Sunday, October 31, 2010

TCM in November: Highlights

Happy November!

November is one of my very favorite months of the year, and there's a wonderful schedule ahead on Turner Classic Movies.

...TCM's big new original documentary series, MOGULS AND MOVIE STARS, begins on November 1st. New episodes will air Mondays through December 15th, with repeats on Wednesdays.

...Several film noir titles will be shown on November 1st, including HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951) and WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956).

...If you missed SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) during the recent 24-hour tribute to Tony Curtis, it airs again on November 2nd as part of a birthday tribute to Burt Lancaster... Later that night is a six-film baseball marathon, although it should be noted it doesn't include a very famous baseball film in which Lancaster appeared, FIELD OF DREAMS (1989).

...I've read that one of Marion Davies' best performances is in SHOW PEOPLE (1928), airing November 3rd. It also airs November 17th.

...Florence Rice never became a big star, but I've enjoyed her in various MGM films. UNDER COVER OF NIGHT (1937), a "B" movie costarring Edmund Lowe, has a 7.0 rating from five viewers who voted at IMDb. It shows on November 4th.

...November 5th may be one of the best dates on the schedule. One of the more obscure titles which sounds interesting is JOE SMITH, AMERICAN (1942), starring Robert Young and Marsha Hunt... That evening there's a three-film birthday tribute to Joel McCrea, with THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932), FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), and THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942). THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is a very creepy pre-Code which I vividly remember watching in the middle of the night when I was a teenager. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is my favorite Hitchcock film, and THE PALM BEACH STORY is one of Preston Sturges' greatest comedies.

...One of the films I'm most looking forward to this month is A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY (1951), a romantic comedy with Fred MacMurray, Eleanor Parker, and Richard Carlson. Hope it's as fun as I'm expecting. It airs November 7th.

...Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson's first film together was the baseball film THE STRATTON STORY (1949), based on a true story. The air date is November 8th.

...I liked the team of Robert Montgomery, Joan Crawford, and Franchot Tone in NO MORE LADIES (1935). It's on November 9th.

...November 10th is the air date for the silent version of THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

...I'm also looking forward to THE DAUGHTER OF ROSIE O'GRADY (1950) with June Haver and Gordon MacRae. Debbie Reynolds has a small role. It will be on November 12th.

...TCM celebrates Teresa Wright with a five-film tribute on November 13th, including three William Wyler films, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946), MRS. MINIVER (1942), and THE LITTLE FOXES (1941). Also showing that night are ENCHANTMENT (1948) and CASANOVA BROWN (1944).

...November 14th is a "Tribute to the Academy Film Archive." One of the highlights is a restored print of one of the truly great Westerns, William Wyler's THE BIG COUNTRY (1958), starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, Carroll Baker, and Charles Bickford. The real star of the movie, though, is the score by Jerome Moross, which I believe is one of the great pieces of original American music, period.

...On November 16th TCM will be showing the 20th Century-Fox film THE BLACK SWAN (1942), starring Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara, and George Sanders. This is an absolutely gorgeous Technicolor film which is a must for fans of the lead actors.

...November 17th is a new-to-me British film: MAJOR BARBARA (1941) with Rex Harrison, Wendy Hiller, and Deborah Kerr. Sounds great!... The 17th also has the opportunity to see what might be Robert Taylor's best Western, WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1941), directed by William Wellman.

...November 18th's highlights include THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1935) with Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, and Raymond Massey. The lineup of swashbucklers that day also includes the original sound version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937) with a superb cast including Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (who steals the movie), David Niven, and Mary Astor.

...November 20th is perfect Thanksgiving-themed viewing, PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952) with Gene Tierney, Spencer Tracy, and Van Johnson.

...On November 21st I'm going to be recording the musical SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE (1952) with Virginia Mayo, Ronald Reagan, and Gene Nelson... Also showing on the 21st are two relatively little-known Cary Grant movies, costarring his then-wife, Betsy Drake: EVERY GIRL SHOULD BE MARRIED (1948) and ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952). ROOM FOR ONE MORE, which was shown on TV under the title THE EASY WAY when I was growing up, was based on a memorable true book by Anna Perrott Rose... It's another great date on the TCM calendar, which also includes Hitchcock's SUSPICION (1941) starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine; Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra in the musical HIGH SOCIETY (1956); Eve Arden in OUR MISS BROOKS (1956); and Jeanette MacDonald in THE FIREFLY (1937).

...The pre-Thanksgiving entertainment on November 24th includes one of my favorite Judy Garland musicals, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946). This is the film which gave us "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe." The movie costars John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse, and Virginia O'Brien.

