Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Hell's Crossroads (1957)

HELL'S CROSSROADS (1957) tells the story of a member of the Jesse James gang looking for a way to go straight.

Vic Rodell (Stephen McNally) was a Southern raider during the Civil War; after the war, as a defeated Southerner having trouble making a living, he fell in which the James gang.

Increasingly troubled by the James gang's violence, Vic explores ways to make over his life, encouraged by Paula (Peggie Castle), a widow who had been in love with Vic before her brief marriage. Paula also happens to be the sister of James gang member Bob Ford (Robert Vaughn), who is looking for a way to receive a pardon.

HELL'S CROSSROADS is a very average Western, with nothing particularly unique to distinguish it, and yet I must say that I enjoyed it. It's plain, sturdy, Western "comfort food." Perhaps it's more for the most devoted Western fans or those such as myself who like Stephen McNally and Peggie Castle, but while recognizing its artistic limitations, I was interested in it to the end and satisfied with the conclusion.

Having now seen McNally in a number of Westerns, including WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and APACHE DRUMS (1951), he has become a welcome face. While not one of my top favorite Western actors -- he seems to have a somewhat limited range, but he does "pained" very well -- McNally is familiar and has a solid track record of appearing in entertaining films. His name in the credits now prompts a nod of pleased recognition at the prospect of seeing him again.

McNally does a good job as Vic, wordlessly conveying with a look his unhappiness when Jesse says he's glad he shot an older man at their last robbery. It's clear at that moment that Vic is done.

This isn't as good a Western role for Peggie Castle as she found in COW COUNTRY (1953) or TWO-GUN LADY (1955), yet she plays her role with an attractive intelligence which elevates the part above simply being a hand-wringing, concerned leading lady. She recognizes Vic's issues but, quickly embracing her renewed attraction to him, she does what she can to give their love a chance, even making a solo visit to the governor to plead for a chance at amnesty.

Robert Vaughn makes a good Bob Ford, with an edge of opportunistic sliminess, yet he also comes through for Vic when it counts.

The solid supporting cast is led by Henry Brandon as Jesse James. Brandon was a Western veteran in everything from one of George O'Brien's best "B's," THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), to playing Chief Scar in John Ford's THE SEARCHERS (1956). Brandon is almost unrecognizable behind Jesse's beard, until one looks at his eyes and clearly sees "Chief Scar."

Frank James is played by another reliable Western veteran, Douglas Kennedy. Barton MacLane, Grant Withers, Myron Healey, Harry Shannon, Frank Wilcox, and Morris Ankrum round out the cast.

HELL'S CROSSROADS was filmed on Southern California locations including the Iverson Ranch. It was directed by Franklin Adreon, who mostly worked in television. It was filmed in black and white by John L. Russell, Jr. The movie runs a quick 73 minutes.

HELL'S CROSSROADS can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video at no extra charge to Amazon Prime members.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, Debra Paget!

Beautiful Debra Paget turns 81 today. She was born in Denver on August 19, 1933.

Paget was part of an acting family which included older sister Teala Loring (WIFE WANTED, ALLOTMENT WIVES), who died in 2007, and younger sister Lisa Gaye (DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER). Older brother Frank Griffin was an actor who became a makeup artist.

Debra Paget retired from acting over half a century ago and at last report is retired in Texas.

Here's a Debra Paget photo gallery for her many fans to enjoy:

With Richard Conte in HOUSE OF STRANGERS:




Reviews of Debra Paget films at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: CRY OF THE CITY (1948), IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING (1949), HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949), MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949), FOURTEEN HOURS (1951), BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952), THE GAMBLER FROM NATCHEZ (1954), PRINCESS OF THE NILE (1954), and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956).

Among the additional key titles in Paget's career: BROKEN ARROW (1950), BIRD OF PARADISE (1951), LES MISERABLES (1952), PRINCE VALIANT (1954), THE LAST HUNT (1956), LOVE ME TENDER (1956), and THE RIVER'S EDGE (1957).

Exile Noir Series Opens Friday at UCLA

Another great series opens this Friday at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater: Exile Noir, featuring Hollywood films made by European directors. The series runs from August 22nd through September 28, 2014.

The Exile Noir series presents an interesting contrast with UCLA's Hollywood Exiles in Europe series which concluded on Sunday, August 17th. I was fortunate to see Jules Dassin's RIFIFI (1955) and NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) in that series.

I've previously seen many of the films in the Exile Noir series -- several of them in big screen showings - and highly recommend this series. My past reviews are available at the title links below.

