Monday, August 03, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Ride a Crooked Trail (1958) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958) is another winner in the new Audie Murphy Collection from Kino Lorber.

This Blu-ray set, releasing this week, also includes the previously reviewed THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952) and NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959), which I'll be reviewing at a future date.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL is a really well-done film, written by top Western writer Borden Chase (RED RIVER and BEND OF THE RIVER), based on a story by George Bruce.

Audie plays Joe Maybe, who as the movie opens is a bank robber on the run from the law.  Joe's horse is shot out from under him, but when the marshal following him dies in an accidental fall, Joe rides the man's horse into the nearest town.

Through a series of circumstances, Joe is mistaken for the man who died, Marshal Noonan, and Judge Kyle (Walter Matthau) immediately hires him to keep order in the town.  The gunman turned lawman was a familiar Western theme around this time, including THE BADGE OF MARSHAL BRENNAN (1957) and FOUR FAST GUNS (1960), but like the other films, RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL gives the story a very original spin.

Joe's old flame Tessa (Gia Scala) shows up in town; she's now the girlfriend of bank robber Sam Teeler (Henry Silva), who's on his way to the town as well, but she finds herself posing as "Mrs. Noonan," the marshal's wife.  Before long Joe and Tessa have also taken in the Judge's young ward, an orphan named Jimmy (Eddie Little), not to mention his dog.  And though they're slow to admit it, both Joe and Tessa find they like being thought of as nice people in a nice town, with a family.

Would-be robbers coming to prefer their "cover" over a life of crime is another familiar tale, at least as far back as LARCENY, INC. (1942) and as recently as the previous year's THE BIG CAPER (1957) with Rory Calhoun.

In this case I found the story particularly heartwarming, as Joe recognizes himself in young Jimmy and realizes that if he'd had someone to take an interest in him, as the judge has done with Jimmy, perhaps his life would have gone another direction.  And with Jimmy now looking up to him along with the judge, perhaps it's not too late.

Murphy is just terrific in this, regularly trading quips with Matthau and Scala but then having a quiet, painful talk one evening with Jimmy in which he opens up and shares his story.

As with so many of Murphy's movies, it's a well-constructed film which includes a key performance by an excellent supporting actor, in this case Matthau.  

Some writers give Murphy's best costars, such as Matthau, Dan Duryea, or Barry Sullivan, credit for carrying his films, but I don't see it quite that way; it's a real partnership, with Murphy and each actor drawing out the best in the other.  

Matthau's wonderful as the wily judge, whose hard drinking doesn't interfere with him being an ace with a gun, but he wouldn't be nearly as good without Murphy and his laconic line readings to play against.  The evolution of their relationship over the course of the movie is probably the best thing about the film.

Scala is excellent as the fiery Tessa, who finds herself falling for not just Joe but young Jimmy; she and Murphy have a good "fire and ice" chemistry, with Murphy dealing with her temper tantrums with some amusement.

Among the supporting cast I especially like Mary Field as the banker's wife; she's become a favorite character actress I always enjoy seeing.  Field had a particular chance to shine in Universal Westerns such as this and FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (1954), in which she played a nervy, gun-toting dressmaker.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL is a very solid Western which has a little bit of everything, including well-staged action scenes, humor, suspense, and family drama.  I see the film as having a lot of what I call "rewatch value" and will be returning to it in the future along with the other two films in the set.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL runs 88 minutes.  It was directed by Jesse Hibbs, who also headed another of Murphy's very best films, RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954).  It was filmed by Harold Lipstein.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is an excellent print of this CinemaScope picture, including a strong soundtrack.

Extras include a commentary track by Toby Roan; the trailer; and two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Pride and Prejudice (1940) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

"Perfect" is an adjective which applies to a select number of movies, and MGM's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940), just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive, certainly qualifies.

Surely, we might mention that it abridges the classic Jane Austen novel, that Greer Garson was in reality too old for Elizabeth Bennet, or that MGM chose anachronistic costumes the studio considered more attractive than Regency-era gowns...but in the end, none of that really matters.  

What's on screen, produced by Hunt Stromberg and directed by Robert Z. Leonard, is sheer cinematic bliss, played by a superlative cast.

The story probably needs little introduction, as we follow the romances of the five marriageable Bennet daughters in the English countryside.