...The excellent Thanksgiving lineup on November 25th includes Capra's YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) starring James Stewart and Jean Arthur; the charming Rene Clair fantasy IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944), starring Dick Powell and Linda Darnell; Hedy Lamarr in what is considered one of her best performances, as THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946); and Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE (1947).

...Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse have a terrific dance number in FIESTA (1948), showing November 28th. It's not one of Esther Williams' best films, but it's definitely worth seeing, especially for Montalban and Charisse.

...Another wonderful musical airing on TCM in November is GOOD NEWS (1947), starring June Allyson and Peter Lawford, and directed by Charles Walters. This film is simply wonderful Technicolor fun. It's on November 30th.

Ava Gardner is the November Star of the Month, starting on Thursday, November 4th. In a few days I'll be taking a closer look at the Gardner films coming in November. (Update: Here's the link to TCM Star of the Month: Ava Gardner.)

I've barely scratched the surface of all the wonderful films being shown on TCM in November. Be sure to check out the complete schedule!

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Here's a fascinating photo tour of actress Gene Tierney's childhood home in Connecticut. It's currently on sale for $3.25 million. (Via Gene Tierney Movie Page.)

...The next Hallmark Hall of Fame movie coming to CBS on November 28th: NOVEMBER CHRISTMAS (2010), starring Sam Elliott, John Corbett, Karen Allen, and Sarah Paulson.

...As of next week, the Hollywood Reporter ceases to be a weekday publication and becomes a weekly magazine. As a onetime subscriber, when I was a young film fan in the late '70s and early '80s, I find the news rather sad, although certainly not unexpected in today's changing media environment.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in LONE STAR (1952) was reviewed at Riding the High Country. I watched it a lot growing up; it wasn't all that good, but it was Clark Gable. (It airs on TCM November 26th.)...Cinema OCD reviewed JUPITER'S DARLING (1955), which I think was Esther Williams' strangest movie...Another Old Movie Blog takes a detailed look at NIGHT MUST FALL (1937), which has an Oscar-nominated performance by Robert Montgomery...the history of STRANGE BARGAIN (1949) was discussed at Just a Cineast. (It's on TCM tomorrow, November 1st)...Lou Lumenick reviewed -30- (1959) and FIVE STAR FINAL (1931).

...Apparently some opinions expressed by NPR reporters continue to be more acceptable to this publicly funded network than others.

...Lime and black pepper cookies, anyone?

...Over at 50 Westerns From the 50s Toby spotlights one of my favorite Westerns, WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951). This gritty William Wellman film was based on a story by Frank Capra, of all people. It airs on Turner Classic Movies November 17th, 2010.

...Amazon recently won an important court fight. I'll never understand why those who want "tax fairness" think the only way to achieve that is to tax ever more entities. Why not lower or eliminate taxes elsewhere to level the playing field? That's a rhetorical question, of course, because doing that won't feed government's insatiable desire for control and our money, although it would help revitalize the economy and give sellers and consumers alike far greater freedom and purchasing power.

...Lou Lumenick spotlighted the "appalling quote of the month" by Sony Pictures head Michael Lynton, who claimed "If you had shown, for example, someone back in the 1950s an edit where there is a woman crying and there is an image of a gravesite, they would not have understood what we as a modern audience understood, which is that the woman is grieving over someone who has died." Apparently folks back in the '50s were dunces or something...and as Lumenick points out, this man -- who apparently has a total lack of understanding of film history and audiences -- controls the release of the Columbia classic film library onto DVD!

...Raquelle reviews the Humphrey Bogart Essential Collection at Out of the Past -- complete with a video "tour" of the set, which was a fun touch. Nice job, Raquelle. :)

...Attention Southern Californians: the Ruby's Diner at South Coast Plaza has been completely made over; now it rather bizarrely looks more like a Coco's. If only they could instead improve the service and the french fries, which were ruined when the company went "trans fat free."

...Speaking of trans fat, do we really want to live in a nation where restaurants can be ticketed for cooking with margarine? Really?

...Hollywood Heritage tours sound very interesting...

...Christmas decorations are tiptoeing into Disneyland.

...London's Daily Telegraph in its 4-star review of THE KING'S SPEECH (2010): "...it’s an uplifting audience pleaser that also showcases film-making arts and crafts at an exalted level."

...Notable passing: those of us of a certain age may not know the name James Wall, but we certainly know the name "Mr. Baxter," along with Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose, and Bunny Rabbit. Wall has passed away at the age of 92.