On August 22nd the opening night of the series features the classic DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), directed by Billy Wilder, paired with the very interesting Dick Powell film PITFALL (1948), directed by Andre de Toth. PITFALL finds a bored Powell sabotaging his marriage to Jane Wyatt when he becomes attracted to Lizabeth Scott. Unfortunately Scott has a mean stalker (Raymond Burr) who doesn't take kindly to another man showing interest in her.

August 23rd there's what might be an underrated film, HIGH WALL (1948), which contains one of Robert Taylor's best performances. Taylor plays an amnesiac veteran arrested for his wife's murder. Curtis Bernhardt directed. It plays with THE SCARF (1951) directed by E.A. Dupont, starring John Ireland.

September 13th is Otto Preminger's WHIRLPOOL (1950), starring Richard Conte and Gene Tierney, teamed with Fritz Lang's THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953). THE BLUE GARDENIA is another Richard Conte film, this time costarring Anne Baxter.

I particularly like the September 15th double bill of CAUGHT (1949) and THE LOCKET (1946). CAUGHT is a highly engrossing Max Ophuls film starring Robert Ryan, James Mason, and Barbara Bel Geddes; Ryan plays an ultra-controlling, sadistic multimillionaire whose young wife (Bel Geddes) leaves him and falls in love with a poor doctor (Mason). John Brahm's THE LOCKET, famed for its use of flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, stars Laraine Day as a disturbed woman. Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum, and Gene Raymond are the men she leaves in her wake.

Robert Siodmak's THE DARK MIRROR (1946), with Olivia de Havilland in a dual role, will be shown on September 19th. The other half of the double bill is JEALOUSY (1945) directed by Gustav Machaty, starring Jane Randolph.

On September 22nd there's a screening of one of the most tragic movies I've ever seen, CHICAGO CALLING (1951), starring Dan Duryea. It has a moving Duryea performance and fantastic Bunker Hill location shooting but be prepared for an unrelentingly sad story. John Reinhardt directed. It plays with Anatole Litvak's SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948) starring Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck.

September 26th is Douglas Sirk's entertaining SLEEP, MY LOVE (1948), starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, and Robert Cummings. It's shown with John Carradine and Jean Parker in Edgar G. Ulmer's BLUEBEARD (1944).

Closing night on September 28th features John Auer's CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953) with Gig Young, Mala Powers, William Tallman, and Marie Windsor.  It will be shown with Paul Henreid in HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948), also known as THE SCAR, directed by Steve Sekely.

Most of the films will be shown in 35mm, with a couple shown in 16mm. Consult the schedule for complete details.

Schedule conflicts mean I won't see as many of these screenings as I'd like, but I hope to see at least a couple of these double bills! I highly recommend that those within driving distance of Westwood see as many of these films as possible.

The Exile Noir series will overlap with the Edith Head series which opened August 8th and runs through September 27th.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Belles on Their Toes (1952)

This post is written as part of the Build-Your-Own-Blogathon sponsored by Rick of the Classic Film and TV Cafe. The blogathon runs for 20 consecutive days at 20 different blogs, with each blogger writing on a film connected in some fashion to the previous day's entry; visit the complete schedule for full details!

Yesterday Kristen wrote about SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948) at her blog Journeys in Classic Film. My entry, BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952), is connected to SORRY, WRONG NUMBER by child actor Jimmy Hunt, who is in both movies. Tomorrow the blogathon will move to The Girl With the White Parasol, where Aubyn will write about BELLES ON THEIR TOES star Myrna Loy in TEST PILOT (1938).

My thanks to Rick for the fun idea and to Kristen for tagging me as the next blogger in line!

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) and BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952) were two films I saw many times growing up, and years ago I bought the DVDs for my own children.

Despite having the movies in our collection, somehow many years had passed since my last viewing of either film, and then this spring I had the wonderful opportunity to see CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN on a big screen at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I enjoyed revisiting it so much I wanted to be sure to also watch BELLES ON THEIR TOES before too many months passed!

BELLES ON THEIR TOES, like CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, was based on a memoir by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. The book is one of the better sequels ever written; in fact, it's so much fun that at certain points in time I've thought I might like it even better than the original book.

Likewise, BELLES ON THEIR TOES is one of the more successful movie sequels ever made. Although there were some recasting oddities in the transition from the first film to the second, which I detailed in my CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN review, BELLES ON THEIR TOES feels very much as though it's simply a continuation of the first film. It has much the same tone and style, blending humor with poignance, and a fine cast headed by Myrna Loy, Jeanne Crain, and Barbara Bates in their original roles.