Eldest daughter Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) falls in love with a newcomer to the area, well-off Mr. Bingley (Bruce Lester).  Her sister Elizabeth (Greer Garson) struggles with attraction to Bingley's haughty friend, Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier), who gradually reveals hidden depths.

Middle sister Mary (Marsha Hunt) is a socially awkward bookworm who entertains family and friends with off-key musical performances, while younger sisters Kitty (Heather Angel) and Lydia (Ann Rutherford) are crazy for any man in uniform.  The behavior of all three younger girls and their marriage-minded mother (Mary Boland) frequently embarrasses Elizabeth, Jane, and their long-suffering father (Edmund Gwenn).

Elizabeth must also contend with the proposal of their stuffy cousin Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper), who is due to inherit the family home upon Mr. Bennet's death.  Fortunately he quickly turns his attentions to Elizabeth's dear friend, Charlotte Lucas (Karen Morley, seen here with Garson).  

Edna May Oliver is also on hand in a scene-stealing role as Mr. Collins' oft-referenced patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, with Frieda Inescort as Mr. Bingley's icy sister, Edward Ashley as wicked Mr. Wickham, May Beatty as Aunt Philips, and Marjorie Wood and E.E. Clive as Charlotte's parents.

The performances are universally on point, with particular kudos due to Garson's elegant, intelligent, and sly Elizabeth and to Olivier's Darcy, who lets us know without words that "still waters run deep."  The look he throws back to Elizabeth after he bids her farewell and sets off in search of Wickham breaks my heart, and his final scene with Elizabeth fills my heart with joy.  These two are well matched and will have a beautiful life together.

The screenplay by Aldous Huxley (BRAVE NEW WORLD) and Jane Murfin, adapted by Helen Jerome from Austen's book, is wonderful, managing to retain the essence of the story and many of Austen's great lines in a 118-minute film.  Characters such as Georgiana Darcy or Aunt Gardiner are omitted, yet honestly, we don't really miss them.  

I enjoy what later, sometimes more complete screen versions brought to the story -- I reviewed the 2005 version -- but just as with MGM's brief but wonderful A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), sometimes less can be more.

I had the joy of discussing this film with Marsha Hunt in 2011, and she told me that she had to practice extensively to sing out of tune, as her parents were musicians and she was quite musical herself.  She found it very challenging!  I love her gawky body language, craning her neck forward and squinting her eyes, and how unafraid she was to be silly.

That 2011 screening was a special evening indeed as although I didn't meet her, I also saw another of the Bennet sisters, Ann Rutherford, in attendance.

If a black and white film can be described as "sumptuous," this film certainly qualifies, as photographed by Karl Freund.  It's shown off to good effect on the Warner Archive Blu-ray, which has an excellent picture and sound, with the clipped British accents coming through clearly.  

According to preservationist Robert Harris at Home Theater Forum, the print is from "a gorgeous scan of a safety fine grain master, in turn derived from the original nitrate camera negative, lost to decomp c. 1970."

The disc includes a short and cartoon which were on the original DVD release, along with the trailer.

Most highly recommended.

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

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Coming this fall from Kino Lorber: OUTSIDE THE LAW (1920), a silent film I saw at Cinecon in 2018, and CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (1959), which I've seen described as a Western vampire movie. OUTSIDE THE LAW stars Lon Chaney and Priscilla Dean, while Michael Pate and Kathleen Crowley star in CURSE OF THE UNDEAD. Both films come with commentary tracks.

...A documentary on favorite author Laura Ingalls Wilder is coming to AMERICAN MASTERS at year end. It will include some knowledgeable people including longtime Wilder biographer William Anderson; hopefully the program won't have too much in the way of the politically correct critiques with which some people now view the beloved books, but I won't hold my breath on that.

...New from the U.S. Postal Service: Bugs Bunny stamps.

...Last week the Cartoon Research site celebrated the 69th anniversary of the premiere of Disney's ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) with articles by Greg Ehrbar on ALICE record albums and Jim Korkis on the ALICE IN WONDERLAND Disney never made.

...As mentioned here last year, a remake of REBECCA (1940) is in the works for Netflix starring Armie Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and Lily James (CINDERELLA, DARKEST HOUR). It's now due to arrive in October; photos are at SlashFilm.

...Last month I linked to a review of a revised edition of the book ROBERT WISE: THE MOTION PICTURES by J.R. Jordan. Since I love many of Wise's films, here's a second review of the book, by my friend Andy Wolverton at Journeys in Darkness and Light. I'm quite intrigued by his description of the chapter on THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951) and think I'm going to need to put this book on my "to buy" list.

