Friday, June 16, 2017

Road Trip!

We left early this morning for a trip to Eugene, Oregon, where our younger daughter graduates from the University of Oregon on Monday!

We decided to make this visit a driving trip, stopping in San Francisco on the way up in order to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum. Then we'll come home via the Sierras, spending time in our favorite town, Bridgeport, along with a night in Lone Pine.

We had a great time seeing Hayley Mills in SUMMER MAGIC (1963) at the Disney Museum this afternoon, and we return tomorrow to tour the museum.

If time and the internet cooperate over the next week I may do some posting from the road, but otherwise I'll be back to blogging as normal in a few days.

Happy summer, everyone!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948): A Photo Gallery

Last night was a special evening at UCLA, a 35mm nitrate screening of NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948).

This was my second nitrate film at UCLA this year, following ROAD HOUSE (1948) in January. Since the Egyptian Theatre added a nitrate projection booth last year, we're very fortunate to have two theaters in Los Angeles which now regularly screen the great-looking but potentially dangerous nitrate movies.

The evening began with a 1948 newsreel on safety stock, followed by two 1948 shorts on nitrate. First up was the colorful cartoon LITTLE BROWN JUG (1948), which includes an audience sing-along of the title tune, followed by MOVIES ARE ADVENTURE (1948), a short promoting the magic of the moviegoing experience which was made by the Academy. All three shorts were interesting, and I loved that everything shown was from the same year as the feature film.

I first reviewed NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES in 2011, and I was fortunate to see a beautiful new 35mm print at the Noir City Film Festival in 2013. Last night I was able to experience the film in a decades-old 35mm nitrate print.

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES is a movie I like more each time I see it. John Farrow directs with great mood, and it sucks the viewer in from the opening strains of Victor Young's marvelous score. The first time I saw it I was struck by the need to suspend disbelief for the improbable story, but being well-acquainted with the film now, I buy into it from the beginning. Think of it as something like film noir meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and you've got the idea. It would make a great double bill with another noir fantasy, REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947).

The nitrate print was beautiful. The early reels in particular sometimes had a thin vertical line, but the rest of the picture still looked good, and the later reels were stunning, with deep, rich blacks. Beyond the quality of the movie itself, simply taking in the sumptuous black and white shots of Gail Russell in nitrate was an amazing experience.

It's rather a crime that two classic 1948 films Russell starred in for Paramount haven't made their way to DVD. You'd think both NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES and MOONRISE (1948) would be perfect releases for the Criterion Collection, especially since Criterion released another Paramount classic with Russell, THE UNINVITED (1944).

In honor of seeing this wonderful film again, I've put together a gallery of images. Along with Russell, the movie stars Edward G. Robinson, John Lund, Virginia Bruce, Jerome Cowan, and William Bendix, with John Alexander, Roman Bohnen, Onslow Stevens, and Douglas Spencer in support.

Highly recommended viewing.

Previous movie photo gallery posts: THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940), YELLOW SKY (1948), WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), and THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Hell's Heroes (1929) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

HELL'S HEROES (1929), directed by the great William Wyler, is one of the earliest surviving films of Peter Kyne's story THREE GODFATHERS.

It's available in a two-disc set from the Warner Archive, along with the 1936 version. The 1936 version was directed by Richard Boleslawski, starring Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, and Walter Brennan.

The story has been filmed multiple times, although at least two silent versions are regarded as lost films. The best-known version is probably John Ford's 1948 filming with John Wayne, Harry Carey Jr., and Pedro Armendariz, which I reviewed last fall after seeing it at the Lone Pine Film Festival.

As HELL'S HEROES began and a trio of outlaws approached the town of New Jerusalem, my mind exploded: There was no mistaking that New Jerusalem was actually Bodie, a Sierra ghost town located not far from Bridgeport, California. We try to visit Bridgeport most summers -- I'll be there in a few days -- and I've been to Bodie numerous times over the course of my life. While Bridgeport was immortalized on film in Jacques Tourneur's OUT OF THE PAST (1947) and NIGHTFALL (1957), I'd never before seen Bodie in a movie.

Bodie, a State Historic Park, has been abandoned and in a state of "arrested decay" for decades, although it was still lightly populated at the time the movie was made. A fire destroyed much of the town just three years after this movie was filmed, and the post office closed in the early months of WWII.

