Westerns and Tarzan movies. Noir Alley, now screening the same film twice per weekend, will include two of my all-time favorite film noir titles: THE NARROW MARGIN (1952) and CRIME WAVE (1954).

Having just reviewed it, it's great to see WARLOCK (1959) airing in early May; I hope anyone who's not seen it will give it a look!

May themes include the Arctic and Antarctica, Mother's Day, swashbucklers, fairy tales, and the annual Memorial Day weekend war movie marathon. Memorial Day weekend's Noir Alley selection is a film about a veteran, THE CLAY PIGEON (1949).

Actors receiving multi-movie salutes in May include Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Anne Baxter, Robert Donat, Lon Chaney, Lesley-Anne Down, Joseph Cotten, Bob Hope, and Robert Montgomery.

I'll have much more on the May schedule right around April 30th or May 1st. (With the TCM Classic Film Festival ending on April 29th, May 1st may be more likely!)

In the meantime, Elizabeth Taylor is currently Star of the Month for March, with a centennial celebration for William Holden coming in April.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Warlock (1959)

WARLOCK (1959) is an excellent Western with an incredibly deep cast, produced and directed by Edward Dmytryk.

This was my first time to see WARLOCK, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It takes one of the classic Western plot lines, taming a town, in unexpected directions; interest is heightened by a number of ambiguous and unpredictable characters, and I appreciated that the story sometimes zigged when I thought it would zag.

The film has a meaty, thoughtful plot without being overly self-conscious about it; at the same time, while there's much to dig into and think about, I also liked the film's somewhat elliptical storytelling. Not everything is spelled out, and we're left to guess, to an extent, at past relationships or things left unsaid, and I think that's a good thing. The film runs a fairly lengthy 122 minutes, but it held my attention throughout.

Nasty rancher Abe McQuown (Tom Drake) and his cowhands regularly rustle cattle and shoot up the frontier mining town of Warlock. After McQuown's men drive a sheriff out of town, the citizens band together and hire town tamer Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda). Blaisedell shows up in Warlock with his longtime friend and companion, Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), who sets up a faro game in the saloon to supplement Blaisedell's income.

Blaisedell promptly drives McQuown and some of his men out of the saloon, and cowhand Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark) is so disgusted with the McQuown bunch that he leaves McQuown's employ and eventually becomes the town's official Deputy Sheriff. This somewhat pits Gannon against Blaisedell, as Gannon is an official government employee, while Blaisedell is the equivalent of a hired gun -- who incidentally makes four times Gannon's new salary.

The deputy sheriff job also puts Gannon at odds with his own brother (Frank Gorshin), who remains determined to drive Blaisedell out of town.

Meanwhile Lily (Dorothy Malone) shows up in Warlock with a chip on her shoulder, eager to settle an old score with Blaisedell and Morgan; as it happens, she also falls in love with Gannon. Blaisedell, for his part, considers marrying Jessie (Dolores Michaels), but can a man who's known nothing but being a hired gun settle down?

The story goes deep into the characters. Gannon once participated in a very bad thing when he worked for McQuown, and his new job might be a means of redemption; Widmark believably sells his character's gradual transformation. Morgan, on the other hand, initially seems to be a loyal friend to Blaisedell but ultimately shows himself to be weirdly obsessed with making sure Blaisedell is "top gun." For his part, Blaisedell seems quietly tormented by all the killing he's had to do, even though he's always done it "by the rules," and his final shootout threatens to send him over the emotional brink.

Among the supporting cast, DeForest Kelley is of note as a cowhand who's a bad dude with his own code of honor, which comes into play during a terrific gunfight sequence. In that same sequence we see that the town of Warlock is ready to grow up, just as some of the characters have done.

It was great to see Tom Drake in this, very believable as the main villain, 15 years past playing the "Boy Next Door" in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). The supporting cast is incredibly deep; beyond the actors I've already mentioned, the cast includes Wallace Ford, Richard Arlen, Regis Toomey, Whit Bissell, Don Beddoe, Ann Doran, L.Q. Jones, Don "Red" Barry, and Hugh Sanders.

WARLOCK was filmed in CinemaScope by Joe MacDonald, with location shooting in Moab, Utah.