...The trailer for Liam Neeson's upcoming HONEST THIEF (2020) left me with a huge longing to be in a movie theater again, enjoying a bag of popcorn and some pure escapism. I loved Neeson's PG-13 action films such as NON-STOP (2014) and THE COMMUTER (2018). HONEST THIEF, costarring Kate Walsh, is due out in late October; we'll cross our fingers the release happens then, as nothing is certain in 2020...Speaking of that, NATO (the National Association of Theatre Owners) is lobbying Congress for assistance to survive the pandemic. What a year. In related news, Universal Pictures and AMC Theaters cut a deal shortening the "window" from theatrical exhibition to pay-on-demand from three months to just three weeks!

...Coming to Blu-ray later this month from the Warner Archive: THE BIG PARADE (1925), starring John Gilbert, directed by King Vidor and George W. Hill.

...Vanessa Buttino has reviewed the book MGM STYLE: CEDRIC GIBBONS AND THE ART OF HOLLYWOOD by Howard Gutner at her site Super Veebs. I have this book but haven't read it yet; the photos look amazing.

...Here's a roundup of reviews from Raquel Stecher's annual classic film book Summer Reading Challenge at her blog Out of the Past.

...Sunday at 1:00 p.m. PT Karie Bible and Ann Dvorak biographer Christina Rice will team up to cook a Dvorak recipe in a new installment of Karie's "Hollywood Kitchen" on Facebook.

...Leonard Maltin remembers the late, great Olivia de Havilland, who passed on last weekend at the age of 104. I also really liked "Be Like Melanie Wilkes" by Kyle Smith for National Review, remembering both the actress and her most famous role. This is so true, now more than ever: "Melanie‚Äôs consistent generosity and refusal to define people by their worst moments is a model for us all"...The TCM Remembers video tribute is available on YouTube.

...Notable Passings: John Saxon has died at the age of 83. He was a busy working actor for decades; last month I reviewed him in THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE (1958), seen here with costar Sandra Dee...Jacqueline Scott, who had a brief but memorable role as Walter Matthau's wife in CHARLEY VARRICK (1973), has passed away at 89. Her extensive TV work included multiple episodes of HAVE GUN - WILL TRAVEL and GUNSMOKE...Sonia Darrin, who played Agnes Lozelle in THE BIG SLEEP (1946), has died at 96. Her son, former child actor Mason Reese, says she continued to receive fan mail due to her small role in the classic.

...There will not be a link roundup next Saturday due to a busy schedule. Around the Blogosphere This Week will resume on August 15th.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my July 25th roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 31, 2020

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars Highlights

It's August, and that means it's time for the annual Summer Under the Stars festival on Turner Classic Movies! 

For an "at a glance" look at this month's stars, check out the preview posted here a few weeks ago, or head on over to the TCM festival microsite.

A couple notes of interest: This year's schedule includes Natalie Wood, who was bumped from last year's schedule in order to honor Rita Moreno.

The schedule includes a 24-hour tribute to the late Olivia de Havilland, who passed away last weekend.  The actress will be honored on August 23rd, replacing her good friend Bette Davis on the schedule.  I like to think that Miss Davis would approve.

As I suspect most TCM viewers are well aware, TCM's usual features, including Noir Alley, Silent Sunday Nights, and Saturday morning "B" movies and cartoons, take a vacation during August but will return in September.

Below are a few recommendations from a schedule packed with appealing titles.  Please click any hyperlinked title for my past review.

...The month kicks off with a day of Barbara Stanwyck films on August 1st.  I'm particularly fond of EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1948), which has a superlative cast including James Mason, Van Heflin, Cyd Charisse, Ava Gardner, Nancy Davis (Reagan), and William Conrad.

...I've enjoyed many of the Rock Hudson films showing on the 2nd, but I'd like to call attention to a film I've not yet seen which looks particularly fun: THE GOLDEN BLADE (1953), an adventure film costarring Piper Laurie.

...Rita Hayworth is a star especially dear to me, as her musicals were part of my falling in love with classic movies.  I never miss a chance to recommend one of my all-time favorite films, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), in which she costarred with Fred Astaire.  It's pure escapism, set to the music of Jerome Kern, and it's especially welcome viewing this particular year.  Rita's day is August 3rd.

