Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tonight's Movie: One, Two, Three (1961)

Earlier today I enjoyed John Nolte's post on James Cagney's Top 5 movies at the Big Hollywood site. The ensuing discussion in the comments section was very enjoyable. There are so many good Cagney performances that it's difficult to narrow a list down to five.

One film which came up repeatedly in the comments was Cagney's next-to-last film, ONE, TWO, THREE. I hadn't seen the film for many years and was inspired to get it out and watch it this evening.

ONE, TWO, THREE is a deliriously frenetic comedy in which Cagney plays C.R. MacNamara, Coca-Cola's man in West Berlin. He's forced to play host for two months to his Atlanta boss's daughter, Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin). On the eve of her parents' arrival in Berlin to take her home, Scarlett announces to MacNamara that she's secretly married to a Communist, Otto (Horst Buchholz). MacNamara is in big trouble unless he can turn Otto into a respectable capitalist in the matter of a few hours.

Cagney gives what surely must be one of at least his 10 best performances; the dizzying final half hour in which he barks out nonstop orders in his quest to rehabilitate Otto is a tour de force by Cagney.

The supporting cast is excellent, especially Tiffin as the ditzy but ultimately lovable Scarlett. (Scarlett's mother is named Melanie, of course...) Arlene Francis plays MacNamara's long-suffering wife and Lilo Pulver is his comely secretary, Ingeborg. Howard St. John plays Scarlett's father.

This film has a little bit of everything, with razor-sharp dialogue and incisive political commentary. The humor ranges from sophisticated wordplay to flat-out slapstick. The film made me think of the way GILMORE GIRLS drops cultural allusions right and left, assuming that the audience is keeping up; the jokes include a couple of sly references to early Warner Bros. gangster films, including Cagney's own THE PUBLIC ENEMY, filmed three decades previously.

The film's rather unique setting is a bottling plant for that ultimate American icon, Coca-Cola, with location shooting in Germany giving the film an added sense of realism. The non-stop action is brilliantly scored by Andre Previn, who makes great use of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance to accompany the film's multiple manic car rides through Berlin.

ONE, TWO THREE was directed by Billy Wilder, who cowrote the screenplay with I.A.L. Diamond.

ONE, TWO, THREE is available on DVD. The print is excellent. The only extra is a trailer.

This movie has also been released on VHS.

Highly recommended...and don't forget Coca-Cola to go along with it.

Netflix Testing Saturday Shipments

As Netflix users know, the company only ships Monday through Friday, so I was quite surprised to receive notification this morning that the disc we mailed back yesterday had been received and that our next disc would be sent on its way to us today.

Some quick Googling turned up the news that Netflix is now testing Saturday shipping. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: "Our growing scale gives us many operational advantages. We’re now up to nearly 60 distribution centers across America and can provide delivery to over 97% of our subscribers in about one business day. This quarter we’ll be testing weekend shipping in parts of the country which will provide even faster service both for those new subscribers who signed up over the weekend and for those subscribers returning movies at the end of the week."

My husband and kids will be happy to receive their next disc of CONNECTIONS, a 30-year-old science history series, that much sooner. (Last weekend the boys in the family watched a different kind of "science," the Harryhausen classic EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS.)

The success of Netflix may be bad news for the DVD business overall, unfortunately; DVD shipments were down 32% in the last quarter of 2008. Hopefully the popularity of mail rentals and online streaming -- services our family uses -- isn't going to simultaneously lead to studios cutting back on their DVD releases. When it comes to the classics, I want a copy I can physically hold in my hand, put on a shelf, and pull out at no additional cost anytime I feel like it.

The possibility of incredible shrinking mail delivery joining incredible shrinking groceries, Girl Scout Cookies, and newspapers would be bad news for Netflix and its subscribers.

Incidentally, I find claims that mail delivery isn't very necessary in the "modern" world annoying. I receive a great deal of mail every week, whether it's real letters (yes, some people still write them!), checks from my clients, magazines, catalogues I enjoy, Netflix, mail from our daughter in England, and Priority flat rate boxes filled with movies on loan from my Dad. I'd be very sorry to lose a day of mail delivery and would find it quite inconvenient.

If the Post Office refuses to provide service one day a week -- Tuesday has been suggested as an alternative to dropping Saturday -- could that eventually lead to the breakdown in the USPS monopoly on regular first class mail delivery? Hmmmm.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Dreamboat (1952)

In the late '40s and early '50s, 20th Century-Fox produced a number of movies set on college campuses, including APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949), MR. BELVEDERE GOES TO COLLEGE (1949), TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951), PEOPLE WILL TALK (1951), and DADDY LONG LEGS (1955).

DREAMBOAT is a very enjoyable entry in the college subgenre, starring Clifton Webb as an English professor, Thornton Sayre, who has a secret past as Bruce Blair, a silent movie swashbuckling star. Anne Francis plays his scholarly daughter Carol, who is shocked when some unkind girls from a campus sorority spring the news on her by showing her one of her father's old movies on TV. (In a nice touch, the sorority is "Tri U" -- the same sorority Jeanne Crain quit in the previous year's TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL.) The use of the films to promote a perfume further dismays the professor, who is taken to task by the uptight college board.

Father and daughter head for New York City where they attempt to stop the movies from airing on television and restore the professor's professional dignity. While in New York, they meet up with "Bruce's" former costar Gloria Marlowe (Ginger Rogers) and a nice young executive, Bill (Jeffrey Hunter).

DREAMBOAT is a lot of fun, thanks to a good cast and an inventive script which does a nice job satirizing early television. (Dancers Gwen Verdon and Matt Mattox can be seen in a TV commercial.) The speeded-up silent movie scenes are particularly amusing, especially in the sequence where Professor Sayre copies his old action moves to deal with a drunken bully. The film could have stood being a bit longer, as there are some fairly abrupt character transitions near the end of the movie, but all in all it's quite entertaining.

The romance between Carol and Bill does seem a bit truncated; a still in THE FILMS OF GINGER ROGERS indicates that at least one of their scenes was cut from the film. Hunter has a couple very funny moments simply lifting an eyebrow and not saying a word, and Francis is charming as she evolves from a "museums kind of girl" to a more glamorous young woman.

The film's finale, featuring the Carthay Circle premiere of SITTING PRETTY, is a terrific inside joke, as SITTING PRETTY was a great success for Webb in 1948. It was the first of three movies in which Webb starred as Mr. Belvedere. DREAMBOAT utilizes clips from the famous scene in which Webb turns a bowl of oatmeal over on a truculent toddler's head.

My daughter pointed out that the college conference room set looked a lot like the college conference room in the previous year's Cary Grant movie PEOPLE WILL TALK, and although I haven't yet put in my PEOPLE WILL TALK DVD to make the comparison, I suspect she's right. The DVD featurette for the 1953 Fox film DANGEROUS CROSSING pointed out how Fox loved to save money by recycling sets and costumes.

The supporting cast includes Fred Clark, Elsa Lanchester, and Ray Collins. The movie was directed by Claude Binyon. It was shot in black and white and runs 83 minutes.

