Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Millions Like Us (1943)

Tonight it was a return to World War II films with MILLIONS LIKE US, a British homefront drama with documentary overtones, from the writing/directing team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder.

Gilliat and Launder's previous work included the screenplays for THE LADY VANISHES (1938) and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940). This was the first feature film they codirected as well as wrote. Later they would alternate directing films; for instance, Gilliat directed GREEN FOR DANGER (1946) and Launder headed up I SEE A DARK STRANGER (1946).

MILLIONS LIKE US is an episodic tale of life on the British homefront during the Second World War. Most of the scenes focus on the Clowson family, particularly shy young Celia (Patricia Roc) who is called up to work in a factory. Celia meets an RAF sergeant, Fred (an impossibly young Gordon Jackson from UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS), and falls in love.

Periodically Gilliat and Launder's creations Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) appear for comic relief. Their first appearance, of course, is on a train! I might be wrong but I don't believe they utter a word about cricket in this film. Besides THE LADY VANISHES, NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, and MILLIONS LIKE US, the Charters and Caldicott duo also appeared in a 1941 film titled CROOK'S TOUR.

There's an interesting subplot about a foreman from the North (Eric Portman) who is attracted to an upper-class girl from London (Anne Crawford). He's unwilling to marry her until he knows if class distinctions will still matter after the war.

Much of the film is shot with a grainy documentary look, so documentary and newsreel footage of real factory workers blends in fairly seamlessly. The film successfully creates a world which feels quite authentic. MILLIONS LIKE US was released during the heart of the war, and the final scene, in particular, is appropriately stirring and encouraging.

It's not a completely great film -- some of the plot shifts, such as the start of the war, are a bit too abrupt and subtle -- but it's absorbing, and I think the characters and scenes will stick with me long after this evening.

Patricia Roc was one of the queens of Britain's Gainsborough Pictures in the '40s, along with Margaret Lockwood and Phyllis Calvert. She appeared in films such as LOVE STORY (1944), MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS (1945), THE WICKED LADY (1945), and JASSY (1947). In 1946 she appeared in an excellent Western filmed in the United States, Jacques Tourneur's CANYON PASSAGE (1946), which also starred Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. Roc died in 2003. Last summer Movietone News paid tribute to Roc.

Anne Crawford mostly acted in Britain, but she also appeared in a U.S. film, KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (1953), with Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner.  Crawford played Morgan Le Fay.  Three years after that film, she died of leukemia at the age of 35.

The cast also includes Megs Jenkins (GREEN FOR DANGER), Terry Randall, Moore Marriott, and Valentine Dunn.

MILLIONS LIKE US is not available on DVD or video in the United States. For those who have all-region players, it's available on a Region 2 DVD in the UK; the entire cost from Amazon UK, including shipping, was just over $10 in U.S. dollars. The DVD print is good, although the sound levels aren't well balanced; I found myself constantly turning the volume up for the dialogue and back down again during factory or aircraft scenes.

The film runs 103 minutes, which translates to 98 minutes on the Region 2 DVD due to "PAL speedup." For those new to this concept, nothing has been cut from the film; British DVDs simply play at a slightly faster rate.

MILLIONS LIKE US is an interesting and very worthwhile slice of history depicting life in wartime Britain. Recommended.

December 2010 Update: This movie was added to Netflix's "Watch Instantly" inventory this fall.

Tonight's Movie: Take Me To Town (1953)

TAKE ME TO TOWN is a thoroughly delightful piece of Americana starring Ann Sheridan and Sterling Hayden, directed by Douglas Sirk. I just saw this film for the first time and found it to be a wonderful little surprise.

The movie feels similar in tone to I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951), albeit with more humor. Mae Madison, aka Vermilion O'Toole (Sheridan), is a saloon singer on the run from a marshal who arrested her for a crime she didn't commit.

Vermilion needs a place to stay, and providentially three small boys (Lee Aaker, Harvey Grant, and Dusty Henley) take a shine to Vermilion, thinking the lively redhead is a much better candidate to marry their widowed father than a sourpuss neighbor (Phyllis Stanley) who is a little too eager to be their mother. Vermilion agrees to stay with the boys until their father Will (Hayden) returns from his job in a logging camp.

Will arrives home to quite a surprise when he discovers the gorgeous Vermilion whipping up a tasty dinner in his kitchen. And Vermilion also has a surprise in store, when she discovers that Will isn't just a lumberjack, he's the town preacher. Will initially tells Vermilion she'll need to leave, but she quickly proves her worth and matters proceed as viewers might expect.

This is a charming, colorful family film blending humor, music, kids, and deftly expressed thoughts on Christian love and charity, all against a lovely Western backdrop. (The location of the future church near a waterfall is particularly evocative.) One of the things I liked is that the film, like Vermilion herself, is very straightforward; there is no information hidden between Vermilion and Will, no secrets or hurt feelings. The characters communicate clearly with one another and deal with problems together as they arise.

Sheridan is completely believable as the saloon gal turned mother figure, wryly laughing at herself and the change in her circumstances as she can't help herself from mothering the little boys. Hayden isn't always the most expressive actor, but I thought he was just right in this, in a very sincere performance.

The young boys are cute and natural. The eldest, Lee Aaker, also appeared in HONDO that year.

Familiar faces in the cast include Lee Patrick, Phillip Reed, Larry Gates, Lane Chandler, Dorothy Neumann, Ann Tyrrell, and Frank Sully. It's fun to spot Guy Williams (Disney's ZORRO) as the townsman who plays the hero in the melodrama near the film's conclusion. IMDb says that Fess Parker is in the film, but I didn't pick him out on the first viewing.

TAKE ME TO TOWN was shot in Technicolor by Russell Metty. It runs 81 minutes.