...The days featuring character actors are always a good opportunity to show an interesting cross-section of films.  S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall will be featured on August 4th, and I particularly recommend EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948), which is shown on TCM relatively infrequently.  Dane Clark and Geraldine Brooks star, and there's a nice supporting role for Lina Romay, who sings with Xavier Cugat's orchestra in YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER the preceding day.

...One of my favorite days on the schedule is August 5th, celebrating Ann Miller.  There are some wonderful musicals being shown that day, and I'm looking forward to REVEILLE WITH BEVERLY (1943), which I've been meaning to catch up with for years now.

...I'm delighted that TCM is showing the wonderful romantic comedy THIRTY DAY PRINCESS (1934) as part of an August 7th tribute to Sylvia Sidney.  This film, which is something of a forerunner to PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943) and ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), also stars Cary Grant.

...Norma Shearer Day on August 10th includes the classic pre-Code melodrama THE DIVORCEE (1930), costarring Chester Morris and Robert Montgomery.

...Lana Turner is celebrated on August 12th.  I'd like to recommend one of her lesser-known films, LATIN LOVERS (1953), because it's such fun, colorful escapism.  Ricardo Montalban and John Lund costar, along with some spectacular set designs and gowns designed by Helen Rose.

...THE HONEYMOON MACHINE (1961) is an amusing romantic comedy being shown as part of Steve McQueen's August 14th day on the schedule.  Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton costar.

...August 15th is one of my favorite days on the schedule, honoring Nina Foch.  Her roles weren't always large, but she made the most of them, notably in EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954), for which she nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination.  One of her best roles came in the short but quite memorable thriller MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945).

...As he does many years, fan favorite Cary Grant has a day on the schedule, on August 16th.  The lineup is terrific; I'd particularly like to point out a lesser-known Grant film, CRISIS (1950), in which he plays a brain surgeon whose services are demanded by a dictator (Jose Ferrer) with a brain tumor.

...Maureen O'Hara is the honoree on August 17th.  I've enjoyed most of the films on the schedule, and a relatively unsung film of interest that day is THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), which costars John Garfield, Patricia Morison, and Martha O'Driscoll.

...The wonderful August 20th schedule celebrating William Powell includes one of my all-time favorite comedies, LIBELED LADY (1936), also starring Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and Spencer Tracy.

...I love the day of Diana Dors films on August 21st!  MAN BAIT (1952) is a fun film starring George Brent and Marguerite Chapman which I included in a past list of enjoyable Lesser-Known Westerns and Noir films.  I also want to mention her film with Victor Mature, THE LONG HAUL (1957), which I saw at this year's Noir City Film Festival -- and as a matter of fact, that was the last film I saw in a theater this year.

...Natalie Wood's day on August 22nd includes one of my favorites from her "adult" performances, LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (1963), costarring Steve McQueen.

...There are many wonderful films being shown as part of the Olivia de Havilland tribute on August 23rd, including PRINCESS O'ROURKE, mentioned previously in this post; it's an underrated, charming romantic comedy costarring Robert Cummings, Jack Carson, and Jane Wyman.  I'd also like to particularly mention one of my more recent discoveries from her filmography, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962), in which her mentally challenged daughter (Yvette Mimieux) finds love with a young man (George Hamilton) as they vacation in Italy.

...NOCTURNE (1946) is an engaging whodunit starring George Raft and Lynn Bari, with a good script and L.A. locations.  It was produced by Joan Harrison, subject of the recent biography PHANTOM LADY: HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER JOAN HARRISON, THE WOMAN BEHIND HITCHCOCK by Christina Lane.  It will be shown as part of George Raft's day on August 24th.

...August 25th is one of my favorite days on the schedule, honoring actress Anne Shirley.  I would happily watch the entire schedule!  Two films I particularly enjoy are SORORITY HOUSE (1939) and UNEXPECTED UNCLE (1941).

...August 27th is another favorite day, filled with the films of Claudette Colbert.  I'd call it a "stay home from work and watch movies all day" day, except so many of us are already at home this year!  WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946) is an underrated romantic comedy with John Wayne, but you really can't go wrong with anything on the schedule.

...I haven't seen THE CONSPIRATORS (1944) in a decade.  It's being shown on Paul Henreid's day on August 28th.  He stars in this stylish film with Hedy Lamarr, Sydney Greenstreet, and Joseph Calleia.

