Sunday, July 12, 2020

Tonight's Movie: It Started With Eve (1941) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

One of Deanna Durbin's most special films, IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941), is part of the three-film Deanna Durbin Collection I, available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

I previously reviewed THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP (1939) from the set, which was released last month. The third film in the box is ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL (1937).

Deanna Durbin's costars in IT STARTED WITH EVE are Charles Laughton and Robert Cummings; the latter actor also appeared in THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP. The trio, along with a collection of wonderful character actors, made a very special film which is both riotously funny and tremendously touching, sometimes in the same scene!

As the film begins, the death of business tycoon Jonathan Reynolds (Laughton) appears imminent. His concerned son Johnny (Cummings) has raced home from a trip to Mexico to be with his father.

Johnny became engaged to Gloria (Margaret Tallichet, married to William Wyler) while on his trip. Jonathan is anxious to meet his son's fiancee before he dies, and the doctor (Walter Catlett) insists she be summoned at once, as time may be running out.

Johnny desperately searches for Gloria, to no avail, and concerned his father may have just minutes left to live, he begs a hotel hat check girl named Anne (Durbin) to come meet his father.

Jonathan is impressed with Johnny's fake fiancee, and to everyone's surprise he begins to rebound. He's still frail, but he's got some fight left in him, and he's overjoyed with Johnny's choice of wife.

Johnny and Anne find themselves in a real quandary, all the more so with the real Gloria and her overbearing mother (Catherine Doucet) anxiously waiting in the wings for the chance to meet Jonathan. There's also the unspoken issue that Johnny is increasingly attracted to Anne, while Gloria is gradually revealed to be a gold-digger. When Johnny's wily father secretly catches on to the game, he realizes that Anne remains the right girl for his son.

I have writer Norman Krasna to thank for some special movie experiences this weekend, as not only did he cowrite IT STARTED WITH EVE (with Leo Townsend, from a story by Hans Kraly), he also wrote SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963). Krasna's track record is pure gold, including highly enjoyable titles such as THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD (1934), BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), and DEAR RUTH (1947), to name just a few.

The writers and director Henry Koster walk quite a line in this film, evoking tears from both genuine pathos and utter joy. This dichotomy is captured in two of Durbin's songs. The first, "When I Sing," is set to Tschaikovsky and is what I think of as "Once Upon a Dream" from my favorite Disney film, SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959). Hearing Durbin sing to that tune is a moment of movie musical bliss.

A later song, "Goin' Home," had the tears rolling down my cheeks, between the song's poignance, the characters' emotions, and Jonathan's precarious health. It's a deeply moving moment, and I perhaps reacted to it even more strongly than I might normally have due to fraught emotions from our current national moment. But never fear, just a few minutes later, Jonathan and Anne are at a nightclub doing an uproariously funny conga!

The movie is really almost more about the relationship Anne develops with Jonathan; the feelings in her relationship with Johnny are definitely there, including an amusing scene where they exhaust some of their emotions chasing each other around the furniture, but the most screen time and deepest emotions are between the father and his once and future daughter-in-law. Both actors are at the top of their game here.

The movie runs 90 minutes, and while I often preach that shorter is better, I wouldn't have minded a few extra minutes between Anne and Johnny. Otherwise it's a perfectly constructed film.

The movie was filmed by Rudolph Mate. The supporting cast includes Charles Coleman, Gus Schilling, Guy Kibbee, Dorothea Kent, Clara Blandick, Bess Flowers, and a number of other familiar faces.

The hotel desk clerk was played by John Eldredge. We had the privilege of paying our respects to him at his final resting place at Pacific View Memorial Park just a couple of weeks ago.

For more on this film, please check out my original review which followed my first viewing in 2009. Incidentally, I'll be reviewing the final film in the set, ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL, at a future date.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray picture is very good, with excellent sound quality. The disc includes the trailer and a commentary track by Samm Deighan.

IT STARTED WITH EVE is highly recommended.

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

Tonight's Movie: Sunday in New York (1963) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Rod Taylor and Jane Fonda star in the delightful romantic comedy SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963), which was recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

I first saw this film back in 2009 and revisited it with Robert Osborne hosting live at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. Although I enjoyed it very much both times, over time I'd forgotten just how funny this movie is; I enjoyed revisiting it tremendously. Small wonder that Turner Classic Movies is showing it later this month as part of its Feel Good Films series.

The plot, written by Norman Krasna based on his play, concerns a virtuous young lady named Eileen (Jane Fonda) who's just been dumped by her boyfriend Russ (Robert Culp) because she wouldn't agree to sex before marriage.