Sirk directed a number of other period pieces at Universal in the early '50s, including HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL (1952), MEET ME AT THE FAIR (1953), and ALL I DESIRE (1953). I'm looking forward to catching up with those I haven't yet seen.

There's more on the movie in an article on Douglas Sirk at Bright Lights Film Journal, where Robert E. Smith says TAKE ME TO TOWN "is positively lyrical, Sirk's most hopeful picture of life and love. Even the children, who get such a vicious going-over in most of Sirk's films come off here as delightful and charming."

The last couple shots of this movie left me with a big smile on my face. It's a shame this film isn't better known. I hope one day in the future this movie, which is not currently out on DVD or VHS, will be widely available -- perhaps in a set of lesser-known films directed by Douglas Sirk? We can hope!

Unscheduled Semi-Intermission

I've been having major computer issues over the past couple days, hence the light posting.

I do have access to another computer, which will allow me to do limited posting of some movie reviews, but other posts already in the works will most likely need to wait for my computer to be up and running again. Hopefully that will happen by Monday!

Coming soon: Photos of OUT OF THE PAST (1947) locations in Bridgeport, California...August on Turner Classic Movies...and more film book reviews.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Little Man, What Now? (1934)

Having recently watched several films set in WWII Germany, it seemd like the perfect time to watch Frank Borzage's LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW?, which vividly depicts the dire economic conditions in Germany which accompanied Hitler's rise to power.

The film opens with a young couple, Hans (Douglass Montgomery) and Emma, nicknamed Lammchen (Margaret Sullavan, in her second film), meeting at a doctor's office, where Lammchen tearfully receives the confirmation she is pregnant. The couple then marry -- this film was released near the end of the pre-Code era -- and so begins their grinding struggle against poverty and outright evil.

Borzage is a poet who creates images of great charm and sweetness, such as Sullavan running barefoot through a park or riding a carousel while tearfully confessing her pregnancy cravings to her bridegroom (she couldn't resist eating all the dinner their meager budget could afford).

Borzage is equally adept at portraying the darker side of humanity, and in this respect I found the film difficult to watch at times. Perhaps part of the problem for me was the stark contrast between Sullavan's ethereal loveliness and her husband's first employer, a physically and morally disgusting cretin. The couple are constantly preyed upon and mistreated, whether it's his stepmother (Catherine Doucet), who turns out to run a bordello, or an idiot customer (Alan Mowbray) who causes the husband to be fired. They are kicked and kicked again, causing the viewer to despair, yet Sullavan's character manages to retain her hope. A kindly landord who houses Hans and Lammchen in a loft -- shades of Joseph and Mary! -- provides blessed relief from the couple's travails.

The young marrieds face many of the same challenges faced by the poor American Depression couple in FAITHLESS (1932), but perhaps it was a bit easier to watch tough Tallulah Bankhead cope with one problem after another. Yet Sullavan's character, I suppose, must be plenty tough on the inside to carry on as she does, emotionally propping up her husband and eternally grateful for small blessings. In some ways the character and their attic home reminded me of the later APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), which is otherwise a much different type of movie.

Douglass Montgomery is perhaps best known as Laurie from the Katharine Hepburn version of LITTLE WOMEN (1933). He is fine in the role as written, but the character's milquetoast personality can be wearing at times.

The film runs 98 minutes. The supporting cast includes Alan Hale and Mae Marsh.

This Universal film is not available on DVD or video; I was able to watch an old recording from American Movie Classics thanks to the great kindness of a friend.

For more on Frank Borzage, check out Moira Finnie's post at the TCM Blog. And there's even more on Sullavan and Borzage at Bright Lights Film Journal and Reverse Shot.

As mentioned above, LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? is challenging viewing at times, but it's of interest on several levels, including its portrayal of Germany at a particular downpoint in its history and its place in the careers of Borzage and Sullavan, who would team for three more films.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Two O'Clock Courage (1945)

TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE is a fast-paced, engaging "B" movie whodunit directed by Anthony Mann, starring Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford.

Conway, who sounds a great deal like his real-life younger brother George Sanders, plays an amnesiac who staggers in front of a taxicab driven by Patty Mitchell (Rutherford). Sympathetic Patty is intrigued by the mystery surrounding the man she had nearly run down, and together they spend the evening unraveling the man's lost identity and his possible connection to a murder.

The lovely Rutherford is very appealing as Patty, and her energetic performance has a great deal to do with the movie's success. Conway is somewhat bland but pleasant, and he has a nice camaraderie with Rutherford. The film's cast, the briskly told story (which clocks in at just 68 minutes), and very attractive black and white photography by Jack MacKenzie all combine to make this an entertaining little movie.

Prominent in the supporting cast is one Bettejane Greer, who shortly thereafter would shorten her name to Jane Greer and go on to film noir immortality in OUT OF THE PAST (1947).

The cast also includes Jean Brooks, Richard Lane, Lester Matthews, Roland Drew, and Emory Parnell.

IMDb and Leonard Maltin both offer the info that this film is a remake of TWO IN THE DARK (1936), which starred Walter Abel, Margot Grahame, and Gail Patrick. (Update: Here's a review of TWO IN THE DARK!)

TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE is not available on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

January 2014 Update: I had a wonderful opportunity to revisit this film on a big screen at UCLA! I enjoyed the movie even more, having become much more familiar with actors such as Jean Brooks and Richard Lane in the time since I first saw it.

An Interview with Kim Novak

Susan King of the Los Angeles Times has interviewed Kim Novak, who will be appearing this Friday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Information on this weekend's Novak screenings can be found in my post of July 14th.