...Eva Marie Saint turned 96 on Independence Day!  I feel fortunate to have seen her in person on multiple occasions.  She'll be honored by TCM on August 29th with a lineup that includes ON THE WATERFRONT (1954).

...Charlton Heston Day on August 30th includes the highly diverting SKYJACKED (1972).  It's great fun, with a terrific supporting cast including Yvette Mimieux, Jeanne Crain, and Walter Pidgeon.  Some of the onscreen behavior, including Heston smoking a pipe while piloting the plane during takeoff, is fascinating from the perspective of nearly half a century later.

For more on TCM in August 2020, please check out the complete schedule, the TCM Summer Under the Stars site, and my Quick Preview of TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars

TCM's promotional video for August is here, and a Twitter thread of TCM employee recommendations for the month starts here.
Happy Summer Under the Stars Month!

Classic Movie Hub: Yvonne DeCarlo Westerns

My newest Western Roundup column has now been posted at Classic Movie Hub.

This month I look at Westerns starring one of my favorite actresses, Yvonne DeCarlo.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out, and thanks very much to everyone for reading!

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western Roundup Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018; September 2018; October 2018; November 2018; December 2018; January 2019; February 2019; April 5, 2019; April 30, 2019; May 2019; June 2019; July 2019; August 2019; September 2019; October 2019; November 2019; December 2019; January 2020; February 2020; March 2020; April 2020; May 2020; June 2020.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Duel at Silver Creek (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

There are a number of terrific Blu-ray collections being released this summer by Kino Lorber, but the one I'm most excited about might be the Audie Murphy Collection. 

 The set, releasing on August 4th, includes the excellent NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959); RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958), which I'll soon be watching for the first time; and THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952), a real favorite of mine which I first reviewed here in 2014.

THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK has me smiling with anticipation from the moment the colorful opening credits sequence begins.  Few things in the movies were as beautiful as the opening titles for Universal Pictures Westerns!

Murphy plays the Silver Kid, a fast-drawing young gambler whose father was murdered by claim jumpers.

The Silver Kid might seem to be an unlikely candidate for deputy sheriff, but Marshal Lightning Tyrone (Stephen McNally) needs backup when his own quick draw skills are hampered by an injury to his hand.  Tyrone correctly senses that there's more to the young man than gambling and helps give him a positive purpose and a way to legally avenge his father's killing.

The Silver Kid is also drawn to pretty young Dusty (Susan Cabot), who's had a crush on the older Lightning for too long.  The Silver Kid helps Dusty realize that Lightning sees her as a kid sister and that he's instead interested in a newcomer to town, glamorous Opal Lacy (Faith Domergue).  The Silver Kid, meanwhile, definitely doesn't see Dusty as a sister.

There's a satisfying storyline regarding the claim jumpers, culminating in an outstanding gunfight sequence with excellent stunt work; my favorite moment is when Murphy rides up to a window, leaps off his horse and crashes through the window, gun a-blazing.

I also especially appreciated a shootout between Lightning and Johnny Sombrero (Eugene Iglesias), which builds to an unexpected conclusion, including Johnny giving Lightning some unexpected news regarding Opal.

The movie is very well directed by Don Siegel, who keeps up a terrific pace over the film's 77 minutes while bringing out interesting nuances in the characters' relationships.  

One of the things I enjoy the most about this film is that it flips our expectations of the relationship between Lightning and the Silver Kid; Lightning initially mentors the Silver Kid, yet in time we come to see that as good as Lightning is, he's blinded at times by his emotions, while the Silver Kid coolly assesses people and situations and takes care of business.

I really like McNally, who had a good run in Universal films, and he and Murphy have nice chemistry.  For his part, Murphy was developing into a fine actor whose work, even at this early stage of his career, is consistently underrated.  He has great timing and a memorable way with his lines.

I also love the relationship between the Silver Kid and Dusty, which generates considerable heat in relatively brief screen time.  Murphy and Cabot were very well teamed and would go on to costar in two more top-notch Westerns, GUNSMOKE (1953) and RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954).

Domergue excelled at playing disturbed women, with the film noir WHERE DANGER LIVES (1954) and the Western ESCORT WEST (1958) being further examples.  Her first sequence as Opal is unexpected and shocking; while her character doesn't get to do anything that surprising in the rest of the film, Domergue is nonetheless compelling as a manipulative woman hiding homicidal tendencies underneath her very beautiful exterior. 

