Monday, May 25, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Price of Fear (1956) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Four years ago Kino Lorber released The Dark Side of Cinema, a collection of film noir titles on Blu-ray and DVD.

The series returns in a big way this year beginning with The Dark Side of Cinema II, released on Blu-ray this month.

The three-disc set features THE PRICE OF FEAR (1956) along with THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951) and THE FEMALE ANIMAL (1958).

Additional sets have been announced, with the third collection coming in June and the fourth in July.

Two of the films in Vol. II, THE PRICE OF FEAR and THE FEMALE ANIMAL, are brand-new to me. I watched THE PRICE OF FEAR today and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The pleasure begins with that distinctive Universal Pictures '50s black and white widescreen look which I find very appealing. For me that style signals in straightforward fashion "Good viewing ahead!"

Merle Oberon plays Jessica Warren, an accomplished investment counselor who, tipsy from an evening out, hits an elderly man in the street while she's driving home.

Jessica flees the scene, but when she stops at a pay phone her car is stolen by Dave Barrett (Lex Barker), who's on the run from the mob. Dave owns an honest greyhound racing track, but mobster Frankie Edare (Warren Stevens) has just bought out and then murdered Dave's partner (Tim Sullivan).

Dave is ultimately arrested, and while he's suspected of his partner's death, he's also believed to be the hit-and-run driver. He can't be charged with both crimes since they took place simultaneously, so he goes along with the hit-and-run charge, which enables him to get out on bail and try to clear his name of everything which happened that night.

Jessica, meanwhile, begins a relationship with Dave, which allows her to manipulate him as needed; however, her nightmare grows even more complicated when Edare pressures her to "cooperate" with him. Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

Oberon and Barker give fairly low-key performances considering the strain both their characters are under, but they're attractive and good enough to get the job done, while Stevens is properly slimy as the mobster.

The always-reliable Charles Drake is on hand as Pete Carroll, the police detective working the case. It sometimes seems Drake was the detective or sheriff in every other Universal movie of the '50s, but I'm always happy to see him because he fit that type of role perfectly.

Gia Scala plays the daughter of the hit-and-run victim, with Stafford Repp and Mary Treen as a cabbie and his wife. The more I see of Treen, the more I like her; she's great as a woman who gives Jessica a run for her money in the manipulation department.

Director Abner Biberman has a scene as a police criminalist who updates Detective Carroll on the case. Biberman began directing in 1954 but had been acting for two decades at the time he appeared in this film.

The cast also includes Dan Riss, Konstantin Shayne, Phillip Pine, and Roy Engel.

The movie was filmed by Irving Glassberg. Robert Tallman's screenplay was based on a story by Dick Irving Hyland.

THE PRICE OF FEAR is a well-paced 79 minutes filled with crosses and double-crosses. It may not be a top-of-the-line crime film, but it's quite well done and entertaining. I liked it and thought it built to a pitch-perfect conclusion.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print looks and sounds terrific. The disc includes the trailer.

I'll be reviewing the other titles from this set here at a future date, as well as films from the original 2016 Dark Side of Cinema collection.

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

A Tribute to Jeanne Crain

Note: I paid tribute to actress Jeanne Crain on her birthday a decade ago, in 2010.

This year I honor one of my favorite actresses with a column adapted from a piece I wrote for ClassicFlix in 2014. Below I recommend some notable Crain films which are available on DVD.

Jeanne Crain was the quintessential girl next door, a teenager who became a star overnight and went on to a long and successful career while also parenting a large family off the screen.

Crain was born in the California desert town of Barstow on May 25, 1925. Her family later moved to Los Angeles, where legend has it she was spotted by Orson Welles while she was on an RKO studio tour. He had her tested for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942); that didn't work out, with Anne Baxter cast as Joseph Cotten's daughter, but shortly thereafter beautiful young Jeanne won a beauty contest in Long Beach and was put under contract at 20th Century-Fox.

Crain made her feature film debut in HOME IN INDIANA (1944), where she followed director Henry Hathaway's advice, "Look, you're just a kid, and this is just a kid you're playing. Be yourself." It worked; Crain simply glows, whether she's a tomboy with her hair in braids or dressed up as a young lady. The camera loved Jeanne, and her looks and her effervescent personality made her an immediate star. She's seen here in a photo with costar June Haver.

Just a year after HOME IN INDIANA, Jeanne was starring in films which would be come to be recognized as classics, STATE FAIR (1945) and LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945). It was the beginning of a busy career which would last the better part of three decades.

1945 was significant to Crain for another reason; she married Paul Brinkman, who had a brief film career under the name of Paul Brooks, at Hollywood's Church of the Blessed Sacrament on Sunset Boulevard. It was a marriage which would endure, despite some publicized ups and downs, until his death in October 2003.

