Friday, February 22, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in May

The May schedule is now available for Turner Classic Movies!

Paul Newman is the May Star of the Month. 25 Newman films are scheduled to play over the course of five Wednesday evenings in May.

I'm particularly enthused about the Thursday evening Spotlight series, which will focus on World War II "Homefront" films set in the U.S. and Britain. Some very fine films will be shown, ranging from well-known titles like SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) and MRS. MINIVER (1942) to somewhat lesser-known, yet excellent films such as MILLIONS LIKE US (1943), THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), and THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944).

Titles such as JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1943), TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), and HOPE AND GLORY (1987) depict living through the London Blitz, while homefront comedies, including THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) and THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK (1944), will receive attention as well. It's a series I find particularly interesting, and I'll have more details to share here as May approaches.

For good measure, Tuesday evenings in May feature a fantastic lineup of screwball and romantic comedies, and Robert Osborne's May 3rd birthday will be celebrated with "Robert Osborne's Picks." I'm particularly delighted by the inclusion of THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946) in the Osborne tribute, as it introduced me to the lilting tune "Oh, But I Do" by Arthur Schwartz and Leo Robin.

The May Noir Alley films are NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), WHITE HEAT (1949), KEY LARGO (1948), and DEAD RECKONING (1947). Tyrone Power and Coleen Gray are seen at the left in NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

Saturday mornings will feature Westerns starring Tom Keene, Whip Wilson, and Tim Holt, along with films in the Falcon series.

Mother's Day, on May 12th, will feature several well-known films about mothers, and Memorial Day on May 27th features a lineup of war movies. Additional May themes include lady gangsters, detectives, Western musicals, truck drivers, and multi-story "omnibus" films.

There will be multifilm tributes in May honoring Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum, Nelson Eddy, Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Joseph Cotten, and Maureen O'Sullivan (seen at right).

TCM will definitely be the channel to be watching 24/7 this May! I'll have more details on the schedule posted here in late April.

In the meantime, Fredric March will be the March Star of the Month, with Greta Garbo honored in April.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Latest Westerns Column Up at Classic Movie Hub

I have a new Western Roundup column now posted at Classic Movie Hub!

This month's post is on "Unexpected Western Leads," including Franchot Tone, seen here in a still from TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES (1940).

There are several more actors featured in my column, including Dennis Morgan and Dick Powell. I hope everyone will enjoy reading it, and I'd love to hear thoughts on additional "unexpected" Western stars in the comments.

Please click on over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out. Thanks 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.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Tonight's Movie: El Paso (1949) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

John Payne and Gail Russell star in the Paramount Pictures Western EL PASO (1949), recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

By coincidence this weekend I revisited not one but two John Payne films released in 1949; in addition to EL PASO, which I first reviewed here in 2011, I also saw THE CROOKED WAY (1949) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. The films were released four months apart, THE CROOKED WAY in April 1949 and EL PASO that August.

In EL PASO Payne plays Clay Fletcher, a lawyer newly returned to Charleston after fighting for the South during the Civil War. Clay heads to El Paso on a legal errand for his grandfather, Judge Fletcher (H.B. Warner), hoping it will also give him the opportunity to reunite with Susan Jeffers (Russell). Clay has fond memories of Susan, who moved away during the war.

Clay discovers Susan's father, a judge (Henry Hull), is kept drunk and ineffective by Bert Donner (Sterling Hayden) and his crony Sheriff La Farge (Dick Foran), who run the town and are plotting to take over local farms. Clay initially deals with the crooks in a court of law, but as they become increasingly violent, he switches to meting out justice with a gun.

The excellent cast also includes a nice turn by Eduardo Noriega as Don Nacho Vazquez, an ethical man who comes to Clay's aid and later trains him to use a gun. Familiar faces such as Gabby Hayes, Mary Beth Hughes, Catherine Craig (Mrs. Robert Preston), Arthur Space, Bobby Ellis, Steven Geray, Lane Chandler, and Don Haggerty fill out the large cast.

Despite a great group of actors, it must be admitted that EL PASO is a fairly sludgy 103 minutes. It starts out fairly well, as Clay arrives in El Paso and meets Susan and Vazquez, and the first hour or so is relatively entertaining. As the plot becomes increasingly dark, the final 30 or 40 minutes slow to a crawl, relieved only by a very well-staged climactic gun fight during a dust storm.