 The supporting cast includes Lee Marvin, Gerald Mohr, James Anderson, Walter Sande, Griff Barnett, Harry Harvey, and Jeff York. 

 The movie was filmed in Technicolor by Irving Glassberg at Southern California locations, including Iverson Ranch.  The script was by Gerald Drayson Adams and Joseph Hoffman, from Adams' story.

In addition to my 2014 review, I also wrote a little about this film in my 2018 column on "Universal Gems" for Classic Movie Hub.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray picture looks terrific, with a sharp picture, and has excellent sound. The disc includes a commentary track by Westerns expert Toby Roan; the trailer; and trailers for two additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Western fans will love this one, and I suspect this "darn good Western" might win over newcomers to the genre as well.  Recommended.

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Girl Crazy (1943) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney light up the screen in GIRL CRAZY (1943), just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

GIRL CRAZY is a film I saw many times on TV growing up -- on L.A.'s KTTV Channel 11, to be exact! -- so it's a movie I know well. However, I hadn't seen it in years; I loved that it was quite familiar, yet there was enough distance from my last viewing that it simultaneously felt quite fresh.  What a treat to revisit it!

The story concerns Danny Churchill Jr. (Rooney), the son of a wealthy publisher (Henry Daniell).  

Danny Jr. is gaining a reputation as an unserious party boy, and after his nightclub photos appear in the papers a few times too many, Dad transfers him from Yale to the all-male, isolated Cody College in the west, far from girls and the New York night scene.

Danny is initially unhappy with the school's rigorous schedule and feels like the proverbial fish out of water on the campus, but he's sweet on local postmistress Ginger Gray (Garland), who also happens to be the granddaughter of the college president (Guy Kibbee).

When the state legislature threatens to close the college due to low enrollment, it's up to Danny and Ginger to find a way to save the school.

The plot's pleasant enough, but the viewers are there for are Judy and Mickey, Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, the songs of the Gershwin brothers, and a grand finale choreographed by Busby Berkeley.  That's entertainment!

Judy was as lovely in this film as she ever was on screen, and, it goes without saying, what a performer!  She truly could do it all, including comedy, melancholy drama, and knockout singing and dancing.

My favorite scene in the film is when Garland dances "Embraceable You" with dance director (and future film director) Charles Walters, seen here. They move so beautifully together, and when you add in the gorgeous music and my memories of having met "Chuck" a couple of times, I get a big lump in my throat watching this dance. It's just wonderful in every way.

Then you've got Judy singing "But Not for Me" and "Bidin' My Time," a June Allyson specialty in the opening nightclub scene ("Treat Me Rough"), and the fabulous Berkeley finale set to "I've Got Rhythm," and truly, who could ask for anything more? 

Rooney also does a good job, carefully walking the line between being sympathetic and amusing versus obnoxious, and he has wonderful chemistry with Garland.

The supporting cast includes Gil Stratton Jr. (last seen here in HOT ROD from 1950), Frances Rafferty, Nancy Walker, Rags Ragland, Robert E. Strickland, Irving Bacon, and Howard Freeman.  

Peter Lawford and Don Taylor can be spotted in the background among the school's students.  The nightclub showgirls include future Western leading lady Karin Booth and Hedy Lamarr lookalike Inez Cooper.

This 99-minute film was directed by Norman Taurog.  It was filmed in black and white by William Daniels and Robert Planck.

The Blu-ray includes the extras which were also on the film's original DVD release, including an introduction by Mickey Rooney, the trailer, a commentary track by Judy Garland biographer John Fricke, a cartoon, a short, and an outtake. The movie print and sound are excellent.

GIRL CRAZY is recommended for pure movie musical joy.

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

Quick Preview of TCM in October

Turner Classic Movies recently released a preview of the October schedule.

The October Star of the Month is Peter Cushing. Over 20 of Cushing's films will be shown on Monday evenings in October.

The TCM Spotlight will focus on "30 Years of the Film Foundation." Continuing in September will be the "Women Make Film" series, which will begin in September and run through early December.

Noir Alley films in October are WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950), THE RACKET (1951), DESTINATION MURDER (1950), MACAO (1952), and THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943).

Filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes in October include David Janssen, Buster Keaton, Andy Griffith, Carole Lombard, Jan Sterling, Van Heflin, Jean Harlow, Lon Chaney, Constance Bennett, the Marx Brothers, and the teaming of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

October themes include U.S. Presidents, elections, London, Paris, Hungary, Dr. Kildare, and "nuclear nightmares." And of course, this being October there are plenty of spooky films on the schedule; TCM is showing several evenings of "Fright Favorites."