...Esteemed historian Victor Davis Hanson sums up the current state of politics and Democrat governance and concludes: "Vote on Tuesday with a passion as if you have never voted before." November 2nd should be a most interesting -- and possibly historic - Election Day.

Happy Halloween, and have a great week!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Fort Worth (1951)

FORT WORTH is a relatively weak Randolph Scott Western, hampered by a talky, disjointed script and bland supporting performances.

Scott plays Ned Britt, who accompanies a wagon train to his old home town of Fort Worth, Texas, where he sets up shop printing a newspaper. Ned is attracted to a childhood friend, Flora (Phyllis Thaxter), who is engaged to Blair Lunsford (David Brian). But Lunsford, it turns out, is buying up land around economically depressed Fort Worth and may not have the town's best interests at heart. Meanwhile, Ned also battles the villainous Gabe Clevenger (Ray Teal) and his gang.

The movie starts off well, with gorgeous Technicolor opening credits accompanied by a jaunty musical score composed by David Buttolph. Unfortunately, the script is overly chatty in some scenes, with characters given to unnatural-sounding, lengthy speechifying, and at other points the story transitions are abrupt and confusing.

For instance, one moment Flora tells off Ned and makes clear she loathes him, yet in the next scene they're quite friendly and she seems to have no lingering resentment. Earlier, when Ned first sees Flora, he doesn't recognize her, despite the fact that (as we soon learn) they were raised together. Even if it had been 14 years, it was hard for me to believe Ned wouldn't know Flora if they'd been that close.

Another strange sequence finds Ned's one-time fiancee, Amy (Helena Carter), showing up in town. Amy's only in a couple of scenes, and her purpose seems to be to cause Flora to doubt Blair's love. Immediately after her big confrontation scene with Flora and Blair, Amy vanishes from the film.

The opening scenes are beautifully shot on location in Southern California, but then we have another awkward transition, as we go from day on the wagon trail to nighttime with some villainous new characters, on a painfully obvious soundstage. The way the scene was cut, it seemed as though it went immediately from daylight to nighttime; any passage of time wasn't made clear, and the painted backdrop made me feel I'd somehow wandered into another movie.

Many of the exteriors were filmed on the Warner Bros. lot. I wonder how many times the saloon showed up in a Warner Bros. Western with the name Bella Union? That name goes at least as far back as Errol Flynn's SAN ANTONIO (1945). In the late '50s the Bella Union turned up from time to time on TV's MAVERICK, complete with stock footage of the interior.

As far as the cast, Thaxter and Brian aren't very interesting, and Brian at times verges unintentionally into goofball territory. He does at least share a nicely choreographed, if too brief, shootout scene with Scott. The film's supporting cast includes Chubby Johnson, Paul Picerni, Bob Steele, Emerson Treacy, and Walter Sande.

Former child actor Dick (Dickie) Jones, who plays Scott's assistant, was born in 1927 and had at least 110 screen credits between 1934 and 1965. His best-known part is perhaps the voice of PINOCCHIO (1940). He is now 83.

FORT WORTH runs 80 minutes. It was directed by Edwin L. Marin. Marin regularly directed Scott's Westerns, but sadly he died before FORT WORTH was released. He was just 52. Marin was survived by his wife, actress Ann Morriss, and their children.

FORT WORTH is available in a beautiful print on DVD as part of a three-film Randolph Scott set. The other films in the set are TALL MAN RIDING (1955) and COLT .45 (1950).

New on DVD: Jane Eyre (1971)

I've long wanted to see the George C. Scott-Susannah York version of JANE EYRE. We own the John Williams soundtrack -- purchased on LP at Tower Records at London's Piccadilly Circus many moons ago -- but reviews of previous VHS and DVD releases indicated they were poor prints with missing scenes.

I was thus excited to see an ad in the latest Classic Images indicating that VCI Entertainment was bringing JANE EYRE out in a new DVD edition. It was released at the end of September.

Alas, an Amazon reviewer indicates that while footage missing from previous releases has found its way back into this DVD, the quality of the print remains poor -- dark, scratched, and variable color.

Sigh.

Update: Here's my review of the film itself, but not this particular DVD print.

Christmas Music: The Crosby Christmas Sessions

It's almost Halloween, so can Christmas music be far behind?

Longtime readers may recall that I am a dedicated collector of Christmas music. Nearly five years ago I reviewed some of my favorite Bing Crosby Christmas albums.

I was thus very interested to receive an email from Collectors' Choice last week notifying me of an interesting new release: BING CROSBY: THE CROSBY CHRISTMAS SESSIONS.