I appreciated Leigh Harline's unobtrusive scoring, given that the bombast of Elmer Bernstein's music interfered with my enjoyment of Fonda's previous Western, THE TIN STAR (1957). I also found THE TIN STAR somewhat emotionally manipulative, and that feeling was missing here. WARLOCK was simply a well-done, substantive Western filled with interesting characters. I recommend it.

WARLOCK was released on DVD in 2005; more recently it was reissued by Fox Cinema Archives. It's also been released on VHS.

A side note: As it happens, Dorothy Malone passed away this past January just a few days after director Dmytryk's widow, Jean Porter. My joint tribute to the two actresses may be found here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Stingaree (1934) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Irene Dunne and Richard Dix star in RKO's STINGAREE (1934), available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber on March 20th.

STINGAREE, released in the waning days of the Pre-Code era, is a hybrid musical-adventure film. Its style would soon more fully flower in the MGM films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, beginning with NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935), released less than a year after STINGAREE.

STINGAREE is a bit of an oddball film, with its main asset being its appealing lead players, reunited three years after costarring in the Oscar-winning CIMARRON (1931). Dix and Dunne, plus Dunne's singing and the energetic direction of William A. Wellman, combine to put the movie over and make it a pleasant watch. While not among the best films of either actor or the director, at the same time it's worth a look.

Dunne plays Hilda, the orphan maid to a wealthy couple, the Clarksons (Henry Stephenson and Mary Boland), on a sheep farm in Australia.

British musical impresario Sir Julian Kent (Conway Tearle) is visiting the area, and Mrs. Clarkson, who has delusions she can sing, arranges an audition. She also plans for Hilda, who possesses actual musical talent along with beauty, to stay far, far away from Sir Julian.

Stingaree (Dix), a dashing Robin Hood-esque type, kidnaps Sir Julian, with plans to impersonate him and rob the Clarksons. He doesn't count on meeting Hilda before Mrs. Clarkson has time to send her away, and he falls head over heels for her. It seems that Stingaree is also a music lover, and he's determined that Hilda will have her big break, even if he goes to prison as a result.

The couple are separated for an extended period of time, which drags on a bit too long, then builds to a rather silly ending which led me to wonder what on earth would happen to them next!  Although I would have tightened up the second half of the film, it's only 77 minutes so I can't complain too much about the length.

As one can tell from that abbreviated description, the film is somewhat goofy, with a music-loving bandit as the leading man! I think it would have helped if Dix were also a singer, in the style of the MacDonald-Eddy films. The personable Dix otherwise sells the role, however, and Dunne is so lovely as the Cinderella-esque Hilda that it's not at all hard to believe he'd do anything for her.

There are some interesting Pre-Code indicators scattered throughout the film, most notably when Stingaree kidnaps Hilda, followed by a passionate love scene which fades to black. Boland and Tearle also have some amusing dialogue which would not have been heard in a movie of the Production Code era.

There were numerous contributors to the script, which was based on a series of stories by E.W. Hornung. The movie was filmed by James Van Trees. The supporting cast includes Andy Devine, Una O'Connor, Reginald Owen, and Billy Bevan.

The disc includes a commentary track by William Wellman Jr. which I plan to listen to later this week. I've had the good fortune to hear Mr. Wellman speak in person on numerous occasions and know him to be extremely well-informed about his father's life and career, which he wrote about in WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL. Based on that his commentary track is sure to be of interest.

Trailers for four Wellman films available from Kino Lorber complete the extras.

The picture on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray is slightly soft, as is common with films of the early '30s, but it looks very good, without major scratches or defects. The sound is also quite strong, showing off Dunne's singing to good effect.

Kudos to Kino Lorber for making this lesser-known film available in such a nice presentation.

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

Book Review: Movie Nights With the Reagans: A Memoir

MOVIE NIGHTS WITH THE REAGANS: A MEMOIR is a new book by Mark Weinberg. It was published just over a week ago, on February 27th.

My attention was immediately captured by the publisher's description: "Former special advisor and press secretary to President Ronald Reagan shares an intimate, behind-the-scenes look inside the Reagan presidency -- told through the movies they watched together every week at Camp David."

The subject matter is a wonderful mashup of my love for movies -- including a fondness for Ronald Reagan the actor -- and my admiration of Ronald Reagan the President. The book provides a great opportunity to "peek behind the curtain" to the Reagans' weekends at Camp David, including their reactions to a variety of movies.

