Friday, January 22, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Time for Us to Come Home for Christmas (2020)

I've been having really good luck with the Hallmark Christmas movies I've watched in the last few weeks, and that continued with TIME FOR US TO COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (2020).

It's a gentle and mysterious film from, fittingly, the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel.

Sarah (Lacey Chabert), like the heroine in another of this past season's Hallmark films, LOVE, LIGHTS, HANUKKAH! (2020), is mourning the recent loss of her mother.  The two movies are great illustrations of how Hallmark can take a familiar basic premise and then spin it into films which are completely unique journeys.

In the script by Marcy Holland, Sarah, a Seattle attorney, is back home in New York settling her late mother's affairs.  

Sarah receives an envelope telling her a reservation has been made for her to spend Christmas at the Snowfall Inn; since her boss had just told her on the phone to be looking for a token of the firm's appreciation, she assumes it's a thoughtful gesture from her employers, knowing she is spending Christmas alone at a difficult time.

Shortly after Sarah arrives at the inn, she learns that the reservation was not, in fact, from her law firm...and the payment information in the hotel's computer system doesn't have a name.  What's more, other guests soon check in with the same mysterious invitation.  The inn's new owner, Ben (Stephen Huszar), is as genuinely mystified as his guests.  

Ben has also recently been through major life changes, and he and Sarah draw together as they search for answers.

To say too much might spoil it, but this was a lovely film in which several people at a crossroads in life come together, connect, and unexpectedly help one another through challenging times.  Sure, in real life some people might have assumed the invitations were a marketing ploy and tossed them out instead of using them, but the well-written script has a plausible reason for every person who decides to show up at the inn.

The story and relationships among the inn's guests flow naturally, and there's an especially beautiful scene with Sarah and Jasper (Leon), a musician, sitting together in church thinking of their absent loved ones.  That scene and a couple others made me cry a little, but in a good way.  

Chabert, who starred in two 2020 Christmas films, demonstrates why she's a Hallmark regular year after year; she's particularly effective, with an authentic persona and excellent line readings.  Huszar is appealing as the owner of the inn.

TIME FOR US TO COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS was coproduced by country singer Blake Shelton, following his previous Hallmark films TIME FOR ME TO COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (2018) and TIME FOR YOU TO COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (2019).  This was the first of the three movies I've seen; as far as I can tell from my reading, they're not related other than having similar titles.

The movie was directed by David Winning and filmed by Ryan Petey in Vancouver, British Columbia.  It runs 84 minutes.

TIME FOR US TO COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS is a heartwarming film I quite enjoyed and recommend.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Tonight's Movie: 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Tony Curtis fans have had quite a bit of enjoyable Blu-ray viewing in recent months thanks to Kino Lorber.

Tonight's film, 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE (1962), is part of the three-film Tony Curtis Collection released late last summer.  I previously reviewed the other movies in the set, THE PERFECT FURLOUGH (1958) and THE GREAT IMPOSTOR (1960).

Kino Lorber also released the Curtis films SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS (1955), an interesting movie which was part of the Dark Side of Cinema IV collection, and a film from later in his career, THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980). 

Most recently Kino Lorber has just released CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. (1963), in which Curtis costarred with Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, and Bobby Darin.

I enjoyed circling back to the Curtis set and 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE, which I first saw almost exactly two years ago at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.  That event is now a particularly fond memory, given that it's been over 10 months now since I last saw a film with an audience!

I liked the movie the first time I saw it and still get a kick out of it for various reasons, starting with Curtis's very orderly manager of a Lake Tahoe casino, whose life is turned upside down caring for Penny (Claire Wilcox), the young daughter of a guest who's vanished.

Steve (Curtis) and Chris (Suzanne Pleshette), who works at the resort, learn that Penny's father has died in an accident and decide they will take her to Disneyland before breaking the bad news.  It's kind of an odd premise, but in the context of the film, it works.

Unfortunately for Steve, crossing the state line from Nevada to California means that law enforcement and a detective are on his tail looking for alimony owed to his ex (Mary Murphy), resulting in a crazy chase sequence all over Disneyland.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I love Disneyland, and this film is a fascinating piece of Disney history.  As I learned at the Hollywood Heritage Museum, it's the only non-Disney film shot inside Disneyland during Walt Disney's lifetime.  