Eileen travels from Albany to the New York City apartment of her brother Adam (Cliff Robertson), an airline pilot, to lick her wounds and seek his advice. Adam promises Eileen that he doesn't sleep with women, when the reality is he's engineering his entire day in an attempt to be alone with his girlfriend Mona (Jo Morrow) for that very purpose. (His "out" in fibbing is that they don't "sleep"...)

Eileen and Mike (Rod Taylor) have an all-time "cute meet" on a bus when the pin on her jacket becomes stuck to his suit, and after working through some initial bumps they hit it off and spend the day together. They head back to Adam's apartment to dry off after being caught in a downpour, after which Eileen, who's decided to put her past morals behind her, attempts to seduce Mike. Mike refuses when he learns she's inexperienced, and as they're sitting discussing the situation in bathrobes...Eileen's errant boyfriend Russ throws open the apartment door to surprise her with a proposal.

Russ assumes that Mike is Adam, whom he's never met, and the stupefied Mike and Eileen don't correct him...and then just a few minutes later, Adam walks in. Even though I'd seen the movie multiple times previously, the dialogue and expressions in this sequence had me laughing so hard that my eyes watered. It's truly hilarious, especially watching Adam's face as he tries to size up the situation he just walked into.

The entire cast, which also includes Jim Backus as Adam's boss, is terrific. Particular kudos go to Taylor and Robertson, who are pitch perfect throughout. As good as Culp is here, he's no competition for Taylor in what must be one of the most appealing male lead performances in romantic comedy history. It's 100% believable that Eileen would fall in love with Taylor's character in the space of a single Sunday.

The movie begins with a slightly theatrical feel; one can clearly imagine Fonda and Robertson's dialogue being delivered on a stage set. That said, the film opens up the script nicely, including sequences at Rockefeller Center and Central Park, and as the film continues it loses the stagey feel and settles into something which feels a little more natural. Taylor's complete ease is a big part of that, along with the expert comedic playing of everyone in the film.

As I noted after seeing the film at the TCM Fest, the movie had both an American and a British ending; the British ending, which was screened at the festival, has Robertson's Adam walk in on Mike and Eileen, see them kissing, and walk out again, smiling. The End.

The U.S. version is very close to that but concludes with a narration by Robertson which begins "And so they were married," which is heard as he walks out and smiles. The slightly less racy U.S. version wanted audiences to be very sure that the couple married and lived happily ever after, and it's that version which is on the Warner Archive Blu-ray. It seemed as though Fonda's last line of dialogue was more clear on the Blu-ray than the DVD, but I'll have to pull the DVD out of storage to compare. Someday.

The movie was directed by Peter Tewksbury and filmed in widescreen Metrocolor by Leo Tover. It runs a perfectly calibrated 105 minutes.

Watch for Jim Hutton in a cameo rowing on the lake in Central Park.

The Warner Archive previously released this film on a remastered DVD in 2011.

The Blu-ray disc includes the trailer. The film looks and sounds terrific. A very happy thumbs up from me, I'd class SUNDAY IN NEW YORK as a "must buy" with lots of "re-watch" value. I won't wait several more years for my next viewing!

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, July 11, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Rock Hudson stars in the title role as TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The Blu-ray contains both the "flat" 2D and the 3D version of the film which was restored by the 3D Film Archive. My initial viewing of this disc was of the 2D version.

As the film begins, the great warrior Cochise is dying. In a nice touch, Jeff Chandler has a cameo in this scene, reprising his Oscar-nominated role as Cochise in BROKEN ARROW (1950).

Cochise names his eldest son Taza as leader of their Chiricahua Apache tribe and asks his younger son Naiche (Rex Reason, billed as Bart Roberts) to support his brother's leadership.

Taza wants to continue his father's quest for peace among Indians and white settlers and agrees to work with the U.S. Cavalry policing his people, but Naiche wants to join up with Geronimo (Ian MacDonald) for war.

The brothers also clash over pretty Oona (Barbara Rush), whose bloodthirsty father (Morris Ankrum) favors Naiche.

There's not much more to the plot than that; indeed, after Chandler's quick exit, the film is rather lacking in dramatic heft, a bit surprising given it was directed by Douglas Sirk. Sirk had made HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL (1952) with Hudson, and they would go on to make several notable films together.

George Zuckerman's script, based on a story by Gerald Drayson Adams, is fairly "paint by the numbers" as Westerns go, and some of the dialogue could have been better, as there are a couple of standout clunkers.

That said, I did enjoy the film; Hudson and Rush, who would team with Sirk the same year for MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1954), are attractive, and the vast majority of the film was shot by Russell Metty in the great outdoors of Utah. The landscapes are striking and make a terrific backdrop for the well-staged action scenes.

The average plot is thus offset by the lead actors, location shooting, and the fast pace of the 79-minute story, which ends before wearing out its welcome.