Payne and Russell do a nice job with what they have to work with, though Russell's role tends to fade into the woodwork a bit in the last half of the film. Payne's motivations are well laid out, but the script does Hayden no favors. While Hayden is typically excellent in Westerns, he's surprisingly bland here in an underwritten role. The movie would have benefited from editing to pare down the slow-moving story yet at the same time could have used more character development for Payne's chief adversary.

EL PASO was directed by Lewis R. Foster from his own screeplay, based on a story by Gladys Atwater and J. Robert Bren. It was filmed in Cinecolor by Ellis W. Carter.

Having previously seen EL PASO in a very iffy print, I was delighted to have the chance to see it again in such good condition. A couple of scenes early on have some streaks, but most of the film looks excellent. The Cinecolor print I previously saw looked quite muddy and brown, but this print is much more attractive, bringing out the best in Cinecolor's unique look. The print is described by Kino Lorber as a "brand-new HD master from a 4K scan of the 35mm original 2-color negative & positive separation."

Extras include a commentary track by Toby Roan, who is always an informative pleasure to listen to, and a Kino Lorber Westerns trailer gallery. The case also includes reversible cover art.

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

Tonight's Movie: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

It's hard to believe it's been exactly half a decade since the dazzlingly colorful and creative THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) debuted.

I wrapped up my holiday weekend theatrical viewing today with the brand-new sequel, THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (2019). While the new film may not have the surprises of the original film or the heart and wickedly sharp humor of THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017), it's still entertaining and worthwhile, on a level with the most recent film in the series, THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (2017).

Without wanting to get too specific, THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART builds on the relatively profound big "reveal" at the end of the first film, which gives this movie a different and interesting dynamic. The stylized back-and-forth melding of different "universes" in this film reminded me vaguely of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018).

This time around Bricksburg, home of our heroes, has been attacked by aliens who are attracted to anything "cute." This results in Bricksburg turning into a dirty, gritty place so as not to lure the destructive monsters. When Emmet (Chris Pratt) can't resist building an ultra-cute house for Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) -- complete with a room for Unikitty (Alison Brie) and an entire room filled with toasters! -- the bad guys soon arrive to attack.

The monsters, headed by Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), kidnap Lucy and Batman (Will Arnett), so it's Emmet to the rescue, soon aided by a new friend, Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt).

The movie has some interesting dramatic themes; I loved the concept of the trauma of ending up under the dryer and the fact not all the characters are exactly what we first think. There are also lots of amusing and visually attractive moments and a good score, including a reprise of the first film's catchy, Oscar-nominated "Everything is Awesome."

As with the other films, much of the appeal here is that it's a children's film made for adults, who will enjoy and be moved by the film on a different level from younger viewers.

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART was directed by Mike Mitchell from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. I'm not sure why; destruction of a Lego city?

For some fun additional reading, Brian Truitt of USA Today has ranked the four LEGO films. I completely agree with his assessments.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Woman Wanted (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Joel McCrea and Maureen O'Sullivan star in WOMAN WANTED (1935), now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I found WOMAN WANTED engaging when I first saw it in 2010 and my opinion didn't change viewing the movie nearly a decade later thanks to the Warner Archive. It's a brisk, entertaining 67-minute film with a pair of appealing leads in Joel McCrea and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Having seen O'Sullivan in THE TALL T (1957) this weekend, it was quite enjoyable also seeing her in a film she had made over 20 years previously. It also occurred to me that the two films I saw her in this weekend paired her with the costars of RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962)!

O'Sullivan plays Ann Gray, who as the movie opens is convicted of murder. Sweet Ann clearly didn't commit the crime, so the audience cheers when she escapes police custody after an accident and hops in the car of attorney Tony Baxter (McCrea), who had previously attempted to connect with pretty Ann when he saw her in a high-rise window across a courtyard.

Tony attempts to hide Ann in his apartment but with the police and his sometime fiancee (Adrienne Ames, then Mrs. Bruce Cabot) on the prowl that proves a challenge. Tony believes in Ann as soon as he hears her story but it's also going to be a challenge clearing her name, with both the police and a gang of mobsters on her trail.