One of the ironies of Crain's film career is that she was playing ingénues while simultaneously off the screen she was the mother of a growing family, giving birth to seven children over a span of 18 years. Jeanne lost a number of roles over the years due to her constantly expanding family, but when one looks at her long list of fine credits, it's rather impressive she managed such a substantive film career while also raising a large family. In James Robert Parish's THE FOX GIRLS, she was quoted as saying she preferred "an armful of babies to a scrapbook full of screen credits."

Jeanne's screen acting career finally came to a conclusion in 1972 with a role in the all-star cast of the very diverting SKYJACKED, starring Charlton Heston.

Jeanne died on December 14, 2003, just a few weeks after the death of her husband Paul. Her funeral was held at Mission Santa Barbara.

Jeanne was survived by five of her seven children as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Some key Crain films have not yet made it to DVD, the Jerome Kern musical CENTENNIAL (1946), and the film that's the favorite of many Crain fans, MARGIE (1946).

That said, here are a dozen titles available on DVD which Jeanne Crain fans will want to check out:

STATE FAIR (1945) - Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote their original score directly for the screen, and it's delightful in every respect. Jeanne stars as farm girl Margy Frake, who finds love with a handsome newspaper columnist (Dana Andrews). Jeanne introduced the Oscar-winning song "It Might As Well Be Spring," dubbed by Louanne Hogan, who served as Jeanne's voice double in three additional films.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) - Jeanne plays evil Gene Tierney's good cousin, "The Girl With the Hoe," in this "color noir," a film especially memorable for Leon Shamroy's stunning Technicolor photography. She's seen here with costar Cornel Wilde.

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME (1948) - A partial remake of Orchestra Wives (1942), this is a fine film in its own right, with a strong performance by Crain. She perfectly captures the youth, inexperience, and nerve of a young lady who falls for a band leader (Dan Dailey).

APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948) - This is classic Jeanne Crain, one of her best performances and most-loved films. Jeanne plays Peggy, the young bride of a veteran (William Holden) attending college. She hits all the right notes as the buoyant Peggy, who is determined that her husband will get his degree despite the fact they're living on a shoestring with a baby on the way.

A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) - Jeanne plays Deborah, one of the three wives in this Oscar-winning classic. Her Deborah was a farm girl who fell in love with her husband (Jeffrey Lynn, seen here) while serving during the war; when they lose the equalizing effect of their military uniforms, Deborah finds herself very uncomfortable adapting to life as the wife of a financially well-off man.

PINKY (1949) - Half a decade after her film debut Jeanne received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for PINKY. Jeanne starred in the title role as a light-skinned African-American woman who "passes" for white. The film costars William Lundigan, Ethel Barrymore, and Ethel Waters; it was directed by Elia Kazan.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) - Jeanne gave birth to her third child shortly after playing Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy's oldest daughter Ann in this classic family comedy. She was also on board for the sequel, BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952).

PEOPLE WILL TALK (1951) - This unusual film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is a personal favorite. In a rather daring storyline for its day, Jeanne plays a suicidal unwed mother who marries an unorthodox doctor (Cary Grant). The extended scene in which Jeanne believes she's become pregnant with her new husband's baby, realizes the truth, and then accepts his assertion that who fathered the baby doesn't matter in the slightest is a classic piece of writing and acting. The movie was ahead of its time; in my opinion, it should have received some Oscar nominations.

DANGEROUS CROSSING (1953) - In the early '50s Jeanne starred in some good suspense films, this being one of them. Jeanne is a bride who embarks on her honeymoon cruise only to "lose" her husband and his luggage. There's no record her husband ever boarded the ship. Is she crazy? Michael Rennie plays the ship's doctor. Jeanne is seen here in a publicity portrait for the film.

VICKI (1953) - Jeanne took the role originally played by Betty Grable in this remake of I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941). Jean Peters has the title role as Jeanne's sister, a beautiful model who's murdered. Whodunit?

THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956) - In this solid Western Jeanne plays the pregnant wife of mild-mannered storekeeper Glenn Ford, who's trying to escape his past as a gunslinger. Broderick Crawford plays a man who comes to town determined to usurp Ford's title as "the fastest gun alive."

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2014.

On Memorial Day

Remembering today, with deepest gratitude, the brave men and women who have given their all for our nation and our freedom.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Hot Rod (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

James "Jimmy" Lydon stars in HOT ROD (1950), available in a remastered print from the Warner Archive.

I caught up with this 2010 Warner Archive release this weekend and enjoyed it. It's definitely a fairly minor Monogram Pictures film, but I found it a pleasant 61 minutes to spend time with on a Sunday afternoon.

Lydon plays David Langham, a junior college student who lives with his father (Art Baker), a judge, and his older policeman brother Joe (Myron Healey).