Unfortunately I've been battling an inner ear infection for the last 10 days -- at least it was a great excuse to watch a lot of movies last weekend! -- so I wasn't able to commit to getting tickets. Looks like Novak's Friday night appearance is sold out. Although my energy level is now nearly back to normal, it's probably unlikely I'll be able to make a trip up to Hollywood this weekend to catch any of the other movies. It sounds like it's going to be a wonderful weekend at the Egyptian!

As a side note, I own vintage "Moonglow" sheet music which looks just like the picture here, except that my copy is lavender and doesn't have the "Piano Solo" label.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Above Suspicion (1943)

Much of my recent viewing has, by chance, centered around World War II espionage stories, such as NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940), BERLIN CORRESPONDENT (1942), and THE CONSPIRATORS (1944).

Tonight's movie, ABOVE SUSPICION, fits right in with those films, particularly the first two, as they are all set in Germany in the early days of WWII. I'd been wanting to see ABOVE SUSPICION for some time now and was happy to record it when it aired yesterday on Turner Classic Movies.

The movie is an entertaining piece of wartime hokum about an Oxford professor, Richard Myles (Fred MacMurray), and his American bride Frances (Joan Crawford), who are asked to undertake a mission for the British foreign office while honeymooning in "Southern Germany" (Austria) in 1939 -- the thought being that honeymooners taking in the sights will be ABOVE SUSPICION. The mission turns out to be much more dangerous than expected, and if Richard and Frances want to live, they've got to stay one step ahead of the Gestapo until they can flee the country.

The plot is a bit silly at times, as Richard and Frances follow a trail of clues from sympathetic contacts -- and later in the film run around overly obvious soundstage exteriors -- but it's good fun, if such can be said about a wartime film. I think the first half of the movie works the best; as the danger level grows later in the film, the movie loses some of its more lighthearted fizz and becomes another "Battle the Nazis and flee to the border" type story. While the good guys in NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH headed for Switzerland and the hero of BERLIN CORRESPONDENT commandeered an airplane, Professor and Mrs. Myles make a dash for Italy -- the last line of the movie finds the Professor exclaiming "Let's go eat some spaghetti!"

MacMurray and Crawford have excellent chemistry, and it's a nice angle that the film starts with their characters' marriage and then follows their romancing and sleuthing together, in the tradition of Nick and Nora Charles, Joel and Garda Sloan, Lord Peter and Harriet Wimsey, and other MGM detective couples. Crawford looks gorgeous in a wardrobe by Irene, photographed in shimmering black and white by Robert Planck.

This was Crawford's last film at MGM before leaving for Warner Bros. (and MILDRED PIERCE). MGM was an unusual stop for MacMurray, who mainly worked at Paramount in the early '40s, although he also appeared in films released by other studios, including DIVE BOMBER (1941) for Warner Bros.

This was the last film appearance by Conrad Veidt (CASABLANCA), who plays an Austrian resistance fighter. Veidt died before the film was released.

Basil Rathbone plays a nasty Nazi, while Reginald Owen plays one of the good guys. Felix Bressart, Ann Shoemaker, Sara Haden, and Richard Ainley are also in the cast.

ABOVE SUSPICION was directed by Richard Thorpe. It runs 91 minutes.

The film is based on a novel by the same name, written by Helen MacInnes.

ABOVE SUSPICION is available in DVD-R format from the Warner Archive. It's also had a release on VHS.

ABOVE SUSPICION will next air on Turner Classic Movies on October 20, 2010.

The trailer is here.

This and That

Some random topics...

...Having grown up at a time when ordering a book or record album by mail from England was a process that could take a couple of months, it continues to amaze me that I can order DVDs from England on a Thursday and be holding them in my hands on the following Tuesday!

The movies? Region 2 DVDs of Max Ophuls' THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) and Gilliat and Launder's MILLIONS LIKE US (1943).

Two DVDs from England in five days for around $20? Amazing.

...This review of today's DVD release, CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965), cracked me up. It's in the Netflix queue! After all, as a commenter here recently said, any Dana Andrews movie is worth seeing once...

...I love the posters being used by TCM for next month's Summer Under the Stars festival. Check out the teaser website.

...Our family's "Practically Perfect" team signed up today for the MouseAdventure taking place at Disneyland next October. If nothing else, these events provide great exercise, with several hours of fast-paced, non-stop walking...but better yet, it's fun too!

...Someone needs to put out a boxed set of Yvonne DeCarlo DVDs. They may not be great cinema, but there are all sorts of them which would doubtless make fun viewing.

I do have this year's VCI release of SEA DEVILS (1952), with DeCarlo and Rock Hudson, ahead of me in the viewing queue. And CRISS CROSS (1949), too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The San Francisco Story (1952)

Fans of Joel McCrea and Yvonne DeCarlo will want to see THE SAN FRANCISCO STORY, a moderately entertaining Western set during the California Gold Rush.

The story, which finds miner Rick Nelson (McCrea) mixed up with vigilantes in lawless San Francisco, is fairly bland, but the film is distinguished by some sharp dialogue (by D.D. Beauchamp), a wry supporting performance by Richard Erdman as McCrea's sidekick, and Yvonne DeCarlo at her most exquisitely beautiful. Recognition also goes to Florence Bates for her rowdy performance as an eyepatch-wearing waterfront tavern owner who cheerfully shanghais sailors on the side. It's not a great movie, but if you like the cast it's worth the investment of time.

There are several other familiar faces in the film, including Onslow Stevens, Lane Chandler, and Robert Foulk. I thought I heard Emile Meyer's voice as a juror early in the film, although he doesn't show up in the credits.

DeCarlo's wardrobe was by Yvonne Wood, who also did her costumes for the highly entertaining BUCCANEER'S GIRL (1950) and several other films.

