Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Arizona Bound (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

There was recently some very good news from the Warner Archive: After a couple-year hiatus, the Archive is releasing Volume 9 in the Monogram Cowboy Collection!

Volume 9, to be released in September, will consist of nine Johnny Mack Brown films released between 1946 and 1948.

I've reviewed numerous films from the first three Monogram volumes of "B" Westerns, most recently THE NAVAJO TRAIL (1945) and FLAME OF THE WEST (1945), and I'm delighted the series is going to continue.

I'll be returning to more films from those early sets in the future, but first I'm going to spend some time dipping into the most recent set, the 2014 Monogram Cowboy Collection, Volume 8.

Volume 8 is a four-disc set which contains Westerns starring not only Johnny Mack Brown but also films with a newer favorite, Buck Jones. In 1941-42 Jones starred with Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton in Monogram's Rough Riders series, the last films he made before his untimely death in the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston in November 1942.

The Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 8 contains half a dozen of the Rough Riders movies; based on perusing IMDb, it looks as though Jones, McCoy, and Hatton appeared together in two additional Rough Riders films which aren't part of this set.

Jones's last film, DAWN ON THE GREAT DIVIDE (1942), was another Rough Riders film but Rex Bell completed the lead trio, along with Jones and Hatton, as McCoy had left Hollywood for service in WWII.

The first Rough Riders film is ARIZONA BOUND (1941). I was interested to initially note that while Jones and McCoy were both popular cowboy stars, Jones's name was in somewhat bigger type than McCoy's.

As the story begins, retired Marshal Buck Roberts (Jones) is relaxing on his Arizona ranch when he receives a telegram from Marshal Bat "Madison" asking for his help solving stagecoach robberies in Mesa City. Before long Buck has arrived in the town in question, posing as a cattleman. Also new in town are another cattleman (Hatton) and a black-garbed parson (McCoy), none of whom seem to know each other.

Buck sets to work helping stagecoach line owner Ruth (Luana Walters) and her sweetheart Joe (Dennis Moore), while the parson gets to know Steve Taggert (Tris Coffin), who happens to be the villain behind the robberies.

This is a short and sweet 57-minute Western, nothing especially special except for the star power of Jones and McCoy and the Rough Riders concept, which were enough to keep me entertained. I liked what today we might call the "Avengers Assemble" type plot where the trio of great lawmen come together to solve a crisis, and it's quite satisfying when their true identities are revealed and justice is served.

At movie's end the men go their separate ways, but, as the final card tells us, they will soon reunite. Indeed, the next film has the intriguing title THE GUNMAN FROM BODIE (1941), which I love as Bodie was a silver mining town near where I spend my summer vacations in the High Sierras. It's now a famed ghost town. Alas, I doubt Bodie actually appears in the movie!

A Monument Valley scene appears behind the opening credits; IMDb notes that the movie itself filmed in Prescott, Arizona. Perhaps some of the mountain exteriors were filmed in Prescott, but it seems like a long way to go for a budget film; I assume that the Western town street was filmed in Southern California.

The movie was shot in black and white by Harry Neumann.

ARIZONA BOUND was directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet from a screenplay by Adele Buffington (under the name Jess Bowers), based on a story by Oliver Drake. Buffington and Drake's names have both been seen in the credits of many enjoyable "B" Westerns.

The Monogram Cowboy Collection Volume 8 consists of four discs containing three films apiece; as indicated above, the set is split between six Rough Riders films and six starring Johnny Mack Brown. The ARIZONA BOUND print had a few light scratches here and there but for the most part was in very good shape.

Additional reviews of films in this set will be coming in the future.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tonight's Movie: About Face (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ABOUT FACE (1952) is a Warner Bros. musical just released by the Warner Archive.

Like STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME (1952), another Warner Bros. musical released by the Archive the same week, ABOUT FACE is based on a 1938 WB comedy. ABOUT FACE was based on BROTHER RAT (1938), while STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME was based on A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER (1938). I've never seen either of the original films, but both are in my collection and will be reviewed here at a future date.

The musical remakes also share in common appearances by Virginia Gibson, a lesser-known performer appreciated by musical fans such as myself for films like PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE (1951) and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954).

Another cast member who appears in both ABOUT FACE and STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME is Phyllis Kirk, who had a tiny part as a nurse in the latter film. Here she has a key role as Eddie Bracken's wife; she's very cute as the secret bride of the school's nerdy star pitcher. (Her singing, incidentally, is dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams.) Kirk had been slowly working her way through the ranks and the following year starred in one of my all-time favorite film noir titles, CRIME WAVE (1953).

