Friday, October 18, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Highwaymen (2019)

I watched nine films at last weekend's Lone Pine Film Festival, and I managed to squeeze in a tenth film at our hotel!

That movie was THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019), a Netflix film which I streamed on my iPad spread over a couple of evenings. I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend it.

THE HIGHWAYMEN is the story of Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), Texas Rangers who are called out of retirement in the early '30s to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde and end their reign of terror. The gangsters are constantly on the move, with crimes including the murders of nine lawmen along with unarmed citizens, yet local police and the FBI have failed to find and capture them.

Hamer and Gault set out with little more than a stack of maps (oh, and a massive amount of firepower in the back of their car). They work hunches and common sense, detecting patterns in the couple's travel, and gradually edge closer and closer to finding the killers and a fateful confrontation in May 1934.

The movie is on the long side at 132 minutes, but my interest in it never flagged. This was basically a police procedural, a film genre I love, and the period setting made it all the more interesting. It was fascinating watching the techniques used in the hunt as Hamer and Gault assessed clues and planned their next moves. Although, based on my limited reading, a couple incidents in the film were apparently inspired by rumor, for the most part the movie seems to have been factually accurate.

Costner is perhaps my favorite film star of the last few decades, and his taciturn lawman was wonderfully paired with Harrelson's wryly funny grizzled Ranger. They have excellent chemistry, making this also somewhat of a "buddy cop" film, albeit one that's played in a very low key. The chameleon-like Harrelson has become a wonderful character actor, to the extent it won't surprise me in the least if he wins an Oscar one of these days.

They're well supported by Kathy Bates in a smaller role as "Ma" Ferguson, the governor of Texas, who reluctantly approves the Rangers being called back to work as Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree spirals further and further out of control.

I've never had interest in seeing BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), but have read the opinion more than once that while that film is highly regarded by many, THE HIGHWAYMEN provides a much-needed antidote. It properly makes the men who hit the road to stop them the true heroes, while it deglamorizes Bonnie and Clyde and makes clear they were not admirable "Robin Hoods of the Depression," but stone cold killers who took many innocent lives. That latter fact makes the worship of the pair by many all the more stunning; I'd previously had no idea how many thousands attended their funerals. The mob desperate for souvenirs after their deaths was another disturbing bit of history.

The period setting is excellent, and unlike many recent films set in past eras (including director John Lee Hancock's own SAVING MR. BANKS), the movie avoids a phony "CGI" feel. The viewer never thinks about green screens or that anachronisms may be hiding in the corners of the frame.

This movie joins a couple other films from director Hancock which I've enjoyed, THE ROOKIE (2002) and THE BLIND SIDE (2009). It was filmed by John Schwartzman, with a musical score by Thomas Newman. The supporting cast also includes Kim Dickens, John Carroll Lynch, Thomas Mann, Dean Denton, Emily Brobst, Edward Bossert, and William Sadler.

Parental advisory: THE HIGHWAYMEN was rated R for a brief theatrical run. I honestly felt it was more of a PG-13 level. I had some trepidation about how violent it would be, but most of the time Bonnie and Clyde's crimes are seen only in the far distance or implied without overt violence. (Ironically the most disturbing sequence, in which Bonnie is seen close up, is one that I read is factually disputed.) The scene where Hamer, Gault, and fellow law enforcement officers kill Bonnie and Clyde is certainly violent, yet manages to communicate the volume of shooting and its consequences without being overly graphic. In all cases, the violence is telegraphed ahead of time and a viewer can avoid looking at the screen.

The trailer is here.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Happy Birthday, Marsha Hunt!

Note: Today the remarkable Marsha Hunt celebrates her 102nd birthday!

I have previously honored Marsha with birthday posts in 2007, 2012, 2016, and on her centennial birthday in 2017.

Today I celebrate her special day with a reprise of an article originally written for ClassicFlix in 2014.

This post contains brief recommendations of some of Marsha's notable work which is available on DVD. Please click on any hyperlinked title for an extended review.

Actress Marsha Hunt, was born in Chicago on October 17, 1917. She's an elegant, articulate lady who continues to grace Southern California classic film screenings, sharing her memories of decades in the movie business.

At a 2012 talk at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California, Marsha described having visited that theatre when on vacation as an 11-year-old child, dreaming of one day being a movie star. She said how amazing it was that not only did her dream come true, but that she could return to that theater so many decades later, able to look back on a long career as an actress.

Marsha's film career began at Paramount in 1935, when she was just 17 years old. She later wrote of her "astonishing good luck" being given lead roles from the start of her career. She starred in "B" Westerns opposite actors such as Buster Crabbe and John Wayne, and also had a notable bit role at the very end of the classic Jean Arthur comedy EASY LIVING (1937).

