Sunday, April 21, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Broadway Musketeers (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BROADWAY MUSKETEERS (1938), a remake of the pre-Code melodrama THREE ON A MATCH (1932), is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Margaret Lindsay, Ann Sheridan, and Marie Wilson inherit the roles originally played by Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis. In the original the women met as schoolgirls; this time around the characters met in an orphanage but find themselves following different paths as adults.

Isabel (Lindsay) is the bored wife of kind, wealthy Stan (John Litel) and the mother of young Judy (Janet Chapman, HEART OF THE NORTH). Unaccountably restless and looking for excitement, Isabel leaves Stan and Judy for no-good gambler Phil (Richard Bond).

Fay (Sheridan), a nightclub singer, gets to know Stan and Judy after Isabel heads to Reno, and she and Stan ultimately fall in love and marry. Goofy but sweet Connie (Wilson) is around to lend Fay moral support when needed.

BROADWAY MUSKETEERS is 63 minutes long, the same running time as the original film, but the new version omits scenes of the girls as children. Since it was made in the Production Code era, the remake also soft-pedals the story to a greater extent; for instance, it was quite clear in the original that Ann Dvorak was a coke addict, while Lindsay's character just has deep shadows under her eyes. Blondell's character had done a stint in prison, while Sheridan's "badness" is limited to performing in nightclubs.

I enjoyed the original film when I saw it at UCLA a couple years ago, but I also liked this "kinder, gentler" remake quite well. BROADWAY MUSKETEERS lacks some of the dramatic heft, not to mention shock value, of the original, but the cast is congenial and the story zips along at top speed, making for an engaging hour of entertainment.

Sheridan is particularly likeable in this, and Wilson's presence provides a bit of comic relief. I also have a soft spot for John Litel so all in all the movie worked for me. Those who share my liking for the cast and short little Warner Bros. movies will probably enjoy it as well.

The supporting cast includes Dick Purcell as a gangster and Dorothy Adams as Judy's nanny.

BROADWAY MUSKETEERS was directed by John Farrow and filmed in black and white by L. William O'Connell.

The Warner Archive DVD soundtrack is comparatively weak and muffled, requiring me to turn up my TV volume above normal levels, while the picture is somewhat soft but overall looks fine. The disc includes the 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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Chef Flynn (2018) - A Kino Lorber DVD Review

Over the past couple of years I've seen a number of interesting documentaries thanks to Kino Lorber, including OBIT: LIFE ON DEADLINE (2016), HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015), DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (2016), and BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017).

Kino Lorber has another winner in CHEF FLYNN (2018), the absorbing story of Flynn McGarry, a self-taught child prodigy who became a fine dining chef.

Flynn's mother Meg is a filmmaker, and consequently copious footage exists of Flynn cooking from a young age; his passion for cooking was such that he created an elaborate kitchen in his bedroom, where he could experiment with his creations in private. I wondered if his parents ever worried about fires or knife accidents; right around the time that crossed my mind, there was a scene where he's had a run-in with his knife!

Fancy meals served to family and friends at home in Los Angeles eventually turned into charging strangers for meals in order to help cover the costs of ingredients; now 20, he has a restaurant in New York.

I was fascinated by his early ability to cook at such a high level of artistry; he began cooking after his parents split up, and he theorizes perhaps it was a way to help and also a way to take control of something when he couldn't control the bigger picture. (The father later re-entered the family after getting help for alcoholism.) There are glimpses of some of the cookbooks on his shelves, but something missing I'd like to have known more about was exactly how he began; for instance, what sorts of dishes was he making initially, and how did things progress from there? Based on his youth in some of the footage, his abilities obviously escalated quickly!

His excitement when he has the chance to cook and learn in the kitchen of a New York restaurant is moving. Along with many positive experiences, he also learns about the pitfalls of social media; for instance, there are those who would discount his hard work and achievements because of "privilege," a word of which I am heartily tired; yes, his parents could afford to buy him kitchen equipment, but so what? He chose to work hard and make the most of his opportunities.