This film was directed by Robert Parrish (ASSIGNMENT - PARIS, SADDLE THE WIND). It was shot in black and white and runs 80 minutes.

This film was originally distributed by Warner Bros. and has apparently fallen into the public domain. It's available on DVD from Timeless Media Group. The DVD print is quite soft but is watchable. There are no extras.

In Disney News...

Here's some of the interesting Disney-related news of the past few days...

...Disneyland has closed its Alice in Wonderland ride to add safety rails along the exterior track at the end of the ride.

Accounts vary as to whether the state forced Disney to close the 52-year-old ride or Disney chose to close it. Either way, it strikes me as absurd to shut down the ride for weeks to install rails on a ride which has operated safely for over half a century.

The photos of the closed Alice ride and Main Street flowers (below right) are courtesy of my daughters, who were in the park on Sunday. Click to enlarge.

...Despite previous reports, looks like there's a lot of confusion about whether or not this year's Halloween Time fireworks at Disneyland will be restricted to guests who pay extra to attend Mickey's Halloween Party. (Update: The official word from Disneyland is that guests who do not pay extra for party tickets will be unable to see the Halloween Time fireworks this year...the same fireworks which were part of the park's regular entertainment in 2009. A bad guest relations decision.)

...Today is the last day for Disneyland's Star Tours, which will reopen with an all-new flight in 2011.

...The next issue of Disney Twenty-Three magazine will be out on August 3rd. The cover features TANGLED, which I'd just as soon refer to by its original name, RAPUNZEL.

...This weekend the Disney Blog had interesting video of the Bastille Day fireworks at Disneyland Paris.

...At MiceAge Kevin Yee reviewed several recent Disney books, including the new DISNEYLAND THROUGH THE DECADES.

...A reminder that the long-delayed IMAGINEERING FIELD GUIDE TO DISNEY'S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS is due to be released tomorrow, July 27th.

...Jim Hill has interesting speculation on the plans for Florida's Fantasyland expansion.

...Also at Jim Hill Media, a report on the celebration of Disneyland's 55th anniversary at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

...Disney has several DVDs due out this fall: a 25th Anniversary Edition of THE BLACK CAULDRON will be released September 14th (I'll pass on that one, thanks)... DisneyNature's OCEANS comes to DVD on October 19...and a Diamond Edition of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be released on November 23rd.

If other Diamond Editions are anything to go by, collectors who own the Platinum Edition of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST won't find much reason to upgrade, especially if Disney follows its recent practice of putting most of the new extras only on Blu-Ray. (One of these days the studios are going to figure out that a huge number of consumers have no interest in repurchasing all their DVDs on Blu-Ray...)

...Last week the official Disney Parks blog posted video showing the recent changes to Disneyland's Rivers of America.

...This summer a friend of the family is playing the French horn in Disneyland's All-American College Band. Check out the linked video on the band's 40th anniversary. Saxophone player Sal Lozano, a former band member interviewed in the video, performed an arrangement of David Raksin's "Laura" at our wedding.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Berlin Correspondent (1942)

BERLIN CORRESPONDENT is a sort of poor man's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), with Dana Andrews starring as an American journalist involved in wartime intrigue in Germany.

After playing supporting roles in films such as THE WESTERNER (1940), BELLE STARR (1941), and BALL OF FIRE (1941), Andrews -- complete with a rather jarring mustache -- played his first leading role as reporter Bill Roberts. Roberts must stay one step ahead of the Nazis as he sends coded broadcasts out of Berlin in November 1941. When one of Roberts' sources (Edwin Kaiser) is imprisoned, Roberts helps the man escape to Switzerland. Roberts in turn is helped by his contact's daughter Karen (Virginia Gilmore) when he is imprisoned by the Gestapo.

This movie was released in September 1942 and is chiefly of interest as an example of a morale-building film early in the U.S. war effort. The Germans, led by Martin Kosleck and Sig Ruman, are portrayed as buffoons; Ruman, of course, famously played the ridiculous "Concentration Camp Ehrhardt" in Ernst Lubitsch's TO BE OR NOT TO BE, released earlier in 1942. While the film pokes fun at the enemy, their evil is also portrayed, such as in a scene where Ruman's character points out a crippled little girl due for a "mercy killing" because of her physical imperfection.

The movie appears to have been a "B" film, with a short 70-minute run time and fairly minimal production values. It's hokey at times and not really all that good, but Andrews is a winning film presence as the brash American, and the film hurtles along quickly to its conclusion.

Virginia Gilmore, who plays the troubled German girl Karen, appeared in films throughout the 1940s, mainly at 20th Century-Fox. She was married to Yul Brynner from 1944 to 1960.

The supporting cast includes Mona Maris. The film was directed by Eugene Forde.

BERLIN CORRESPONDENT is not available on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen from time to time on Fox Movie Channel.

2013 Update: This film is now available on DVD-R in the Fox Cinema Archives series.

Tonight's Movie: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE is an interesting little RKO musical-drama starring a young Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball. It has the distinction of being one of just a handful of Golden Era films directed by a woman, Dorothy Arzner.

O'Hara plays Judy, an aspiring ballerina who pays her bills by dancing as the "stooge" in a burlesque show starring Bubbles (Ball). Judy hopes that one day she'll have the dancing career of her dreams, while Bubbles simply wants to be rich and famous. The head of a ballet company (Ralph Bellamy) is interested in Judy, but she mistakenly thinks he's just a flirt and gives him the brush-off. Meanwhile, both women moon over rich drunk Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward), who is in the process of divorcing his wife (Virginia Field).