The plot of ABOUT FACE is somewhat reminiscent of the recently watched WINTER CARNIVAL (1939); both films begin with trains full of young ladies descending on an all-male campus for a festive weekend. In ABOUT FACE the women are arriving at a military college, SMI.

The three ladies are Betty Long (Gibson), who is concealing her identity as daughter of school head Col. Long (Larry Keating); local gal Lorna Carter (Aileen Stanley Jr.), who's just returned home; and Alice Wheatley (Kirk), who is secretly married to Biff Roberts (Eddie Bracken), against school regulations.

Alice surprises Biff with the news that he's soon to be a father, while Tony Williams (Gordon MacRae) and Dave Crouse (Dick Wesson) romance Lorna and Betty.

Since I haven't seen BROTHER RAT yet, I viewed ABOUT FACE strictly on its own terms. It's definitely not a top-flight Warner Bros. musical, due in part to a weak musical score by Peter De Rose and Charles Tobias, but I nonetheless found it colorful, engaging fun, with an appealing cast in a well-told story. Those who enjoy musicals or the cast will probably find it worth a look.

The couples are all cute together, with the highlight being MacRae, Stanley, Wesson, and Gibson performing "Piano, Bass and Drums." Gibson in particular shines as the bubbly Betty, with a lovely wardrobe by Leah Rhodes; I loved the colorful underskirts seen when she twirls! Betty comes through big time near the end, tutoring Biff in chemistry and preventing the guys from being expelled when she's caught in the dorm helping Biff study.

This was the film debut of 20-year-old Joel Grey, who plays a much-put-upon freshman. I wasn't wild about his routine in the chemistry lab, but he has a nice dance with Gibson in the final scene.

The cast also includes Cliff Ferre, James Best, John Baer, and Mabel Albertson.

ABOUT FACE was directed by Roy Del Ruth, who has a cameo in the film as a professor. It was shot in Technicolor by Bert Glennon. The running time is 94 minutes.

The print looks excellent in places. While some scenes are a bit faded, it's not scratched and looks far better than STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME, perhaps due in part to the fact that STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME was shot in the inferior Warnercolor process.

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.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Reluctant Dragon (1941) 75th Anniversary Celebration at the Walt Disney Studios

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful event on the Disney Studios lot, a 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Disney film THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941).

The festive gathering was sponsored by Disney's D23 Official Fan Club. D23 went all-out providing a terrific look back at THE RELUCTANT DRAGON, which I first reviewed here in 2012. As described at length in my original review, THE RELUCTANT DRAGON mixes live action and animation, with the live action sequences providing a marvelous tour of the then brand-new Disney Studios lot.

The fun kicked off in the studio theatre, where I've been privileged to see films on a handful of prior occasions. Free buckets of popcorn from Disney's El Capitan Theatre were up for grabs along with chilled water bottles. There was also memorabilia from the film on display in the lobby; that's a bust of Robert Benchley's head which was used in the movie.

The first 90 minutes were spent on four different panel presentations with a variety of knowledgeable speakers including Imagineering legend Tony Baxter, Ted Thomas (son of Frank Thomas, one of Disney's "Nine Old Men"), Bill Farmer (the current voice of Goofy and Pluto), and Bret Iwan (the current voice of Mickey Mouse). They touched on the film's history, the history of the Disney lot seen in the film, and the background of some of the cast and creators.

In a particularly fascinating segment, we were shown screen shots to be watching for in the movie. In addition to the PETER PAN (1953) figurines I noticed on my first viewing, seen in this film a dozen years (!) before PETER PAN's release, we learned there was also early artwork for LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955) visible on screen. I was especially interested to see multiple sketches by Mary Blair for an unrealized project called PENELOPE AND THE TWELVE MONTHS were in the background of one scene.

The discussions were immediately followed by a showing of a beautiful print of the 74-minute movie, after which we adjourned to continue the festivities elsewhere on the lot.

While no photography was allowed during the panel discussions, the presenters were available for a post-movie autograph session in the cafeteria. Most attendees chose to have some wonderful RELUCTANT DRAGON artwork we received signed; the art was so nice I decided to have a plain white backing provided signed instead, and I'll probably frame them side by side.

There were photo ops set up on the lot, including the dragon himself at Pluto's Corner, which was created for the film and has been the lot's most famous landmark ever since. Samples of Walt's famous chili and ice cream bars were also handed out to guests.

More photos from this special day, starting with Pluto's Corner:

The Animation Building:

Ted Thomas liked my "75 Years of Disney Animation" t-shirt! That's Tony Baxter sitting next to him.