Like many young people in the neighborhood, David wants his own car, in order to get around more easily and impress the girls. But once he has a car -- an old vehicle requiring a lot of TLC -- that's not enough. David wants to drive fast! And he makes special "modifications" behind his father's back which will allow his clunker to drive faster.

Judge Langham is worried by too many young hot rod drivers appearing in his court or worse, dying. He considers backing a proposal for a track which will allow young drivers to take part in timed races while safety is emphasized, but when he learns David has secretly modified his car all bets are off.

David being mistakenly accused of a hit and run doesn't help matters...

HOT ROD has a bit of a feel of a '50s Andy Hardy movie, right down to the dad who's a judge. A difference, though, is that Dad is not an endless font of wisdom in the style of Lewis Stone's Judge Hardy; at times he's just as obstinate as David.

Instead it's oldest son Joe, the cop, who sees both sides and calmly moderates the conversations between his father and brother. It's Joe who ultimately convinces Dad to bend a little so that everyone's happy.

Lydon, last reviewed here in A DATE WITH JUDY (1948), had a career of nearly five decades but is probably best remembered as a young male lead. He was well known for Paramount's Henry Aldrich films in the '40s, as well as LIFE WITH FATHER (1947). Along with LIFE WITH FATHER and A DATE WITH JUDY, Lydon also appeared opposite a young Elizabeth Taylor in CYNTHIA (1947).

A few years after HOT ROD Lydon starred with Wayne Morris and Beverly Garland in a Western I especially like and recommend, THE DESPERADO (1954).

Gil Stratton Jr. plays David's best friend Swifty. Stratton had been in the movies since appearing in MGM's BEST FOOT FORWARD (1943) and GIRL CRAZY (1943) and was still a youthful-looking 27 or 28 when he appeared here as someone roughly a decade younger. Stratton, whose films also included STALAG 17 (1953), is known to Southern Californians of a certain age for his many years as a local Los Angeles sports reporter on both TV and radio.

HOT ROD was written by Daniel B. Ullman and directed by Lewis Collins, both familiar names from many "B" Westerns. The movie was shot by Gilbert Warrenton. Locations included the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.

The print and sound of this remastered Warner Archive DVD are very good quality. 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.

Tonight's Movie: Tin Cup (1996) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Kevin Costner is probably my favorite movie star of the last three decades, yet somehow I'd never seen his film TIN CUP (1996). I've now rectified that thanks to a terrific new Blu-ray release from the Warner Archive.

Costner plays Roy McAvoy, who washed up as a pro golfer and now runs a rinky-dink driving range in West Texas. The opening scenes do a marvelous job setting the stage; the range is about to fall apart and threatens to be overrun by armadillos.

Psychologist Molly Griswold (Rene Russo) has just moved to town and shows up at the range for lessons. Molly's boyfriend, David Simms (Don Johnson), is a successful pro golfer who was Roy's college partner -- and longtime rival.

Roy is immediately smitten by Molly and begins a campaign to win her away from David. To that end, he decides to show her he's more than the man living a hand-to-mouth existence in a motorhome at the driving range; he works to get his act together and attempts to qualify to play in the U.S. Open.

That's about the extent of the plot; what matters is the journey, and it's a quirky and surprisingly humorous tale filled with richly detailed characterizations. I was delighted to discover that at times it's actually "laugh out loud" funny.

The film is probably about ten minutes overlong, clocking in at 135 minutes, but I smiled throughout, and you can't ask for much more than that from a movie.

As I watched I had the vague feeling that the movie reminded me of Clint Eastwood's BRONCO BILLY (1980), but at first I wasn't quite sure why. As I pondered it longer, the elements began falling into place, starting with the "high class" lady who's thrown into the midst of a "found family" of oddball characters.

Both films have elements of screwball comedy, but underlying are more serious themes of friendship, self-discovery, and deliberately choosing to change the course of one's life.

At times TIN CUP hits predictable notes, particularly with a ROCKY (1976) style "winning but not winning" climax, but on the whole it's filled with marvelous little surprises. Costner's talent and appeal are a known element, but Russo -- great in a more serious role in THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999) -- here displays a charmingly off-center and quite funny woman who's smart but perhaps doesn't have her act quite together herself. I found her performance a delight.

The circle surrounding Roy includes his faithful, long-suffering caddy Romeo (Cheech Marin), backup caddy Earl (Dennis Burkley), and Doreen (Linda Hart), a stripper who was formerly Roy's girlfriend. They all sketch memorable characters, with Doreen's "between us girls" chat with Molly on the golf course being a highlight. Romeo and Roy marveling over the brand-new Titleist golf balls at the Open also had me chuckling.

Don Johnson nails the phony David, who has an unpleasant edge lurking underneath the smooth-talking exterior. The cast also includes Rex Linn, Lou Meyers, Richard Lineback, George Perez, Mickey Jones, and a few golfers and announcers playing themselves.