The Reagans saw 363 movies in their eight years in the White House, with the last the author saw with them being CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA (1954), in which Reagan starred with Barbara Stanwyck. The book focuses on a much smaller number of significant titles; each of the book's 17 chapters is themed around a film, with the date the Reagans viewed it heading each chapter. Other films are referenced more briefly throughout the course of the book.

Most of the chapters were inspired by films released during the Reagan Presidency; I saw the vast majority of the '80s films discussed in the book when they were first released, which made the book particularly enjoyable for me.

Films in which Reagan starred, KNUTE ROCKNE ALL AMERICAN (1940) and BEDTIME FOR BONZO (1951), along with the Reagans' costarring HELLCATS OF THE NAVY (1957), receive their own chapters as well.

The film discussed in each chapter also provides a theme for addressing varied aspects of the Reagan years, often showing the interesting ways that politics and popular culture interwine. For instance, the RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) chapter leads to a discussion of President Reagan referring to the Soviet Union as the "evil empire" and to his plans for a missile shield defense system (SDI) being nicknamed "Star Wars." Both the "evil empire" speech and plans for SDI predated RETURN OF THE JEDI, yet they became mixed up with STAR WARS terms of the same era, thanks in part to the existence of two previous STAR WARS films.

Further along the lines of the melding of history and pop culture, it was fun to be reminded that President Reagan quoted BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) in his 1986 State of the Union address.

For a President always concerned with the Soviet Union and the possibility of nuclear war, WARGAMES (1983) made an impression and was even cited by him during a talk with Congressmen on the dangers of an inadvertent launch. The book notes that "life imitated art" just months later when the Soviet Union's early warning system malfunctioned.

The British film CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) leads to a description of the Reagans' friendship with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, while a chapter inspired by OH GOD! BOOK II (1980) -- one of the few films discussed I've not seen -- prompts a short discussion on President Reagan's religious faith. That chapter also contains brief yet moving memories from the Reagans' goddaughter Tessa Taylor, daughter of the President's close friend Robert Taylor, as well as the Reagans' happy memories of actor George Burns.

I especially enjoyed the KNUTE ROCKNE chapter, with stories of how Pat O'Brien helped Reagan win his role in the film, as well as O'Brien's kindness to Reagan's father. I loved reading how honored Reagan felt working with Pat O'Brien, who grows further in my estimation as I see his films and learn more about him.

The author makes no secret of his admiration and appreciation for his former boss, and as a Reagan admirer myself, that made the book all the more enjoyable. It's a fast-paced and engaging read which I recommend.

MOVIE NIGHTS WITH THE REAGANS was published by Simon & Schuster. It's 261 pages, including the index. There are 2 inserts of glossy candid photos. The book is attractively designed, with a beautiful cover.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing a review copy of this book.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Love and Learn (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

LOVE AND LEARN (1947) is a genial musical comedy just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

LOVE AND LEARN reunites three cast members from the previous year's THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946), Jack Carson, Martha Vickers, and Janis Paige.

Dennis Morgan of THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL is absent here, swapped out for Robert Hutton. That change, combined with LOVE AND LEARN being in black and white instead of the earlier film's Technicolor, makes LOVE AND LEARN more of a "B" movie, but it's still good-natured and entertaining, with some nice music.

As it happens, the background score when Hutton and Vickers meet is an orchestral arrangement of the gorgeous "Oh, But I Do" from THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL. However, LOVE AND LEARN has some pleasant music in its own right, chiefly "Would You Believe Me?"

Carson and Hutton play Jingles and Bob, composers who've been having a tough time selling their songs. Hutton's about to call quits and head back to his small town when he meets lovely Barbara (Vickers) at a dance hall.

Bob has no idea that Barbara is a wealthy heiress who visited the dance palace on a whim, and she decides to keep her background a secret while they get to know each other, going so far as to rent a small apartment with a Murphy bed where he can call for her. Bob falls head over heels for Barbara and cancels his train trip back home, but her hidden identity leads to a series of comical misunderstandings and misadventures.

Jingles has a lovely, long-suffering girlfriend, Jackie (Paige), who unreservedly adores him despite the fact he's not ready to put a ring on her finger after six (!) years. Jingles is self-centered, but that aspect seems to have been invented to be the source of jokes more than anything else, so no one takes it seriously, including Jackie.

