Sunday, August 18, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in November

The Turner Classic Movies schedule for November is now up!

Bette Davis is the November Star of the Month. She will be honored with 24-hour marathons every Tuesday this November.

This is Davis's third turn as Star of the Month. She was previously honored in May 1999 and May 2006.

The November Noir Alley titles are SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957), JOHNNY EAGER (1942), THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952), and THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS (1944).

Saturday morning programming includes the serial JUNGLE QUEEN (1945) starring Ruth Roman, plus POPEYE cartoons, Traveltalk shorts, the Bowery Boys, and random "B" detective movies.

I'm especially delighted that the late Nancy Gates will be honored in November. Gates, who died in April, will receive a six-film prime time memorial tribute, including MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954), shown here with George Montgomery and James Griffith, plus SUDDENLY (1954), SOME CAME RUNNING (1958), and more.

Additional filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes in November include Dick Powell, Gig Young, James Cagney, Errol Flynn, Mary Astor, John Ford, and Martin Scorsese. I'm excited about a prime time Alan Ladd double feature of SHANE (1953) and THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942).

The TCM Spotlight celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the American Society of Cinematographers. November film themes include stuntmen, New York City, ballet, hospital mysteries, Kentucky, swashbucklers, and the Pink Panther. There's also an inspired prime time double bill on "princesses incognito," ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953) and PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943).

There's a very interesting lineup all day on Veterans Day, November 11th, including William Wyler's documentary THE MEMPHIS BELLE (1944) and Dennis Morgan in GOD IS MY CO-PILOT (1945). And as usual, there's a wonderful lineup of family films on Thanksgiving Day, including THE SECRET GARDEN (1949), HEIDI (1937), NATIONAL VELVET (1944), and SITTING PRETTY (1948). SITTING PRETTY, a 20th Century-Fox comedy starring Maureen O'Hara, Robert Young, and Clifton Webb, receives a rare TCM showing.

I'll have a more detailed look at TCM in November posted here around Halloween.

In the meantime, Sidney Poitier is slated to be the September Star of the Month, with Paul Muni the Star of the Month for October.

And looking ahead to December, Joan Blondell beat out Joan Bennett in TCM Backlot voting to be the December Star of the Month. Both ladies are marvelous, and hopefully the "other" Joan will receive a Star of the Month tribute in the future!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cinecon Classic Film Festival Opens in Hollywood August 29th

The Cinecon Classic Film Festival opens in Hollywood two weeks from today, on Thursday evening, August 29th.

Cinecon will take place at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard through Labor Day, September 2nd.

This is the 55th edition of Cinecon, founded in 1965 and "dedicated to showcasing unusual films that are rarely given public screenings." I love the focus on relatively obscure films, most of which date from the silent era through the 1940s; a trio of films from the 1950s are accompanied by appearances by festival guests Barbara Rush, Ann Robinson, and Gigi Perreau.

I attended a day and a half of the festival in 2017 and two and a half days in 2018. I expect to duplicate my 2018 attendance this year, attending from Saturday afternoon through Monday evening.

Some of the titles being shown during the time frame I'll be there which interest me the most:

*OH MEN! OH WOMEN! (1957), a film I've never seen starring Ginger Rogers, David Niven, and Barbara Rush, who will be in attendance for the showing.

*The "Saturday Nitrate Fever" program which features the cartoon COBWEB HOTEL (1936) followed by the feature NIGHT OF MYSTERY (1937), a Philo Vance film starring Grant Richards and Roscoe Karns.

*PRIVATE NURSE (1941), a 20th Century-Fox "B" film starring Brenda Joyce and Sheldon Leonard. (It's only an hour long but it doesn't start till 10:50 p.m. Saturday night, so it's dubious whether I'll make it through this one despite my interest!)

*THE SHAMROCK HANDICAP (1926), a Janet Gaynor film directed by John Ford.

*FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1950), a favorite of mine on TV when I was growing up, which I haven't seen for decades, starring Joan Bennett, Robert Cummings, and Clifton Webb; costar Gigi Perreau will take part in a Q&A after the movie.

*ALOMA OF THE SOUTH SEAS (1941) starring Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall, Technicolor escapist fare from the summer before the U.S. entry into WWII.