BELLES ON THEIR TOES chronicles the struggle of Lillian Gilbreth (Loy) to be accepted as a female engineer and support her large family after the death of her husband Frank (Clifton Webb, seen in photos and a brief flashback). The children pitch in and do everything they can to live within a tight budget as their weary mother battles prejudice and gradually makes her mark in the professional world. Her success would eventually enable each of her surviving 11 children to graduate college.

Meanwhile, Ann (Crain) is romanced by a young doctor (Jeffrey Hunter, seen earlier this weekend in THE MAN FROM GALVESTON). Ernestine (Bates) is "pinned" by a wealthy but rude frat boy (Martin Milner), and her brothers plot to break them up. And Martha (Debra Paget) turns heads wherever she goes.

BELLES ON THEIR TOES is a lot of fun, from root beer bottles exploding in the basement to the cash-strapped family spending a summer living on beans to the many Gilbreths tiptoeing up a hospital's back stairs to visit their mother after she has an accident.

I especially love the Gilbreths' worn Nantucket beach house, which looks just like one might imagine it from the book. The exterior beach scenes, incidentally, were filmed at Malibu's Paradise Cove, the same area where Jim Rockford's trailer was located in THE ROCKFORD FILES.

BELLES ON THEIR TOES is aided significantly by the casting of Hoagy Carmichael as Tom, the Gilbreth family's devoted cook/handyman/jack of all trades, and Debra Paget as an older Martha, taking over the part from Patti Brady in the first film. Some music is very naturally worked into the film which allows Carmichael and Paget a moment to shine during a cookout sequence. Carmichael captures Tom perfectly; I don't think anyone would have been better cast in the role.

Jimmy Hunt, who inspired this blogathon post, played Bill in the first film but moved on to play Fred in the sequel!

BELLES ON THEIR TOES was directed by Henry Levin from a screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (parents of Nora). It was filmed in Technicolor by Arthur Arling. The running time is 89 minutes.

BELLES ON THEIR TOES is available on DVD.

Both CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and BELLES ON THEIR TOES are recommended as well-made family fun. And don't miss out on reading the books, too!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Incident (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

INCIDENT (1948) is a quick-moving 66-minute Monogram crime film just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

While INCIDENT isn't as engaging as Monogram's STAGE STRUCK (1948), which was released by the Warner Archive on the same date, it's nonetheless entertaining, over and done before anyone has a chance to become restless.

Late one night Joe Downey (Warren Douglas) is walking home after an evening spent with friends (Harry Lauter and Joyce Compton). He's waylaid by a man with a gun who calls Joe "Slats" and then beats him up.

It turns out the beating was a case of mistaken identity, as Joe bears a resemblance to a gangster type nicknamed Slats (Robert Osterloh). While revisiting the area where he was beaten in an attempt to figure out what happened, Joe meets a nice girl named Marion (Jane Frazee) at a pharmacy soda fountain counter.

Marion has more than a passing interest in what happened to Joe, and it might not be simply because she likes him. As is eventually revealed, she's an insurance investigator trying to solve the disappearance of fur coats intended for delivery to a department store. Slats just might be involved.

One of the interesting things about this "B" film is that it provides a very strong woman's role. The second half of the film shifts focus from Joe to Marion, as she puts the moves on Slats while trying to find evidence. Marion is a tough cookie who knocks Slats' previous girlfriend (Lynn Millan) cold, and she also packs heat. In a role reversal from the usual, it's Joe who's constantly in distress, trailing Marion and phoning the cops for help, while Marion coolly and aggressively builds her case.

Jane Frazee, seen here in an undated publicity photo, was a veteran of many "B" musicals, including Roy Rogers films like SPRINGTIME IN THE SIERRAS (1947) and UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS (1948). In the '50s she succeeded Jane Harker and Phyllis Coates as Alice McDoakes in the long-running series of Joe McDoakes shorts. She passed on in Newport Beach, California, in 1985, at the age of 67.

One of the things I like about a movie like this is the tiny details revealed about daily life in the '40s -- for instance, I loved the behind-the-counter shot of the druggist filling an order for root beer, first putting in the syrup and then spraying in the carbonated liquid in a two-step process. I also enjoyed the advertising signs in the drugstore, and the opening shots of movie theaters including a big sign for RED RIVER (1948). There was also a fast glimpse of the L.A. May Co. building on Wilshire!