The Disneyland locations don't all make sense, but it's great fun to see them and even pick out the geographical impossibilities.  Since I haven't been able to go inside the park for almost a year, "visiting" it via this film right now was extra-special.  

The movie shows many Disneyland locations, from attractions which still exist, such as the Storybook Land Canal Boats, Mad Tea Party, and Peter Pan's Flight, to places which are now part of "Yesterland," like the Skyway Buckets and Rainbow Caverns Mine Train.  It's a wonderful (if somewhat crazily jumbled!) look at the park.

Disneyland and Curtis combine to provide pure viewer eye candy, and there's so much more to look at, from fascinating period business signs to the casino's interior design to the lake.  The film is simply a lot of fun for adults and kids alike.  It may not be classic cinema, but it does exactly what it sets out to do, entertain its audience.

40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE was directed by Norman Jewison and filmed in widescreen Eastmancolor by Joe MacDonald. (The director had much more success with this comedy than with THE ART OF LOVE, which I watched a few days ago.)  It runs 106 minutes.

The cast includes Karen Steele, Allyn Ann McLerie, Kevin McCarthy, Edward Andrews, Larry Storch, Stubby Kaye, Diane Ladd, and many, many more familiar faces. 

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray features a typically attractive widescreen print.  The sound in some of the location scenes, such as one early on in the casino, seemed a tad muffled, but nothing overly concerning.  The disc includes a commentary track by Kat Ellinger and Mike McPadden as well as the trailer.

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Founder (2015)

THE FOUNDER (2015) stars Michael Keaton as businessman Ray Kroc, who developed McDonald's restaurants into a global empire.

The title has a bit of irony in that Kroc, of course, did not actually found McDonald's, which was started by brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and "Mac" (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald.  The McDonalds also developed innovative efficiency methods which allowed for quick service, or what we know today as "fast food."

That said, it was Kroc's vision to take the restaurants nationwide via franchises which were closely controlled to ensure uniform standards and consistency.  Six years after going into partnership with the McDonald brothers and opening his first franchise in Illinois, Kroc bought the McDonalds out and the rest is history.

THE FOUNDER was written by Robert Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock, who has helmed a number of very good "true-life story" films including THE ROOKIE (2002), THE BLIND SIDE (2009), and THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019).  Hancock also wrote the screenplay for MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (1997).

THE FOUNDER was interesting from start to finish, yet I had mixed feelings about its tone.

At its best the film celebrates American innovation, such as the McDonald brothers' Speedy system, and the ingenuity of someone like Kroc's financial advisor Harry Sonneborn (B.J. Novak), who made Kroc realize that the key to a successful franchise operation was to first and foremost be in the real estate business.

Where the film falls short is in its portrayals of the three lead characters.  It comes close to making fun of the McDonald brothers as staid traditionalists, despite the fact that they were also clearly visionaries. (A flashback sequence on their invention of the layout for their San Bernardino restaurant is a film highlight.) The movie at times veers too far toward portraying them as unbending rubes, though there are also some nice moments portraying the brothers' closeness and caring for one another.

That sort of dichotomy is even more apparent with the character of Ray Kroc.  Clearly Kroc was a fallible human being, i.e., his marriage to his first wife (Laura Dern) failed and, if the film is accurate, he took financial risks without telling her -- though that behavior might, as much as anything, have been born of its era.

However, the character lacks nuance, with the film hewing too closely to portraying Kroc as some sort of sleazy con artist salesman, right up to a broken handshake deal with the McDonalds when he purchased the company, which may not have actually been true.  The portrayal of Kroc as a person, via both the screenplay and Keaton's edgy performance, is uneasily juxtaposed with all the actions he actually took to do things right.  

For instance, there's something quite admirable about Kroc's vision of a clean, "family friendly" environment with uniform standards; why then, does the film essentially make fun of him for enforcing this, chewing franchise owners out on a golf course in hysterical fashion? 

And isn't it also interesting that a milkshake maker salesman could see something special in the McDonald brothers' restaurant and have big ideas for where the business could go, which proved more than successful?