This is a surprisingly good film, with solid performances by the two leading ladies. It's hard to see why the women waste any time on Jimmy (or indeed, why the movie wastes any time on him), but other than that it's an interesting story of two women struggling to make it in the big city. In some ways it calls to mind STAGE DOOR (1937), in which Ball had a small role. O'Hara is ethereal as the dreamy, naive ballerina, who surprises everyone near the end of the film when she boils over, lecturing the rowdy burlesque audience and then literally tackling Bubbles. Ball is also perfect as the tough burlesque star.

The film has a solid supporting cast. Katharine Alexander, one of my favorites, plays a sympathetic dance company secretary, and Walter Abel is wonderful in his one scene as a night court judge, contributing strongly to one of the film's best moments. Bellamy is charming as the man who will turn around Judy's career.

In her autobiography Maureen O'Hara wrote that although they had a combative relationship on screen, off the screen she and Lucille Ball became good friends. O'Hara felt she and Ball were a lot alike -- two strong women working to succeed in a tough business. O'Hara also shared the anecdote that she was sitting with Lucy in the commissary the first time Lucy spotted Desi Arnaz and fell head over heels for him.

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE runs 90 minutes. It's available in a nice print on DVD. It's also had a release on VHS.

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs August 17, 2010.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Class act: My husband and daughters, the "sci-fi geeks" in the family, spent Friday at Comic-Con in San Diego. They had a lovely extended conversation with actress Erin Gray from the old BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY series. She couldn't have been more gracious, and they got a great photo with her. Always nice to hear stories like that!

...The next Julia Roberts movie, EAT PRAY LOVE (2010), will be out on August 13th. I'm not wild about the Indian mysticism angle, but I'm always up for a new Julia Roberts movie so I'll probably try it anyway. Here's a trailer.

...An upcoming title thanks to my Amazon recommendations: ERROL & OLIVIA: EGO AND OBSESSION IN GOLDEN ERA HOLLYWOOD. I'm unfamiliar with the author, Robert Matzen. No release date is given. Incidentally, I wonder what ever happened to Olivia deHavilland's autobiography, which was due out over a year ago? The title was said to be NOW IS THE TIME.

...The Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5 has been reviewed by Glenn Erickson, Classic Film and TV Cafe (by The Lady Eve), and Dave Kehr. Kehr's article also includes a review of the new Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 2.

...And here's a good article by Kehr on NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940) and other British films, including NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (1948). Kehr sure makes me interested in checking out more British movies.

...SUMMER HOLIDAY (1948) is one of the latest releases from the Warner Archive. It makes me rather sad that films such as this and another recent release, LOVELY TO LOOK AT, won't be coming out in a beautiful DVD "Dream Factory" boxed set.

...Lou Lumenick has more info on other recent Warner Archive releases.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932) with Warren William and Maureen O'Sullivan was reviewed at Black and White: Cinema and Chocolate...SUEZ (1938) with Tyrone Power and Loretta Young was reviewed at Kevin's Movie Corner...Where Danger Lives looked at Dick Powell in CORNERED (1945)...BECAUSE OF HIM (1946), which I reviewed in 2008, was reviewed this week at both A Noodle in a Haystack and The Amazing Deanna Durbin...the Margaret Lockwood film BEDELIA (1946), written about at Noir of the Week, sounds interesting...and here's a post on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946) at Classic Movies Digest.

...A book from last summer which just crossed my radar screen: EARLY UNIVERSAL CITY from Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. Last weekend I mentioned an upcoming book in this series on Early Warner Bros. Studios.

...At Another Old Movie Blog, Jacqueline wrote an essay on SUMMER STOCK (1950), which was one of the first films I ever saw in a revival theater. It was on a double bill with ON THE TOWN (1949), and the screen was little more than a sheet...periodically we could hear machine guns from the Cagney movie playing next door!

...I also loved Jacqueline's post on nearby Long Beach Airport, which I have flown out of numerous times. It's always fun to spot it in old movies!

...REIGN OF TERROR (1949), reviewed at The Movie Projector, is on my "watch soon" list. Leonard Maltin says it's "Stunningly shot by John Alton; every shot is a painting!" The movie stars Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl and was directed by Anthony Mann. The film is also known by the title THE BLACK BOOK.

...The more I read about Pat Haden, the more excited I am about USC hiring him as their new athletic director.

...Dear Old Hollywood ran a terrific piece on Los Angeles locations seen in Joan Crawford's POSSESSED (1947).

...Amazon is selling 80% more digitally downloaded books than hardcovers? Wow...

Have a great week!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Stage Fright (1950)

STAGE FRIGHT might be a relatively lesser film from director Alfred Hitchcock, but even a fairly unknown Hitchcock movie still provides some terrific entertainment. I had never seen STAGE FRIGHT before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The film begins with the ingenious use of one of Hitchcock's recurring plot devices, the stage, as a theater curtain rises on the city of London. Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), a rather giddy young drama student, is helping her friend Jonathan (Richard Todd) escape from the police. Via a flashback, we learn that Jonathan made the fateful decision to help actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) cover up her involvement in her husband's death. Eve is drawn deeper and deeper into the case as she tries to stay one step ahead of Detective Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding) and find a way to clear Jonathan of murder before the film's "final curtain."

The plot is slightly hard to follow at times, due chiefly to the flashback scene: Was it the truth, or the creation of a deranged man? It's also a bit difficult to understand why Eve is willing to put herself at such risk for Jonathan; she claims to love him, but he hasn't treated her well, and she quickly forgets him when she meets a man of more substance and charm. Overall, however, the film is quite enjoyable, thanks to Hitchcock and his excellent cast. I especially like Hithcock's lighter, more romantic films, and this film is in that mold.