Watch for a young Jimmie Dodd as a department store clerk. The movie also stars Anthony Caruso, Eddie Dunn, Meyer Grace, Harry Cheshire, and Robert Emmett Keane.

The movie was directed by William Beaudine. It was filmed by Marcel Le Picard, who I admit I'd never heard of before! Looks like he had a long career in the "B's" before passing on in 1952.

The screenplay was cowritten by Fred Niblo Jr., who wrote some other films I've enjoyed such as EAST OF THE RIVER (1940) and BODYGUARD (1948). EAST OF THE RIVER and BODYGUARD are both also available from the Warner Archive.

The INCIDENT DVD is a good-looking print. There are no extras.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

Tonight's Movie: Stage Struck (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

STAGE STRUCK (1948) is a thoroughly entertaining Monogram crime film just released by the Warner Archive.

STAGE STRUCK isn't always precisely a good film -- though often it is -- but even when it veers into hokiness it's great fun to watch. This compact little thriller is bolstered by personable performances by Conrad Nagel and lovely Audrey Long, and at some points it's also got a delightful sense of humor.

In a crackerjack opening scene, young Helen Howard (Wanda McKay) is murdered by nightclub owner Benny Nordick (John Gallaudet). Nick Mantee (Kane Richmond) helps Benny dispose of the body, then blackmails Benny into giving him half ownership of the club. The men also run a talent agency scamming hopeful actresses from the sticks.

New York Police Lt. Williams (Nagel) and his partner Sgt. Ramey (Ralph Byrd, star of DICK TRACY serials) are on the case. They visit Helen's hometown and meet her sister Nancy (Long), who helps them interview Helen's friends for clues about who she knew in New York.

Some weeks pass and Nancy, impatient with the lack of progress solving the case, travels to New York, to the delight of Sgt. Ramey, whose unconcealed attraction to Nancy is one of the fun things about the film. There's an amusing moment where Nancy, who's gone to work "undercover" at the club to gather clues, pretends not to know the police, but Sgt. Ramey manages to hold hands with her under the table.

It's a quick-moving 71 minutes as the cops and Nancy each work their own ends hoping to solve the murder. There's a nice surprise or two, and Long is delightfully spunky as the girl who won't let her sister's murder go unsolved. Nagel has a nice wry sense of humor, when he's not preaching about the dangers of young women alone in the big, mean city, and the burly, protective Byrd is rather charming.

I really enjoy Audrey Long, who just turned 92. She retired from the screen in 1952 when she married Leslie Charteris, author of the SAINT mystery series. Charteris died in 1993. Long's best-known films include Anthony Mann's DESPERATE (1947) and Robert Wise's BORN TO KILL (1947).

STAGE STRUCK was the last film directed by William Nigh. It was filmed in black and white by Harry Neumann.

STAGE STRUCK is exactly the type of "B" movie I love to explore, with a good cast in a familiar but well-presented story. I'm very appreciative that the Warner Archive has made this enjoyable film available to new audiences. My fellow "B" movie fans will want to check this one out.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Ann Blyth celebrated her 86th birthday yesterday! Here is my 2012 birthday tribute, which has been updated with additional review links and links to coverage of her appearances at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival.

...For more on Ann, Another Old Movie Blog is the place to be this year! This week Jacqueline took a look at an imperfect yet enjoyable film, ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1953) costarring Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger. I loved this quote from Ann about her costars: "Who wouldn’t be happy with those two good-looking men around you? It was just lovely. They were both so sure of who they were, there was never an issue of one fighting for more attention than the other. The feeling on the set was terrific."

...And a very happy birthday today to Maureen O'Hara! She turns 94 today, August 17th. Here are my tributes from 2013 and 2010.

...Leonard Maltin's review of the new "foodie" movie THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014) makes it sound quite appealing. Helen Mirren stars.

...At Comet Over Hollywood Jessica tells the story of the "First Lady of Baseball," actress Laraine Day.

...Good news for those of us who had already purchased Seasons 1 and 2 of HILL STREET BLUES and thus didn't need to purchase the complete series released earlier this year: Shout! Factory is also going to release single-season sets. Season 3 will be released on DVD November 4, 2014.

...Some of the classic film reviews I've recently enjoyed: Kristina on MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) at Speakeasy...Ivan on WENT THE DAY WELL? (1942) at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear...KC on THE COUNTERFEIT PLAN (1957) and SLANDER (1957) at A Classic Movie Blog...The Blonde at the Film on CALAMITY JANE (1953)...and Toby on DRUM BEAT (1954) and other recent Alan Ladd Western releases at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

...Speaking of Toby, he's got a new blog, The Hannibal 8, where he plans to discuss non-Western films of the '50s, '60s, and '70s.