Bret Iwan, Bill Farmer, and Ed Ovalle of the Disney Archive:

Bill Farmer:

Both Iwan and Farmer were delightful and seemed genuinely happy to know that their work is appreciated and enjoyed.

As we left we passed this sign on the soundstage where Julie Andrews filmed both MARY POPPINS (1964) and THE PRINCESS DIARIES (2001). Click to enlarge for a closer look.

What a wonderful day! Thanks to everyone at Disney for making it so special.

A closing note, this month the ClassicFlix site published my latest article, on "Disney's Hidden Gems." My selections include THE RELUCTANT DRAGON.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Quick Preview of TCM in November

Actress Natalie Wood is the November Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies.

The November schedule will include over two dozen Wood films shown on Friday evenings, with titles ranging from her early days as a child actress to the film she was making at the time of her untimely death, BRAINSTORM (1983).

As mentioned in my last link roundup, TCM and Running Press have a new book due out in October, NATALIE WOOD: REFLECTIONS ON A LEGENDARY LIFE by Manoah Bowman.

Must viewing in November will include LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: NORMAN LLOYD (2016). Wonderful news! Those of us who have enjoyed Norman Lloyd's appearances at the festival adore him, and now many more viewers will be able to enjoy his tales of classic Hollywood. The schedule also includes a showing of HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951), which I saw with cast member Lloyd in the audience at this year's festival.

There are many more interesting things on the November schedule, starting with the Deanna Durbin films NICE GIRL? (1941) and I'LL BE YOURS (1947), rescheduled from last June. These films were available on VHS but have yet to be released on Region 1 DVD in the U.S.

It's especially exciting that TCM has a rarely seen Paramount film on the schedule, THE SAINTED SISTERS (1948), starring Veronica Lake and Joan Caulfield. And an evening celebrating the centennial of our national parks will include back-to-back showings of a few Traveltalk shorts, including titles such as GRAND CANYON, PRIDE OF CREATION (1944) and YOSEMITE THE MAGNIFICENT (1941).

I was pleased to see that Joel McCrea and Ann Rutherford will each be honored with a day of films in their birthday month, though not on their November 5th and 2nd birth dates. Eleanor Powell will receive a tribute on her November 21st birthday. There are also tributes to Stuart Heisler, Sissy Spacek, Grace Moore, Howard Hawks, Rock Hudson, Alfred Hitchcock, and Dustin Hoffman.

The November Spotlight, "To Tell the Truth," focuses on documentaries on a wide variety of topics; a number of titles look quite interesting, including one on the 1948 London Olympics and another on the Antarctic, THE SECRET LAND (1948), narrated by Robert Taylor, Robert Montgomery, and Van Heflin.

That said, I do find the placement of a series of left-leaning political documentaries on Election Eve curious; I believe TCM could have scheduled those more, shall we say, thoughtfully. Not to mention -- a Michael Moore film on TCM? Really? TCM is normally a refuge from such inanity.

Moving on: November themes include political movies, Popeye cartoons, Fred & Ginger, con artists, boxing, and wacky families. And as usual, PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952) shows up Thanksgiving week!

The month comes to an end with a marvelous day of Christmas and winter-themed movies on November 30th, including the comedy SNOWED UNDER (1936), starring George Brent and Genevieve Tobin. Mixing that amusing film in with more familiar titles was a wonderful idea.

I'll have much more on the November schedule posted here around Halloween. In the meantime, the September Star of the Month will be Gene Hackman, with October featuring horror great Christopher Lee. And looking ahead, TCM Backlot members were given the choice of voting for Myrna Loy or Bette Davis for the December Star of the Month, and Loy has been announced as the winner.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Turner Classic Movies has announced its second movie course, "Ouch! A Salute to Slapstick," which will take place in September. Here is the course site. I'll share more info on this in my preview of TCM in September.

...Last weekend a number of my friends attended Capitolfest in Rome, New York. Capitolfest focuses on silents and early talkies; this year the festival included a number of films starring the young Gary Cooper. Next year's honoree will be Fay Wray. The festival sounds like a wonderful experience; I'd love to visit one day!

...Happy birthday to Ann Blyth (seen at right), 88 today, and Julie Newmar, who turned 83.

...Before he was an actor, Bruce Bennett was a star of the 1928 Olympics. Jessica has the story at Comet Over Hollywood.

...I found this story on DeMille's Lost City fascinating.

...Jocelyn pays tribute to the Carey family -- Harry Sr., Olive, and Harry Jr. -- at Classic Film Observations & Obsessions.

...Vienna has reviewed INTO THE DARK: THE HIDDEN WORLD OF FILM NOIR 1941-1950 at Vienna's Classic Hollywood, and there's more at the Los Angeles Times.