WOMAN WANTED may be a fairly short, low-budget affair, but it was directed with style and played by a top cast, with Lewis Stone and Robert Greig standouts in the supporting cast as the D.A. and McCrea's butler, respectively. Louis Calhern is a gangster, and the cast also includes Granville Bates, Noel Madison, Charles Lane, Sam McDaniel, and other familiar faces. Watch for Bess Flowers in the nightclub scene.

WOMAN WANTED was directed by George B. Seitz and shot in black and white by Charles Clarke. There's some quite creative cinematography, particularly in the early sequence as the camera pans back and forth from window to window in the courthouse complex. Those touches help elevate the movie beyond being simply a mundane programmer.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good print, a bit soft at times but without major defects and with a clear soundtrack. 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: The Mortal Storm (1940) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

On Friday our most enjoyable day in Los Angeles concluded with the UCLA Festival of Preservation screening of THE MORTAL STORM (1940).

Earlier in the day, as I wrote about here, we had enjoyed a 35mm screening of THE CROOKED WAY (1949), a film I originally reviewed here in 2013.

The 35mm screening of THE MORTAL STORM was preceded by the short WINGS OVER EVEREST (1935), about the first-ever flights over Mount Everest in 1933 to film the summit. The film's presentation was quite hokey at times, but as someone with a longstanding interest in Mount Everest I found the footage fascinating. It would be another two decades after the aerial footage was shot before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit and successfully returned.

THE MORTAL STORM, released 18 months before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, begins as Hitler has become Chancellor of Germany and shows the effects of the rise of the Nazis on a single family.

Professor Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) is a "non-Aryan" (i.e., Jewish) science professor at a university at the foot of the Alps. Honored by his students and family on his birthday as the film opens, he soon finds himself ostracized for being non-Aryan and for teaching the scientific fact that all blood is alike.

Roth's stepsons (Robert Stack and William T. Orr) from his marriage to Emilia (Irene Rich) become Nazi stormtroopers, as does Fritz (Robert Young), who is engaged to Roth's daughter Freya (Margaret Sullavan). Freya, dismayed with Fritz's militarism and increasingly unkind temperament, breaks the engagement and falls in love with her childhood friend Martin (James Stewart), who resists Nazi conformity and must remain in Austria after helping a Jewish friend escape over the Alps. (Incidentally, although it's never said, wouldn't Fritz have eventually seen the need to break the engagement, as Freya -- Professor Roth's oldest child -- must have been "non-Aryan" herself?)

The Roths find themselves increasingly isolated, with the stepsons even moving out of the house and separating themselves from the family. The professor is jailed, and when Emilia and Freya attempt to leave the country with youngest son Rudi (Gene Reynolds), Freya is pulled off the train at the border after one of her father's notebooks is found in her luggage. Martin returns for her, and they make one last desperate attempt to flee the country.

THE MORTAL STORM is an interesting and powerful film showing what happens when good people remain silent and allow evil to flourish. Emilia's sons and Fritz are all convinced there is only one correct view of Hitler and German politics and that those who disagree are traitors to the country. Those who aren't part of the Aryan "club" are viewed as worthless outsiders, and Fritz is thus willing to look the other way when a man is beaten merely for being Jewish. A university colleague (Russell Hicks) won't help the professor because he fears for his own family, and the longtime maid (Esther Dale) leaves so that she won't be tainted by working for the Roths. And on it goes, as the Nazis become more and more entrenched.

The professor and Martin simply want to be able to quietly continue their lives as they see fit, but their non-conformity is a threat which must be extinguished.

The performances are all excellent, with Morgan's final scene with Rich in the prison a particular standout. What a fine actor!

A young Dan Dailey (billed Dan Dailey Jr.) and Ward Bond are effective as lead villains of the piece; Bond tended to be a bit over the top at times, but Dailey was quite chilling.

Maria Ouspenskaya plays Martin's mother, with Bonita Granville an emotional young local girl targeted by Bond to supply information. I did think Granville's character could have used a little more back story to help viewers better understand her.

A young Tom Drake can be easily spotted in a non-speaking role as a student. It was his second film credit. Brad Dexter and James Millican are also billed as students, but I didn't spot them.