...Toby also shared with me terrific news from Julie Adams' official Facebook page: This Thursday evening, August 21st, Julie will throw out the first pitch to Tommy Davis at the L.A. Dodgers game.


...At Cinematically Insane Will McKinley reviews a 1955 TV production of THE PETRIFIED FOREST starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Henry Fonda.

...And Nora, the Nitrate Diva, remembers "The Noirish Brilliance of Lauren Bacall." It's a terrific piece.

...Those of us of a certain age may occasionally miss the clackety-clack of a manual typewriter. Tom Hanks to the rescue! He's created a free iPad app, the Hanx Writer, which will let you type on your iPad with typewriter sound effects. You can even turn off your delete key and make strikeovers! (Retyping messy pages is definitely something I don't miss from the typewriter era...)

...At Once Upon a Screen Aurora shares interesting information about Lupita Tovar, star of Mexico's first talking picture, SANTA (1932). I had no idea there was a second Spanish-language version of DRACULA (1931) filmed by Universal concurrently with the Lugosi version. Tovar costarred in a George O'Brien Western I watched a year ago, THE FIGHTING GRINGO (1939). She just turned 104!

...Coming from Synergy on August 19th: A 50-episode set of the TV series MR. AND MRS. NORTH, starring Barbara Britton and Richard Denning. If anyone sees a review of what the print quality is like I'm very interested!

...Notable Passing: As I mentioned in Friday night's review of THE MAN FROM GALVESTON (1963), actor Ed Nelson, seen here at the right, passed away last weekend at the age of 85. I saw him costarring with Eve Arden in a Long Beach stage production of CRITIC'S CHOICE circa 1980. The New Orleans Times-Picayune interviewed one of Nelson's six children, who shared some lovely memories of her father.

Have a great week!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Visit to the Lone Pine Film History Museum

Our trip to the Sierras in late June included a stop at the Lone Pine Film History Museum in Lone Pine, California.

Countless movies have been filmed in Lone Pine, especially Westerns.

Although we stopped in the museum gift shop a couple of years ago, the last visit where we spent extensive time looking at the exhibits was in 2010. My photos of the museum taken on that occasion can be seen here.

On this visit there was a terrific item we'd not seen on display before, Humphrey Bogart's car from HIGH SIERRA (1941). Bogart's "Mad Dog" Earle drive the car down Whitney Portal Road into the mountains at the end of that Warner Bros. classic.

The car is a 1937 Plymouth Coupe. It was wonderful seeing such an important item from a "Lone Pine" film in the museum.

Amidst memorabilia from GUNGA DIN (1939) is something I love which I did share a photo of last time around. For the benefit of new readers, this wooden knife bears the signatures of the GUNGA DIN cast, including Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Victor McLaglen, Joan Fontaine, Robert Coote, and Sam Jaffe.

GUNGA DIN is 75 years old this year!

Here are some of the wonderful posters on display in the museum which celebrate films made in Lone Pine:

It's hard not to love a title like MONEY, WOMEN AND GUNS (1958)!

Additional posters for Lone Pine movies can be seen in my 2010 post.

A corner dedicated to director William Wellman...

...which includes Wellman's script for YELLOW SKY (1948).

There are also displays honoring Audie Murphy...

...and director William Witney:

This outfit belonged to Rex Allen:

A costume belonging to Ruth Terry:

Ruth will turn 94 in October.

My husband and I will be spending considerably more time in Lone Pine later this year, as this week we booked our tickets for the Lone Pine Film Festival October 10th through 12th. This is the festival's silver anniversary, but it will be our first visit!

Among other things, I'll be attending a 7:00 a.m. screening of Tim Holt and Richard Martin in DYNAMITE PASS (1950) and then hop on a bus for a tour of locations from the movie. How cool is that for a Tim Holt fan?! Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to it.

We've booked two additional tours that weekend which will take us to even more Tim Holt locations, along with locations for dozens of other Westerns.

The weekend will also include a screening of GUNGA DIN (1939) with Oscar-winning sound effects and special effects experts Ben Burtt (R2-D2) and Craig Barron speaking, plus appearances by William Wellman Jr., Wyatt McCrea, Peggy Stewart, Cheryl Rogers Barnett, Johnny Crawford, and Bruce Boxleitner.

Previous trip posts: Welcome to Lone Pine, Alabama Hills Movie Locations, and Bridgeport, California Movie Locations.