Similarly, what about Kroc's ability to promote quality talent from within, such as burger flipper Fred Turner (Justin Randell Brooke), who would one day follow Kroc as the company CEO?  And I loved the insight of Kroc finding franchise owners who were interested in his "clean-cut" standards at churches, synagogues, and veterans groups.

The film showed these aspects of Kroc's work, yet there's a disconnect with its portrayal of Kroc the man.  As director Hancock says in a Blu-ray featurette, the viewer starts out rooting for Kroc but by the end of the movie isn't sure about him anymore; he's more of an antihero or perhaps even a villain.  Was that the right angle for the film to take?  

I'd like to suggest the movie could have better walked a line portraying a fully rounded human being while simultaneously omitting some of the negativity and celebrating his great American success story.  It feels instead rather as though the filmmakers went in trying to find a controversial or dramatically interesting hook, perhaps rooted in a desire to be critical of "big business," then squished facts to fit that tone rather than present something more balanced.  

I found the movie flawed but worthwhile; while not entirely successful, it's entertaining and thought-provoking, even when it leads to analysis which is critical of the film.

Keaton has some excellent moments, including his awe at the neon "golden arches" lighting the night sky, but jointly with the script his Kroc is at times almost disturbing.  There are quieter moments which hint at greater depth, but not enough to suit me, and as mentioned, the character's thoughtful actions are not always a match for the way he's otherwise portrayed.

For me the most interesting performance was Novak as Sonneborn; it's a relatively small role in the second half of the film but Novak really brings it alive.  The scripting here is also quite good, as Kroc learns that the way to control unruly franchises, not to mention the cautious McDonald brothers, is to own the land where the restaurants sit.

Dern is underutilized as Kroc's sad, quiet first wife Ethel, who attempts to be supportive but is often ignored.  

Linda Cardellini (Hawkeye's wife, Laura Barton, in Marvel's AVENGERS films) has more to do as Kroc's last wife, Joan. (Kroc's real-life second wife Jane is omitted from the film.) Joan's first husband Rollie is portrayed by Patrick Wilson (AQUAMAN, MIDWAY).

THE FOUNDER was filmed by John Schwartzman. It runs 115 minutes.

THE FOUNDER is available on Blu-ray and DVD.  The Blu-ray was an excellent print, and the disc included several informative featurettes.

The movie can also be rented for streaming from Amazon Prime.

A trailer is here.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Wake Island (1942) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

WAKE ISLAND (1942) is one of a pair of World War II films released on Blu-ray late last summer by Kino Lorber.

WAKE ISLAND was released alongside the very enjoyable RED BALL EXPRESS (1952), which I reviewed here.

WAKE ISLAND kept being pushed further down in my review stack by the ongoing wealth of new Kino Lorber releases in the ensuing weeks, but I'm happy to say I finally caught up with it.  I'm not sure "enjoyed" is the appropriate word to describe my response to such a sad story, but I found the film worthwhile and even educational, starting me on a path to reading more about the real battle.  

I've always been interested in World War II films and find movies made in the early days of the war, when the outcome was uncertain, to be particularly fascinating.  WAKE ISLAND was released by Paramount Pictures only eight months after the beginning of the siege of Wake Island.  It was followed a few weeks later by the equally grim MANILA CALLING (1942) from 20th Century-Fox. 

The Battle of Wake Island began almost simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor; thanks to the international dateline, December 7th in Hawaii was December 8th on Wake Island, so in essence they were attacked on the same day.

The Japanese attacked Wake Island repeatedly for over three weeks, as any hopes for resupply or rescue for the men stationed there dwindled. After great loss of life, the battle concluded with the U.S. surrender on December 23rd.

WAKE ISLAND is a thoughtful and moving film, and though the end is sad, the stirring patriotism served to inspire its original audiences nationwide. It still evokes strong emotions today, not just as a film, but thinking both of what the real heroes of Wake Island endured and what the audiences of this film were experiencing in the early months of the war.

Brian Donlevy stars as Major Caton, who arrives on the island just before the action commences.  Donlevy is an actor I've increasingly come to appreciate over the past couple of years; he always brings his "A" game, and that's no exception here.  Donlevy has any number of outstanding scenes, with the best possibly being when he approves what he knows is almost certainly a suicide mission for pilot Lt. Cameron (Macdonald Carey).

