Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tony Curtis Dies at 85

Sad news this morning: Tony Curtis has passed away at the age of 85.

Two Curtis films, THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH (1954) and OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959), are among my favorite childhood movie memories, as I watched both films on TV many times while I was growing up.

THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH, in which Curtis costarred with his beautiful then-wife Janet Leigh, improbably cast Curtis as a knight. I bought the new DVD this year, and my kids got quite a kick out of it, including Curtis's incongruous accent.

OPERATION PETTICOAT is also one of my favorite Cary Grant movies. I smile just thinking about that film, particularly Curtis's escapade with the pig.

In recent years Curtis has also become known as an artist. He has remained active with public appearances, including at the TCM Festival in Hollywood earlier this year.

Curtis has coauthored multiple books about his career, most recently his 2008 autobiography AMERICAN PRINCE: A MEMOIR.

Dear Old Hollywood has a nice story about meeting the actor in person.

A statement today from Jamie Lee Curtis: "My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages. He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world. He will be greatly missed."

Friday Update: Here's info on the Turner Classic Movies tribute scheduled for October 10th.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Movie: The King's Speech (2010)

This looks interesting...



This film about King George VI has a great cast, including Colin Firth, Helena Bonham-Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, Anthony Andrews, and Derek Jacobi.

The only discordant note: why would a movie on this subject need to be rated R?

It opens November 26, 2010.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Embraceable You (1948)

EMBRACEABLE YOU, shown on TCM earlier today as part of an eight-film tribute to actor Dane Clark, was an unexpected treasure: a moving, romantic tearjerker anchored by Clark's sensitive performance.

Eddie Novoc (Clark) has a job as a driver for mobster Sig Ketch (Richard Rober). One night while driving Ketch -- who, unbeknownst to Eddie, has just committed a murder -- Eddie accidentally hits Marie Willens (Geraldine Brooks).

Guilt-stricken Eddie sees a story about Marie in the paper and goes to visit her in the hospital, pretending to be a family friend. Detective Ferria (Wallace Ford) puts two and two together and deduces that Eddie hit Marie and may be involved in the murder. Ferria doesn't have evidence to lock Eddie up, but he gives Eddie some shocking news: Marie has suffered an inoperable aneurysm as a result of the accident and is likely to die soon. Ferria makes it clear to Eddie that he'd better take care of Marie, who is in dire financial straits, or Ferria will make Eddie's life miserable.

Marie's own life isn't in great shape: she's lost her job and she has no home and no family. She's also unaware of her precarious health. Eddie has no money but moves heaven and earth to provide for Marie and make her happy, falling in love with her in the process. Eddie and Marie are two unhappy souls, brought together by tragedy, who find something special together.

The film had its clunky moments, some of which are simply because of how times have changed. The entire concept of a chain-smoking doctor (Douglas Kennedy) sharing a patient's confidential medical information with near strangers, as well as discharging a dying patient from the hospital while withholding the truth of her condition...well, it might have been a bit far-fetched back in 1948, but it's really hard to fathom now.

Far-fetched or not, Clark's performance as Eddie makes the viewer more than willing to suspend disbelief and simply sit back and watch. His face is so expressive, it doesn't matter that Eddie isn't a man of many words. At some moments Clark just about broke my heart and certainly started the waterworks flowing. Offhand I can't think of another '40s performance by an actor quite like it.

I wasn't sure what to make of Geraldine Brooks' character at first; she starts out as a tough girl -- another chain smoker in a hospital! -- hoping to milk an insurance company to pay for her injuries. Brooks' performance was almost as interesting as Clark's; the glowing Marie of the final scenes bears no resemblance at all to the beaten-down Marie of the film's early moments.

Whatever flaws the film may have were forgiven by me because I cared so much about the lead characters and became emotionally invested in their relationship. It was a special movie which I'll be watching again.

Geraldine Brooks made just a handful of films in the late '40s before mostly turning to working in television. Her films included CRY WOLF (1947) with Errol Flynn, POSSESSED (1947) with Joan Crawford, and THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) with Joan Bennett and James Mason. After a brief first marriage, she married screenwriter Budd Schulberg (ON THE WATERFRONT) in 1964. She was just 51 when she passed away.