Seeing Bodie as a living, breathing town in this felt something akin to time traveling. My jaw dropped watching Bodie as it looked 90 years ago. I was amazed when the hearse I've seen in the museum came roaring up the street, pulled by two black horses. The church which is a key location in both the opening and closing sequences survived the fire, and I've stood in its doorway many times.

This would not have been an easy location for a movie company to get to. For much of my life, going to Bodie meant 13 miles on a dirt road from the turnoff at Highway 395. A number of years back they finally paved the first 10 miles, so only the last three are dirt. It must have been a rugged trek transporting all the camera and sound equipment over that road in 1920s vehicles. I'm grateful they made the effort, as along with making a very good movie they preserved some unique California history.

I found photos and more information on the filming at Jim Lane's Cinedrome, The Great Silence, and Captive Wild Woman.

As for the movie itself, having seen both this and another early Wyler film, A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931), in the past year or so, I'm of the opinion that Wyler was incapable of making a bad movie.

Many film fans will know the story, about three "bad men" escaping after a robbery who come upon a stranded covered wagon with a woman (Fritzi Ridgeway) about to give birth. She has a baby boy, and before she dies the men commit to seeing her child across the desert to safety. Their commitment will take enormous sacrifice but also provide them with a kind of redemption.

In the Ford version, Wayne, Carey, and Armendariz weren't really all that bad, they were more men who had gone astray. But the bad men played by Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, and Fred Kohler are really bad, especially Bickford. When they come across the wagon, they initially think the woman is just ill and basically argue over who's going to get to have his way with her. Inconveniently for them, she's having a baby.

This is a tough, gritty film which at 68 minutes is also perfectly paced. The Ford version had some fine qualities but it went on far too long, exhausting the audience as the men staggered through the desert. This movie was just right, a compelling saga which knew when it was time to wrap it up.

The three lead actors are all excellent, with Raymond Hatton particularly likeable as "Barbwire," who becomes the baby's advocate.  Hatton appeared in probably scores of Westerns over his long career, with over 400 film and TV credits. Bickford, who I fondly recall from later Westerns such as FOUR FACES WEST (1948) and TV's THE VIRGINIAN, seems impossibly young here, at least until he undergoes a startling physical transformation as he staggers through the desert.

Buck Conners has some great moments as the parson in the opening and closing sequences. He comes out of the church, gun a-blazing, then once he's picked off an outlaw he returns to the man with his Bible. This sequence, with the hearse racing up the street before the man's even dead, is a fantastic piece of filmmaking.

There's also an evocative cantina sequence with dancing by Maria Alba, and look for character actress Mary Gordon in a bit role in the church choir at the end.

The movie was filmed by George Robinson. The Warner Archive print is soft, which is probably not surprising given the film's age, but it's certainly quite watchable. In a strange way the slightly faded print adds to the strong feeling, while watching the film, that one has stepped back in time.

The article at Jim Lane's Cinedrome concurs: "Seen today...the movie's age works for it. The primitive technology of early sound, the rugged conditions on location, the stark frontier setting and the primal power of the story all work together to make HELL'S HEROES feel not like a movie but a relic, in the best sense of the word -- something rare and precious brought back by a time traveler just returned from 1880 or 1900." A beautiful description.

There are no extras on the DVD. As mentioned, the movie is part of a two-film set. I'll be reviewing the 1936 version from the set at a future date.

Update: For more on this fine film, please also see a review by Caftan Woman which was published just a few days ago.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD set. 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: Slightly Dangerous (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS (1943), a comedy-drama starring Lana Turner, is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Thanks to the Archive I've been enjoying Lana Turner '40s films recently; SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS follows watching WEEK-END AT THE WALDORF (1945) and KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945). SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS is the most lightweight of the trio, but it's a fun watch.

Lana plays Peggy Evans, who's bored with her job at a small-town drugstore ice cream counter. As the movie opens, she receives an award for being on time to work for 1000 days straight, and she also proves to dubious customers that she can make a banana split blindfolded.

That last bit leads to her being fired by the brand-new store manager, Bob Stuart (Robert Young), but when Peggy decides to leave town for a new life and her farewell message is interpreted as a suicide note, Bob is fired for having caused the young woman to take such a desperate measure.

Bob wants to prove Peggy's alive so he can reclaim his job. He sets out to find Peggy, who has gone to the big city and had a complete makeover, changing from the dark-haired Lana Turner look of the late '30s to her glam blonde style of the '40s.