The production has the typical MGM polish. One of my only critical comments was thinking it strange that Sullavan's character skis by moonlight with no coat or hat -- wasn't it cold?!

THE MORTAL STORM was directed by Frank Borzage, who also directed Sullavan in another film about the Nazi rise to power, LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? (1934). The film runs 100 minutes.

The film was based on a novel by Phyllis Bottome; the screenplay was by Claudine West, Hans Rameau, and George Froeschel. The latter two men were actually refugees from Nazi Germany.

The movie was filmed in black and white by William Daniels, with uncredited work by Lloyd Knechtel and Leonard Smith.

THE MORTAL STORM is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. It's also been released on VHS and is shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is on the TCM website.

Two footnotes. One is that the UCLA program notes, quoted by UCLA's Jan-Christopher Horak in his introduction, state THE MORTAL STORM "is only one of two films made in Hollywood during the war that actually explicitly identifies the victims of Nazism as Jews, the other being Andre de Toth’s NONE SHALL ESCAPE (1944)." I'm not sure what prompted this statement, as at least two other films tackling this issue come easily to mind; 20th Century-Fox's THE MAN I MARRIED (1940), released just weeks after THE MORTAL STORM, and Columbia Pictures' ADDRESS UNKNOWN (1944) both make clear the plight of Jews at the hands of Nazis. The ending of THE MAN I MARRIED, in which a fervently pro-Nazi character learns he is "non-Aryan," is a memorable stunner.

As a further footnote, given that one of the film's significant themes was about the ways in which Nazis imposed conformity of thought, I found it more than a bit ironic that Horak's introduction clearly assumed there is only One Right Way to view current U.S. politics. I otherwise admire Mr. Horak, but I run into these types of political remarks fairly often at screenings, which leave no room for the possibility that things might be seen by reasonable people through another prism, and the clear view of "correct thinking" and the unspoken expectation of agreement from a friendly "L.A. audience" honestly seemed a and of itself. It reminded me eerily of the film, which I'm sure was the last thing which crossed his mind. Food for thought?

THE MORTAL STORM is a well-acted and beautifully produced film which is engrossing and interesting on many levels. Recommended.

Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year Procession

Here's a postscript to last Tuesday's photo post on the Lunar New Year Celebration at Disney California Adventure.

After spending the first two days of our long President's Day weekend out and about in Los Angeles, today I returned to Disney California Adventure for the final day of the Lunar New Year Celebration.

Our daughter hadn't had a chance to enjoy the festival yet due to the steady procession of rainstorms over the last couple of weeks so we met up there today. We had a beautiful view during breakfast at Flo's in Cars Land...

...and as can be seen below, we were able to to watch Mulan's Lunar New Year Procession right before another rainstorm hit!

Click any photo to enlarge it for a closer look.

The gray skies made an unexpectedly good backdrop for the very colorful presentation!

Previously: Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year Celebration (February 11, 2019), Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year Celebration (February 5, 2017), Today at Disney California Adventure: 15th Anniversary and Lunar New Year (February 8, 2016); Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year (February 21, 2015); Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year (February 1, 2014); Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year (February 10, 2013); Today at Disneyland: Chinese New Year (January 27, 2012); Today at Disneyland (February 15, 2008).

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Weekend Movie Fun: Out and About in L.A.

We've had a fun start to the holiday weekend, seeing a trio of classic films in Los Angeles over the past two days as well as visiting some equally classic Los Angeles eateries and landmarks.

Friday morning started off at the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy, where my husband had an appointment to do some film score research. It was my first visit, and it was great fun to look around at all the fabulous posters decorating the building and check out the impressive library stacks.

I also spent some time reading my advance copy of the new Fay Wray/Robert Riskin bio just steps from a giant poster of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936) which prominently featured Riskin's name. That was a nice bit of serendpity! Alas, photos are only permitted in the lobby (above).

For lunch we headed to The Apple Pan, which we first visited last summer. As some of yesterday's photos reflect, it was another rainy weekend here, but the wet weather is most welcome in California.

The restaurant was recently sold but the new owner is a longtime customer who pledges to keep it exactly "as is."