Lina Romay, who plays Marie's former coworker Libby, sang with Xavier Cugat's orchestra; her first film was my favorite Fred Astaire movie, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942). She is now 88. (Update: According to this Lina Romay website, her "professional" birthdate was a little off and she is now actually 91. The site has lovely photos.)

The supporting cast included S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, in a relatively understated performance, and Philip Van Zandt as a theatrical agent who at first seems like a slimy ladies' man but turns out to be a nice guy.

EMBRACEABLE YOU is one of a couple late '40s Warner Bros. films which uses a Gershwin song as its title and main theme; the other that comes to mind is THE MAN I LOVE (1947). I wonder if there are more? The achingly lovely music playing over the opening credits helps draw the viewer in from the very beginning of the movie.

This film was directed by Felix Jacoves. It runs 80 minutes.

This film is not available on VHS or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The print shown on TCM had an awkward jump or two, particularly in a scene where Eddie and Marie's taxi is being tailed by mobsters; I'm not certain if a tiny bit was dropped from the print or it was just a couple-second blip.

The trailer is here.

This is one of those little movies of the '40s which is largely unknown today yet deserves a wider audience. Recommended.

Update: Here's a wonderful review from Moira at Skeins of Thought, who responded to the film very much as I did.

Actress Gloria Stuart Dies at 100

Gloria Stuart, a leading lady of the '30s who famously made a career comeback decades later with an Oscar nomination for TITANIC (1997), has passed away at the age of 100.

Stuart's '30s movies included STREET OF WOMEN (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935), THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (1936), POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL (1936), REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (1938), and THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1939).

Stuart left films in 1946, returning to acting three decades later in TV-movies, including Lindsay Wagner's THE TWO WORLDS OF JENNIE LOGAN (1979) and THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF DR. MEG LAUREL (1979). After another 15 years or so of occasional appearances, her acting career came to a halt once more; she had not acted on screen in eight years when she appeared in TITANIC.

Stuart wrote her autobiography in 1999.

I just saw her star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame last week, as it's near the Egyptian Theatre.

Additional obituaries can be found at the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Update: A tribute from Leonard Maltin.

Tuesday Update: A lovely remembrance from Matthew at Movietone News.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Today at Disneyland: D23 Scavenger Hunt

Below is an early-morning photo of some of the 2000 contestants in Disneyland's first official Scavenger Hunt.


The event kicked off with check-in at the Disneyland Hotel at 7:00 a.m. today, then five hours of hunting from 9:00 to 2:00.

Unlike MouseAdventure, which takes place in just one park, this five-hour hunt took place in both parks, three hotels, and Downtown Disney. We certainly got our exercise today, trying to cover as much territory as possible in five hours.

I've got some ideas on how to improve a future Scavenger Hunt, which I may share here at a future date, but a good time was had by all, despite terribly hot temperatures in the high 90s.

This weekend it was announced that a Destination D event will be held in Florida next spring to celebrate Disney World's 40th anniversary. A two-day Scavenger Hunt will also be held; the longer length is due to the number of parks in Florida and their distance from one another.

All in all, it was a terrific weekend!

Previous Destination D Posts: Day One and Day Two.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet... This is an abbreviated Destination D weekend edition.

...Good news for those of us who are fans of THE VIRGINIAN: Season 2 is coming to DVD, remastered and restored, on December 7th.

...The editorial offices of Bon Appetit magazine are leaving Los Angeles for New York.

...Moira has brief thoughts and links regarding Scott Eyman's new book on Cecil B. DeMille at Skeins of Thought.

...Leonard Maltin's iTouch/iPhone app has been updated with 365 new titles.

...Glenn Erickson reviews Warner Archive titles A LADY WITHOUT PASSPORT (1950) and BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (1944) at DVD Savant.

...This week provided interesting insights into the mind of President Obama. He dropped the phrase "endowed by their Creator" when quoting the relevant sentence from the Declaration of Independence...asserted that "Mexicans" lived in North America "long before" the United States was "even an idea"...and told Bob Woodward "We can absorb a terrorist attack," adding that we "absorbed" 9/11.