By 1939 she had landed at MGM, where like many other actresses under contract at the studio, she got her start as a supporting player in an Andy Hardy film, THE HARDYS RIDE HIGH (1939).

As Marsha climbed through the ranks at MGM, she also occasionally worked for other studios in films such as IRENE (1940), seen at the left with Alan Marshal, and ELLERY QUEEN, MASTER DETECTIVE (1940). She worked steadily at MGM throughout the 1940s, having appeared in over two dozen films for the studio by the time she left in the late '40s.

Marsha's post-MGM career included SMASH-UP: THE STORY OF A WOMAN (1947), in support of Oscar-nominated Susan Hayward, and the classic film noir RAW DEAL (1948), seen here with Dennis O'Keefe and Claire Trevor.

Marsha also appeared in theatrical productions and did a considerable amount of television work beginning in the late '40s and on through the '80s. Her last TV appearance was in an episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION in 1988.

As recently as 2008 Marsha starred in THE GRAND INQUISITOR (2008), a short film written and directed by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and Turner Classic Movies. In her 90th year she did a live reading at the Hollywood Bowl's Easter sunrise service in 2008.

In 1993 Marsha authored a beautiful book, THE WAY WE WORE: STYLES OF THE 1930S AND '40S AND OUR WORLD SINCE THEN, examining fashion through her huge collection of beautiful movie stills.

A documentary titled MARSHA HUNT'S SWEET ADVERSITY (2019) is now available for viewing on Amazon.

Marsha's life hasn't always been easy. She lost her only child soon after her birth, a tragedy which was followed by dealing with the blacklist. Her husband of four decades passed away back in 1986. Despite these difficulties, Marsha radiates serenity and optimism. In a 90th birthday interview a few years ago she said, "I've had the fullest 90 years imaginable. I can't think of a year that was wasted. They were so crammed with variety and privilege and opportunity."

When I met her in 2011, Marsha clasped my hand and said, "I've had a wonderful life!" I'll never forget that special moment.

Here are several recommended Marsha Hunt titles currently available on DVD:

THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (1939) - This soapy melodrama is entertaining viewing thanks to Marsha and a great cast, including Lana Turner, Lew Ayres, Richard Carlson, Anita Louise, and Ann Rutherford.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940) - Forget about the anachronistic costumes and sit back and enjoy this splendid Austen adaptation, with a fine cast including Greer Garson, Sir Laurence Olivier, Edmund Gwenn, and Ann Rutherford.  Marsha plays awkward Mary (seen at right); she told me that because she was actually quite musical, she had to practice singing off-key for weeks!

I'LL WAIT FOR YOU (1941) - This is a somewhat shorter remake of a favorite Robert Montgomery-Maureen O'Sullivan film called Hide-Out (1934). I'LL WAIT FOR YOU is a very enjoyable film in its own right, with Marsha starring as a sweet farm girl who falls in love with a racketeer on the run from the cops, played by Robert Sterling.

BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941) - Marsha is notable in an emotional role as Greer Garson's tragic adopted sister.

SEVEN SWEETHEARTS (1942) - Marsha has a fun comedic turn as the stage-struck oldest sister of seven daughters. One of her younger sisters is played by Kathryn Grayson, who falls for reporter Van Heflin. Directed by Frank Borzage, this movie is very enjoyable.

THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943) - Marsha was part of an all-star cast in this classic MGM tale about life in a small town during WWII. Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Donna Reed, and James Craig are just part of the fine cast, directed by Clarence Brown. Marsha is seen here with Craig and Katharine Alexander, who plays Marsha's mother.

CRY "HAVOC" (1943) - Marsha is a nurse stranded on Bataan in this somber MGM war film, costarring Joan Blondell, Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Ella Raines, and several more talented actresses.

LOST ANGEL (1943) - Seen in the photograph at the right, this is one of my favorite Margaret O'Brien films, Marsha plays opposite James Craig again in the story of a runaway child genius.

BRIDE BY MISTAKE (1944) - Marsha plays Sylvia, the loyal secretary to Laraine Day, portraying an heiress wary of fortune hunters. Sylvia impersonates her boss at public events, to the increasing consternation of her new bridegroom (Allyn Joslyn). This entertaining comedy remakes The Richest Girl in the World (1934), in which Fay Wray played Marsha's role.

RAW DEAL (1948) - A classic film noir directed by Anthony Mann and filmed by John Alton, with a cast including Dennis O'Keefe, Claire Trevor, John Ireland, and Raymond Burr.

Additional favorites include: IRENE (1940), KID GLOVE KILLER (1942), THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942), and MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE (1949). In 2011 I shared with Marsha that THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA is a particular favorite of mine, and she said it's one of her favorites, too!

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2014.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Way West (1967) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

One of the first couple films I saw at this year's Lone Pine Film Festival was THE WAY WEST (1967), starring Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, and Kirk Douglas.