Paige has never looked lovelier than she did in this, so one wonders if Jingles has problems with his eyesight! One would think he'd grab her before she runs off with someone else.

In addition to the pleasant music there are some genuinely funny moments, especially when Bob meets Barbara's parents (Otto Kruger and Barbara Brown). Craig Stevens plays Barbara's long-standing, rather stuffy fiance.

Hutton is bland but adequate; on the other hand, I've always been very partial to the charming Vickers, who was just 21 when this was filmed. Though she's best known for playing Carmen Sternwood in THE BIG SLEEP (1946), a memorable performance I doubt she ever equaled, I love her in the handful of late '40s Warner Bros. musicals and comedies in which she appeared.

The supporting cast includes Herbert Anderson, Florence Bates, Tom D'Andrea, Angela Greene, Don McGuire, John Alvin, and Jane Harker. Familiar faces such as Iris Adrian, Byron Foulger, and Grady Sutton can also be spotted.

The nightclub singer near the end of the film is Trudy Erwin, who dubbed Lucille Bremer in MGM's YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1945) and TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946).

LOVE AND LEARN was directed by Frederick De Cordova and filmed by Wesley Anderson. It runs 83 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine print with excellent sound. There are no extras.

LOVE AND LEARN isn't anything noteworthy, but those who like the cast and enjoy Warner Bros. films of this type will probably like it. I had a good time watching it.

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.

The Latest TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements

On March 8th TCM made several interesting new announcements regarding this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

Most exciting for many attendees was the announcement that for the second year in a row the Egyptian Theatre will host four nitrate screenings.

The films to be screened in 35mm nitrate at the festival are A STAR IS BORN (1937), STAGE DOOR (1937), SPELLBOUND (1945), and LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945).

I'm especially excited by the prospect of seeing LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN in nitrate, in all its Technicolor glory. Leon Shamroy won the Oscar for filming LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, which stars Gene Tierney (right).

STAGE DOOR is also a longtime favorite of mine, which I was fortunate to see at UCLA in 2013, though not in nitrate!

Some appealing pre-Code titles are also now on the schedule, including an old favorite, FINISHING SCHOOL (1934), with Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers (below).

Additional pre-Codes now on the schedule are GIRLS ABOUT TOWN (1931), a Kay Francis-Joel McCrea film I've never seen, and I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1931) which I saw at last year's UCLA Festival of Preservation. I TAKE THIS WOMAN stars Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard.

Nancy Olson, who was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress for SUNSET BLVD. (1950), will be on hand to introduce it, a real treat for festival-goers.

Eva Marie Saint, another actress beloved to festival visitors, will introduce A HATFUL OF RAIN (1957) and GRAND PRIX (1966). GRAND PRIX, in which she starred with James Garner, will be screened at the Cinerama Dome.

Nancy Kwan will introduce THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG (1960), also starring William Holden, and Jacqueline Bissett will attend the previously announced 50th anniversary screening of BULLITT (1968). Ruta Lee will appear at WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957). It's been so long since I've seen that one I'd forgotten she was in it! Really hope it fits my schedule. Lee is seen here with star Tyrone Power.

A few additional festival guests are included in this press release.

The full festival schedule isn't even out yet and I'm already hoping that films on my "must see" list won't conflict! Another recently announced film which I'd love to see is Marion Davies in SHOW PEOPLE (1928), accompanied by Ben Model.

The TCM Classic Film Festival takes place in Hollywood, California, from April 26th to 29th, 2018. Additional festival details may be found in my posts linked below. Please also visit the official festival site for further information, including the films announced to date. The complete schedule, which usually totals somewhere around 80 films, is typically released a couple weeks or so ahead of the festival.

Previously: TCM Announces 2018 Festival Dates and Theme; TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements; More TCM News: New Co-Hosts and Robert Osborne Award.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Forsaking All Others (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A trio of high-powered MGM stars make FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934) a most enjoyable romantic comedy. It's available on DVD via the Warner Archive.

Robert Montgomery, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable play three devoted friends who have known each other since childhood. Dill (Montgomery) and Jeff (Gable) both love Mary (Crawford), but she's oblivious to the fact that Jeff loves her and plans to marry Dill. Jeff is quietly crushed, but then at the eleventh hour Dill decides to run off with an old flame, Connie (Frances Drake), leaving Mary standing at the altar -- or at least in the next room.