...There are nice photos of Vivien Leigh's former homes at Days in Mayfair.

...Video fun: the cast of the remake of HAWAII FIVE-O meets the USC Trojan marching band.

...Notable passing: Grace Bradley Boyd, the widow of William Boyd, aka "Hopalong Cassidy," has passed away on her birthday at the age of 97. Leonard Maltin pays tribute.

Have a great week!

Today at Destination D: Disneyland '55 (Day Two)

It was another great day today at Destination D: Disneyland '55.

The presentations included "Disneyland: Through the Eye of Television"...


...and retiring Disney Archivist Dave Smith gave a presentation on "Disneyland: The Way We Were":


Composer Richard Sherman came back today just for the fun of it...


...and we listened to an interview with Disneyland President George Kalogridis.

I'm happy to say there was a great deal of campaigning this weekend for the return of the PeopleMover, including a plea straight to the top from those of us at D23...George said that modern-day safety rules are prohibitive but mentioned that at least the track is still there and Tony Baxter's still mulling ideas.

We were pretty tired tonight so we cut out a little early in order to rest up for Sunday's Scavenger Hunt. This evening's events included a showing of DISNEYLAND U.S.A. which I own on DVD.

The D23 website has a full report on the day's events, and MiceChat's live coverage today begins at Page 5 of the live blogging thread. (We sat behind MiceChat bloggers in the morning session and they were taking photos and blogging up a storm!)

Previously: Day One.

Sunday Update: Today at Disneyland: D23 Scavenger Hunt.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Today at Destination D: Disneyland '55

Today we spent a marvelous first day at Destination D: Disneyland '55.

We met Mouseketeers...


...listened to stories from some of Disney's greatest Imagineering legends...



...and were serenaded by composer Richard Sherman, who played and sang many of the Sherman Brothers' compositions for movies and Disneyland:


We put in a 15-hour day at the Disneyland Hotel and it's straight back for more in the morning! Posting will be light until the festivities conclude on Sunday, but I'll have many more photos to share in the days to come.

Have a great weekend!

Update: Here's a complete report on Day One from the D23 website. There was also live blogging from MiceChat.

Saturday Update: Day Two.

Sunday Update: Today at Disneyland: D23 Scavenger Hunt.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Cleopatra (1934) at the Egyptian Theatre

We drove up to Hollywood tonight for a wonderful evening at the Egyptian Theatre celebrating Cecil B. DeMille and CLEOPATRA (1934).

Traffic was light so we arrived with time to spare. We first stopped a few blocks away from the Egyptian so my 12-year-old could check out the Walk of Fame stars of two of his cinematic heroes (click to enlarge the photos):



Then it was on to the Egyptian Theatre. The perfect spot to see CLEOPATRA! Parking at the Hollywood & Highland Center a couple blocks away is just $2.


When we arrived a VIP reception with Leonard Maltin and DeMille family members was taking place in the courtyard. The first bit of good news we received is that sometime after we bought our tickets, CLEOPATRA became a free screening, so we were given passes to see a future film at no charge. (Hmmmm...DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS with Charlton Heston is playing in October...)


When we went inside Scott Eyman was signing his new biography of Cecil B. DeMille in the lobby. I had my copy signed and had the opportunity to tell him how much our family has admired his books on John Ford and Louis B. Mayer. (I should have mentioned Ernst Lubitsch too!) He is a very congenial gentleman, and it was a pleasure to meet him.

The program began with a greeting from DeMille's granddaughter, Cecilia DeMille Presley, who pointedly said that Eyman's biography was the only one that told the truth about Cecil B. DeMille. She introduced a six-minute short on DeMille which chiefly featured DeMille's son-in-law, Anthony Quinn.

The short was followed by remarks by Leonard Maltin and Scott Eyman. Eyman described CLEOPATRA as "one part Shakespeare, one part Shaw, and two parts DeMille." It was wonderful listening to two of our leading film historians, who are both knowledgeable and articulate.


After the film Maltin and Eyman returned to the front of the theater to discuss DeMille at greater length, and the evening concluded with Eyman answering questions from the audience:


As for CLEOPATRA itself...I'm not a particular DeMille fan, but I'm a Claudette Colbert enthusiast, and the movie blew me away. It's completely crazy and over the top, including some moments that were unintentionally funny (Henry Wilcoxon's Marc Anthony is a bit of a dolt at times)...but then on the other hand...wow!!