TIN CUP was directed by Ron Shelton, who wrote the screenplay with John Norville. Shelton was also the man behind BULL DURHAM (1988), one of Costner's beloved "baseball trilogy" along with FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), and FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (1999). Fun fact, I sat across the aisle from Shelton watching BULL DURHAM at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival.

My most recent viewing of BULL DURHAM admittedly left me dissatisfied, but I had no such feelings about TIN CUP, finding it one of the more enjoyable films I've seen this year. As a matter of fact, one of my other favorite 2020 watches was revisiting another of Costner's sports films, DRAFT DAY (2014). It's hard to go wrong with Costner and a sports theme.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated R for language and other content, but I found it much more restrained than Shelton and Costner's too-crass BULL DURHAM.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a terrific widescreen print showing off the filming of Russell Boyd. It has excellent sound. The disc includes a trailer.


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

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Crimson Kimono (1959)

THE CRIMSON KIMONO (1959), written, directed, and produced by Samuel Fuller, was a real find for me.

Within the confines of this fairly run-of-the-mill 82-minute crime drama lies an interesting interracial romance.

Even better, from my perspective as someone who loves Southern California locations, the movie is a love letter to Downtown Los Angeles.

The movie begins with the murder of a burlesque stripper, Sugar Torch (Gloria Pall), who is gunned down in the middle of a busy Los Angeles street. This strikingly filmed scene, which I later learned was captured with a hidden camera, hooked me from the start.

Police detectives Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) and Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta), partners and close friends since the Korean War, work the baffling case.

Charlie meets Christine "Chris" Downs (Victoria Shaw), an art student at the University of Southern California, who saw a potential suspect and draws a sketch broadcast by the police. While they investigate the case Charlie and Joe also look out for the safety of Chris, whose life is endangered when the suspect realizes she can make an ID.

As the investigation continues, Charlie is surprised to find himself falling head over heels for Chris. But he's got another surprise coming, as Chris falls for the more sensitive, artistically minded Joe. Joe reciprocates, which threatens his years-long friendship with Charlie.

There were many things I loved about this film, starting with the uncliched treatment of race. It's a non-issue for Chris and Joe from the standpoint of their feelings for one another, and it only comes into play when Joe misinterprets Charlie's response to Joe's love for Christine as involving racial animosity rather than simple jealousy.

Neither man has ever given the other a reason for race to be an issue between them, but in the emotion of the moment Joe goes off the rails and unfairly thinks the worst of his longtime partner.

The crux of the film is Joe and Charlie working to reclaim their friendship, rather than Joe and Chris having to overcome any other divisive racial obstacles in order to be together. I appreciated the movie approaching the relationships from a somewhat unexpected angle.

The performances and characters of the three leads are uniformly interesting. I liked that there wasn't a "bad guy," per se, simply good people with normal human frailties. I also enjoyed Chris being so calm and composed, rather than a damsel in distress, and her directness in expressing her feelings.

I haven't seen much of Corbett's work, but I recall him playing the character who married Betsy Garth (Roberta Shore) on TV's THE VIRGINIAN (1965). I enjoyed James Shigeta so much that I immediately ordered a DVD of FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961), which I don't think I've seen since watching a hacked-up print on TV in the '70s.

The movie also features a colorful performance by Anna Lee, cast against type as a hard-drinking painter who hangs out in a rough part of town.

I absolutely loved the extensive shooting in Downtown Los Angeles, including Little Tokyo. It's a fabulous look at the city as it was in the late '50s; some familiar sights, including City Hall, are still part of the landscape today. The movie also filmed in Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

The attractive widescreen black and white photography was by Sam Leavitt.

I watched this film on a beautiful Blu-ray which is part of the Noir Archive 3 collection. The movie was also released in a limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

It's on DVD in the Samuel Fuller Collection or as a single-title release.

This film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies, most recently as part of the Noir Alley series.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Kino Lorber has more new sets on the way in early August: The Carole Lombard Collection I, the Tony Curtis Collection, and the Audie Murphy Collection. All will be out on August 4th. Details:

*The Lombard set has FAST AND LOOSE (1930), MAN OF THE WORLD (1931), and NO MAN OF HER OWN (1932), with commentary tracks on the latter two films by Samm Deighan and Nick Pinkerton, respectively. I'm not sure whether FAST AND LOOSE has ever been released on DVD.

*The Curtis set includes THE PERFECT FURLOUGH (1958), THE GREAT IMPOSTER (1960), and 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE (1960). All of the films have commentaries, with David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner on THE PERFECT FURLOUGH, while Kat Ellinger covers the other two films.