Other men under Donlevy's command are played by Robert Preston, William Bendix, and Rod Cameron; Cameron plays the only man to leave the island, taking a report of Japanese tactics and conditions to Hawaii.  Albert Dekker plays a construction contractor who initially clashes with Donlevy but ultimately passes up an opportunity to leave the island, remaining to offer his skills in defending the island.

The terrific cast includes many familiar unbilled faces, including Barbara Britton, Dane Clark, Hugh Beaumont, Hillary Brooke, Mary Field, Don Castle, Alan Hale Jr., Phillip Terry, and James Millican.

WAKE ISLAND was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.  Director John Farrow was likewise nominated for the Academy Award, as were William Bendix (Best Supporting Actor) and screenwriters W.R. Burnett and Frank Butler.

WAKE ISLAND was filmed in black and white by William C. Mellor and Theodor Sparkuhl.  It runs 88 minutes.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is a typically good-looking print which also has excellent sound.  Extras on the Blu-ray disc include the trailer and a commentary track by Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin.  The disc includes half a dozen trailers for additional films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Tonight's Movie: The Donut King (2020) - A Kino Lorber DVD Review

THE DONUT KING (2020) is an interesting documentary about Ted Ngoy, who arrived in Orange County, California, as a Cambodian refugee in 1975.

Within six months Ngoy had been trained to run a Winchell's Donut shop, which was the foundation of his future success in the donut industry.

Ngoy built a donut shop empire, and though his personal story was later filled with addiction and the ensuing collapse of his business success, the hard work of Ted and his family paved the way for many other Cambodians and their own American success stories.

This 90-minute film is quite well done, placing Ngoy's story inside the larger history of Cambodian resettlement to Southern California, told with good editing and visuals, including animated scenes -- and, of course, plenty of footage of beautiful donuts!

A detail I particularly enjoyed, given my own love for the genre, is that Ngoy was drawn to choose the USA as his family's new home due to his love for Westerns.

THE DONUT KING is one of a number of enjoyable food-related documentaries released by Kino Lorber in the last few years, following THE GODDESSES OF FOOD (2016), CHEF FLYNN (2018), and DIANA KENNEDY: NOTHING FANCY (2019).

I've been looking forward to seeing it since I read Raquel Stecher's review last spring.  The movie was of particular interest to me because it's also a history of my area, where Asian-owned donut shops are ubiquitous, to the extent that both Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme have struggled to establish footholds here.  

Another interesting aspect: Those pink boxes we all associate with donuts? Those were originally a Ted Ngoy innovation, initially because the color was cheaper.  Now, of course, anyone who sees a pink box immediately starts craving the goodies guaranteed to be found inside.

There was one statement early on that I took exception to, when someone said that not many people here knew Asians before the arrival of the Cambodian refugees and that the donut shops were a way for them to find acceptance.  Anyone who knows California history knows that's just silly.  

Perhaps the word "Cambodian" should have been used instead of "Asian."  There were many people of Chinese and Japanese descent, in particular, in California before the mid '70s; some of them were my friends. After the mid '70s, Asian demographics in Orange County shifted thanks to the influx of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees.

THE DONUT KING is a documentary worth catching.  It was directed and filmed by Alice Gu, written by Gu and Carol Martori.

The DVD includes half a dozen trailers for additional documentaries available from Kino Lorber.

A trailer for THE DONUT KING is available on YouTube.

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

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Art of Love (1965) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE ART OF LOVE (1965), a dark comedy starring James Garner, Dick Van Dyke, Angie Dickinson, and Elke Sommer, is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

The story concerns Paul Sloane (Van Dyke), a poor artist in Paris who's about to give up on painting.  One night he jumps into the Seine River to rescue Nikki (Sommer) and is mistaken for dead.

Paul's roommate Casey (Garner) finds that the work of his "dead" friend is now worth considerable money and starts selling off the paintings.  When Casey turns up alive they plot to make more money by having Paul continue to be "dead," turning out paintings Casey can sell.

When Casey falls in love with Paul's girlfriend Laurie (Dickinson), Paul is outraged, despite the fact he now loves Nikki.  Paul frames Casey for his "murder," and Casey comes perilously close to being executed.