The CD contains 19 songs, including a number of previously unreleased tracks. Robert Bader of the Crosby Archive has provided liner notes. (Mr. Bader is the same man who recently found Game 7 of the 1960 World Series in the Crosby wine cellar.) Sounds like a "must buy" to me... The release date is November 9th, 2010.

There's also info posted at BingCrosby.com.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tonight's Movie: What a Woman (1943)

WHAT A WOMAN is a fun romantic comedy with Rosalind Russell in her patented career woman role and Brian Aherne in a charming turn as a magazine reporter.

Agent Carol Ainsley (Russell) decides to turn Professor Michael Cobb (Willard Parker), the unknown author of a runaway bestseller, into an actor to star in the film version of his novel. It's an uphill job coaching the shy, dry professor into being an actor, but Carol is up to the task. Matters are complicated when Mike falls in love with Carol, who is aghast.

Reporter Henry Pepper (Aherne), who is writing a profile of Carol and seems to be constantly underfoot, regularly offers wry commentary on the goings-on. His astute observations of Carol and her motivations hit her uncomfortably close to home. And why is Henry always around, anyway, when he wrote a profile of Carol's father after interviewing him for only an hour?

This was the third '40s film teaming Russell and Aherne, following HIRED WIFE (1940) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1942). Aherne is really delightful as "Mr. Pepper," who always turns up at critical moments yet always seems completely relaxed, frequently lounging back in a chair with a hat over his eyes. He's great fun to watch.

Viewers who like Russell's typical romantic comedy roles of the '40s will enjoy this too -- it's pretty much the part she played over and over, a woman preoccupied with her career who is undone by love by the final reel. I'm a Russell fan so I had a good time watching her. The writers push her character to the point of being unsympathetic near the end, as she repeatedly interrupts her father's birthday celebration and also fails to be honest with Mike for fear he'll quit the film. Fortunately Carol redeems herself immediately after these scenes, in a fun sequence.

Unfortunately, I found Willard Parker an absolute dud as the author turned actor -- dull and unattractive. I wasn't sure where I'd seen him before, and it turns out he played Kathryn Grayson's fiance, Tex, in KISS ME KATE (1953). It made it all the easier to root for Brian Aherne, but the movie would have been better if an appealing actor had been cast in the role. I'm not sure what the producers were thinking casting Parker.

This film was directed by Irving Cummings. It was shot in black and white and runs 94 minutes.

Ann Savage has a small role as an actress hired to film a test with Mike. Shelley Winters is credited with a bit part.

There are a great many familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Alan Dinehart, Edward Fielding, Norma Varden, Doris Lloyd, Grady Sutton, Douglas Wood, Nella Walker, Irving Bacon, Mary Forbes, Byron Foulger, Bess Flowers, Ann Shoemaker, and Russell Hicks. (Fun trivia: over two decades later, Varden and Lloyd each played small roles in THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Varden was Frau Schmidt, the housekeeper, and Lloyd was Baroness Ebberfeld at the party.)

A note on the title: although several sources, including IMDb, list the title as WHAT A WOMAN!, the film's actual title as given during the opening credits omits the exclamation mark.

WHAT A WOMAN is not available on DVD or VHS. It was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer is here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

James MacArthur Dies at 72

Actor James MacArthur, the son of a famous theatrical family and the star of Disney films and TV's HAWAII FIVE-O, has passed away at the age of 72.

MacArthur was the son of playwright Charles MacArthur (THE FRONT PAGE) and actress Helen Hayes.

MacArthur's earliest film roles included a string of titles for Disney, starting with the relatively little-known THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST (1958) and continuing through THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (1959), KIDNAPPED (1960), and most notably Disney's classic SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960).

The long-running series HAWAII FIVE-O started in 1968. MacArthur played Detective Danny Williams, whose character inspired the classic line "Book 'em, Danno."

MacArthur's last screen appearance was in 1998.

One of MacArthur's most prominent film roles was playing the oldest son, Clay-Boy Spencer, in SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN (1963), starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. The film was based on an Earl Hamner novel which -- after giving the characters name changes -- also inspired TV's THE WALTONS.

Coincidentally, two other actors associated with Earl Hamner projects have recently passed away. Character actor John Crawford, a WALTONS semiregular as Sheriff Ep Bridges, died in September at the age of 90. Crawford had over 200 screen credits.

And Chao-Li Chi, who played the butler on the Hamner-created series FALCON CREST, died October 16th. He was 83. His last role came two years ago in an episode of PUSHING DAISIES.

Update: The L.A. Times has now posted a complete obituary of MacArthur.