*ON STAGE EVERYBODY (1945) with a cast including Peggy Ryan, the King Sisters, Julie London, and Ilene Woods (CINDERELLA).

*HIT PARADE OF 1941 (1941) with Frances Langford and Ann Miller.

*CHATTERBOX (1943) with Judy Canova, Joe E. Brown, and, sparking my interest, Rosemary Lane.

*ON THE AVENUE (1937), with Dick Powell, Madeleine Carroll, and Alice Faye, which was scheduled for last year but mislabeled cans instead turned out to contain THE PIED PIPER (1942).

Other titles of interest I won't be able to attend include DANGER! LOVE AT WORK (1937) with Ann Sothern and Jack Haley and THE STRANGER FROM TEXAS (1939) with Charles Starrett and Lorna Gray (also known as Adrian Booth).

I've seen some really wonderful films at the last two Cinecon festivals; in numerous cases I approached the films "cold," knowing little to nothing about them in advance, and had a great time seeing some very interesting movies.

Complete review links for my visits to the last two festivals may be found at the end of my 2018 introduction and at A Visit to Cinecon 53 (2017).

For more on the festival, Kim has interviewed Cinecon President Stan Taffel at her site I See a Dark Theater.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Double Danger (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Preston Foster stars in DOUBLE DANGER (1938), an entertaining RKO "B" film just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

I first saw DOUBLE DANGER in 2013; it was one of a couple films, along with THE HUNTED (1948), which caused me to become quite a fan of Foster.

In DOUBLE DANGER Foster plays a charming thief, while a decade later he was a lovelorn cop in THE HUNTED. I loved him in both, and since then have reviewed a great many of his films. I'm really delighted that DOUBLE DANGER finally joins THE HUNTED in being available from the Warner Archive.

DOUBLE DANGER finds Foster playing Bob Crane, a mystery writer who, as mentioned, has a secret life as a thief nicknamed "The Gentleman."

The Police Commissioner (Samuel S. Hinds) has helped Bob with ideas for his "Gentleman" mysteries but also suspects Bob may be "The Gentleman" in real life.  The Chief also suspects Carolyn (Whitney Bourne) could be the thief, for reasons which are not quite clear to me, and he invites both Bob and Carolyn to visit his palatial estate.

The Commissioner intends to set a trap and catch "The Gentleman" once and for all, but I'm afraid the Commissioner looks smarter than he really is, and pretty much nothing seems to go as he plans.

DOUBLE DANGER is a zippy little movie with Foster and Bourne charming as sparring jewel thieves who fall in love. I love Foster's relaxed, romantic manner, and Bourne is simultaneously pretty and spunky. It makes sense the pair would be attracted to one another, much like the thieves of TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932). The movie may not be great art but I sure find it fun to watch.

Foster and Bourne are ably supported by a fine cast including Cecil Kellaway (particularly good as Bob's valet/assistant thief in training), Paul Guilfoyle, Donald Meek, Arthur Lake, June Johnson, and Edythe Elliott.

A brief note of clarity for Foster fans: Foster played a police detective named Bill Crane in a trio of late '30s mysteries; I reviewed two of the films, THE WESTLAND CASE (1937) and THE LADY IN THE MORGUE (1938), here. Those characters have no relationship to his role as Bob Crane in DOUBLE DANGER.

DOUBLE DANGER was directed by Lew Landers, who made many fast-paced, enjoyable "B" films for RKO; indeed, this one runs 62 minutes. The movie was shot in black and white by Frank Redman. Arthur T. Horman and J. Robert Bren wrote the screenplay from Horman's story.

There are a couple scenes where large vertical streaks appear on screen, the first time being roughly halfway through the picture. These moments are brief, and for the most part the print is excellent, with good sound. 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: The Silver Horde (1930) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Several of my friends have spent this weekend at Capitolfest in New York, which this year is celebrating the films of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee.

Since I couldn't be at the fest -- I'd love to go one day! -- the next best thing was watching a Joel McCrea movie at home. I pulled out the Kino Lorber RKO Classic Adventures set and watched McCrea in THE SILVER HORDE (1930).