I was looking forward to this film, given the cast; a decent IMDb rating of 6.3 gave me further encouragement.  Alas, this one was quite a disappointment, flat, macabre, and unfunny.  If the team of Garner and Van Dyke can't make you crack a smile, well...and Ethel Merman as the madam of a bordello was just painful.

The two leading ladies were cute, but otherwise this was a prolonged 99-minute mishmash despite being cowritten by Van Dyke's DICK VAN DYKE SHOW colleague Carl Reiner, with directing by Norman Jewison and widescreen color cinematography by Russell Metty.  The back projections and backlot "European" filming certainly didn't make the film any better.

The best thing about the movie is when Van Dyke shows up in full "Dawes Sr." old age makeup.  This was his first film after MARY POPPINS (1964), and he seems to have made off with the makeup kit!

Kino Lorber's good-looking Blu-ray print is from a new 2K master.  The disc includes the trailer and a commentary track by Peter Tonguette.  There are eight additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

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... 

...Exciting Blu-ray news!  At long last, HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in April by the Criterion Collection.  This film has not had a home viewing release since a 2007 VHS tape.  My review of this very special film, directed by Frank Borzage and starring Charles Boyer and Jean Arthur, is here.

...Also coming from Criterion in April, a Blu-ray edition of THE FURIES (1950), previously released by Criterion on DVD in 2008.

...Coming to DVD: The silent film ZANDER THE GREAT (1925) starring Marion Davies, with a new score by Ben Model.  The film has met a Kickstarter fundraising goal to finance production and is due out from Model's Undercrank Productions at a future date.

...New books ahead from McFarland: 





...Cookbooks due out next month from America's Test Kitchen: THE CHICKEN BIBLE and THE ULTIMATE MEAL PREP COOKBOOK.

...Coming to Blu-ray from the Warner Archive in February: SAN FRANCISCO (1936), MY DREAM IS YOURS (1949), ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1949), and SHOW BOAT (1951).

...Notable Passings: I was greatly saddened to learn of the passing of John Reilly, who played Sean Donely on GENERAL HOSPITAL for many years.  Reilly was part of what I think of as the show's "golden era" alongside longtime stars Finola Hughes, Tristan Rogers, Jack and Kristina Malandro Wagner, and more.  Reilly was 86...Camera operator Owen Marsh, who worked in the industry for decades, has died at 90.  Marsh's father was MGM cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh, who sadly died in his late 40s, and his aunt was actress Mae Marsh; other family members worked in various aspects of show business, including his brother, saxophonist Warne Marsh.  As a boy Owen Marsh played small roles in two Jeanette MacDonald films shot by his father, SAN FRANCISCO (1936) and THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1938).  According to his obituary, MacDonald gifted Owen with his first dog.

...More Notable Passings: Peter Mark Richman, a busy TV actor for decades, has passed on at 93.  I most closely associate Richman with playing attorney Andrew Laird on DYNASTY (1981-84), seen here with John Forsythe...Fred Rogers' widow, Joanne, has died at 92.  Cellist Yo-Yo Ma was among those paying tribute...Antonio Sabato Sr. has died at 77.  His credits included GRAND PRIX (1966) and ONE DOLLAR TOO MANY (1968). Survivors include his son, longtime GENERAL HOSPITAL star Antonio Sabato Jr....Country singer-composer and actor Ed Bruce died at 81.  Bruce wrote "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" and costarred with James Garner on BRET MAVERICK (1981-82).

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my January 9th roundup.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Shop Around the Corner (1940) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) is the third and greatest of a trio of Christmas movies released on Blu-ray last month by the Warner Archive.

I previously reviewed the Warner Archive's December releases of IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) and HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949).

I love THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, which I wrote about for the ClassicFlix site in 2015; an updated version of that review was published here in 2017.

Since I discussed my feelings about the movie so extensively in that review, rather than "reinvent the wheel" I'd like to suggest readers click over to it for more detailed thoughts on the film itself, as well as a bit of the history of this oft-filmed property, before returning here to continue with the Blu-ray review.

Suffice it to say that this story of two bickering shop workers (James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) unknowingly falling in love by mail is a superb film, with outstanding performances and the typically lighter-than-air touch by director Ernst Lubitsch. It's a true gem of Golden Era filmmaking.

