Sunday, August 19, 2018

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Wonderful news for fans of two great Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals: In coming weeks Fathom Events will host screenings around the country of SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). The 60th Anniversary presentation of SOUTH PACIFIC will take place on August 26th and 29th, with THE SOUND OF MUSIC following on September 9th and 12th. It would be hard to beat the 70mm screenings I saw of each film at the Egyptian Theatre back in 2012, but my love for these films just may reel me in! Click on the Fathom Events links to check for locations.

...Gal Gadot of WONDER WOMAN (2017) looks likely to play actress-inventor Hedy Lamarr in a Showtime miniseries, though at this writing the deal isn't finalized. Gadot, who also appeared in some of the Fast and Furious movies, was also just announced as a member of the voice cast of Disney's RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH II (2018), coming to theaters in November.

...Great news from Capitolfest, which takes place each summer in Rome, New York, and is regularly attended by several of my friends: Next year Capitolfest 17 will jointly honor Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. The festival will take place August 9-11, 2019. The festival's main focus is silent and early sound films; titles will be announced beginning at the end of this year. Tickets are here. It's certainly tempting to think about traveling to NY next summer!

...Thinking about attending the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood next year? Christy has just published a whole lotta pics from the 2018 fest at Christy's Inkwells, which will hopefully entice new attendees. Newcomers will find they instantly have people to talk to as everyone in the lines loves classic films! Based on recent past history, the 2019 dates and them should be announced by the end of August.

...Nerdist recently published a nice joint interview with Turner Classic Movies hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Alica Malone, Dave Karger, and Eddie Muller.

...After checking out Margot's review of HIGHWAY 301 (1950) at her blog Down These Mean Streets, I'm even more interested in seeing it. Steve Cochran and Virginia Grey star.

...My friend Raquel does an amazing job curating lists of upcoming film books a few times a year. Her latest list is now up at Out of the Past. I'm especially excited about Jeremy Arnold's new book CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES: 30 CLASSICS TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON, coming October 9th from TCM and Running Press. Jeremy is a very knowledgeable film historian -- and also quite a nice guy! -- and the TCM-Running Press books are usually beautifully produced, with glossy photos on heavy paper.

...Also of particular note for me on Raquel's list: EDMOND O'BRIEN: EVERYMAN OF FILM NOIR by Derek Sculthorpe from McFarland, which was due out last month but doesn't seem to be available yet; MADE IN MEXICO: HOLLYWOOD SOUTH OF THE BORDER by Luis I. Reyes from Applause Books, due September 19th; OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD by Ellis Amburn from Lyons Press, due out September 1st; and CLARENCE BROWN: HOLLYWOOD'S FORGOTTEN MASTER by Gwenda Young for University Press of Kentucky, to be published on October 22nd. There are many more interesting titles on Raquel's list so be sure to read the entire thing, and many thanks to Raquel for putting this list together and sharing it with everyone!

...And congratulations are also due to Raquel for having her article on the wonderful silent film LONESOME (1928) published on the Library of Congress website!

...The Justice Department is reported to be reviewing film distribution rules which have been in place in the United States since 1948. Along those same lines, there's word that Amazon may be looking to acquire the Landmark theater chain.

...Andy Wolverton shares thoughts on DVD and Blu-ray collecting, and the inevitable storage issues, at Journeys in Darkness and Light. While you're visiting Andy's site, check out some of his other posts, such as a new review of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955).

...For Marvel fans: Marvel's 10th Anniversary Film Festival will take place on IMAX screens at select theaters from August 30th to September 6th, 2018. 20 films will be shown in order during the festival's first five days, followed by two days of "origin" and "team-ups" films and a final day of movies voted for by fans. Click on the accompanying photo for a closer look at the schedule.

...Attention Southern Californians: Disney's El Capitan Theatre will be hosting "Throwback" screenings of a personal favorite, ENCHANTED (2007), from September 6th to 9th, 2018. I have a ticket! This film, starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey, inexplicably tends to be a bit ignored among Disney musicals, and there's no better place to see a Disney movie than the El Capitan, a beautifully restored vintage theater; a concert of Disney music on the big Wurlitzer organ usually precedes each screening.