An accident leads Peggy to claim to be an amnesia victim; she's in financial straits, and the company which caused the accident offers support until she gets her memory back. Needing a better long-term financial plan, she poses as the long-lost daughter of wealthy Cornelius Burden (Walter Brennan), but then Bob shows up...

It's a fairly intricate plot, if still a tad overlong at 94 minutes, but all in all it's a pleasant film. Lana's on screen for most of the movie, and she's both lovely and an underrated acting talent. She even gets to show off a bit of her MGM dance training in a charming roadhouse scene with Young. (I want to go to an all-night roadhouse like that's gorgeous!) In the wrong hands her schemer would be unlikable, but in Lana's hands Peggy still has a baby-faced innocence, as well as genuine caring for her new "father" and grandmother (Dame May Whitty).

In her fine, photo-filled book on her mother Lana, Cheryl Crane relates that the scene where Lana makes a banana split blindfolded was a nightmare to film, as her mother really couldn't see anything and there were technical difficulties such as the lights continually melting the ice cream. As Cheryl notes, you'd never know how complicated the filming was from the scene in the finished film! She also mentions the tidbit that her mother wore some of her own jewelry in the movie.

Brennan is particularly moving as the heartbroken father daring to hope that his long-lost baby girl has been found at last. Also of particular note is Ward Bond, stealing scenes in a near-wordless performance as Brennan's security man.

A big part of the fun of this movie is watching the parade of faces. Alan Mowbray is a stitch as a man who buys Young drinks in a nightclub, and that's James Warren (WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND) dancing with Lana at a party. Bobby Blake torments Young in an early sequence, and Pamela Blake is Lana's fellow ice cream scooper. A young Millard Mitchell plays an assistant to Eugene Pallette. Also spotted: Norma Varden, Frances Rafferty, Ray Collins, Florence Bates, Frank Faylen, Emory Parnell, Walter Sande, and Almira Sessions, to name just a few.

With the recent passing of Roger Moore, it's a good time to remind film fans that there was another actor named Roger Moore. He was the older brother of Robert Young, and he spent his entire career in bit roles -- over 230 of them! A great many of his appearances, like SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS, were in MGM films, at the studio where his brother spent a number of years under contract. Moore appeared as clerks, cops, waiters, party guests and the like; in SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS he's a store floorwalker.

SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS was directed by Wesley Ruggles (brother of Charlie) and filmed in black and white by Harold Rosson. By coincidence I watched this on Wesley Ruggles' birthday. He was born June 11, 1889.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good-looking print. The DVD includes the trailer.

Coming in the near future, we move on to Lana Turner in the '50s with reviews of the Warner Archive releases A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950) and DIANE (1956).

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.

A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 2

A few days ago I shared photos from an April visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. They may be found at A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 1.

Here are a few additional photos taken that day.  Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

Bette Davis is buried in this impressive spot with her mother and sister. Underneath her name it says "She did it the hard way."

An equally imposing final joint resting place for Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher:

Buster Keaton:

I find the inscription on Dan Duryea's gravestone especially touching:

Reginald Denny, actor and aviation inventor:

James Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and his wife:

George Raft:

Wanda Hendrix:

Previously: A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 2, A Visit to the Forest Lawn Museum, A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Musicians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Comedians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Actors, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - Writers, Directors, and More, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 1, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 2, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 3, A Visit to Desert Memorial Park.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Son of the Sheik (1926) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Rudolph Valentino stars in the silent classic THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I reviewed the Kino release of Valentino's THE SHEIK (1921) last weekend. If THE SHEIK was a good movie, I found THE SON OF THE SHEIK to be a great one.

Like THE SHEIK, THE SON OF THE SHEIK is loosely based on a novel by E.M. Hull. (The original, which I read years ago, was called THE SONS OF THE SHEIK, and the movie plot was greatly pared down and changed.) Valentino stars in a dual role, playing both the Sheik of the original film and the Sheik's son Ahmed, the title character.

Ahmed falls in love with Yasmin (Vilma Banky), a beautiful dancing girl. (As with the Sheik in the original film, it's revealed she's actually of European heritage.) He's led to believe that she's responsible for luring him into a thieves' trap, where he's tortured and threatened with death; after he escapes, he later kidnaps her to exact revenge.