The excellent acting includes not just the two leads, but Frank Morgan as the store owner and Felix Bressart, Sara Haden, Inez Courtney, Joseph Schildkraut, and William Tracy as his other employees. (Incidentally, last year I got to know Tracy's work better thanks to the ClassicFlix Streamliners releases TANKS A MILLION and HAY FOOT.)  For me every return to this film is 99 minutes of pure movie joy, welcome at Christmastime or any time.

Prior to the Blu-ray release I was fortunate to have last seen the film in 35mm as part of a 2018 Lubitsch tribute at UCLA. That glorious print had such richness and depth that I wrote at the time that if I didn't know better, I'd have guessed it was a nitrate print.

The new Warner Archive Blu-ray beautifully shows off the black and white cinematography of William Daniels and calls to mind how wonderful the film looked at that special screening.  While the print struck me as slightly soft in the earliest scenes, the second half of the film in particular looks outstanding; the scenes with Morgan in the snow are probably as close as one can get to the 35mm screening.  In fact, I enjoyed noting that reviewer Glenn Erickson mentioned this new Blu-ray "is so rich, it almost feels like 3-D," which is quite similar to how I described my 35mm experience.  It was a joy to watch the film once more via this print.

Like the Warner Archive releases of IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE and HOLIDAY AFFAIR, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER comes with an "old time radio" extra -- in this case, there are actually two separate productions, a short 30-minute 1940 Screen Guild Theater performance with original cast members Stewart, Sullavan, and Morgan, and an hour-long 1941 Lux Radio Theater production with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, and Felix Bressart.  I find it a real treat to hear both original and "alternate" casts on radio productions of classic films.  I feel these radio recordings add a great deal of value to the Blu-rays, and I hope the Warner Archive will include more on future releases.

The disc also includes the trailer and the "New Romance of Celluloid" short THE MIRACLE OF SOUND (1940).

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER film and Blu-ray release are both highly recommended.

The Warner Archive has a number of additional great Blu-ray releases scheduled for early 2021, and I'm delighted to say I'll be reviewing several of them here, including some wonderful musicals, AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936), SAN FRANCISCO (1936), and Cary Grant in ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952).  Stay tuned!

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Pirate (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Judy Garland and Gene Kelly star in director Vincente Minnelli's THE PIRATE (1948), now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

The Warner Archive has been gradually releasing MGM musicals on great-looking Blu-rays; Garland's THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), reviewed here, was released alongside THE PIRATE, and coming soon are GOOD NEWS (1947) and SHOW BOAT (1951).  This is all wonderful news for classic film fans in general and those who love MGM musicals in particular.

THE PIRATE is a giddy, lusty comedy about Manuela (Garland), a young maiden in the Caribbean (or Caribbean) tropics.  She's just become engaged to the unattractive older mayor (Walter Slezak) of her town, which will improve the ailing finances of her aunt (Gladys Cooper) and uncle (Lester Allen)...but she secretly dreams of the dashing pirate Macoco.

While picking up her wedding trousseau in a port city, Manuela chances to meet Serafin (Kelly), a traveling player. He hypnotizes Manuela as part of his act and learns of her passion for Macoco, whom she's never seen, and impersonates the pirate in order to woo her.  Little does he know that the real Macoco is nearby...

Truth to tell there are numerous MGM musicals I prefer to THE PIRATE, as the plot is not a favorite...but even a "lesser" MGM musical is marvelous entertainment, as testified by the fact my records show I've seen this film at least eight times -- and I suspect the number, going back into my earliest childhood, is actually higher.

It had been a few years since my last viewing, so the movie simultaneously felt familiar and fresh. It's rather fascinating watching it as an adult and realizing the strong sensual undercurrents which went over my head as a child, including a couple moments I'm actually surprised were included.  ("The Pirate Ballet" gets pretty far out there...)  The movie is partly a sendup of swashbucklers and pirate films, but more significantly, it's deeply focused on the dreams and desires of Manuela, who is quite willing to be "sacrificed" to the pirate to save her town -- and save her from marrying the awful mayor.

Garland was at the height of her powers here: A mature actress and comedienne, a powerhouse singer, and also at the peak of her beauty.  She nails every aspect of the role from start to finish, and for my money is the single best thing about the movie.