*The Murphy set contains THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952), RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958), and NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959). Toby Roan provides the commentary track for the first two films listed, while Steve Mitchell and Gary Gerani team up for NO NAME ON THE BULLET. There's a little more on this set at Toby's site, 50 Westerns From the 50s.

...And coming from Kino Lorber in September: DEATH ON THE NILE (1978). Incidentally the new version of the story directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh is currently due in theaters on October 9th.

...A "Classics for Comfort" blogathon last week included great entries by Caftan Woman, who highlights STAGE TO CHINO (1940) and MARGIE (1946), and Ruth at Silver Screenings, whose list includes YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942).

...CineSavant Glenn Erickson recently posted reviews of Kino's POOL OF LONDON (1951), which sounds quite interesting, and the Warner Archive's BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), which I reviewed here a few days ago.

...Coming in June from the Warner Archive: Doris Day starring in ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948) on Blu-ray. The Archive's Facebook page indicates it's taken from a scan of a nitrate print.

...Also coming from the Warner Archive: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland on Blu-ray in STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940).

...The HBO Max streaming service debuts next week. So far I haven't seen anything that causes me to want to subscribe. It sounds like anything of interest to me is already in my movie library.

...The Disney Insider interviews Leonard Maltin on his career as a Disney historian. He tells some fantastic stories, including a magical day on the Disney lot where he got to see the then-unavailable THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1943). I especially love that anecdote as I was lucky to watch that film on the Disney lot myself in 2016.

...From KCET: Southern California drive-ins.

...The pre-Code THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933), which had its TCM premiere earlier this month, is coming to Blu-ray from the Film Detective in July.

...Welcome news: See's Candies has reopened their candy kitchens.

...The excellent Elvis Presley film KING CREOLE (1958) was just released on Blu-ray in the Paramount Presents line. Mike Clark has a review at Media Play News.

...Notable Passings: Ken Osmond, who played Eddie Haskell on TV's LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and served 18 years with the LAPD, has passed on at the age of 76...Former child actor Martin Spellman, who played Robert Preston as a child in BEAU GESTE (1939) and appeared as Skinny in BOYS TOWN (1938), has died at the age of 94...Jon Whiteley, who was awarded a special juvenile Oscar for THE KIDNAPPERS (1953), has died at 75...Charles Lippincott, the man behind the ad campaign for the original STAR WARS (1977), has died at 80.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my May 16th roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Sound Barrier (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE SOUND BARRIER (1952) is one of a number of British films recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The movie, also known in the United States as BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER, is a fictional story of British aviation designers and test pilots working to break the sound barrier.

The film has a literate, Oscar-nominated script by Terence Rattigan, based on his own story. It's intelligent and absorbing, mixing aviation thrills with family drama and heartbreak, and it sustains interest for all of its 118 minutes.

As the movie opens, it's World War II and British pilot Tony (Nigel Patrick) marries Sue (Ann Todd). Sue has a conflicted relationship with her father, aviation magnate John "J.R." Ridgeland (Sir Ralph Richardson), but Tony grows close to the man he soon calls Dad.

After the war Tony goes to work as a test pilot for his father-in-law, who's building new jet-powered aircraft. J.R. is determined to build a supersonic jet, causing Sue to live in constant fear when Tony is flying. Neither J.R. or Tony is quite able to explain why they are so determined to see what's on the other side of the sound barrier, but they can't give up trying.

I'll leave off any further description here in order to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say that this film is more somber than, say, a movie like THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), as it focuses more on the sacrifices of aviation exploration than the triumphs, though it has those moments too. And while it can be painful to watch, with an unexpected twist or two, the excellence of the filmmaking maintains viewer interest and propels the story onward.

As the movie went on I increasingly appreciated its subtlety, such as in the last few minutes, when a pilot at the moment of his greatest triumph begins laughing over an absurd situation, then suddenly breaks down in tears. One senses his joy, relief, and grief for those lost before him all in that one brief minute.

A scene where Sue's visit to a cinema is interrupted is another unforgettable moment, beautifully played by Todd and John Justin, who costars as another test pilot. Justin and Dinah Sheridan as his wife are charming, and their scenes help lighten the film's tone.

The hard-driving, bossy, and seemingly cold J.R. could have been played as a stock villain, but the script and Richardson's portrayal let us also peek at the anguish hiding under the confident, relentless surface. In a beautiful sequence, J.R. summons Sue to his office, ostensibly to discuss school choices for her young son, but it soon becomes apparent he's really asked her there as he can't bear to be alone while a test flight is taking place.

Patrick and Todd are winning as Tony and Sue; she manages to convey Sue's quite reasonable worries without making the character unpleasant. They have some beautifully shot moments, filmed by Jack Hildyard; a scene of Tony on a balcony looking at the night stars sticks in the memory. The final shot of the film is also quite lovely.