DREAMBOAT hasn't had a VHS or DVD release, but can be seen as part of the library on cable's Fox Movie Channel, where it next screens February 8, 2009.

December 2012 Update: This movie is now available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.

20 Favorite Actors and Actresses: An Update

Those who have enjoyed perusing lists of 20 Favorite Actors by myself and others might like to check out my original post -- click the title of this post -- which has been updated several times over the course of the month with links to more lists.

To the left is one of my favorite photos from the original Favorite Actors post.

Most recently I've added a link to a terrific list by J.C. at The Shelf.

My original 20 Favorites Actresses post was also updated several times between mid and late December, which some readers might have missed if they didn't see the post after it "aged off" of the main blog page.

Both posts have many fun links for fans of classic films to explore.

A Puzzlement

The woman who gave birth to octuplets -- who miraculously seem to be healthy -- is apparently a single woman with six children under the age of seven. The octuplets were conceived with in vitro fertilization, using a sperm donor.

She lives with her parents, who declared bankruptcy just a year ago.

I believe the mother is to be commended for refusing to abort the babies once they were conceived, and I rejoice in their good health, but the strange circumstances of their conception are mind-boggling, to say the least.

There are many more questions here than answers, at least at this point, including whether the entire family is going to be living off of California taxpayers...

Saturday Update: The story just gets worse and worse...one of the octuplets' siblings is autistic, and the children's grandmother is not supportive and will be leaving when her daughter is released from the hospital.

Nanny Staters' New Target: Salt

Reason Magazine asks "Can a New York Bureaucrat Put the Whole Country on a Low-Salt Diet?"

The New York City Health Commissioner wants a 50% reduction of sodium in processed foods and in restaurant meals within the next five years. If businesses refuse to comply, he threatens "we'll have to consider other options, like legislation."

The Commissioner, in fact, is calling his plan a "national salt-reduction initiative."

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's been following New York City and California banning trans fats from restaurants. I guarantee you, if this trend is allowed to continue, in the coming years the government will increasingly dictate what supposedly free businesses and citizens are allowed to sell, purchase, and consume.

As the Reason article indicates, the Health Commissioner's determination to reduce sodium may be based on weak scientific evidence, as the level of sodium appropriate for individuals to consume varies from person to person.

Regardless of the science, once again we have a situation where decisions are best left to the marketplace if we are to remain a truly free nation.

Incredible Shrinking Newspapers

The Los Angeles Times has killed its California local news section...which for me was the main reason to read the paper, other than Sports.

They've already eliminated things I enjoyed in Calendar such as Susan King's regular articles on classic movie DVDs and screenings.

Patterico notes that the Times is bizarrely covering this major news about itself with a story citing the reporting of Kevin Roderick at L.A. Observed (a story which can be read by clicking the title of this post).

The Times headline? "L.A. Paper Loses Local Section." This is how it reports about its own changes?

I'm thinking the paper may be gone altogether in the next 18 months or so... Trying to stay in business by not publishing a paper -- or at least not much of one -- isn't a business model that can work.

Update: The Times made its official announcement this afternoon.

Obituaries and weather move from the back of the California section to the back of the Business section, and the Classifieds are going to be tacked on to the end of the Sports section, which will be annoying.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Remembering

We lost the Space Shuttle Challenger 23 years ago today.

Like so many others, I remember the day vividly. One of the senior partners of the law firm where I worked came in the front door, looking stricken, and told us the news.

We didn't get good radio reception in our building; I remember driving around in my car on my lunch hour that day just so I could hear the news and try to understand what had happened.

Hot Air has video of President Reagan's beautiful speech (click title of this post), with its particularly memorable conclusion. I just shared it with my 10-year-old son and taught him a little about that sad day in American history.

As I watched the video, I also reflected that our country was greatly blessed to have had such a wonderful President.

Update: Like me, Anne was working at a law firm and heard the news from her boss. Also like me, they struggled to get good radio reception. I imagine these days we'd simply boot up live coverage online.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Incredible Shrinking Girl Scout Cookies

I've previously posted about Incredible Shrinking Groceries... sadly, it seems the phenomenon is now hitting Girl Scout Cookies.

This year will find fewer cookies in boxes of Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos and Tagalongs, and the Lemon Chalet Cremes will be shrinking in size...but you'll be paying the same price as last year.

We no longer have a Girl Scout in the family, but we usually support the local troop by buying at least a couple boxes, so this is disappointing news.

Another Magazine Bites the Dust

I received a postcard today notifying me that the December/January issue of MARY ENGELBREIT'S HOME COMPANION was the last to be published.

This news follows quickly on the heels of the demise of another magazine I enjoyed, COTTAGE LIVING.

Former MEHC subscribers will instead receive MARTHA STEWART LIVING. Those who already subscribe to MARTHA STEWART LIVING will have their subscriptions extended. A simple notice to this effect is all that can be found at the HOME COMPANION website.

According to an October press release at Mary Engelbreit's website, the HOME COMPANION has been searching for a new publisher.

The magazine began publication in 1996.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Take Care of My Little Girl (1951)

TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL is a cautionary tale about college sororities which provides enjoyably soapy Technicolor entertainment.

Jeanne Crain, one of my favorite actresses, stars as starry-eyed Liz Erickson, a freshman who goes off to college hoping to join her mother's old sorority.

Liz is thrilled when she's asked to join the sorority, but is also unsettled when her best friend from back home doesn't make the cut. Liz's head is turned when a popular -- but perpetually drunk -- fraternity man (Jeffrey Hunter) courts her, but as time goes on she questions that relationship and much more about her sorority experience. The sorority's cruel treatment of an unpopular pledge (Lenka Peterson) provides a turning point for Liz.

Crain is excellent in the lead role, and very believable as a young college student, despite the fact that in real life by this point Crain had already given birth to three of her seven children! The same year this film was released Crain starred in a more mature role in PEOPLE WILL TALK with Cary Grant.

The supporting cast includes Dale Robertson as an older WWII vet pre-med student who doesn't have the time or patience for Greek silliness; Mitzi Gaynor as an outgoing friend of Liz's who refuses to rush sororities; striking Jean Peters as the sorority Queen Bee who is wrapped up in appearances; Betty Lynn and Helen Westcott as sorority sisters; and Natalie Schafer as a sorority den mother.

It's not a great movie, but it's diverting, and along the way it raises some interesting ethical questions. I've never understood the concept of "till death" friendships based on complete strangers being asked to join a group based on looks and other surface impressions. The concept strikes me as pointless and potentially hurtful, as Liz finds in the film. ("But don't forget we do charity work!" one sister halfheartedly throws in in defense of the sorority. Whatever...) I've also never understood the willingness of anyone to put aside things like kindness and self-respect and participate in idiotic "Hell Week" rituals. The movie delves into all of these issues.

The film runs 93 minutes and was directed by Jean Negulesco. You can read a bit more about Negulesco in a post on another "college" film he directed, 1955's DADDY LONG LEGS. Negulesco's wife, Dusty Anderson, has an uncredited bit part in the film as a cashier.

TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL is not available on DVD or video, but it can be seen on cable in the library of Fox Movie Channel.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Fools for Scandal (1938)

Carole Lombard looks absolutely gorgeous in FOOLS FOR SCANDAL, but sadly that's about the most that can be said for this unfortunate film. According to the Turner Classic Movies website, Lombard herself said, "I knew it wasn't a sensation when my friends confined their comments to how beautifully I had been photographed."

One has to wonder what director Mervyn LeRoy and those involved were thinking when this film was made. It has an extremely unappealing leading man, Fernand Gravet (who was a star in France under the name Fernand Gravey), and a tiresome script which includes moments which are so bizarre they have to be seen to be believed. The most notably strange moment is when Gravet launches into song, turning the film into a musical for one scene; the song was by Rodgers and Hart, though it displays none of their usual brilliance.

Another odd scene occurs when Lombard and Gravet go to dinner and we are suddenly watching a musical number being performed in the restaurant, for absolutely no reason. The restaurant scene is so early in the movie that the detour to the musical performance inexplicably breaks up the flow of the plot.

In a nutshell, Lombard is a movie actress visiting Europe who finds herself attracted to an impoverished nobleman who can cook (Gravet). The nobleman ends up working for Lombard, much to the dismay of her longtime beau, played by -- who else? -- Ralph Bellamy. One guess as to whether Gravet or Bellamy gets the girl.

The cast includes Allen Jenkins, Isabel Jeans (Aunt Alicia in 1958's GIGI), and Marie Wilson. According to IMDb, Jane Wyman can be glimpsed as a party guest.

The movie was shot in black and white and runs 80 minutes. Lombard's beautiful gowns are by Travis Banton.

FOOLS FOR SCANDAL does not appear to have been released on VHS and has not had a DVD release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tonight's Movie: They All Kissed the Bride (1942)

THEY ALL KISSED THE BRIDE is an entertaining romantic comedy starring Joan Crawford as M.J. Drew, the tough head of a trucking company, and Melvyn Douglas as Mike, a journalist who falls in love with her.

It's an amusing film with a number of funny moments. This is probably the most lighthearted character I've ever seen Crawford play. Crawford and Douglas are appealing playing a couple who start out as sworn enemies but are attracted at first sight.

The film has many wonderful character actors who make the most of their roles, including frequent costars Roland Young and Billie Burke (TOPPER, THE YOUNG IN HEART). Nydia Westman is memorable as M.J.'s knitting secretary, and Allen Jenkins and Mary Treen play a trucker and his wife who are Mike's pals.

Incidentally, the bride in the title is not, in fact, M.J., but her sister Vivian, played by Helen Parrish. Pretty, dark-haired Parrish had notable roles in Deanna Durbin's MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938) and FIRST LOVE (1939), among other films. She appeared in roughly 50 films. Sadly, Helen Parrish was only in her 30s when she died of cancer.

There are a number of fun actors buried deep in the cast. Wonderful Ann Doran has a couple very funny moments as Crawford's maid; Larry Parks has a scene as Vivian's would-be suitor; Charles Lane is a hard-edged, snoopy company employee; and Tom Dugan plays a dance contest judge. Neal Dodd, an Anglican priest who conducted weddings in countless movies, officiates at the wedding early in this film.

Carole Lombard was originally set to star in the lead role. After Lombard's tragic death while on a war bonds tour in January 1942, MGM agreed to loan Joan Crawford to Columbia to replace Lombard. (A card at the end notes that "Miss Crawford appears through the courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.") Crawford donated her entire salary to the Red Cross in Lombard's honor.

There is a curious bit of modern-day censorship related to the film. At one point near the end of the movie Crawford says, "When I want a sneak, I'll hire the best..." and the shot of Crawford is abruptly cut off, with the last couple garbled words heard over the jerky cut to an empty room. The sentence originally ended "...and hire a Jap," which is cut from most TV airings, according to the Turner Classic Movies website. While modern viewers might wince at that word, this film was made in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, and it should be allowed to continue to accurately reflect its historical context...all the more so as the film's original leading lady died in a war bonds tour just a few weeks after December 7, 1941.

As TCM correctly notes, there are other things in the film which are frowned on by modern standards. Characters driving while drunk always bother me a little. (And anyway, haven't they been warned by seeing TOPPER?!) Selectively editing the things we don't like in order fit modern standards is simply wrong -- and among other things, such changes rob modern audiences of the opportunity to have an accurate window on an earlier era.

THEY ALL KISSED THE BRIDE was shot in black and white and runs 85 minutes.

The film was directed by Alexander Hall. Hall comedies previously reviewed here are THERE'S ALWAYS A WOMAN (1938), which also starred Melvyn Douglas; the Loretta Young films THE DOCTOR TAKES A WIFE (1940) and BEDTIME STORY (1941); and LET'S DO IT AGAIN (1953). Hall's best-known titles include HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941) and the original MY SISTER EILEEN (1942).

This movie was released on VHS but has not had a DVD release. The print shown on cable on TCM was unusually poor, which makes me curious as to the quality of the video release. It would also be interesting to know whether or not the VHS release was censored.

THEY ALL KISSED THE BRIDE provides a most enjoyable evening's entertainment.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tonight's Movie: She Married Her Boss (1935)

Julia Scott (Claudette Colbert) is an ultra-efficient executive secretary who has pined for her boss Richard (Melvyn Douglas) for years. Richard considers Julia indispensable to running his department stores, but otherwise doesn't seem to notice her. When Julia threatens to leave, Richard finds he can't do without her and proposes marriage; however, to Julia's disappointment, it's a marriage in name only. Will Julia regret that SHE MARRIED HER BOSS?

Claudette Colbert sparkles as quick-witted Julia in this very amusing comedy. The scenes in which she puts Richard's home life to rights, tangling with his neurotic sister (Katharine Alexander) and outsmarting his obnoxious little girl (Edith Fellows), are absolutely delightful. Colbert also has a drunk scene in a department store window display which is quite funny. In short, it's Colbert's movie all the way, and indeed, she's on screen for most of the film's running time.

Melvyn Douglas has less to do as Colbert's obtuse husband, although he finally has a fun scene of his own when he gets drunk with his loyal butler (Raymond Walburn). My main criticism of the film is that while Colbert's character is an open book, emotionally speaking, the script allows viewers to see little of the development of Richard's feelings for Julia. The abrupt ending accentuates this and robs viewers of a more romantic denouement.

That said, there is a great deal to like in what is, for the most part, a delightful comedy with an excellent cast. '30s favorite Jean Dixon (MY MAN GODFREY, JOY OF LIVING, HOLIDAY) plays Colbert's best friend. Dixon left films after 1938's HOLIDAY, marrying in 1940 and living till 1981. It's a shame she didn't make more movies, as she's one of those actresses, like Helen Broderick or Eve Arden, whose wisecracks enliven any film in which she appears.