That's not to short Kelly, who has marvelous dances, including "Nina" and "Be a Clown" along with the previously mentioned "Pirate Ballet." "Be a Clown," a highlight performed with the Nicholas Brothers, is almost exhausting to watch; the physical shape the three men had to be in to perform the moves in that dance blow my mind.  

As much as I've always loved Kelly, his often cocky screen persona has admittedly not worn as well over time as I'd like, but he is just right here for the sly, goofy, and very athletic pirate impersonator.  One also senses the positive feelings between Garland and Kelly, who had previously costarred in Kelly's first film, FOR ME AND MY GAL (1943).

The gorgeous colors photographed by Harry Stradling (Sr.), ranging from Caribbean (or Caribbean) village pastels to the striking red and black Pirate number, are quite dazzling as seen via Blu-ray.  The movie is a visual treat, and the great "MGM sound," including Conrad Salinger's orchestrations of the Cole Porter score, are also shown off via the excellent soundtrack.

The supporting cast for this 102-minute movie also includes Reginald Owen, George Zucco, and Mary Jo Ellis.

The Blu-ray carries over extensive extras from the film's original DVD release, including a commentary track by John Fricke, audio outtakes, a Pete Smith short, and a Tom and Jerry cartoon.  The disc also includes a "making of" featurette.

Musical fans will definitely want to add this lovely Blu-ray to the shelf.  Recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Rio Grande (1950) - An Olive Signature Blu-ray Review

Director John Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950) is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

RIO GRANDE is not just one of my favorite Westerns, I have listed it as one of my Top 30 favorite films of all time. Olive's new Blu-ray release more than does it justice.

RIO GRANDE is a film which, like Ford and Wayne's SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), is so close to my heart that it's challenging to write about.  (I did so briefly early last year for Classic Movie Hub.) I pretty much know the film by heart, yet it never gets old; instead it becomes dearer with each viewing, as once more I spend time with old friends.

RIO GRANDE is the final film in Ford and Wayne's informal "Calvary trilogy" which began with FORT APACHE (1948) and continued with SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. Some readers are no doubt aware that RIO GRANDE was part of a deal Ford, Wayne, and O'Hara made with Republic Pictures president Herbert J. Yates, who agreed to fund the making of THE QUIET MAN (1952) if they first made this Western.

Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne) commands a calvary troop at a fort near the Rio Grande.  To Yorke's surprise, his son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.), whom he's not seen in 15 years, shows up among a group of new recruits.  The young man enlisted after flunking math at West Point and losing his chance for a commission.

Yorke is even more surprised when his estranged wife Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara) arrives at the fort shortly after Jeff, hoping to change Jeff's mind about frontier military service and buy him out of his enlistment. Jeff refuses to quit and gradually impresses his father with his character.  Meanwhile, Jeff's parents begin moving toward reconciliation, including coming to terms with an incident which drove them apart during the Civil War.

James Kevin McGuinness based his excellent screenplay on a Saturday evening post story by James Warner Bellah.  The combination of writing, directing, and acting ensures that every character is beautifully sketched, from the leads down to small roles like gallant Captain St. Jacques (Peter Ortiz) and kindly Dr. Wilkins (Chill Wills).

Aside from Wayne and O'Hara, whose touching performances here are among their very best, I especially love Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. as Troopers Tyree and Boone.  My entire family can quote some of their lines, and their horsemanship is beyond compare.  (For anyone who may not already know, yes, that's really Johnson, Carey, and Jarman doing the "Roman riding" early in the movie, not stuntmen!)

I also love that the movie is filled with music from the Sons of the Pioneers, including soloist Ken Curtis, which is not only beautiful but works to reveal character and move the story forward, notably during "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" and "My Gal is Purple."  The latter song, with Wayne standing at the river contemplating at sundown, is one of my favorite scenes in any movie.

There's also plenty of action to offset the more tender musical moments; the final charge on a church to rescue a group of children, all set to the incessant clanging of the church bell, is superbly staged.

The supporting cast includes Victor McLaglen, J. Carrol Naish, Grant Withers, Karolyn Grimes, Fred Kennedy, Steven Pendleton, and Alberto Morin.

RIO GRANDE was filmed in black and white by Bert Glennon. Much of the film was shot on location in Utah and Arizona.  The movie runs 105 minutes.