This was a Claudette Colbert I hadn't seen before...she completely inhabited the bold, haughty, seductive -- and funny -- character of the Egyptian queen. And her gowns by Travis Banton...absolutely eye-popping.

Anyone who loves cinema has to see the exotic sequence where Cleopatra lures Marc Antony to her barge when he plans to imprison her following Caesar's death. She overwhelms his senses with music, dancing, feasting, and jewels, not to mention her own unique charms...he doesn't stand a chance. Again, it's completely over the top and a couple moments made us chuckle, but it also completely transported us to another world. The music was extremely effective, and the sets and the cast of thousands (well, hundreds)...wow.

There's a pullback shot at the end of this barge sequence that's a stunner; it's seen at the start of this YouTube clip. (There's tons of symbolism going on in that shot, but fortunately it sails over the heads of 12-year-olds!) It was so well done that it didn't even occur to me till after the movie ended that the long shots of the barge were a miniature.

I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be a Depression-era filmgoer -- such as perhaps my grandmother in rural Oklahoma -- and what it would have been like to watch that sequence unfold. It was unreal. I'm very glad I had the chance to see it on the big screen with an appreciative audience.

Warren William plays Julius Caesar, who dies at the hands of Brutus (Arthur Hohl) surprisingly early in the film. I enjoyed the intersection of the plot of CLEOPATRA with Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR, including a character making a joke about Marc Antony's "Friends, Romans..." speech. Gertrude Michael plays Calpurnia, the noble wife who tries to save Caesar's life even after he's dumped her for the Queen of Egypt.

The section I enjoyed least was the fairly lengthy montage of the climactic battle between Marc Antony and the Romans. Not my cup of tea moviewise.

Things don't end well for any of the three lead characters, but that's known going in by pretty much any viewer with some knowledge of history. The staging of Colbert's last scene is another grand set piece; the final shot is haunting. As the doors closed and "The End" came on the screen, I once again said "Wow," which seemed to be my adjective of the evening. I suspect DeMille would have liked that reaction!

This movie was filmed in the spring of 1934; although it was released after the enforcement of the Production Code began in July 1934 and it bears a Production Code approval notice at the opening, it's very much a pre-Code film.

The supporting cast included Joseph Schildkraut as King Herod, Ian Keith as Octavian, actor-director Irving Pichel as Apollodorus, and Sir C. Aubrey Smith as Enobarbus.

The huge cast also included Ian MacLaren, Claudia Dell, Grace Durkin, Eleanor Phelps, and Harry Beresford. John Carradine is credited as being a Roman soldier, and if IMDb is accurate, David Niven's in there somewhere as a slave!

One of Colbert's costumes was recently on display at a museum in Oklahoma; great photos are here.

CLEOPATRA runs 100 minutes. It was filmed by Victor Milner.

A 75th Anniversary edition of CLEOPATRA was released on DVD last year.

It's also had a VHS release.

October 10th Update: Leonard Maltin has now posted a review of Eyman's book as well as a brief account of the CLEOPATRA screening.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TCM Announces 2011 Film Festival Dates

Tonight Turner Classic Movies announced that its second TCM Classic Film Festival will be held next April 28-May 1, 2011.

The Festival will again be held in Hollywood, California.

Passes go on sale in November 2010.

Previously: TCM Announces 2011 Film Festival.

2010 Festival posts are here and here.

Notable Passings

...Screenwriter Irving Ravetch has passed away at the age of 89.

Ravetch wrote the screenplays for many classic films, including THE LONG HOT SUMMER (1958), HOME FROM THE HILL (1960), HUD (1963), THE COWBOYS (1972), NORMA RAE (1979), and one of James Garner's best films, the wonderful MURPHY'S ROMANCE (1985).

Ravetch often worked with his wife, screenwriter Harriet Frank Jr.

...Animator Bill Littlejohn, whose credits include countless PEANUTS cartoons, has died at 96.

Littlejohn's earliest work included working on the TOM AND JERRY series at MGM.