Yasmin is ultimately freed at the urging of Ahmed's father, but then he learns the truth, that she was completely innocent, and he sets out to woo her back; in an exciting climax, he races across the desert to rescue her from the gang of thieves.

Like the original film, the movie is not exactly politically correct, and some will be troubled by the direction the story goes at one point. But for viewers willing to set aside modern sensibilities and embrace the film for what it is, escapist fantasy, it's vastly entertaining. The piece is played with gusto by the cast against visually impressive settings.

The goofy eye-flaring Valentino did constantly throughout THE SHEIK is gone here; instead he's terrific, by turns smoldering and athletic as the impetuous Ahmed.

He's also marvelous as his father, almost unrecognizable at first, but with a closer look, yes, it's the Sheik. He's outstanding in both roles, and the trick photography in a few scenes is superb. I marveled at a moment where the Sheik puts his arm around his son's shoulder.

Given the talent Valentino shows here, it's all the more tragic that this was his last film. The movie was released in early September 1926, just days after Valentino's August 23rd death. The Blu-ray includes newspaper headlines announcing his illness and passing.

Valentino is well-matched with Vilma Banky; I think they have more chemistry here than he and Agnes Ayres did in the original film. (Ayres returns here for several scenes in her role as Diana, Ahmed's mother.) Banky is moving but also has plenty of spunk as the heroine.

The look of this film is absolutely captivating. The sets, including the Sheik's beautiful villa and Ahmed's encampment, were designed by the great William Cameron Menzies. Like the original movie, much of the filming also took place at California sand dunes. Sandstorms and shots of horses racing across the sand are quite thrilling.

The beautiful photography by George Barnes utilizes color tints, including blue nighttime scenes. The movie was directed by George Fitzmaurice. It runs 80 minutes.

The Alloy Orchestra provides an evocative score. The music for the lengthy sequence between the Sheik and Yasmin when they arrive at his camp is downright hypnotic. I was fortunate to see the Alloy Orchestra in person a few weeks ago accompanying Harold Lloyd in SPEEDY (1928) at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Extras on the Blu-ray include a brief featurette with Orson Welles, vintage shorts, and a trailer for Valentino's THE YOUNG RAJAH (1922).

Kino Lorber has also released THE SON OF THE SHEIK on DVD.

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Rainbow Trail (1932)

George O'Brien stars in THE RAINBOW TRAIL (1932), based on a story by Zane Grey.

THE RAINBOW TRAIL is a sequel to O'Brien's RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE (1931), which was released about two months previously.

Although I haven't yet seen the O'Brien version of RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, I saw the 1941 George Montgomery version at the Lone Pine Film Fest a couple of years ago, and I realized the characters and story being discussed early in THE RAINBOW TRAIL sounded very familiar.

Fortunately I brought Ed Hulse's FILMING THE WEST OF ZANE GREY home from Lone Pine last year, which helped me untangle things! It's a bit of a complicated history, especially given that there were two earlier silent versions of THE RAINBOW TRAIL, filmed with William Farnum in 1918 and in 1925 with Tom Mix.

Fay Larkin (Cecilia Parker), the little orphan girl of RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, is now a young woman. She's been brought up in a secret valley by Jane (Alice Ward) and Jim Lassiter (Edward Hearn), who were played in the original by O'Brien and his real-life wife, Marguerite Churchill.

Fay leaves the valley and is kidnapped by the evil Dyer (William L. Thorne), who threatens to kill Jim and Jane if Fay doesn't stay with him willingly.

Young John Shefford (O'Brien) hears part of Fay's history from an old man (James Kirkwood) whose life he tries to save and goes looking for her...which leads to numerous life-threatening scrapes as well as romance.

It's all somewhat complicated but a reasonably good show, with a bit of a feel of a Western LORNA DOONE.

I suspect it would be much more enjoyable, however, if it were available in a better print. Like many Zane Grey films, it's fallen into the public domain and only seems to be available in a murky print. It was filmed by Daniel B. Clark at the Grand Canyon and I assume it originally looked really good; indeed, the crisp photos in FILMING THE WEST OF ZANE GREY make one long to see it as it's meant to be seen.

Director David Howard had a long relationship working with O'Brien, both at Fox, which released this film, and later at RKO before his untimely death in 1941. O'Brien is always appealing in these short Westerns, invariably a cheerful, confident man who isn't stopped by the threat of danger, especially if a lovely young lady is involved.