...More for Southern Californians (or film fans who can travel to L.A. for Labor Day Weekend!): Be sure to check out my preview of the Cinecon Classic Film Festival, which runs August 30th through September 3rd in Hollywood.

...Notable Passings: Dancer-Choreographer Miriam Nelson, who was married to Gene Nelson from 1941 to 1956, has passed away at the age of 98. She's pictured here dancing with Gene. Though Miriam's career was focused on dancing, she also had small roles in a number of films, including playing Edward G. Robinson's secretary in DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). On Twitter Doris Day's Animal Foundation posted a photo tribute to Doris's friend of many decades...Cinematographer Richard H. Kline has died at 91. His father was Benjamin Kline, who filmed many minor "B" films, Westerns, and TV shows. Richard Kline's credits included STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) and BODY HEAT (1981).

...More Notable Passings: Boot Hill reports the recent passing of actress Meg Randall (seen at left), news the site picked up from Laura Wagner of Classic Images. Randall played Kim Parker Kettle in three MA AND PA KETTLE movies, was Helen in the noir classic CRISS CROSS (1949), and appeared with George Montgomery in LAST OF THE BAD MEN (1957). She was 91...Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, a frequent collaborator with director Akira Kurosawa, has died at 100. His credits included RASHOMON (1950), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), THRONE OF BLOOD (1957), and THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958)...Composer Patrick Williams has passed on at 79. He scored many TV series including THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW...The great trombonist Bill Watrous died in early July at the age of 79.

...For additional recent links on classic movies and more, please check out my July 22 link roundup.

Have a great week!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Cinecon Classic Film Festival Opens in Hollywood August 30th

The Cinecon Classic Film Festival opens in Hollywood on Thursday, August 30th.

Cinecon 54 will take place at the Egyptian Theatre, running through Labor Day on Monday, September 3rd.

Cinecon was founded in 1965 and "is dedicated to showcasing unusual films that are rarely given public screenings." The vast majority of the films are from the silent era through the 1940s, though a couple of later films are on this year's schedule as well.

Eva Marie Saint will be an honored guest at the festival. Appearances are also expected from "Baby Peggy" Montgomery, Cora Sue Collins, and Marsha Hunt; potential attendees should note that given these wonderful ladies' ages, there is always the potential for plans to change. (Hunt will turn 101 and Montgomery will turn 100 the month after the festival, while Saint is 94 and Collins 91.)

I attended a day and a half of the festival last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the chance to see Patricia Morison at a nitrate screening of UNTAMED (1940). Morison passed away in May at the age of 103 so I feel especially fortunate I was in attendance that night to hear her share some memories.

I have tickets to attend the festival's opening night, and I currently expect to also attend on Sunday and Monday. Some of the titles which interest me:

*HELEN'S BABIES (1924), a silent film on opening night with Clara Bow and Baby Peggy, accompanied by the Famous Players Orchestra

*SWEET AND LOW-DOWN (1944) with Benny Goodman, Linda Darnell, Jack Oakie, Lynn Bari, and Allyn Joslyn, also on opening night

*SCOTLAND YARD (1941), the final opening night film, with Nancy Kelly and John Loder

*THE GOLDEN HORDE (1951) with Ann Blyth

*INSURE YOUR WIFE! (1935), a Fox Spanish-language film with Conchita Montenegro, Antonio Moreno, and Mona Maris

*LEGION OF TERROR (1936) with Bruce Cabot and Marguerite Churchill

*THE VIRGINIA JUDGE (1935) with Marsha Hunt and Robert Cummings

*MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS (1948) with John Lund and Wanda Hendrix

*ON THE AVENUE (1937) with Dick Powell, Madeleine Carroll, and Alice Faye

Among the many other titles being shown are INFERNAL MACHINE (1933), a Chester Morris film I saw at the 2017 UCLA Festival of Preservation, and the Buck Jones Western THE AVENGER (1931), which unfortunately doesn't fit my schedule!

This year's "Saturday Nitrate Fever" program will include HE LEARNED ABOUT WOMEN (1933) with Stu Erwin.