Littlejohn's credits also include THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (1970), YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS (1974), and several GARFIELD cartoons.

...Sax player Buddy Collette has passed on at the age of 89. The L.A. Times has a good article on his career, and there's a bit more at NPR.

Collette can be seen onscreen as a clarinet player in the jailhouse scene of Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth's YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH (1941).

My dad has a great memory of being a 19-year-old jazz fan who went to see Collette's band at a club, and Collette spent an entire intermission chatting at my dad's table.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Guilty Hands (1931)

GUILTY HANDS is a fast-paced 69-minute drama with a great cast and interesting plot twists.

Attorney Richard Grant (Lionel Barrymore) is dismayed to learn his adored daughter Babs (Madge Evans) plans to marry Gordon Rich (Alan Mowbray), whose outrageous womanizing history includes the "accidental" death of a teenage girl at his home. Babs won't listen to reason and break the engagement; she's inexplicably drawn to Rich, even though she also rather loves nice guy boyfriend Tommy (William Bakewell).

Attorney Grant, who has prosecuted many murderers, threatens to kill Rich if he goes through with his plan to marry Babs, and what's more, Grant pledges that he'll get away with it.

Sure enough, on the night before the planned wedding, Rich is found dead. It's a suspected suicide, but Rich's longtime lover Marjorie (Kay Francis) insists it must have been murder.

This is a well-crafted film with an intriguing story. It's got the classic premise of a diverse group of people in a house with a body on the proverbial dark and stormy night, but the script goes beyond the cliches.

The two lead characters, played by Barrymore and Francis, are both morally ambiguous -- each willing to do things which are very wrong, yet both also determined to seek their own style of justice. The film presents some unusual moral dilemmas, as well as a nifty ending which resolves the issues neatly. I do have to say I saw the ending coming from the minute the coroner started to examine the body!

Don't be put off by the confusing opening, which has characters speaking in the dark; I actually fast-forwarded the film to make sure it had recorded all right, then realized what was going on and rewound.

The supporting cast includes Sir C. Aubrey Smith, Polly Moran, Forrester Harvey, Charles Crockett, H.G. Barrows, Sam McDaniel, and Blue Washington.

GUILTY HANDS was directed by W.S. Van Dyke, whose best-known film is probably THE THIN MAN (1934). According to IMDb, Lionel Barrymore also served as an uncredited director.

This film hasn't been released on DVD or video, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. I recorded it two years ago when Kay Francis was Star of the Month. Given how many Kay Francis films I taped that month -- nearly three dozen! -- it's perhaps not surprising it has taken so many months to finally see it. It's been fun having a backlog of Francis films which I can periodically enjoy.

This is a good one to watch on a dark and stormy night!

Deep Discount Selling Columbia Classics DVD-Rs

Just spreading the word that the new Columbia Classics DVD-Rs, which are available at the Screen Classics By Request website, will be sold by Deep Discount starting September 21, 2010.

Deep Discount will be selling the movies for a couple dollars less than the Screen Classics website, plus Deep Discount always has free shipping.

I ordered THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF DR. MEG LAUREL from Screen Classics late last week; the total from Deep Discount would have been over $5 less.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tonight's Movie: That Certain Age (1938)

Deanna Durbin was 16 when she filmed THAT CERTAIN AGE, a film about a teenage make-believe romance which helped form a bridge from Deanna's child actress roles to slightly more mature parts. Two films later, in FIRST LOVE (1939), she received her first onscreen kiss, from Robert Stack.

In THAT CERTAIN AGE, Deanna plays Alice, who develops a serious crush on her parents' houseguest (Melvyn Douglas), a reporter. Deanna's preoccupation with the older man dismays her boyfriend (Jackie Cooper) and her parents (Irene Rich and John Halliday). This being a Deanna Durbin film, all's well that ends well!

This is one of Deanna's weaker vehicles; it's pleasant entertainment, but the plot grows just a wee bit tiresome. Most of her movies which I've seen to date have better stories and scripts. However, like all of her films, THAT CERTAIN AGE has sterling production values -- Alice lives in a veritable castle! -- and an excellent supporting cast.