Denholm Elliott has a small role as Todd's brother. The same year THE SOUND BARRIER was released, Richardson and Elliott also played father and son in THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952), which is also available from Kino Lorber.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray of this film, which was directed by David Lean, is a 2018 British Film Institute restoration. The extras include a BFI archival interview with Lean.

In addition to the Lean interview, the Kino Lorber Blu-ray extras include a new commentary track by historian-critic Peter Tonguette and four trailers.

I note that the sound balancing seemed significantly off on this disc, at least on my player, with the dialogue track much quieter than the aviation sound effects or Malcolm Arnold's score, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. (The film, incidentally, won an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording.) The Blu-ray picture is excellent.

I'll be reviewing another Kino release of a British film with an aviation theme, THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP (1955), in the near future.

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

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Internes Can't Take Money (1937) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea star in the early Dr. Kildare film INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (1937).

The movie is part of the Barbara Stanwyck Collection, released last week by Kino Lorber.

Also in the new set are another film Stanwyck made with McCrea, THE GREAT MAN'S LADY (1942), along with THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946) costarring Robert Cummings.

While all three films were part of a 2010 Stanwyck DVD set, with INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY also having a Universal Vault DVD release a few years after that, this is the first time for the movies to be released on Blu-ray. The two Stanwyck-McCrea films in the set also have brand-new commentary tracks by Eloise Ross.

I first saw INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY exactly a decade ago this month. What a treat to revisit it on this pristine Blu-ray! The disc does a marvelous job showing off the movie's visual eye candy, from the gleaming white, window-filled Art Deco Mountview Hospital to the dark rain-soaked streets...and yes, I'll include the young, handsome Mr. McCrea on that list of visual treats as well.

This film was the first screen appearance for the character created by Max Brand, Dr. Jimmy Kildare (McCrea). Paramount Pictures only featured the character in this single film; the following year Lew Ayres starred YOUNG DR. KILDARE (1938) for MGM, which proved to be a long-running series for that studio.

Dr. Kildare meets Janet Haley (Stanwyck) when he treats her minor burn in the hospital clinic. They're clearly attracted to one another, but she's preoccupied with trying to find the little girl her gangster husband hid from her before he died, and she's not about to share the details of her dark past and her problems with the handsome doctor.

Mobster Dan Innes (Stanley Ridges) might know where the child is, but he'll only part with the information for $1000, which Janet doesn't have...but he's also willing to take Janet's, shall we say, personal services.

Kildare, meanwhile, finds himself unexpectedly operating on another gangster, Hanlon (Lloyd Nolan), in the back room of a bar. With MacGyver-like creativity, Kildare deploys unusual tools, including violin strings and lime squeezers! Hanlon then pledges to help Kildare anytime he needs it, since, to quote the title, "Internes can't take money."

Dr. Kildare has quite the crush on the increasingly desperate Janet, and when he learns she's going out of town with Innes, he calls in the favor from Hanlon. This sequence may be predictable but it's tremendous fun as Hanlon barks out orders to his troops to save the damsel in distress.

And then, by golly, Dr. Kildare finds himself carrying out another top-secret surgery outside the hospital...

INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY is a high-energy 78 minutes from its opening moments with an ambulance racing during the credits.

Director Alfred Santell and cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl shoot the film with creative setups, first gliding through the hospital clinic and later staging a scene with white-coated doctors filing into the office of hospital chief Dr. Fearson (Pierre Watkin); Fearson's office is a wonder of set design, with people coming and going in the hospital visible through a glass wall behind the doctor's desk.

Stanwyck and McCrea are both so good that they instantly convey their attraction with no words necessary. Both their characters endure quite melodramatic experiences, but they play it all with absolute conviction and are simply wonderful.

It's no surprise that Nolan is also terrific, as are the other cast members, including Irving Bacon as the eyepatch-wearing bartender Jeff and Lee Bowman as an intern who's dismissed from the hospital. Wonderful faces like Charles Lane and Fay Holden are also in the film.

Watch for pretty Ellen Drew in a non-speaking bit role as a nurse in the last third of the movie. Four years later Drew would star opposite McCrea in REACHING FOR THE SUN (1941), directed by William Wellman, and in 1950 they would costar in one of the best films of either of their careers, Jacques Tourneur's STARS IN MY CROWN (1950).

My only criticism of the film is that the screenplay by Rian James and Theodore Reeves focuses on Janet's character's troubles slightly too long in the middle section of the movie; other than that, it's a well-paced film which is balanced well between its two lead characters. I particularly appreciated the subtlety with which Innes makes his intentions known, with popcorn taking on an entirely new meaning in this film.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print and sound quality are excellent. In addition to the commentary track, the INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY Blu-ray provides trailers for WITNESS TO MURDER (1954), which stars Stanwyck, and THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY (1959), which stars McCrea.