Friday Update: A nice tribute from 50 Westerns From the 50s.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DVR Alert: Sound of Music Reunion

Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and all seven actors who played the Von Trapp children in THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) will reunite in an episode of OPRAH on Thursday, October 28th.

The date is a change from an originally scheduled airdate of October 29th.

Over the years I've seen numerous shows and documentaries with Julie Andrews and/or the children, but I believe this is the first time that Christopher Plummer has reunited with the entire group.

A 45th Anniversary DVD will be released on November 2nd, but it looks as though it can only be purchased on standard DVD if you're willing to chip in for a Blu-ray copy as well.

The film has had two excellent previous releases with different extras, including a 40th Anniversary edition released in 2005.

October 28th Update: SOUND OF MUSIC fans may want to enter this one-day-only giveaway contest which includes a stay at the Trapp Family Lodge and the new DVD.

Update: The "children" are writing a book, due out next year. (Via Mary Katharine Ham.)

Incidentally, Charmian Carr, the oldest of the children, has already published two titles, FOREVER LIESL: A MEMOIR OF THE SOUND OF MUSIC and LETTERS TO LIESL.

My dad was living in Massachusetts when FOREVER LIESL came out and was able to have the book autographed to me at a booksigning in Worcester. It was particularly fun that by chance he also ran into a very good friend of mine at the booksigning.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Amanda's Cinema Survey

Amanda of A NOODLE IN A HAYSTACK posted a fun Cinema Survey this weekend which is now making the rounds of the classic film blogosphere.

Amanda's own answers are here, and you can read more survey answers at various blogs including Sidewalk Crossings and All Good Things.

I thought I'd give the survey a whirl, and here are my answers...

1. What is your favorite movie starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, excluding all of The Thin Man films? LIBELED LADY (1936)

2. Name a screen team that appeared in only one film together but are still noteworthy for how well they complimented each other. I should think on this longer, but Cary Grant and Carole Lombard in IN NAME ONLY (1939) were a wonderful pair.

3. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' best film together? SWING TIME (1936)

4. Your favorite actor named "Robert"? This is really hard, but I'll go with Robert Montgomery, very closely followed by Mr. Taylor and Mr. Mitchum.

5. An actor/actress who, when you see one of their movies, you always wish that someone else was in his/her role? Marlene Dietrich

6. An actor/actress that someone close to you really loves that you can't stand or vice versa? My younger daughter has not yet developed much of an appreciation for Tyrone Power. Can't figure out how that happened, but I'm hopeful her opinion will change in time!

7. An actor/actress that you both agree on completely? We both love Esther Williams!

8. Complete this sentence: Virginia O'Brien is to Ethel Merman as... This question made me laugh but I can't think how to end it, other than to say I saw each of them in person once! :)

9. What is your favorite film starring Ray Milland? Another hard one...I'll go with THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942).

10. You had to have seen this one coming: what is your favorite movie of the 1960s? THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

11. An actor/actress that you would take out of one film and put into a different movie that was released the same year? I wish Kevin Costner had played the Alec Baldwin role in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) instead of making DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990).

12. Who was your favorite of Robert Montgomery's leading ladies? I'll give the nod to Madge Evans for LOVERS COURAGEOUS (1932) and FUGITIVE LOVERS (1934)...

13. You think it would have been a disaster if what movie starred the actor/actress who was originally asked to star in it? It's hard for me to imagine how CAROUSEL (1956) would have turned out if Frank Sinatra had finished it, even though I love Sinatra and he was a fine actor.

14. An actor/actress who you will watch in any or almost any movie? Cary Grant

15. Your favorite Leslie Howard film and role? Haven't seen enough yet to say...I've got some recorded like THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1934) and INTERMEZZO (1939) so hopefully I'd be able to answer this in a few more months!

16. You have been asked to host a marathon of four Barbara Stanwyck films. Which ones do you choose? MY REPUTATION (1946), SHOPWORN (1932), REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), and CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945). (I still have some of her best-known films ahead of me to see for the first time...)

17. What is, in your mind, the nearest to perfect comedy you have ever seen? Why? THE MORE THE MERRIER...delightful leads (Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn) and script, plus a lovely romance.

18. You will brook no criticism of what film? WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)...it's way underappreciated by too many critics and is so wrapped up in my own Christmas memories that it's disappointing to hear others putting it down -- though I usually enjoy hearing other opinions. :)

19. Who is your favorite Irish actress? Maureen O'Hara

20. Your favorite 1940s movie starring Ginger Rogers? THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942)...it was a tough choice between this and I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944).