Irene Rich, who looks rather like Irene Dunne, is charming as Alice's mother. Nancy Carroll pops in for just a couple of scenes, but she makes the most of her big moment.

Peggy Stewart has a small role as Mary Lee, who covets Alice's acting role and boyfriend. Juanita Quigley is cute as Cooper's little sister, and Charles Coleman plays -- what else? -- a butler. Grant Mitchell, Claire Du Brey, Russell Hicks, Bess Flowers, Lon McCallister, and Moroni Olsen are also in the cast.

THAT CERTAIN AGE was directed by Edward Ludwig. It runs 95 minutes. The film was Oscar nominated for Best Song ("My Own") and Best Sound Recording.

This film has been released in a nice print on VHS; the tape includes the trailer.

It was also recently released as part of the Deanna Durbin Movies and Romance Collection sold exclusively through Turner Classic Movies and Movies Unlimited.

Deanna Durbin films previously reviewed here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: FIRST LOVE (1939), HIS BUTLER'S SISTER (1943), NICE GIRL? (1941), FOR THE LOVE OF MARY (1948), BECAUSE OF HIM (1946), MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938), THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY (1943), THREE SMART GIRLS (1936), THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP (1939), IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941), CAN'T HELP SINGING (1944), HERS TO HOLD (1943), IT'S A DATE (1940), and LADY ON A TRAIN (1945).

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Here's an interesting new book: CHARLIE CHAN: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE HONORABLE DETECTIVE AND HIS RENDEZVOUS WITH AMERICAN HISTORY. The author is Yunte Huang. A review is here.

...The Daily Mail rehashes the long, sad story of the decades-old feud between Oscar-winning sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. I don't think anyone can really attempt to capture the full truth other than the two ladies involved...

...Riding the High Country and Sidewalk Crossings each reviewed a terrific Western in the last few days, YELLOW SKY (1948).

...Cin-Eater takes a look at PERSONAL AFFAIR (1953), starring Gene Tierney, Glynis Johns, and Leo Genn. This film is in my collection, and I hope to watch it before too long.

...And here's a tribute to the women of ON THE TOWN (1949), via Movie FanFare.

...Leonard Maltin reviews TWO GUYS NAMED JOE, mentioned here last June.

...It's been a dreary year for the Dodgers, and the future doesn't look any better between the appointment of the inexperienced Don Mattingly as next year's manager and the ongoing divorce feud between owners Frank and Jamie McCourt. However, the story of John Lindsey's trip to "the show" after 16 years in the minors is a real hartwarmer. Now if only the McCourts will follow the advice of former owner Peter O'Malley and sell the team...

...WAIT FOR ME! is the name of the upcoming memoir of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. The Mitford sisters are a fascinating subject; here's a 2007 post I wrote on Mitford-related books.

...I hope the Better Use of Lightbulbs Act succeeds. It attempts to repeal the crazy requirement that Americans buy only toxic mercury-filled "made in China" CFL lightbulbs starting in a couple years.

...Speaking of environmental crazes, over the last few weeks we've thought our dishwasher was broken. Our dishes are all coming out covered in a gritty white chalk and the stainless and metal dishes are discolored. An appliance repairman tipped me off: it's because this summer Cascade took phosphates out of their dishwasher soap. I started talking to other people and discovered my mother was also having dishwasher problems, and the mother of one of my children's friends actually called out a dishwasher repairman! If your dishes are now emerging from the dishwasher looking worse than when they went in, write Procter and Gamble...and your state legislators, if your state has banned phosphates. (Update: Via Instapundit, the New York Times published a story on this yesterday, which starts "My dishes were dirtier than before they were washed...")

...Another interesting new book: TOUCHING HISTORY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE DRAMA THAT UNFOLDED IN THE SKIES OVER AMERICA ON 9/11, by Lynn Spencer.

...There's lots of pictures of Disney's California Adventure construction in this MousePlanet update, as well as previews of HalloweenTime.

...Ending this roundup on a cheerful note, there's a great little photo post at Classic Montgomery.

Have a great week!

Notable Passings

...I grew up reading Hollywood columnist James Bacon's column in the long-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Bacon has passed away at the age of 96.

...Roderick Mann, a longtime entertainment columnist for the Los Angeles Times, has also passed on, at the age of 87.