While a majority of the films shown at the festival were filmed in the Lone Pine area, THE WAY WEST was shot in Oregon and Arizona. It was shown in honor of festival guest Michael McGreevey, who plays Widmark's son in the film.

McGreevey spoke briefly with moderator Rob Word before the screening; they're seen here in a photo taken during their chat. More on that later in this post.

THE WAY WEST was based on a novel by A.B. Guthrie Jr. which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. I read the book in the '80s and vaguely recall enjoying it but nothing further.

Despite my liking for Mitchum and Widmark, I had avoided the film for years due to reading various negative things about it from people whose opinions I respect. I found it slightly better than I expected, worth watching once for the deep cast and the fine location photography by William H. Clothier, but it has an overall sourness which never lifts. In the end, it's a fairly poor Western, especially considering what should have been, given the many talents who worked on it.

As implied by the title, the film is about a wagon train headed to settle Oregon. The train is organized by the widowed Senator William Tadlock (Douglas), who is making the journey with his young son (Stefan Arngrim, whose sister Alison was Nellie Oleson on TV's LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE). Tadlock convinces Dick Summers (Mitchum) to serve as trail guide; Summers has deep experience but is also hampered by failing eyesight.

The settlers include Lije (Widmark) and Becky (Lola Albright) Evans and their teenage son, the earnest Brownie (McGreevey); Brownie is quickly smitten with a girl on the train, Mercy McBee (Sally Field). The frisky Mercy sleeps with Mr. Mack (Michael Witney), a newlywed whose wife (Katherine Justice) refuses to have marital relations.

The settlers experience many travails, including Indian conflicts, accidental deaths, unexpected pregnancy, and more. Tadlock rules the train with an iron grip, and when a young Indian boy is accidentally shot, he threatens to sacrifice the life of Brownie Evans to satisfy the Indians, unless the person who actually did it comes forward.

For me the greatest pleasure of the film's 122 minutes was picking out the many great faces in the supporting cast. Harry Carey Jr. and a prematurely aged William Lundigan are close to unrecognizable behind shaggy beards; Patric Knowles (Will Scarlett in the 1938 THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD) welcomes the wagon train to a fort as they near the end of their journey.

Peggy Stewart, who passed on earlier this year and was honored with a special tribute at the festival, is another of the settlers, and Jack Elam is somewhat incongruously cast as the parson. John Mitchum, Connie Sawyer (who died last year at 105), Stubby Kaye, Elisabeth Fraser, and Nick Cravat are also on hand. The sheer number of interesting actors in beautiful settings helped keep my attention focused despite the film's shortcomings.

Otherwise, the film, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, is fairly leaden, filled with "ick" moments which were unpleasant to watch and frankly also unpleasant to contemplate days after watching. Many of those scenes center around Douglas's martinet of a wagon train leader, who is also, pure and simple, a weirdo; he's supposed to be rather villainous, but even given that, I find Douglas unpleasant to watch. He weights down most of the films in which he appears, and this is no exception.

Mitchum and Widmark are more appealing yet suffer from a lack of character development, due to poor scripting, editing, or both; we jump right into getting to know them as the wagon train is leaving and scrape together some of their back stories as we go, but there's much left unexplained.

Add in Mr. Mack's, er, marital issues, the poor choices made by Mack and Mercy, multiple children killed in accidents, and a man being hung, and there wasn't much in this film to enjoy. (While I'm at it, why was a plainly disturbed woman left to be lowered to the canyon floor last?! That made no sense and led to another violent moment.) Other Westerns, such as the superb WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), handle some similarly tough issues yet manage to leave the audience feeling inspired rather than needing a shower.

As with many period films of the '60s, the movie also suffers from anachronistic "pouffy" women's hairstyles; they're not as bad as in some '60s films, such as NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966) or BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969), but the look still screams "This movie was made in the 1960s!"

I've seen a great many Westerns, and THE WAY WEST is, sadly, a lower tier effort, with scattered scripting (by Ben Maddow and Mitch Lindemann), underdeveloped characters, and a negative overtone, spending the majority of its screentime on unpleasant incidents, while rarely taking time to celebrate the courage of the brave settlers.

THE WAY WEST is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Michael McGreevey has had a long and interesting career, starting out as a child actor in films such as THE GIRL MOST LIKELY (1958), where he had a bit role, and DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959), where he was the little boy held hostage by Burl Ives' gang.

McGreevey explained that after taking time off to be a "normal" kid in high school, he found himself on a plane to Oregon the day after graduation, to costar in THE WAY WEST. He would later do quite a bit of work for Disney, including SNOWBALL EXPRESS (1972). After acting in an episode of THE WALTONS in 1973, he went on to write a few episodes of the series, where his father John also wrote scripts for many years, including classic episodes such as "The Foundling" (the very first episode) and "The Easter Story."