21. Do you enjoy silent movies? Not really...my problem is that I am an extremely fast reader and I get very impatient with the length of time spent on title cards. They interrupt the flow of the movie for me. If they invented a DVD feature where you could click and fast forward as soon as you read the cards I'd do better with them, but that would then mess up the musical track... I've taped a few this year and will try to be more open-minded about them!

22. What is your favorite Bette Davis film? ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)

23. Your favorite onscreen Hollywood couple? Powell & Loy

24. This one is for the girls, but, of course, the guys are welcome to answer, too: who is your favorite Hollywood costume designer? Travis Banton

25. To even things out a bit, here's something the boys will enjoy: what is your favorite tough action film? I don't know if it qualifies but the most violent film that I also love is undoubtedly THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992).

26. You are currently gaining a greater appreciation for which actor(s)/actress(es)? Fred MacMurray, Robert Young, Franchot Tone, George Brent...the guys often derided in some quarters as being milquetoasts or "just" father figures actually had really interesting careers once you start sampling more of their work, which is now available to us thanks to TCM and DVDs.

27. Franchot Tone: yes or no? Yes

28. Which actors and/or actresses do you think are underrated? Robert Taylor

29. Which actors and/or actresses do you think are overrated? Marlene Dietrich

30. Favorite actor? Cary Grant

31. Favorite actress? Ginger Rogers

32. Of those listed, who is the coolest: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, or Patrick Stewart? None of these are big faves, but I'll go with McQueen.

33. What is your favorite movie from each of these genres:

Comedy: THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943)

Swashbuckler: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938)

Film noir: LAURA (1944)

Musical: SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954)

Holiday: WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)

Hitchcock: FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940)

Thanks for a fun survey, Amanda!

If anyone would like to contribute their own answers in the comments, either here or at Amanda's original post, please do!

Nature Cinematographer Paul Kenworthy Dies at 85

Paul Kenworthy, who filmed many memorable nature documentaries for Walt Disney, has passed away at 85.

Kenworthy's work included Disney's first nature film, THE LIVING DESERT (1953), which won an Oscar as Best Documentary.

THE LIVING DESERT was followed by another Oscar-winning documentary, THE VANISHING PRAIRIE (1954).

Kenworthy also codirected PERRI (1957), a Disney "True Life Fantasy" about a squirrel. (My grandmother owned a children's book with photos from this film, which is a very early childhood memory.)

Kenworthy received a technical Oscar for the Snorkel Camera System, coinvented with William Latady.

Kenworthy was named a Disney Legend in 1998.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Storm in a Teacup (1937)

STORM IN A TEACUP is a mildly diverting British comedy notable for providing Rex Harrison and Vivien Leigh with early starring roles.

Leigh plays Victoria Gow, whose father William (Cecil Parker) is provost of a Scottish community. William, who aspires to higher office, fancies himself a noble politician, while in reality he's a nasty chap who plans to put down the dog of a poor woman (Sara Allgood) who can't afford a dog license.

Newspaperman Frank Burton (Harrison) turns the provost's treatment of the woman and her dog into a cause celebre, while simultaneously falling in love with Victoria. Matters come to a head during a raucous court case.

The film has been described variously as a drawing room comedy or as having Capra-esque qualities; to some extent both descriptions are true, but despite some charming scenes, the film is too heavy-handed to be a completely successful example of either type of film.

The film is weighted down by the number of scenes featuring Cecil Parker's character, who is completely insufferable, and to a lesser extent by the plotline, with the needless potential death of a very cute dog hanging over most of the movie. Additionally, some of the heavier dialects present a challenge to American audiences listening to a less-than-crystal-clear soundtrack.

On the positive side, I was struck by how much energy and dynamism Harrison brought to the screen in his first major starring role. He's not really conventionally handsome, but the force of his personality makes his scenes the most interesting in the film. Leigh provides a charming foil, and the movie would have been better if they had had more scenes and Parker had had fewer.

The best sequence in the film has Leigh repeatedly putting coins in some carnival-type games ("Allow me!") so that an enraged Harrison can take out his anger on each game in turn. It's played with great charm and culminates in a sweet moment. Harrison's rapture any time Leigh's character says his given name is also quite fun. Harrison and Leigh worked together again the next year in ST. MARTIN'S LANE W.C.2, shown in the U.S. as SIDEWALKS OF LONDON.

A sequence where dogs overrun Gow's house must have utilized every available dog for miles! It's a fun idea, although it goes on too long.

The supporting cast includes Ursula Jeans, Gus McNaughton, Lee Strasberg, Robert Hale, and Mervyn Johns.