...Coming in October from Turner Classic Movies and Running Press: NATALIE WOOD: REFLECTIONS ON A LEGENDARY LIFE by Manoah Bowman. The book will include a foreward by Robert Wagner and an afterword by Robert Redford.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Here's R. Emmet Sweeney of Movie Morlocks on Deanna Durbin in IT'S A DATE (1940), reviewed here last month...Karen Burroughs Hannsberry writes about THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950), a Joan Crawford film I really enjoyed at the L.A. County Museum of Art a few summers ago...Jessica wrote about Jane Powell and Walter Pidgeon in HOLIDAY IN MEXICO (1946) at Comet Over Hollywood...John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows was as impressed by the Warner Archive Blu-ray of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) as I recently was...

...I'm thrilled that my friend Toby Roan of 50 Westerns from the 50s has contributed to two upcoming DVD/Blu-ray releases! He provides a commentary track for the upcoming Olive Films release of THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966), starring Clint Walker, and he also contributed to a video essay for the forthcoming Criterion release of ONE-EYED JACKS (1961). A big congrats to Toby, and I hope he'll be sharing more of his knowledge on Westerns on future releases!

...Here's Cinema Cities on "Olivia de Havilland and the Decision That Reformed Hollywood."

...A history of Larry Edmunds Cinema Bookshop.

...In my last roundup I mentioned that the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood will be receiving a special projection booth allowing them to screen nitrate films. It's now been announced that even more funds are on the way for a needed makeover which includes new carpeting, recovering seats, and a brand-new concession stand.

...Coming soon from the Warner Archive, a Blu-ray of Doris Day and James Cagney in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955). Archivist Robert Harris offers a preview at Home Theater Forum.

...The Warner Archive Facebook page says that the Warner Archive Instant streaming service will be "getting a makeover." A preview site is here.

...Some lucky folks at an L.A. area Denny's were serenaded by Dick Van Dyke the other morning!

...IRON MAN's Robert Downey Jr. plans to star as Perry Mason for HBO.

...I wasn't wholly satisfied with the 1958 production of DUNKIRK, which I reviewed in 2012, and I must say this trailer for next year's film directed by Christopher Nolan got my attention:

...More interesting trailers: ALLIED (2016) starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as spies in WWII, and HIDDEN FIGURES (2017), about black women breaking barriers working as mathematicians at NASA. The cast includes Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner.

...Has anyone seen ITHACA (2015)? IMDb says it came out last fall. Meg Ryan directed this remake of THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943). The trailer is here.

...I briefly mentioned the TV series THE GOOD WIFE a couple months ago. I've been gradually catching up on it via DVD and want to mention again what an excellent series it is, with an amazing cast of recurring characters including Carrie Preston, Nathan Lane, and Rita Wilson. Highly recommended viewing for anyone who's not yet seen it. In addition to DVD, it can be streamed on Amazon Watch Instantly, free for Amazon Prime members.

...Notable Passings: Character actor David Huddleston has passed away at 85. He played Sheriff Ep Bridges in THE HOMECOMING: A CHRISTMAS STORY (1971), the film which preceded THE WALTONS...Kenny Baker, who operated R2-D2 in the STAR WARS MOVIES, died at 81. Mark Hamill Tweeted "He WAS the droid I was looking for!"...Dean Martin's son Ricci has died at 62...Theatrical producer Norman Twain has died at 85. When I was young I was fortunate to see some Twain productions in Long Beach, California, which included a production of AS YOU LIKE IT directed by Tony Richardson, starring Stockard Channing and Ian McShane, and a version of OUR TOWN directed by Gower Champion...Queen Anne of Romania has died at 92...and the Duke of Westminster, one of the wealthiest men in England and a close friend of the royal family, died unexpectedly at the age of 64.

...For even more recent classic film, TV, and theater links, please visit my last link roundup.

Have a great week!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Maverick (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE MAVERICK (1952) is the sixth film I've reviewed from the Warner Archive Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection. I found it enjoyable.

THE MAVERICK was a nice change from WACO (1952) and TOPEKA (1953), recently viewed Elliott films where I wasn't quite comfortable with him playing outlaws. Here Elliott plays Lt. Pete Devlin, an honorable "by the book" cavalry officer.

There's a wild range war going on, and when some murderous cattlemen are arrested by the military, Lt. Pete Devlin (Elliott) and a few other soldiers are ordered to deliver the men to trial at a fort some distance away.

Along the way the traveling party is joined by a lone covered wagon carrying Della Watson (Phyllis Coates) and her grandmother (Florence Lake) to the fort.