The supporting cast includes Gregg Palmer, Joe Sawyer, Gene Iglesias, Bobby Hoy, Lance Fuller, Robert Burton, Richard Cutting, and Hugh O'Brian, plus Russell Johnson as the narrator.

The Kino Lorber print is excellent, with very good sound. The print includes the Intermission card which allowed for a timeout for the 3D reels to be changed.

Extras include a trailer for the 3D version of the film; a slideshow featurette on the making of the film and the 3D process by Mike Ballew; and a commentary track by Ballew, David Del Valle, and C. Courtney Joyner. Viewers may want to know in advance that the commentary may be found under the "Audio" menu rather than with the "Extras."

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...The Warner Archive Collection is having one of its fairly rare sales this weekend, ending Monday evening. Most DVDs and Blu-rays are $11 with a minimum purchase of four titles...As mentioned a couple of days ago, the Barnes & Noble half-price Criterion Collection sale is also currently underway.

...Another current sale is the University Press of Kentucky Virtual Warehouse Sale. Entertainment biographies such as ANN DVORAK: HOLLYWOOD'S FORGOTTEN REBEL by Christina Rice and MICHAEL CURTIZ: A LIFE IN FILM by Alan K. Rode are among the titles available.

...I did a bit of a double-take when I saw the headline that the weekend box office is currently led by...THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980).

...For those who might not have seen the update to my Quick Preview of TCM in September, last week Turner Classic Movies announced a new series, Women Make Film, which will run on the network from September 1st to December 1st, 2020. The schedule is here.

...Netflix's series THE CROWN, which was originally due to run six seasons but was cut back to five earlier this year, is now on again for Season 6.

...The Walt Disney Family Museum is hosting an online 65th anniversary celebration for Disneyland on the park's July 17th anniversary.

...The Downtown Disney district in Anaheim reopened on Thursday, with shopping and outdoor dining available. Walt Disney World in Orlando reopened to the public today, and Disneyland Paris reopens on July 15th. No word yet on a reopening date for Disneyland following the postponed July 17th opening.

...Another online opportunity is Kimberly Truhler's lecture on The Style of Sin: Kay Francis on Sunday, July 19th. I always enjoy Kim's presentations on pre-Code fashions and hope to attend.

...Vanessa has reviewed Jeanine Basinger's SILENT STARS at her blog Super Veebs. This book is on my short list to read soon.

...It's a Wonderful Movie has all the latest news on Hallmark Channel's Christmas in July movie festival, which began July 10th and runs through the 26th. The schedule is here. I've reviewed several of the films; I particularly recommend LOVE YOU LIKE CHRISTMAS (2016), which I liked so much I recently bought on DVD, but I have enjoyed all those I've reviewed.

...Ned Donovan, a grandson of actress Patricia Neal and writer Roald Dahl, has married Princess Raiyah of Jordan, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and his widow, Queen Noor.

...Notable Passings: Brandis Kemp, a cast member on the TV series AFTERMASH (1983-85), has passed on at 76...Organist Bill Field of the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California, has died at 80...Country music star Charlie Daniels has passed on at 83...and composer Ennio Morricone has died at 91.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my July 4th roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Thunderhoof (1948)

THUNDERHOOF (1948) is a three-character Western drama directed by Phil Karlson.

One of my faves, Preston Foster, has a good lead role in this as rancher Scotty Mason, who dreams of capturing a beautiful wild stallion. Foster, incidentally, would also work with director Karlson on THE BIG CAT (1949) and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952).

Scotty, his wife Margarita (Mary Stuart), and "The Kid" (William Bishop), a young man Scotty has mentored, are in the desert in search of the stallion who will be the foundation of Scotty's ranch.

Despite Scotty's best efforts, the Kid is neither stable nor appreciative of what Scotty's done for him, and he's also got his eye on Margarita, whom he knew in her previous life as a cantina singer. The Kid and Scotty brawl badly but then unite to capture the horse; they're successful but it unfortunately results in Scotty breaking his leg.

The trio struggle towards home with the horse, at one point taking refuge in a house where the owners seem to have left in a hurry, a bit of mystery which pays off nicely. Eventually Scotty and the Kid have another confrontation, and this time the Kid means to leave Scotty in the desert for dead. Margarita will never know what the Kid did, and he can have her too...

This was an interesting, if unexpectedly dark, film thanks to the actors, particularly Foster and Stuart. Despite the spare screenplay, written by Hal Smith (THE DEFIANT ONES) with Kenneth Gamet, the two actors manage to quickly convey their characters' affection for one another along with a brief back story.

Apparently Scotty has had a habit of picking up "strays"; the Kid was one, and Margarita was the other. She has, as she puts it, "grown up" and seems happy in a secure relationship with her doting, if older, husband.