Cinecon is a delight for any classic film fan who enjoys sampling lesser-known curios. I saw some wonderful titles last year in addition to UNTAMED, including Marsha Hunt in THE ACCUSING FINGER (1936), Hoot Gibson in THE TEXAS STREAK (1926), and a silent version of CAPTAIN BLOOD (1924). I'm looking forward to more discoveries this year!

For more on Cinecon 54, please visit Kim's post at I See a Dark Theater which highlights several additional movies not mentioned here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

It's been a good couple weeks for movies on the big screen, and today I saw the most delightful new film of all, CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018).

When I first saw the trailer I thought the film had possibilities, though I confess I was a bit surprised by the title. The positive buzz continued as this week's release date grew closer so I went to see it at the earliest opportunity.

I'm happy to report that CRAZY RICH ASIANS is a delightful romantic comedy which I enjoyed as much as any movie I've seen this year. While some have called it a modern CINDERELLA story, I'd say a more accurate description is that it's the big-screen equivalent of a Hallmark royalty romance -- that's a positive description for me -- with stunning production values.

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a young economics professor who's been dating Nick Young (Henry Golding) without realizing he's the scion of the most fabulously wealthy family in Singapore. (Don't the smart women in these kinds of stories ever use Google?)

Rachel's first hint that there's something unusual about Nick and his family is when they fly to Singapore for the wedding of Nick's best friend Colin (Chris Pang) to Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno); they're ushered into an ultra-luxe first class airline cabin and Rachel is baffled by the "mistake," as they clearly can't afford it...but it turns out Nick can. Oh, can he ever.

Shortly after arriving in Singapore Rachel is reunited with her college friend Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina of this summer's OCEAN'S EIGHT), who loses no time filling Rachel in on exactly who Nick is and what she's getting into.

Colin and Araminta welcome Rachel with open arms, as do Nick's cousins Astrid (Gemma Chan) and Oliver (Nico Santos), but then there's Nick's formidable, queen-like mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON), who's convinced that Rachel is too American and too individualistic to marry Nick and join the family.

There are so many things to like about this film, starting with the very attractive and appealing cast. The handsome Golding was compared by one reviewer to Tyrone Power; I certainly wouldn't go that far, given that Power is my all-time favorite actor, but Golding really is quite charming in this.

Wu, who's a riot as the "tiger mother" in the few episodes I've seen of the sitcom FRESH OFF THE BOAT, is completely different here as the sweet and unassuming Rachel. Initially devastated by Eleanor's rejection, Rachel straightens her spine and utilizes her knowledge of "game theory" to go on the offensive against Eleanor, playing to win.

Yeoh can do no wrong, and she keeps the steely Eleanor from being a caricature. I also particularly liked Chan as fashion goddess Astrid, who is awkwardly married to a man (Pierre Png) who doesn't come from a wealthy background, resulting in her attempting to salve his ego by hiding her purchases. Watching Astrid's staff scatter her latest haul to various hiding spots around her home is initially baffling, then simultaneously funny and sad.

The film's entire presentation is first class, including a colorful credits sequence, stunning views of Singapore locations filmed by Vanja Cernjul, and a bouncy musical soundtrack.

I loved the staging of moments such as "the text heard 'round the world" early in the film, a sequence in which Nick and Rachel are spotted in a restaurant, a woman texts a picture to a friend, and soon the news is ping-ponging from country to country. Within about five minutes Nick's mother is interrupting her Bible study group to phone Nick and inquire about his date and his plans to come home for the wedding. (Of course, this does beg the question, have Nick and Rachel not been seen in public before this?)

The movie is a nonstop piece of eye candy and also a foodie's delight, especially the sequence where Colin and Araminta take out Nick and Rachel when they arrive in Singapore. Don't go see it while hungry.

I had such a good time at this one! I smiled a lot, and I also teared up a couple of times. I'll definitely be purchasing it when it's available on Blu-ray/DVD, and I'm sure I'll watch it again regularly. It's a real "feel good" movie, and I wish there were more films like this released on a regular basis.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS was directed by Jon M. Chu. It runs 121 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for some brief suggestive content and language. I found it closer to a PG film than PG-13. It's a good-natured film with an admirable heroine.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Flight From Glory (1937) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), an excellent RKO "B" film, has just been released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

I was quite taken with this film when I first saw it in 2013, and revisiting it via the new DVD has cemented my admiration. This 67-minute film about South American pilots foreshadows Howard Hawks' classic ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939) and is a compelling watch in its own right.