Michael Bartlett, Clara Kimball Young, and Franklin Pangborn are also in the cast. The movie runs 85 minutes and was filmed in black and white. The film was directed by Gregory La Cava, whose credits include MY MAN GODFREY (1936), STAGE DOOR (1937), and 5TH AVE GIRL (1939).

I felt critic Leonard Maltin, who gave the film 2-1/2 stars, underrated the film by at least half a star.

On the other hand, Stephen Scheuer gives the film 3-1/2 stars, calling the film an "unjustly neglected classic comedy" and the two lead actors "impeccable." I'm not certain I'd go as high as 3-1/2 stars, but I definitely lean much more toward Scheuer's assessment than Maltin's in this instance.

SHE MARRIED HER BOSS was shown on Turner Classic Movies. It does not appear to have had a video release, nor is it available on DVD. You can vote to indicate interest in a DVD release at the TCM page linked in this paragraph.

Lovely

Don't miss Jenna and Barbara Bush reading aloud their letter to the new "First Daughters," with their advice on living in the White House.

Inaugural Music Performance Was Faked

It's been disclosed that the Inauguration moment I enjoyed the most didn't actually happen live, as viewers were led to believe.

Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill played a lovely, joyous John Williams arrangement of "Simple Gifts"...well, sort of.

Coming from a family of musicians, I was impressed with how in tune the instruments were, given the bitterly cold weather, but I chalked it up to the extreme professionalism and abilities of the musicians. Turns out they were doing the equivalent of lip-synching...maybe it should be called instrument-synching...playing along with a tape which the musicians could hear via earpieces.

The Marine Band and choruses, on the other hand, did not use recordings and were performing live.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fine Cooking Overhauls Website

One of my favorite magazines, Fine Cooking, recently overhauled its website. I think it's now one of the nicest food websites I've seen.

I especially like the drop-down recipes section; click on a topic such as "Chicken," "Pork," "Braising," or "Weeknight Meals" and you will receive multiple recipe options, all illustrated with attractive photography.

The new Fine Cooking website is blogrolled at the left under Cooking links.

Caramelized Onions

The L.A. Times has a recipe for slow-cooking onions over several hours which sounds really wonderful.

L.A. Observed reports that for a time this was the Times website's most emailed story.

My youngest son and I like to saute shallots, which make a very tasty and nutritious snack, but this sounds even better...

Ambassadorship for Caroline?

When I heard that Caroline Kennedy had thankfully pulled out of being crowned a Senator, my first thought was that she still wasn't likely to walk away completely empty-handed, after supporting the Obama candidacy.

It struck me that she might be rewarded with an ambassadorship...such as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the position once held by her grandfather.

The Times of London (click title of post) is speculating that Caroline may receive the job.

One has to wonder, though, whether such an appointment would stir up memories of her grandfather advocating appeasing Hitler. Perhaps not such a good idea given the current state of the world.

And if Caroline's husband felt her moving to Washington would jeopardize their rocky marriage, as has been reported, a foreign country probably wouldn't go over well either.

We shall see.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Coming to DVD: Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection

Most of my movie viewing is of films made between the '30s and the '50s, but Warners has a set of '60s romances coming out next week which looks like it might be fun.

The set contains SUSAN SLADE, PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND, ROME ADVENTURE, and PARRISH. All of the films star Troy Donahue, with Connie Stevens costarring in three of the titles.

Moira Finnie recently wrote a marvelous essay on the film SUSAN SLADE at the TCM Movie Morlocks blog. The movie stars Donahue, Stevens, and Dorothy McGuire. I found Moira's thoughts on director Delmer Daves and actor Lloyd Nolan especially enjoyable.

PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND, incidentally, airs on TCM this Sunday, January 25th. Robert Conrad and Stefanie Powers costar with Donahue and Stevens. The writer, of all people, was Earl Hamner, Jr. of THE WALTONS fame.

ROME ADVENTURE stars Donahue, Angie Dickinson, and Suzanne Pleshette, along with Constance Ford, who was memorable as the mother in A SUMMER PLACE.

The final film, PARRISH, also stars Donahue and Stevens, along with Claudette Colbert and Karl Malden.

The set will be released on Tuesday, January 27, 2009.

A Movie Memory Uncovered at Last

When I was young -- early elementary school age -- I accidentally saw two different movie scenes which gave me nightmares for years.

One scene, viewed at a neighbor's house, my husband was able to identify a few years ago as coming from THE BLOB (1958). It had to do with an old man walking in a dark field and a snake-like thing coming out of something that looked like a pineapple...

The other scene which haunted me was one in which a little girl was put to bed and her mother walked downstairs, not knowing that she's dropped a cigarette and started a fire in the little girl's room. I have no idea how or where I saw it, but it absolutely terrified me.

Earlier today I was perusing THE FILMS OF SUSAN HAYWARD by Eduardo Moreno, a used book which arrived today from Amazon. A plot description for 1947's SMASH-UP: THE STORY OF A WOMAN suddenly clicked for me. Could this be the "fire" movie?

I taped the movie about a year ago but simply hadn't gotten to it yet. (So many movies...) I put the tape in, fast-forwarded to the end of the film, and there it was. The scene was so indelibly imprinted on my mind -- though the faces of the actors were blanks to me -- it was very strange seeing it again.

Mystery solved at last!

The Last Ride

There are some wonderful behind-the-scenes photos and stories available regarding President and Mrs. Bush's ride home yesterday on Air Force One. (Click title of post.)

I also enjoyed an oral history regarding the final flights of various Presidents.

(Hat tip: Holy Coast.)

The Bushes enjoyed a celebratory "welcome home" concert in Texas featuring my favorite country singers, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers.

As always, President and Mrs. Bush were graciousness personified throughout the transition and on Inauguration Day. What a shame that so many of the new President's fans didn't conduct themselves with the same class.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Two Guys From Milwaukee (1946)

TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE is a lighthearted story in the tradition of PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943) or ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953). Prince Henry (Dennis Morgan), from an unnamed European country, goes AWOL while on a visit to New York City. Henry meets a friendly cabbie, Buzz (Jack Carson), and learns the pleasures of being an ordinary American citizen. Henry also becomes a romantic rival for Buzz's girlfriend, Connie (Joan Leslie).

This is one of those movies that's not anything special but is nonetheless fun and entertaining. The cast has a good time together and takes the viewer along for the ride.

Morgan and Carson were frequent costars in the '40s, in dramas such as WINGS FOR THE EAGLE (1942) and light comedies and musicals such as THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946), TWO GUYS FROM TEXAS (1948) and IT'S A GREAT FEELING (1949). They had also previously teamed with Joan Leslie in the memorable drama THE HARD WAY (1943).

Throughout the film Janis Paige, who plays Connie's friend Polly, reminded me of someone; I finally realized that, in both looks and demeanor, she was a dead ringer for Tammy Lauren's Ginger in the TV series HOME FRONT, which was set during the '40s. After Paige's years at Warner Bros., she started working on Broadway, where she played the lead in the original Broadway cast of PAJAMA GAME. Doris Day played Paige's role in the Warner Bros. movie version.

