Thursday, January 19, 2017

Quick Preview of TCM in April

The preview of the April schedule for Turner Classic Movies is now available online!

This is a Star of the Month "theme month," with the focus on character actors every Tuesday and Thursday evening. Honorees will include Helen Broderick, seen at the left.

The TCM Spotlight is quite interesting, focusing on postwar melodramas. Titles include LOVE LETTERS (1945), BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945), THE END OF THE AFFAIR (1953), AUTUMN LEAVES (1956), AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957), and an entire evening of Douglas Sirk films.

April Fool's Day features comedies. The day before Easter there's a "bunny" theme, and as always, Easter Sunday features EASTER PARADE (1948) and religious films. Other themes in April include Beach Party movies, "rare animation," and a day of the Torchy Blane series.

Filmmakers receiving multi-film salutes in April are Doris Day, Melvyn Douglas, Walter Huston, Virginia Mayo, Howard Keel, Nunnally Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Ricardo Cortez. And watch for Harold Lloyd in GRANDMA'S BOY (1922) and DR. JACK (1922) on Sunday night, April 23rd!

I found it encouraging that, compared to March, there were far fewer films from the 1960s or later in the 5:00 Pacific/8:00 Eastern prime time slot.

Curiously, the hard copy I printed of the schedule a few days ago featured a seven-film primetime tribute to Frances Dee on April 3rd, including the beautiful FOUR FACES WEST (1948) costarring her husband, Joel McCrea.

However, a couple days later the entire Dee lineup had been replaced by an evening of Faye Dunaway movies, along with the special recorded last year, LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: FAYE DUNAWAY (2017). That's the week of the TCM Classic Film Festival so it makes sense the Dunaway tribute would air that week. Hopefully the original lineup was a hint that we can expect the Frances Dee tribute to reappear on the schedule in the next few months!

I'll have much more on the April schedule around the end of March.

In the meantime, Jane Wyman continues as the January Star of the Month, with 31 Days of Oscar in February and Richard Burton the Star of the Month in March.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Northern Pursuit (1943)

Yesterday I happened to catch a bit of NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943) on Turner Classic Movies...which reminded me that it's an Errol Flynn movie which has been in my "to watch" stack for far too long.

The TCM Spotlight Errol Flynn Adventures set thus came off the shelf and I watched the entire film! It's a unique WWII adventure movie directed by Raoul Walsh.

The story is set in the northern reaches of Canada. Flynn plays Steve Wagner, a Mountie. He and his partner Jim (John Ridgely) arrest Hugo (Helmut Dantine), a German officer. Hugo and several other soldiers arrived in Canada by submarine, but an avalanche wiped out most of the group.

Hugo is sent to a Canadian internment camp but escapes along with some other men in order to complete his original mission. Steve, who is of German heritage and speaks the language, has meanwhile worked out with his superiors an elaborate plan to go undercover and infiltrate Hugo's group to learn their plans.

His mission is even more dangerous than expected as the Germans, particularly Hugo and Ernst (Gene Lockhart), don't hesitate to kill anyone who stands in their way. And being suspicious of Steve's true loyalties, they kidnap his fiancee Laura (Julie Bishop) to make sure Steve cooperates.

This is a pretty good adventure yarn with an appealing "Northerner" setting not seen enough in movies. Having a miniature WWII fight take place in that environment was even better, as it was a creative and rather plausible tale. (Well, maybe excepting the crew building a plane in the snowy middle of nowhere...!) Flynn is just right as the heroic Mountie who keeps calm under pressure.

I especially liked the way Flynn's Steve briskly brings Laura up to speed when she unexpectedly appears in the middle of his undercover job, with his offhand tone helping to keep her calm. It's a nice bit. He's also effective in the scenes where the Germans switch plans and he has to quickly work out how to handle the situations.

Gene Lockhart occasionally played creepy villains, and he's certainly effective here, particularly when he realizes he's about to get the same thing he's been dishing out.

Any movie with a supporting cast including Ridgely, Bishop, and Tom Tully is worth seeing in my book. Alec Craig and Monte Blue are also in the cast. Although he's listed in the credits, IMDb indicates Warren Douglas was cut from the film.