The Kid briefly entices her with thoughts of bright lights and a more exciting life in town, but fate steps in and quickly reminds her of who is the better man.

Besides my interest in Preston Foster, who is excellent here, I was particularly interested to see Mary Stuart in a leading role. The early scenes between Foster and Stuart are charming; she plays a fairly tough gal Scotty feels comfortable teasing that the Kid is dead (he's actually "dead drunk"), but then she's rapturous when presented with a pair of silk stockings. Her joy in this moment is beautifully played, and Foster is equally good as the man proud to have made her so happy.

I recently wrote a bit about Stuart's career in a post on the film THE CARIBOO TRAIL (1950) for Classic Movie Hub (1950). It's a very interesting performance, much more complex than her second female lead in THE CARIBOO TRAIL, and I would have liked seeing more of her on the big screen; as I wrote at Classic Movie Hub, shortly after THE CARIBOO TRAIL she left for New York and what turned out to be a decades-long career on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW.

Bishop's someone I can take or leave; he's an okay actor but I don't find him particularly charismatic. Since I'm not a particular fan I suppose it worked out well that he was the villain of the piece. I wondered a bit about why the Kid was so resentful of the man who had taken him in but decided he was simply a broken person who couldn't be fixed, even when given friendship and a home, and at this stage of things he was rather like an overgrown problem child...a child capable of great destruction.

The film reminded me a bit of the later INFERNO (1953), another film about a love triangle and a broken leg in the desert. THUNDERHOOF has a good sense of mood and moves along at a nice clip, over and done in 77 minutes.

Karlson and cinematographer Henry Freulich did a good job giving the film its rough, gritty look; I couldn't tell for sure where it was filmed but various scenes looked like they could have been shot at Iverson Ranch, Vasquez Rocks, or possibly Lone Pine, and the familiar-looking dugout house I'm pretty sure was at Corriganville.

The night scenes were probably done in a soundstage, yet were so well done I wasn't completely sure.

THUNDERHOOF, originally released theatrically by Columbia Pictures, became available on DVD-R from the Sony Choice Collection a few years ago. Amazon's listing says the print was newly remastered; there's nothing to that effect on the box, but the print does look quite good.

For more on this film, check out Ivan Shreve's review for ClassicFlix and Steve's post at Mystery File.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Criterion Half-Price Summer Sale at Barnes & Noble

The annual summer Criterion Collection half-price sale is now live at Barnes & Noble!

The sale began tonight and will run through August 2nd.

I have a few titles on this year's list, including THE CAMERAMAN (1928), SHOW BOAT (1936), DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), and WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).

Happy Blu-ray and DVD shopping, everyone!

Tonight's Movie: Arabian Nights (1942) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The lavish Technicolor adventure ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942) will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber on July 21st.

This was the first of half a dozen films costarring Jon Hall and Maria Montez, and it was my first time to see it. I was quite looking forward to it, and I'm happy to say it did not disappoint. The timing could not be more perfect for escapist fantasy, and ARABIAN NIGHTS left this viewer quite happy.

Kino Lorber cleverly used a plain black and white Blu-ray menu with drawings of the characters; it serves as a perfect "palate cleanser," with the Technicolor opening credits providing a stunning contrast. The credits are incredibly beautiful, starting with a unique rendition of the Universal Pictures logo; from there, the entire movie, Universal's first film in three-strip Technicolor, is a visual knockout.

The movie begins with a group of harem girls hearing the story of the Arabian Nights. Among the half-dozen girls is Elyse Knox, who was the mother of Mark Harmon; she's recently been reviewed here in TANKS A MILLION (1941) and HAY FOOT (1942).

In flashback we hear the story of Haroun Al-Raschid (Hall) and his brother Kamar (Leif Erickson of THE HIGH CHAPARRAL), who are battling for the throne. Haroun is wounded in a battle with his brother's supporters but is rescued by a troupe of traveling carnival performers, including Scheherazade (Montez) and Ali (Sabu).

Scheherazade believes it is her destiny to marry a prince and is already engaged to Kamar, who takes the throne after Haroun disappears. However, she doesn't love Kamar and finds herself instead very attracted to Haroun, not realizing that he's the true caliph.

There are all manner of adventures as Kamar's henchman Nadan (Edgar Barrier) plots to remove Scheherazade from Kamar's life and Haroun searches for a way to regain his throne.

I found it all a lot of fun, with a couple of surprisingly brutal moments fortunately balanced out by some nice humor. There's a funny gag with an elderly Aladdin (John Qualen) and Sinbad (Shemp Howard) trading stories of their adventures in days gone by, with Aladdin hoping that every lamp he comes across will reunite him with a genie.