Jane Wyman does well as the leading lady, keeping her likeable even when she doesn't do the sensible thing. It's hard at times to decide if Eve is a complete bubblehead or quite smart; she repeatedly makes poor choices but then turns around and does a good job getting herself out of trouble again. Wyman was 33 when this film was released, yet she convincingly plays a woman a decade younger. Her lack of a British accent, incidentally, is explained away by an American education. (Considering that Eve's father has trouble scraping together 20 pounds, one wonders who paid for her education in the States!)

Michael Wilding as charming as Detective Smith. His role, simultaneously solving the crime and romancing the leading lady, reminded me of Macdonald Carey's FBI man in SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). The film really takes off once his character enters the storyline; I enjoyed the interplay between "Ordinary" Smith and Eve.

The film also boasts the amusing presence of Alistair Sim as Eve's "unique" father. Sybil Thorndyke, Joyce Grenfell, Kay Walsh, and Patricia Hitchcock are in the cast as well.

The movie runs 110 minutes.

STAGE FRIGHT is available on DVD and also VHS. The DVD extras are a 20-minute featurette and a trailer.

Tonight's Movie: The Conspirators (1944)

THE CONSPIRATORS is a murky yet stylish tale of WWII intrigue set in Lisbon. The film, which reunites some of the cast of CASABLANCA (1942), is clumsily plotted yet still mildly entertaining, thanks to its cast and Warner Bros. production values.

Vincent Van Der Lyn (Paul Henreid) is a Dutch resistance fighter who must escape to neutral Lisbon, where he joins an underground anti-Nazi group led by Ricardo Quintanilla (Sydney Greenstreet). Van Der Lyn helps Quintanilla identify a traitor in their midst, while also finding time to romance beautiful Irene (Hedy Lamarr).

Henreid is a fairly bland leading man, but I've always enjoyed Hedy Lamarr.  A fine supporting cast, including Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Joseph Calleia, keeps things fairly interesting. After a while I gave up on following the convoluted plot closely and simply enjoyed the look and feel of wartime Warner Bros. The film builds to a strong conclusion, with all the main characters gathered tensely around a roulette table where the traitor will be revealed.

Hedy Lamarr was nearing the end of her MGM years when she was lent to Warner Bros. to make this film. She doesn't have a great deal to do -- there's virtually no setup for her romance with Henreid -- but she is beautifully photographed in black and white by Arthur Edeson. Her gowns are by Leah Rhodes.

Joseph Calleia is particularly good as a twisty character who could be friend or foe. Calleia excelled in this type of part; I especially liked him in a similarly ambiguous role in the Western FOUR FACES WEST (1948).

THE CONSPIRATORS was directed by Jean Negulesco. It runs 101 minutes.

This film is not available on DVD or VHS. It can be seen as part of the library on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer is here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Walk a Crooked Mile (1948)

The familiar booming voice of narrator Reed Hadley quickly identifies WALK A CROOKED MILE as an FBI "procedural" film in the style of THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945) and other titles of that film noir subgenre.

WALK A CROOKED MILE finds Los Angeles FBI agent Daniel O'Hara (Dennis O'Keefe) teaming with Scotland Yard agent Scotty Grayson (Louis Hayward) to break an international case regarding espionage and stolen top secret nuclear information. The trail leads to San Francisco, where O'Hara and Grayson face grave danger dealing with murderous Soviet agents who will stop at nothing to get the formula.

The movie is a solid, well-paced effort which provides interesting glimpses of the era in which it was made. By today's standards the depiction of Americans versus the Communists may seem slightly overwrought or cartoonish at times, but the film also effectively conveys the fears and genuine concerns of the early Cold War era.

I always find the "early CSI" law enforcement techniques depicted in such films fascinating, and this movie is no exception.  Along with the one-way mirrors and hidden cameras seen in THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET, WALK A CROOKED MILE provides some interesting glimpses of other equipment used to uncover secret messages.

O'Keefe is convincing as the businesslike FBI agent, and the genial Hayward livens things up a bit as the emissary from Scotland Yard. The bad guys include Raymond Burr and Frank Ferguson. Louise Allbritton, Carl Esmond, Onslow Stevens, and Philip Van Zandt are also in the cast.

WALK A CROOKED MILE was directed by Gordon Douglas. It was filmed in black and white by Edward Colman and George Robinson. The movie runs 91 minutes.

WALK A CROOKED MILE does not appear to be available on DVD or VHS. It's a Columbia film which has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

May 2013 Update: WALK A CROOKED MILE will be released on DVD this summer from the TCM Vault Collection.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Coming to DVD: My Favorite Spy (1951) and More

The new company Olive Films will be releasing the Bob Hope-Hedy Lamarr comedy MY FAVORITE SPY (1951) to DVD on September 28, 2010.

I reviewed MY FAVORITE SPY in May.

Other Olive titles scheduled for a September release include KNOCK ON WOOD (1953), starring Danny Kaye, and WHERE LOVE HAS GONE (1964), starring Bette Davis, Susan Hayward, and Jane Greer.

The first wave from Olive, including UNION STATION (1950), APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951), DARK CITY (1950), and CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965), will be out next Tuesday, July 27th.

The July 27th date is rescheduled from the originally planned July 13th release date.

Last year's review of UNION STATION can be found here.

July 27th Update
: There's more on today's Olive releases from R. Emmet Sweeney at the TCM Blog.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Book: Warren William: Magnificent Scoundrel of Pre-Code Hollywood

Here's an interesting title due out September 3: WARREN WILLIAM: MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDREL OF PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD.

The author is John Stangeland. It's a softcover title from McFarland.

Warren William was the star of many pre-Code classics, perhaps most notoriously playing the evil department store dictator in EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933). William's pre-Code titles also included GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933) and DR. MONICA (1934). SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932), THREE ON A MATCH (1932), THE MATCH KING (1932), and LADY FOR A DAY (1933) are among William's other releases during the pre-Code era.