Funnily enough, one of McCrea's costars in this early talkie is Jean Arthur, who was just reviewed yesterday in Kino's new release of EASY LIVING (1937). I'll also soon review her in the new Kino Blu-ray of Billy Wilder's A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948).

I first saw THE SILVER HORDE back in 2008, and I thought it would be interesting to take a fresh look at it, with so much additional knowledge of both Joel McCrea and early sound films acquired in the intervening years. My impressions now were pretty much the same as on my first veiwing; I still found the movie rather creaky, but it's worthwhile viewing and is quite interesting to look at in the context of both actors' overall careers.

Joel plays Boyd Emerson, who starts a salmon fishery in Alaska with the help of Cherry Malotte (Evelyn Brent). Cherry is a tough gal who, unbeknownst to Boyd, is a "camp follower" (i.e., a woman of "ill repute") who has influence (ahem) with Boyd's banker (William B. Davidson).

Arthur plays Boyd's snooty society fiancee Mildred, who is shocked when she learns Cherry's background and believes the worst of Boyd and Cherry's relationship. Mildred turns out to be more than a bit of a shrew, while the steadfast Cherry is there for Boyd through all manner of problems. Though initially dismayed when he realizes Cherry's background, eventually Boyd realizes which woman has greater worth.

It's a reasonably watchable film, with a highlight being a documentary-style sequence on salmon processing. McCrea and Brent give the movie's most interesting performances; Brent's Cherry is perhaps more fully developed than McCrea's tenacious, hardworking Boyd, but he comes across as natural and likeable.

The Jean Arthur seen here bears little connection to the charmer seen in classic comedies just a few years later. She plays an uptight young miss, and her screen looks were not yet fully developed; here she's passably pretty, albeit with bad eyebrows which significantly change her appearance from the lovely looks of her later films, such as the previously mentioned EASY LIVING. In later films Arthur's appearance and whimsical personality both light up the screen, but those days were still ahead for Arthur when she made this.

McCrea and Arthur reunited in 1936 for the comedic mystery ADVENTURE IN MANHATTAN, then teamed once more for the classic romantic comedy THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943). They, and their films, truly got better as time went by.

Gavin Gordon and Louis Wolheim aren't very good in this, with Gordon overacting and Wolheim's dimwit bully a pure bore. Blanche Sweet adds some zing to the screen as Cherry's good friend. The cast also includes Raymond Hatton and Purnell Pratt. The movie has one of the earliest of the many bit part credits racked up by future star Dennis O'Keefe.

THE SILVER HORDE is a 75-minute film directed by George Archainbaud. It was filmed by John W. Boyle and Leo Tover. The screenplay by Wallace Smith was based on a novel by Rex Beach.

The print of THE SILVER HORDE was restored by Lobster Films and preserved by the Library of Congress. It's fairly soft at times, as is common for films of this vintage, though overall it's certainly watchable. There are no extras.

THE SILVER HORDE is one of three films in the RKO Classic Adventures set. I previously reviewed THE PAINTED DESERT (1931) starring William Boyd, Clark Gable, and Helen Twelvetrees. I'll be reviewing the final film in the set, THE PAY-OFF (1930) with Lowell Sherman and Marian Nixon, at a future date.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Daredevil Drivers (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE DAREDEVIL DRIVERS (1938) is a Warner Bros. "B" film just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

The plot, such as it is, concerns Bill (Dick Purcell), a race car driver who's been banned for reckless driving.

Bill resents a bus company owned by Jerry (Beverly Roberts) because their driver's carelessness wrecked the race car he was towing. Out of spite, Bill goes to work for a rival bus company run by Tommy Burnell (Donald Briggs) and arranges to sue Jerry's company, but then he finds himself falling for Jerry. Bill also realizes his employer runs a pretty shady operation.

Unfortunately this hour-long film is a real snoozer, other than a runaway bus sequence and the moments when perky Gloria Blondell pops on screen. Roberts and Purcell are charisma-free leads, and Charley Foy plays the type of obnoxious sidekick role which would be in better hands with someone like Allen Jenkins. Foy, incidentally, was the brother of the film's producer, Bryan Foy.

On the whole, the movie plays like a cut-rate edition of other "B" films like RKO's WILDCAT BUS (1940) and Warner Bros.' BUSSES ROAR (1942), but it's not nearly as interesting.