Others have questioned whether he can be a "real" chef without years of training in restaurant kitchens. I found brief excerpts from a speech he gave asking why working in the restaurant business must be done the way it's always been done of particular interest.

A documentary by its nature is slanted, both by what it includes and what it leaves out, and the picture of Flynn's mother is a bit curious; while I admired her willingness to help her son achieve his goals, at some points she seems to move beyond proud and supportive parent to controlling stage mother. There are moments when the viewer wishes she had honored her son's desire to turn off her camera, and a scene where she confronts diners about service on the opening night of a pop-up restaurant in New York is painfully awkward.

It's a given that parenting young children is consuming, but I was starting to wonder what in her life belonged specifically to her when that point was raised in an interview. By the end of the film Flynn is off on his own in New York, achieving his dream of his own restaurant, and Meg is beginning a more independent life in Los Angeles, so it seems as though all's well that ends well.

Those who enjoy "foodie" documentaries, as I do, should find this an interesting watch.

CHEF FLYNN runs a well-paced 82 minutes. It was directed by Cameron Yates and filmed by Paul Yee.

Extras on the Kino Lorber DVD include the trailer, deleted scenes, a speech by Flynn, and a KCRW Public Radio segment. The case includes reversible cover artwork.

A trailer is on YouTube.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this DVD.

The 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day Two

Thursday, April 11th, was a beautiful, sunny day in Hollywood!

I enjoyed the now-traditional Thursday morning breakfast at Mel's with my roommate KC.

It was great to have a chance to quietly catch up for an hour in the midst of all the other goings-on...

...and breakfast at Mel's is always good!

Next we walked down the street, where the Egyptian Theatre courtyard was temporarily blocked off to the public...

and visited Larry Edmunds Bookshop. We ran into Casey along the way and also had the delightful chance to see Jandy and her baby.

The shop's window displays were ready to welcome the festival!

It was my second visit to Larry Edmunds in less than two weeks, but it's no surprise to anyone who's been there that I still managed to find some treasures! Happening on this Fay Wray memoir was wonderful timing, since I just read her daughter's wonderful book on her parents.

I also picked up a terrific book of photos, HOLLYWOOD THEN AND NOW by Rosemary Lord.

Back in Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt, I took a closer look at the costume exhibits than had been possible on Wednesday. I found it rather awe-inspiring seeing costumes worn by Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn close to eight decades ago.

I loved being able to examine the details up close.

Errol Flynn's uniform:

A picture of the scene in which these costumes were used:

Also on hand was a Darth Vader costume from the best STAR WARS movie of them all, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980):

I very happily accepted a George Sanders button for my pass lanyard from Julia!

It usually hasn't worked out for me to be in past TCMParty group photos as they were taken when I was at other events, such as the red carpet bleachers. This year's photo was taken earlier in the day so I was glad to be there. An official TCM photographer, David Byrne, took photos in Club TCM and gets credit for this picture:

Outside on Hollywood Boulevard, preparations were underway for the opening night red carpet ceremonies at the Chinese Theatre:

I grabbed an early dinner and then headed back to the Egyptian for my first movie of the festival...

...a digital screening of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953)...

...where we were welcomed to both the film and the festival by TCM host Alicia Malone.

The print was beautiful, and it was grand fun seeing this comedy with an enthusiastic crowd. I'll be reviewing as many TCM Fest films as time allows and hope to review this here in the near future.

Next up, another comedy, THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER (1947), the first of three Cary Grant films I saw at this year's festival. There were even more Cary Grant films shown this year which I couldn't fit into my schedule, making 2019 a mini-Grant festival.

The 35mm nitrate print was from Shirley Temple's personal collection!

The one discordant note in the evening was the introduction by journalist Tara McNamara, which focused almost entirely on negative points about both the film and film history -- not exactly the best way to get the audience in the mood for a delightful comedy. 