Dill quickly regrets his marriage to the shrewish Connie and attempts to reestablish his relationship with Mary, to Jeff's disgust. Will Mary and Dill reunite, or will Mary finally realize that Jeff is the man who's never let her down?

As I commented when I last saw this film around a decade ago, this sounds like a tearjerker, but it's all played for laughs, with neither Dill or Mary seeming particularly wounded by the fickleness of their love. Only Gable's Jeff plucks at the heartstrings, wordlessly conveying his pain over Mary's feelings for Dill.

The third-billed Gable was still on the rise to superstardom in 1934 -- this was the same year as IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934), along with two other releases -- so viewers have some genuine uncertainty how it will all play out. He's simply terrific; as much as I adore Montgomery, Gable commands every scene in which he appears. It's easy to see why he became the "King" of Hollywood.

Montgomery plays the role as a goofball, a boy who's never grown up, so it's hard to be angry with him for long. (It's curious, though, that no one ever directly confronts him about abandoning Mary, though he does apologize for his behavior at one point.) Montgomery has grand support in the comedy department from Billie Burke and rib-tickling Charles Butterworth.

Crawford, who appeared regularly opposite both Montgomery and Gable throughout the '30s, is likeable and attractive as the woman caught betwixt and between.

Rosalind Russell is also on hand as a friend of the three leads; she doesn't have much to do but her fun personality does break through in her brief moments in crowd scenes. The next year she costarred with Gable and Jean Harlow in CHINA SEAS (1935); she and Gable were later a most appealing team as jewel thieves in THEY MET IN BOMBAY (1941).

Russell would also go on to be Montgomery's leading lady in four additional films, with my favorites being TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936) and FAST AND LOOSE (1939).

FORSAKING ALL OTHERS was directed by W.S. Van Dyke. It was filmed by George Folsey and Gregg Toland. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's screenplay was based on a 1933 Broadway play which had starred Tallulah Bankhead. The film runs a well-paced 83 minutes.

This was an early release from the Warner Archive. The print has a good picture and sound. There are no extras.

I very much enjoyed returning to this film for the first time in a number of years. Fans of the cast should find this one a good time.

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.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Miss Christmas (2017)

Brooke D'Orsay stars as MISS CHRISTMAS (2017), which first aired this past holiday season on the Hallmark Channel.

I liked this one a lot thanks to the ebullient D'Orsay. The supporting cast is solid, but D'Orsay's sparkling performance as a kind woman who lives the spirit of Christmas year-round is what made it a winner for me. It's pretty much impossible not to like her. The world could use more people like "Miss Christmas"!

Holly Kuhn, aka Miss Christmas, grew up on a Christmas tree farm and now has a job planning a big annual tree-lighting ceremony in Chicago.

When the tree for the upcoming ceremony is unexpectedly ruined, Holly follows a hunch and goes to Wisconsin (filmed in British Columbia) in response to a letter from a little boy, Joey (Luke Roessler), who sent her a picture of a tree on his family's property.

As it turns out, the rest of Joey's family isn't sure they want to part with the tree for sentimental reasons, but they invite Holly to stay in town while they decide.

Joey's grandfather (Greg Rogers) has recently lost his wife, and Joey's dad (Marc Blucas) is still reeling from a divorce. As Holly gets to know the family, she helps bring the joy of Christmas back to their lives, culminating in a very special tree lighting.

The task of locating the perfect Christmas tree is what some might jokingly call a "first world problem," but while Holly attaches great importance to her job -- which makes countless people happy -- that aspect serves as the springboard for a deeper story in which she connects with a hurting family ready to build new experiences and relationships.

With its consistently positive storytelling and lead character, this might be an example of what the more cynical among us like to refer to as a sappy Hallmark Christmas movie, but it made me happy, and isn't that what it's all about, especially at Christmas? I recommend it for anyone wanting a lift, now or at Christmastime.

MISS CHRISTMAS was directed by Mike Rohl. The supporting cast includes Fiona Vroom, Erin Boyes, Crystal Balint, and Parveen Dosanjh.

Joie Botkin's script was based on a novella by Gigi Garrett.

MISS CHRISTMAS is not yet available on DVD, but based on the pace of recent Hallmark releases, I anticipate it will become available sometime this year.