The supporting cast includes Rosemary DeCamp, who makes the most of her smaller role in a personable turn as Carson's sister. S.Z. Sakall, John Ridgely, Franklin Pangborn, Charles Coleman, and child actress Patti Brady are also in the film. And be sure to look for a couple of amusing cameo appearances in the final scene of the movie.

TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE was directed by longtime Warner Bros. director David Butler. It was shot in black and white and runs 90 minutes. The film was shown in the United Kingdom with the title ROYAL FLUSH; I guess Milwaukee was considered a hard sell outside the United States!

TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

Update: Here's more on Morgan and Carson from Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

2009 Commemorative Postage Stamps

The Post Office has now released a full schedule of their commemorative stamp program for 2009.

As previously mentioned here, Bob Hope is among those being honored with a stamp.

Gary Cooper will have a stamp this fall.

One of the more unusual releases is a stamp celebrating a Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will be dedicated at Macy's in New York City.

Another stamp sheet will celebrate early television shows.

The 50th anniversary of both Alaskan and Hawaiian statehood will also be the subject of this year's postage stamps.

Moving Day

Regardless of one's feelings about the election and today's Inauguration ceremony, what goes on "behind the scenes" to smoothly move one family out and another family into the White House is always fascinating.

Another article I found of interest today focused on Inauguration Day as seen through the eyes of Presidential children.

Along with our country's celebration of yet another peaceful transition of power comes depressing news, at least for those of us who believe in the right of unborn children to live: within five minutes of the new President being sworn in, the White House website also made a transition from being pro-life to pro-abortion. Sigh.

Between Election Day and Inauguration Day, for the most part I've been acting under the old saw "If you can't say something nice..." and focusing elsewhere. But I'll never be able to understand how a couple like the Obamas, who seem to be devoted parents, can look at their beautiful little girls and then turn around and also devote themselves to denying other children life.

The More Things Change...

If you think the problems currently facing our nation are anything new, check out what Laura Ingalls Wilder was writing about in her newspaper columns early in the 20th Century.

Gasoline shortages, pollution, high prices, overwork, overeating...it's all there. It's rather fascinating that the same issues which seem so pressing today were on the minds of American citizens the better part of a century ago.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Susanna Foster Dies at 84

Singer Susanna Foster, star of the 1943 film version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, has passed away at the age of 84.

Foster was groomed by Universal as a successor to Deanna Durbin, but never achieved Durbin's superstar status, nor the success achieved by sopranos such as MGM's Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell.

Foster appeared in 11 films between 1939 and 1945. PHANTOM, her best-known film, costarred Claude Rains and Nelson Eddy.

Update: You can read more at The Susanna Foster Chronicles.

Tonight's Movie: Night Song (1948)

NIGHT SONG is an interesting movie about an embittered blind composer-pianist, Daniel Evans (Dana Andrews). Evans, who lost his sight in a freak accident, is inspired to resume composing by Mary (Merle Oberon), who is blind herself...or so Daniel believes.

The reality is that Mary is really Cathy, a wealthy woman who loves music and knows that Daniel is too proud to accept her patronage. Cathy engineers a music contest which provides Daniel with professional success and the money for an operation to restore his sight. But now what does Cathy do about Mary?

I enjoyed this film very much, although I didn't care for the deceit that runs throughout the movie; so often that kind of plot device leads to Trouble, which I was expecting with a capital T. However, the film resolved the plot threads very nicely, and next time around I think I'll relax and enjoy it even more.

Andrews and Oberon are excellent, and the film has the blessing of not one but two outstanding supporting performances, by Ethel Barrymore and Hoagy Carmichael. They both add levity and common sense when it's needed, and their performances make the film work and keep it from being mired in soap suds. It's also a nice bit of irony that one of the great American composers is in this case playing the blind composer's transcriptionist.

Musical fans also have the treat of seeing a lengthy performance by Eugene Ormandy conducting Artur Rubinstein and the New York Philharmonic. The actual composer of Daniel's music was Leith Stevens.

The film runs 102 minutes and was shot in black and white. Although IMDb indicates location filming took place at Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear, I don't believe the principal cast members ever left the studio; there's a nice outdoorsy long shot of the lake but when they go fishing it's against very obvious back projections.

NIGHT SONG was directed by John Cromwell. Half a dozen Cromwell films will be shown on TCM on January 27, 2009, including THE RACKET with Robert Mitchum, DOUBLE HARNESS with William Powell, and DEAD RECKONING with Humphrey Bogart. You can also catch Cromwell's terrific Tyrone Power film, SON OF FURY (reviewed here), on Fox Movie Channel January 31, 2009.

NIGHT SONG can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

February 2012 Update: This film is now available from the Warner Archive.

Coming to DVD: Waterloo Bridge (1940)

It's a great month for Robert Taylor fans: on January 20 his 1935 film MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION will be released as an "extra" in Criterion's release of the Douglas Sirk remake.

Just one week later, on January 27, the beloved WATERLOO BRIDGE, costarring Vivien Leigh, comes to DVD. The film was a personal favorite of both its stars, who had costarred two years previously in A YANK AT OXFORD.

I've never seen either film and am very much looking forward to seeing them in beautiful DVD prints.

As a postscript, I recently saw a large chunk of Leigh's 1941 film THAT HAMILTON WOMAN. I can't emphasize enough how much both her beauty and acting ability impressed me, even being so familiar with her justly famous work in GWTW and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. I'm looking forward to catching the entire movie in the future.

(The Real) Starbuck Talks

I'm finding quite a bit to enjoy on Andrew Breitbart's new Big Hollywood site, which opened for business earlier this month.

Today Dirk Benedict, who played the Han Solo inspired rogue Starbuck on the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, tells us what he really thinks about the depressing "re-imagining" of the series by TV's current GALACTICA.

He writes "'Un-imagining' is more accurate. To take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith and family is un-imagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction."

Trivia Quiz: Anyone remember who played Starbuck's father on the original series?

Hint: I've reviewed five of his movies in the last week!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Deadline at Dawn (1946)

An innocent young sailor (Bill Williams) is slipped a mickey and wakes up next to a dead woman (Lola Lane). A diverse group of people including a hard-bitten dance hall girl (Susan Hayward), a philosophical, statistics-quoting cabbie (Paul Lukas), and the dead woman's slimy brother (Joseph Calleia) then come together for varied reasons to help the sailor clear his name before a DEADLINE AT DAWN.

DEADLINE AT DAWN has loads of shadowy film noir atmosphere and an energetic performance by Hayward as its foremost attributes. The plot is fairly confusing and the ultimate identity of the killer seems to come out of nowhere, but given those drawbacks, it's nonetheless a fun 83-minute ride.