THE DAREDEVIL DRIVERS was directed by B. Reeves Eason, who specialized in "B" movies and shorts. The screenplay by Sherman L. Lowe was based on a story by Charles Condon. It was filmed in black and white by Ted McCord. According to IMDb, some of the exterior driving scenes were filmed in the Hollywood Hills.

The cast also includes Gordon Oliver and Cliff Clark. Look for William Hopper of PERRY MASON as one of Jerry's bus drivers.

The print is slightly soft and there are occasional jiggles and light scratches, plus a more persistent small scratch mid-screen in the last minutes of the film, but the print is generally good quality and entirely watchable. The sound is good. 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.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Easy Living (1937) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The evergreen screwball comedy EASY LIVING (1937) was just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

EASY LIVING is one of a pair of films starring Jean Arthur which Kino Lorber is releasing this summer. Last week also saw the release of the Billy Wilder comedy A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948), costarring John Lund and Marlene Dietrich. I'll be reviewing that here in the near future.

Just before I started watching the EASY LIVING Blu-ray I told my husband "I don't think I could ever watch this one too many times!" It's one of my all-time favorite comedies, with top-of-the-line acting, direction, script (Preston Sturges!), costumes, and sets. Perfection in every way.

I first reviewed the movie here after a viewing on VHS over a decade ago, so it was a real treat to jump from that all the way up to Blu-ray! I was also fortunate to see the movie on 35mm in UCLA's marvelous 2012 series celebrating director Mitchell Leisen, as well as on several other occasions.

Jean Arthur stars as wide-eyed, wondering Mary Smith, who is headed to work one morning atop a double-decker New York City bus when a fur coat drops onto her head from the heavens above. The turbaned man reading in the row behind her exclaims "Kismet!" And indeed it is.

Mary gets off the bus to try to return the coat and meets up with "the Bull of Broad Street," wealthy banker J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold). J.B., tired of his wife's (Mary Nash) unappreciative overspending, had tossed the coat from his rooftop and invites Mary to keep it. He also takes her to purchase a hat to replace the one ruined when the coat fell on it.

An employee (Franklin Pangborn) at the millinery assumes Mary and J.B. have, ahem, a relationship, and spreads the word to hotel owner Louis (Luis Alberni), whose luxury hotel is going to be foreclosed on by J.B. Louis invites Mary, who has just lost her job (it's a long story), to live in the hotel, thinking it will drum up business and help protect it from being closed down if J.B.'s lady friend is living there. Innocent Mary believes she's simply helping the hotel look "lived in" by living there and turning lights on and off!

Meanwhile Mary has met the charming Johnny (Ray Milland), who has a job at the Automat. Unknown to Mary, he is J.B.'s son who is trying to make his own way in the world. Kismet, indeed!

I just can't say enough good things about how much fun this classic film is. Every time I think of Mary whispering "Golly!" I smile.

The movie is a wonderland of great Hollywood character faces. In addition to those named above, the movie features William Demarest, Esther Dale, Stanley Andrews, Nora Cecil, and Harlan Briggs. Robert Greig steals every scene he's in as the Ball family butler.

Take a close look at the tall male office employee running around in the chaos of the final scenes; it's Dennis O'Keefe in another of his bit roles before hitting it big. And the young lady who has a coat dropped on her in the final scenes? Marsha Hunt! Lee Bowman's said to be a motorcycle cop but I forgot to watch for him.

The Art Deco sets are pure eye candy -- watch for the hotel bathtub! -- and the Automat sequence is a classic, with all the food windows flying open and an ensuing brawl. Every time I see a movie with an Automat scene I wish it still existed so I could eat there.

The movie was shot in black and white by future director Ted Tetzlaff. Sturges' script was based on a story by Vera Caspary, author of the novel LAURA. Costumes were designed by the great Travis Banton. The running time is 88 minutes.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Kat Ellinger, which I plan to enjoy soon, and trailers for four additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Highly recommended.

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

Photos From the Road: McMenamins Kennedy School Hotel

We spent several days in Oregon in late July, starting with a two-night visit to Portland.

While in Portland we stayed at McMenamins Kennedy School Hotel. It's a unique hotel built on the site of an elementary school which originally opened in 1915. The school ceased operating in 1975; McMenamins restored the building and opened the hotel in 1997.