There are still a number of blank spots on the schedule, so it will be interesting to see what else may turn up in the future. I'll have a closer look at the October schedule posted here at the end of September.

In the meantime, the final night honoring Tony Curtis as the July Star of the Month is this evening. Summer Under the Stars is coming in August, with Dorothy Dandridge scheduled as the September Star of the Month.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Virginian (1946) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last month I reviewed Alan Ladd in WHISPERING SMITH (1948) from the new Western Classics I collection released by Kino Lorber.

Tonight I returned to the set to watch Joel McCrea as THE VIRGINIAN (1946). I hadn't seen this film since 2010 and have looked forward to revisiting it.

I'd forgotten over the past decade that THE VIRGINIAN's story is mostly seen through the eyes of Molly Wood (Barbara Britton), an Eastern schoolteacher newly arrived in the frontier town of Medicine Bow.

Molly longed for a more adventurous life than she'd have in her hometown, but even so, she's not quite sure what to make of the wild Western town or its inhabitants, who include a cowboy known only as the Virginian (McCrea) and his pal Steve (Sonny Tufts).

Molly and the Virginian start off on the wrong foot, but he's smitten with pretty Molly and persistent in courting her. Molly gradually unbends, discovering that the Virginian is an honorable man; however, she's dismayed when he must mete out frontier justice, first when Steve is caught cattle rustling and later when he's challenged to a shootout by evil Trampas (Brian Donlevy).

Much like WHISPERING SMITH, THE VIRGINIAN isn't a great Western, but it's solid and enjoyable entertainment. The main issue working against the film is that the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (THE THIN MAN) could have done a better job developing the story and title character, as except for key scenes of conflict, we don't know much about the interior life of the Virginian; instead the audience mostly sees him through Molly's eyes, only learning about him gradually.

That formula works to an extent, but the story is truncated, with references to some events we don't see, so the character development is on the thin side. At 87 minutes, this is a movie which could easily have stood another 10 minutes or so to more fully develop the character of the Virginian and his relationship with Molly. Instead, we're left with something of an enigma when it comes to the leading man.

The longest section of the film focusing on the Virginian is unfortunately also the most disturbing part of the movie, when the Virginian has to deal with the fact his old pal Steve is on the wrong side of the law. I frankly find this part of the film difficult to watch.

The rest of the movie I quite enjoy. Britton's initial rejection of the Virginian may be overdone -- I mean, he's Joel McCrea! -- but I like Britton, who starred in a favorite mystery, COVER UP (1949), and I appreciated that the movie is different from the norm in its focus on the leading lady. McCrea, of course, is always a pleasure to watch.

Donlevy, dressed all in black, is terrific as the sardonic, nasty Trampas, and Tufts is sympathetic as Steve, a nice guy who makes some really bad choices. I especially enjoyed Fay Bainter and Henry O'Neill as the settlers responsible for hiring Molly. The fine cast also includes Tom Tully, William Frawley, Nana Bryant, Paul Guilfoyle, Marc Lawrence, Willard Robertson, Vince Barnett, and Ann Carter.

The movie was directed by Stuart Gilmore, and the beautiful Technicolor photography was by Harry Hallenberger, with most of the exteriors shot on Southern California ranches. The Goodrich-Hackett script was based on Howard Estabrook's adaption of the classic Owen Wister novel.

The last time I saw this film was on VHS, so while I can't compare the Blu-ray to DVD releases of the past decade, it was a big upgrade for me which I really enjoyed watching. The print is crisp, with a strong soundtrack.

Extras on the disc include a commentary by Lee Gambin and Rutanya Alda, the trailer, and an additional trailer for another Joel McCrea Western.

A fun postscript: Last year at a fundraiser for McCrea Ranch I won posters for THE VIRGINIAN in a raffle! You can read about that event in a column I wrote for Classic Movie Hub.

Still to come is a review of the final film in this Western set, WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (1940) starring Randolph Scott.

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

Olivia de Havilland Dies at 104

Word is breaking this morning that the great Olivia de Havilland has left us.

She died in Paris this weekend, just weeks after turning 104.

While her obituaries will understandably focus on GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), I'm especially grateful for her performance as Maid Marian in one of my all-time favorite films, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). That film is at the top of any list I would make of perfect movies.