Hayward is especially beautiful in this movie. She was just on the verge of hitting the big time; the following year she was Oscar-nominated as Best Actress for SMASH-UP: THE STORY OF A WOMAN. She would be nominated four more times before winning on the final nomination for 1958's I WANT TO LIVE! That film made a tremendous impression on me when I chanced to see it on TV as a teen; I don't think I'd ever watch it again, it was very intense and disturbing.

Williams married actress Barbara Hale the same year DEADLINE AT DAWN was released. In this film he looks remarkably like his son, William Katt, best-known as TV's THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. (Random trivia: When Katt was in his 20s, years before his TV success, I saw him singing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" as Rolf in an L.A. Civic Light Opera Production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which starred Sally Ann Howes.) I wrote about one of Williams' earliest films, THOSE ENDEARING YOUNG CHARMS (1945), in 2007.

DEADLINE AT DAWN was written by Clifford Odets and directed by Harold Clurman. This was the only feature film directed by Clurman, a Broadway director (ALL MY SONS, BUS STOP). The black and white cinematography was by Nicholas Musuraca (CAT PEOPLE, OUT OF THE PAST). The supporting cast includes Jerome Cowan and Osa Massen.

DEADLINE AT DAWN is available on video and on Turner Classic Movies. You can cast a vote at this page of the TCM site to indicate interest in a DVD release.

Update: This film is now available on DVD in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 5.

Tonight's Movie: Second Chorus (1940)

Tonight I continued an Astaire-Mercer week with SECOND CHORUS, one of only two Astaire musicals I hadn't seen yet. (The last on my list is 1950's LET'S DANCE.) SECOND CHORUS is definitely lower-tier Astaire, but there's still enough in it to make watching the film worthwhile.

The plot concerns the leaders of a college band (Astaire, Burgess Meredith) called "The Perennials" because they are perennial students who refuse to graduate. Ostensible friends Astaire and Meredith have an increasingly intense rivalry professionally, as well as for the affections of their manager, Paulette Goddard.

The film's chief attractions are Astaire, lovely Paulette Goddard, and the great music of Artie Shaw and his band. The movie's most charming moment is Astaire and Goddard's dance duet "I Ain't Hep to That Step But I'll Dig It." Goddard wasn't a dancer -- and by all accounts this sequence was quite a challenge for her -- but she comes off looking great. Aside from the dance moves, her cheerful, energetic demeanor blends nicely with Astaire's personality.

The film's biggest drawbacks are the annoying Meredith and the repetitive plot which constantly pits Astaire and Meredith against one another. (Incidentally, Paulette Goddard married Meredith after her marriage to Charlie Chaplin ended.) The film could have used more music and dancing and less so-called comedy.

Charles Butterworth is mildly amusing in one of his patented quaint-and-out-of-it roles, though his character would have been funnier if used more sparingly.

The film was directed by H.C. Potter. It was shot in black and white and runs 84 minutes.

SECOND CHORUS is in the public domain, so many DVD and video copies exist. The DVD I watched from Image Entertainment was slightly faded but otherwise a good print.

SECOND CHORUS also airs on Turner Classic Movies.

An Encouraging Sunday Read

Michael Graham has written a lovely column about what this week's "Miracle on the Hudson" says about America.

It was especially uplifting to read it after checking out Mark Steyn's dead-on but depressing "Our Permanent State of Routine Emergency."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Dancing Lady (1933)

My informal Fred Astaire week has continued with Fred's very first film, DANCING LADY.

Fred has a fairly small role in DANCING LADY, playing himself, and doesn't appear on screen until nearly an hour into the movie. He partners Joan Crawford; I've never been able to understand the opinion of some that Crawford was a talented dancer, but it's fun to see Astaire's earliest film work. He quickly moved on to RKO and FLYING DOWN TO RIO, where he was partnered for the first time with an actress-dancer named Ginger Rogers...

As for the plot of DANCING LADY, it's a pre-Code backstage melodrama which finds an up-and-coming dancer (Crawford) torn between a wealthy man (Franchot Tone, who would marry Crawford in real life in 1935) and her brusque director (Clark Gable, Crawford's frequent costar).

Crawford has good chemistry with both her leading men, and the leads all look great, with typically polished MGM production values. The story is fairly hokey in spots, but it's also entertaining, and the film is historically interesting on various levels, including, of course, Astaire's film debut.

The supporting cast includes May Robson, Ted Healy, Robert Benchley, Nelson Eddy, Sterling Holloway, and the Three Stooges as stagehands. Not being a Three Stooges fan, I admit to being relieved each time they left the screen, but perhaps those who enjoy their antics will find it an additional reason to watch the film.

DANCING LADY was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. The run time is 92 minutes.

DANCING LADY is available on VHS. It's been released on DVD as both a single-title release and as part of the 6-film Clark Gable Signature Collection.

DANCING LADY can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

Tonight's Movie: Daddy Long Legs (1955)

This seems to be Fred Astaire-Johnny Mercer week! In the last few days I've watched THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952) and THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943), which both had Mercer-Arlen scores. Tonight's movie was DADDY LONG LEGS, with a Mercer score including the Oscar-nominated "Something's Gotta Give."

DADDY LONG LEGS is Jervis Pendleton (Astaire), who spots Julie (Leslie Caron) working at a French orphanage and decides to anonymously provide her with a scholarship to attend college in America. Julie writes letters to her benefactor, but "Daddy Long Legs" never responds. A couple years go by and Jervis reads all the letters, meets Julie, and you can probably guess the story from there.

I think I may have been a bit prejudiced against this film in the past because it's based on a favorite book, Jean Webster's DADDY-LONG-LEGS, and I was unhappy that the film changed the book considerably, not least by turning heroine Judy Abbott into Julie Andre, a French orphan. I'm now better able to separate book and film and enjoy each on its own terms...but I highly recommend the book! I first read it in junior high and looked for my own copy for years before discovering a hardcover edition in Harrod's in London, of all places. The book was written in 1912; the equally wonderful sequel, DEAR ENEMY (1915), is about Judy's friend Sallie, played in the film by Charlotte Austin.

Astaire and Caron are both delightful, as one might expect. They have a good rapport, despite the age difference, and some wonderful dances, including "Something's Gotta Give" and the big college dance number "Slue Foot." The film might not be one of Astaire's best, but it's colorful, entertaining, and has some scenes which are musical magic.

The supporting cast includes Terry Moore as Julie's roommate, Fred Clark and Thelma Ritter as Jervis's employees, and Larry Keating as the U.S. Ambassador to France, plus Ray Anthony and His Orchestra.

Kelly Brown, who plays Jimmy McBride, had previously played Carl, one of the "town" suitors, in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). He also danced in OKLAHOMA! (1955) and had a good-sized role in THE GIRL MOST LIKELY (1958), an underappreciated Jane Powell musical set on California's Balboa Island. His daughter, dancer Leslie Browne, was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for THE TURNING POINT (1977).

The film was directed by Jean Negulesco. Negulesco's own life slightly paralleled the movie, as he married a woman who was considerably younger, model-actress Dusty Anderson. They were married until his death nearly 47 years later. Negulesco and Anderson were both very interested in art; the DVD brochure provides the information that Negulesco himself painted the Picasso-like portrait of Astaire used in the film. The paintings hanging in Astaire's mansion were genuine works of art owned by the Negulescos' friends.