The movie itself is as funny as ever, played by a cast of great pros, and as I Tweeted just after the screening, the print was "completely gorgeous"! Starting off this year's festival with back-to-back comedies made for a great Thursday evening.

Coming soon: A look at Friday, when I saw four films and one clip show, along with visiting the Legion Post 43 Theater for the first time.

Easter Blessings

Very best wishes to all for a Happy Easter Sunday!

Here's a lovely shot of Rita Hayworth as we celebrate this special day.

Happiest Easter Wishes!

Previous Easter Photos: Jane Powell, Anita Louise, Doris Day, Jean Peters, Janet Leigh, and Joan Caulfield.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Sudden Fear (1952) at the Noir City Film Festival

One of the real treats of the recent 21st Annual Noir City Film Festival was seeing SUDDEN FEAR (1952) for the very first time.

A restored digital print of SUDDEN FEAR was shown on Sunday evening, March 31st, along with THE NARROW MARGIN (1952).

Although THE NARROW MARGIN is one of my favorite films, I've been fortunate to see it on a big screen multiple times, and since my husband had to be up at "dark o'clock" Monday morning to fly out of town on business, we only saw SUDDEN FEAR that evening. That one film was more than worth the drive to Hollywood. What a treat!

SUDDEN FEAR is a most enjoyable Joan Crawford film, in a league with other Crawford movies I've enjoyed on a big screen such as MILDRED PIERCE (1945), FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), and FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955). She was such a compelling actress, more than deserving of her Best Actress nomination for this film. A piece by Sheila O'Malley for Roger calls her performance in SUDDEN FEAR "world-class acting."

Crawford plays Myra Hudson, who's both a wealthy heiress and a successful playwright. Myra has everything a woman could want, except love.

Enter Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), an actor Myra has fired from her latest play because he doesn't look like a romantic leading man. (Since this is absolutely true, it also works well in the larger context of the story.) Despite this rocky beginning to their relationship, Lester and Myra get to know one another on a westbound train and ultimately marry. Myra is blissfully happy.

Myra plans to update her will to include provisions for her husband and uses her dictaphone to make notes. Unbeknownst to her, Lester is quite a good actor and not the devoted husband he pretends to be. Lester is dissatisfied with the planned changes to the will and discusses both his feelings about this will and his plans to kill Myra with his mistress Irene (Gloria Grahame) -- not realizing that the dictaphone is picking up everything they say.

Boy, does Myra have a surprise coming when she tries to play back her notes the next day...

The scene where Crawford hears the conversation on the dictaphone is a simply sublime piece of screen acting, as Crawford listens and reacts. I had to think her early experience in silent film acting contributed to the way she nails the scene, with expressions of shock, hurt, fear, embarrassment, anger, nausea, and more crossing her face the longer the recording plays.

As a matter of fact, a huge chunk of Crawford's performance is nonverbal; she schemes to retaliate and do in Lester and Irene, and when the moment to carry out her plan arrives, we similarly see all her feelings playing out on her face, with no dialogue whatsoever. Everything the audience needs to know is communicated by Crawford nonverbally.

The film builds to a deliciously unexpected ending which is the cherry on the proverbial sundae. I loved this movie!

Palance will never be one of my favorite actors, but that actually works for his part here as he's revealed to be such a creep. This was his third film, and he received an Oscar nomination as Best Support Actor.

Grahame exudes a fascinating evil elegance in this one; she's perfect, all slinky temptation, toying with earnest young Junior Kearney (Mike "Touch" Connors, in his first film) while simultaneously plotting Myra's end with Lester.

How great to see Crawford's MILDRED PIERCE husband, Bruce Bennett, here playing her longtime attorney. Also look for Virginia Huston (Ann from OUT OF THE PAST) as Myra's trusted assistant. The cast also includes Selmer Jackson, Arthur Space, and in her typical bit role as a party guest, Bess Flowers.

The movie makes great use of San Francisco locations, although like the San Francisco set WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950) a couple years earlier, it mixes in scenes filmed at Bunker Hills in Los Angeles with real San Francisco locations!