It's a strange coincidence that two entertainment columnists I read for so many years passed away a day apart.

...The Reverend Peter J. Marshall has died at the age of 70.

Marshall was the son of Dr. Peter Marshall, the onetime U.S. Senate chaplain whose life story was told in the film A MAN CALLED PETER (1955), starring Richard Todd and Jean Peters. Peter J. Marshall's mother, Catherine, was an author whose works include the classic CHRISTY, which was filmed for television.

Peter J. Marshall was a Yale and Princeton graduate who headed Peter Marshall Ministries and was himself the author of several books, including THE LIGHT AND THE GLORY 1492-1793 and its sequels.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Skylark (1941)

SKYLARK is a bittersweet marital-divorce comedy which blends elegant wit with poignance, as a couple's marriage flounders after their fifth anniversary.

Tony (Ray Milland) has become a workaholic, although his business success has provided his wife Lydia (Claudette Colbert) with a beautiful home and lifestyle. Lydia meets the charming Jim (Brian Aherne) on her fifth wedding anniversary, and she allows Jim to fan the smouldering embers of her frustrations with her marriage into a full-scale brush fire. Lydia walks out on her marriage, leaving behind a confused and sad husband.

Tony tries to convince Lydia to reconcile, but she heads to Reno and a quickie divorce. Lydia and Jim become constant companions, and it seems that Lydia and Tony's lives will permanently take separate directions. Or will they?

This is a rather unusual film. It's executed with style by the three leads; sophisticated '40s comedy just doesn't come any better than Milland, Colbert, and Aherne. There are many good lines and funny scenes...however, the film has an unsettling undercurrent. There's a little too much pain and not enough champagne bubbles in the mix.

Aherne's Jim is absolutely charming...but looking beyond his witty repartee, the blunt truth is he's a home-wrecker who preys upon Lydia's unhappiness and rather gleefully sets out to have her for himself.

There's no doubt that Tony and Lydia need to do some work on their relationship, but Lydia is far too ready to bail on her marriage, especially given that she has a husband who still loves her and wants to make amends. In this respect the movie reminded me of MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941) -- the husband might have done something foolish, but the wife reacts out of all proportion and doesn't know when to quit. Of course, if Lydia didn't carry on as she does, we'd have no conflict and thus no movie...but it makes for frustrating viewing at times.

Lydia is somewhat redeemed for her cavalier treatment of Tony when she finally breaks down near the end of the film, and viewers have a peek at the depth of her true feelings and remorse. The final moments of the film are all one could wish for.

It's an absorbing film with three actors I thoroughly enjoy, but I did wish it had a lighter tone. Perhaps the best description is that the film is a "dramedy," a dramatic story with comedy on the side.

The movie has all the right bells and whistles for a film of this type: attractive set design (the terrace of Tony and Lydia's home is beautiful), gowns by Irene, and an excellent supporting cast, with Walter Abel being particularly noteworthy as Tony's best friend. Mona Maris plays Abel's wife, while Grant Mitchell and Binnie Barnes are unpleasant clients of Tony's firm. Ernest Cossart plays Tony and Lydia's butler.

One of the best scenes in the film finds a diverse group of people listening to Tony and Lydia argue on a subway and then adding their two cents. The subway actors include Hobart Cavanaugh, Warren Hymer, Minerva Urecal, Leon Belasco, Edward Fielding, May Boley, and Virginia Sale.

Another good scene finds a cook and a waitress at a hamburger stand listening raptly as Jim romances Lydia. Keith Richards and Patricia Farr play the cook and the waitress.

SKYLARK was directed by Mark Sandrich, who directed several Astaire-Rogers films, not to mention the Christmas classic HOLIDAY INN (1942). Sandrich was just 43 when he died in 1945. His son, Jay Sandrich, is a longtime director of TV comedies (THE COSBY SHOW).

This black and white film runs 92 minutes.

Unfortunately this Paramount film has not been released on DVD or VHS and is rather hard to find. Perhaps one day we'll be fortunate enough to have a second Claudette Colbert DVD collection released with films such as this and ARISE, MY LOVE (1940).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Niagara (1953)

It's been a busy week, filled with work and all the kinds of activities that go with the start of September, including soccer and marching band practices, as well as the resumption of homeschooling. Tonight I finally was able to finish a movie I started watching earlier this week, NIAGARA (1953).