The movie runs 126 minutes and was shot in CinemaScope. The screenplay is by Henry and Phoebe Ephron -- parents of Nora Ephron (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, YOU'VE GOT MAIL). The cinematography is by the great Leon Shamroy (THE BLACK SWAN, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN). In addition to Best Song, the film was nominated for Best Scoring (Alfred Newman) and Best Art and Set Decoration; I especially love the design of Jervis's office.

DADDY LONG LEGS is available in a beautiful DVD print as part of the Fox Marquee Musicals series. Extras include a commentary by historian Ken Barnes and Fred Astaire's daughter, Ava Astaire McKenzie. I haven't yet heard this commentary, but Barnes and McKenzie did a terrific job on the commentary for HOLIDAY INN (1942).

DADDY LONG LEGS is also available on VHS.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Coming to DVD: Doris Day, Natalie Wood

There are some attractive boxed DVD sets which will be released early in 2009.

A third volume of Doris Day films -- preceded by Volume 1 and Volume 2 -- will be released on April 7th. The five films included are STARLIFT, TEA FOR TWO, APRIL IN PARIS, IT'S A GREAT FEELING, and THE TUNNEL OF LOVE. (Click the title of this post to read more.)

Unfortunately I found THE TUNNEL OF LOVE to be a waste of the great talents of Day and her costar, Richard Widmark, but I'm very much looking forward to the other four films in the set, which are all new to me. Extras include trailers, shorts, cartoons, and a radio show.

Closer in time, February 7th the Natalie Wood Signature Collection will be released.

The set includes six titles: GYPSY, CASH MCCALL, BOMBERS B-52, INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS.

There are some interesting titles here, although I would have liked to see DVD releases of LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER or THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED.

The best DVD news I've heard lately concerns the upcoming Forbidden Hollywood Volume 3 Collection, but I've been waiting for the cover art to be made widely available before featuring the set in a post.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Architect Peter Dominick, Disney Hotel Designer

Architect Peter H. Dominick Jr., designer of some of Disney's most beautiful resort hotels, has passed away at the age of 67.

Dominick designed Disney World's spectacular Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Anaheim's Grand Californian Hotel.

Below is a shot of the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby, photographed almost a year ago:


Below, the beautiful Wilderness Lodge, photographed in 2004:


Dominick passed away while cross-country skiing on New Year's Day.

His creations have added so much to our Disney World experiences. When I was in Florida last January, I was delighted to go "home" to the Wilderness Lodge and enjoy the amazing lobby once more, even though we weren't staying there on that visit.

Dominick's work on both coasts will continue to be enjoyed by Disney visitors from all over the world.

Chocolate Bliss

If you're fighting the January blahs -- I know many across the country are house-bound due to bad weather -- here's something which might perk you up: a recipe for "ooey-gooey" double-chocolate cookies from the L.A. bakery Milk.

Click on the title of this post for the recipe and a very tempting photo of the cookies. I've clipped this one from the paper to try soon.

Keep in mind that Times recipes often disappear into their Internet archives after a few days or weeks, so if you're interested, print it now!

Say It Ain't So

Unless Coach Pete Carroll can talk him out of it before a press conference, scheduled for today at Heritage Hall, it looks as though quarterback Mark Sanchez will be skipping his senior year in favor of the NFL draft.

Update: It's a done deal.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Sky's the Limit (1943)

I was long overdue to catch up with THE SKY'S THE LIMIT, one of just a couple Fred Astaire musicals I'd not yet seen, but it was worth the wait.

Although often dismissed as a relatively minor Astaire effort, the film has charm to spare, including a delightful leading lady in Joan Leslie, an amusing supporting performance by Robert Benchley, one of Robert Ryan's first film roles, and a Mercer-Arlen score which includes the Oscar-nominated "My Shining Hour" and the great standard "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," which was introduced in the movie. The latter song leads into Astaire doing a marvelous "drunken" dance atop a bar. The Astaire-Leslie dance numbers are also very enjoyable.

The plot concerns a WWII ace pilot (Astaire) who ditches his uniform in search of some anonymity while he's on a brief leave in the States. He meets a photographer (Leslie) who thinks he's a jobless ne'er-do-well but falls in love with him anyway. The film's final shot of Leslie's beautiful tear-streaked face, watching Astaire's plane head for the Pacific, is a sober reminder that this film was made at the heart of the war when the outcome was still uncertain.

Joan Leslie, who is referred to by Astaire's character as "the sweetest thing I ever hope to meet on this Earth," was all of 17 years old when the movie began filming -- she celebrated her 18th birthday on the set -- but her maturity was such that she could pass for several years older. Like Linda Darnell in the same era, Leslie was playing leading ladies while still in her mid teens.

The lovely Miss Leslie has been able to contribute her memories to a number of special edition DVDs, including SERGEANT YORK, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, and the new Homefront Collection. Leslie appears in all three movies in the Homefront set -- THIS IS THE ARMY, HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN, and THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS -- and participates in a commentary track for THIS IS THE ARMY along with USC professor Drew Casper.

Leslie's singing was dubbed by Sally Sweetland, who sang for Leslie in several movies including YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and RHAPSODY IN BLUE.

This was the next-to-last film directed by Edward H. Griffith. It runs 89 minutes.

Leigh Harline, who among other things co-wrote the score for SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, was nominated for the Oscar for Best Scoring. A fun bit of trivia related to the score is that early on in the film the song "Three Little Words" is heard in the background. In 1950 Astaire played that song's co-writer, Bert Kalmar, in the film THREE LITTLE WORDS.

THE SKY'S THE LIMIT is available on video. Rather inexplicably, if you ask this Astaire fan, it has not yet been released on DVD.

The film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Joan Leslie films previously reviewed: THE MALE ANIMAL (1942), THE HARD WAY (1943), and MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951).

March 2012 Update: This film is now available in DVD-R format from the Warner Archive.

Ricardo Montalban Dies at 88

It's a sad day for film fans...earlier came word of the death of Patrick McGoohan.

Now comes news which makes me very sad indeed: Ricardo Montalban has passed away today at the age of 88.

By chance, this morning Turner Classic Movies ran Montalban's excellent film RIGHT CROSS (1950), which I recently reviewed.

Above to the left is a LIFE magazine portrait of Montalban from 1949.

I saw Montalban in person on two different occasions -- once at a distance and one time up close. As a 10-year-old, I saw Montalban as the King in a Los Angeles Civic Light Opera production of THE KING AND I opposite Sally Ann Howes. Then, in the early '80s, I was on a tour of the Burbank (Warner Bros.) studios and had the pleasure of visiting a soundstage and watching him film a scene from FANTASY ISLAND. The episode was "Daddy's Little Girl," guest starring Genie Francis; IMDb shows that it first aired January 30, 1982.