Disgraced U.S. pilot George Wilson (Van Heflin) can't believe his luck when he lands a job with a South American company, flying supplies to remote mines. George and his bride Lee (Whitney Bourne) arrive in South America only to learn that the top planes promised are actually decrepit deathtraps.

What's more, Ellis (Onslow Stevens), who runs the operation, has a scheme so that pilots are immediately so indebted to him that they're virtually trapped, without funds to leave the country.

Paul Smith (Chester Morris), the most respected of the pilots, offers financial help for Lee to return to the U.S., but she's determined to support her husband despite the miserable living conditions and daily safety fears. Unfortunately George falls apart under the pressure and takes to drinking. After one too many planes crack up, George eventually retaliates against Ellis in shocking fashion.

Director Lew Landers, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, the set designers and cast combine their talents to create a rich atmosphere with just a couple of sets and an "airport" situated somewhere in the Greater L.A. area.

Chester Morris is especially good in this, playing a brusque pilot with a hard shell whose tender care of a little dog which accompanies him everywhere hints at a warmer interior life.

Bourne, who appeared in a handful of films over a half decade in the '30s, is also quite good as the wife who at first seems too aristocratic for her new environment, yet she surprises both the men and the viewer as she jumps into her new life without complaint, attempting to raise her husband's spirits and working to fix up their lone room.

Heflin, in his third film, looks amazingly young here, in the kind of role he'd return to later in his career. The supporting cast includes Richard Lane, Paul Guilfoyle, Solly Ward, and Douglas Walton.

The screenplay by David Silverstein and John Twist was based on a story by Robert D. Andrews.

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine print of this black and white film. 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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Tonight's Movie: A Strange Adventure (1956) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

A STRANGE ADVENTURE (1956), a widescreen black and white heist film from Republic Pictures, was recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

A STRANGE ADVENTURE may not be a very good film, but it's highly entertaining. I really enjoyed watching it, all the more because the Blu-ray print looks fantastic.

It's a fairly simple story, in which glamorous-looking Lynn Novak (Marla English) has been leading on a motel owner's teen son, Harold (Ben Cooper). The truth is that she's part of a gang planning an armored car robbery...and Harold's restored hot rod will be the perfect getaway vehicle!

Al (Jan Merlin) and Phil (Nick Adams) arrive in town and pull off the robbery, killing the guard who was part of the plan in the process. The two men and Lynn then force Harold to drive them up into the mountains, anticipating a snowstorm will cut off the pursuing cops. They don't plan to find a cabin occupied by Luther (Peter Miller), who spends the winter measuring the snow, or Luther's sister Terry (Joan Evans), and hold them prisoner.

Luther must report weather measurements by shortwave twice a week, and if he's not heard from on schedule, someone will show up on a snowplow to check on him...meanwhile the three crooks become suspicious of one another, and for good reason.

The sequence after the bad guys are rounded up is rather truncated -- they were really going to charge Harold as an accessory?! -- but by that point the movie's just about over so I guess it doesn't matter too much!

The movie might be termed "overly obvious" from its beginning, with English's siren leading young Harold on; when Al shows up, there's florid melodrama as he alternates kissing and slapping Lynn. Subtle this film is not...speaking of which, are viewers supposed to be reading something into Phil's constant sniffing? I suspect so.

Despite this movie not having the best script or performances, every scene is entertaining and the 70-minute story zooms forward at a breakneck pace. I suspect director William Witney is greatly responsible for the movie's pacing and entertainment value.

The movie won't be everyone's cup of tea, and I suspect some viewers would understandably latch on to the film's shortcomings, but I took it on its own terms and liked it for what it was. Maybe it's a bit of a "guilty pleasure" but I thought it was good fun and would watch it again. For film fans who like this type of film, this beautiful Kino Lorber print is highly recommended.

The movie was shot in straightforward fashion by Bud Thackery. It utilizes some terrific locations, including a roadside motel pool and a grocery store interior; I love being able to glimpse older grocery store interiors in films such as this or BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961). The movie's look was a definite plus factor for me.