Tom Drake, John Forsythe, James Millican, and Robert Hutton are all listed as being in the film, and I completely missed picking them out. I suppose all the men in uniform blurred together! I think I'll put the disc back in tomorrow just to fast-forward through and look at the various soldiers to see if I can find them.

The movie has a good mix of location shooting, done at Sun Valley, Idaho, with soundstage interiors; the soundstage work was quite good and blends well with the real thing. Some of the second unit footage was directed by future feature film director Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS).

NORTHERN PURSUIT was filmed in black and white by Sid Hickox. William Faulkner was among those who worked on the screenplay! The running time is 93 minutes.

The trailer can be seen at the TCM website.

They don't make 'em like this TCM Spotlight DVD set anymore, at least very often. Each feature film in the five-movie set is accompanied by a "Warner Night at the Movies" package consisting of trailers, shorts, a cartoon, and a newsreel. The set is currently an excellent price on Amazon.

Another WWII film set in Canada, 49TH PARALLEL (1941), is on my "to watch" list -- along with more Flynn films!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Case of the Howling Dog (1934)

Warren William stars as crime-solving attorney Perry Mason in THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG (1934).

A very nervous man (Gordon Westcott) walks into Mason's office and offers to pay a $10,000 retainer if Mason will help him with his will and, more importantly, deal with the howling dog next door. Mason is baffled, even has a psychiatrist (Frank Reicher) from down the hall sit in on an interview with the new client, but ultimately takes the case.

Shortly thereafter, the man disappears...and Clinton Foley (Russell Hicks), owner of the howling dog, is murdered. Foley's wife Bessie (Mary Astor) is charged with the crime, and Mason decides to represent her.

The plot wasn't as hard to follow as yesterday's FIND THE BLACKMAILER (1943), but it got fairly close, with a real wife, a fake wife, one dog being impersonated by another, Della Street (Helen Trenholme) impersonating Bessie, and so on. Truly one of those movies where you need a scorecard to help lay out who's doing what to who where. One wonders if the screenwriters of such mysteries became confused themselves!

What made the film worthwhile was the inimitable William, who's always such fun to have on the screen. He's charismatic and watchable even as the plot spins out of control.

Perry has a romantic relationship with Della in this, which makes it interesting; it's initially subdued but becomes more apparent as the film goes on.

Helen Trenholme, the Canadian actress who plays Della, was in only one other movie, which was not a Perry Mason film. It's a shame, as I enjoyed her. Claire Dodd would play Della in two of the later Warren William Perry Mason films, with Genevieve Tobin taking over the role for a single film.

Of course, Astor is always good to watch, and it's also fun to see Allen Jenkins turns up as a police detective.

When the camera pans the reporters in the courtroom, don't blink or you'll miss a shot of Gordon "Wild Bill" Elliott in one of his many bit roles of the '30s.

The cast also includes Grant Mitchell, Addison Richards, Dorothy Tree, and Harry Tyler.

THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG was directed by Alan Crosland and filmed by William Rees. It runs 74 minutes.

THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG is part of the six-film, three-disc set Perry Mason: The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection, from the Warner Archive. The first four films in the set star Warren William, with one starring Ricardo Cortez and one starring Donald Woods. The trailer is included on the disc.

THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG was worth seeing for the cast but could have been more interesting. Hopefully the next film in the set will be stronger.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Happy New Year, and welcome to the first roundup of 2017!

...Here's the 2017 schedule of nationwide classic film screenings from TCM and Fathom Events.

...For those in the San Francisco area, Noir City San Francisco opens this Friday, January 20th. Films screen daily through Sunday, January 29th.

...Last month I was fascinated to read that actor Dermot Mulroney (THE FAMILY STONE) plays cello on the ROGUE ONE (2016) soundtrack. 11th chair, to be exact -- and it wasn't his first time in a studio orchestra. He's also put his musical talents to use in a guest role on the Amazon series MOZART IN THE JUNGLE. It's a great story.