As we stood waiting for seats at the counter to open up, my husband started chuckling and nodded toward the counter -- where none other than Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies was eating lunch! I'd call that an "only in L.A." kind of moment -- except that we've also eaten in the same restaurant as Ben in Lone Pine!

After lunch we had some time before we needed to head to UCLA so we visited the Los Angeles National Cemetery and paid our respects at the final resting places of a pair of actors we particularly enjoy.

Actor-director Richard Carlson, to whom I paid tribute in 2015, served in the Navy during World War II.

He's buried on a hill with a lovely view overlooking much of the cemetery.

John Russell, the star of TV's LAWMAN, was a decorated Marine veteran of the Guadalcanal campaign.

Not surprisingly, the cemetery is organized with military precision and it was easy to find both sites. We hope to return and vist Jack Holt's gravesite at a future date. Russell Hicks, who was in one of the yesterday's films, THE MORTAL STORM (1940), is also buried at the cemetery.

Soon it was time to head to UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum for the first of two screenings we saw at the 2019 UCLA Festival of Preservation.

Local L.A. TV legend Tom Hatten was leaving the theater as we arrived, so it was neat to see him in person, if only for a minute.

It was also great to see several friends who were on hand for the festival! I loved having the chance to see THE CROOKED WAY (1949), which I reviewed here back in 2013, in a gorgeous 35mm print.

The plot can be a bit clunky at times, especially as the initial exposition is laid out in the opening scene, but John Alton's cinematography is absolutely stunning; I had noted that in my previous review and it's really the word which fits. Over and over I caught myself thinking "That looks so neat!" It's a movie which can be enjoyed simply for the way it looks -- though I also find it quite entertaining for other reasons.

We went to dinner at BJ's after THE CROOKED WAY; we find the Westwood location consistently top-drawer for that chain. Incidentally, we were very surprised to learn that 800 Degrees Pizza around the corner from the museum had closed in October, as it was always packed when we visited, and the Westwood Pieology had closed as well.

We then returned to the Billy Wilder Theater for THE MORTAL STORM (1940). It was my first time to see it and I found it quite memorable; I'll be writing about it in a separate post in the near future.

What a difference a day makes! Saturday was sunny and crisp; the rain of the last few days left the L.A. skies a sparkling clear blue, as can be seen from this freeway shot below:

We had brunch at The Original Pantry Cafe, which opened in 1924 and is famous for never having closed in the last 95 years.

I couldn't believe it had been over a decade since my last visit!

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal at this L.A. landmark. Below are a few more shots of the restaurant, and please visit my 2008 post for additional photos.

Early this afternoon we returned to The Autry Museum of the American West, which we visited last month to see CANYON PASSAGE (1946).

Today's film in the museum's ongoing What is a Western? series was the classic Randolph Scott Western THE TALL T (1957), which I hadn't seen since 2006.

This was my first time to see it on a big screen; the 35mm print shown in the Autry's Wells Fargo Theater was quite nice, a little grainy at times but sharp and crisp in many scenes, and I should note that the sound was vastly improved over last month's screening, which apparently had a soundtrack issue.

I liked the film the first time I saw it, though I found the (mostly unseen) violence early in the film difficult, and I liked it even more today. In the intervening years we have visited where the movie was filmed in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, which made seeing it again even more special.

Like last month's movie, the film was introduced by historian Jeremy Arnold; Jeremy knew director Budd Boetticher and shared some brief audio clips of Budd's interview comments as part of his talk. It was a wonderfully informative way to kick off the screening.

Below, Jeremy (center) greets film fans in the lobby after the film. I hope he'll program future films at the Autry, as I really enjoyed his selections and introductions.

It's been a wonderful weekend, with the kind of experiences which really make me appreciate the opportunities available where we live.

Coming soon: A review of THE MORTAL STORM (1940). Update: Here is my review of THE MORTAL STORM.

Related Posts: Weekend Movie Fun: Canyon Passage (1946) at the Autry (and Philippe's!) (January 2019); What is a Western? Film Series at the Autry.

Also: Weekend Movie Fun (February 2018); Weekend Movie Fun: Design for Living at the Egyptian Theatre (July 2018); Weekend Movie Fun: Counsellor at Law (1933) at UCLA (and the Apple Pan!) (July 2018).