There are also some good winter shots in what I assume are the San Bernardino Mountains, mixed in with soundstage work. I'm anticipating the commentary track will provide more location information.

The commentary is by Toby Roan and Jay Dee Whitney, son of the director, and I'll be listening to it this week. I've heard all of Toby's past commentary tracks and they are always thorough, which is why I'm pretty confident I'll learn more about the locations! Indeed, I noted that Gary W. Tooze at DVD Beaver says it's a "fantastically detailed commentary." Looking forward to it! Kudos to Kino Lorber for providing viewers with a bit of "film school in a box" regardless of the fact it's a minor film; indeed, sometimes tracks for lesser-known movies can be the most interesting and educational.

The disc also includes five trailers for other Kino Lorber releases.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Meg (2018)

For a traditional summertime adventure movie mixing thrills and laughs, the new "giant shark" film THE MEG (2018) delivers quite an enjoyable time at the movies.

THE MEG star Jason Statham first came onto my radar screen as arch-villain Deckard Shaw in the "Fast and Furious" entry FURIOUS 7 (2015), but he really zoomed up in my estimation when he stole THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017) out from under the rest of the franchise's cast members; a newly turned antihero, the scene where he rescues an infant, equal parts baby talk and blasting bad guys, was a comedic action classic. Even the formidable Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson couldn't compete with that! (And as it happens, Statham and Johnson will be teamed in the spinoff HOBBS AND SHAW, due out next year.)

I was thus intrigued when I saw Statham in the trailer for THE MEG, with another character saying of him "He looks heroic...but he's kind of got a negative attitude" as Statham tosses a "look" over his shoulder.

Director Jon Turteltaub said in an interview that his aim was to make "a crowd-pleasing summer popcorn film that could blend action, spectacle, suspense and comedy" and that the key was to hit the right tone, mixing thrills and chills with laughs.

Variety may have complained the film wasn't "bloody and scary enough" and that the film too strongly echoed '70s disaster movies...but for me that meant the film succeeded in hitting a sweet spot, spooky yet not too scary or gory. And yes, it does have some nice laughs scattered throughout.

In a prologue we see Jonas Taylor (Statham) engaged in a deep, deep sea rescue, but not everyone makes it out alive because...something is out there and the rescue ship has to blast outta there prematurely, before they're all eaten.

Fast-forward five years to the Mana One Research Station off the coast of China. A three-person exploration vehicle from the station is trapped at the bottom of the sea after an encounter with...something. The station's Zhang (Winston Chao) and Mac (Cliff Curtis) quickly fly to Thailand to beg for Jonas's help, as he's one of the only people in the world to make a successful rescue from that depth.

Jonas ultimately agrees, as one of those trapped is his ex Lori (Jessica McNamee), but it's not easy. The station's medical officer, Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor of LONGMIRE), has never believed Jonas's story that there was a giant sea creature and blames him for leaving people behind during the rescue a half decade earlier.

Jonas successfully helps the team, but they have awakened a 75-foot megalodon which is no longer content living at the bottom of the ocean; in short order he shows up at the research station and tries to take a chomp out of a window.

Statham is front and center through a succession of enjoyable disaster set pieces, with time out for a bit of flirtation with Suyin (Bingbing Li); he also trades amusing quips with Suyin's supersmart little girl Meiying (Sophia Cai). Statham is the perfect sardonic hero, making flippant comments while he bravely does things which are absolutely nuts; he's particularly amusing when necessity dictates he swim up close to a shark. His final battle with the giant shark is gloriously "summer movie crazy" and quite satisfying.

Statham happens to be particularly well cast for an action movie set in the ocean, as he's an experienced swimmer; for those who might not be aware, earlier in his life Statham was a competitive amateur diver representing Great Britain. Here's some YouTube footage of him diving at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.

I also liked Bingbing Li's Suyin; she and Jonas have a nice joking rapport. While Jonas must rescue her a couple of times, she's very brave and resourceful in her own right; indeed, all of the women in this film are supersmart and courageous, which I appreciated.

Rainn Wilson is amusing as the billionaire financially supporting the research station, who is at times monumentally stupid yet occasionally manages to have a good idea. Page Kennedy is also funny as the crew member who simply wants to get away from the running possibility of turning into shark food, yet he can't quite seem to manage it.