...THEIR FINEST (2016), about the making of a British WWII propaganda film during the London Blitz, looks as though it might be interesting. It opens in the U.S. in March. The supporting cast includes Jack Huston (grandson of John, great-grandson of Walter) and Rachael Stirling (daughter of Diana Rigg). The trailer is here.

...An L.A. LAW reboot is in the works.

...I was very happy to learn that DESIRABLE (1934), a charming film starring George Brent and Jean Muir, will be released by the Warner Archive later this month.

...The Blonde at the Film posted a fun piece on TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949) a few weeks ago. I especially enjoyed seeing how costumes worn by Judy Garland and Cyd Charisse in THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) turned up on extras in TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME -- that's a great eye noticing that.

...Last month Raquel posted an interesting review of Robert Vaughn's last film, GOLD STAR (2016), at Out of the Past.

...Coming to DVD and Blu-ray in February from Kino Lorber: John Wayne and Vera Hruba Ralston in DAKOTA (1945) -- with a commentary track by our good pal, Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From the 50s. This follows Toby's excellent commentary job on Olive's NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966).

...The historic Bay Theatre in nearby Seal Beach has been bought, with a reopening expected at the end of 2017. I saw SUNSET BLVD (1950) and A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951) there half a decade ago.

...Speaking of theaters, Curbed Los Angeles takes a look at some of L.A.'s historic theaters.

...Here's an interesting article on LA LA LAND (2016) location filming in Hermosa Beach.

...Karen Burroughs Hannsberry has written about three good film noir titles with "danger" in the title for ClassicFlix.

...Coming to DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection on February 21st: MILDRED PIERCE (1945).

...Royalty Watch: Christmas card photos of Prince Jaques and Princess Gabriella of Monaco, the youngest grandchildren of Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco.

...Catching up with another article from Christmastime, as a fan of Hallmark movies I enjoyed this piece on Hallmark Christmas movies by Mary Katharine Ham. There's humor in truth! (With the Christmas movie season having ended, I'm recording a Hallmark "Winter Fest" movie at this very moment...)

...Notable Passings: Marc Myers of JazzWax reports the death of arranger Buddy Bregman at 86. Bregman, a nephew of Jule Styne, had a long career which is chronicled by Myers. I never knew Bregman arranged for one of my all-time favorite albums, the Ella Fitzgerald Rodgers & Hart Songbook. Bregman was once married to actress Suzanne Lloyd; their daughter, Tracy Bregman, is a longtime soap opera star (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS)...Singer Buddy Greco has died at 90...Jazz writer Nat Hentoff has passed on at 91...Revered California historian Kevin Starr has died at 76. Our oldest daughter was fortunate to have a course with him at USC...Photographer Lord Snowdon, who was married to Britain's Princess Margaret and took many iconic photographs of the royal family, has died at 86. His son David is now the Earl of Snowdon...Director Gordon Hunt, the father of Helen Hunt, passed away at 87...Actress Barbara Tarbuck, who worked steadily in TV for decades, has died at 74...Francine York has passed on at 80. Another busy working actress, her screen career began in 1959, and she was still working in 2016...I recently learned of the passing last May of actress Ruth Terry at 95. Terry (seen in photo) was the leading lady of several '40s "B" Westerns; one of her costumes is on display in the Lone Pine Film History Museum.

Have a great week!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) - An Olive Films DVD Review

Martha Scott stars in CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP (1941), now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP was Scott's third film, following OUR TOWN (1940), in which she recreated her stage role opposite William Holden, and THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA (1940), opposite Cary Grant.

Miss Ella Bishop is a dedicated instructor of freshman English at Midwestern College. While Ella enjoys a rewarding career, she has poor taste in men; her first love, Del Thompson (Donald Douglas), runs off with her cousin Amy (Mary Anderson), and her second love, John Stevens (Sidney Blackmer), is married.

Meanwhile she never seems to notice that storekeeper Sam Peters (William Gargan) is there for her at every turn; she thinks of him as a dear friend but doesn't reciprocate his love.

When Del abandons the pregnant Amy, who dies in childbirth, Ella raises her daughter Hope (Marsha Hunt). Eventually Hope and later Hope's daughter Gretchen (Lois Ranson) attend Midwestern College, where Ella's career continues for decades.

CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP is more melodrama than Americana, focusing as much as it does on Ella's love life. I found it quite watchable, although Ella's obtuse romantic decisions were annoying, as Sam is such a lovely fellow.

The movie's other flaw is that not much happens in the last half hour. Time marches on, but not much happens, other than some sentimental tugs at the heart.

That said, it's a movie worth taking a look at, and it's a particular treat to see a number of interesting actresses in the film in addition to the leading lady. Mary Anderson makes an impression as Scott's selfish cousin. Rosemary DeCamp, who was always excellent with accents, uses one here in her film debut as a student with a photographic memory. And it's always wonderful having the chance to see Marsha Hunt! Her character is lovely, warm, and likeable, just as the actress herself is off the screen.

The cast also includes Edmund Gwenn, John Archer (billed as Ralph Bowman), Dorothy Peterson, Sterling Holloway, Rand Brooks, Charles Smith, Pierre Watkin, and John Hamilton.

CHEERS FOR MISS BISHOP was directed by Tay Garnett. It was filmed in black and white by Hal Mohr. Stephen Vincent Benet adapted a novel by Bess Streeter Aldrich for the screenplay by Adelaide Heilbron and Sheridan Gibney. The running time is 91 minutes.

The Olive Films DVD is a fine print. There are no extras other than subtitles.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this DVD.

Tonight's Movie: Find the Blackmailer (1943)

When FIND THE BLACKMAILER (1943) ended, I had the strangest feeling that I had no idea what I'd just seen!

This Warner Bros. "B" movie barrels along at a rapid-fire pace for 55 minutes. It's sort of amusing, yet the overstuffed plot is just about impossible to follow.

Jerome Cowan, the ill-fated Miles Archer of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), later played detectives in a couple of Warner Bros. "B" movies. His private eye in FIND THE BLACKMAILER is named D.L. Tree. The following year he played Detective Sam Campbell in the more engaging CRIME BY NIGHT (1944), costarring Jane Wyman.

In FIND THE BLACKMAILER Detective Tree is broke, to the chagrin of his loyal gal Friday (and possible love interest) Pandora Pines (Marjorie Hoshelle), who hasn't been paid recently.

Financial help arrives in the form of new client John Rhodes (Gene Lockhart). Rhodes is running for office and about to get married, but he's the target of a blackmailer.

I lost track of the plot after the first 15 minutes. There's something about a talking crow who can frame Rhodes, Faye Emerson is a femme fatale, and John Harmon plays a bodyguard/ventriloquist. I had no idea what was going on, but I enjoyed Cowan's quips and his bantering relationship with Hoshelle. (This appears to have been her biggest role.) The film moved so quickly it didn't have time to wear out its welcome.

FIND THE BLACKMAILER was written by Robert E. Kent (no relation to actor Robert Kent, who plays Harper). It was directed by D. Ross Lederman and filmed by James Van Trees.

The trailer is on the TCM website; the film can be seen on TCM from time to time.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tonight's Movie: A Christmas Carol (1951)

The next film to be reviewed from my list of 10 Classics to see in 2016 is A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951).

The 1938 MGM version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL was the first one I ever saw and holds a special place in my heart, especially as I have a great fondness for MGM movies and cast members such as Ann Rutherford, June Lockhart, and Lynne Carver. I also particularly like the very fine 1984 TV version starring George C. Scott.

Since I usually go to one of those versions when I want to see the story, or MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983), I'd never gotten around to seeing the highly regarded British version starring Alastair Sim (GREEN FOR DANGER).

Well, what can I say? I shouldn't have waited so long. The Sim version was every bit as special as advertised.

I won't spend time recounting the story, which surely must be known to all my readers -- if not, please watch this movie! Suffice it to say that it's a lovingly rendered adaptation, with a beautifully modulated performance by Sim.

Sim keeps his Scrooge grounded and real, including in the film's last, joyous scenes; he's ecstatically happy, scaring his housekeeper with his delight at having a second chance, but there's also great depth and regret underneath the laughter.