Scenes such as Haroun swinging on a rope to knock a villain off his horse and rescue Scheherazade made me think that this might have been one of the films which helped inspire George Lucas making STAR WARS (1977). There's something magical about a moment like that, and I liked imagining how that scene and the movie as a whole must have been received by war-weary audiences at Christmas 1942. It was certainly balm for my pandemic-weary soul in 2020.

Hall has a nice presence in the lead, while Montez isn't a particularly good actress, but with her good looks it doesn't take much to pull off a role like this. She's stunning. (That said, I confess I found myself wishing for Yvonne DeCarlo in the lead, but she was still playing bit roles in 1942.) Sabu is quite engaging as Haroun's resourceful new friend, and the cast also includes names such as Turhan Bey, Billy Gilbert, Richard Lane, Thomas Gomez, Robert Greig, and Charles Coleman. Acquanetta is one of the harem girls.

This film would be worth seeing simply for the Oscar-nominated Technicolor photography (by Milton Krasner) and the lavish sets, matte paintings, and costumes, but, as described above, it's also quite an enjoyable tale. The screenplay by Michael Hogan, based on his own story, is fun and director John Rawlins keeps things moving along for a brisk 86 minutes. Frank Skinner contributed a robust score.

The Kino Lorber picture and sound quality are both top notch. (Anyone wanting to get an idea of the picture quality can check out the screen captures at DVD Beaver.) It's an absolute treat visually. I've seen some really good Blu-rays this year, most recently ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948) from the Warner Archive Collection, and this print takes its place among the best of 2020. It's a must for anyone who loves '40s Technicolor escapism.

The disc includes the trailer, a gallery of trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Phillipa Berry.

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

June Haver and Gordon MacRae star in THE DAUGHTER OF ROSIE O'GRADY, available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

My records show that I saw this on TV as a teenager "back in the day," but I can't say I remembered anything about that viewing, other than a vague memory of Debbie Reynolds being in it. Seeing it now was thus almost the equivalent of watching the film for the first time! Indeed, I'm fairly certain that I hadn't seen some of the scenes before, given that the movie would have been edited to fit commercials into its time slot.

Dennis O'Grady (James Barton), a widowed former vaudevillian, works on a streetcar and has raised three daughters: Patricia (Haver), who has musical talent like her late mother (also Haver, in photos and a flashback); Katie (Marcia Mae Jones, billed here as Marsha), who is secretly married to policeman James Moore (Sean McClory), just back from the Spanish-American War; and young Maureen (Debbie Reynolds, in her second film).

Patricia meets and falls in love with musical performer Tony Pastor (MacRae) but conceals his profession from her father, who has turned his back on the theatrical business. After her angry father learns the truth, Patricia moves in with family friends (S.Z. Sakall and Irene Seidner) and supports herself performing on stage with Tony and his colleague Doug Martin (Gene Nelson). The other girls move out as well.

Christmas arrives and the girls and their father are missing each other... Can this family be reunited while true love conquers all? What do you think?

It's a colorful and congenial film, with an appealing cast of attractive young players. The three leads, Haver, MacRae, and Nelson, all have the opportunity to perform several numbers, and the fast-footed dances teaming Haver and Nelson are a particular treat. The relationships are only superficially developed, but the high-spirited musical entertainment more than makes up for it.

Haver also looks almost impossibly beautiful, with her blonde hair and rosy cheeks. She was a delightful musical star, and I only wish she had made more films.

I've always been fond of former child actress Marcia Mae Jones, seen here to the right of Haver, so it was very nice to see her in a good-sized adult role as one of the sisters, and I also enjoyed McClory (THE QUIET MAN) as her secret husband. The 17-year-old Reynolds, of course, is cute as a button and great fun to watch.

I liked everything about the film with the exception of James Barton's overbearing father, who receives way too much screen time. He seeks to controls his daughters' lives much as Thomas Mitchell did in an older Warner Bros. film, THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH (1940); in fact, some of this film's plot is vaguely reminiscent of what Priscilla Lane's character experienced in that older film, secretly marrying a policeman and being thrown out of the house. THE DAUGHTER OF ROSIE O'GRADY divided that storyline among multiple characters.

Barton, who played the grandfather in the excellent Western YELLOW SKY (1948), isn't a particularly appealing performer in this; the movie could easily have shed ten minutes of his scenes and clocked in at a less cumbersome running time than its 104 minutes.

The movie was directed by David Butler, who headed numerous WB musicals of the era. It was filmed in Technicolor by Wilfrid M. Cline.

This release dates back to the second year of the Warner Archive, and at some point the original plain blue cover, which was used on all of the earliest Archive releases, was replaced with the colorful case art seen at the top of this post. The print is quite attractive; the color did strike me as somewhat subdued, but that might have been simply the Warner Bros. style. The sound quality is excellent.