I'll be reviewing the other two films in the set here at a future date.

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

A Tribute to Robert Montgomery

Note: I paid tribute to Robert Montgomery on his birthday back in 2012.

This year I'm sharing a tribute to one of my favorite actors which is adapted from my 2014 article for ClassicFlix.

This column includes 12 recommendations for Montgomery films which are all available on DVD. Please click on any hyperlinked title to read an extended review.

Robert Montgomery was a multi-talented actor-director and two-time Oscar nominee, and yet for some years he was probably best remembered as the father of Elizabeth Montgomery, the delightful star of the classic TV series BEWITCHED (1964-72). As Montgomery's films have become much more available in recent years, thanks to DVDs and Turner Classic Movies, he is today enjoying a resurgence of popularity with classic film fans.

Montgomery was born on May 21, 1904, and his film career began in 1929 with a bit role in THE SINGLE STANDARD. After a small role in THREE LIVE GHOSTS (1929), he transitioned to leading man status that very same year and never looked back.

Montgomery worked at MGM for most of his career, starring multiple times opposite Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Madge Evans, and Rosalind Russell. He was equally adept at drama and light comedy, and by the time he took a break from films to serve in World War II, he had received two Oscar nominations as Best Actor.

Montgomery volunteered as an ambulance driver in Europe prior to America's entry into the war, then joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a Lt. Commander in both the Pacific and European theaters.

Like actor-director Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery looked for challenges beyond acting. After the war, Montgomery branched into directing; after doing uncredited work assisting John Ford on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), Montgomery directed all but one of his remaining starring films.

In the late '40s Montgomery also served a second term as President of the Screen Actors Guild, which he had previously headed in the '30s. In 1950 he started the long-running, Emmy-winning TV series ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS (1950-57), and in the mid-'50s Montgomery branched into the theater, winning a Tony for directing THE DESPERATE HOURS (1955) on Broadway. He also served as media consultant for President Eisenhower.

Off the screen, Montgomery had two long-term marriages. Montgomery and his first wife, Elizabeth Harkness, were the parents of three children: Martha, who died in infancy; actress Elizabeth Montgomery, born in 1933; and Robert Jr., born in 1936. The Montgomerys divorced in 1950, after 22 years, and he then married Elizabeth Allen, to whom he remained married for over three decades, until his passing in September 1981.

I'm still waiting for many favorite Montgomery films to turn up on DVD, but in the meantime, here are a dozen recommended Montgomery titles showcasing both his acting and directing abilities over the span of three decades:

THEIR OWN DESIRE (1929) - My favorite of the several films Montgomery made with Norma Shearer, a sweet story of young love, filmed at Southern California's spectacular Norconian Resort. Today the Norconian is empty but still standing.

THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931) - A witty comedy with a couple mildly racy moments which proclaim it a definite pre-Code. Lots of fun.

LOVERS COURAGEOUS (1932) - This is one of five films Montgomery made with his friend Madge Evans. It's a romance which conveys Montgomery's unique strengths as a leading man, vulnerable and connecting with Evans so intimately that the viewer feels that one is peeking in on something private, rather than simply watching a movie.

THREE LOVES HAS NANCY (1938) - Montgomery has great chemistry with Janet Gaynor and Franchot Tone in this romantic comedy about a country girl in the big city. Montgomery's thunderstruck face when Nancy describes how she'd like to care for a prospective husband is marvelous.

FAST AND LOOSE (1939) - Rosalind Russell was another frequent Montgomery costar, and in this mystery they play book dealers turned amateur sleuths Joel and Garda Sloan. They're an appealing team, and one wishes they had played the Sloans again. Curiously the Sloans were played by two other screen teams, Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice (FAST COMPANY, 1938), and Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern (FAST AND FURIOUS, 1939).

MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941) - This was a rare straight comedy directed by Alfred Hitchcock, teaming Montgomery with Carole Lombard. I wasn't especially taken with it when I first saw the movie while I was growing up, but when I revisited the film as an adult I discovered all sorts of interesting steamy undercurrents I'd been oblivious to on first viewing.

RAGE IN HEAVEN (1941) - Montgomery's unusual role as Ingrid Bergman's jealous, psychotic husband makes one wish he'd worked with Alfred Hitchcock in a mystery. He would have been great as a villain in a movie like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) or DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)! While Montgomery plays the bad guy, frequent movie villain George Sanders stars as Bergman's knight in shining armor. A very interesting movie on many levels.

HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941) - Montgomery received one of his two Best Actor nominations for this marvelous comedy-fantasy; his other nomination was for playing a murderer in NIGHT MUST FALL (1937). Montgomery is absolutely superb; a must-see.

THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) - Montgomery is outstanding in his first post-war film, directed by John Ford and costarring John Wayne. One of the truly great war films, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE was also Montgomery's first opportunity to work behind the camera; he served as one of Ford's second unit directors, and when Ford was indisposed for several days, production continued with Montgomery filling in as director. Ford later paid Montgomery the ultimate compliment, saying he couldn't tell the difference between what Montgomery directed and his own work.

LADY IN THE LAKE (1947) - Montgomery's first credited directing work wasn't just any old movie; he conducted a daring 'first person' experiment, with the camera serving as the eyes for Montgomery's character, P.I. Philip Marlowe. It's not a complete success, but it's a fascinating film, and there's also a unique twist with the murder mystery being set during the Christmas season.

EYE WITNESS (1950) - Montgomery starred in and directed this courtroom drama and murder mystery, filmed in England. The contrast between the styles of Montgomery's American attorney and the British barrister he works with is fun to watch. It may not be an especially noteworthy film, yet this tale of Montgomery navigating the legal system in postwar Britain is one I really enjoyed.

THE GALLANT HOURS (1960) - Montgomery narrated this film and directed his close friend James Cagney, who stars as Admiral William F. Halsey. This war film without any war footage depicts the five weeks leading up to the U.S. victory at Guadalcanal. It's a superb, underrated documentary-style film, a study in leadership and courage under unfathomable pressures. The a cappella background music by the Roger Wagner Chorale adds to the film's unique feel. Highly recommended.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2014.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Phantom of Chinatown (1940)

Keye Luke stars as amateur detective James Lee "Jimmy" Wong in PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN (1940).

The Mr. Wong mystery movies were based on Saturday Evening Post stories by Hugh Wiley. The first five films in the series, released by Monogram Pictures from 1938 through 1940, starred Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong. All five films were directed by William Nigh.

In 1940 the sixth and final film in the series was released with Keye Luke as the detective. The movie, directed by Phil Rosen, was a "prequel" to the other films, inasmuch as Wong meets Police Captain Street (Grant Withers) for the first time in this film. Withers had played the same role in all of the Karloff films.

PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN was Luke's only time to play Mr. Wong, and it's a shame, as both he and the movie are quite enjoyable. It may be a low-budget 62-minute Monogram Pictures film, but it delivers a solid hour of "B" mystery entertainment.

Dr. John Benton (Charles Miller) dies suddenly while giving a presentation at "Southern University" in San Francisco. Dr. Benton had recently returned from an expedition into the Mongolian Desert where he located an ancient tomb holding an important secret. His reveal of further details is thwarted by his assassination.

Jimmy Wong (Luke), one of Benton's students, works with Police Captain Street (Withers) and Benton's secretary Win Len (Lotus Long) to solve the murder and return an artifact which had been in Dr. Benton's possession back to China.

This is a well-done little movie which keeps up a good pace and maintains viewer interest. Luke is engaging as the sleuth, and while Long's line deliveries are a bit stiff, she's also appealing and certainly a unique leading lady for the era; I liked her. It's refreshing having Asian-Americans play leading roles and made me wish Hollywood had made more of this type of film.

Luke, who had already appeared in numerous entries in the Charlie Chan movie detective series, would soon begin playing ebullient intern Dr. Lee Wong How in MGM's Dr. Gillespie series, starting with DR. GILLESPIE'S NEW ASSISTANT (1942).

The Withers character is pretty well done in that he walks a line between playing the stock "B" mystery role of the buffoonish police sidekick with someone more intelligent who forms a solid partnership with his new friend.

Last year in a column for Classic Movie Hub I wrote something about "B" Westerns which also applies here: "A 'B' Western may have moments which give me a unique insight into history or the culture of the times in which the film was made..."

In the case of this movie, it sent me to Google to learn all about the Chinese Telephone Exchange, a key plot device in the film. The operators of this San Francisco exchange knew thousands of names and phone numbers by heart.

According to the article I read, the Chinese Telephone Exchange also plays a significant role in CHINATOWN AT MIDNIGHT (1949) starring Hurd Hatfield and Jean Willes for Columbia Pictures. The exchange closed the same year CHINATOWN AT MIDNIGHT was released, when dial phones were introduced.

Another interesting nugget, this time from IMDb, is that the car chase in the movie was filmed on La Cienega Boulevard in L.A.

The screenplay was by George Waggner, writing under the pseudonym of Joseph West. The black and white cinematography was by Fred Jackman Jr.

This film was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies. The title card curiously had replaced Monogram Pictures with the words Monarch Film Corporation, as seen here. I assume it must have been some sort of TV syndication company. I was particularly impressed with the film's soundtrack which was extremely crisp and clear. Watch for it to turn up on TCM again in the future.

For more on this film, please check out a 2014 review by Steve at Mystery File.