Montalban's bland -- though lucrative -- role as the enigmatic Mr. Roarke perhaps helped to obscure from modern audiences the fact that he was a skilled actor with multiple talents, although fans of the STAR TREK series familiar with his great villain Khan don't need to be reminded of that fact. His dances with Cyd Charisse in FIESTA (1947) and ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU (1948), as well as his simultaneous dance with Charisse and Ann Miller in THE KISSING BANDIT (1948), reveal a very graceful dancer, although he didn't have the same training as his partners.

And let's not forget that it was Montalban who helped to introduce the standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949).

I reviewed Montalban's film noir MYSTERY STREET (1950) here. Montalban's other movie titles include BATTLEGROUND (1949), BORDER INCIDENT (1949), TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950), ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI (1951), and John Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964).

When work slowed for a period of time after Montalban left MGM in the early '50s, he worked steadily for his sister-in-law, Loretta Young, on her TV show, as well as in countless other TV shows. Montalban won an Emmy for the TV miniseries HOW THE WEST WAS WON. For a certain generation, he also immortalized the words "Corinthian leather" as a spokesman for Chrysler.

Off camera, he also led a rich life. Montalban founded the Nosotros Foundation to enourage Latinos in the entertainment business. The theater at Hollywood and Vine, formerly known as the Huntington Hartford and then the Doolittle, is now the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, run by the Montalban Foundation; photos are here. He also received Mexico's highest civilian award for raising over $10 million following the Mexico City earthquake, and a decade ago he was honored by Pope John Paul II as a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory.

Fans may want to check out his 1980 autobiography, REFLECTIONS: A LIFE IN TWO WORLDS.

Montalban's wife, Georgiana Young -- the half-sister of Loretta Young -- passed away in November 2007. The Montalbans shared one of the most charming love stories in Hollywood history. The stories vary slightly -- some versions have him falling in love with her photo in a magazine, and Ricardo himself writes of first spotting her in THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939) and at a distance at the Church of the Good Shepherd. What is certain is that Ricardo happened to meet Georgiana's sister and brother-in-law, Sally Blane and Norman Foster, when Foster was directing movies in Mexico, and a meeting with Georgiana was arranged. The Montalbans married just days after that first meeting, a marriage which lasted until Georgiana's death over 63 years later. The Montalbans had four children.

Ricardo Montalban led a full life and leaves behind a significant body of work which will be enjoyed by generations to come.

Update: Kathryn Jean Lopez notes that Montalban was a longtime "friend and subscriber" of National Review. Interesting detail.

Here is the New York Times obituary.

And here's a tribute by Ed Morrissey at Hot Air.

Here's a tribute by John Nolte at Big Hollywood which includes a YouTube clip from FIESTA.

I love Mark Steyn's line about THE COLBYS, a fabulous guilty pleasure of a show if ever there was one. I was quite sorry when it went off the air.

Update: Turner Classic Movies has announced it will pre-empt its schedule on Friday, January 23rd, in order to pay tribute to Mr. Montalban.

Seven Montalban films will be shown: FIESTA, NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER, LATIN LOVERS, BORDER INCIDENT, BATTLEGROUND, ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI, and THE SINGING NUN.

Patrick McGoohan, Disney's "Dr. Syn," Passes Away

Patrick McGoohan, whose Disney TV series DR. SYN: THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH was released on DVD this fall to the delight of Disney enthusiasts, has passed away at the age of 80.

Amazon currently appears to be sold out of this Disney Treasures set, mere weeks after its release. The show was a great hit with my children, who applauded at the end of their first episode.

McGoohan also starred in Disney's theatrical film THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA in 1964.

McGoohan's best-known TV work includes THE PRISONER, SECRET AGENT, and Emmy-winning guest roles on COLUMBO.

Update: Here's a brief tribute from the new Big Hollywood site. I didn't realize McGoohan was in BRAVEHEART. And how lovely to read that, like Ricardo Montalban, McGoohan was married to the same woman for many decades.

Scully Revisits Larsen's Perfect Game

This is my second Vin Scully post in as many days, but I wanted to point out a fun story in today's L.A. Times.

Vinnie went back and looked at the broadcast of Don Larsen's perfect World Series game and offers comments about how baseball broadcasting has changed since 1956. He also discusses his maturation from being "very afraid of making a mistake" to growing to "relish the pressures and the tensions."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Belle of New York (1952)

I've been fighting an ear infection for the past few days, so tonight I decided some old-fashioned "movie comfort food" was in order, and for me nothing fits that description better than an MGM musical.

I chose a DVD of Fred Astaire's relatively little-known film THE BELLE OF NEW YORK, which previously I'd only seen on commercial television. Fred's leading lady in this whimsical film is lovely Vera-Ellen, his partner from THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950).

The plot, some nonsense about a playboy reformed by a young lady working for a Salvation Army type organization, scarcely exists, but it doesn't really matter given that this relatively short 82-minute film showcases one great dance number after another. According to the TCM website, fully half of the film's run time is dancing! Add in rich Technicolor and Helen Rose's costumes, and you've got a very enjoyable movie.

The Mercer-Arlen score isn't one of their best, but it provides some sprightly tunes to back up the dancing of Astaire and Vera-Ellen, including "Baby Doll," "Oops" (a grand number on a horse-drawn trolley), and a Currier and Ives dance which includes a skating sequence.

The best dance of all is one of my all-time favorite solo Astaire numbers, "I Wanna Be a Dancing Man," which opens with an iconic shot of a silhouetted Astaire tossing sand onto the stage out of a straw hat. As a matter of fact, the DVD includes a fascinating extra: the number was originally shot in a much more pedestrian manner, with Astaire in his waiter's costume against a curtained background. It's an enjoyable dance, but not the stylish classic which appeared in the final cut of the film.

Vera-Ellen's singing voice is dubbed by Anita Ellis, who performed the same service in THREE LITTLE WORDS.

It's curious to me that the TCM website indicates director Charles Walters and Vera-Ellen did not get along, as so many MGM stars have raved about working with "Chuck" on screen and in print. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Walters on a couple of occasions when my parents took a film class he taught in 1980-81, and he was a lovely man. For Christmas that year my parents arranged to have autographed for me a number of stills of Chuck with his leading ladies, including Leslie Caron and Joan Crawford, and when I spent a month studying abroad a letter from my parents caught up with me at a hotel which had a note scrawled in the margin by Chuck: "Hello, dear, how are you doing?"

The supporting cast includes MGM stalwarts Keenan Wynn, Marjorie Main, and Clinton Sundberg, along with Alice Pearce (ON THE TOWN). Gale Robbins, who previously appeared in Astaire's THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY and THREE LITTLE WORDS, has a small part.

THE BELLE OF NEW YORK is available on VHS and DVD. The DVD can be obtained in the multi-film Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory, Vol. 2 or as part of a one-disc, two-movie release, paired with ROYAL WEDDING (1950).

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

The special effects may be primitive by modern standards, but as the movie ends and Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen dance away into the sky, it leaves the viewer smiling.

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