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.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Ladies of Washington (1944)

LADIES OF WASHINGTON is a moderately enjoyable 61-minute "B" film from 20th Century-Fox.

The film is set in jam-packed Washington, D.C., during World War II. Rooms are difficult to come by, so when Ensign Carol Northrup (Trudy Marshall) chances to meet an old acquaintance, Gerry Dailey (Sheila) and learns Gerry needs a place to stay, Carol offers Gerry a bed at the boarding house where she lives.

The place is packed, with young women piled into bunkbeds and sleeping in hallways, but they're all kind and generous -- when they're not snooping through a newcomer's suitcase and admiring her wardrobe. Unfortunately Gerry doesn't reciprocate the friendship offered by her new roommates, especially as she's preoccupied with other matters.

In short order Gerry makes a half-hearted attempt at suicide after her older boyfriend, Dr. Crane (Pierre Watkins), ditches her when his wife (Nella Walker) finds out about the relationship.

While recovering at the hospital, Gerry meets Dr. Hugh Mayberry (Ronald Graham) and Dr. Stephen Craig (Robert Bailey). She dates Stephen, who is charmed by Gerry, but when she spots dashing and mysterious Michael (Anthony Quinn) in a bar she accepts his card, ditches Stephen, and calls Michael for a date.

Michael claims to work with newspaper gossip columnists but believe it or not, he's really a foreign spy...and he wants to break into Dr. Crane's office. Gerry, wanting revenge on her one-time boyfriend, helps Michael, but there's a shootout with the night watchman and Michael is shot. When Michael flees the scene, Gerry calls Dr. Craig to help him, insisting he not be taken to the hospital...Stephen complies and Michael dies.

Amazingly that's only about 2/3 of the movie...there's a huge amount of plot crammed into an hour! It keeps things moving, although the film sacrifices quite a bit of character development to the fast pace of the story, especially factoring in that the movie has a large cast.

The spin on the wartime housing situation is fun, following in the footsteps of THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) and preceding THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944) by a few months. That was the aspect of the film I found most appealing, and I enjoyed looking around the interesting boarding house sets.

The boarding house girls are pretty but only Marshall really stands out, attractive and confident as the kindhearted Carol. Marshall was the mother of the late actress Deborah Raffin.

I really enjoy Sheila Ryan, seen earlier this year in FINGERPRINTS DON'T LIE (1951), but her character here is pretty over the top, up to her eyeballs in problems from the outset. Given the way she uses alcohol and sleeping pills, it's amazing she still looks as beautiful as she does! And small wonder, after the cascade of self-created problems she experiences, that she is carted off to a sanitarium at the end for some R&R.

Graham and Bailey are pleasant but fairly nondescript as the lead male doctors. Familiar faces like Bess Flowers, Byron Foulger, Mary Field, and Jody Gilbert are welcome as they pop up one by one.

In the end the film could have been better, but I nonetheless found it a pleasant diversion.

The movie was directed by Louis King, whose work included previously directed an excellent "B" film, PERSONS IN HIDING (1939), starring Patricia Morison.

The screenplay was by Wanda Tuchock, who cowrote a favorite pre-Code melodrama, FINISHING SCHOOL (1934). It's a remake of FREE, BLONDE AND 21 (1940), written by Frances Hyland, which has a fun cast including Lynn Bari, Mary Beth Hughes, Joan Davis, and Elyse Knox; that version was directed by actor Ricardo Cortez.

Charles Clarke filmed the movie in black and white.

LADIES OF WASHINGTON is available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives. It may be purchased as either a single title or as part of a three-movie set. The print and sound quality are excellent. There are no extras.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Straight Shooting (1917) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Director John Ford's first feature film, STRAIGHT SHOOTING (1917), will be released on Blu-ray and DVD next week by Kino Lorber.

Watching the new Blu-ray was something of a revelation for me, as I had previously seen the film at the 2017 Lone Pine Film Festival.

"Seen" perhaps doesn't really describe my previous experience, as the digital print screened was so faded that at times I had trouble following the story. I had meant to watch it again on YouTube to try and get more out of it, especially as the film is so short, but I never got around to it -- and now I'm glad, because the print I saw via this Blu-ray provided a completely different viewing experience. The visual clarity was remarkable; I'm most grateful it exists and has been released.

Ford and star Harry Carey (Sr.), who plays the lead role of Cheyenne Harry, had worked together on a few shorts featuring that character and wanted to make a feature-length film. Universal Pictures wasn't initially on board with the idea, so it required fibbing to the studio in order to secure additional film stock, but they did get it, made the full-length film, and the rest is history.