Though some actors of the '30s remain with us, including 102-year-old Marsha Hunt, it's hard not to feel that this passing marks, in a significant way, the closing of an era.

Miss de Havilland was a woman of faith, and this morning I am particularly remembering an interview she gave several years ago on how she prepared to give Scripture readings at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris.

At this sad time, Errol Flynn's moving line from THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941) comes to mind as the most appropriate thing a classic film fan can say today, with deepest gratitude: "Walking through life with you, ma'am, has been a very gracious thing."

Previously: Happy Birthday to... (2009), Happy Birthday to Two Amazing Ladies (2013), Happy 99th Birthday to Olivia de Havilland (2015), TCM Star of the Month: Olivia de Havilland (2016), and Happy 101st Birthday to Olivia de Havilland (2017).

Reviews of Olivia de Havilland films: THE IRISH IN US (1935), GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (1938) (also here), THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), FOUR'S A CROWD (1938), HARD TO GET (1938) (also here), WINGS OF THE NAVY (1939), DODGE CITY (1939), RAFFLES (1939), MY LOVE CAME BACK (1940), HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941) (also here), THE MALE ANIMAL (1942), IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942), THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943), PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), GOVERNMENT GIRL (1943), DARK MIRROR (1946), THE PROUD REBEL (1958), LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962), and AIRPORT '77 (1977).

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The classic adventure film ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944) was released on Blu-ray last week by Kino Lorber.

Like ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942), another new Kino Lorber release reviewed here two weeks ago, ALI BABA stars Jon Hall, Maria Montez, and Turhan Bey in a Technicolor spectacle from Universal Pictures.

I really enjoyed ARABIAN NIGHTS, and I'm happy to say that I liked ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES even more.

Like ARABIAN NIGHTS, the story, written by Edmund L. Hartmann, is about a "hidden caliph," but it's more coherent and a little lighter on its feet than the earlier film. And with a couple more years and another film to her credit -- WHITE SAVAGE (1943), again with Hall -- Montez gives a more relaxed and natural performance. She's still not a great actress, but she's more than good enough for this role.

As the film begins, the Mongols have invaded Baghdad. The caliph (Moroni Olsen) is killed due to the betrayal of Prince Cassim (Frank Puglia), but the caliph's young son Ali (Scotty Beckett) escapes and stumbles across the cave of the "forty thieves."

The thieves, including Old Baba (Fortunio Bonanova) and Abdullah (Andy Devine), adopt Ali, naming him Ali Baba, and when he grows up the thieves, now "forty and one," terrorize the Mongols.

As the story unfolds, eventually the thieves kidnap Princess Amara (Montez), who is expected to be the bride of the Mongol ruler Kahn (Kurt Katch). Only later does Ali realize that Amara is the childhood friend (played by Yvette Duguay in the opening scenes) he had pledged to wed himself.

Along the way there are many exciting action scenes, with Amara's loyal servant Jamiel (Turhan Bey) joining forces with the thieves in a plan to overthrow Kahn and restore Ali to the throne.

I found this film a lot of fun; just as with ARABIAN NIGHTS, it must have been wonderful escapism for wartime audiences when it was released in January 1944. It certainly feels especially good to me right now being able to disappear into Universal's Technicolor wonderland for 87 minutes.

I like Jon Hall in these films quite well; he's good-humored and handsome, although it must be admitted that in this film he threatens to be overshadowed by the heroics of Bey, an actor I'm really coming to appreciate this year. Bey was delightful in the comedy OUT OF THE BLUE (1947) and had a much smaller part in ARABIAN NIGHTS. His performances in OUT OF THE BLUE and ALI BABA cause me to be interested in seeking out more of his work.

Andy Devine has quite a nice part in this as Ali's "nursemaid," assigned by Old Baba to take care of the young boy. It's a nicely written and acted part, balancing comedy with a couple moments which are quite touching.

The vigorous score by Edward Ward is a real plus, as is the Technicolor cinematography of W. Howard Greene and George Robinson. Numerous desert scenes were filmed on location in California's Red Rock Canyon State Park.

ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES was directed by Arthur Lubin.

Like ARABIAN NIGHTS, the ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES Blu-ray disc includes the trailer, a gallery of trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Phillipa Berry. The film looks and sounds terrific. It's a most enjoyable release.

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