In some ways it thus seemed to be a "quieter" telling, yet those depths of emotion conjured tears from me such as I have never before cried during any version of this story. The look on Scrooge's face when he asks Fred's wife (Olga Edwardes) to forgive him was deeply, deeply moving. Sim was perfectly cast and responded with one of the great film performances.

The supporting cast is also superb, including Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit, the great Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley, and Patrick Macnee as Marley's younger self.

Kathleen Harrison, Jack Warner, Rona Anderson, Carol Marsh, Michael Dolan, and Francis De Wolff are also in the large cast.

I particularly liked the score by Richard Addinsell, conducted by Muir Mathieson, which incorporates Christmas carols. It added a great deal to the film's mood.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, alternately known as SCROOGE, was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and filmed in black and white by C. Pennington-Richard. The screenplay was by Noel Langley. The running time is 86 minutes.

A fun bit of cast trivia: Hermione Baddeley, Mrs. Cratchit, would go on to play Ellen, the maid in MARY POPPINS (1964). Ellen's employer, Mrs. Banks, was played by Glynis Johns, the daughter of "Mr. Cratchit," Mervyn Johns.

I watched A CHRISTMAS CAROL on DVD in a lovely restored Ultimate Collector's Edition from VCI. It's part of a two-disc set which also includes a colorized version and the 1935 version of the film starring Seymour Hicks.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Oil for the Lamps of China (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Today's viewing has had a "China" theme, beginning with ROAR OF THE DRAGON (1933) and continuing with OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA (1935).

OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA, like ROAR OF THE DRAGON, is available from the Warner Archive.

Laird Doyle's screenplay was based on a book by Alice Tisdale Hobart. In one of the film's more unusual touches, images of the book's pages turning forward are superimposed over the action when there are jumps forward in time.

Pat O'Brien, one of my most-seen actors in 2016, stars as Stephen Chase, a loyal oil company employee who makes great personal sacrifices while spending many years working for the company in China.

Stephen travels to Yokohama to meet his fiancee after three years apart, only to discover she's changed her mind at the last minute. At the hotel he meets Hester (Josephine Hutchinson of HAPPINESS AHEAD), a young woman from the U.S. whose father died during their trip. Stephen needs to save face by returning to his station with a bride, while Hester would benefit from having a home and financial support. Stephen proposes marriage, "You provide a home and I'll protect it."

At first it's just a marriage of convenience, but in time Stephen realizes Hester's the best thing that ever happened to him and the couple fall in love.

Stephen and Hester's loyalty is tested by hardships, including the loss of a child at birth, but over the years their devotion to one another only grows.

Whether the company will prove to be as loyal to the hard-working Stephen is another question.

This was a very good drama with an interesting setting and appealing lead actors. O'Brien and Hutchinson, who would team the following year in I MARRIED A DOCTOR (1936), have a sweet chemistry. The more I see of O'Brien's work, the more I appreciate him. At times his character is a bit of a lunkhead, placing the company ahead of relationships, but he's a fully rounded person with human imperfections. Similarly Hutchinson's character may be a bit too willing to take a backseat to work, at least by modern standards, but her determination to support her husband is admirable.

John Eldredge and Jean Muir play another couple stationed in China in the second half of the film, with Ronnie Cosby as their son. The cast also includes Donald Crisp, Lyle Talbot, Arthur Byron, Willie Fung, Keye Luke, Tetsu Komai, and Henry O'Neill.

OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed in black and white by Tony Gaudio. The Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, California, stand in for China.

The running time is 97 minutes.

A few years later Warner Bros. very loosely reworked OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA as LAW OF THE TROPICS (1941), starring Jeffrey Lynn and Constance Bennett. There were numerous changes to the story, including the business being changed to rubber and Bennett's character being an entertainer hiding from law enforcement, rather than a proper professor's daughter. It's a fun movie, if different in tone from the serious drama of OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA.

The Warner Archive DVD picture is soft at times, with minor imperfections like a visible reel change cue, but it's perfectly watchable, with fine sound. The disc includes a trailer.

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.