The supporting cast filling out the research station's multiracial, international crew includes Ruby Rose, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Masi Oka, and Raymond Vinton.

The movie runs a well-paced 113 minutes.

The film was attractively shot by Tom Stern. I happened to see the movie on a giant Cinemark "XD" screen so I really got a chance to appreciate the movie's look.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. There are a number of "jump scares" and several characters die, but it's not particularly bloody. It's not for little ones, yet tame enough for a viewer like me.

Recommended for anyone looking for enjoyable summer movie escapism.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Red Sundown (1956)

Rory Calhoun, a favorite Western star, was born on August 8, 1922.

When I wrapped up work last evening I decided to honor Calhoun's birthday by watching him in RED SUNDOWN (1956).

RED SUNDOWN has been highly recommended to me by several people, including my dad and my friends Blake, John, Toby, and Kristina, among others! In fact it was on my list of 10 films I was planning to see last year; for various reasons I had to push the list forward into 2018 but I finally made headway and crossed this title off tonight!

Calhoun plays Alec Longmire, who finds outlaw Bud Purvis (James Millican) wandering on the prairie. Alec rescues Bud but they soon tangle with Rod Zellman (Leo Gordon), who chases after Bud and Alec, which leads to a memorable gunfight in which the seriously wounded Bud comes up with a unique (if more than a little creepy) way to save Alec.

Alec promises Bud he'll give up living by the gun, though he hadn't planned on an offer as deputy sheriff from Sheriff Murphy (Dean Jagger). The good-natured sheriff offers Alec the job and Alec accepts. The job is all the more appealing as the sheriff has a lovely daughter, Caroline (Martha Hyer).

The town is in the middle of a land war pitting Rufus Henshaw (Robert Middleton) and his goons (including John Doucette) against the townspeople. Creepy Chet Swann (Grant Williams) arrives in town to work for Henshaw, with orders to kill.

Like most '50s Universal Westerns, this is a colorful, relatively short film which packs lots of entertainment value into its 81 minutes. That said, it goes above and beyond the norm with interesting plotting and some wonderful performances.

Calhoun is always good in Westerns, but he's especially fine here as a young man struggling to go straight but finding it harder than expected, between the doubts of Caroline and the need to pick up his gun again, even if this time it's on the side of law and order.

Jagger is also wonderful as the sheriff who gives Alec a second chance. The dialogue when they meet is absolutely terrific, as the sheriff asks Alec if he's on any of the wanted posters in the sheriff's office and Alec says "Let's go look." The friendly, frank discussion which follows between the two men is an excellent scene.

The movie provides a heck of a part for character fave James Millican, who had been in films in bit parts since the mid '30s and gradually climbed into more substantive character roles in the late '40s and '50s. He was really hitting his stride in the mid '50s, in films such as this and DAWN AT SOCORRO (1954), where he played a Wyatt Earp type role opposite Calhoun's spin on Doc Holliday, but tragically Millican died of cancer in 1955, before this film was released. He was only 45.

Millican is unforgettable as the gunman who says if he had it all to do again, he'd get a real job; he gets a second chance at living, only to lose it again. In his final moments he finds a way to save Alec twice over, first keeping him from dying and then also obtaining Alec's promise that he'll go straight.

Hyer has sharp edges in this one, as the woman who seems attracted to Alec but doubts his character. She's particularly dismayed when she finds him with an old girlfriend, Maria, played by Lita Baron, who was then Mrs. Rory Calhoun in real life. Unbeknownst to Caroline, Maria is now actually Henshaw's mistress.

And then there's Williams, who would later work with director Jack Arnold on the heartbreaking sci-fi film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957). He's quite something as the deranged killer unleashed on the town by Henshaw.

The film has a succession of good action scenes, with my favorite being when Henshaw's men arrive and take over the saloon, but they have a surprise coming. A great moment.

The movie was filmed by William Snyder. The above-average score was by Hans J. Salter, and the title song was composed and sung by Terry Gilkyson. The supporting cast includes Trevor Bardette, David Kasday, Chuck Roberson, Rusty Westcoatt, Chuck Hayward, Lane Bradford, and Helen Brown.