Along with his writing career, Mike McGreevey also worked as a producer, including the 1980s TV series FAME.

McGreevey shared a wonderful anecdote about Robert Mitchum and his remarkable memory; he recounted how a lengthy new speech was written for Mitchum's character and he had someone recite it to him, then went in front of the camera and performed it, letter perfect.

My husband and I had the chance to chat with Mr. McGreevey and his wife later in the weekend, which was a real treat. They are very nice people, and I was glad of the opportunity to share how much both SNOWBALL EXPRESS and THE WALTONS meant to me as I was growing up, and beyond. I actually had the opportunity to meet his father at a WALTONS event many years ago so it was very "full circle" being able to also meet Mike!

More Lone Pine Film Festival coverage coming soon!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The 30th Lone Pine Film Festival

What a wonderful long weekend at the 30th Lone Pine Film Festival!

We were in Lone Pine from the 10th through the 14th, with a busy schedule including a variety of activities.

My film tally was nine this year -- ten if I include one I watched at the hotel! -- which was down from last year's dozen titles, but on the other hand I went on three two-hour location tours this year, tripling last year's single tour.

We arrived in town bright and early and decided to explore Whitney Portal Road before lunch. We'd never taken Whitney Portal Road past the area of its intersection with Movie Road and the Alabama Hills, so this year we drove all the way up to the Mount Whitney trailhead, elevation 8365 feet.

The start of the trail to hike the highest mountain in the "lower 48 States" is rather fancy!

It turned out to be a nice coincidence we made the drive this year, as we watched KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953) at the festival a couple of days later and realized that the opening battle scene was filmed on the road.  The view in the film, looking down on the valley below, was rather like this -- minus the road signs!

After our drive we had our favorite lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe, which is always great.

Soon it was 4:30 and time for the annual opening night buffet at the Museum of Western Film History.

As always, there was a nice crowd on hand outside the museum:

This year the live music at the gathering was provided by Jay C. Munns, who again this year also provided the accompaniment for the silent films screened at the festival. He always does a fantastic job.

Festival guests Lisa and Wyatt McCrea, along with some friends on horseback!

It's always great to be back in Lone Pine, with this view seen from our hotel doorway:

The evening screenings at this year's festival weren't of particular interest to me, and since our days were already so full I decided to skip them. As mentioned, despite skipping the nighttime screenings I still saw nine films at the festival.

I also streamed the Netflix film THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019) on my iPad, spread over a couple of nights, and I thought it was terrific. I'll be reviewing that in the near future along with the films seen at the festival.

Look for much more Lone Pine coverage here in the coming days, including film reviews, location tour photos, and parade photos. I'll also be writing about the very first "Hoppy" movie, HOP-A-LONG CASSIDY (1935), and its locations for Classic Movie Hub soon.

Previously: Preview of the 2019 Lone Pine Film Festival (for Classic Movie Hub); Off to Lone Pine!; Back From Lone Pine!

Additional 2019 festival posts: Tonight's Movie: The Way West (1967) at the Lone Pine Film Festival. [More links coming soon!]

Related link: Tonight's Movie: The Highwaymen (2019).

For complete coverage of past Lone Pine Film Festivals, including many photographs and film reviews, please visit these links for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Each of these annual overview posts contains links to several additional posts covering that year's festival.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Back From Lone Pine!

I'm now back from a terrific long weekend at the 30th Lone Pine Film Festival!

It was a busy weekend, attending nine movie screenings, three locations tours, and the parade, not to mention the opening night buffet and the closing night campfire! We also took a scenic 13-mile drive up to Whitney Portal, the trailhead for hiking Mt. Whitney.

Watch this space for extended festival coverage coming in the near future!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Photos From the Road: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Here's another in my series of photo posts from our summer visit to Oregon!

We enjoy looking for new-to-us restaurants when we're on the road, so on the second day of our trip we tried Portland Burger.

Good stuff!

We loved the classic building across the street, which was over a century old and once housed a police station. It looked like something seen on a studio backlot!

It's now home to a law firm.

We enjoyed spending the afternoon at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. It reminded me a bit of the California Science Center in Los Angeles where I took our kids during their homeschool years.

As luck would have it, at the time of our visit the museum was hosting a Disney-themed exhibit, The Science Behind Pixar.

The exhibit went into extensive detail on how Pixar films are created, including workstations where kids (including kids at heart!) could experiment with some of the processes.

Although we didn't have time to tour it, there's also a submarine docked outside!

We also enjoyed a laser light show in the Planetarium set to Beatles music. All in all it made for a pleasant afternoon.

Still to come: The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville and the Lane County Fair in Eugene.

Previous Photos from the Road: Portland and the Oregon Zoo; McMenamins Kennedy School Hotel.