This movie was filmed in black and white by Mutz Greenbaum, who later worked under the name of Max Greene when shooting films such as YELLOW CANARY (1943) and SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948). The running time is 87 minutes.

The film was directed by Victor Saville, with help from screenwriter Ian Dalrymple while Saville was off the set due to illness. Saville had directed well-regarded British films such as EVERGREEN (1934) and DARK JOURNEY (1937), and during the '40s he worked in the U.S. on films such as TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (1947), and CONSPIRATOR (1949).

STORM IN A TEACUP has been released in the U.S. on both DVD and VHS.

It was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Tonight's Movie: Just Desserts (2004)

JUST DESSERTS is an entertaining Hallmark romance featuring former PICKET FENCES costars Lauren Holly and Costas Mandylor.

Mandylor plays Marco, a baker from the Bronx who convinces well-known chef Grace Carpenter (Holly) to partner with him for a national pastry competition.

Marco wants to win the prize money to save the family bakery, while Grace could use an influx of cash to start her own restaurant. Marco and Grace initially have an antagonistic relationship, but respect each other's abilities and agree to have a business-only partnership ("just desserts"). Of course, this being a Hallmark movie, before too long romance is in the air.

The two leads are appealing, and Brenda Vaccaro offers good support as Marco's very Italian mother. There's a cute subplot involving Marco's uncle (David Proval), who finds himself revitalized when a shy, much younger baker (Maria Bertrand) fills in for Marco at the bakery. The "foodie" angle is interesting and provides the film with a lot of visual appeal...this is not a film to watch on an empty stomach!

The aspect of the film that disappointed me was that most of the other contestants and the judges at the actual competition were over-the-top cartoonish, which was jarringly unbelievable in the context of the gentle "real life" story which had developed to that point. I wish the filmmakers had found a different, more realistic approach for that section of the storyline.

Bruce Thomas, who plays Grace's boyfriend, is perhaps best known to audiences as the "UPS guy" in LEGALLY BLONDE (2001). Dorie Barton, who plays a conniving competitor, is a familiar face from Hallmark films such as WHAT I DID FOR LOVE (2006) and THE NANNY EXPRESS (2009).

This film runs 88 minutes and was directed by Kevin Connor.

JUST DESSERTS is available on DVD.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...COUNT THEM ONE BY ONE: BLACK MISSISSIPPIANS FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO VOTE is a new book by Gordon A. Martin, Jr., the father of a longtime acquaintance who shares my interest in classic girls' literature. The book blends Judge Martin's personal experiences in the early '60s with contemporary interviews with those who were involved in the case. I'm looking forward to reading it. Anyone living in the Boston area can see Judge Martin speak at the Kennedy Library next month.

...KC of Classic Movies posted the news that actress Coleen Gray turned 88 today.

...Here's a teaser trailer for CARS 2, due from Pixar and Disney on June 24th, 2011.

...The latest Disneyland news has been posted at MiceAge. Mention of a possible return of some form of the PeopleMover always gets the attention of Disneyland fans.

...The release date for The Films of Rita Hayworth has been pushed back from November 2 to December 21st. It seems like other Sony collections have been delayed in the past...wonder why.

...New film book: EDITH HEAD: THE FIFTY-YEAR CAREER OF HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST COSTUME DESIGNER, by Jay Jorgensen, was published on October 5th. It's 400 pages...hope I can check out a copy at a bookstore soon.

...According to the L.A. Times, online viewing is growing while the DVD market shrinks; more people seem content to rely on rentals rather than owning their own DVD libraries.

...Speaking of changing technology, how about the death of the phone call? The article rings true to me; much of my business communication, for example, has shifted to the internet, and over the years I've watched as my teens used instant messaging and now texting and Facebook rather than actually phoning their friends.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Kevin's Movie Corner recently reviewed Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in MAID OF SALEM (1937), which I watched earlier this year...Glenn Erickson checked out the new DVD of MY FAVORITE SPY (1951), which stars Bob Hope and Hedy Lamarr...Mark of Where Danger Lives reviews BUNCO SQUAD (1950) at Noir of the Week. It stars Robert Sterling and pre-Code fave Ricardo Cortez...Mondo 70 reviews John Payne and Evelyn Keyes in 99 RIVER STREET (1953), which comes to TCM in January...and at Another Old Movie Blog Jacqueline reviews CRY WOLF (1947) with Errol Flynn, Barbara Stanwyck, and Geraldine Brooks.