There's plenty of trouble on the journey, as the prisoners' friends (led by Robert J. Wilke) are following with plans to set them free. Meanwhile Sgt. Frick (Myron Healey) makes some boneheaded choices -- including making an unwanted advance on Della -- and he become resentful when Lt. Devlin busts his rank back down to trooper and promises a disciplinary hearing.

This is a good standard-issue 71-minute "B" Western, nothing particularly special but enough action and conflict to maintain the interest throughout. There are some nice story touches, such as Healey coming to a deliciously ironic end at the hands of Wilke. There was also some good action, with refreshingly realistic moments such as Elliott being momentarily stunned after he falls from his horse.

THE MAVERICK was clearly filmed at familiar Southern California locales, but it helps that almost the entire movie was filmed outdoors; other than the interiors at the fort, only a campfire scene appears to have been shot in a soundstage.

Phyllis Coates, who is now 89, was the spunky leading lady in many a "B" Western. Her character is fairly interesting in that she's torn between annoyance and respect for Lt. Devlin's upright persona. She does continue to bicker with him for an unrealistically long time; after Sgt. Frick shows his true colors, she should mellow out considerably more. She has a couple terrific moments during the climactic gunfight, shooting her rifle right alongside the soldiers, clearly winning Lt. Devlin's admiration.

I found a curious photo in which Elliott is kneeling in front of Coates; it's apparently a publicity photo, as no such scene appears in the final film.

Lake, the sister of actor Arthur Lake of the BLONDIE series, is given some good moments during the big battle sequence. The cast also includes Rand Brooks, Denver Pyle, Richard Reeves, Terry Frost, Russell Hicks, and Gregg Barton.

THE MAVERICK was directed by Thomas Carr and filmed in black and white by Ernest Miller.

The score by Raoul Kraushaar was good, with its somewhat repetitive nature underscoring the long drudgery of the trip, where the caravan doesn't dare stop because of the men on their trail; that said, the music was also very familiar, and I'm almost positive I've heard the same score in another of Elliott's Westerns.

Previous reviews of films from the Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection: WACO (1952), KANSAS TERRITORY (1952), REBEL CITY (1953), TOPEKA (1953), and THE FORTY-NINERS (1954). There are two more films in the set which I'll be reviewing at a future date. I've really enjoyed this set, with its Westerns providing good, low-key "movie comfort food."

The Warner Archive print was excellent. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Mouthpiece (1932) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

This spring the Warner Archive released the 10th and final volume in the Forbidden Hollywood series of pre-Code films.

The Archive announced it would continue to release pre-Codes, it simply will no longer be putting them out in Forbidden Hollywood collections.

Like its predecessors, Volume 10 is a beauty, with each of the set's five films on its own disc; the initial releases of the set sold by the WBShop are pressed discs. The movies in the set include GUILTY HANDS (1931), SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE (1932), THE MATCH KING (1932), and EVER IN MY HEART (1933).

I watched the fifth film in the set, THE MOUTHPIECE (1932), tonight. It's an excellent film with the inimitable Warren William starring as Vince Day, a prosecutor turned defense lawyer to mobsters.

Vince has no qualms about indulging in sleazy behavior, whether it's sneaking around with a married woman, lifting $10,000 of embezzled money from a client as his "fee," or drinking poison to get his client off the hook for murder -- viewers won't believe how that scenario plays out!

Eventually, though, Vince sees the error of his ways thanks to a young typist from Kentucky named Celia Farraday (Sidney Fox). Celia refuses Vince's amorous advances and tells him the truth about what he's become, at a time when Vince is willing to listen and make needed changes.

THE MOUTHPIECE is a great example of why Warren William was a king of the pre-Code era. Fast-talking, sarcastic, and by turns villainous and noble, he's in most of the scenes and effortlessly engages the audience's full attention.

Aline MacMahon is terrific as Vince's loyal secretary. MacMahon, like William, is a forceful personality, and the two of them are dynamic in their scenes together.

The cast also includes John Wray, Mae Madison, Ralph Ince, J. Carrol Naish, Walter Walker, Jack La Rue, and Morgan Wallace. Watch for a young Paulette Goddard as a blonde playing up to Warren William at a party after the "poison sequence." Charles Lane pops up as a hotel clerk, and Guy Kibbee is a bartender.

THE MOUTHPIECE was directed by James Flood and Elliott Nugent. The movie was filmed by Barney McGill. It runs 86 minutes.

Warner Bros. remade THE MOUTHPIECE as THE MAN WHO TALKED TOO MUCH (1940), starring George Brent, and ILLEGAL (1955) with Edward G. Robinson.

The DVD includes the trailer.  The print and sound quality are excellent, especially considering the film's age.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the WBShop.