The company operates a number of unique hotels in Oregon and Washington in "reclaimed" historic buildings, including other schools and the one-time site of a county poor farm.

The building was fascinating, a bit like staying inside a theme park, with former classrooms divided in half and turned into hotel rooms.

We spent quite a bit of time simply wandering around the building, where some of the rooms still have their old "Home Economics" and "Library" signs, and the bedrooms are named for former students. In the "English wing" the rooms are named for authors, including Oregon native Beverly Cleary," who incidentally is now 103!

The child-sized drinking fountain works!

The former school auditorium now operates as a movie theater, which is free to guests. It also hosts events such as the "Battle of the Lawyer Bands" which took place one night of our stay.

The hotel seems to be at the center of the community; the same night as the band competition, the Portland Sacred Harp Community Sing was taking place in another room, as it does on the fourth Thursday of each month. It was lovely to hear the music as we walked inside.

The walls are decorated with photos of the children who once roamed the building's halls.

Our room in a former classroom came complete with chalkboard...

...and chalk!

The desk was equipped with a nice big school pencil with the hotel name printed on it:

Really quite charming! And with so much entertainment on site, perhaps it's not surprising that the hotel doesn't have televisions in its rooms. There's a small stack of books provided on the desk. It all combines for a tranquil environment.

In keeping with the hotel being an active part of the local community, the small but very pretty "plunge pool" is open to nearby neighbors along with hotel guests.

Breakfast at the hotel's Courtyard Restaurant was marvelous!

There's also a jam-packed, quirky gift shop...

...which includes Kennedy School Hotel themed souvenirs:

Given my love for mugs, it's probably no surprise that I came home with the tall mug on the right featuring a cat and the logo for the McMenamins handcrafted coffee roasting business, in existence since 2001.

We brought home colorful brochures for other McMenamins hotels, hoping to visit more in the future! There's even a passport rewards program for those who have the opportunity to stay at the various hotels.

On our first night in Portland we drove over the state border into Vancouver, Washington, to meet relatives for dinner at The Smokin' Oak.

It was a fun "hole in the wall" type location with very good food.

The beef chili and cornbread was amazing!

Coming soon: Photos from our visits to various spots in Oregon including the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, and the Lane County Fair in Eugene.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Harmon of Michigan (1941)

College football star Tom Harmon stars in HARMON OF MICHIGAN (1941), an ersatz biopic from Columbia Pictures.

I was curious about HARMON OF MICHIGAN for two reasons: The leading lady is Anita Louise, and I was curious to see a film starring Mark Harmon's dad.

The film is one of the stranger movies I've seen in the last year or two. Other than Harmon playing someone named Tom Harmon who's an All-American football player for the University of Michigan, the rest of the film apparently has no connection with reality.

As one example, Tom marries fellow collegiate Peggy Adams (Louise), an aspiring journalist, while in real life Harmon would marry actress Elyse Knox in 1944; they remained married until Harmon's passing in 1990.

This short 65-minute film follows Harmon through a succession of coaching jobs, including one where his dangerous plays lead to controversy, resignation, and abandonment by Peggy. Harmon is ultimately humbled and matures, regaining the respect of his wife and old-timer coach "Pop" (Oscar O'Shea).

The film is little more than a curiosity. Harmon gets out his line readings decently enough but he's no actor, and his angular features give no hint that he would be the father of such a handsome son.

Anita Louise is quite lovely in this, and I enjoyed seeing it for her sake. She's turned up in several recently reviewed titles including MILLIE (1931), OUR BETTERS (1933), and GLAMOUR FOR SALE (1940).

It was also fun to see Lloyd Bridges and Larry Parks pop up briefly in the film. Otherwise, there really wasn't a whole lot more to it. Film biographies of the era were often merely "inspired" by a real person's life, but it was especially odd in this case since it starred the actual person depicted and was so thoroughly disconnected from the truth.

Here's a fun series of photos Harmon and Louise shot on the University of Michigan campus around the time they made the film:

HARMON OF MICHIGAN was directed by Charles Barton and filmed in black and white by John Stumar.

This film is available on a "manufactured on demand" (MOD) DVD from Sony. The print quality is very good.