...Reviews of the Douglas Sirk Collection from TCM were recently published by R. Emmet Sweeney of TCM's Movie Morlocks and Dave Kehr of the New York Times. Those interested in the set should also check out the DVD Beaver review I recently linked to here.

...A new DVD edition of Bob Hope's THE LEMON DROP KID (1951) was released last week. I've got my dad's decade-old DVD in my "to watch" stack. This is the film which gave the world one of my very favorite Christmas songs, "Silver Bells."

..London's Telegraph recently ran an article on the history of Queen Mary's Dolls' House, which I was able to see for the second time on a return visit to Windsor last year. I own a wonderful hardcover book on the doll house.

...The UK paper The Guardian published an interesting take on Hitchcock's women, with some good rebuttals in the comments section. (Via Classic Movies.)

...Jim Fanning has written another of his excellent articles on Disney film and TV history for the D23 website, this time focusing on ZORRO. I may have mentioned here previously that Zorro's author, Johnston McCulley, owned a cabin near my grandparents in Twin Peaks, CA, when my mother was young.

...Lou Lumenick of the New York Post describes the experience of filming a TCM intro with host Robert Osborne.

...Sincere congrats and best wishes to Matthew of Movietone News and his bride, Angela!

Have a great weekend!

A Birthday Tribute to Joan Fontaine

Actress Joan Fontaine turned 93 years old yesterday.


The Oscar-winning Fontaine is part of a relatively unique family -- her sister, Olivia de Havilland, is also an Oscar-winning actress. de Havilland turned 94 last summer. Unfortunately, as most film fans are aware, the sisters have been estranged for many years.

My favorite Fontaine performance has always been her role as the Second Mrs. DeWinter in REBECCA (1940), for which I believe she should have won the Oscar. Instead, she received a consolation Oscar the following year for another Hitchcock film, SUSPICION (1941).

I've seen SUSPICION multiple times, though not in recent years; I never particularly cared for that film, but suspect a lot of my reaction had to do with Cary Grant's ambiguous lead role, as a man who was obviously meant to be a murderer but was saved from that fate in the final scenes only because he was...Cary Grant. I hope to take a fresh look at SUSPICION before too long.

Other favorite Fontaine performances include the title role in JANE EYRE (1943), which I've enjoyed many times over the years, and the devious Christabel in BORN TO BE BAD (1950), a film I enjoyed tremendously when I first saw it a year ago.

Earlier this year I was gifted with a copy of the hard-to-find Fontaine film THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943)...my daughters have already enjoyed it, and I've been savoring looking forward to this film, which has been on my viewing wish list for years. Somehow it's fun just knowing it's waiting for me, but that's another one I really need to move to the top of my stack soon! I've been wanting to view it at just the right moment, as I expect seeing the film to be something of an emotional experience on multiple levels. It has a remarkable cast including Charles Boyer, Alexis Smith, Brenda Marshall, Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre, Joyce Reynolds, Jean Muir, and Dame May Whitty.

Other Fontaine films I'm still looking forward to seeing for the very first time include GUNGA DIN (1939) -- hard to believe I haven't seen a film starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.! -- THIS ABOVE ALL (1942), FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946), LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1947), SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950), and IVANHOE (1952).

The Self-Styled Siren posted a great review of Fontaine's IVY (1947) earlier this week. It costars Herbert Marshall (one of the really great movie voices) and sounds fascinating.

There's also a nice photo post at Discovering Ida, and Olivia and Joan: Sisters of the Silver Screen marked the day by linking to a radio production of FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, starring Fontaine and Mark Stevens.

Fontaine films previously reviewed here: NO MORE LADIES (1935), a tiny role which was her first film credit, billed as Joan Burfield, and THE WOMEN (1939), a small but noticeable part which helped boost her career into leading roles.

Miss Fontaine's birthday week seems like the perfect time to express appreciation for her role in providing so many hours of excellent entertainment, with the promise of much more to enjoy in the future.

October 22, 2011 Update: Here's links for Joan Fontaine movies reviewed in the past year: THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943), SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950), DARLING, HOW COULD YOU! (1951), and FLIGHT TO TANGIER (1953).

October 22, 2012 Update: Joan Fontaine movies seen in the past year: MAID'S NIGHT OUT (1938), FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946), and UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957). There are additional thoughts on Fontaine's work in the introduction to my repost.

More reviews: THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), SKY GIANT (1938), and SUSPICION (1941).

2013 Update: More reviews! Here's YOU CAN'T BEAT LOVE (1937), VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961), and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948).

2014 Update: A review of FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944) and IVY (1947).

December 15, 2013 Update: Joan Fontaine Dies at 96.

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