In STRAIGHT SHOOTING George Hively's scenario presents a typical Western homesteaders vs. ranchers range war, with evil rancher Thunder Flint (Duke Lee) hiring Cheyenne Harry to lead his ranch hands against the homesteaders. Also on Flint's team is Placer Fremont (Vester Pegg); he and Harry eye one another warily. Fremont soon demonstrates that he deserves Harry's concern; Fremont is evil personified, killing the innocent young son (Ted Brooks) of a rancher, Sweet Water Sims (George Berrell).

Harry comes across the grieving family and is moved to change sides in the conflict, especially as he's taken with the rancher's pretty young daughter Joan (Molly Malone). Sam Turner (Hoot Gibson), one of Flint's ranchhands, is also smitten with Joan and helps the family despite his employer.

Harry eventually battles Fremont in a harrowing gunfight on the streets of the local town. Matters build to a climax with a major shootout at the Sims homestead, with Harry calling in a favor from his old pal Black-Eye Pete (Milt Wilson) and his gang to help battle Flint's men.

In the end Harry must decide whether to hit the trail again, leaving Sam to romance Joan, or commit to ending his roaming days and try for her hand himself...

There's a lot of action packed into this 63-minute film -- which, incidentally, runs six minutes longer than the time currently listed at IMDb. Carey is terrific, straddling the line between being quite menacing -- this is a man you do not want to mess with -- and tenderhearted. The emotions he expresses for the grieving Sims family and the agonizing dilemma he faces in the final scenes are deeply moving, no dialogue needed.

It's also interesting seeing the young Gibson in this as Joan's somewhat awkward would-be suitor. I've enjoyed getting to know Gibson's work a bit since first seeing him in THE TEXAS STREAK (1926) at Cinecon a few years ago.

STRAIGHT SHOOTING is not a great film, but it's a good one, and a fascinating look at some of the director's earliest work. Even then, his technique showed flare, as he and cinematographer George Scott captured a wonderful sequence in the pouring rain and some beautifully staged location riding sequences along with the previously mentioned action pieces.

The significance of the film's final moments being centered around a door was not lost on me, calling to mind the importance a door played in John Wayne's tribute to Carey in the final moments of THE SEARCHERS. In this film things may go a bit differently for the lead character, but the staging around the door nonetheless provides some deeply moving moments.

Extras on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray include video and booklet essays by Tag Gallagher; a fragment from a Ford-directed film, HITCHIN' POSTS (1920), preserved by the Library of Congress; and an audio commentary track by film historian Joseph McBride, author of SEARCHING FOR JOHN FORD and coauthor, with Michael Wilmington, of JOHN FORD. I really enjoyed McBride's commentary on Ernst Lubitsch's ANGEL (1937) a few weeks ago and will definitely be listening to his STRAIGHT SHOOTING commentary in the next few days; I expect to learn even more about this film and its role in the careers of Ford and Carey.

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

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Booksellers (2019) - A Kino Lorber DVD Review

The documentary THE BOOKSELLERS (2019), about the world of rare books in New York, was recently released on DVD by Kino Lorber.

Actress Parker Posey was the executive producer of this film, which looks at not only the sellers of rare books, but the clientele they serve.

The film explores rare books from a variety of standpoints, including what drives those who get into the book business, the benefits and difficulties of selling and collecting in the internet and digital book era, the long-term value of collections, and what happens to the books when sellers leave the business or collectors pass on.

It's both interesting and somewhat poignant to contemplate that both sellers and buyers are temporary custodians of these pieces of history which are, in many cases, far older than the people who own them. In perhaps the best scenarios, collections end up in universities and museums where they can be accessed by future researchers, potentially reaching wide audiencese through digitization; in many cases, though, the books eventually go to auction, and it's hoped they find new homes where they'll continue to be treasured.

There's also an issue that while some rare booksellers are relatively young (such as Heather O'Donnell, seen here), a majority of New York's rare booksellers are older people, raising questions about to what extent the business will die off as they pass from the scene.

One of the most interesting points made in the film was that for many, collecting books is all about the thrill of the hunt, which is no longer what it once was due to the internet. The thrill of the chase is, in many ways, gone with so much now available simply by typing on a keyboard; while some regret this change, books being more widely available can also be a blessing for buyers. That's not always the case for sellers, however, who have to compete in a market where product is more widely available, driving down prices.

The documentary includes sequences on New York's Argosy and Strand bookstores, which have each been in business since the 1920s. I found it particularly moving to watch at a time when so many stores have had to close in New York and elsewhere due to the pandemic, and I found myself wondering how the stores seen in the film are faring this year. Here in California, I've been concerned about the survival of the unique Larry Edmunds Bookshop, which has specialized in books on film since the 1930s.