Many thanks to my friend John Knight for providing a lovely widescreen print for me to watch. What an enjoyable experience! This is certainly a film which needs to be out on Region 1 DVD in the U.S.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Tonight's Movie: An Act of Murder (1948)

Mercy killing is the topic of AN ACT OF MURDER (1948), a somber yet engrossing film with an excellent cast.

Fredric March plays Calvin Cooke, a by-the-book judge confronted with an agonizing dilemma when his beloved wife Cathy (Florence Eldridge, March's real wife) is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.

Medication is unable to control Cathy's unbearable pain, so Judge Cooke somewhat impulsively commits what he intends as an act of murder-suicide, driving his car off the road on a rainy night while Cathy is obliviously sleeping.

Cathy dies, but the judge survives, and when he's physically recovered he turns himself in on a murder charge. A dedicated defense attorney (Edmond O'Brien) dating the Cookes' daughter (Geraldine Brooks) is appointed by the judge (John McIntire) hearing the case to represent Judge Cooke.

An autopsy raises the question of whether the judge actually killed his wife after all...but even so, he meant to do it.

I had expected that the film would focus more on the courtroom drama aspect of the story and was a bit surprised that the majority of the film is domestic/medical drama, with the courtroom sequences a bit rushed, almost tacked on as an afterthought. This was especially disappointing given that it limited screen time for O'Brien and McIntire, a pair of really interesting actors. I would have preferred if the pathos-filled personal story were condensed and the legal and ethical debates took center stage; it remains a relevant topic decades later.

Judge Cooke's closing speech on the importance of seeing into men's hearts and intentions being as important as following the law is also an opinion ripe for deeper consideration than it receives here.

Another interesting aspect of the film, Brooks' frequently fraught relationship with her father, is also somewhat pushed to the side. Judge Cooke doesn't approve of his daughter's boyfriend and refuses to open up to her when dealing with his personal dilemmas before and after his wife's death. A little more depth and resolution would have been welcome here.

I'd been curious to see this one, especially given my liking for O'Brien, Brooks, and McIntire, and despite my reservations I'm glad I watched it. It was an interesting and well-acted film, though I can't say it will lend itself to repeat viewing given the difficulty of watching a terminally ill woman suffer.

An interesting aspect for me was that some of the medical aspects are unintentionally amusing -- or troubling -- to a modern viewer, such as the doctor (Stanley Ridges) lighting up a cigarette in the middle of conducting extensive medical tests looking for a potential brain tumor. Later he pushes a cigarette on the emotionally reeling Judge Cooke. Similar scenes appear in other movies but they never lose the capacity to make me shake my head in wonder.

The doctor cheerily reassures his patient she's fine, then has the x-rays copied and overnighted to three nationally known specialists; once the verdict is in from his fellow neurologists, the doctor conspires with the husband to keep the truth of her condition from his wife. The husband protests that she has a right to know and plan the remainder of her life, but the doctor orders the husband to lie and then makes sure he cooperates by calling the wife to tell her she's fine! (Eldridge's radiance immediately after this news is both hauntingly beautiful and crushing. It's a fine moment for the actress.) It's hard to imagine the lawsuits the doctor's behavior would engender in modern times.

The supporting cast also includes Will Wright as another judge who's a family friend. Also in the film are Don Beddoe, Clarence Muse, Ray Teal, and Virginia Brissac.

With this film I've seen all of the seven films Geraldine Brooks made from 1947 to 1949, a most enjoyable group which includes EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948) and THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949). She was in a couple Italian films released in 1950 and after that mostly worked in television, an exception being STREET OF SINNERS (1957) with George Montgomery. In 1962 she reunited with Edmond O'Brien for an episode of his SAM BENEDICT TV series. Brooks was an interesting actress I wish had had a longer film career.

AN ACT OF MURDER was directed by Michael Gordon and filmed in black and white by Hal Mohr. The screenplay by Michael Blankford and Robert Thoeren was based on a novel by Ernst Lothar. The film runs 91 minutes.

AN ACT OF MURDER is available on DVD in the Universal Vault Series. The print is mostly fine although there were a few scenes with lines in the picture. The sound quality was good.

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