Later William titles reviewed here include THE SECRET BRIDE (1934), THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS (1938), and DAY-TIME WIFE (1939). He notably appeared in two Claudette Colbert classics in 1934, CLEOPATRA and IMITATION OF LIFE.

William acted until shortly before his death in 1948. Over the years he played popular movie detectives Perry Mason, Philo Vance, and the "Lone Wolf."

Although I've seen a number of William's films and am interested in seeing more, I know virtually nothing about him off the screen. This should be an informative book.

For more information on this upcoming release, visit Cliff Aliperti's website, Warren-William.com, or the book's official Facebook page.

Coming to DVD: Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection

Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection, a 13-disc, 24-film DVD set, will be released on October 5, 2010.

Home Theater Forum has extensive information on the titles and extras.

This looks like a beautiful set, but it will likely be of interest only to those who have not already collected Bogart on DVD. This set is a "remix" of titles already released on DVD, including films from the Humphrey Bogart Signature Collections (Vols. 1 and 2), the Bogie-Bacall Signature Collection, the Errol Flynn Westerns Collection (VIRGINIA CITY), and various Warner Gangsters/Tough Guys sets.

That said, this would make a grand Christmas gift for someone new to collecting classic films or Bogart on DVD.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Disneyland Books

I spotted two attractive new books on our visit to Disneyland last Friday.

Both books were published by Disney Editions in April and are by Disney expert Jeff Kurtti, author of titles such as THE ART OF DISNEYLAND, THE ART OF WALT DISNEY WORLD, and WALT DISNEY'S IMAGINEERING LEGENDS.

The more impressive of the two books is DISNEYLAND THROUGH THE DECADES: A PHOTOGRAPHIC CELEBRATION. This is a 160-page hardcover which, as the title says, tells the park's story, from planning stages to the opening of the neighboring California Adventure park and the World of Color show. The book has an informative text along with terrific photos. A nice "extra" at the back of the book is a list of ride attraction opening dates.

The book sells for $24.95 at both the park and at Amazon; however, this year Annual Passholders are receiving extra shopping discounts, which currently run until September 30th. Premium passholders can currently purchase the book 20% off, while other passholders will save 10%.

DISNEYLAND: FROM ONCE UPON A TIME TO HAPPILY EVER AFTER is already listed as out of print at Amazon, but supplies at Disneyland were plentiful last weekend. This is a 64-page softcover which sells for the much lower price of $7.95.

There are photo captions, but this is basically a picture book -- and a very nice one at that.

I suspect most Disneyland enthusiasts will be wanting to add both these books to their shelves.

Update: More background and information on DISNEYLAND THROUGH THE DECADES was posted this evening at Jim Hill Media.

Book Review: Film Noir: The Encyclopedia (4th Edition)

One of the books I spent considerable time perusing on my recent vacation was the 4th Edition of FILM NOIR: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA, edited by Alain Silver, James Ursini, Elizabeth Ward, and Robert Porfirio. This May release, which was titled in earlier editions as FILM NOIR: AN ENCYLOPEDIC REFERENCE TO THE AMERICAN STYLE, features contributions from over 40 writers, including well-known names such as Richard Schickel, Julie Kirgo, and Glenn Erickson (aka DVD Savant).

The encyclopedia is divided into two main sections: "The Classic Period" and "Neo-Noir." The entries for the Classic Period run over 300 pages, while the Neo-Noir section is slightly over a third of that size. Entries range from just a couple paragraphs, consisting of little more than a plot synopsis and thumbnail review (for example, see the entry on 1949's IMPACT), to spreads of close to two pages. WHERE DANGER LIVES (1950) received special treatment, a six-page section with extra photos. Most -- but not all -- of the entries are accompanied by a poster or still. Film credits, the running time, and the release date are included as well.

The scope of titles included in the book is most impressive. For instance, the "noir Westerns" PURSUED (1947), BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), and even RAMROD (1947) are included. Borderline noir titles such as Robert Taylor's gangster films JOHNNY EAGER (1941) and the color PARTY GIRL (1958) are among the listings. And of course, the book contains all the classic noir titles one would expect to find in a book of this type. The only title I looked up and didn't find was a "gothic noir" movie I saw at this year's Noir City Film Festival, EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944). But the second gothic noir film screened that evening, SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948), was included.

Unfortunately, the book's potential standing as the authoritative film noir encyclopedia is undermined by exceptionally sloppy proofreading and editing. This is particularly disappointing in a hardcover book with such reputable contributors which is up to its Fourth Edition -- and sells at full retail for $45. Typos are fairly common in books from small publishers (an example here), but the sheer number of mistakes in this book almost overwhelms the ability to smoothly read the material. It is quite apparent that no one invested the time in making sure this manuscript was truly ready for publication.

The most egregious typos can be found in the encyclopedia guide words, simply because it would have been so easy and cost-effective for anyone with a knowledge of the subject matter to invest a few minutes in cleaning them up. It took me all of 10 minutes to flip the pages of the Classic Period section and jot down quite a list of errors. The title listings include RAMROAD (instead of RAMROD), SRANGE IMPERSONATION (STRANGE), HOUSE OF 92ND STREET (THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RING TWICE (RINGS), A VOICE IN THE WIND (VOICE IN THE WIND), CLAY PIGEON (THE CLAY PIGEON), WOMAN ON PIER 13 (THE WOMAN ON PIER 13) and THE HIGH WALL (HIGH WALL), which is also listed incorrectly at the entry title, despite a poster on the same page clearly giving the correct title, HIGH WALL. THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET, THE CLAY PIGEON, THE WOMAN ON PIER 13, and VOICE IN THE WIND are also listed by incorrect titles at each actual entry, dropping "THE" in the first three cases and adding "A" to VOICE IN THE WIND; again, THE CLAY PIGEON, THE WOMAN ON PIER 13, and VOICE IN THE WIND are accompanied by a poster or lobby card with the correct title. I wasn't even trying hard, so there may well be more. The lack of effort expended on correcting the very simplest errors was disconcerting. Perhaps there were so many of the proverbial cooks that no one took the responsibility?