This Olive Films Signature Edition Blu-ray, with plentiful extras, is limited to 3500 units.  It looks and sounds wonderful.

Olive's extensive extras include an audio commentary track by Nancy Schoenberger; multiple featurettes, with Claude Jarman Jr., Patrick Wayne, Leonard Maltin, and Mark Wanamaker (the latter on the Sons of the Pioneers); a visual essay by Tag Gallagher; and the trailer. 

I found Jarman's recollections particularly enjoyable.  Jarman's interview with Ford ("Can you ride a horse?") sounded very much like a story William Wellman Jr. recently shared with some bloggers, including myself, on a Zoom chat about being cast in THE HORSE SOLDIERS (1959); it was likewise a very short discussion where Wellman was asked the same question.  Ford spent such little time with Wellman that he was quite surprised to later learn he'd been cast in a small part.

Both RIO GRANDE and Olive's Blu-ray are most highly recommended.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: The Mirror Crack'd (1980) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980), featuring Angela Lansbury as the British sleuth Miss Marple, is the final film in a trio of Agatha Christie movies recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I previously reviewed the new Blu-rays of DEATH ON THE NILE (1978) and EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982).

As it happens, THE MIRROR CRACK'D was the only one of the movies I'd seen previously, in a theater when it was initially released.  I remembered going to see it at Christmastime, which the IMDb release date confirms.  

I hadn't seen it in the years since, so watching it now was almost like seeing a new movie; I only remembered the central fact-based plot device, which will not be revealed here.

The film is set in 1953 England, where a U.S. film production has descended onto the small country village of St. Mary Meade.

The filmmakers include star actress Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor), making a comeback after prolonged ill health; her husband, director Jason Rudd (Rock Hudson); Jason's quiet assistant, Ella (Geraldine Chaplin); producer Martin Fenn (Tony Curtis); and Martin's actress wife -- and Marina's rival -- Lola Brewster (Kim Novak).

A "meet and greet" cocktail party for the village citizenry is held at a local estate prior to the commencement of filming.  Partway into the event a young woman, Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett), who had been chatting with Marina collapses and dies after drinking a daiquiri.

Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) is soon on the case; in between interviewing the involved parties he pays visits to his aunt, Miss Jane Marple (Lansbury), to discuss the latest clues.

A fun opening sequence sets the tone for what's to come, as a black and white mystery film being screened by the local vicar breaks just as the inspector is about to reveal the murderer.  Miss Marple confidently tells the rest of the audience who did it based on clues she spotted in the movie.  It's a nice bit of place-setting as a "real-life" mystery then begins unfolding for Miss Marple to solve.

THE MIRROR CRACK'D is entertaining, if lacking in subtlety.  The performances by Taylor, Novak, and Curtis are what might be described as loud and garish, going over the top as Hollywood types, while the rest of the lead actors play in a quieter range.

Some of the fun is seeing cast members who worked together on past projects reunited here; it's especially nice to see Hudson and Taylor playing husband and wife again, close to a quarter century after GIANT (1956). 

Lansbury had played Taylor's sister at MGM in NATIONAL VELVET (1944) 36 years before.  She and Taylor both look older than their real ages in this. Taylor was only 48 when this was released but doesn't look particularly well, though that's admittedly in keeping with her character.  Some of the problem may have been what seems to be a poorly fitted wig and costuming which seems appropriate for an older woman.

Lansbury is intentionally made up to look elderly, though in reality she was about 54 or 55 at the time this was filmed.  She looks far older in this than she appeared in her later TV series MURDER, SHE WROTE (1984-1996).

Regarding cast member reunions, it was also fun to see former Universal stars Hudson and Curtis sharing the screen; I was musing that it was three decades after they each had small parts in WINCHESTER '73 (1950).

Another fun bit is spotting a young Pierce Brosnan in a scene appearing opposite Marina when the movie is filming.

Like the other Christie films I've recently reviewed, THE MIRROR CRACK'D isn't really great cinema, but it's a pleasant watch.  I liked it the best of the three recently viewed Christie films.

THE MIRROR CRACK'D runs 105 minutes.  It was directed by Guy Hamilton and filmed by Christopher Challis.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes a new audio commentary track by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson; a trailer and TV spots; and half a dozen trailers for additional films available from Kino Lorber.  The case includes reversible cover art.

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