I recorded NIAGARA a year or so ago, but since then it had sat in the mile-high stack of films I'm looking forward to seeing. On Monday I enjoyed Jacqueline's description of the film at Another Old Movie Blog, including her intriguing screen captures and the trailer, and then I pulled my tape out and bumped it to the top of my viewing list.

I love Traveltalk shorts, which provide such interesting color glimpses of the world as it existed from the '30s through '50s, and in some ways NIAGARA seemed like a Traveltalk inserted into a feature film. The movie makes grand use of the spectacular locations and is well worth seeing simply for the gorgeous views and the peeks at the area surrounding the Falls, including tunnels, bridges, an aerial cable car, and the Maid of the Mist boat.

The 89-minute movie mixes travelogue with a rather Hitchcockian tale of murder and intrigue, including excellent set pieces on stairs overlooking the Falls and later inside a bell tower. (The director was actually Henry Hathaway, who had many excellent film noir titles to his credit.) The film has its nerve-wracking moments, particularly a harrowing climax, but overall it's told with a nice light touch, thanks in part to a very appealing performance by Jean Peters as Polly Cutler.

Polly is on a delayed Niagara Falls honeymoon with her husband Ray (Casey Adams) when they become enmeshed in the strange problems of the couple in the motel room next door, played by Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe. It's a bit hard at times to understand what Polly sees in the overly jovial Ray, who is -- as Jacqueline notes in her post -- a bit of a goofball; yet because Polly wins our sympathy, we figure if she liked Ray enough to marry him, he must be an okay guy!

George and Rose Loomis (Cotten and Monroe), on the other hand, are very unhappily married, and Rose keeps hinting that George has mental problems. Viewers learn early on that it's all part of an elaborate plan created by Rose and her boyfriend to bump George off and make it look like suicide at the Falls. But when Rose arrives to identify her husband's body at the morgue, she receives quite a shock.

For many people Marilyn Monroe is the big draw to see this film, but while she was fine in her role, Jean Peters is the actress and character I really enjoyed in this film. I've seen Peters in a number of films and don't think I've yet seen her prettier on film than she is in NIAGARA. She looks great in Technicolor and has a lovely wardrobe by Dorothy Jeakins (THE SOUND OF MUSIC). The audience can easily empathize with Polly's friendly, likeable character, and we worry when she finds herself in frightening situations.

I really enjoy Joseph Cotten, but he's not very likeable in this. That's due to Cotten's fine acting...he's all too good at playing a very creepy fellow. He played another scary guy in Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT a decade earlier, but that character was designed to be charming as part of his M.O.; George Loomis, on the other hand, is just creepy!

Here is a great website with beautiful photos and comparison shots of modern-day Niagara Falls with the film. I was interested to learn that Rainbow Cabins Motel was a set built for the film; the linked site says it later became a real hotel, while a different site says it was taken down when the film was completed.

Don Wilson plays an executive from Ray's company who hosts the Cutlers on a tour of the area, along with his wife, played by Lurene Tuttle. Look for Harry Carey Jr. in a bit part as a taxi driver who exchanges a few lines with Monroe. Familiar faces like Will Wright, Arch Johnson, and Minerva Urecal have small roles.

NIAGARA has been released on DVD in more than one edition. It's also had a VHS release.

This film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies and Fox Movie Channel.

NIAGARA is an interesting film with great visual appeal. I'm glad I finally caught up with it and saw it this week.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Cook's Illustrated App

Cook's Illustrated, one of my favorite cooking resources, now has a free app available for the iTouch and iPhone.

The app provides 50 recipes, taste test reviews, and a shopping list feature.

Cook's Illustrated members additionally receive access to all "members-only" reviews.

I downloaded the app this morning. Although I subscribe to Cook's Illustrated magazine, I'm not an online member, so I just have the "free" portion of the app. With only 50 recipes, selection is limited, but what's provided is nice, considering there's no cost. 

Previously: Epicurious and Big Oven Cooking Apps.

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