The typos start in the Acknowledgments ("made there way") and multiply from there. Misprints, grammatical errors, misspellings, and made-up words ("especifically"?) can be found in the entries for THE KILLER IS LOOSE, A KISS BEFORE DYING, THE BRIBE, THE RECKLESS MOMENT, THE KILLERS, BEWITCHED, FALLEN ANGEL, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, MYSTERY STREET, and LADY IN THE LAKE. And these are just titles I happened to jot down in my first hour or so with the book, skipping around among entries of interest. The errors may be minor, but when they are so numerous, it causes the reader to doubt the more substantive factual content as well -- a concern which grew when I noticed that the year given in the title heading for IMPACT was off by two years (1947 should have been 1949). Additionally, the name of Charles Coburn's character is spelled Quincey in the photo caption but Quincy in the film credits.

Everyone makes mistakes -- I have certainly made my share here at this blog -- but the consistent sloppiness in this otherwise impressive-looking volume is simply hard to understand.

I was also puzzled by the inconsistent listing of locations in the film credits; did the inclusion depend on the author of a particular entry? Returning to the example of IMPACT, it would have been very easy, and of interest to many noir fans, to note that the locations included San Francisco and Larkspur, California. A little extra research time to verify and then include the additional locations listed at IMDb would have been appreciated.

One entry which did list locations, OUT OF THE PAST (1947), omitted the significant location of Bridgeport, California, where the film's opening scenes were shot; yet Bridgeport was mentioned twice in the plot description! Again, an omission such as this causes one to doubt the book's accuracy and completeness. (Ironically, I began reading the book and taking notes while on vacation in, you guessed it, Bridgeport, California.)

While Leonard Maltin calls the encyclopedia "an important book to have on your shelf," I felt that his enthusiasm seemed somewhat muted compared to the effusiveness of his reviews of other books, and he notes that "The entries themselves vary in quality." Chris Yogerst also reviewed the book at Big Hollywood.

This is a flawed book which nonetheless has a great deal to recommend it. It's a marvelous concept, and I found many of the critical insights of interest. As I read, I also found myself jotting down titles I'd like to see in the future.

Let us hope that there will one day be a Fifth Edition which will do full justice to the subject matter and the insights of the contributors.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Next Disneyland MouseAdventure Announced

MousePlanet announced their next West Coast MouseAdventure today.

MouseAdventure Holiday: Trick or Treat will take place at Disneyland on October 17, 2010.

The cost is $70 per team. Each team may have two to four players.

We had a very good time at MouseAdventure's Day at the Park in early June. We're going to strongly consider participating again...although it's just three weeks after Disney's Scavenger Hunt, being held in late September!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Diplomatic Courier (1952)

DIPLOMATIC COURIER, starring Tyrone Power in the title role, is an excellent Cold War chase movie filmed in European locations. I had never seen this film before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mike Kells (Power) is a State Department courier who finds himself caught up in the middle of a desperate espionage situation when his contact Sam (James Millican), an old war buddy, is killed before he can hand off a critical document to Kells.

U.S. Army Col. Mark Cagle (Stephen McNally) uses Kells as bait to try to unravel the plot and race against time to find the missing document. A gung-ho Army sergeant (Karl Malden) serves as Kells' informal bodyguard while Kells looks for a mysterious woman (Hildegard Neff) who knew Sam, and in turn Kells is pursued by a glamorous widow (Patricia Neal) he meets on a plane.

I found this film highly absorbing and suspenseful. The excitement begins very early in the film and builds to a satisfying conclusion. I always enjoy Tyrone Power, who's at the top of my favorite actors list, and Malden is a welcome screen presence as well. Neal and Neff are both excellent as women who have plenty of surprises in store for Mr. Power's character.

DIPLOMATIC COURIER reunited Tyrone Power with director Henry Hathaway, who previously worked with Power on JOHNNY APOLLO (1940), BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940), THE BLACK ROSE (1950), and RAWHIDE (1951).

As a side note, the sequence with a watch in a European pawn shop called to mind Hathaway's earlier spy film THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945). The opening minutes, which are "docu-noir" in style, are also reminiscent of the "procedural" aspects of 92ND STREET. I especially loved the demonstration of live teletyping between the U.S. and Europe, which looked very much like today's instant messaging.

Be on the lookout for Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, and Michael Ansara in bit parts; Marvin is the easiest to spot in his two scenes as an MP in Trieste. Dabbs Greer (Rev. Alden from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) is seen early in the film as a clerk working for U.S. intelligence. Hugh Marlowe narrates.

This film runs 97 minutes. It was photographed in black and white by Lucien Ballard, whose career stretched for over 55 years.

DIPLOMATIC COURIER is not available on DVD or VHS. It is shown from time to time on Fox Movie Channel. The print I recorded from FMC was of very nice quality.

Perhaps someday we'll get a third Tyrone Power boxed DVD set with the relative few of his films which aren't yet on DVD, such as this title, LLOYD'S OF LONDON (1936), SUEZ (1938), KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953), and UNTAMED (1955).

2012 Update: DIPLOMATIC COURIER is now available on DVD-R via the Fox Cinema Archives.

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