Tonight's Movie: Roar of the Dragon (1933) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ROAR OF THE DRAGON (1933) is an exciting RKO adventure film produced by David O. Selznick.

It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive as part of an "RKO Double Feature" set with the enjoyable William Boyd film MEN OF AMERICA (1932). I reviewed MEN OF AMERICA a few days ago.

ROAR OF THE DRAGON features the classic plot of several very different people banding together against a common enemy. In this case it's a group of Americans, Europeans, and Chinese who are barricaded in a hotel in war-torn China, under siege from a fearsome warlord (C. Henry Gordon). The story calls to mind the previous year's SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932) as well as much later films such as RIO BRAVO (1959).

Richard Dix plays the tough and resourceful, if perpetually inebriated, riverboat captain who takes charge of the group. The hope is that if they can survive long enough in the hotel, despite dwindling supplies of food and water, repairs will be completed on his boat and everyone will somehow be able to flee to the boat and safety.

If you've ever wanted to see Edward Everett Horton as an action hero, this is your movie! Classic cinema fans haven't seen everything until they've seen Horton mowing down the bad guys with a machine gun. It's an excellent part which is far from his typical role.

His engineer-turned-hotel-clerk is sweet on "Bridgeport" (Arline Judge), an entertainer who'd like to get back home to Connecticut. She takes charge of a group of orphaned Chinese toddlers hiding in the hotel, milking a lone goat for milk to feed them.

Also on hand is Natascha (Gwili Andre), who had been forced to be the warlord's mistress when he imprisoned her father.  Her loyalties are questioned by the captain, but he's attracted to her despite himself. Zasu Pitts plays a perpetually worried, yakking woman, and Dudley Digges, William Orlamond, Jimmy Wang, and Toshi Mori are also among those struggling for survival.

The movie is a fast-paced 69 minutes, with plenty of action and suspense, as well as a rather sweet and unexpected romance between Horton and Judge. This is most definitely a pre-Code, in terms of both violence and subject matter, not to mention a few double entendres.

It should perhaps be noted as well that the film reflects its era in terms of some attitudes the modern viewer will find eye-opening, including an anti-Semitic slur; however, the character who says the most outrageous things is very much diminished by it, along with his selfishness, and he is scorned by others.

At the time of filming Arline Judge, who has one of the best roles, was married to the film's director, Wesley Ruggles. Alas, it didn't work out, and Ruggles turned out of be the first of Judge's eight husbands, who included Bob Topping, later married to Lana Turner, and his brother Daniel!

The movie was filmed in black and white by Edward Cronjager.

This RKO double feature set is the Warner Archive at its best, making available a pair of relatively obscure but entertaining films in a very nice two-for-one package. The DVD is a good print with excellent sound. The two-film disc has no extras.

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.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Tall, Dark and Handsome (1941)

TALL, DARK AND HANDSOME (1941) is an enjoyable charmer from 20th Century-Fox.

Cesar Romero stars as gangster Shep Morrison, who has quite a "reputation" but in reality wouldn't hurt a fly. Instead of "rubbing out" the competition he locks them up in a posh jail in his basement!

At Christmastime Shep falls for young Judy Miller (Virginia Gilmore), who works as a babysitter at a department store, and he immediately hires her as a nanny -- then must scramble to find an orphan (Stanley Clements) to be his "son."

Problems arise when rival gangster Pretty Willie Williams (Sheldon Leonard) wants Judy, who's become engaged to Shep, and things escalate further when there's a "jailbreak" at Shep's house.

This fast-paced 78-minute film is quite fun; in fact, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The story has a bit of a Damon Runyon flavor, but it also has some unique touches, such as Shep's "jail" or his very proper, gun-toting butler (Barnett Parker).

I've always liked Cesar Romero, and he's especially appealing in this one. It was interesting to learn that Fox remade the movie in 1950 as LOVE THAT BRUTE, starring Paul Douglas and Jean Peters -- with Romero playing the villain role!

Gilmore -- later Mrs. Yul Brynner -- looks and sounds quite a bit like Jane Greer, as I also noted in a review of THAT OTHER WOMAN (1942). According to IMDb, she does her own singing.