While I would have recommended shaving off a handful of the film's 99 minutes, it's an absorbing and even educational film which I found quite worthwhile.

THE BOOKSELLERS was directed by D.W. Young and filmed by Peter Bolte.

The DVD includes the trailer, featurettes, and a gallery of trailers for additional documentaries available from Kino Lorber, some of which have review links below.

Previous reviews of documentaries released by Kino Lorber: OBIT: LIFE ON DEADLINE (2016), HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015), DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (2016), THE GODDESSES OF FOOD (2016), BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017), CHEF FLYNN (2018), LINDA RONDSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (2019), and DIANA KENNEDY: NOTHING FANCY (2019).

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

Tonight's Movie: Romance on the High Seas (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The great Doris Day became a movie star in the musical comedy ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948), just released in a gorgeous Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

The Blu-ray, said by the Archive to be a "4K scan of original nitrate Technicolor negatives," is truly a feast for the eyes and ears. And it's also quite a delightful movie!

I first reviewed ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS here in 2011 and was fortunate to see it again last year in a 35mm print at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater. I've seen the film several more times on TV over the years and it never fails to entertain, and I can confidently say it also now looks better than ever before.

Doris plays nightclub singer Georgia Garrett, who lucks into the job of a lifetime when wealthy Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) hires Georgia to take a South American cruise under her name. While Georgia is pretending to be Elvira, Elvira is secretly staying home to spy on her hardworking hubby Michael (Don DeFore) and make sure he's faithful.

Michael is worried about the same issue and hires a private detective, Peter Virgil (Jack Carson), to take the cruise and spy on Elvira. When Peter and "Elvira" fall in love, all manner of complications ensue, especially when Oscar (Oscar Levant), who wants to marry Georgia, shows up.

It all builds to a riotous climax in a Rio hotel, with Michael repeatedly visiting his wife's room, only to find a different person in bed each time he enters and more people inexplicably hiding in the closet...it's laugh out loud funny no matter how many times I've seen it.

Those hilarious scenes segue into the wonderful final sequence, which has to be one of my favorite movie scenes of all time; when Doris takes the stage to reprise "It's Magic," it's so, well, magical that it never fails to make me cry. The swelling of the music, the way Jack Carson looks at Doris, and wow, the pullback shot with all those multicolored balloons, which are absolutely eye-popping on the Blu-ray...I could watch that scene on an endless loop (and maybe I have).

Over at the Home Theater Forum, film preservationist Robert A. Harris perfectly describes this scene as "the red hot cherry on top of a Technicolor sundae."

As I noted back in 2011, the film is a "Technicolor fantasyland," and the production design is such that the movie would be worth seeing simply for the visual "eye candy," including sumptuous sets and costumes. That's more true now than ever thanks to the Blu-ray.

As I also wrote in a past tribute to Doris, she said that from the beginning of her film career she "felt a nice exhilaration" when she stepped in front of a camera and heard "Action!" Despite this being her first film, she's a completely confident and natural big screen performer. Georgia is more brash than a typical Doris role, but when she launches into song the true Doris warmth and honesty breaks through; songs like "Put 'Em in a Box" and "It's You or No One" are great, along with, of course, "It's Magic."

Day is well supported every step of the way by Carson as the confused detective, Levant as the lovestruck, witty pianist, Paige as the glamorous socialite, and DeFore as the befuddled husband. The cast is rounded out by S.Z. Sakall, Fortunio Bonanova, Grady Sutton, Leslie Brooks, Eric Blore, and Franklin Pangborn. Sutton and Pangborn, in particular, have a couple very funny lines.

Additional music is provided by the Page Cavanaugh Trio, Sir Lancelot, Avon Long, and the Samba Kings.

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS was directed by Michael Curtiz and filmed by Elwood "Woody" Bredell. The entertaining screenplay was written by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein of CASABLANCA fame, with additional dialogue by I.A.L. Diamond. The film runs 99 minutes.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes the extras from the film's original 2007 DVD release, including a cartoon, short, and the trailer.

As a side note, I put in my DVD to do a spot-check comparison of the prints; there was a noticeable Blu-ray improvement in the scenes I was able to compare, such as Elvira and Michael parting in her stateroom. Unfortunately I discovered that my DVD has fallen prey to the deterioration which is sometimes an issue with older Warner Bros. DVDs and had numerous digital breakups; it's at least the fifth time I've experienced this frustrating problem, a known issue which I've previously read about at sites such as Home Theater Forum. Just a heads up for my fellow collectors.

ROMANCE ON THE SEAS is upbeat, delightful entertainment, which we can all use now more than ever. Add to that the stunning visuals, and this Warner Archive Blu-ray is a "must buy," one of the best releases of the year.

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

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