SUDDEN FEAR was directed by David Miller. It was filmed in black and white by Charles Lang. The score was by Elmer Bernstein. The film has a running time of 110 minutes.

SUDDEN FEAR is available on Blu-ray from the Cohen Film Collection, with a commentary track by Jeremy Arnold. I'm looking forward to listening to that track in the near future to learn more about this excellent movie.

A note for anyone interested in seeing the film, DVD Beaver indicates that the Cohen release is far and away the best version of the film available for home viewing.


Tonight's Movie: Shazam! (2019)

Last night I saw SHAZAM! (2019), the newest film from the DC Extended Universe.

The only previous DC films I've seen are WONDER WOMAN (2017) -- I loved Gal Gadot but was tepid about the film itself -- and AQUAMAN (2018), which I very much enjoyed.

I hadn't been particularly interested in SHAZAM! after watching the trailer, but I heard so many good things about the movie from friends that I decided to give it a try. I'm pleased to say that SHAZAM! -- my 30th theatrical film in three weeks! -- was an entertaining crowd-pleaser. I had a good time and recommend it.

The film history of SHAZAM! dates back to the serial ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941), which I reviewed in 2017. (There's no relationship between the serial and the new CAPTAIN MARVEL superhero film, which makes things a bit confusing!) Like the serial, the new movie features a hero named Billy Batson who finds himself face-to-face with a wizard and ends up being able to turn into an older costumed superhero whenever he says "Shazam!" From there the films part company, but it was fascinating to see SHAZAM! with that context.

This time around Billy (Asher Angel) is a troublemaker who's run away from several foster homes as he searches for the mother who lost him at a fair. He's taken in by relentlessly positive foster parents Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews), who have several other children under their roof including teenage Mary (Grace Fulton) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) along with the younger Darla (Faithe Herman), Pedro (Jovan Armand), and Eugene (Ian Chen).

Billy tries to resist his new "family" but finds himself becoming friendly with Freddy, who has a great love for superheroes. Freddy is thus the perfect person for Billy to approach for help after he meets the wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and finds himself now an adult (Zachary Levi) in a superhero costume who can throw electric bolts out of his fingers and repel bullets. Freddy's overjoyed reaction to Billy's new talents is one of the fun things about the film.

Billy, who can go back and forth from teenager to adult by saying "Shazam," is initially unserious and even selfish about his new gifts, using them for his personal benefit. He's still, after all, a somewhat troubled 14-year-old underneath the heroic adult exterior, and Levi does well capturing this dichotomy. Eventually he will mature and grow into his superpowers, particularly as he fights off villainous Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, played by Ethan Pugiotto as a child).

The film's initial setup is a bit complicated, providing the back stories for both Billy and Dr. Sivana at the outset, and the movie admittedly ping-pongs around in tone, from heartwarming to funny to man-eating critters. A friend described the film to me as "part superhero movie, part BIG (1988), and part ABC Afterschool Special," and that was on the mark, in a good way. From the point where Billy moves in with the Vasquez family, I really liked the film's nice mix of humor and heart -- there's even a pause for a very self-aware, humorous tribute to BIG.

The climax of the film is a very delightful sequence in which Billy's foster siblings join him in battle. I wasn't expecting that scene to develop as it did and couldn't have enjoyed it more. The setting of that scene at a fair, bringing Billy full circle from his childhood parting from his birth mother, was also a nice touch.

The film's Christmastime setting is an added plus for me, and the final shot of the movie is laugh-out-loud funny, the perfect cap to a good time at the movies.

SHAZAM! was directed by David F. Sandberg and filmed by Maxime Alexandre. It runs 2 hours and 12 minutes, but despite my preference for shorter movies, it was well-paced and didn't feel overly long.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. There is a bit of rough language, some mildly suggestive scenes involving the exterior of a strip club, and some spooky creatures who like to eat people. Positive themes include Billy maturing and learning to think about others instead of himself, as well as the love and support of Billy's foster family.