The film is buoyed by a terrific supporting cast, which also includes Milton Berle, Charlotte Greenwood, Frank Jenks, Anthony Caruso, Addison Richards, Mary Treen, Marion Martin, and Marc Lawrence.

TALL, DARK AND HANDSOME was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. It was filmed in black and white by Ernest Palmer.

TALL, DARK AND HANDSOME is available on DVD in the Fox Cinema Archives line. I rented it from ClassicFlix. It's a fine print. There are no extras.

Today at Disneyland: Nighttime at the Park

It's been a rainy week here in Southern California, which was most welcome as our state continues to climb out of the drought conditions of the last few years.

Today the weather cleared up, although there were still interesting cloud formations on view when we spent the evening at Disneyland:

I especially enjoyed this shot with the clouds visible in the night sky over Peter Pan's Flight:

Here's a series of photos of the Mad Tea Party:

Monstro looks more ominous by night! He's at the start of the Storybook Land Canal Boats ride:

It's a Small World Holiday, in its 20th season, continues until Sunday, January 22nd:

Next weekend the Lunar New Year Celebration returns to Disney California Adventure!

Have a great weekend!

Tonight's Movie: Patriots Day (2016)

PATRIOTS DAY (2016), which had limited Oscar-qualifying screenings in a few cities last month, opens wide today.

PATRIOTS DAY is the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the first responders who raced toward danger to help others, then worked tirelessly to find the perpetrators and prevent more terrorism. I found it absorbing and inspiring.

The film is told "tick-tock" docudrama style, with the times and names of the many people involved presented on the screen as the action unfolds.

There are good, low-key performances by familiar faces including John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, J.K. Simmons as Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese of the Watertown PD, and Kevin Bacon as FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers.

The film's main concession to dramatic license is Boston-born Mark Wahlberg as Boston PD Sgt. Tommy Saunders, a "composite character" who is at the scene of all that week's major events, from the bombing at the marathon finish line to helping agents ID the suspects to the Watertown shootout and then the capture of the second suspect inside a boat parked in a Watertown backyard.

This mostly works, as we vicariously experience events through Sgt. Saunders' eyes, though there is one odd scene where, because of his knowledge of the street, he tells the FBI agents which businesses have video cameras. It's dramatic, but as he struggled to remember the business names, I wondered why they didn't pull up Google Street View to help...they were in a warehouse command center filled with computers and this was 2013, after all.

With police officers' lives currently in greater danger than ever before, this film is a timely reminder of the bravery of so many first responders. The scene with officers running toward the bombing sites, heedless of the fact that more bombs might be about to go off, is just one of the film's reminders that most police officers want to "serve and protect" their fellow citizens.

The quick detective work by the FBI and police is interesting to watch, particularly the reconstruction of the crime scene inside a warehouse. The interrogation of the wife (Melissa Benoist) of one of the killers by an FBI agent (Khandi Alexander) is also riveting.

The film also has a great deal of suspense, including the bravery of Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), who is carjacked by the Tsarnaev brothers and must decided whether to try to make a break for it. The movie sequence looks amazingly like the real thing.

PATRIOTS DAY was cowritten and directed by Peter Berg, who also teamed with Wahlberg on DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016). It was filmed by Tobias A. Schliessler. The running time is 133 minutes.

Parental Advisory: PATRIOTS DAY is rated R. There is some graphic gore, but it's clearly telegraphed when it's coming and I was able to avoid looking at it. There is also plentiful use of the "F" word. That said, this is an inspiring story of the first responders who ran toward danger to help others and who worked hard to protect the public from further terrorism. To a lesser extent it also depicts the resilience of some of those who were injured by the bombings; a moving postscript with some real-life participants is included. I would recommend this film for older children who are able to handle the subject matter.

The film has an official website. A trailer may be seen at the website or on YouTube.

For more on this film, please visit reviews by Leonard Maltin ("compelling...packs an emotional wallop") and Kenneth Turan ("effective, efficient and quite dramatic").

Previous reviews of Mark Wahlberg films: THE ITALIAN JOB (2003), CONTRABAND (2012), and DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016).