Cecilia Parker also appeared with O'Brien in that year's MYSTERY RANCH (1932). She was also a charming leading lady for Buck Jones in UNKNOWN VALLEY (1933) and THE MAN TRAILER (1934). The leading lady of numerous Westerns, she is perhaps best remembered today as Marian, the sister of Andy Hardy in MGM's long-running series.

Parker was 17 when this was made, and according to a brief account I found on the web, decades later she and O'Brien gave an interview and reminisced about the fact she had to have an on-set tutor during filming.

The cast also includes Minna Gombell, Ruth Donnelly, Roscoe Ates, and J.M. Kerrigan.

IMDb gives the release length of THE RAINBOW TRAIL as 65 minutes, but the print I watched ran a bit under an hour.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Five Underrated Films of 1947

There's a great new series at Rupert Pupkin Speaks in which contributors share their lists of "Underrated Films of 1947."

I'm pleased to announce that my list was posted today. Please head on over and check out my recommendations!

I've written about five favorite films from a variety of genres: Musical, Western, Film Noir, and Romantic Comedy, plus a post-Civil War romantic drama.

And while you're there, my host, Brian, has a terrific list as well. Keep your eye on the site for upcoming lists in this series which will be posted in the days and weeks to come.

A reminder that full-length reviews of each film mentioned in my guest post can be found here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings; just input the title in the search box in the upper lefthand corner of this page.

For even more movie recommendations, here are links for my past guest posts at Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Five Underrated Comedies, Five Underrated Westerns, Five Underrated Mystery/Detective Films, Five Underrated Action/Adventure Films, Five Underrated Thrillers, Five Underrated Films of 1955, Five Underrated Films of 1945, Five Underrated Films of 1956, Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013, Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014, Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015, and Favorite Film Discoveries of 2016.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Quick Preview of TCM in September

Turner Classic Movies has released its tentative September schedule.

Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Jones will be the September Star of the Month. 16 Jones films will be shown on Tuesday evenings, including classics such as THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943), SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944), CLUNY BROWN (1946), PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), MADAME BOVARY (1949), and LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING (1955).

As I wrote at the time of her passing in 2009, Jones's filmography might have been relatively short, with just over two dozen films, but it's filled with classics. I'm thrilled that her work is being recognized by TCM.

Treasures From the Disney Vault returns in September. Some of the films feature a nautical theme, such as SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960) and BLACKBEARD'S GHOST (1968). Also on the schedule are a pair of Jodie Foster movies, FREAKY FRIDAY (1976) and CANDLESHOE (1977).

An interesting title which caught my eye: YOUTH RUNS WILD (1944), directed by Mark Robson and produced by Val Lewton. It stars Bonita Granville, along with the stars of previous Lewton films, Kent Smith and Jean Brooks.

Also of note is an episode of Screen Directors Playhouse called "The Dream" (1956), starring George Sanders and Patricia Morison, and a pair of documentaries: SHOWFOLK (2014), about residents of the Motion Picture Home, and HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015), which I've been wanting to see.

There's an evening of boxing films scheduled in early September; I wonder if perhaps Noir Alley host Eddie Muller will be the host that night, as he has expertise on that topic.

Additional September themes will include Beach Party films, submarines, Robin Hood, twins, India, fantasies, trains, RKO "B's," police "B's," and films with "How To..." in the title. The Boston Blackie films continue as the Saturday morning "B" series.

September tributes include Elia Kazan, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Greer Garson, Carole Lombard, Anatole Litvak, and Lizabeth Scott.

There's a prime time Sunday night double bill of Linda Darnell movies, BLOOD AND SAND (1941) and BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE (1952). Elsewhere in the month, TCM is showing the very fine comedy she and Dick Powell made for Rene Clair, IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944), seen below.

I found it interesting that ten days in September, or a third of the month, will have a film released in the mid '60s or later airing in the prime time 5:00 Pacific/8:00 Eastern slot. (I didn't include the documentary HAROLD AND LILLIAN in that tally.) On the plus side, there seem to be a lot of silents this month also!

I'll have a more detailed look at the September schedule at the end of August.

Audrey Hepburn is currently the June Star of the Month, with Ronald Colman scheduled for July. August will feature the annual Summer Under the Stars festival.